"I'm glad you came to see me, Chase. As I've told you many times, my own door is always open to you."
Chase took a seat and stared at the bald man with glasses across from her. She remembered how much disdain she’d held for him the first time they’d met; how difficult it had been to come in here and speak about anything that was even partly true.
How things had changed.
"I was just assigned this new case… it involves missing, and likely murdered, women."
Chase stared closely at Dr. Matteo as she spoke, trying to get a hint of a wince, a cringe, anything that might indicate that the man was nervous about her accepting such a case.
But Dr. Matteo had a poker face that rivaled hers; if he was anxious or concerned, he wasn’t showing it.
"They’re older, mid-twenties, but still…" Chase said, letting her sentence trail off. It occurred to her that she was doing this a lot lately and didn’t care for it. When she would lie, Chase tended to be curt, to the point.
"You're searching, Chase. You're searching for an excuse not to take this case. And I understand that. But if there's anything I taught you, it is to live—"
"In the present," Chase finished for him. It was the man's common refrain, and it had helped her get through a lot.
"Yeah, I know, I’m like a broken record. Just remember that none of these girls are you, as much as you might want them to be. You need to avoid projecting, avoid the notion that if you save these women, then you’ve saved yourself. I don't want to sound condescending, but you know this. You know this because criminals do it all the time, and you have more experience with them than most anybody else. And your job, in case you forgot, is not to save people. It is to try to save people. You are not the perpetrator of the crimes, Chase."
Chase took this in and found herself nodding.
"Yeah, it's just…"
You're doing it again, Chase. Just say it. Just say what you want to say.
Dr. Matteo gave her an opportunity to do just that.
She exhaled loudly.
"I'm afraid that I'm going to see my sister in these victims. And then I’m going to feel guilty about leaving her again, which will lead me onto a path of self-destruction."
Her candidness surprised even her, but Chase went with it.
"And I don't think I can survive that, not again."
Dr. Matteo nodded.
"I don't think you can, either. How long have you been coming to see me, Chase? How long has it been since we first met?”
"Two years, give or take?"
"Eighteen months," Dr. Matteo corrected. "And during this time, how many meetings have we had? And I'm not talking about the group sessions, just the one on one's."
Chase racked her brain but could only guess.
"I dunno. Thirty?"
Dr. Matteo shook his head.
"Ninety-seven; you and I have met in private ninety-seven times over these eighteen months."
This surprised Chase. Ironically, she had started to come more regularly since things had gotten better, but ninety-seven? That seemed absurd.
"Really? That many?"
"And how many times do you think that we’ve spoken about your sister during these talks?"
This, Chase knew the answer to.
"Every one of them."
"That's right; every single time we meet you mention your sister. Let me just ask you one more question, Chase, and I don’t at all mean this in a derogatory or disparaging way, but how many times do you think we have to meet before you're going to be able to deal with a case like this? One dealing with missing children? Missing girls?"
Chase had no idea where the man was going with this, so she just shrugged.
"Ninety-seven," Dr. Matteo continued confidently. "We've gone through every issue that you’ve had related to what happened to you and your sister.”
The man leaned back in his chair and despite what he’d just said, Chase felt her annoyance building.
“So? It was fucked up—it is fucked up. I can’t just ignore it.”
“Nor should you. But I think it’s time we focused on the reason why you continue to bring it up.”
“—before you say, it’s because it was such a traumatic experience—which it undoubtedly was—I am going to pre-emptively disagree. My clinical opinion is that you bring up your sister because it holds a certain amount of comfort to you. The memory causes you pain, and the pain reminds you of her. This pain also keeps you grounded, keeps you away from your other vices.”
Except for that one mistake with Stitts…
Chase shook her head.
“And what’s wrong with that?”
“It’s just another crutch. You don’t need to do that; you don’t need to feel that pain to remember her.
Look, you could come see me a thousand, a million times, and we’d still be talking about your sister. And I don’t mean to say that you’re incurable, quite the contrary. I think you’re ready to move on, in a sense. To talk about other things in your life that, good or bad, affect you.”
Chase scowled. She couldn’t help but feel that what Dr. Matteo was saying was incredibly callous and offensive. Deep down, she knew that wasn’t true—the man was straightforward, blunt, but also caring—but to forget about Georgina? To talk about something else? That was… that was being unfaithful.
“So, let’s try it then. Is there something else bothering you? Something not directly related to this case or your sister?”
Chase folded her arms across her chest defiantly.
Dr. Matteo chuckled.
“You used to be a great liar, Chase. Now? Not so much. Okay, okay, how’s your sex life?”
The question was so startling that Chase’s mouth fell open for a second before she snapped it closed.
“Ah, so non-existent then,” Dr. Matteo said. “You’re legally separated from your husband now, aren’t you?”
Chase hated that word. Separated. It was essentially purgatory. In Heaven, you had everything at your fingertips, anything you ever wanted. In Hell, at least you knew what was coming. In purgatory? Fuck, who knows. One day you’re being fed grapes, the next you’re being branded with a scalding iron.
“So, you can explore other relationships, correct?”
“Why do you have a non-existent sex life, then?”
“It’s not non-existent. In fact, I had sex with…”
Dr. Matteo just stared at her, waiting for her to continue, but Chase couldn’t bring herself to say his name.
Stitts… I had sex with my partner Stitts after a highly emotionally charged time. It was fantastic, but afterward, I pretty much shut it out of my memory. When Stitts called, I pretended it never happened, pretended that things were as they used to be. Until I saw him last night, that is; until I touched his arm…
“Okay, I’m not looking for details. But was this a casual encounter or something that you’re looking to pursue?”
Chase couldn’t tell if Dr. Matteo was probing because of her tumultuous history with sex or for another reason entirely. Either way, she didn’t feel like talking about it.
“I dunno. Can we just talk about my sister? This damn case I was just assigned?”
Dr. Matteo shook his head.
“What do you mean, no? I pay you well to come here and talk, and that’s what I—”
“No, Chase. I’m not going to talk about her, I’m not going to let you off the hook that easily. Do you realize what just happened? I asked you a question, a simple, but crude question, and it triggered something in you. Rather than deal with the issue, you defaulted to your sister, to that pain. I won’t let you do it, at least not with me.”
Chase stared at Dr. Matteo, trying to figure out if he was bluffing. While her skills of deception might have waned over time, her ability to read others, with or without touching them, had become razor sharp.
“Fine, I’m leaving then,” she spat, rising to her feet. She’d just pulled the door open when his voice drew her back.
“I think you can handle this case, Chase. I think you have the tools now to handle any case. Just remember, this case isn’t in the past, it’s in the—”
“Goddamn present,” she finished for him, before leaving the office. “Thanks for nothing, doc.”