Consulting with the entire family was going to be an interesting process, as Elliot knew ahead of time. He knew enough about each of the parents to look forward to his session with Richard White today. The comic relief of the family, the prankster, the only one with the temerity to harass L, much loved by J and K, his notes read. Richard was the first dad the twins had ever known, and a strong influence on them both. Elliot had talked to him before of course, passing a few casual words when picking up or dropping off the twins, but hadn’t yet had the opportunity to analyze him.
Richard arrived a few minutes early and walked into the office with none of his ex-fiancée’s hesitation. The moment when a new patient walked in was always a telling one, and Richard was no different. He dropped onto the traditional couch and leaned back, hands behind his head, and looked over at Elliot with a wry grin. “So, Doctor Marrin, you wanna hear about my mom?”
An interesting way to begin, joking about stereotypes. Then again, what else should he have expected from Richard? “Would you like to tell me about her?”
“She’s nuts,” Richard promptly replied. “Nuts about her dogs, anyway. I’m only half-joking when I tell people I was seven years old before I figured out that I wasn’t an overgrown half-bald Yorkie.”
Elliot smiled at that, knowing he was expected to laugh or question the joke, but instead he kept silent to let Richard elaborate. And that Richard was happy to do. “So my mom loves her dogs. She always has a pair of Yorkies, and she lets them run wild. They steal food, they bite, and she thinks everything they do is adorable. Hell, Lois and the kids didn’t see my parents for years because one of the mutts tried to bite Jason, and Lois damn near punted the little beast across the room.”
Richard sighed, shaking his head slightly. “That house… Mom insisted on having the entire interior done in pink and white. Pink and white. Over the years she’s been collecting Yorkie stuff. You wouldn’t believe the shit you can buy with a picture of some dogs on it. Yorkie fridge magnets, towels, photo frames, mirror frames, an entire tea set including a teapot shaped like a freakin’ Yorkie, coasters, vases, sofa pillows, and more damn figurines than anyone needs to own.”
“How does your father feel about this?” Elliot asked.
Laughing, Richard replied, “He converted the garage into his man-cave. Dad’s got his favorite recliner out there, the one Mom wanted to throw away five years ago, plus a cooler for his beer and a television. It’s a Yorkie-free zone. Probably not the best way to fix things, but it works for them.”
Elliot nodded slightly. “And if you were in such a situation, how would you resolve it?”
“Are you kidding me?” Richard scoffed. “First of all, Lana’s a whole lot more sane than my mom. We’d never be stuck in something like that. She’d never take over the whole penthouse, especially not for something ridiculous. And I’d never exile myself to a garage, either. It’s our house and we’re both capable of looking up ‘compromise’ in the dictionary if we ever happen to forget how to do it.”
A little defensive there, but not much. The Whites’ marriage had always seemed very stable, except for a rocky period in the beginning, but then they had married only a couple months after meeting each other. Some early instability was to be expected. Since working through that, they’d been a sterling example.
Now for the big question. “Tell me, Richard, have you seen any signs of a similar – though less extreme – separation between Lois and Clark?”
Richard hesitated then, the first time Elliot had seen him do so. “Well, it’s not like we both don’t know that Lois… Lois has some issues. I love her to death, I really do, but she’s not the easiest person to live with. And neither is Clark, really. I … I don’t want to say they’re not meant for each other, because seriously, they’re epic. But there’s a lot of things they don’t have in common, and some of the things they do have in common aren’t necessarily working for them, and it makes being together a challenge.”
That’s a very long way of saying yes, Elliot thought. Richard’s loyalty to his ex and her husband made it difficult for him to say anything negative about them. But with Lois reverting to her secretive ways, and Clark potentially mistrusting Elliot due to his history with Lois, the doctor knew he was going to have to seek other perspectives on the Lane-Kents’ family life.
“It’s clear to me that you are a very well-adjusted individual, and that your marriage to Lana is in no need of my assistance,” he began, which got a crooked grin from Richard. “Lois and Clark, however, have some work to do, and of course my primary concern is the twins. Please understand that I admire Lois greatly, as I think everyone who knows her does. She’s an extremely courageous and dedicated woman, and of course her devotion to her children is exemplary. That said, you know her better than I do, and if you – who at one point intended to marry her – say she’s difficult to live with, this is something I have to explore for her sake. Marital strife is always hardest on the children, you know, particularly when they don’t understand the reasons why.”
