After Alex was discharged from the hospital, Oliver could not risk taking her out of his sight. He called the dean directly and got two weeks of rest for her. He then instructed Anton to pack some of his and her clothes and move to the mansion. He was not going to rest until he got to the bottom of it all.
That first night after the university incident, Oliver could not get any sleep. He called the two PI’s that had done the initial background check on Alex and asked them for a new favour;
“Look into a drowning incident that happened in the Russel household seventeen years ago. Turn everything upside down and inside out.” He instructed them. “Talk to the neighbours and if they moved, find them. Check for any CCTV footage, black boxes and things like that. One week, you have only one week to do this.”
Early the next morning, Oliver drove to Doctor Sanjay’s house, the doctor in charge of Alex’s therapy since she was thirteen years old. Therapy was something Oliver had sensed Alex needed just after a few interactions with her after their first meeting at the book store. If she was to grow up as a normal child, she needed to have all the damage done to her as a kid completely fixed lest it developed to interfere with her adult life.
“To what do I owe the pleasure of a visit from the world’s most eligible bachelor at this hour of the day?” Doctor Sanjay greeted Oliver at the door.
“Are you going to let me in or should I just start talking from here?” Oliver croaked.
The doctor immediately moved aside. “I see we are in a very good mood this morning,” she said sarcastically as she closed the door behind Oliver.
Oliver showed himself to the living room and offered himself a seat. “Sit,” he told the doctor.
“Oh well, thank you very much. I thought I would have to stand the whole day…in my own house.” The doctor was on a sarcastic roll that morning.
“During the therapy sessions you had with Alex years ago,” Oliver went straight into business. “Did she ever talk about a drowning incident?”
“No,” Doctor Sanjay replied. “I remember Alex’s case very well. She never mentioned anything of that sort. However, Alex has what we psychologists love to call dissociative amnesia. I think I’ve had this conversation with you a hundred times before.”
“Just take me through it again,” Oliver said. “Humour me.”
And the doctor did just that. “Like I mentioned before, Alex’s case is a peculiar one. In as much as I would have loved to simply diagnose her case as repression, I had very little case evidence as well as scientific evidence to satisfy that case. Despite the many efforts I made during therapy to help her try and recover the memories…except for hypnosis of course which you wouldn’t let me perform on her,” Doctor Sanjay added, deliberately throwing shade at Oliver.
“She was still completely blocked.” The good doctor explained. “However, rather than selective dissociative amnesia, the symptoms Alex exhibited indicated she had localized dissociative amnesia. While she could remember most of the things that transpired in the Russell household, she was missing a particular period of time in that house, months at most and she completely has no idea what might have happened during that time frame.
“I had concluded that perhaps a stressor…something from her past could help her recover the memories and after a series of other tests, I was confident she had dissociative amnesia. Afterwards, I tried to look for the parents that had returned her to the orphanage hoping they could help fill in the blanks that might help her to recover but they had disappeared without leaving a single trace behind.”
“Did you ever consider the possible traumas she might have gone through?” Oliver asked.
“Of course I did,” said the doctor. “During our sessions, Alex had mentioned to me that she was afraid of large bodies of water like rivers, lakes, swimming pools, Jacuzzi’s, and even a bath tab filled with water. That is why I suspect that water has a high chance to do with her trauma. Did something happen with Alex?”
Sighing heavily and completely ignoring his question, Oliver asked, “What are the chances of a recovered memory turning out to either be a false memory or a distorted one?”
“Chances are fifty-fifty,” the doctor answered. “Studies are still being conducted to show whether it is possible or not to distinguish false memories from recovered memories and that is where the need for corroborative evidence comes in. You also need to rule out the possibility that such a memory could have been a product of a therapist’s suggestion…perhaps he or she said something that planted an idea on the patients mind…which I never tried to do. ” he added for Oliver’s benefit.
Oliver pondered the doctor’s words. Alex’s memory recall had not been induced by a therapist. It was Professor Saunders that had triggered it and it was definitely not possible for Alex to have come up with such a heavy story. Her fear was real, that he was sure of beyond reasonable doubt. He just needed to get to the bottom of it all and deal with whoever was responsible for inflicting such pain on her.
