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A voice pierced through the blessed haze of oblivion. My thoughts scattered before me like startled deer, like the little lights at the edges of my vision that I could never seem to look at...
“Mr. Cline? Is this a bad time?”
It was always a bad time. In the beginning, it hadn't been so bad...it had been a thrill, knowing what others didn't...now it was bad, so bad...
“Are you okay, Mr. Cline?”
My brain finally perceived that someone was talking to me. A customer, no doubt. This is what I got for injecting early...but the last one had been so bad...they all were, now...
I stifled a groan and hauled myself into a sitting position. “Please sit down.” I said pleasantly, trying to make up for the slur in my voice. “I'll be with you in a minute.”
Standing up as best as I could, I reached into the fridge behind my chair and hesitantly opened it. The dim glow rushed through my eyes and into my brain, stabbing me, making me pay for what I'd done. I reached out and grabbed a bottle of water as quickly as I could, slamming the fridge shut. Tomorrow morning I'd break that bloody lightbulb, I promised myself. Then I dumped the entire bottle of water on my head.
Returning to my seat a bit more clear-headed, I regarded the woman before me. She had on an expensive-looking fur coat with a matching hat, her hair pulled severely back into a bun at the nape of her neck. She looked Russian, and richly so. I regarded the way she sat on the extreme edge of the cleanest of the three chairs on the opposite side of my desk and decided that she'd never been to a Truthseeker's before. This almost brought a smile to my face. No doubt she had expected an orderly, well-kept office with a smiling receptionist who'd show her down the hall to one of the professionals who just couldn't wait to hear her story.
Well, there were no professional Truthseekers. It wan't an orderly, well-kept kind of job. And I'd had an associate, once. Until he'd killed himself.
“Welcome to the Truthstar. How may I help you?” I asked in my most professional voice. She relaxed a tiny bit at my last question; I knew how soothing it was to hear something familiar.
“I have a secret to tell you.” she answered in a thickly accented voice.
Well of course she had a secret to tell me. That was the whole point, wasn't it? Lay your burdens on someone else's shoulders. Shove it on some stranger that you don't know and never will see again because he's a Truthseeker, and they can't tell a lie. It doesn't matter to them, doesn't affect them; once you told a Truthseeker your secret, it was as good as gone.
I leaned forward, as if I was interested in whatever she had to say. As if I was interested in whatever anyone said anymore. They'd been coming to me since I could talk, telling me things I never wanted to hear, drawn to me like moths to a flame. I could feel every single secret I'd ever been told, as if they were tiny weights on my back and shoulders, dragging me down. I'd been deathly afraid of water as long as I could remember for this reason. I could just picture myself drowning in an endless lake, drowning in these secrets that weren't mine. I'd had dreams about it before.
The Russian lady looked down at her hands, suddenly shy. It was always like this; the initial hesitance at spilling out your soul to a stranger. Then the Truthtelling aura would take over their senses, make them believe 110% that I was the most trustworthy person they'd ever have the good fortune to meet. I could pick out the exact moment that this happened. I'd only seen it a thousand times.
“I killed my husband.” she said suddenly, as if she just couldn't keep the story in any longer. “He- he was drunk, and he just barged into my room...”
I could picture it so clearly that I wondered for a brief second if this was a part of the Truthseeking I'd never noticed before. Her, sitting on a big bed absolutely covered in pillows, a lamp casting a pale glow on the scene. Perhaps she was reading a book, or a magazine. Magazine, most likely. She didn't seem like the type to read books.
“...and I asked him what he was doing and he said, 'Come here, baby...'”
Why did they always have to tell me every single detail? Why did they feel the need to explain? I didn't care, I didn't judge. I'd heard so many of these stories before that I wasn't even shocked anymore. The lady could have set him on fire, boiled him in a pot of acid, eaten him alive, and I still wouldn't've looked at her differently. It was part of my job description; part of who I was.
“...and I grabbed my gun...”
So she'd used a gun. I wondered briefly why she'd had a gun so close to her. Did she get drunks stumbling upon her often?
“...and I was so scared, I blamed it on the housekeeper, said they were having an affair and she was angry he wouldn't go off with her...”
I felt a tiny glimmer of pity for the poor housekeeper. There were always the losers in these stories. Souls caught and cornered by fate. I almost laughed at this thought. When did I get so poetic?
The lady finished her story. I could see how her shoulders had relaxed, as if some great weight had been taken off of them. Good for her. I could feel those pounds weighing heavily on me, as such stories always did. No matter; it'd be less by tomorrow morning. Not gone, but less.
I looked into her face. Tears were leaking freely down her face and I wordlessly offered her the box of kleenexes I kept on tap for just such purposes. She took a fistful and wiped her face with the little dignity that was coming back to her. “Thank you.” she said.
I nodded. “Your secret is safe with me.”
She closed her eyes in silent relief. I felt a tiny bit of that relief wash over me, too. At least I'd done something to help her. That was the best part, helping people.
She stood up and laid a check on the desk. I didn't have to look at it to know the amount. Twenty-five dollars, the sign outside said. Twenty-five dollars for ten minutes and any amount of despair, loneliness, hurt, worry, or other that you wanted to bestow on me. It was a huge amount and a miniscule one at the same time.
I tossed the check in a drawer with all the others from the previous two weeks and the lady left the room. Grimacing at the light from the hallway, I threw a glance at the clock- nine thirty- and groaned. I still had a half an hour before closing time. I wanted so much to forget the Russian lady's story, hers and the secret of the man before him, and the little girl who'd come in before...she had only been fifteen...
Reaching back into the drawer, I counted out a hundred checks before becoming disinterested. The great pay didn't interest me anymore. The only thing it meant was that I could close early without caring how many people were lined up outside my door.
I scuttled outside and switched the cheery sign from OPEN to CLOSED. A man across the street shot me a dirty look. I ignored it; my job didn't always attract the best attention. Money over secrets and shadows never did.
Once I was safely inside my dark room with a locked door between me and the world, I reached inside a second drawer and drew out a long needle that gleamed in the half-light that crept around the edges of the drapes. Pressing it to my skin, I felt the wonderful sensation of it gliding into my skin, cool metal against warm flesh, and shivered with delight. My senses were flooded with light and sound and energy and suddenly I couldn't remember if I'd had five or fifty people today...I didn't care...they were gone and so were their secrets that became burdens that became needles...funny how that worked out...
I barely registered my knees buckling and me falling into my chair before it all became too much and everything became blessed oblivion.
Your secret is safe with me...