“So you’re having bad dreams?” Dr. Fairbanks asks me. I nod. I don’t really want to talk about this, but Mom is making me go to Dr. Fairbanks because I’m having trouble in school. She says I have post traffic stress or something like that.
I’m not sure what that means, but I know I don’t like school. I have a hard time paying attention. I get tired in class and sometimes I fall asleep. My teacher says I need to stop day dreaming. When I told her that I don’t like dreaming because that’s when the vampires come, she got a funny look on her face and called my mom after school.
“Tell me about your dreams,” Dr. Fairbanks says. I don’t answer.
“You can tell me, GC. Sometimes if you talk about them, those dreams go away. Also, sometimes dreams don’t mean what you think they mean. Sometimes they are messages from your subconscious.”
I thought about that before I spoke. Maybe Dr. Fairbanks was right. The dreams weren’t at all like what really happened. Maybe it would help if I told him about them. Maybe he could explain them to me.
In my sleep it licks at my hands, catches on my dirty pajamas, swallows me up. Somehow I can’t feel it, and I watch as it spreads through the warehouse eating my sisters and engulfing my older brother. The only person untouched by the fire is the vampire: Candice.
“There’s fire all around,” I begin.
“My sisters are scared. I feel it getting closer to us and then it starts to eat us. But I can’t feel the heat. I just know that it’s swallowing us up.”
“It’s the fire in the warehouse, right?” I nod.
I set that fire. What really happened was that I started the fire in my sleeping bag. The vampire, Candice, was beating up TJ again. She was saying that she’d bite him and drain all his blood. She even said she’d make him a vampire.
I didn’t know how to make it stop. I remember thinking that this time she would really do what she’d threatened. Something about how she was talking told me that she was more serious than before. And that’s when I remembered my last Scouting class.
We’d learned fire starting skills and fire safety. Fire, the Scout Master said, was the most destructive force. Out of control, a fire would threaten everything. So I figured fire might be the only thing that could threaten Candice and make her stop hitting TJ.
“What else does the fire do in your dream?” Dr. Fairbanks gets me to continue.
“It swallows us up and then she walks out of it.”
“Yeah. She has fire in her eyes and fire in her fair, but the fire doesn’t touch her. She starts walking toward us.”
“The fire doesn’t affect her in the dream?”
“No. She is the fire.”
“But what really happened?”
In reality, Candice got really freaked out by the fire. She dropped TJ and started screaming. Then she started running out of the warehouse. She was really afraid of the fire.
I remember hearing all of the other vampires screaming and running, too. I guess I was right about fire being something that could hurt them.
Barbara and Laura started screaming and crying, too. The fire was spreading really fast. I knew because of scouting that we needed to get out of there, but we were still trapped. Candice had left us there like before, and we couldn’t get out.
“What did you do?” Dr. Fairbanks asked.
“I got my sisters into a corner and then dragged TJ over, too. It was far away from where I started the fire.”
“You were safer there?”
“A little. There was a lot of smoke, but the fire was on the other side of the room. I knew it would get us, so I started praying for someone to find us.”
“And your dad came and he rescued all of you, right?”
“Yeah, but in my dream he doesn’t come.”
Another session. Dr. Fairbanks is asking me about my family. “What does your brother say about his scars?” he asks.
I don’t like thinking about TJ’s scars. I hate looking at them. I hate thinking of them.
TJ got burned in the fire. My sisters and I were untouched mostly. But TJ got burned and now he has a scar on his face. I hate his scar because I know I caused it. If I hadn’t started the fire, no one at school would laugh at him or stare at him.
“TJ really doesn’t talk about his scars,” I tell Dr. Fairbanks.
“And do you guys get along? Are you friends?”
“I guess we’re friends. Sometimes I get on his nerves when he’s doing homework, but he’s cool. He takes me fishing.”
“Do you think he blames you for the scars?”
Actually TJ wasn’t as bothered by the scars as he had been at first. Now that we’d been in Twinbrook awhile, he seemed to be getting along better. He and dad were always working out, and he’d just made the wrestling team. He was even going out with a girl…Roslyn Harrow, mom’s friend Roni’s daughter.
“TJ says that I saved his life by starting the fire.”
“Do you agree?”
I shrug. I knew that we probably wouldn’t have made it out of that warehouse if I had done nothing, but I really don’t think that I saved anyone’s life.