If the Russell’s were truly responsible for doing that to a child, then there was no telling what they might try to do to her now to keep her from revealing the truth.
Not wanting to leave anything to chance, “and how or where can you find this corroborative evidence?” Oliver asked.
“By analysing the credibility of the source of information,” she answered. “You can do that by looking into both the lives of the accuser, if it’s a case of abuse, and that of the accused. There could be witnesses as well if you are lucky, things like police reports, trips to the ER, calls to the emergency services, neighbours, friends, pastors, and so on. Did Alex recover her memories Oliver?” Doctor Sanjay asked again.
“It seems all that money I have been paying you all these years has been worth it doc,” Oliver said. “You were right; the trauma does have something to do with water, a swimming pool to be more specific.”
The doctor sat up, looking very interested. “Did Alex tell you what she remembers?”
Oliver nodded. “She encountered someone yesterday morning that triggered her memory. She ended up fainting, twice, in the process and had to be hospitalized for a couple of hours. That’s why I am here doc.”
Oliver went on to tell Doctor Sanjay what had happened.
“I couldn’t pressure her into telling more,” Oliver later said. “She was so shaken up by the recovery…I was afraid something more terrible might happen to her if I pushed her. That’s why I came to see you. Perhaps it would be better if she was in a more controlled environment.
“I wanted to help her through it all but I just wasn’t sure…I don’t know the right things to say to her in such a situation and I think it would be better if she was able to remember other things that happened prior to the drowning incident.”
Oliver paused to scratch his scalp a bit, knowing very well the things he was about to say might surprise the doctor. “She needs to know, I need to know too…why anyone would do such a thing to her. And that is why… I need you to…to hypnotize her.” He finally managed to say the magic words.
Doctor Sanjay was smiling at Oliver triumphantly. It’s been a long time coming, is what she was thinking. She had always wanted to put Alex under hypnosis to help recover her memory but Oliver had always been against it. She was glad he was the one finally suggesting it.
“So when do we start?” The doctor asked enthusiastically.
For the next week that followed, Oliver drove Alex to and from Doctor Sanjay’s hospital. Alex had not yet had the opportunity to inform Anton about what was happening in her life because he was too busy dating and attending classes whenever he remembered.
“So when do you plan on telling Anton about what’s going on?” Oliver had asked her once while he drove them back to his place.
He was no fool, he could tell how desperately Alex wanted her best friend around but it seemed this new girl of his was really taking up all of his time. The girl sure did choose the right time to come into his son’s life. And who the hell was she anyway? He should remember to ask Gilbert or Felix to do some digging for him when he gets home. He thought.
“I don’t want to disturb his studies,” Alex answered, looking down at her hands. “He’s got projects coming up and all….”
“When was the last time you checked your social media or watched television Alex?” Oliver asked.
Alex tried to remember. “It’s been over a week now I think,” she said. “I have had a lot on my mind lately and focusing on my research is the only thing I can do right now to forget about…certain things. However, I won’t lie to you…Anton is one of the reasons I have stayed away from any kind of news.
“I think the girl this time is different. He is serious about her…serious enough to not notice on his own what’s going on with me. Men tend to do that when they fall in-love.” She was smiling nervously, not wanting to look disappointed or heartbroken.
Oliver could only imagine what she must have been going through. She was gaining her memories of the most traumatic event of her life and at the same time losing the person she was in-love with.
Oliver was not sure about whether to applaud or scold Alex for trying so hard to look jovial and act like her usual chirpier self when she was obviously hurting deeply. How long has she silently suffered like this? Where those memories creeping up on her in the night and keeping her from sleeping? Who did she turn to when that happened while Anton was out having a good time?
He reached out and held her hand. It was all he could think of doing in that moment. Despite being a musician, Oliver had never been good with words; even his wife had come to accept that about him. Fortunately, he was always there to take care of the ones he loved.
Alex looked at their locked hands and smiled. She was glad that at least one person was there to hold her hand through it all. “Do you want me to tell you what I have remembered so far?” She asked. She knew he had been dying for days to know what was going on but she also knew he was a man of great self-restraint.
