“Deedee! Phone!” Who the hell is calling me at work? I glanced over my shoulder at the cook yelling through the service window of the diner for me. Giving him a nod before I tossed the rag down on the counter I walked over to the phone hanging on the wall and picked up the receiver. “Hello?” “Hello! Is this Deirdre Willits? Formerly, Deirdre Maccaby?” “Who’s this?” I crossed my arm over my body and leaned into the phone. “This is Jonathan Barker at the Verity Institute in San Diego, California. You’re a very hard woman to find, Mrs. Willits.” “Miss.” “Pardon?” “It’s just Miss Willits. Not Missus.” The bell of the door chimed, and I turned to wave as a few customers walked inside the previously empty diner and took a seat at a booth. Don’t forget to tell them we’re all out of the special. “I’m divorced.” “Oh, of course! Miss Willits,” he paused and I could hear the faint clicking noise of him typing on a keyboard as I shifted my weight to my other foot. Jesus, my feet are killing me. If I get good tips today I should swing by Payless on the way home and get some new shoes. “What exactly can I do for you Mr. Barker because I don’t know no one from California and I’ve never even heard of this Verity Institute.” Dammit, I gotta get my oil changed. I can’t put that off for another week. New shoes will just have to wait. “Right, of course,” he cleared his throat and began talking with an audible smile. “The Verity Institute specializes in Honesty and Healing sessions between two parties. We’ve patented a special formula blending science and medicine to create an environment conducive to absolute honesty which we believe can result in healing. I am an Honesty Broker for the Institute here in San Diego and-” Damn telemarketers. Now they’re calling me at work? The bells chimed again as two gentlemen walked in and sat at the counter, I smiled and nodded. Good. Jim always leaves a decent tip.
“Honesty and healing sessions? Mr.Barker I have no damned idea what you’re talking about but I’m at work. I don’t have time for whatever it is you’re trying to sell me. Please don’t call me here again.” I turned back towards the wall where the phone base hung and began to lean forward before the voice on the other end stopped me in my tracks. “Your son has commissioned our services, Miss Willits.” Matty... The hand holding the phone began to tremble and I opened my mouth to speak but was unable to find the words. My mouth hung slack as the silence on the other end of the line continued. “Miss Willits? Are you still there?” “I-I… Yes, I’m here,” I glanced around the diner, unable to shake the sudden feeling of being exposed. Maybe I should go home sick. No, you can’t afford to go home. “Miss Willits, as I was saying. I’m an Honesty Broker for the Institute and your son, Matthew Donovan has commissioned our services to arrange a session with you.” “But- I don’t understand. He hasn’t seen me for over 30 years, I- I didn’t even know if he thought I was still alive.” Leaning against the counter I felt a wave of relief and panic wash over me. Bringing a hand to my mouth I felt the tears already forming. He wants to see me. “Mr. Donovan would very much like to see you during a session here at our San Diego office.” “In San Diego? But– I mean… why? What is this session?” San Diego, that's too far to drive. Not that my car would even make it. I haven’t been on a plane in 15 years. How much is airfare nowadays? I glanced up to see my boss Loretta shoot me a disapproving look before walking up to my table and taking their order. Shit.
“The session, to put it quite simply, is merely a 2 hour long conversation. We supply the venue to allow for a comfortable and completely private safe space for our clients to engage in a meaningful and healing conversation.”
“So, is this therapy?”
“While the Verity Institute does pride its services as being therapeutic, no. This is not therapy in a technical sense. It is an elevated conversation with structure and procedures in place to ensure absolute honesty for our client, Mr. Donovan.”
“Mr. Barker, I really don’t understand what this is or what you or Matty- uh, Matthew want from me. This all sounds very strange and I don’t know if I can even afford to go all the way to San Diego–”
“Mr. Donovan will cover all traveling expenses as well as wages lost.”