“You got that right,” Richard sighed. “Man, my mom and dad never fought that much, but it kind of sucked to realize he was slowly being crowded out of the house by ceramic Yorkies. I don’t think it’ll ever get to that point with Lois and Clark, though, because they love each other too much. And besides, they made a lot of progress in Nevada.”
“She was seriously injured in Nevada,” Elliot replied. “The prospect of actually losing one’s life generally does make people reconsider the things they take for granted, and recommit to important relationships.”
“Yeah, but before that Lana and I managed to kick some sense into both of them,” Richard said. “I had to point out to him some stuff he wasn’t aware of. Clark’s too good to be true, sometimes, and he forgets that the rest of the world doesn’t operate with his assumptions. And Lois, well, Lois will let Lana tell her stuff she’d slap anyone else for.”
Still no specifics – that was interesting. Richard was being much cagier about this than Elliot had expected. They’d established a rapport, Elliot had demonstrated he was on Lois’ side and pointed out the need to know what was wrong in order to help fix it, but Richard still spoke in generalities. And Elliot was certain he knew exactly what was going on between Lois and Clark.
Elliot sighed, took off his glasses, and set them on the table, rubbing the marks they left on the bridge of his nose. He relaxed his posture even more, sending subliminal signals of openness and vulnerability to encourage Richard to confide in him further. Meanwhile his mind worked furiously, trying to make an educated guess that would induce Richard to assume he already knew what was wrong between the Lane-Kents, and that Richard himself would only be clarifying it.
Ah, that was it. He looked over at Richard with a slightly worried smile. “Lois hasn’t been quite the same since her mother passed, has she?”
It had the desired effect; Richard looked sucker-punched, and he sighed too. “Yeah, you’re right. Ever since she lost Ella, Lois has been … brittle. Trying to hold herself together and keep everyone else out. And Ella was a voice of reason; she’s helped Lois and Clark smooth things over in the past. That, uh, that was something she passed down to Lana, actually. I just found out fairly recently, but when we were all visiting Ella in the hospital she spoke to each of us privately, and she asked Lana to take over … managing Lois, I guess you can say. Being the designated worrier and general busybody. Which we weren’t doing so much of, because you know, sticking your nose into someone else’s marriage might not be well received.” Richard laughed then, a flash of his usual humor resurfacing. “Well, maybe you don’t know. It’s kind of your job to be nosy.”
“It’s perfectly normal to be concerned with the happiness of people you care about. I’d hardly call that prying,” Elliot replied.
“Lois might. Hell, Lois would. Getting past her defenses is always a challenge – hey, did you hear about the one Clark’s mom pulled on her?” Elliot hadn’t, and Richard proceeded to tell the story with relish. “The physical therapist told Lois to stay home from work. Perry told her if he saw her at the paper he’d have her thrown out by security, and if she tried to file an article he’d confiscate her computer. She was not to work, period. And that drove her crazy, having to just rest and recuperate. Enforced idleness just isn’t her thing.”
Elliot nodded; Lois needed to be on the move all the time, needed to feel like she was in hot pursuit of some goal. Leisure time was perfectly fine in between stages of an ongoing project, but having no purpose? That would irritate her to no end.
“So anyway, Martha and Ben – Clark’s mom and stepdad – came up to visit. Help around the house, make sure Lois wasn’t trying to lift weights with the messed-up shoulder, the usual. Ben’s a beagle breeder, and they brought with them this puppy out of the latest litter. Little runty thing, the mom rejected it, they had to feed it with a bottle every two hours, and he and Martha sighed over it like they didn’t expect it to last the weekend, but they wanted it to be comfortable during its short life.”
Elliot grinned; he knew how Lois would take that long shot. “The puppy was female, I take it?”
Richard nodded slowly. “Of course. And when Ben and Martha left, Lois had a new dog. She was about six pounds when Lois got her, and really weak. Martha said the pup was so tiny a sneeze would blow her away, and Lois decided to call her Katchoo after some comic book character. Now she’s caught up to where she should be, and Lois calls her Chewie because she’s an evil little biting devil.”