“Only if you are ready to talk about it Alex,” Oliver said. “I don’t want you to feel obliged to….”
Alex gave his hand a little squeeze before letting go. “I know,” she said softly. “I want to tell you.”
Once they were home, Oliver asked all the workers to leave the house for a while. He wanted all the privacy he could get with Alex.
“Did you manage to recover all the memories you had lost or just some of it?” Oliver asked once they were seated in the living room on the second floor.
“I remember most of it, just not all the details.” Alex answered. “After hearing my story, Doctor Sanjay went in search of some of the people I could remember from around that time, including some of the Russell’s friends to corroborate a few things. So, I think I have a pretty good idea of what happened seventeen years.”
When Alex started speaking, Oliver listened intently without interrupting her
“I was five years old when they adopted me.” Alex was saying. “I was excited to finally have a place I could call home and people to call mum and dad.” Alex recalled the feeling of walking into the well-furnished house as if it had happened only yesterday. She remembered the clean paint on the walls, the curved stairs leading to the second storey; she even remembered the smell of fresh bread from the small bakery across the street when she opened the back window of her bedroom.
How many times had she dreamt about living in such a fancy house? Even as she went from room to room touching the walls and feeling everything around, she couldn’t help imagining the possibility of losing it. As she talked, Alex would close and open her eyes at will. One moment she would be right there in the past experiencing everything as it happened and the next she would be looking at Oliver, narrating to him her feelings and whatever was going on in that period in time.
“It was the first time ever that something good was happening to me,” Alex said to Oliver. “But I can remember the fear…you know that thing you get when you’ve had too many bad things happen to you and then suddenly something good happens?” she was looking at Oliver expectantly but he was just staring at her blankly.
“Oh,” Alex murmured. “I forgot for a second who I was talking to.” she laughed.
Oliver shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I have had bad…no, terrible things happen to me before Alex,” he quickly defended himself. “I haven’t always lived a luxurious life and my life certainly hasn’t been pain-free.”
“Oh yeah….” Oliver’s late wife came to Alex’s mind. “Anyway, you know what I meant Mr C.” she said.
Oliver nodded. “I do.” He said.
“Sadly,” Alex went on narrating “No sooner had I resigned myself to living my new life than I was awakened to a harsh reality. I learnt that I had only been brought into the house as a replacement for their child who had been missing for three years. Her name was Cathy…Cathy Russell.
“I had seen from her pictures on almost every wall in the house that she was a very beautiful girl. She was very elegant even for her age unlike the way I looked back then.” Alex smiled bitter-sweetly. “Well,” she added, giving herself a visual scan. “I am still no hottie but I can be as sexy as hell if I chose to. I just happen to have other priorities.”
“I don’t doubt that,” Oliver said. “I think that you are a very attractive woman…not just physically, intellectually too. I happen to find intelligent women more beautiful than any other kind of women.”
Alex’s face flushed red. There was a strange and awkward silence that followed Oliver’s remarks. Alex had never before seen the look that was in Oliver’s eyes as he said the words to her. She was not sure what she was supposed to feel or say. All she knew was that there was a part of her that loved hearing him talk to her like that.
“I can literally see you thinking about what I just said.” Oliver chuckled. “Learn to take a compliment Miss Saunders; it makes a woman even more attractive. Now, you were saying….” He prompted her to continue.
Alex blinked profusely, a little embarrassed by her reaction. Could it be because it was the first time Oliver had actually called her a woman? She had always been his little sunshine and never a woman. She suddenly understood why almost the whole world craved him as the most eligible bachelor they would love to have…even if for just a few hours.
Immediately after that realisation, Alex had to admit to herself that she had never before looked at Oliver as anything more than her best friend’s father, mentor and guardian. He too was a man, a very good looking one at that.
“For the first few months, “Alex quickly tried to clear away her strange thoughts. “Mrs Russell was convinced that I was the daughter she had lost. She wouldn’t let me leave her sight. There were also days when she would hold my hand, or when we were bathing when she would notice my rough skin and scars and hold me so tight in her arms, crying over the abuse I must have gone through while she wasn’t by my side.
