I had just concluded my final therapy session for the day when they found me. I stood up from my arm chair and outstretched my hand to a much more composed Brenda Farley, knowing it was the last time I’d see her, professionally at least.
I was happy to help. In just 1 hour, 37 minutes she’d let go of 51 years of anxiety, depression, physical and sexual insecurities, self-hate and paranoia, all stemming from childhood trauma and subsequent failed marriages.
Mrs. Farley stood and took my hand in both of hers, wrinkled and veiny. “I don’t know how I’ll ever repay you,” she said, smiling ear to ear with tears in her eyes. “I just wish I had the courage to come sooner.”
I knew she meant it. I could feel that she felt relieved, hopeful, like an empty house with freshly painted walls and a high ceiling. Before, she felt like she was lost in a maze, unable to find her way out due to years and years of compulsive hoarding.
I repeated my usual mantra, returning the warm smile. “We at The Power of Healing are always willing to help.” I intentionally glanced over her shoulder at the vintage clock above the door. I knew it wasn’t yet late but our session was over. Client engagements must be kept professional at all times, no exceptions.
I smiled at the woman. “Mrs. Farley, thank you for coming. Will someone be picking you up?”
“Yes, my son Jeremy is parked right outside,” the old woman said as she took up her leather purse from near her feet. “I told him I wouldn’t be long. Just like the brochure said, not more than two hours but I wasn’t sure…”
There was a sharp knock on the door. “That must be Jeremy,” Mrs. Farley said, now shuffling slowly towards the door. I followed her.
She leaned on the knob for balance before she wiggled the door open, startled to see two large men in suits and woman, tiny in comparison, but equally intimidating. “Oh! These must be your visitors, Ms. Pierce,” she glanced over at me as if to search my face for whether I was expecting the people in my door way.
In a way that reminded me of my mother, she squeezed my hand, she was worried. “I guess I’ll get going then. Excuse me, gentlemen?” Mrs. Farley shuffled her way out the room as the men stepped aside to give her passage.
I felt a wave of emotions, both from the strangers before me and myself. Impatient, confident, determined, curious, guilty, prideful, devoted, worried. I could tell clearly which ones were mine.
The woman, in a thick French accent, addressed me. “Victoria Pierce, I’m Anna Fontaine, friend of your father. May I come in?” she entered the room while asking the rhetorical question, undoubtedly the one in charge. She was dressed neatly in a grey pants suit, every strand of her hair in place. She felt powerful. I turned to face her, not knowing whether to close the door on the men still standing outside the door way.
“Close the door. They’ll wait outside,” she said, her back to me, already poring herself a cup of coffee from the table set up in the corner just for decoration. I closed the door.
“Mrs... uhh…” she cut me off.
“Ms. Fontaine,” I echoed politely, “My office hours have passed, are you hoping to make an appointment?”
She turned around, walked towards the chair Mrs. Farley shuffled out of moments ago and sat down. “No, I’m here to see you on other matters.” Taking a sip of her coffee, she motioned towards my arm chair. “Please, do sit down.”
Needless to say, I felt like the client, but more curious than uncomfortable, I walked over to my chair and sat as she asked. I waited for her to speak but she took another sip of the pitch-black coffee and enough seconds had passed for me to now begin feeling more uncomfortable than curious. “Why exactly…” she cut me off again.
“When your father said you looked exactly like him I thought he was joking,” Fontaine humoured herself. She placed her coffee on the table that separated us and focused her gaze squarely on me.
“Are you stronger than him?” she smiled slyly as if she had made a bet that I was and was hoping to cash in. Before I could worm my way out of the question I had no intention of answering, she laughed, “I knew it! The bastard always liked to prop himself up to the nosebleeds.” She reached for her coffee again.
“He’s dying. He wants to see you.”
Wow. Real subtle. I shifted uncomfortably in my chair. She wasn’t lying. I could feel her mixture of sadness and anger, hidden behind the walls she'd set up for self-preservation.
My father is dying.
I don’t hate my father. I hate the way he ranks the valuables in his life and the way family always came last. I imagined him now, probably in morbid condition, confined to his bed, dying alone, just as he wanted.
