Jack Draper locked his hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair for a few minutes of much needed rest. He hadn't been sleeping well lately -- worse than usual. Lack of enough hours in the day was common enough when you owned a real estate empire, but the past few months he'd been lucky to get three or four hours. His therapist had finally given up after the best drugs on the planet couldn't knock him out cold without getting into dangerous dosages.
Speaking of which, he had an appointment with a specialist. He glanced at his watch. Fortunately, he owned this building, and the specialist's office was on the third floor, just a short trip down his private elevator.
Jack chuckled to himself. Private elevators, penthouse suites on the top floor of a luxury office complex in Manassas, Virginia, just outside Washington, DC, were not bad for an abandoned orphan from South Wales. Getting a scholarship to an American college had been his smartest move. Now, at age thirty-five, he was on top of the world. Literally.
He buzzed his secretary. "Janine, I've got an appointment. Usual orders."
Her crisp voice answered immediately. "Yes, sir. Don't forget your meeting with the Board of Directors at three, Mr. Draper."
He grumbled for a moment. "Yeah, I remember. Feed me lots of coffee, as usual, or I'll go to sleep on them." What a waste of time. He couldn't sleep at night, but those old walruses on the BOD could put him to sleep in fifteen minutes, nit-picking over every detail just to justify their expensive salaries and perks.
Jack grabbed up his briefcase and left his suit jacket hanging in the closet. He'd be damned if he'd dress up just to go lay on some shrink's couch. He had his cell and his Treo in the briefcase. That would do, if some emergency came up in the next two hours.
Dr. Lledrith was waiting for him in her office when her receptionist ushered him in. A formidable older woman with stone gray hair and a long nose, she stood and shook his hand in a firm grip. "Welcome, Mr. Draper."
Jack started. Her accent was as familiar as his own. "You're Welsh."
She assessed him with a cool eye. "Yes, I am. So are you, according to the file Dr. Bernstein sent. I understand you have few memories of your childhood."
Jack nodded and sat in the chair opposite her desk. "Correct. While I'm sure Dr. Bernstein provided you with his opinions, I'll say I can't agree with his theory that my childhood was so bad I've blocked the memory of it. It doesn't feel right to me."
She flipped through his file. "I tend to agree with you, Mr. Draper. What information I was able to gather beyond what Dr. Bernstein provided indicates a happy, well-rounded time until you left for college. It was in college that you began to have difficulties and showed antisocial patterns."
Jack bristled. "If you're referring to my being gay, I don't consider that antisocial."
Her thin lips quirked into a half-smile. "No, Mr. Draper. I'm referring to your wild behavior and disciplinary issues from your college record. Your homosexuality appears to be one of your few stabilities. You took some time to reconcile your sexuality, but that appears settled."
He subsided. Like so many gay men, he tended to be touchy about being homosexual in such a conservative town as Washington. "Sorry. It's a sore spot."
Dr. Lledrith gave him her first genuine smile, and it softened her whole face. "My apologies as well, Mr. Draper. I should have been specific. Your reputation for no nonsense conciseness is well known." She settled in her chair once more. "I believe your insomnia may stem from some event at college age, or perhaps just before you came to the US. How much do you remember of that time period?"
He shifted uncomfortably in the chair and longed for a cup of coffee. "Not much. That appears to be the blankest area in my memories. A space of about three months doesn't exist."
She steepled her fingers in front of her mouth, but the warm smile didn't fade. "I think we can work on that memory loss later. What concerns me presently is the insomnia. Tell me about it."
Jack sighed and suppressed a shudder. "It isn't truly insomnia where I can't sleep, but rather recurring dreams that awaken me after only a few hours." He paused, slightly uncomfortable. "Erotic dreams, at the end, though they start innocently enough."
Dr. Lledrith got up and poured them both a generous mug of coffee. She cocked an eyebrow at him as if to ask how he preferred to embellish his.
Jack shook his head and reached for the brew that had recently become his lifeline, despite what it was doing to the lining of his stomach.
Dr. Lledrith took her time adding a generous amount of creamer, and a generous dollop of what appeared to be honey. She returned to her seat, seemingly at ease. "Mr. Draper, I've been a therapist for quite a long time, and one of my sons is gay. I doubt seriously you could shock me. However, in the interests of your privacy, I shall not record the dream in any way. My memory will have to suffice. Does that ease your mind?"
"It does." Jack relaxed. He'd always been a man of great privacy. He hated the fetish pervading society to record every detail of life for posterity in online journals and websites.
The doctor sipped her coffee placidly, and even sniffed the aroma rising from the cup. "Glad to hear it. Please begin."
He drew breath, knowing it wasn't going to be easy to tell what he saw every night. Somehow, he trusted Dr. Lledrith much more than he'd trusted Dr. Bernstein. Perhaps it was hearing her accent. "Very well. As I said, the dream starts innocently. I'm a child. I'd say about ten years old. I'm playing on the cliffs not far from the orphanage where I grew up in South Wales. It must be a holiday, because I was diligent in my schoolwork and rarely went out when I had homework."
Dr. Lledrith nodded. "Yes, your grades were exemplary. All right, we'll assume it was either a weekend or a holiday."
Jack closed his eyes and couldn't help the smile that chased across his face. "We weren't supposed to play on the cliffs, of course, but I seemed to know the way down the rocks well. It may have been my only rebellion to play where I wasn't supposed to go."
Her voice softened, and was not intrusive. "You played alone, then?"
"Quite alone. I get the impression from my feelings that it suited me to escape to this place." He frowned for a moment. "I'd never been sociable, and always felt like the outsider."