“Oh.” My brain was buzzing with all this information. Covering my traveling expenses and wages would definitely help, although it’s a crummy thing to let him do. What he must think of me. But to go through all of this to find me– this was important to him. What is it that he wants to ask me that he would involve this Verity Institute? What if he asks me questions I don’t want to answer…
“Miss Willits, I am also inclined to inform you that Mr. Donovan is willing to pay you for your time, in addition to taking care of your traveling expenses and wages.”
“Pay me for my time?”
“Yes. Mr. Donovan has agreed to pay you a one time payment of $5,000 in exchange for agreeing to a 2 hour session here at the Institute with him.”
Five-thousand dollars? I could catch up on rent, get my oil changed, new shoes and still have plenty left over. Loretta walked past me again not trying to hide her annoyance as she stuck the order slip to the metal clip and spun it for the cook. Shit. She looks mad enough to bite a nail in two. “Miss Willits? Should I transfer you to our Travel department to make all the arrangements?” “Uh, I…” I turned my back to the diner as Loretta walked past me again to go greet more customers as the bell chimed. Think, Deedee, think. Christ, this is your son. Not that you’ve ever been a mother to him. This is the least you could do. Jesus, what if he hates me though? He must. I would hate me. I do hate me. You know he’s going to ask you tough questions. There’s not a chance that the answers I give him will make him like me. But you have to be honest, right? “Jonathan, I have some questions about how you guys ‘ensure’ honesty. What exactly did you mean by that?” I started chewing on the corner of my thumb nail, something I hadn’t done for years. “Deedee! Is everything okay? Do you need to go home?” Loretta’s sharp voice lacked any hint of concern and I turned to see her red lips pursed as she leaned on the counter behind me strumming her fingers in annoyance. Bitch. I covered the mouthpiece of the phone and glared at her. “Loretta, I just need a minute. Do you mind?” Lowering her voice and leaning in close enough for me to smell her stale breath “I just don’t find this very appropriate. I will be telling Howard about this.” With that she rolled her eyes and stormed off towards the now busy diner. Shit shit shit. Howard has already written me up twice this month for being late because of my damn car. I turned back to the phone, realizing Jonathan was still talking. “–– the entire process is simple and safe. And the effects only last two hours.” “Okay, I’ll do it.” The words came out of my mouth, making the back of my neck hot. I knew it was the right thing to do, but most importantly–– I needed the money. Especially if I get fired. “Excellent. I’ll transfer you over to our Travel department. Do you have any other questions, Miss Willits?” I paused, staring at the ugly beige walls of the diner as I mustered up the courage to ask the one question that I’d wanted to ask since he mentioned Matty. “Does– Does he hate me?” “Miss Willits, I have not met Mr. Donovan personally but from what I can see on his file it seems safe to say– he doesn’t even know you.” “Right,” I nodded and looked at the floor. “Well, okay. Transfer me or whatever.” “Right away, Miss Willits. I hope you enjoy your session. Have a great rest of your day! Please stay on the line while I transfer you,” his voice disappeared and was replaced with upbeat music while I sat on hold. I looked up to see Loretta no longer able to spare the time to shoot me dirty looks as she flitted from one table to the next, taking orders and collecting dishes. I wonder if the Truck Stop Diner on 79 is hiring…
Four days later I had landed in San Diego and been driven to the Verity Institute in a black Tahoe, compliments of Verity Institute. The building was an enormous all glass skyscraper downtown, and I could smell the salt water in the air from the beach. After being greeted and checked-in by the receptionist sitting behind a black sleek desk, she escorted me to the elevator and gave me instructions to ride it up to the 16th floor where I’ll be met by staff. My dirty white sneakers squeaked loudly on the polished marble floors of the lobby before stepping into the carpeted elevator. Clutching my purse I watched as the screen on the elevator indicated the floor number as we rose up. This thing is fast. It felt like moments until the bell dinged and the doors slid open, revealing a woman in a black pants suit waiting for