“Then again there were also days when she would notice the same things but instead she would push me away, harder, yelling that I was an imposter. I remember thinking that something was wrong with her. Mr Russell thought the same thing sometimes.
“Mr Russel would give her some pills to calm her down. She would sleep and when she woke up the next day, I was her daughter again. These episodes kept happening every now and then for about a year and when the unexpected happened, I was not prepared. None of us in the house were.”
Alex closed her eyes again and took herself back in time. “I answered the doorbell one day and found Cathy on the other side.” She narrated.
Alex could picture a girl slightly taller than her with long blonde hair tied in three pigtails sticking out from all sides of her head. Despite the years, there was no mistaking who she was.
“She had this confused and scared look in her eyes.” Alex recalled. “Mrs Russell was half-way through the stairs coming down from her bedroom when she saw Cathy standing outside by the door. She ran to the door, pushed me out of the way and stood in front of Cathy. I think Cathy immediately recognized her mother because she started sobbing. Mrs Russell collapsed from the shock of it before the hand she was reaching out even touched her daughter.
“It was later discovered that a woman who had lost both her husband and daughter in an accident had ended up taking Cathy while her mother was picking out groceries at the neighbourhood store and had taken her eyes off her daughter for just a few seconds. When the woman’s mother finally located her daughter from where she was hiding, she had recognized Cathy from all the leaflets and television coverage. So she brought Cathy back to her parents.
“My new parents were ecstatic.” Alex opened her eyes and pressed on, tears from the memory soaking her face wet. Oliver reached into his pocket and handed her a handkerchief.
“They finally had their daughter back but then there was me.” Alex cried. “I remember very well staying awake because I was scared someone might come into the bedroom to say they were taking me away. They didn’t have any more use for me. I don’t think Cathy liked me either. Or maybe I was the one that didn’t like her….” Alex thought for a moment as images flashed through her mind.
“I can only remember us fighting, sometimes she is the one crying, sometimes I am the one crying…but most of the times I am alone crying in my room.” She said.
“One day, I am not sure when it actually happened,” Alex continued, “but I remember hearing the Russel’s talking about taking me back to the orphanage but Mr Russell always refused, insisting that it was unfair to do that to me because I was also their child and not a commodity they could just return to the store. Return to the store…” Alex repeated the words and scoffed.
“I remember those words very clearly,” she said. “I might have been a kid but I cried for almost the whole day that day because my feelings were hurt. I didn’t like the feeling that I wasn’t their child like Cathy was.”
“Mrs Russell was not happy of course.” Alex cleared her nose. “Unfortunately, an opportunity finally presented itself to Mrs Russell to finally get rid of me…. I think it was months later after Cathy’s return. I was in the bedroom reading Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I remember because I had read that book so many times but always found it disappointing. Most of the kids my age seemed to love it but I never did, I still don’t. There was something about Snow White that never made sense to me. How can a princess be so dumb?”
Oliver could imagine the puzzled and bemused reaction Alex must have had seventeen years ago because she was looking exactly like that right then.
“I was busy screaming at Snow White not to listen to her evil step mother again when I heard someone screaming from outside.” Alex was saying. “I looked out the window and saw Cathy almost drowning in the pool. I saw Mrs Russell sitting by the pool side.”
Alex closed her eyes again, the memories in her head playing themselves in real time. “At first I thought it was a game they were playing because Mrs Russel didn’t look worried. But then I noticed that she had these huge headsets in her ears with a book lying on her chest. She must have dozed off whilst reading I think. Before running out of the house, I kept banging on the window loudly to get her attention but she still couldn’t hear me.”
She opened her eyes and continued, “I had learnt how to swim from that stream at the orphanage so I trusted my excellent swimming skills. Unfortunately, I had miscalculated my own strength.” Alex said.
“Cathy was way down the water and I didn’t have the strength to pull her out of the pool on my own. And so, with one hand holding on to her to keep her above water, I kept screaming and splashing water at Mrs Russel hoping to wake her up but she was far from where we were and the water getting to her was more like showers. Fortunately, she woke up after a few seconds of my screaming and splashing and immediately jumped into the pool the moment she saw the state her daughter was in. Mrs Russell was desperately giving Cathy mouth-to-mouth and screaming at me to call 911 when Mr Russell came to the pool.