She hmphed. He heard her flip papers. "Understandable. You were placed in the orphanage after having been found wandering the streets for apparently days. You wouldn't speak for weeks. The director named you Jack Draper because she constantly found you hiding behind the drapes and staring out the window."
Jack's eyes flew open. He turned and stared with his mouth agape. "I didn't know that. I'd always wondered."
Dr. Lledrith raised an eyebrow. "And you never thought to ask, even after you became an adult?"
Jack writhed in his chair. "I preferred to forget those years and erase my past, thank you. I'd always assumed my parents didn't want me and tossed me away like a bit of rubbish." His voice grew steely. "If they didn't love me enough to keep track of me, then I'd make my own way in the world and damn them."
Her eyes shut for a moment, then opened to give him a sympathetic smile. "While your achievements are admirable, Mr. Draper, I think your past may provide the key to your present difficulties. Please continue."
Jack got up to pace around the generous office. "Here I must admit to a bit of embarrassment. I believe my ego supplied an answer to my childish needs to feel important." He paused to admire the collection of books in the bookcase. "I supposed you've heard that children's song by Peter, Paul, and Mary?"
Dr. Lledrith chuckled. "You refer to 'Puff the Magic Dragon,' I believe. It's a natural leap for a child whose name is similar to the boy in the song to place himself in the story."
Jack winced as she hummed a few bars. "That's the one." He frowned and went back to sit down. He needed that cup of coffee like a man in the desert craved water. "I hate that song, strangely enough. I always have. The kid was a first class selfish heel. You don't desert your friends just because you grow up."
Dr. Lledrith's face was hidden by her coffee mug, but her shoulders stiffened. "Indeed they don't, if they're an honorable person, Mr. Draper. Usually, there's another unstated reason. Please continue with your dream. I assume there's a dragon in it."
Jack sucked in air gratefully. At least this therapist didn't consider him a nut and insist on analyzing the tiniest details of why his ego had superimposed his own face on that ridiculous song. "All right then. Yes, there's a cavern at the base of the cliffs. You have to step on a certain rock to see the entrance." He shrugged. "Magic, I suppose you'd call it in a child's lexicon."
She didn't bat an eyelash, much less smile. "Indeed. Go on."
He had to admire the lady's cool. "I have to jump a couple of spaces between boulders, but it's not that hard for an agile child. Once inside the entrance, the cave looks absurdly normal. Lichen, wet smooth walls from the water's action, the usual. I keep going into the dark interior, but the light behind me is enough to see by." He paused. "There's a dim light up ahead, too."
"Naturally. A child would need a light to see by to find his way." She got up and poured them both more coffee.
Jack was awed. "You're taking this all in stride. Dr. Bernstein had me analyzing every small illogical detail."
Dr. Lledrith raised one snowy eyebrow. "I'm not Dr. Bernstein. This is from the view of a child's mind. Therefore, things don't have to make logical sense. They simply are. Children are so accepting, and don't question details. They might question why the sky is blue, but they don't need the science of it. Most of us should emulate the pure acceptance of a child."
"Thank you. I got rather exasperated by the nit picking. The child in me accepted it as right and proper." Jack shrugged. "Shall I continue?"
"Please do." She went back to placidly sipping her coffee, leaning comfortably back in her chair.
Jack gulped down his coffee despite the searing his tongue got. He needed the fortification. "As you might expect, yes, there was a dragon in the back cavern down a tunnel." He shut his eyes to better remember and relate. "An absolutely magnificent beast of purple and gold. Purple body, gold accents, I should say. His scales were iridescent, and glowed in the light. By the way, the light came from crystals embedded in the walls and ceiling of the cavern. Like a bloody rainbow."
"Sounds magnificent indeed. You should write, Mr. Draper. You have a way with words." Dr. Lledrith leaned forward and put her elbows on the desk. "You don't sound at all frightened of the dragon. Didn't you think he might like a snack of small boy?"
Jack laughed. "No, indeed! He was my friend, Puff."
"Puff is a child's name for something."
Jack nodded at her prompting. "I even supplied an answer for that, Dr. Lledrith. Puff had told me I couldn't pronounce his real name, so I'd been permitted to give him a name I could speak easily. I named him Puff because his nostrils would occasionally breathe a bit of smoke. I assume as an adult this means he was a fire-breathing dragon."
Again, Dr. Lledrith raised an eyebrow. "Is there any other kind?"
Jack laughed, even though he recognized the ploy to get him to talk about his personal obsession. "I find the subject of mythical creatures interesting, as you well know, Doctor. I have a hobby of cryptozoology, when I can afford the time to indulge." He grinned and winked. "When we are not on the clock, I can discourse about dragonkind for well over two hours without my notes, and present a full day's seminar with them."
She spread her fingers in a conciliatory gesture. "Caught me. Dr. Bernstein did mention your hobby, but not any expertise you might have. I can see his notes have as many holes in them as your memory."
Jack tossed an errant curl out of his eyes. He needed a haircut again. "Dr. Bernstein wasn't interested in my last trip to Puerto Rico, where I participated in a study of chupacabre predations. For some reason he considered it macabre."
Dr. Lledrith's voice was sardonic. "Most people would consider looking at eviscerated and bloodless corpses of farm animals to be so."
Jack's mouth fell open. "Very good, Doctor. Most people ask me what a chupacabre is, much less know what the evidence of their predations look like."
She shrugged. "So I watch intelligent telly upon occasion. Let's get back to your dream, please."
Jack tensed. "There's not much more to tell of the innocent portion, really. I hug Puff's neck and tell him how much I missed him, as if I've been away for a long time." He swallowed hard. "Then the dream changes."