Sound Mind and BodybyMilliemoon©
Dedicated to my great proof-reader with thanks.
The sound reverberated through his mind, the cold sweat breaking out almost immediately and Gray cried out involuntarily as he shot up in his bed.
"Oh, God." He ran his hands through his dirty blond hair, his breath coming in gasps as he tried, unsuccessfully, to get himself back under control. It didn't matter that it had been almost four years, that he knew he was safe in his own home, or that lightening wasn't supposed to strike twice. All that did matter was he was alone, always alone with his demons, and he knew that would never change.
"Morning, Mr. Watson, how's it goin'?" The voice of the doorman broke into his dark early morning thoughts and Grayling Watson looked up.
"Like usual, Jim, how 'bout you?"
"Yeah, me too. Still, school's out Friday isn't it? You get what, six weeks off?"
The older man understood the rueful smile he got in reply. What good were six weeks holiday when the young man would spend them by himself? At least if he was in school he would be surrounded by people; still alone, but there would be others to interact with, chat to, pretend to be interested in. Jim watched Grayling pass through the ornate double exterior doors. He wished there was something he could do. He'd tried, so had others, he wasn't sure what, if anything, could improve Grayling Watson's quality of life. He would keep an eye on him; it seemed like the only thing left.
The walk to the large, unimposing, building took him just over ten minutes; if he drove it took twenty-five. Car horns honked, drivers swore, bikers weaved in and out of the early morning traffic and mums looked harassed as they took part in yet another school run.
Grayling pulled himself together mentally as he walked through the gates. He put a smile on his face, ran his hand through his hair hoping it would, just for once, lie flat and look like he combed it now and then and pushed his glasses up his nose. The early morning sun had darkened the lenses and so hid his deep brown eyes and the pain they contained, for that, if nothing else, he was glad.
"Mornin', Sir." A boy, probably about fourteen, ran past him in the schoolyard, tossing the welcome over his shoulder as he did so. Grayling didn't bother to return it, knowing it wasn't expected of him. Instead he thought about the fact that he had five days left before he could sleep in, try and get his life going again, even consider a vacation or a move to a new city, five days, that was only about thirty science lessons and then he'd be done.
The letter was waiting in his mailbox the first day of the holidays. He'd been expecting it, but still, he'd hoped it wouldn't come.
"Dear Mr. Watson, he read out loud, even though there was no one to listen to him. It has been over six months since your last meeting with Mr. Bailey and we are concerned that you did not finish your allotted appointments. We would welcome the opportunity to rectify this at your earliest convenience.
In the time since your last visit Mr. Bailey has retired and Marcia Mulholland is now seeing his clients. Ms Mulholland has read your file and will be contacting you shortly to discuss the above with you.
Gray screwed up the letter and tossed it in the general direction of the waste paper basket. So, Bailey, Cross and Danby was missing the Bailey bit; Gray shrugged his shoulders. He wasn't sure talking to a woman would be something he wanted to do, but he had a feeling the dreams and cold sweats wouldn't go until he faced things. He could always move to another practice, see another shrink; money wasn't a problem; he could afford the best, which was why he had a flat with great views and a doorman. Not that it made much difference; the struggles were the same, whether he was rich or poor.
"Mr. Watson, thank you for coming in to see me. I realize changing your therapist is a big step, and I hope you will give me the chance to get to know you and help you." Marcia Mulholland had probably said the same thing twenty times in the last month, but most of her new clients had at least appeared to listen, Grayling Watson didn't seem to even be in the same room with her.
"I'm sorry, what did you say?" Gray had been lost in the memories of his last visit; he'd lambasted Arthur Bailey, telling him in no uncertain terms how he didn't feel he was doing him any good. Now he knew the old man had retired on health grounds he felt a little guilty.
"Nothing much, just the official spiel about seeing a new shrink. I'm guessing you aren't interested in that."
Gray shook his head, his thoughts would remain hidden, but he'd make sure he listened from now on. He wasn't aware of the scrutiny he was under, didn't know the woman across the desk from him was already making mental notes about her new client, if he had he might have been surprised at what she saw.