me with a smile. “Hello, Deirdre. My name is Shannon. I will be your Session Director today. So nice to meet you.” Her warm eyes crinkled in a smile and she extended her hand for a handshake. I watched her face for any signs she noticed how wet and clammy my hand was, but she merely smiled and nodded pleasantly. Hold it together, Deirdre. She released it and ushered me into a small sitting room closing the door behind us. The gently lit room had an entire wall that was tinted windows, overlooking the cityscape. A homier feel than the rest of the building, the small room had carpet, minimal furniture and a few potted plants. Shannon motioned for me to take a seat in one of the four white cushioned chairs as she sat across from me. “Can I get you anything to drink? Water, tea, coffee?” “Oh, uh, no thanks. I’m fine.” I squirmed in my seat, resting my purse on my knees and keeping my ankles together. I held her gaze and smiled. If she’s looking me in the eyes she can’t be looking at my cheap dress, chipped nail polish or dirty shoes. “Alright,” she smiled, bringing her hands together and lacing her fingers in her lap. “Welcome to Verity Institute. I’m very happy you’re here. As is our client Mr. Donovan. This has been a long time in the works and I’m excited for what this session will bring both of you.” I nodded, feeling my neck begin to get hot again as I fiddled with the loose string from the seam of my bag. “Well, I’m happy to be here too.” “So, to begin I will need you to sign some papers. We can go over them together if you’d like, they’re just standard medical forms as well as a release of funds agreement you will need to sign to receive your payment after the session is completed.” Unlacing her fingers she leaned forward and flipped open a blue folder sitting on the coffee table between us. Inside was a small stack of paperwork. Leaning forward I reached out and picked up the folder. Balancing my purse and the folder in my lap I scanned the documents. Medical history? Heart conditions? “Strange questions for a conversation. Why would you need to know if I have any prior health conditions?” “Oh, just standard questions to make sure there are no risks for your health when you’re administered the Verity Capsules,” her smile slowly faded as she registered the confusion on my face. “The Honesty Broker you spoke with did go over the process of the session, right?” “No! I mean, he may have. I-I was at work. I– what is a Verity Capsule?” I stared at her wide eyed, fighting the urge to get up and run back to the elevator. “Deirdre, everything is fine. Let me explain it to you now, alright? The Verity Capsule is what makes the Verity Institute and these sessions so special. It is essentially a truth serum. You’ve heard of a truth serum before, right? It is just something that will make it physically impossible to lie until it’s side effects wear off. Which is typically two hours. It is quite safe and FDA approved. It is why clients such as Mr. Donovan, are interested in sessions like these. So they can have closure and healing, knowing that any questions they ask will be answered with complete honesty. We’ve found the other party also often experiences a sense of relief and healing after the session.” Shannon watched me carefully as I wrapped my mind around the concept of being completely vulnerable in a way I never even knew possible. I can’t do this. I won’t do this. There’s some things I couldn’t possibly tell Matty. My chest was rising and falling with each heavy labored breath. I felt like a caged animal as I looked around the room for an exit until the sinking realization of my situation fully hit me. You can’t afford not to do it, you idiot. Coward. Worthless, no-good, lowlife. This is exactly what you deserve for all you did– no. All you DIDN’T do for that boy. “Deirdre? I’m so sorry this wasn’t explained to you better. But you’re here now. And your son is just in the other room, waiting to see you for the first time in a very long time. I think you both deserve to heal after all these years. Don’t you?” Shannon’s eyes softened and she got up and walked around the coffee table, sitting in the chair beside me and resting a hand on my knee reassuringly. Oh God. “But,” I paused, feeling my chin begin to shake as the tears formed. “But what if he doesn’t like what I have to say?” Coward. Shannon reached over and grabbed a tissue from the box on the coffee table. She handed it to me, waiting quietly as I dabbed at my eyes.
“Sometimes, Deirdre, the truth is enough.”