2007-02-07: The Four O'Clock


Job_icon.gif Sydney_icon.gif

Summary: Sydney attends her first session with Dr. Blut.

Date It Happened: February 7th, 2007

Log Title: The Four O'Clock

Job's Office

Job can find definite advantages to not accepting walk-in appointments. For starters, it allows him to keep his day structured, and he always knows exactly when he needs to be in his office and when he can be elsewhere (excepting the rare surprise emergency call). It also allows him to decide when he will see who, fitting people into slots based on their agreeableness and his patience at any given time during the day. It might partially be for this reason that he sits at his desk, sifting through his various files near the end of the working day while he waits for his four o'clock. He doesn't expect much trouble out of her; he just likes the prospect of being able to go home and relax immediately afterward. That's his plan, at the very least.

Knock, knock, knock - the sound of knuckles rapping lightly against the door fills the office, but before Job can usher his four o'clock inside, the handle turns and a familiar face appears, illuminated by the sliver of artificial light leaking in from the hall. It's Sydney - or 'Amber,' as Job knows her - and she's late for her appointment by fifteen minutes. "Dr. Blut?" Although her voice contains an apologetic note, the rueful look in the young woman's eyes is even sorrier than her tone.

"Right place," Job replies, "Little behind schedule, but you found me." Closing his folder, Job deposits it back in his desk drawer and locks it before standing up from his chair. "Besides, no one's ever on time for their first appointment unless they have anxiety problems, so that's usually an indicator of what's going on upstairs. Come on in."

Sydney doesn't waste any time accepting the invitation. "Thanks," she says as she steps inside and uses her hip to push the door shut behind her, "I was starting to feel kinda dirty just hanging around out there. Like a call girl." There's a brief pause, and she adds, almost as an afterthought, "Or an encyclopedia salesman." Leaving her jacket and her satchel bag by the coat rack (though, curiously enough, not on it), she makes her way across the office and adopts a perch on the arm of the sofa. "Can I sit here?"

"Well, that's generally the idea, yes. Lay down, if you like," Job replies, "Hungry? Thirsty? I only have snacks, sodas and water, but it might be better than nothing."

"Thanks, but I picked up some corned beef and pastrami from Katz's on the way over." Sydney must not feel like laying down, because she stays right where she is - one long leg dangling while the other tucks under to support her back end. "If you're gonna record this, I have to sign some sorta release form, right?"

"If I record it, yes, but you do have the option of refusing that." Job doesn't wait for an answer though, already opening another drawer in his desk to retrieve the appropriate form, just in case Sydney does decide she would like it recorded.

"No offense or anything," Sydney says, "but if I'm gonna be honest with you, I don't want it coming back to bite me in the ass." Translation: no thank you.

And shut goes the drawer with nothing coming out of it. "Not a problem." Job lightly claps his hands together before continuing. "We can begin whenever you're ready. Just give me the hi sign."

"This is the first time I've ever done this. Obviously." Sydney lets out a slow breath to calm her nerves. "So, where am I supposed to start?"

While Sydney asks her questions, Job takes a seat in the armchair that sits across from the sofa, at a slight angle, and gets comfortable. "Well, we start with your problem," he says, "Not always easy to figure out what that is. But, I was pretty close about you being left alone at DnA's and losing sleep over it. Why don't we start with that, the what and the why, and see where it takes us. If we make progress, we keep going, and if not, we try another direction."

Sydney lowers her eyes to her hands and the tangle of fingers in her lap. Each nail is painted colour, but there's something about the neon green polish on her thumb that causes her to begin picking at it, distracting herself from the seriousness of the situation. "Well," she begins, "I go to these NA meetings, right? Not because I want to, but because the boss makes me. Says he'll let me go if I don't get my life back under control." A snort. "Like he knows what that means. He wouldn't even listen when I told him it wasn't the drugs that have me all messed up."

"Well, what is it that does have you 'all messed up'?" Normally, Job wouldn't try to stab at the heart of the matter this quickly, but drugs were mentioned, and he knows well enough that when drugs are involved, stabbing right at the heart of the matter is normally stabbing at the heart of only one in a series of matters.

As Sydney looks up, she meets Job's gaze and begins to study his eyes intently, searching for the answer to a question that she has not yet asked. A full minute passes before she speaks again, but her voice sounds strangely subdued. "Do you see a lot of crazies in here, Dr. Blut?"

Job gives a shrug of his shoulders. "No more than any other psychologist, I think," he replies, "Maybe less. I know enough not to throw that label around, though. Broken for no reason at all? That's a crazy. Broken, and fixable because of a root cause? That's normal. And you don't strike me as crazy."