“And of course Lois empathizes with the underdog who makes everyone take notice,” Elliot said.
“Exactly. It’s good for her to worry about someone else, even if that someone is a puppy. Lois claims to know they were setting her up, but she still baby-talks to Chewie when she thinks we’re not listening.”
Elliot nodded, smiling at the thought of Lois nursing a puppy back to health. “You’re right, of course. In your opinion overall, is Lois faring better, worse, or about the same as before Nevada?”
“Better,” Richard replied instantly. “Hell, we’re all better for it. Not a kind of therapy I’d recommend, but it seems to have worked. You don’t go through hell like that without taking a good long look at what’s really important to you and deciding to hang on to it for dear life.”
“So Lois and Clark have re-committed to one another,” Elliot mused aloud. “And the children?”
“The twins…” Richard trailed off, then shook his head. “I love Kala dearly, of course, but she needed a smack upside the head. Teenage drama, you know? No one understands her, life’s so hard, nobody loves her, all that nonsense. Well, she got a great big wake-up call when her mom got shot trying to rescue her. She’ll never doubt again that she’s important, that she’s loved, and as much as I hate to say it, she knows what real hardship is now. It’s made her grateful for the life she has. That’s a big dose of reality for a kid to cope with, but she’s never been an ordinary kid. She’s more confident in the right ways now, and less arrogant in the wrong ones.”
That boded well; Kala had been fairly reticent in her sessions, and now Elliot had a few leads to follow up with her. He had known that Kala was experiencing all the usual trials of adolescence, written large in her case due to her odd combination of self-confidence and doubt.
“As for Jason, he’s finally proven himself. He’s always been worried about stepping up to his parents’ legacy – high-powered reporters and all that, he wants to make a difference in the world too, you know? I mean, he decided he was going to help save his sister, come hell or high water, and he defied all of us to do it. Not in a stupid, stubborn teenage way, like I would’ve at his age. He stood up to the four of us like a grown man, and we treated him like an adult while we were in Nevada. A lot to put on his shoulders, I know, but he handled it. And now that he’s home it’s like he’s finally enjoying being a kid, doing normal teenage stuff. Like he knows he can step up to the plate when he has to, so he’s going to treasure the last few years before he has to become super-responsible.”
Jason had always been the easier twin to deal with, but Elliot had watched him more closely for that. Growing up in a family of several powerful, extroverted personalities might have caused him to develop a shy inward turn, but so far he’d been on track to grow into his own more subtle strengths. The only thing Elliot was really concerned about regarding Jason was his intensity, and according to Richard some of that had finally let up.
Richard sighed. “The only one who didn’t benefit out of all of this was Kristin. She is not a happy camper. Still hasn’t forgiven Big K for leaving without her, and she’s been having nightmares about us leaving her. That’s from having to stay in Kansas while we all went to Nevada, I know. Thank God she didn’t really understand what happened to Lana.” He shuddered at that, and for good reason.
“Children are resilient,” Elliot reminded him. “I’m certain Kristin will be fine, but if you have any concerns, don’t hesitate to bring her to me.”
“I won’t,” Richard said.
Elliot looked up at the clock and nodded. “The hour’s almost up. Was there anything else you wanted to tell me?”
Richard hesitated on the verge of speaking, biting his lip. “Well, not really. Just … what I said about Kala? She really went through hell in Nevada. And whatever she tells you, if she’s said anything or not yet, just remember she’s been pretty shaken up. I mean, she’s going to pull through, but…”
He trailed off, and Elliot stepped in. “Doctor-patient confidentiality prevents me from discussing specifics, but I assure you, I’m aware of the gravity of the situation, and the discretion required.” Besides, his next session with Kala was tomorrow after school. If he wanted to know why Richard was suddenly being so jumpy, he could ask Kala herself.
“Thank you,” Richard said, and shook his hand before he left.
Elliot leaned back in his chair and thought about everything Richard had said – and then thought more closely about what he hadn’t said. “You’re hiding something,” he finally concluded. “You’re all hiding something.” What that was, he couldn’t begin to guess, but discovering secrets was his stock in trade.