“I was very scared watching the two of them desperately trying to bring Cathy back to life…I thought she was going to die. Then I heard the sirens in the distance and just then Cathy coughed. Once Mrs Russell’s excitement over Cathy’s resuscitation had dulled down a bit, she said something to Cathy and I saw Cathy pointing at me. And then I heard Mr Russell saying, ‘I should have listened to you and gotten rid of her before all this happened.’”
Alex could see the angry face starring hard at her. She had never felt so afraid in her life. As a cold rush went through her veins, she could tell she was in very deep trouble. She just didn’t know why. But she didn’t have long to wait before she found out. Mrs Russell came running at her and before she knew it, she was being hit from left, right and centre.
She was desperately trying to block the hits and screaming for help from Mr Russell, but the man just stood there, holding on to his daughter and shielding her from the damage that her mother was inflicting on her adopted sister.
“The next thing I remember is Mrs Russell dragging me into the pool and forcing me under the water while I begged her incessantly to let me go. All those times when Mrs Russell would abuse me after Cathy’s return, it was Mr Russell that always came to my rescue. On some days, he would secretly take me out for ice-cream and made me promise not to tell anyone.
“He was like the father I had always dreamt of having…but that day…that day he was someone I could not recognize…someone I never wanted to know. He just stood there watching the whole thing and despite my begging and panting, he never lifted a finger to help me. I am still not sure if he is the reason I could not remember anything related to that day or if it was because of the actual drowning incident by his wife. Doctor Sanjay is still trying to work that out with me. I hope I won’t have to spend the rest of my life in therapy,” Alex sighed.
Oliver tentatively put his hand on her. “No you won’t,” he murmured. “You will get better soon…I know you will.” He patted her hand.
Oliver’s show of concern for her reminded her of Anton. Back when they were kids, he was always the one by her side whenever she was crying over the treatment she was receiving from the Saunders’s family or whenever someone tried to bully her at school…he was always the one promising her that things would get better and she always believed him because they did.
As she looked down at Oliver’s strong hand trying to comfort her, she did not notice the tears streaming down her eyes until she saw them drop onto his hand. She quickly removed her hand from his and wiped the tears away.
“I am sorry….” Alex started to say but Oliver surprised her by taking both her hands from her face and holding on to them with one hand. He used his other hand to wipe away her tears instead. The moment her face was clear, he stood up, removed another handkerchief from his back pocket and placed it in her hand. “I always carry these around since I deal with actors 24/7.” He said and turned to leave the room to give her some privacy.
“Thank you,” Alex said out of the blue from behind him, taking Oliver by surprise.
He slowly turned back around. “For what?” he asked.
Instead of words, Alex stood up and put her arms around Oliver, again, catching him by surprise. She was crying, although not loudly, but he could feel it. not sure what to do, he simply hugged her back, tightly.
“From the moment we met,” Alex spoke in a shaky voice. “You have always been there for me Mr C. I know you think of yourself as my guardian…like the father I have never had…but most of the times you are like a big brother. I can talk to you about things I know no daughter out there would dare tell her father. Instead of treating me like some kid you picked off the streets, you’ve always made me feel special, wanted…like I’m part of the family.”
Oliver held her by the shoulders away from him and looking into her eyes he said, “You are part of this family silly,” he assured her. “Besides, your uncanny resemblance to Sophia my wife…late wife,” he quickly corrected himself. “…sometimes makes me believe that we were truly fated to meet…like the daughter she and I never got to have.” He said.
Alex smiled, her arms limply resting on either side of her body with the back slightly tilted back, away from Oliver. If Oliver released her unexpectedly, she was going to fall flat on her back standing like that.
“Maybe you and I should get married so I can become Anton’s mother and drive away all those filthy girls attaching themselves to him.” She was laughing so heartily from the imagination that she did not feel herself tilting further back. Oliver made strengthened his grip and forced her straight on her feet.
