“How are you feeling today, Stephen?” Dr. Acosta said.
“I’m fine,” Stephen said as he adjusted himself on the over plush chair.
“Good, how is the progress going.”
“Um… I haven’t exactly started.”
“Stephen, you know things won’t get better unless you try.” Dr. Acosta said as she tapped away on her iPad.
“Yes, yes, I know. I just don’t feel comfortable. This week has been extra challenging.”
“There are always going to be challenges; this should not give you the reason to avoid trying something new.”
“Yes, you’re right,” Stephen said as he clutched his white cane tightly.
“Please, tell me what has been challenging about this week.” Dr. Acosta said as she finally looked up at Stephen.
“Well, on Tuesday, I misplaced my cell phone, and it was ringing. Susan was outside in the garden and couldn’t hear the phone. It drove me nuts.” Stephen said as he ran his fingers through his dirty blond hair.
“Susan is your new nurse, correct?” Dr. Acosta said.
“Yes, she’s quite nice. A little more attentive than Monica was. It doesn’t normally bother me.”
“Should it have bothered you?”
“No.” Stephen said.
“Did you try locating the phone yourself?”
“No, it stopped ringing after the fifth ring.”
“I see.” Dr. Acosta said, and she went back to writing on her device. Stephen didn’t like the tone of her voice.
“I did do the squinting exercises,” Stephen said, trying to find something that she would approve of.
“Good, what did you think?”
“It was strange at first because it felt like my eyes would open whenever I released from squinting. I didn’t like the sensation.”
“This is good progress, Stephen. Eventually, the strangeness will go away, and the need to open your eyes will happen. Especially if you start with the other lesson.” Dr. Acosta said. Stephen could hear that she was smiling.
Stephen tightened his lips. “I-I’m not sure if I’m ready to open my eyes.”
“It’s normal to feel apprehensive about it. These sessions and lessons are here to help you get to a point where you want to open your eyes and live a normal life. Is that not what you want?”
“Yes, Dr. Acosta. It is.” Stephen said, as he steadied his voice.
Stephen was guided out of the office and into Susan’s car. He could smell her perfume as she clipped his seatbelt into place. He lowered his head as the car started; it was always a jarring feeling when he rode in one.
“Do you need to stop anywhere else?” Susan said.
“No, I would like to go home and rest,” Stephen said.
He thought about what Dr. Acosta had said and what she had asked him at the end of the session. Stephen couldn’t remember the last time he had lied. Then it came to him, and he shuddered at the memory. The last time he had his eyes open was the last time he had lied, and it was to tell the police a different story of what had happened that night.
Stephen was eleven years old again and found himself sitting on a metal chair next to a desk. He could see the room through the slits of his eyelids; the lids kept closing on him. It felt like his face was covered in blood. He felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Hey, how are you doing, kid? You still don’t want to open your eyes?” It was Officer Brennon returning. Stephen can sense someone else was there.
“Stephen, this is Dr. Coolidge. She wanted to ask you some questions.” Officer Brennon said.
“Hello, Stephen.” Dr. Coolidge said as the officer grabbed an extra chair for her to sit on.
“Are you in pain? Does your eyes bother you?” Dr. Coolidge said.
“No, I just can’t open them,” Stephen said, squirming in his seat. He decided to keep his eyes closed; he didn’t want to see the doctor and officer.
“Ok. If it makes you feel better to have your eyes closed, then do so.”
“We would like to know what had happened. Take your time, and if it gets too scary, you can stop.” Dr. Coolidge said.
Stephen gripped the sides of the chair and tried to steady his breathing. “I was out with my friends in the woods. We have a boys’ only house. Well, it’s a big tent that we got from Mikael’s dad. We were hanging out, even though it was getting late.” Stephen paused and licked his lips.
“Who was there with you?” Dr. Coolidge said.
“It was me, Tommy, Richard, Ismael, and Mikael.”
“What were you all doing in the tent?”
“At first, we were reading comic books and eating gummy bears,” Stephen said as his heartbeat accelerated, he was getting to the part that he did want to talk about.
“Yes?” Dr. Coolidge pressed gently.
“Richard took out his mom’s gun from his backpack. He said that she kept a gun because she was afraid that her boyfriend would come back. He was showing it off. I didn’t care about it. I just wanted to go back to reading my Spiderman comic. But…” Stephen broke off; he closed his eyes tighter.
“It’s alright, Stephen if you don’t want to say it.” Dr. Coolidge said
“I’ll say it! Stephen shot me in the head!” Stephen recognized Richard’s voice and shrunk back, falling off the chair. He could feel Richard’s breathe on his cheek. How could he still be alive?
“You shot me! You liar!” Richard’s voice echoed.
Stephen woke up, panting. He felt cold sweat covering his body, his pajamas sticking to him as he tried to pull the top off in bed. He staggered to his feet and slipped off his bottoms. Stephen grabbed his cell phone.
“Hey Siri, what time is it?” He said.