“And what about your sisters? Do they blame you for the fire?” Dr. Fairbanks asks.
Barbara and Laura? Actually, I thought the two of them were getting along best of all after our kidnapping. I mean, I knew mom was making them talk to Mr. Fairbanks, too, but I didn’t think they really needed to.
I knew that the girls had been scared when we were at the warehouse, but I don’t think they had nightmares about it as often as I did. I know they were doing better at school. They always seemed to act like everything was fine, playing together and having a good time.
“I don’t know what they think about the fire,” I answer.
“Do you get along with them?”
I suppose I got along with my sisters. We played together. I liked playing Dragon and the Princesses best, even though Barbara and Laura always won that game. Every time we played, I had to be all scary and then when I attacked, the two of them would ‘defeat’ me using the martial arts moves that Uncle Julian taught us.
“Why can’t the dragon win?” I always asked.
“’Cause we’re not just princesses,” Barbara said.
“Yeah, we’re ninja princesses!” Laura finished.
“Can’t I be a dragon ninja?”
“No,” the two of them said in unison. So, I always ended up a dead dragon.
“And what about your parents?” Dr. Fairbanks continues.
“Dad gets mad at me because I get detention at school when I fall asleep or am day dreaming.”
“But he doesn’t blame you for what happened, right?”
“He got really hurt,” I said. Dad ended up in the hospital and had surgery. He broke both of his legs and got burned, just like TJ, but his scars were on his body, not his face.
“But he’s better now, right?”
He was better. Dad worked really hard so that he could walk again. He even managed to get a job at the police department again. Mom worried about him, but he was just a forensic analyst. That meant that he worked in a science lab analyzing crime stuff.
Dad said he would never be in danger in the lab, which made me feel a lot better. But he said he could still do his part to make sure criminals were caught and paid for their crimes. This made me proud.
“Do you think that your dad doesn’t love you?”
“No. I know he does.”
“And what about your mom?”
“Mom is always busy.” Mom used to be Governor of the whole state, but now she stays at home. Except that she’s hardly ever home. She’s on all sorts of committees and things. She says that she’s doing her part to help the community, which is pretty cool.
“Do you think she blames you for what happened?”
“How do you know?”
“She comes in to our room in the middle of the night. She doesn’t know that I’m awake sometimes.”
“She checks on you?”
“Yeah. She always comes when I have a bad dream, too.”
“So no one in your family blames you for what happened?”
“I guess not.”
“And if you hadn’t started the fire, then you might not have gotten away from Candice?”
“I guess not.”
“So the only thing you are responsible for is saving your brother and sisters. You helped your uncle and dad find you and stop Candice.”
“You’re still having trouble at school, aren’t you?” Dr. Fairbanks says to me. It was true. Even though I hadn’t had the fire dream in awhile, I was still not doing well.
“The other kids don’t like me,”
“How do you know?”
“They pick on me.” This subject makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want to talk to Dr. Franklin about school.
He’d been really helpful about the dream. He made me see that I had the dream that Candice hadn’t gotten caught after the fire because I was afraid of other things or worried about other problems in my life. But I didn’t think he could help me with this problem.
“All of the kids or just a few of the kids pick on you?”
“What do they do?”
“They call me Geese.”
Mostly it’s one person who picks on me. Her name is Becky and she’s really good friends with my sisters, particularly Barbara. I don’t want to tell this to Dr. Fairbanks, though. Because her full name is Becky Fairbanks; she’s Dr. Fairbank’s daughter.
“Geese?” Dr. Fairbanks looks at me strangely.
“Yeah. TJ started it, sort of like a joke. I sometimes call him Teej, so he started calling me Geese.”
“My sisters called me that a few times at school and then the other kids started saying it.”
“Geese isn’t so bad, is it?”
“Yes! They say things like ‘Geese, fly away’ or they make honking noises at me.”
“And what do you do?”
“I mostly get mad and then go away, which just makes them laugh.”
“Have you ever thought of just ignoring the teasing?”
That was the advice that TJ gave me, too. He came to pick me up after school one day to take me fishing.
“What’s up?” He asked when he saw me walking away from a laughing group of kids that had Becky Fairbanks at it’s head. It was pretty obvious that I was retreating from their teasing.
“They’re calling me Geese.”
“I don’t like it.”
