10 February 2006
Lori tried to go back to life as she remembered it, but it just wasn't there anymore. She couldn't really explain to her co-workers that it wasn't her who burned all those bridges between March and November. She couldn't bear to spend time with Bob now that he was so close to Charles, and Beth was willing to recognize that whatever caused the breakup was enough for her to need space from Matteson's friends but didn't understand how much space she really needed. The apartment felt like someone else's home, even after she got rid of the shrine and threw away anything new and scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed. Mark was gone, and the guilt she felt over that haunted her constantly. Medically, her body was still recovering from the miscarriage and the injuries she suffered from being thrown at Matteson and Jackie by an angry ghost whose memories still flooded her dreams and occasionally ripped her out of her waking life. Everything reminded her of something, everywhere she went in Sharon and Hermitage had some story with Matteson and Alethea involved. And now she had Alethea's reactions to things, little things she wouldn't have expected, like the cutting board and the bathtub and the Beatles. She didn't even always know why these things meant what they meant, just that they hurt in a deep, visceral way that would break down any attempt to continue her day.
Whether out of some desire to force life back to normal, or a refusal to feel like the ghost had won, or some feeling that maybe none of this was real, Lori couldn't really tell; but she was, for a month and a half, committed to trying to put life back together. It was in trying to prepare for Christmas that she realized how alone, and hurt, and miserable she really was, and that was when the temptations to harm began in earnest. She was laying on her living room floor and crying when her cousin in Louisville, Kentucky, called to invite her to Christmas dinner.
"Your mom tells me you've had a rough year," he said, "so I thought maybe you'd want to get away for a bit, and it's been a while since we've seen you. The kids really miss you." Lori was in her car with some essentials and the few clothes she could tolerate looking at, driving southwest, within the hour.
Alex was accommodating and his family was warm and welcoming. She didn't know if she could tell them what had happened, at least not the whole story, but they slowly drew enough out of her to know that she couldn't go back to Sharon until she was ready. They had a spare room that was basically given to her, Alex negotiated with her old landlord to settle the terms of breaking the lease early, and her mom stored everything Lori didn't want anymore to put into a yard sale come spring and shipped whatever remained to her in January. Vanessa, Alex's wife, got Lori hired on when a secretary at her office left to go back to college. There were some benefits with the position, and both Alex and Vanessa urged Lori to see someone about her apparent PTSD and asked more than a couple times if her ex was to blame and needed to have a conversation with the police. She insisted that it wasn't his fault, it just...coincided with having him in her life, but they always seemed more like they were dropping it out of respect for her wishes more than believing her. She promised that as soon as she had some money set aside for the co-pay of a half dozen sessions or so she would try to find a therapist.
It wasn't until Vanessa tried to comfort her in the middle of an episode and she let slip that there was a ghost possession involved in all of this did they take direct action. The next night, when Lori got home from work, Alex and Vanessa sat down and explained they were having someone over for dinner that night. Alex explained that he wasn't sure if he really believed in all this supernatural stuff, but he did have a friend who claimed to have been assaulted by a fae once and had been helped by this one doctor. She was legit, Vanessa confirmed they had looked into her credentials, and she seemed to have a certain involvement with people who claimed supernatural trauma. Lori didn't have to tell her anything she didn't want to, but they wanted her to at least meet the doctor and know that there were people out there who understood more of what she was facing than they did.
A half hour later, Dr. Francesca Harris was welcomed in from the porch and a roast duck was set on the table. Lori and Dr. Harris sat opposite each other, and the kids asked her all kinds of questions about what she did and how she knew their parents and if she'd ever seen aliens. She laughed and entertained their questions, and Lori slowly got comfortable with the idea that, whatever else was true of Harris, she would probably at least believe her.
Once the kids were in bed and the adults were left to their wine in the living room, Lori finally broke down and told the whole story. It was the first time anyone had heard all of it, and she didn't even mean to. Once she started, it just all poured out. Alex and Vanessa listened, concerned, and clearly unsure how to respond; but Dr. Harris just waited, patiently and calmly, absorbing the story. When Lori was done, Vanessa began to rub her back as she cried, and Dr. Harris slowly set her glass down on the side table.
"Why do you think this happened?" she asked. Lori was silent for a moment, then wiped her cheek.
"I didn't stop her. It was my body, I...I should have stopped her." Harris nodded slightly and leaned back into her seat.
"It feels natural to see it that way. Here, let me tell you a bit about the supernatural." She then explained that she was the leader of a group called Mystics Anonymous, which had been formed after she and a priest dealt with a cult trying to summon dangerous beings into the world and left a community of hurting people in its wake. She talked about how they focused on supernatural trauma, using the best available research and practices from mainstream psychology and applying them to what they knew of spirits and ghosts and other legendary dangers. She assured Lori that not only would they believe her, but there would be people there who would know some part of what she went through, would have the same fears and concerns about getting treatment, and would be able to help.
Before she left, Dr. Harris gave Lori information on when and where Mystics Anonymous met in Louisville, her own contact information, and an encouragement to take some time to process everything she had said that night and ask herself why she believed she should have been able to repel a ghost. She also reminded Alex and Vanessa that the most important thing they could do for Lori right now was to listen, and believe, and not push her any more than they already have. Lori thanked her, and with some prompting by Vanessa made a note in her calendar to attend the meeting scheduled for the following week.