“Free, A Novella”
by Felicia Denise
Leaning forward and resting her elbows on her knees, Lennie stared across the empty living room. The day Duncan ran from her had been one of her most painful. He had always been a high-spirited child. More prone to wander, break a rule, or lead his younger brothers astray. However, he’d never done anything that warranted more than a time-out. Duncan had never been cruel to anyone or deliberately put anyone in harm’s way. Had someone told Lennie the argument in the high school parking lot with her son would take place, she would have thought them crazy.
But it did happen.
Insistent on not entering counseling, Duncan had run from Lennie. The anger building inside her at his disrespectful tone dissipated immediately at her last glimpse of his eyes. Confusion. Pain. And fear. Lennie had seen it all in her son’s face and was even more determined to get him to a therapist. She would not allow this to scar his life…not if she could help. Ranard had received no help for the verbally abusive childhood he had because of his father. Lennie knew his failures as a husband and father were directly related to his relationship with his father.
Duncan deserved a better life.
The memory seemed to be on rewind in Lennie’s mind. Sitting in her Chevy Tahoe, still taking glances in the direction Duncan had taken. She wanted him to come back…but knew he wouldn’t. The despair Lennie knew he felt would now be enhanced by the shame of his behavior with her.
Still thinking about the situation with her eldest son, Lenore Porter absently drove home. Pulling her vehicle into the garage, she exited and went through the garage’s rear entrance to her back door…and found Duncan sitting in an old swing. He shook his head slowly without meeting her gaze.
“I’m sorry, mom.”
“I’m glad you’re safe, sweetheart.”
“I shouldn’t have run away like that.”
“You were feeling overwhelmed. Looks like you still are.”
“I’m not crazy, mama…I’m not.”
Lennie’s chest tightened. He had not called her that since second grade. Sitting her bag at the bag door, Lennie walked over and took the swing next to Duncan. They both silently rocked for a few minutes.
“Most people who go to counseling aren’t mentally ill, Dunc. Life just has a way of dumping too much on us at once,” she touched his hand, “the drowning feeling you mentioned? That’s where it comes from. It happens to us all at some point during our lives.”
“Have you ever felt like you were drowning, mom?”
“Not drowning so much as helpless.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Well, don’t take this as clinical or anything, but I knew the problem, and I knew the cause. I just couldn’t fix it.”
“Dad.” It was a statement, not a question.
Lennie’s smile was bittersweet. “Yes.”
“He hasn’t been very nice to you, mom.” Taking a deep breath, Duncan continued. “But you never gave up. You’ve always been…mom.”
“Darlin, the obstacle doesn’t exist that could separate me from my Porter Patrol. Good days or bad, you and your brothers always got the best of me, and you always will. I couldn’t give you the stereotyped version of a good family life, but I tried to make sure you have a good life. I don’t think we’ve done too badly. This is a bump in the road, and-”
“Can you make me another appointment with the shrink?” Duncan laughed at the smirk on her face. “Okay, okay. Counselor, therapist…whatever. I still don’t want to go, but I’ve let you down enough.” He looked at his feet.
“Duncan? Lennie didn’t speak again until he looked at her. “You have never let me down. You’re sixteen years old and going through a bad time because of the actions of adults. You haven’t done anything wrong. But this is something you must want. You cannot do it for me, baby. You don’t have to want to go to counseling…you have to want to get better and be your old self again.”
“So, you’ll make the appointment?”
“We haven’t missed today’s appointment yet.”
“I was picking you up from school early – to give us time to talk before the appointment.” Lennie looked at her watch. “We’ll just make it. Run in and wash up and change your shirt. I’ll wait right here.”
Nodding, the teen stood and headed for the back door, but turned suddenly. He walked back and kissed his mother’s forehead, and still silent, headed into the house.
Smiling as he kissed her, Lenore’s smile faded instantly as Duncan walked away. Her son was angry…and afraid. The past had scarred them all.
With ten minutes to spare, the Porters entered the restored Victorian home bearing the address of James Richie’s therapy practice. Neither of them knew what to expect, but Lennie watched Duncan visibly relax as they walked through the reception area. The muted earth tones and overstuffed furniture gave the office a homey feel. A low counter ran the length of the room, and an older, African-American woman sat behind it, finishing a phone call. Turning to greet them with a warm smile, Lennie was momentarily taken aback.
The resemblance to her deceased aunt was incredible. Diane Clayton had worn her dark brown/gray hair in a simple flip for most of Lennie’s life. This woman wore her salt and pepper hair a short, natural style. Other than the hair, the two women would have been twins.
“You must be Duncan Porter.”
He smiled, ducking his head. “Yes, ma’am.”
Lenore stifled a laugh at the shy guy her big kid had suddenly become.
“Nice to meet you, Duncan. I’m Alice.” She turned to Lennie. “And you have to be Mrs. Porter.”
“Yes, but call me Lennie, please. Nice to meet you, Alice.”
Handing Lennie a clipboard of documents, Alice lowered her voice. “I have the new client packet all ready for you, and take your time with it. Do not rush. You’re on time for your appointment, but my husband never is.”
Duncan laughed aloud. “You’re Dr. Richie’s wife?”
“Young man, do not call him ‘Dr. Richie’. He’s already impossible to live with. If you call him that, he’s going to want me to call him that…and that’s not going to happen.”
Lennie laughed with her son this time.
“But, yes. We’ve been married for nearly forty-five years. Forty-five…long…years.”
