First Call

Deleted Scene from PERSONAL DEMONS

I knew I wanted the book to start with Megan’s first caller, but originally planned to show more of the show’s content before we got to Regina. This version also gave a bit more of Megan’s backstory and motivations. After sticking with it for a while, though, I decided it didn’t jump into the action enough, so discarded it.

Megan tried to keep her voice from quavering. “Hello, Joe,” she said into the microphone. The lights in the studio were dim, but she still felt exposed, like the world could see her. She resisted the urge to hide under her desk. “How can I slay your demons tonight?” Her new boss, Richard Blake, stood behind the glass separating the studio from the engineering booth and nodded approvingly. They’d fought over that stupid opening line, just as they’d fought over the immense publicity campaign the station had done for her show.

Her caller sounded no more comfortable than Meg felt. “Uh…I have this girlfriend, right? And her father, he like, doesn’t approve of me. He doesn’t want her to see me. So I thought…”

The images that came to Megan were not happy ones, and she was glad she kept most of her shields up. Angry faces shouted words she could not hear. A man threw his head back and laughed. Joe’s father, she thought. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, and he carried a bloodied baseball bat.

“You thought perhaps I could recommend help for you?” she prompted. Not the most stellar first call of her inaugural show, but not as bad as she’d feared.

“Well, yeah, maybe. I mean, I don’t think I need it, but…I want to keep dating Amy, so I thought if I went into therapy maybe he’d leave me alone or something.”

Megan knew it wouldn’t help. Joe was bad news. He was violent, and he was lying to her on top of it. The unfortunate Amy’s father obviously had a brain in his head.

“Well, Joe, I can’t really recommend a specific therapist for you, but therapy is usually a good idea anyway. It helps us better understand ourselves, and that could be part of your problem. Maybe your girlfriend’s father is sensing a discomfort with male authority figures. Why don’t you tell me about your own father? Do you feel you had a good relationship with him?”

“Sure.”

She shook her head before realizing he couldn’t see her. This radio stuff was harder than she’d imagined. She was used to seeing her clients, getting a better read on their energy than this. “Are you sure, Joe? Often when a man has issues in later life, it relates to his upbringing. How was your childhood?”

She spoke to Joe for several more minutes, but only managed to scratch the surface before she felt him shutting down. She was getting too close to something he couldn’t or wouldn’t reveal. With her usual clients this was the point where she would start to push harder, really dig into their minds, but with Art the engineer signalling it was time to go to commercial and Joe withdrawing from her questions, she decided to cut bait.

“Well, Joe,” she said in her this-session-is-ending voice, “I think you have some work to do if you want to slay those personal demons and grow as a person. I’d recommend you seek some counselling, and let your girlfriend’s father know what you’re doing, okay? Meanwhile, you take care of yourself.”

Art made a “cut” motion and flicked a switch. The sound of the program’s theme music blasted through the studio for a second before he turned the volume down. Megan buried her head in her hands. “I told you this wouldn’t work,” she said. “I’m terrible at this.”

“You’re not,” Richard said. “You’re doing fine.”

“Liar.” She raised her head and took a sip of water, wishing it was something stronger. She had no idea how she was going to get through the next hour and seventeen minutes. She was a therapist, not a talk-show host. There was a difference, no matter how many Dr. Whosits and Dr. Whatsits went on the airwaves and tried to convince the public there wasn’t. Real therapy could not take place over the course of a ten-minute phone call, and she’d said as much to Richard when he’d approached her about doing the show.

“But Dr. Chase,” he’d said, his eyes wide, “that’s why we need you. Your reputation is stellar. Don’t you think it’s better if someone like yourself does the show, and really tells the truth, instead of another fraud who’s just going to feed sugar to a starving public? If you don’t accept, all those people who need your help will go without.” He’d shaken his head. “I hate to think what will happen to them.”

His words hadn’t really changed her mind. What changed her mind was the realization that if she turned the job down he was going to call Don Tremblay next, and Don was not the sort of person who should have been unleashed on an unsuspecting populace.

Richard hadn’t told her that, of course. He didn’t need to. Work wasn’t the only place she used her abilities. It wasn’t the only place she kept them a secret, either. The last thing she wanted or needed was for her perfectly respectable practice, her career, to turn into fodder for a tabloid circus and a bunch of people making appointments so she could help them find their grandmother’s will.

Megan liked to keep a low profile, another reason why the publicity campaign bothered her so much. She didn’t think she’d ever get used to seeing her face twenty feet tall on a billboard, but Richard had insisted it was necessary. More to the point, he’d reminded her it was one of the things she was paid for, and she needed that money if she wanted to continue doing pro bono work.

“Don’t worry, Megan,” Richard said. “The guy was a dud. The next caller will be better, I swear.”

Megan rolled her eyes in response. She wasn’t naïve enough to think Joe was unique. Most of her calls would likely be the same. Angry people who just wanted to prove they were right. Sad, lonely, hurting people who were afraid to tell her what the real problem was and so lied and said someone else wanted them to get help, instead of admitting they wanted it themselves. People who were calling just to speak to another human being.

She’d learned a long time ago to shut those people out, to only open up during a session, and even then to carefully control the rush of information. She hated it, but there was no other way for her to survive. Feeling the pain of others as her own, seeing the horrors they’d seen…she couldn’t do it say in and day out and stay sane. She was amazed they could.

“Okay,” Art’s voice came over the speaker. “Next we have Regina, who says she’s having suicidal thoughts.”