Marcia was forty-six years old; she had been married to another psychotherapist for twenty years and had finally got the Harley Street partnership she had been searching for. Grayling Watson had interested her since she'd begun reading his file a little over a month earlier. Now, looking at the young man before her, she was sure if she could pick up his pain in her hands it would burn her. Arthur Bailey had written that Grayling hid everything from sight, never let his guard down and thought no one could see the agony he was in. Marcia had a feeling most people probably couldn't, but if they looked closely they would see the emptiness in his eyes, the tenseness in his fingers, and the slight, but constant, movement of his foot against the floor. The man was holding on to himself so tightly that sooner or later everything would give way and he would be unable to function unless he'd begun to unburden himself before then. The responsibility was now hers to ensure that happened.
"Ok, I know you've already had an 'initial meeting' but I'd like to do another one. Arthur didn't work like I do and, to be honest, I really want to have my own first impressions to go on rather than his." She saw Grayling nod his head and so she began to speak again, this time holding a pen in her left hand and notebook in her right. She didn't use tape recorders or video cameras, instead she had her own shorthand that, should she ever get hit by a bus, no one else would ever understand, but it worked for her, in fact it worked very well.
"The basics I have are these. Grayling Stuart Watson, schoolteacher, science, twenty-eight years old, single, lives in Barton Towers and works at Milton Community College. Has one sister, younger and is allergic to garlic. Has any of that changed?"
"Nope, none of it. Well, next week I'll be twenty-nine, but I'm guessing you know that."
"I do. How about parents, are they both still living?"
"Yes, they're in Devon, I see them about once every two months or so, call them every week. Dad is a publican; mum helps in the bar and works in a local craft shop. My sister lives in New York, I don't see her very often, but we e-mail each other all the time, and sometimes we even get the web cam strung up and talk face-to-face."
Grayling watched as his therapist made notes of what he said. There appeared to be what his students called a spider diagram on the page, he was in the middle and everything he had said so far was there in some form or another coming off from his name. Marcia concentrated on her notes for a moment, aware that she was now the one under scrutiny. She hoped her young client would return on a regular basis, but she wasn't sure if he would or not.
The sun had disappeared by the time Gray left the small, unpretentious terraced house where he had spent the last two hours. Large spots of rain were just beginning to stain the pavement and he decided, on the spur of the moment, to take a taxi instead of the bus. A shiny black cab pulled up to the kerb, an advertisement for the yellow pages splashed across the doors, and he looked in through the passenger side of the vehicle.
"Barton Towers please." Gray's voice wavered as he blinked and swallowed hard, hoping his driver wouldn't think him mad.
"Sure. It might take longer than you think though. Sloane Street is snarled and Oxford Street is closed because of a security alert."
"Oh, great. No problem, take the scenic route, I have all day." Gray climbed in the back and ran his hand through his hair. Whatever had possessed him to say that? He leant into the seat, removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose before closing his eyes, not wanting to look at the driver but knowing he had to effectively blind himself to prevent him from staring. There was something about the man who was now pulling away from the side of the road, looking over his shoulder and then in front again, something that made him want to, for the first time in over four years, talk to a stranger.
The summer shower hadn't lasted very long and soon the sun was warm through the windows as Ben Marsh negotiated the very slow moving traffic while his passenger slept in the back. He liked picking up from Harley Street; it was always interesting. Sometimes he was regaled by people's history all the way to their destinations, other times they would sit in silence, staring out of the window, concentrating on what their doctor or analyst had told them. Either way it was more appealing than over-wrought shoppers from Bond Street or drunk football fans from Wembley.
Ben was just pulling into the cul-de-sac that contained Barton Towers when he heard a noise and looked sharply into his rear-view mirror.
"No! God, no, Simon, NO!" Gray jerked awake, completely unaware of anything but the vision, still in his mind's eye, of Simon as he fell. He heard nothing but the scream, cut off almost as soon as it started, and tried to gulp back his sob as suddenly he realized he wasn't at home but out in the open.
"Hey, shhh, c'mon, man, it's ok." Ben had parked and opened the back door of his cab almost in one movement, he didn't touch his passenger but he did look on in concern. The young man was sweating and he knew he saw tears in his eyes.