“What should I call him?”
“Well, some of the clients call him Dr. James, and some Dr. Jim. The older clients simply call him James. But he’s a retired pastor, and most of his clients just call him ‘Pas’.”
“Pas. I like that.” Still nodding to himself, Duncan joined his mother who was already seated completing the paperwork.
Fighting the urge to look at her son, Lennie could still tell he was not the same boy she’d found in their backyard. If his wife was this good at putting patients at ease, Lennie was cautiously optimistic at what James Richie could do for Duncan.
New client packet completed, Lennie and Duncan sat quietly discussing ideas for dinner, when a door on the far side of the room opened.
A teenage boy a couple of years younger than Duncan appeared first. His thick dark hair was just long enough in the back to curl towards his collar, but in the front long dark curls nearly covered his eyes.
But you couldn’t miss the smile on his face.
A couple followed him, older than Lennie, and they also seemed quite pleased.
The last figure through the door was an extremely tall and bald African-American man. He moved easily through the reception area, calling out to the boy.
“Remember what I told you, Jonah. Bring that report card with you next time. And Jonah? Help your uncle with the yard work, okay?”
Jonah was standing at the counter, having already retrieved a card from Alice for his next appointment.
“I will, Pas. I promised Uncle Todd I’d do the whole front yard on my own. And oh man, you are gonna love my report card! Who knew all this time I was a genius!”
The couple with Jonah laughed. The man, who must have been Uncle Todd, reached for the woman’s hand. “C’mon, Nina. I’m in the mood for Mexican food, and I’ll bet I can eat more tacos than this scrawny kid.”
“Tacos? Yeah!” Jonah rushed towards the door, and it was then he noticed Duncan for the first time.
“Hey. I’ve never seen you here before. You new?”
Duncan nodded. “Yeah. First time here.”
Tilting his head towards the counselor, Jonah held Duncan’s gaze. “He’s a good guy. If he can help me, he can help anyone.” The teen’s eyes momentarily became dark and reflected a pain no one his age should know. “I was pretty messed up.” Rebounding just as quickly, Jonah grinned. “But now I’m going to show my uncle who the real taco king is!”
Jonah bounded toward the door his uncle was holding open and froze. Turning to Duncan, he added, “And if he cons you into bringing him candy, make sure it’s sugar-free. He’s diabetic.”
“I’ll thank you to leave now and stop telling my business!”
Everyone in the office laughed as the family left. Everyone except Alice Richie.
“Don’t give me that look, Alice.”
“You’ve been eating candy. As I look back, the spikes in your blood sugar all make sense now. Always at the end of the day…after seeing certain clients.
“You heard Jonah. It was sugar-free…mostly.” James Richie pointed his finger at his wife in mock consternation. “This is all your fault!”
Alice smirked, looking over the tops of her glasses at the Porters. “Here we go.”
Strutting around the desk where Alice was sitting, the counselor preened. “I was a strapping, young, handsome lad-”
“You were never a lad.”
“Don’t interrupt my story. As I was saying. I was a strapping, young, handsome LAD,” he glared at his wife emphasizing the last word, “when I met this pretty little flower.”
Alice struck a pose, batting her eyelashes. Lennie and her son had stopped trying to cover their mouths and stifle their laughter.
“She was super smart with a kind, compassionate heart. And, had no problem putting me in my place.”
“Someone had to…might as well be me.”
“See how she is? I knew I’d found the love of my life…I just had to convince her of that.” He gestured in Alice’s direction. “And as you can see, I did.”
His wife smiled lovingly at James, shaking her head at his antics.
“While we were dating, I found out Alice was diabetic. I didn’t know much about diabetes at the time. Especially that it was contagious!”
Lennie frowned. “What? I know very little about the disease, but my background is in nutrition and food sci-”
“Oh yes, it’s true. After we were married, guess who became diabetic?” The retired pastor’s dancing eyebrows made Duncan laugh aloud.
“And you ‘caught’ it from your wife?” Lennie smirked, not hiding her skepticism.
“I wasn’t diabetic before we were married, and now I am. You do the math.”
Duncan scrubbed his hand down his face next to his mother who was shaking her head.
Alice Richie shrugged. “What did I tell you? Forty-five…long…years.”
Glaring at his wife while taking the file she was holding out to him, James walked over to the Porters, bowing.
“By now you know I’m James Richie. Please do not let anything you’ve witnessed concern you. I’m good at my job…and my wife is a bully.”
“A bully who will be eating dinner alone at this rate.”
“See how she treats me?” He motioned toward his office. “I’d better get you away from her. She’s cutting back on coffee this week and it’s starting to wear on her.”
A laughing Duncan Porter heads towards the office, but Lennie remains seated. James frowns.
“Aren’t you coming, Mrs. Porter?”
“But…this appointment is for my son. I don’t want to…intrude.”
“Mom?” Rolling his eyes dramatically, Duncan walks back to her and reaches out his hand.
“Perfectly understandable, Mrs. Porter-”
“It’s Lennie. Or Lenore.”
“Okay…Lennie, it is. Should he decide to continue to work with me, sessions will be between Duncan and myself. But I like to use the first visit…and sometimes the second one to get to know clients and their families. So, please…join us.”
Trying to shake her own fears and anxiety, Lennie accepted her son’s still outstretched hand and walked with him into the office, suddenly not sure who needed help more – Duncan or her.
Part VIII Part X
©Felicia Denise, 2016, 2017