Additional Triangles are Formed

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic


A crusty therapist confronts a family with something to hide

Submitted: March 21, 2018

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Submitted: March 21, 2018

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Jeremy knew it was nothing good when his mom picked him up from school with his father in the car. He looked awkward, as the car approached the pick-up line outside the high school, sitting in the passenger seat wearing a suit and tie. Jeremy couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen his father in a car he wasn’t driving.

He didn’t feel any better about it when he realized they were headed to Jack’s office.

All the parents liked Jack because he was a different kind of therapist. None of that touchy-feely garbage, Jack cut to the point. Some kids thought he was cool. Full sleeve tattoos covered his jacked up arms. Before he’d gotten clean, he’d been a gear head, or a deadhead, or some kind of head. Maybe metal. The admiration never lasted long, though.

He hadn’t moved offices since the last time they’d visited, but the building had changed, for the worse. Jeremy always thought this strip mall on the wrong side of the freeway a strange place for a therapist’s office, but before it had at least shared the space with normal stores: a florist, Chinese restaurant, maybe a couple of ambulance chasing attorneys. Now it was just check-cashing places and a vape shop.

Austin and his mom were already sitting in the waiting room when they walked in. He looked like a Westie, with tear-wrecked eyes under his curly blond skater mop. Austin’s mom looked more dressed up than usual, she had a long dress on and makeup, like this was a job interview.

Jeremy’s mom crouched down and wrapped Austin’s in a hug. She let her, but passively, not returning the hug but instead staring straight ahead at Jeremy’s father, as if as the only adult man in the room he had the sole capacity to sort this all out. He looked deeply uncomfortable. Therapy wasn’t his forte, even with a hard ass like Jack. Austin’s old man wasn’t so much in the picture anymore.

“Gloria,” Jeremy’s mom said, “I know this is the last thing you needed – we’ll get to the bottom of this.”

Gloria kept her gaze fixed on Jeremy's dad.

“Jack said to go in whenever you’re ready,” she said.

Like the building, Jeremy found Jack somewhat deteriorated by time. He still preferred gym clothes, but where Jeremy remembered only muscles, outlines of sagging breast and belly fat pressed against the stretched fabric of his Under Armor shirt. Like before, he smelled like too much cheap after-shave. Jeremy remembered a PE teacher from middle school, Coach Conners, who’d doused himself in the stuff, too. He wondered what it was about tough guys that they desired to be so scented. Maybe they sweat a lot. Maybe they still smoked cigs.

“Sit,” Jack said, pointing to the round table in the center of his office. For the most part, that was it for furniture, a cheap folding table with four chairs taken from the stack in the corner, next to the lone filing cabinet. Jack didn’t bother with the standard trappings of a counseling office, no leather couches or framed degrees hanging on the wall. The lone decoration was a taped up poster of the twelve steps, curling at the edges.

“You’re next to me,” Jack said to Jeremy, pulling out the chair closest to him. “Let’s see if you can handle the hot seat any better than your associate out there.”

Austin’s fanny pack sat on the center of the table, unzipped. From where he sat, Jeremy couldn’t see completely inside but he could see enough, tops of ziplock baggies and the tinted glass outline of his bubbler.

“You want to save us some time?” Jack asked.

Conventional drug counselors began cases with an assessment and a urine screen. Jack just looked kids in the eye. Some kids described him as a “human lie detector test.”

Jeremy shrugged, and kept his mouth shut for the time being. He’d seen enough scenes like these play out to know how to handle himself:

Deny, deny, deny. Then, when they became so frustrated with him they seemed ready to pop him in the face, fall apart. Let the dam of his snarl break loose with tears and snotty catharsis. Except, and this was critical, make the breakdown about something other than the drugs. Make them feel sorry for him. Or better yet, make them feel guilty.

“You want to break the silence here, Beth?” Jack asked Jeremy’s mother.

“I’m sure you heard from Gloria,” she said, pulling a planner from her purse. “But we found on Saturday night that Jeremy is using again.”

“I’m not,” Jeremy said.

“Maybe dealing, too,” Beth added.

“Unlucky for us,” Jack said. “Jeremy’s crony out there has kept his mouth shut so far – he’s afraid to upset his friend.”

“Jeremy, please,” Beth pleaded.

“I’m not using,” he repeated.

“There’s a stench of bullshit filling this entire office,” Jack said.

Jeremy wondered how could smell anything beyond all the Old Spice.

“It’s not been easy for of us,” Beth said. “But she’s been through too much. Christ, J, think of poor Gloria out there. The least you can do is stop lying.”

Jeremy stared at the poster, wondering about Step 9.