“It’s just a nickname. Like Ace or Lucky or Slim or something like that.”
“But it’s not cool. It’s stupid birds.”
TJ could tell I was genuinely upset about the nickname. He said, “You shouldn’t let them bother you with this, GC. It’s just a word. People used to say things about my scar, you know?”
I nodded. I couldn’t look up at him. I’d see the scar and feel like it was all my fault…again.
“One person even went so far as to call me cherry face because of it.”
“What did you do?”
“Nothing. I didn’t do anything. Eventually, he realized that the name didn’t bother me and now he just calls me TJ.”
“So if I do nothing they’ll stop?”
“Probably not at first, but once you show them it doesn’t bother you, they’ll start seeing you for who you are and then they’ll call you by your name.”
“But I’m not cool like you.”
“No, but you could be.” TJ laughed at that and ruffled my hair. “Race you to the pond Geese. Fly like the wind!” He took off. Of course he was faster, but by the time I caught up and we started fishing, I wasn’t feeling so bad about being called Geese.
And TJ was right. The name-calling stopped when I stopped caring. The only person who kept it up was Becky.
“How are you feeling today, GC?” Dr. Fairbanks asks me at our most recent appointment.
“Fine I guess.”
“Yeah. I suppose.”
“No one is picking on you?”
“Well…” I didn’t want to say that his daughter and my sister Barbara were still calling me Geese. Even though I’d told Barbara and Laura I hated it, they still did it.
“It’s just a nickname,” Laura said. “It’s kind of cute.”
“It is not! GC is a nickname. ‘Geese’ is just stinking, loud birds.”
“Well, the way you always honk about it, Geese, we’re gonna keep calling you that,” Barbara said.
I didn’t say anything. I knew Laura wouldn’t use the name, but the more I protested, the more Barbara would keep it up. I had to remind myself to ignore it. So what if Barbara and Becky called me Geese? Hardly anyone else did anymore.
“Most people have stopped calling me Geese,” I answer Dr. Fairbanks.
“That’s good.” He looks down at his files about me. He knows what today was just like I do, and I can tell that even though he knows he needs to ask, he didn’t want to.
The truth is that I don’t know how I was feeling today. I’d had the fire dream last night. TJ woke me from it.
“You’re dreaming again, Geese.” I blinked down at him, too sleepy to be annoyed with the nickname I hated. “Was it the same one?” he asked.
“Uh huh.” TJ put a hand on my knee and sort of squeezed in reassurance.
“She’s in jail,” he said, “and tomorrow they’re going to sentence her.”
“But what if she gets out? She could escape.”
“No she can’t. Julian said she’s locked up for good. He says they’re going to give her the death penalty. They have to, or eventually she will get parole.”
TJ let go of me and ducked back under my bunk and got into his bed. When he was settled, I asked, “Do you think she’ll really die?”
“Julian says so.”
“Is it bad that I want her to? Momma says that killing people is a bad thing.”
“But she killed people first. She killed Mom’s mom and Keenan’s sister. She also committed lots of crimes. She deserves it.”
I wasn’t sure I really understood why one sort of killing was ok and one wasn’t, but if my mom said it was alright and so did Julian, then I guess it had to be.
Finally, Dr. Fairbanks asks the question I knew he was going to. “How do you feel about Candice being electrocuted?”
“I don’t know. Relieved, I guess.”
“Do you want her to die?”
“She’d done a lot of bad things to people,” I hedge.
“Many people do bad things. But not many people are sentenced to death.”
“Yeah, but Candice was a vampire. If they hadn’t killed her, she would probably have done a lot more bad things. She would have hurt other people.”
“So, you think they did the right thing?” Mr. Fairbanks ask.
“Yeah. I’m sort of glad that no one else can be hurt by her.”
“You helped stop a dangerous criminal.”
This is something that always makes me uncomfortable. “I didn’t do anything really. I was just scared.”
“But you acted against her when most people wouldn’t.”
“She was hurting TJ.”
“You saved him.”
In all of our sessions, Dr. Fairbanks is always trying to get me to see that everything that had happened wasn’t my fault. I’d stopped a criminal instead of started a fire. I’d saved my brother instead of getting him burned and causing my dad to break both of his legs.