His cell phone answered back that it was about three in the morning. He decided to take a shower instead of going back to bed. The hot water wasn’t enough to wash away the bad dream he had. It kept playing out over and over in his mind. As the water streamed down his face, he realized that it reminded him of the blood that splattered on his face when the gun went off. Stephen staggered back onto the tiled wall and slid down. He wrapped his arms around him as he sobbed uncontrollably.
Later that morning, Susan had arrived around seven and had let herself in. She prepared him a breakfast of the usual – two scrambled eggs, two Canadian bacon strips, and sliced grapefruit.
“Here you go, son.” Susan placed the plate in front of Stephen. “I need to take my mother to a doctor’s appointment. She just turned 90 not too long ago, and I feel she should go more often than not. Will you be alright for a couple of hours?” Susan said.
“Yes, that’s fine. I can listen to my audiobook outside.” Stephen said.
“Oh, that’s a wonderful idea. Spring is finally starting up, and you can feel the change. Well, I better get going, unless there’s anything else you need?” Susan said.
“No, it’s fine. Go ahead. Thank you for breakfast.” Stephen said, and he felt a squeezing hand on his shoulder.
After eating, Stephen placed the dirty dishes in the sink. He headed back upstairs to get his earphones, which he kept in his office. His white cane smacked into the desk chair, and he rested his hands on the desk. He searched around and came across what felt like a notepad. It occurred to him that he didn’t own a notepad. Maybe it’s Susan’s, but that means she’s been in my office, he thought. Stephen opened it and ran his fingers over the pages. He could feel the slight indention where a writing implement was used.
Closing it, he ran his fingers over the cover; there were letters, and it spelled out Journal. This is definitely not mine, Stephen thought. Opening again, he flipped to a page that had pages attached to it. Newpaper clippings?, he wondered. Stephen realized that if this was Susan’s journal, he was being intrusive, yet she did leave it here. He hadn’t had this much curiosity since that night when Richard was showing off his gun. Stephen shuddered and gasped. He took out his phone from his back pocket.
“Hey Siri, what day is it today?” He said.
Siri answered back: April 22.
He almost dropped his phone. It was 23 years ago today that Richard was shot. Somehow he had forgotten. His desire to go outside to sit and listen to his audiobook was dashed. Stephen knew that he should call Tommy, Ismael, and Mikael. Yet, he didn’t want to relive the memory, not this year. Besides the sobering recount of what had happened, he would have to endure the questioning about his eyes and the tense silence filled with hate. They never voiced it, but he knew that they hated him because of what happened. Last year, Mikael didn’t show up at the bar to meet with them. Tommy had said that he had an emergency. Stephen didn’t believe it for a second. They’re probably deciding to meet without me, he thought.
Stephen placed his phone on the desk and sat down without dialing any of them. He gripped his white cane between his legs and tightened his eyes. I don’t care about Dr. Acosta’s lessons; I’m never opening my eyes again! It’s better this way, Stephen told himself.
“It’s not my fault!” Stephen said out loud. But he knew it wasn’t entirely true.
He was jealous when Richard pulled out the gun to show it off. Richard was always the cool one in the group. His mother gave him everything, even though they were known in the neighborhood as being poor. Stephen’s father once told him that Richard’s mother was a drug dealer and that he should stay away from him. Yet, he kept hanging out with Richard, even though he hated him. Stephen didn’t want to be alone; the others would never think of hanging with him without Richard. So, when Richard took that gun out, Stephen had it in his mind to grab the weapon and pose with it like he was an action star, but not before scaring Richard. It didn’t go as planned; he was not counting on there being bullets in the gun. Richard still had the gun in his hands; it was pointed towards his face; when Stephen grabbed it. The police believed that it was a mistake made by Richard and that Stephen was trying to take the gun away.
The stairs creaked, startling Stephen from his memory. He swung around in his desk chair.
“Hello?” Stephen said.
Could it be Susan? But she said that she would be out for a couple of hours. She would have called to say that she was coming back, he wondered. Stephen waited for the sound to return. But no sound came. Stupid, old house, he thought. The hairs stood up on his arms as he felt a presence.
“Who’s there?” Stephen said.
A breeze crossed his face as if someone had walked past him. He shrunk back in his chair. Taking his white cane, he swung it back and forth. It didn’t hit anything. Suddenly, someone grabbed it and yanked it. Stephen hopped up to his feet and was dragged. He was being pulled out of the office. Just as he was about to pull it back, the person let go. Stephen caught a whiff of the perfume.
“Susan?” He said.
“My real name is not Susan. It’s Sherilyn, and I’m Richard’s mother.”
Before Stephen could turn around and confront the voice, he was pushed from behind. His eyes were forced open as his body went airborne and slammed into the staircase; he saw everything.
Stephen’s body lay in a crumpled heap at the bottom as Sherilyn checked his pulse with a gloved hand. She smirked and took note of the white cane nearby. After grabbing her journal with the newspaper clippings and cleaning up, she left without so much as a backward glance.