Seven Years Later

Chapter 1: The First Step

Maria Ortego tapped the eraser end of her pencil against her lips, a thoughtful frown on her face. She suddenly realized what she was doing and quickly set the pencil aside. She made a show of straightening the pencil and used that moment to sneak a glance at the young boy sitting across from her.

The boy showed no sign of having noticed her embarrassment. In fact, he wasn't even looking at her. He was staring out of the room's window, leaning with his chin cupped in his palm.

Avery Cross had changed a lot in the last seven years. His hair color had darkened to the same jet-black his mother's had been. He was also much taller, standing only a couple of inches under six feet. Really the only thing that remained the same were his facial features. Like his mother, Avery had retained his youthful appearance. Because of this, there were times when Avery had been mistaken for someone several years younger than he was, despite his height.

Avery apparently could feel Maria watching him. His head gave a little jerk and his eyes refocused. Slowly, he turned his head to face Maria. The way he looked at her was with a complete lack of interest.

"Do you have any other questions?" Avery asked mildly.

Inwardly, Maria was irritated, but she refused to allow the emotion to reach her face. These days, Avery always spoke to her like this. As a psychiatrist she was used to dealing with difficult individuals, but it still pained her to have someone she had gotten along with so well turn on her.

Things had been much simpler back then when she had first met Avery. His case was, thankfully, not a very common one, but still it was fairly straightforward: At the age of ten, he had been traumatized by the brutal murder of his parents.

Avery had not been willing to talk to Maria at first, but eventually she had gotten him to open up to her. They had become friends, after a fashion, and with a bit of coaxing, Avery had been willing to tell Maria all about that night. All, that is, except the actual murders. When Avery reached that part of his story, he went silent and refused to speak for the rest of his visit.

Maria had wanted to learn more, so she did a little investigating on her own time. As it turned out, there weren't many details that she did not already know.

Besides Avery's limited testimony, the only reports Maria could find were from various neighbors claiming to have heard the screams. Unfortunately, (or maybe it was fortunate) none of them had actually witnessed the murders. It was nighttime and they had all been inside their homes when the screaming started. No one had dared to go see what was happening. They had locked their doors and called the police. That left only the murderer, but he or she had never been caught and so that too was a dead end.

Maria had been about to give up when she found a news article on the internet. The source was an anonymous one and so there was no telling whether or not this was true, but according to this source, when the police found Avery, the boy was raving about some monster tearing his parents to pieces.

Of course, Maria had immediately dismissed this information. If Avery did indeed believe that monster had killed his parents, she would deal with that issue in her office, but there was no way a monster had been the cause of his parents' deaths. The police had already come forward and confirmed that Avery's parents had been murdered with a knife.

Despite all of these setbacks, Maria had never fully given up on trying to learn the exact details of that night. Every so often she still asked Avery about what had happened.

During their current session, she had not asked him about anything even remotely related to that night. She did not want to build up the tension before she asked him the question in the hope that by so doing, she could make it seem just like any other question. With any other patient, Maria might have been hesitant to do this. Trying to surprise someone into answering a question was risky, it could turn them against the one asking the question, but then, Avery wasn't just any patient. He had been coming to her ever since the murders and he always seemed to be on a constant upswing no matter how often or little they talked about his experience. There were even times that Maria wondered why Avery bothered coming to these sessions.

Taking a deep breath Maria raised her pencil and held it over the pad she had been writing on. She then met Avery's eyes and saw in them a knowing look. He was well aware of what she was about to ask him. She ploughed on regardless.

"Do you remember anything else from that night?"

The wording and suddenness of the question was a bit obscure, but Maria had always asked it in the exact same way. Even if Avery had not been expecting her to ask it, he would know what she meant.

Avery's sober expression did not change in the slightest, but then, Maria had not expected it too. At first Avery was silent, like always. Maria watched him steadily for a few moments and then she sighed and reached for her pencil.

"You would not believe me if I told you the truth," Avery said quite suddenly. "You would think that I am mad. I used think the same."

Maria dropped her pencil. She was stunned by the fact that he had spoken, but to her credit, she did not remain so for long.

"Then you do remember what happened?" she breathed, her shock causing her to be blunt. "You remember the murderer?"

"I remember everything," Avery told her. He quickly raised a hand to forestall the flood of questions that were sure to be coming. "But that is not why I came here today. I want to thank you, Dr. Ortego. You have been most helpful over these last seven years. I doubt I could have gotten through them without you. However, this is where we must part ways. I no longer have any need for your services."

"I...but...wait, Avery!" Maria spluttered, losing her cool entirely. "Why now? Why would you tell me this and then just walk away? And how could you think that I would think you are crazy?"

Maria stopped and tried to compose herself before she became completely hysterical. It was frustrating. Here he was, finally admitting that he knew something and yet he still wouldn't tell her what it was.

Avery opened his mouth for a moment like he was about to speak, but then he close it again and stood. The young boy smiled faintly and shook his head.

"I am standing in a psychiatric office," he gently reminded her. "I have been coming here for seven years, and for a good reason. Anything I say that seems impossible will be taken as such."

Avery turned away and walked towards the door. Maria started to rise to follow him, but she froze when he glanced back, his hand on the doorknob.

"We shall not be seeing each other again," he informed her. "Goodbye, Maria. I wish you the best of luck in all your endeavors."

Then he was gone, the door clicking shut behind him. Maria was left alone in the room. Perhaps it was the finality of his tone, but somehow she knew that Avery was correct. This was the last time she would ever see him.

In a way, Maria felt sad. Avery was no longer the frightened child she had once known. He was a man now.