At 2:30, Eli gets a text from Aunt Addi, reminding him about Doctor Mallory.
Mallory is Eli’s shrink, and has been since Eli moved to Rosemont. He is . . . okay. Mostly they just talk about stuff and Mallory uses a soft voice and makes suggestions like “have you tried starting a new hobby?” or “running seems to help, doesn’t it?” Eli really only goes because it makes Aunt Addi feel better. He doesn’t think Mallory is a bad person or anything, it’s just he’s so . . . old. And white. And sometimes says old white man things like “I suspect you saw a lot of violence, growing up,” like he thinks Eli came out of some lurid TV cop-show version of East Harlem, circa 1995, and not twenty-first century Midtown.
As it turns out, about the most violence Eli ever saw “growing up” was watching cops manhandle homeless people off the subway. So much for that life, he supposes.
So it’s not like Eli thinks Doctor Mallory is bad, exactly, but he also doesn’t feel the need to correct the version of Elias Drake Mallory obviously keeps in his head. Eli knows this means Mallory isn’t going to be doing him much good, mental-health wise, but the guy’s Rosemont’s only psychologist and it’s not like Eli’s got other options. So he goes along, to keep Aunt Addi happy, and says vague and non-specific things, to reassure Mallory that he is just some surly damaged urban projects kid, or whatever it is the old guy thinks.
Mallory’s office is on Main, a couple blocks from the school. Eli has a note from Aunt Addi to bail out of class, and only just manages to dodge getting escorted by one of the Rosemont High’s finest. Like the “security officers” ever did shit for Eli when he was getting beat up by Arthur’s goons, and like they could do shit against a peryton, if one decided to chase Eli through the middle of Rosemont proper.
The town is quiet today. Eli supposes murders will do that, and the weather isn’t helping. The sky isn’t quite raining but is certainly threatening, clouds like shotcrete still hanging low and heavy, the air damp and cold with the slow creep of winter.
Nothing happens on the way to Mallory’s office, which at least is warm, and filled with comfortable furniture and soft, cream-colored walls. Eli lies on the former and stares at the latter while he dutifully tells Mallory the story he invented with Arthur the other day. He keeps things sketchy and kinda vague. Best way to hide a lie, Dad always said, because liars always add too many detail to the their stories. Trying for verisimilitude, Dad had explained, smirking his courtroom smirk. But something being real and something being convincing aren’t the same. And reality? Sometimes reality has a way of being the most unrealistic thing of all.
And then Doctor Mallory asks:
“In the cave, with Arthur. What were you feeling?”
“Afraid,” Eli says, without thinking. Except . . . except that’s a lie, isn’t it? He hadn’t been afraid at all. Not really.
“That’s understandable—” Mallory is saying, except Eli blurts:
“No. I lied. I wasn’t scared. I was guilty. Because of Val, y’know? Because I could’ve— I should’ve . . .” Saved him, he doesn’t say. Because how could he explain it? To a guy who thinks he’s just some kid.
“There isn’t anything you could’ve done, Elias,” says Doctor Mallory, predictably. “None of this is your fault. You need to know that.”
“Yeah,” says Eli, who doesn’t believe as much for a New York minute. “I guess.”
He leaves Doctor Mallory’s office feeling exposed and kind of raw, just like usual, replaying the conversations over and over in his head, trying to figure out if he said too much, as usual. Running helps calm him down, so he tightens the straps on his backpack—retrieved from the forest floor care of Aunt Addi, and still bearing the little tag from where it’d been, very briefly, considered evidence—and picks through the streets at a clip, pretending like he’s darting between the raindrops that’ve just begun to fall, heavy and fat. He makes it back to Aunt Addi’s just as the sky opens and the deluge comes down, wet fingers slipping on the doorknob as he hustles himself inside.
Addi isn’t home yet, although the note on the fridge says she will be, and not to worry about dinner. Eli doesn’t, instead heads to his room, stripping out of his wet clothes and changing them for the thick, plush robe that had, not so long ago, belonged to Dad. It’s one of the few things Eli had taken with him out of the penthouse; deep purple with gold-threaded brocade around the cuffs and belt. Mom had bought it and thought it was hilarious, and Dad—he normally of the conservative gray suits and understated blue ties—had kept it because it’d made her laugh.
Eli still misses them. So much. He’s fine, most of the time. Can pretend this is all just, like, some crazy summer camp or that they’re away on some vacation or whatever. Most of the time. Not always.
Eli slips his hand into the robe’s pocket, feeling for the bracelet. One of Mom’s, platinum and diamond and shaped like a . . . huh. Shaped like a dragon. Mom had had rooms of jewelry but the bracelet had been her favorite, and Eli can barely remember seeing her without it. He’s pretty sure she slept with it. It’s probably worth more than Aunt Addi’s entire house but it’s not about the money. Mom always had plenty of that and so now, so does Eli. But he has so little of her. She’d been away a lot, growing up. Business, Dad had always said, and he’d been the one to take care of Eli, most of the time. To help him with school or take him to eat ice creams in the park when he’d felt down. But when Mom was home, she’d always been like a supernova; beautiful and brilliant, intense and untouchable, somehow, even when she was hugging Eli or ruffling his hair or, when he was younger, laughing as he crawled into her lap.
It occurs to Eli, quite suddenly, that he really didn’t know either of his parents all that well. They loved him dearly and he never doubted that—never wanted for anything, love most of all—but they’d been their own people, too, in a way Eli had never been privy to. He thinks maybe that’s normal, and for one brief, blinding moment he burns with the rage that he’ll never get to know who they really were.
Beneath his palm, the metal of his mother’s bracelet starts to bend, just a fraction, and Eli forces himself to unclench his hand. When he pulls it from its pocket and looks at it, he sees the bracelet’s left the imprint of scales in a thick stripe, right across his palm.