The day starts as usual, but the dread of what is to come is what really terrifies me. Today, I will meet with Dr. Laurel to start the journey toward confronting my deepest fears. Perhaps the realization that certain events were not preventable will start the healing process. My family thinks that I must move past that to fully embrace life without my son. They think it’s time to let him go and move on with life.

   For as long as I can remember, my mother and sister have accused me of being a cockeyed optimist who looks through rose-colored glasses and lives in an ivory tower. Perhaps they are correct in this view.
   Have I closed my eyes to pretend things do not exist, to cope with reality?
   When something unexpected happens to alter the course of your life, what actually matters is how you handle it. Is the glass half full to you, or is it half empty? Are you a pessimist with a tendency toward a myopic view of the world? One that your nearsighted views lack tolerance and understanding? Or, are you an optimist, who believes that only good will ultimately prevail over evil?
   Dr. Laurel asked me to fill out a questionnaire before we started. She said it would help her understand my present anxiety. There is anxiety just walking into her office. I want to turn around and run the other way, as I don’t relish the idea of spilling my guts to a total stranger.
   “Hello Ellen, how are you today? Have a seat in the chair or the sofa, whichever you prefer.”
   “I’m fine Dr. Laurel, just looking through my rose-colored glasses today, hoping things will look rosier. I’ll sit over here. The sofa makes me think you might hook me up to some elaborate mechanism and suck my thoughts out through my ear.”
   The Doctor has one hand on the open door and sticks her head around the corner to signal to her assistant. She closes the door, sits down, and reaches for the recorder to tape our session. “I haven’t heard that expression about glasses for a while. You have a vivid imagination, Ellen. And the sofa thing only happens in asylums. Have you been getting enough rest? Any problems there?” She asks, smiling.
   “I think so. And apparently dreaming a little too loud for Adrian. Do they really hook people up and shock them? It’s an expression Mother keeps reminding me about. Does it mean delusional?”
   Laurel is a striking woman who wears a blue on blue sweater-set and a black pencil skirt. As usual, her short brown hair frames her oval face and her makeup is impeccable. “Let’s explore that a minute; occasionally the subconscious mind plays out in dreams, Ellen. Perhaps it helps you cope with the things that are stressful to you.”
   “Well, my dreams are certainly in vivid color and there seems to be a lot of action. Every now and then, I fly in my dreams. I read somewhere that’s a bad thing. Adrian has to push me back over to my side of the bed several times a night. I practically smother him, and apparently hit him with my fists. He takes his pillow to the sofa pit just to get away from me.”
   “Bright color is okay, Ellen,” she says, reaching for a pen. “Many people experience their dreams that way. It’s the roughness that worries me. Are you sure you’re getting enough rest? Are you taking that sleeping aid I suggested?”
   “I’m getting as much as possible. I do wake up several times a night. Maybe it’s all that wrestling in my sleep. Do I look tired to you? And no, I don’t need that stuff.”
   Dr. Laurel stops writing, “Let’s go back to when you first came to Virginia. We may not have done a thorough job when we talked about it before.” She reaches to press the start button on the recorder.
   “What part did I leave out? If you listened to the CD Adrian gave you, you already know how much I detested those two idiots that passed themselves off as FBI agents. They dumped us at Ashwood and took all our possessions and assets. I still don’t get how they were able to do that.”
   Nodding her head at me, she says, “Yes, I know all that, nevertheless, when things are repeated, it actually helps to resolve issues. It might trigger something that was not said before. You obviously still harbor resentment toward those FBI agents.”
   “Well, wouldn’t you if your whole life turned upside down and everything you knew to be right and wonderful in your world suddenly evaporated? You already know most of the how and why we came here. I told you about the antiques we found in the house, and then Jason found an old car in the barn that was worth a small fortune.”
   “That sounds like a good memory, Ellen. Please go on.”
   “Jason thought we were going to keep it so he could drive it. I hadn’t thought about that for a long time. He was so pathetic when he found out we were going to sell it. He hounded and pestered me for months, until I gave in and bought him a used car. We still have that car, Curlie drives it now. Reed actually picked it out. Then we paid off the debts we inherited with the money I made at the racetrack, and we renovated practically every room in our house. What more do we need to talk about?”
   She stops to stare at me, then leans forward. “You seem more stressed today than usual, Ellen. How can I help you today?”
   “Stupid things keep popping into my head and I can’t get them to stop. Can you suggest a pill for that?”
   Dr. Laurel sighs, “Let’s talk about how Jason might have felt when he first came to Virginia. Do you think he adjusted to the upheaval that came with moving from Chicago and leaving all his friends?”
   “You mean other than the shock of finding out that the mother he thought was dead, wasn’t? No, of all of my children, he was, I mean he is the most stable.”
   “When a child goes missing, Ellen, the parents might think that they are responsible, typically question why such a thing could happen to their family. They wonder what prompted someone to act maliciously toward them. Do you feel as if you did something to warrant such behavior against Jason?”
    I try to control my sudden anger, and start to laugh instead. “Where do I begin? In the case of the missing Jason L. Thompson, age twenty-three, I do not think I’m responsible. I do, however, blame his incredibly insensitive Uncle Dimmy who lives far, far away, in a land I don’t want to mention! I would like to point out that it was Jason’s father who involved us in their incredible saga in the first place. You read the file. Was that part in there?”
   “I know we can’t talk about certain things, Ellen, due to the National Security protocols your husband, Adrian and I discussed, but then again, you blame yourself a little, don’t you? I believe you mentioned in a previous session that you wished you had done more to talk him out of going there.” Dr. Laurel tilts her head, raising her eyebrows slightly.