“What do you think Ron?” Jack asked. “You’re being awfully quiet.”

“Beth’s right, it’s not been easy for anyone.”

The first time the family visited Jack, Jeremy’s behavior hadn’t been the focus of their session. He’d not really even been sure why they brought him, except that Jack insisted the entire family come. The first time had been about his brother, Nathan.

“So what do we know?” Jack asked.

“We caught them smoking together about six months ago,” Beth said, flipping through her planner. “In May, actually.”

“You denying that?” Jack asked.

“No.”

“So we grounded him, took away his cell phone, and made both boys promise to stop hanging out,” Beth said. “And we all stopped spending time together really – we couldn’t be sure who was instigating who.”

“Hard to say with these two,” Jack said. “They’re both the lost child.”

Jeremy noticed his father, who’d been fidgeting with a loose thread on his coat’s button, looked up when he heard the term. Jack had taken one look at Nathan and told them to ship him immediately to an inpatient rehab. Jeremy remembered the ride home from that session, a fleeting moment of family unity in a long period of heartache. Rehab? For a little bit of weed? They’d laughed their asses off at Jack’s suggestion, all of them, even him, although he didn’t really know what any of it meant. He’d been willing to do anything to make Nathan think he was cool. Laugh, lie, keep secrets even.

Later, when things turned serious, it was too late. Nathan was 18 by then, too old to force into a program.

“So Saturday…” Jack said.

“I woke up at midnight to find Ron on the phone with Gloria,” Beth said, looking right at Jeremy. “She was a wreck – she’d found Austin using again and wanted to warn us in case Jeremy was involved.”

“And I wasn’t,” Jeremy protested. “I’m not.”

“Jeremy,” she said, staring him down while he tried to look away, chasing him with her eyes. “You’re lying.”

“I’m not,” he said, “how would you know, anyway?”

“I can see it in your face, boy-o, but even if I couldn’t, I checked the caller ID – I know you two have been in touch.”

“Looks like you’re cornered,” Jack said. “Why don’t you put us all out of our misery and come clean?”

Jeremy shook his head.

“He’s afraid,” Jack concluded.

“Of what?” Ron asked.

“Of being seen,” Jack said. “He’s hiding behind the lies, even when we’ve got him dead to rights. It’s too scary for him to be honest.”

Jack pushed his chair back, and stood up slowly. Jeremy watched him walk towards the filing cabinet. He was still strong as shit, but he moved with great effort, like his muscles were obstacles instead of tools. Jeremy wondered if his bullshit detector was still so finely tuned. Jack came back and plopped a brochure on the table.

“It’s an adventure based rehab,” he said. “It’s really the best treatment for boys like J. It won’t be easy, but it will force him to face the truth.”

Jeremy looked at Ron.

“I don’t know about all this,” Ron said. “It seems like maybe a bit of overkill.”

“Ron,” Beth pleaded.

“Besides, how much will this cost?” Ron darted his eyes around the room, trying not to look at his wife or his son. He ended up face to face with Jack.

“This is how family systems work,” Jack explained. “Especially dysfunctional ones – everyone keeps finding a reason not to make the change. You’re scared too, Ron.”

“I don’t know,” Ron hesitated. “It doesn’t seem fair – I don’t want J to resent us forever for sending him off.”

“You’re scared Ron,” Jack went on. “But you can face your fears today, or wait until it’s maybe too late.”

“Ron,” Beth said, weaving her fingers through her husband’s trembling hand. “I’m scared, too, but we can’t keep pretending everything is ok.”

Jeremy sensed his father flailing, and kicked into gear.

 “This is it?” he asked through the tears. “This is fucking therapy? After two years, and not saying a word about fucking Nathan, this is it? Five minutes with Jack and you’re sending me to a boot camp?”

“Stay strong Mom and Dad,” Jack cautioned. “This is all part of the playbook – he’ll throw everything at you to keep things the way they are.”

Jeremy looked at his parents, hugging in the middle of Jack’s seedy office. He had one more card to pull. But, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen them touching each other. Perhaps because it wasn’t working, for the first time he felt the actual emotional weight of his ploy, the terrifying truth of it. He swallowed whatever words were left.

“He can leave tonight,” Jack explained to his parents. “There’s no point in putting it off.”

Ron looked at Beth, who nodded her assent to Jack.

“Ron, why don’t you take him into the waiting room for a minute – while we make a couple phone calls?” Jack asked.

Father and son stepped into the waiting room, where Austin and Gloria still sat silently in their chairs.

“Listen,” Jeremy said to his father, loud enough for Gloria to hear. “If you two are going to keep doing this – get a fucking cell phone.”



© Copyright 2020 ME Pesant. All rights reserved.

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