By the time he was halfway through reading Belle French’s file Gold was ready to light the whole thing on fire. By the time he finished he wanted to light it on fire and throw it through the windows of every medical professional Belle had ever seen. He also wanted to call the licensing board and do his best to decimate the career of Dr. D'Arque.
His first session with Belle had ended three hours ago. There had been nothing remarkable about it. She presented with the same flat aspect he’d already observed, and he knew from the medication she was on that she’d been diagnosed with depression. She answered his questions but almost never went into detail unless he asked follow up questions. She was polite, respectful, and almost completely closed down.
Gold was a psychiatrist. He believed in pharmaceuticals. In the same way a person with diabetes or cancer needed medication, so did a person with depression or schizophrenia. It was a physical condition, and the fact that the symptoms were often emotional and the imbalances were in the brain rather than the body did not change that. Just like any other medical condition, though, it was important to know what the hell you were doing when prescribing medication. You needed to be aware of the impact they had on a person as a whole, and you needed to periodically evaluate the effectiveness of the medication. You also needed to consider the fact that there was no point prescribing valium when an aspirin would do. D'Arque and all of Belle’s other former doctors had missed that lesson.
“I’ll come back later.” There was a shuffling of feet and a polite coughing, which knowing Archie meant he’d probably spent at least a couple of minutes in quite observation before making any noise.
“You needed something?” He slapped the file closed, glad of the excuse to be done with the thing for at least a little while.
“I was going to see if you had any interest in a late lunch, but the last time I saw that look on your face one of your antique vases ended up smashed against the wall. Should I close your door?” Archie had, for some reason, insisted on invitations to lunch, drinks after work, traded books and all the other little pleasantries that had led to something of a friendship between the two men. Even now, after more than a decade of being coworkers and friends, Gold wasn’t sure why he’d done it. He knew from stories told and barbeques attended that Archie was not lacking friends. He was, however, glad of the friendship even if he rarely said so.
“All the more reason to get out of here. I don’t have anything scheduled until four.” Except a meeting with Regina, but that was easy enough to ignore. He pushed back his chair and reached for his cane, his hand tensing around the handle with more force than was necessary. Archie was not wrong about the cause of his vase breaking; he had something of a temper, but he never unleashed it around patients and he only broke his own things, so Regina overlooked it. Laughed at it actually, he was pretty sure.
“So do you want me to ask, or ignore the elephant?” Archie waited until they were seated at the restaurant to ask any serious questions.
“Incompetent idiots should not be allowed access to prescription pads. Or medical school. Or people.” He skimmed through the menu, not even stopping to look at the salads or pasta dishes. He was getting a steak, damn it, and a rare one at that.
“Any particular idiots, or just all of them in general?” Well used to the occasional diatribes, Archie sipped at his water as he listened.
“All of the ones that have mismanaged the case of my newest patient, to start with. They’re all damned fools, and now I’m expected to repair what’s been done over the course of a dozen years.” He thought of the pretty girl and the dull blue eyes, and wondered what she’d be now if she hadn’t been buried under layers of prescription medication and shoddy therapy.
“Why is she your patient, by the way? I thought you weren’t taking anyone on, and I’ve had a spot open for a month now.” Archie quietly ordered a club sandwich when the waitress came by, and waited for his answer while Gold ordered his steak and potato.
“Regina, doing the two things she does best; playing up to rich men and fucking with me however possible.” Which was ironic, because he was in his own right the kind of wealthy person Regina would have shoved and push and twisted to reach, and play him with her twisted smile. She didn’t know, though, just what the name Nicodemus Gold meant in certain circles. It amused him to keep her in the dark.
“I think the two of you enjoy goading each other,” Archie mused.
“And I think you’re getting perilously close to that no analysing your co-worker rule, dearie. Do you want to know what I think about you and your cricket obsession?” he snarked.
“Not while we’re eating, thanks.” Gold was about to reply that their food hadn’t yet arrived, but Archie crooked an eyebrow at him. “Why don’t you tell me about this auction you’re dragging me to this weekend instead?”
Between therapy sessions and paperwork Gold managed to avoid Regina, who he had to admit that he did enjoy goading, but hated to be goaded by, until five o’clock.
“You missed our meeting, Dr. Gold.” Her nose wrinkled a little as she called him by name, as it generally did. The title of Doctor, he often thought, rankled her; she might be the director around here but she wasn’t the most knowledgeable or useful person on staff. If the clinic ever became less profitable or slipped in reputation she would be out and someone else would step in; he’d be the first one in line cheering.
“Did I? I’m afraid I must have forgotten about that. I’ve been busy, dearie, what with that extra patient you decided I needed on top of everything else.” He looked down at the tea cup in his hand, the freshly brewed tea the reason he’d left his office. Half an hour more and he would have escaped completely without seeing her.
“You were supposed to...”
“Speaking of, I see Miss French is coming down the stairs right now. Perfect timing, since I was hoping to check in with her before I left for the night.” Even better timing, since he loved an excuse to interrupt or otherwise annoy Regina when it was in the ‘best interests’ of his work. “You don’t mind if we continue this conversation later, do you? I know how you gave your personal guarantee to Mr. French that his daughter’s health was your utmost concern, so I’m certain you’ll understand.”
“We’ll reschedule this for the morning,” she said with a tilt of her head, as if she was being magnanimous.