"I want you to like me," Sydney says. "I want you to like me because I like being liked. Who doesn't, really? I'm just scared that you won't anymore. Not if I tell you." She reaches up and tucks a thin string of blonde hair behind her ear. "I don't want to end up in a psych ward, either."

"Amber, I'll level with you before we go any further," Job says, steepling his hands in front of him. "Anything and everything you say here is confidential, between you and me. You can say whatever you want, and I can't report you to your friends, your parents, a sanitarium, the police or even the federal government except under exceptional circumstances. And not for nothing, if any of those circumstances were present, someone would've already put you into a psych ward, so I think you're pretty safe."

"Would you believe me if I told you that I've never left New York but remember serving in 'Nam and watching my best friend shoot himself in the face? " Sydney asks. "Would you believe me if I told you that I've never had any kids but remember smothering my baby girl with a pillow because she wouldn't stop crying? Would you believe me if I told you that I have all these memories in my head - but none of them are mine? What would you say?"

"I would do what any rational person would do," Job replies, "Point out that you're going to NA on account of taking drugs, and these aren't actual memories, but are phantoms caused by drug-induced psychological damage." He holds up his hands as if to say, 'What else do you want?' "So now, I'm going to ask you a question, that needs only a simple answer. Why did you start drugs?"

"You have it backwards, Dr. Blut." Sydney gives a caustic little laugh. Already, the sound of defeat is creeping into her voice; she knew he wouldn't understand. "It didn't start because of the drugs. I started taking the drugs because of it."

It probably isn't supposed to be creepy, the little grin that Job develops. But he can't help it. "The plot thickens," he says, leaning forward in his chair, "This begs the question, 'where did these memories come from?' When did they start?"

"I started noticing it a couple years ago," Sydney explains, "after I brought this guy home from the club. He'd been there every night that week. Flirting. I knew he was married, right? I didn't think it would bother me, but as soon as the clothes came off and we started going at it… all I could think about was his wife, his kids, whether or not he was happy, whether or not they were happy." She swallows. Hard. "The sex was bad. Really unforgettable. But when I woke up the next morning, it was all there - in my head. Her name was Amanda Guttman. His kids were Andrew and Alexander Guttman. Six and eight. I knew it all, and he never even told me. That was the first time."

Job nods. His wife's name slipping out, he can see. But the kids? And especially their last names? Unless he was well and truly the worst father ever, sensitive information like that would stay sensitive. "And it happened a second time?"

"It always happens. Whenever I touch somebody, it's like their face peels back and I can see inside. Even when I don't want to, I end up coming away with something." It's a relief to get this off her chest, and though Sydney feels like she's been freed of a huge emotional weight, her voice can't help but waver between trembling and tightening as she speaks. "This morning, on the subway, this little old lady brushed her hand against mine when she was getting off the train. It only took a second, but now I can't get the taste of her wedding cake out of my mouth. The pastrami didn't help."

And now, Job leans back in his chair, thinking. She touched him too. "Every time you touch someone?" he asks, "Alright, I'll bite. What'd you get out of me?"

It takes Sydney a few seconds to realize what Job is talking about. When she does, she raises both her brows. "I touched you?"

"Crashed right into me in Central Park," Job says to remind the apparently short-minded Sydney, "And then later at the Back Alley."

"No. I touched your shirt, your jacket - your clothes." Sydney holds up both her hands, showing Job her bare palms. "There's a difference. I would never touch you."

Well, that's a little different then. "That makes it a little challenging to test your claim," Job replies, "I'm going to assume you wouldn't touch me on account of invading my privacy." And then he holds one hand out. "Go ahead, I want to see how this works. One little touch won't hurt, right?"

"If I take it," Sydney warns, "then it's gone forever. You won't have it anymore, so why would you believe me?" Still, she reaches up and curls fingers around his wrist, grasping Job so tightly that her knuckles go white. "I'll show you instead." With that, the woman's eyes slip slowly closed and she concentrates on summoning up a memory that's potent but won't be missed. It doesn't take her long to settle on one. As her arm begins to tremble, the memory of a boy's first hunt with his father begins to flow into the therapist, filling his ears with the crack of a rifle and his nostrils with the choking stench of gunsmoke. All of a sudden, his cheeks are feeling very wet and it tastes like tears are swimming in his mouth.

At first, Job doesn't find anything amiss. At least, until he realizes that he's never been hunting with his father or at all. The feeling is only doubled when he realizes he's living that scene as if he were there, even when he knows he's not. The smile vanishes from his face as soon as the transfer begins, and it's only a couple of seconds that go by before he's tearing his wrist away from Sydney, trying to get out of the scene playing out in the back of his mind.