I got up from my chair to put the books from my desk back on the nearby shelf. It wasn’t necessary but her gaze was fixed on me, it made me uncomfortable.
“Why didn’t he call me himself?” I shoved one of the books into place. “I’m sure he has multiple ways of getting my number.” I shoved another book in place.
My father, once again, was getting under my skin without even being present. He was dying and still he upset me, perhaps another one of his abilities.
Fontaine’s sadness was now more pre-eminent. “Victoria, your father is very ill. He sent me here to…transport you to where he is; where he wants to spend his last days.” She paused, burying her feelings of sadness again. “It’s important that you come.”
I sat down again, hoping to make myself crystal clear. “I’m sorry, Ms. Fontaine. I’m sorry that my father has wasted your time but I have more important things to focus on, commitments to my clients. I’m not sure what he’s told you about me but, unlike my father, I have chosen to spend my life helping those who cannot help themselves. I want no part in his business.”
I felt her disappointment and disdain. “So, you prefer to waste your time fixing the emotional problems of the rich who screwed themselves up as opposed to saving the lives of millions of around the world. Interesting.”
She reached into her blazer pocket and pulled out an envelope. “Contrary to your thinking, your father isn’t confined to his bed, dying alone, he’s at the Christonian Corporation Hospital battling for his life. The doctors have advised that he give up on treatment but, you know you father.” She switched her trail of thought as if just now realising something.
“You know, you claim you don’t hate him, yet you think you’re better than him. Still, he’s the one creating good in the world and you’re here, wasting away.”
I was shocked at her accuracy. I knew it was too good to be true. Before I could ask, she pushed the envelope on the desk towards me, “Yes. I can read your mind. I’d say we’re equal. You know exactly what I’m feeling and I know exactly what you think.”
I’m an empath. That’s what she meant. I could now feel her prominent resolve to complete the task she'd set out to do, however, she would know just then that I had no interest in the envelop she thrusted to me or being present in the dying moments of my father.
Already sure of the answer, I asked disparagingly: “He did this to you, didn’t he?”
I stood up. “Mrs. Fontaine, do tell my father that I wish him well but that I cannot pay him the visit he desires.”
I walked to the door to the office and reopened it to see the two men still standing there. I turned to their third companion. “I think it's best you leave. You may revere my father’s meddling in your life, you may’ve even volunteered, but I did not. He forced this on me and one day you too will see how self-centred he is.”
Fontaine didn’t turn to face me, she reached for her coffee again and remained seated, uninvited. I felt her fortitude and backed away from the door.
“Victoria, the men are not here for my protection. I did say I’m here to transport you to your father.” Fontaine slowly stood up putting the envelope back into her blazer. “You’ll read this on the plane.”
She came beside me and touched my arm.
“Your father loves you. He just has an odd way of showing it. Think about it, you can feel everything! He gave you that. Me? I begged him to let me read minds instead. Feeling everything seems exhausting and I really don’t care that much. He worked for years and failed for years. But, he finally did it. He even taught me how to control it,” Fontaine smiled. “I want the same for you.”
She then walked past me towards the door, through a path formed by the two men who were now approaching me. “I’m sure you can feel that I genuinely mean that,” I heard Fontaine say.
The taller man grabbed me, I began to pound his chest of solid stone with my fists. I could feel that he found it humorous and his ego went up a notch. Another put a thick tape around my mouth and, before I knew it, I was flung over the shoulder of the egotistical one. I heard Fontaine’s voice again as she peeped into the doorway.
“I swear to god, if any of you screw up like the last time and leave a single scratch on her, I will kill you myself.”
I had enough time to brood on the plane. I had exhausted myself with muffled screams and my hands and feet, though loosely taped, had no desire to scuffle anymore. I just sat there, my ears tingling as the plane ascended.
I thought about my father; about my mother; about the answers she gave me just before she died. Before he killed her.
From a very young age, Preston Pierce realised he had a natural knack for understanding people, seemingly better than they could understand themselves. This was owed to him being a great listener and an old soul. His personality helped him make many friends and they all felt at ease to opening up to him.
By the time he finished high school, he had developed a name for himself giving amateur advice to students, sometimes even teachers. He befriended people from all walks of lives with the sole aim of figuring out what made them tick.