“I’ll see you tomorrow.” And if he was lucky, he thought as he walked away, ‘see’ was all that he’d do. He had better things to do than play Regina’s little games, and since she hadn’t asked for him to bring any reports he had a good idea that games were exactly what she was up to. He’d heard something from Mal about a reporter and some kind of fluff piece; if that was true than he really didn’t want anything to do with it.
“Heading for dinner?” He was able to catch Belle easily as she crossed the lobby. He could all but feel Regina watching them, and hoped he could stretch out a conversation with his newest patient at least a few minutes; after that the Director would get bored. He’d be able to finish up his last odds and ends and head home for the day.
“Dr. Gold. No, I’m not hungry. Yet,” she hastily added. “I was going to wait until closer to the end of meal time.”
“Perhaps a walk might stimulate your appetite a little? I don’t believe you’ve had a chance to see much of the grounds yet. Would you care to see the lake?” He wasn’t quite sure why he made the offer; it wasn’t something he normally did, unless he was in an actual session, and then he sometimes used walking therapy. Not often, though, and even the short walk would extend his work day by at least another thirty minutes.
“It would be nice to see outside. Thank you.” She drew her lower lip into her mouth for a moment. “It is alright, isn’t it? I know you said something about privileges?”
“It’s gratifying to know that I wasn’t just talking to hear my own voice. Yes, you’re alright going outside as long as you’re with me. The same goes for being accompanied by Doctors Hopper or Carabosse, though there’s not much of a reason for that to happen.”
“Is it far to the lake?”
“Not at all. Just through that break in the trees.” He nodded out the windows that lined one side of the building, letting in plenty of light during the day. They didn’t quite match the Victorian architecture, but sunshine was good for the patients. He tried to take a sip of his tea before they headed for the door, but it was still a bit warm. There didn’t seem to be a reason not to take it with him; the path the the lake was almost as even and well maintained as a city sidewalk.
They walked in silence, their pace set by the tap of his cane as she stayed at his side and half a step behind. He had to wonder if it was due to intimidation or if it was a normal habit; he’d have to observe her to find out, sometime when she was unaware.
“How are you settling in?” he asked finally, to break the silence. If he was going to spend more time with her it might as well be useful.
“Fine.” It was the same monosyllabic answer she’d given that morning.
“Miss. Blanchard mentioned that you joined her and a few others for breakfast.” The young woman had been in a eager and chatty mood, this afternoon when they’d met, unlike his current companion.
“They seem nice.” Nice. Fine. Insipid words, lacking any real emotion or commitment. It didn’t surprise him, but it did annoy him, an annoyance directed, as he’d shared with Archie earlier, at the medical community in general and Belle’s doctors in particular. Belle French had been prescribed Prozac when she was eleven years old, and had not been off medication since. The last dozen years of her life were mapped out in anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication, sleeping pills, vitamins, and for one brief period antipsychotics.
“Miss. French, I would like you to...” He didn’t even have a chance to mention the word journal when the whole of her weight was pushing against his arm, her arms flailing. A rock, a pockmark in the ground, or her own clumsiness had sent Belle French falling. Somehow she managed to right herself, and he had his cane to lean on before becoming an inelegant heap on the ground. The china teacup he’d been carrying wasn’t so lucky. Still steaming tea sloshed out onto the dirt path half a second before the louder thud of the cup itself.
At the sound of a strangled cry he canted his head to the left. His patient, a moment ago so unemotional as to be almost robotic, was staring down at the cup with a look of horror on her face. Distracted by the expression it took him a moment to realize she was whispering. “...so sorry.”
“I’m sure you are, dearie, but there’s nothing to worry about. It’s just a cup. If you wouldn’t mind picking it up for me, though, I would appreciate it.” Stooping down wasn’t the easiest or most graceful thing. He’d rather avoid it if he could.
“It was an accident.” She stood as still as a statue, still staring, barely even blinking.
“Of course it was, Miss. French. It doesn’t even appear to be badly damaged.” At the moment he was less worried about the cup than the girl. She barely seemed to notice him, despite her apologies.
“Miss French. Belle,” he intoned a little sharper. It seemed to work, as she knelt down to collect the cup, cradling it between her hands.
“It’s chipped.” Her voice trembled as she looked up at him. When she held her hand high enough to reach for easily he picked up the offering.
“It’s barely noticeable. No matter.” He used his pocket handkerchief to dry away the drops of tea that clung tenaciously to the porcelain, wrapped the kerchief around the cup, and slipped it in his pocket. There didn’t seem to be a point in mentioning that the cup was part of a set that had been shipped to the states somewhere around the time Lincoln had been president; he didn’t want her feeling worse.
“Come.” He gestured at her to follow him, but didn’t wait to see if she did before he continued down the path to the lake. He was sitting at the bench just at the shore for more than a minute before joining him. He nodded brusquely. “Have a seat, Miss. French.”
“Dr. Gold,” she started softly once she was sitting.
He shook his head, stopping her. “Water is a very relaxing thing, I think. We’re going to sit here for a few minutes simply enjoying it. Anything you want to talk about can be brought up at your session tomorrow. Understand?”
When she didn’t respond he turned to look at her. That placid mask of hers had slipped back into place. her eyes flicked over to him as she felt herself being observed. She nodded. “I like water.”
“Good.” He turned back to the lake, his favorite feature on the campus, and added what he’d just observed to what he already knew of his newest patient. There was something about Belle French that made him even more curious than usual to figure her out.