He flicked her forehead and let go of her. Smiling, he said, “I can smell the old chirpier Alex from somewhere inside that laughter. Glad to have you back my Sunshine,” he said before heading upstairs to his room.
Alex smiled as she watched his retreating figure. She was grateful to him beyond words. How was she ever going to repay him for his kindness?
Oliver could hear the sound of his bedside phone ringing even before he opened the door.
“Yes,” was his usual telephone greeting.
“We need to talk, in person.” Said a throaty and masculine voice said. It was Gilbert, one of his PI’s.
“I have a lot of work to do Gilbert, why don’t you come through to my home instead?” Oliver suggested. He hadn’t had a lot of work done for the past week because he was too concerned about Alex’s to fully focus on anything. Seeing that she was slowly recovering, he hoped he would get a move on the latest production he was planning on investing in.
Oliver had three major business interests; music, real estate, and very recently he had added movie production to his resume. The first movie he had tried his hand at directing had become a box office hit. Although many people had expected him to excel in the movie industry given his experience in the music industry, Oliver was still taken by surprise when his first movie did so well than he had expected. It was amazing how he was still unfamiliar with the power of his own name as a brand.
It had been three years now since and the offers to direct and produce new movies were too many for Oliver to comprehend. Before he knew it, he had added successful film director and producer to his already long resume.
After retiring as a performer at age thirty, Oliver had fully taken over the music production company he had started when he was twenty-five years old. He had managed to successfully set himself up as the leading music producer in the industry and had a long list of successful clients signed with him. For all those wishing to become musicians, their first choice of producer was always Oliver.
“I think we have a little problem on our hands boss,” Gilbert had finally found his way to Oliver’s mansion. For a man with such a firm and masculine tone of voice, his small and thin stature made everyone that looked at him once look at him a second time…and third. Sitting on the other side of the table in Oliver’s home office upstairs, Gilbert waited for the business mogul to finish typing whatever he was working on.
“And why would we have a little problem my good friend?” Oliver asked the sixty year old PI. Gilbert Matthews was well known and respected in his line of work and had been working for Oliver for more than twenty years. Over the years, Oliver had found the man, together with his assistant Felix Hamilton to be trustworthy and reliable.
Gilbert opened his bag and took out an envelope. He placed it on the table in front of Oliver and the latter proceeded to open it. Inside, he found a bunch of pictures taken of Anton and his latest girlfriend Cathy.
“We did the usual background check on the girl as you instructed, followed her and her family around to know what kind of folks they are….”
“I see you are just as prompt as always,” Oliver said whilst flipping through the images. “I will give it to her, she is very beautiful” Oliver was saying while looking at a picture taken of Cathy alone while she was smiling. “But that’s her only good quality,” he added. “For some strange reason, there is something about her I don’t like…I just can’t put my finger on it.” He was shaking his head, this way and that way as he tried to understand his scepticism.
Oliver flipped through more pictures and paused when he came across one of Cathy with her parents. “I presume these are her parents,” he showed the picture to Gilbert who in return nodded.
“Earlier, you had asked us to investigate Professor Russell,” Gilbert was saying. “At first I didn’t want to make any reports until we found something solid in connection to the drowning incident….”
“Yes, you told me that,” Oliver noted.
“Well, it turns out that that first assignment is directly connected to this one Oliver,” the PI announced.
Oliver looked puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“Those two parents in that photo are Mr and Mrs Russell…and Cathy, who is currently dating your son, is their daughter,”
“That’s absurd,” Oliver scoffed. “How can that be?” He asked dismissively as he quickly flipped through the rest of the photos. He stopped when he found one of Professor Russell standing outside the university hospital. “This can’t be….” He said, more to himself than anyone else.
“Does Anton know about this?” Oliver asked, and then something suddenly dawned on him, “Alex…oh my gosh, Alex….” He was up on his feet ready to run to Alex’s room but Gilbert quickly got up and blocked his way.
“What are you going to tell that girl if you rush to her in this state?” Gilbert tried to reason with his client. “Calm down and hear the rest of what I have to tell you and then you can decide on what to do next after you’ve been thoroughly informed.”
After slight hesitation, Oliver sat back down.