"Sorry, I'm so sorry." Grayling was mortified as he realized that, for the first time, someone else had witnessed his dream, his nightmare. "I ... I'll walk from here, how much do I owe you?"
"Oh no. No way, you're not going on your own. Look, we're here anyway. Let me just see you to your door. Please?" Ben had no intention of letting the terrified man walk one step unaided. He'd had people throw up in his cab, two suffer heart attacks and one woman in the final stages of labour in the ten years he'd been working in London, but none of that had affected him the way the anguished words of this young man had. He wouldn't pry but he did want to know he had delivered him home safely.
Gray said nothing; he just nodded. He could see the time on the digital clock in the front of the cab. Jim would be at lunch and a little bit of company, even for just a minute or two, was suddenly very welcome. He watched in silence as the older man climbed back in the cab and pulled slowly into one of the parking spaces reserved for visitors in front of his building. Then he waited, still trying to gather himself together and catch his breath, until the door was opened once again.
"My name's Ben, what's yours?"
"Grayling, Grayling Watson, but most people call me Gray, thanks." He stepped out of the taxi and leant back against it. His head was still whirling with the images he'd seen so clearly and for a moment he wasn't sure if he had the energy to make it to the lift."Slowly does it." Ben rested Gray's elbow in left hand and carefully guided him towards the exclusive looking building that had Barton Towers ornately inscribed on a large gilt name plate next to the double entrance doors. The lift was waiting patiently for them and the two men entered it before Ben spoke again. "Which floor?"
"Oh, sorry, ten." Now Gray was leaning against the cool steel of the lift's interior, his eyes closed again. He knew he should say something, maybe explain what had happened but he didn't have the words and even if he did it wasn't a place he wanted to go especially when he was awake.
"We're here, you let yourself in and once I know you're ok I'll take off." Ben still had his hand on Gray's elbow; he wasn't letting go until his companion could sit down rather than fall down.
"'k. Thanks." Gray's home was the final apartment of three on the tenth floor. He walked, slightly unsteadily, towards his front door fumbling for his keys as he did so. He unlocked and although the stranger followed him into his home he felt no danger from him.
"Sit for a minute. The meter's not running any more." Ben smiled, looking around him as he did so. The flat was fabulous but he had a feeling its occupant just lived there, nothing more. He could see into the open plan kitchen and, once he was sure Grayling wasn't going to collapse across the sofa if he let go of his arm, he made his way there and got a clean glass out of the dishwasher. He filled it with cold water and then returned to the lounge. He didn't think he'd even been missed.
"There you go. H2O neat. Don't drink it all at once." Ben placed the glass on a mat he could see resting on a deep mahogany occasional table and then crouched down in front of Grayling, not wanting to sit next to him and scare him even more than he seemed to be. "Look, I don't want to intrude, you just came from your shrink, I know that much, but no one's home except you, do you want me to stay for a while?"
"No, no, I'll be ok. No one is ever home but me; so however long you stay that's not gonna change. Thank you, Ben, I appreciate you helping me out and I'm sorry, really sorry for what happened." Gray concentrated on getting money from his wallet and didn't look up as he spoke or when he handed over the cash with an almost mumbled 'Keep the change.' He couldn't make eye contact with the man he'd felt such a connection with as he'd entered his cab. If he did that he'd have to tell him what it was that made him behave the way he had, and that was out of the question. Gray knew any chance of friendship had been blown out of the water without him even realizing he was doing it.
"Thanks. My mobile number's on here. If you want to chat just call, and, well, it's none of my business, but I'm not a bad listener. You wouldn't believe some of the things that get told me from the back of that cab." Ben put a white business card down on the table next to the glass of, as yet, untouched water. He got to his feet, looked once more at the young man and then made his way out of the room. He wished he'd got Gray's number, but if he didn't want to share there was nothing he could do about it.
Gray watched as Ben walked out of his home and his life. He had no idea why he'd even entertained the idea of having a friend; the whole thing had disappeared before he'd even had a chance to get it off the ground. For a few minutes he sat where he was, sipping at the water.
"'H2O neat,'" he grinned. He hadn't got what Ben meant until now and shook his head. Everything was screwed up, his life, his dreams; even his sense of humour had deserted him. He knew he didn't laugh and enjoy things as others did any more but he usually got people's jokes, even if he didn't show it.