Sometimes I even believe Dr. Fairbanks. But even believing him, I don’t feel heroic. Heroes, in my opinion, are guys like my dad and my uncle. They are like the firemen who go into the building to save TJ and Dad when the flames were all around. Those guys are the heroes.
When I don’t reply to Dr. Fairbank’s words, he sighs.
“I’ll see you next week, GC.”
Candice’s execution happens over a year after she was sentenced. I didn’t know that it would take so long, but there were several appeals made by her lawyers before the sentencing was carried out.
“Don’t think about it GC. Just go to your classes and do you work. If you don’t think about it, it won’t bother you,” my sister Laura advised me on the day it was supposed to happen.
“You’re talking about it Laura, I can’t help but think about it.”
Laura was just trying to help. She was always like that. Since her advice was good, I tried to do what she suggested.
“How’d it go today, GC?” TJ asked after school when we were doing our daily workout. TJ was helping me condition to be on the wrestling team.
“It was fine,” I huffed, bending over to stretch.
“Good.” He did a few jumping jacks in front of me.
“It’s finally over,” he said after a bit. I nodded, too out of breath to say anything, and I didn’t know what to say anyway.
What he meant was that Candice was finally dead. We never had to worry about her again.
“Want to go for a run tomorrow?”
“Sure,” I said.
After we finished working out, Mom said she was taking me and the girls out for a driving lesson. She was acting like nothing was really different about the day.
“Now, you remember the rules about bicycles, right?” she asked Barbara, who rolled her eyes. Mom had been quizzing us about driving rules for the better part of a month…ever since we’d turned 16.
“GC,” Dad called out to me before I got in the car. “Can I talk to you a minute?”
“We’ll come back for you,” Mom said, and I turned to find out what Dad wanted.
“What’s up Dad?”
“Nothing. I just thought I’d see how you were doing. I know that today must have been hard on you.”
“I tried not to think about it,” I said, looking down at my shoes.
“Mom thought you might want to call Dr. Fairbanks…maybe set up an appointment to see him tonight. I could drive you over there, if you want.”
I hadn’t seen Dr. Fairbanks since grade school. I really hadn’t needed to because I was getting along so much better in school. I hadn’t had the fire dream in awhile. I just decided that I didn’t need a therapist anymore.
“I don’t think I need to talk to my shrink, Dad,” I said.
“That’s ok. We just weren’t sure how you’d take Candice’s death. We know that you were a little conflicted by it.”
I shrugged. “I guess it’s good that she is dead. She hurt so many people. Do you think she got the right punishment?”
Dad sighed. “I don’t think there is such thing as the right punishment. But I think that it is better that she is not in the world anymore. She harmed so many.”
We were silent for awhile, each of us thinking of the people Candice had harmed. I was reminded that one of Candice’s first victims had been Sunwon Cho, Dad’s sister.
“What was Aunt Sunny like?” I think it was the first time I’d ever inquired about Dad’s sister. He looked startled at the question. Then he looked thoughtful.
“She was different. Crazy,” Dad said. “Barbara reminds me of how Sunny used to be. She had a whacky sense of style and a great sense of humor. She was eccentric, sort of like your sister Laura, but Sunny was an artist instead of an inventor.”
“Do you miss her?”
“Yes. But not as much as I did.”
“Were you mad when Candice got out of jail after she killed Sunny?”
“I was.” Dad’s mouth tightened. “When she got out, I thought it was incredibly unfair. That’s partly why I got into police work. Before that I always thought I’d be a scientist, but when she was released, I realized that I had to do something in law enforcement. Maybe as a cop, I could prevent people like Candice from harming others.”
“Do you…do you blame yourself that she….” I hesitated.
“Do I blame myself that she kidnapped you and your brother and sisters?”
“No. No, GC, I don’t. Criminals make decisions to commit crimes. It isn’t anyone’s fault by their own. I don’t blame myself for Candice’s actions. But I do blame the system for allowing her to go free. That’s why I am still working in law enforcement, trying to change things for the better.”
That’s when everything sort of started making sense for me. Listening to Dad describe his sister and how he feels about the law, I realized that I wasn’t at fault for what happened to TJ. It wasn’t my fault that my Dad broke his legs rescuing us. And what was more, I could do something to prevent those types of things from happening to other people.
I could actually be the hero that Mr. Fairbanks and my parents were trying to make me believe I was. If I became a fireman, then I could really save lives.