   If this is my cue to spill my guts, she’s in for a surprise. “No. I wish you knew the entire story. I don’t blame myself, I just told you, I blame his pain-in-the-butt Uncle and his Father.  You’ll just have to take my word for it. I’m convinced that he would have gone with or without my consent.”
   Dr. Laurel stops the recorder and stands to open the door for her assistant, who is holding a clinking tray, and it reminds me of a distant memory. Taking the tray, she silently closes the door with her hip and turns toward me. “Would you like a cup of tea, Ellen?”
   “Sure…” Does drinking tea always help you feel better? Is it a prerequisite for shrinks to offer this beverage instead of coffee? How about a sugar-high brought about by drinking a soda? On the other hand, why can’t she offer me a bottle of water, maybe a scotch and soda?
   "Ellen, you look a million miles away. What are you thinking?” Dr. Laurel reaches over to start the recorder, then stirs her tea and brings the cup to her lips.
   “My mind just goes off in different directions and I can’t get it to stop.”
   Laurel jots something on her steno pad and looks up at me. “Shall we get back to why you think Jason’s Uncle is responsible for his disappearance? I spoke with Adrian and he feels that it would be a safe question to ask you. He said it won’t breach the rules.”
   “Wow, where do I begin this tale of woe? It’s such a long, drawn out affair, no one would believe my story. It’s so bizarre, I couldn’t have made it up.” I sit there so long that Dr. Laurel clears her throat to get my attention.
   “Ellen, why don’t we let that go for now and we’ll move on to something else? Can you tell me what you’ve been doing to keep yourself busy?”
   “You still think I’m delusional, don’t you?”
   “I do not believe that was my assessment, Ellen. I would never have said that to you. Is that how you feel right now?”
   “I wanted you to help me get out of my funk, but all you’ve done is say I can have some drugs that allow me to have a restful sleep. I don’t want to sleep through my dreams; they are the only connection I have to Jason. Am I the only one who thinks my son is still alive?”
   Dr. Laurel glances at me, and then tilts her head to the side. I know she’s trying to steer me away from that line of thinking when she continues to ask questions that don’t relate to that. “Do you have a hobby that would take your mind off everyday things?”
   “You think I need a hobby. Do you want me to take up knitting? I get it… you think I have a gambling problem and you’re trying to get me to admit it, right?”
   “Did I say that I thought you have a gambling problem, Ellen? You seem very jumpy today.”
   “I had a hobby, it was racing. What I really want to do is race again.”
   “Do you think that if you did that again, you would be happier?” she asks.
   “So now you think I’m not happy! You think that’s the root of my problem?”
   “Everyone needs to vent, for many, hobbies help to do that. Some find that punching a bag or taking an exercise class does the trick as well.”
   “I don’t need to race to keep me happy. I’ll bet you’re a competitive person underneath that persona of professionalism. Do you play competitive bridge?”
   Dr. Laurel’s face slowly transforms into a soft smile. “That is an astute observation, Ellen. Is that how you win so successfully at the racetrack?”
   “First, tell me if I’m right. Then maybe I’ll share my deepest, darkest secrets with you.”
   “I am an avid bridge player with aspirations of gaining enough points to become a Life Master, perhaps go further, either Emerald or Platinum level.”
   “How close are you to your goal? How many points do you need to get to the first one you mentioned?”
   Dr. Laurel hesitates, leans forward in her chair. “Are you equating my bridge playing to your horse betting?”
   Leaning toward her, “Are you answering my question with a question?”
   “Alright Ellen,” she says, folding her arms around her notepad. “If it will help to talk about myself, then my ultimate goal is to be a Grand Life Master.”
   “How close are you to reaching your first goal of Life Master? Will it take years, months, or will you get them in your lifetime?”
   Dr. Laurel contemplates this for several seconds. “There are several levels to gain master points. I’m currently at the NABC Master level. Without going into the entire procedure, one has to attend sanctioned events to win points. It’s rather complicated, so I’ll try to tell you a brief explanation. I need to accumulate a certain number of black, silver, red, gold, and platinum points to move forward in these events.”
   “I can tell you’re driven to win. How long will it take you to get to the Grand Master stage?”
   Dr. Laurel seems pensive, “That would be my ultimate achievement.”
   “How many points do you need to get to that level?”
   “That would most likely take the rest of my life, Ellen. That requires 10,000 points of various events or tournaments. I would have to retire and do that full-time.”
   “And, you have a goal, and you won’t stop until you reach that goal, am I right? How many points away are you from your first big goal?”
   Dr. Laurel picks up her teacup and takes a sip. “Alright Ellen, I suppose that it is my goal. I only need four gold and three platinum points to reach Life Master, but then again it would spur me on for the rest of my life to get to the Grand Life Master status. What I believe you are saying is that everyone should have something to look forward to. You think that bridge is my addiction.”
   “Bingo! See, everyone needs an out, even you. If you think gambling is my addiction, then you don’t know me very well! I only bet on a sure thing and not without a lot of study. I do not smoke, or drink to excess; I do not shop until I drop. It’s not as if I have to go to the racetrack every day. I only did that when we needed cash, which we don’t do anymore. We make money the old-fashioned way, we earn it.”
   "Let’s get back to you, Ellen. You mentioned racing. Didn’t you tell me that you gave that up some time ago due to an injury?”
   “Yes, I wanted to take Ashwood Stables up in prestige, up in levels as you do for your points, yet, my goal seems almost as elusive as finding Jason.”
   “Why is racing not on the table for you now? I thought you had two racers that compete for Ashwood. It sounds to me that they might help you reach that goal. Dr. Laurel thumbs through her notes. “Here it is. Was it winning the Triple Crown of Harness Racing?”
 
                                              

JOURNEY of a THOUSAND STEPS

Book Three of A Whisper of a Mystery Trilogy

Excerpts from Chapter One