As usual his dream had left Gray feeling exhausted, both in mind and body; he made his way through to his bedroom and flopped down on the large king sized bed. For the first time in a long while he rolled over until he could reach the nightstand, pulled open the drawer and took out a photograph. Simon stared up at him, smiling, his beautiful eyes so full of life and love.
Gray couldn't suppress the cry of anguish that left him. After four years he still missed the older man as much as he had the day he died. The old adage of time healing all wounds was definitely a lie, at least as far as he was concerned. He hurt as much now as he had then, some days he was sure he hurt more.
The tears that he'd successfully hidden in the cab fell now, unhindered, and instead of putting the photo away Gray turned over with it still in his hand and sobbed. For the first time he'd felt some connection to another human being, a need had arisen inside of him to be friends with someone. Ben hadn't looked, sounded or behaved anything like Simon but there had been something, something that drew Gray towards him with a need to be accepted again.
Maybe the only step he was up to right now was thinking about making a friend, he should be feeling good not bad about even having the courage to go that far, but he didn't. The dream had spooked him more than he cared to admit. It was one thing to have that type of nightmare in his own bed but the back of a cab, no that was something altogether different.
Albert Bailey had asked if he dreamt of his dead lover and he'd replied that he did sometimes. Almost every night was sometimes, right? Besides he only appeared in his nightmares now and again usually when he was stressed or over-tired and the Lord knew he'd been both of them lately. No one knew though that when the nightmares did come he relived things so vividly it was as if he was back in that street in Chelsea, back where everything had gone so wrong when things were supposed to be so right.
A yawn escaped him and Gray made himself comfortable on the bed. He'd take a visit to see his parents the following morning, spend a little quality time with them and help out in the bar for a couple of days. It was always busy the first week or so of the school holidays and if he was busy as well they couldn't ask too many questions of him.
Ben had driven by the small terraced house in Harley Street regularly every day at both eleven and twelve, not sure if Gray would go back or even if it would be at the same time but, exactly a week after his first encounter with the young man, his diligence was rewarded. He had stopped at the kerb, astonished to find a parking space so near to where he wanted to be, got out of the taxi and leant against it enjoying the good weather. Just under ten minutes later, he'd seen Gray descend the steps out into the London sunshine.
"Can I take you anywhere?" Ben called out and waved but didn't move closer.
"Ben? What are you doing here?" Gray couldn't believe he was seeing the cabbie again.
"Waiting for you. You didn't call and ... well, I don't know why but I just needed to see you were ok."
Gray felt his cheeks warm as he realized that not only was he blushing, which he never did, but also the man he'd wanted to befriend must feel the same way.
"I'm doing ... well, average, I guess ... I'm not taking the bus am I?"
"Not if you want to keep me in work." Ben tried a hangdog expression and to his delight was rewarded by a short bark of laughter.
"That's it, play to my sensitive side." Gray moved forward his hand outstretched. "Thanks, man, I appreciate it."
"No problem. Get in." Ben held open the door and Gray climbed inside. The traffic wasn't as busy as it had been the previous week, the school holidays played havoc with schedules and plans. Some days, inexplicably, it was dead quiet whilst the next it could be heaving. The taxi made its way slowly but steadily down Oxford Street, turning right by Broadcasting House and all the time Ben and Gray chatted, getting to know each other in an easy and relaxed manner. When they got nearer to home Gray pointed out a coffee shop he'd heard other teachers mention in the staff room and Ben pulled in to park, his yellow light off and his journey effectively over.
"I have to admit I've never been here but it's supposed to be a good place. Apparently, according to our food tech teacher, their muffins are almost edible."
Ben laughed; he looked at the small café approvingly and walked inside, holding the door just long enough for Gray to grab the handle. There were about ten tables, all with light blue checked tablecloths on. Small vases with white carnations in them adorned each table along with the prerequisite salt, pepper and sugar containers. Soft jazz music was playing in the background, the sound of the saxophone creating an immediately mellow atmosphere. The walls were white, roughly coated and adorned with old coffee advertisements plying the wares of long forgotten traders and plantations.