Sydney does not struggle with Job. The instant that she senses him trying to wrench away, she releases her grip and opens her eyes. She doesn't look smug. She doesn't look sad. She doesn't look anything at all. "Which one was that?"

"It was, uh, hunting." It takes Job a little effort to get the words out. It doesn't make any sense, where that came from. It wasn't just something that his brain cooked up. Where did the fuel come from? "Hunting."

"Hunting," Sydney repeats, perhaps for clarification, or perhaps for her own peace of mind. She reaches into the back pocket of her jeans and pulls out a small leather booklet that's small enough to fit in the palm of her hand but so well-worn that many of the pages are beginning to come loose. Then, wordlessly, she begins flipping through it.

"That was-" The psychologist struggles a bit, trying to find the right word. "Unexpected. A little terrifying. How'd you do it?"

"If I knew, I wouldn't be talking to you, now would I?" Sydney, apparently having found what she was looking for, tears out one of the pages toward the back of the booklet, folds it in half and offers it to Job. "Here," she says. "It's yours now."

Job looks at Sydney for a moment, and then at the folded piece of paper in her hand before he accepts it, not quite sure, at first, what he should do with it. "Every time you touch someone?" he asks. Clearly, he wants to make sure he understands what he's dealing with.

Even Sydney doesn't know what she's dealing with, and it has never been more apparent than in the small smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. "Yeah," she whispers. "Pretty crappy, huh?"

"Pretty crappy," Job concurs, "But it's funny the way things work out, sometimes."

"I don't think it's funny at all." The smile is gone now. "You have no idea what it's like being different - being a freak."

"Not funny to you, maybe. But if you know more of the story, there's one, very small part that is absolutely hilarious, and it's because you're different," Job says, setting the paper containing his new memory on the arm of his chair, "Absolutely hilarious that in a nation of three hundred million people, the girl who spilled her coffee on me because she was late to work is a freak." Before he continues, the psychologist is careful to make sure he is looking as directly at Sydney as he can. "Just like me."

At first, Sydney says nothing. She's torn between laughing and screaming, shouting and crying, completely uncertain of herself - and him. Job is impossible to read. Is he trying to comfort her? Or is he trying to demean them both? "Dr. Blut—"

"Like I said, a small part of this is funny," Job reiterates, "There are six billion people on the earth, and somehow, the two of us ended up in the same room together. Maybe we're not exactly the same. I think there's enough evidence to say we're completely different, except that we're both nothing like anyone else."

Sydney narrows her eyes at Job. She's finally settled on an emotion, and that emotion is anger. Her cheeks burn a dark and furious shade of pink as she rises from her seat on the arm of the couch, prepared to cut their session short; therapist or not, she doesn't like it when he talks in riddles. "You're not making any sense."

"You should stay sitting, Amber," Job says, "You just need to change your outlook a bit." Even as he says this, Job is putting his own "trick" to work. Nothing drastic, of course, because all Sydney really needs is a nudge towards another feeling. Specifically, Job thinks that she should feel happy about this development. It's only fair that he helps her out.

Very slowly, Sydney sinks back down to the couch, one hand laid flat across her stomach - fingers splayed. She sucks in a sharp breath through her nose, then parts her lips to let it out through her mouth in the form of a sigh. "Okay," she murmurs thickly, "okay."

"You could be crippled with laughter right now," Job continues, "Or bawling your eyes out, with enough effort on my part. That's what I can do, even though I'm proud that I don't need to do it, normally." He still does it. Sometimes, it's to his benefit when used discreetly. "That's the small part in all this that's funny, at least to me." Once again, he leans forward. "Here's what we'll do. Session's over early, because we both need to think about this more thoroughly. Next session's free. Go home and get a good night's sleep, Amber. You deserve it."

Free of Job's control, Sydney can feel the rage begin to bubble back up to the surface. She doesn't fully understand what just happened, or why her gut is telling her that she shouldn't even be in the same room as him, so she shakily clambers back to her feet and stumbles to retrieve her jacket and satchel. Then she's out the door and pounding down the stairs to street level, all without saying "thank you," or even "good bye." Instead, in her haste, she's leaves him her pocketbook - and, scribbled on the inside of the front cover, her address.

Silently, Job rises from his chair and crosses the length of his office, picking the pocket book up off the floor. 'Amber' will be back, if not for more help, then for her misplaced possession. Job is more than happy to hold onto it for her but all the same finds himself wondering. If he's not alone, if there's one other person out there who is, without question, paranormal, then how many others are out there? And more importantly, are they hiding in plain sight like Sydney was?

The page from the pocketbook:

Michael L. Morris, 59 — Deer hunting with his father. 1960. Remorse.

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