It was fitting that he later became a science major at the renowned Crenshaw University --- a nerd everyone wanted to befriend. His final year project saw him creating an Emotion Detection and Recognition System which analysed facial expressions. Though it left him on a high, as prominent tech companies fought over him with competitive offers, he only settled down at Cryptic Technologies for a year before he realised he wanted more.
So, he branched out on his own taking an enormous loan to start the Christonian Corporation. For years he buried himself in work, achieving small scientific breakthroughs along the way, but nothing of the magnitude he truly intended.
At 41 years old, he met my mother, an executive secretary at the bank adjacent to the Corporation. He swept her off her feet on the first date --- though she’d never admit it. Only a year later, they got married and a month later she was pregnant.
My two eldest siblings died, stillbirth. I was the only child my mother carried to full term. After she did, she grew weaker and weaker every year until she died when I was 16 years old. I loved my mother. I love my mother.
In the last moments of her life she told me that while in the womb, whenever she was happy I would kick as if in support but, when she was sad, I’d stay so still that she feared that the very cord that fed me had choked me in her womb.
My father would go to lengths to ensure that my mother remained happy, that I remained kicking, alive. She said she’d never seen him so fixated and so in love with the daughter he hadn’t yet met.
What she didn’t know then was that she was carrying my father’s final project. He’d expected me to be his greatest achievement, his gift to the world. My mother carried me, but he made me.
After years being buried in his work, my father had developed a substance he believed would give him the ability to feel the emotions of any person. He took it himself, mild doses, and it worked --- but his ability to feel the emotions of others wasn’t always accurate or consistent. He wanted more.
He needed a human trial. He’d devised that in administering small doses of the substance prior to conception and during foetal development, the abilities would be merged with natural abilities and become to the child as natural as breathing or moving. He told my mother he was ready for a child.
When ingesting the substance at doses too high killed two of his projects, he poisoned my mother for nine months with his diluted homemade ‘juice for the baby’.
Needless to say, on the third try he was successful. I grew up confused and more aware than I ought to have been. My father studied me through signing me up with therapists at the Christonian Corporation who had convinced me that I was just different. I could feel their insincerity, their indifference, their excitement when I told them about the feelings swirling inside me.
When I asked the many questions I had, I was lectured that I needed to block out these ‘rouge feelings’ that were giving me ‘false realities’. I accepted it, I was different.
I would faint or go dizzy in crowds so I was home schooled. My only friends were strangers online. My father protected me. He kept me away from the cruel world and would often say, ‘It’s too overbearing out there, darling. Just trust me.’
I’m not sure at what point of her life she found out but my mother provided the answers to questions I often hurled at the stars. Hours before she slipped away, she made me promise not to hate him, she said it would do me no good. She wanted me to find peace, refine my ability and use it for good.
With my mother’s will placing all of her assets in my name, I became an emancipated minor at age 17. At 18, I pursued a bachelor’s degree in counselling through online courses and my graduate study through a mixture of online courses and supervised fieldwork.
Seven years later, I had better control of my abilities and bought a small office in the city where I advertised my unique counselling services. Yes, my prices are high but it was done intentionally to limit my clients. The rich recommended me to their other rich friends and so the cycle continued. As an empath, I could tell exactly how my clients felt and, guided by their true emotions, I helped them find peace and resolution to their greatest inner conflicts.
I would take between 20-30 clients each month and Mrs. Farley was a new record, only 1 hour, 37 minutes and she was a new woman, more mentally healthy than she’d ever been. My ads promised efficiency, precision, healing. Every Wednesday, I would take two clients pro-bono, no more. Client engagements must be kept professional, no exceptions. I wanted to use my abilities for good. I had promised.
Now, my father, the distinguished Preston Pierce, lies dying at the Cooperation and I feel nothing. No remorse, no sympathy, just Ms. Fontaine’s mixture of sadness and anger. I didn’t know why, I didn’t want to know why.
I sat in the plane, hands and feet bound, listening to the hum of the engines. I looked out the window into the darkness of the sky, wondering, instead, about the new plans my father had for his final project.