“You know how much the kids miss Stuart and when they saw even the smallest connection to him, they went crazy. They had been pointing at Emmett since you came in with him and he looked very uncomfortable. So I went to talk to him and taking that as a cue, the kids bombarded him with questions. He was confused, obviously, so I told him why they were all calling him a superhero. He asked me to show him Stuart’s stuff and then he went up quietly. He seemed pretty spooked but that’s kind of it. I didn’t see him until you came down with him today morning,” recited Ginger, an anxious expression on her face, distressed about causing unknowing grief to a person she didn’t have any connection with. “I swear if I’d known he was Stuart’s brother, I wouldn’t have told him all of that. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay, Ginger. I know you were just trying to do the right thing. It’s not your fault,” I said tiredly, rubbing my eyes to squeeze out the exhaustion.
It had been a horribly long day. I spent a lot of off-record time with Jane Winslow, worried that she would try to commit suicide again. She had already tried three times in the past two months. I thought she had made a little progress since her last attempt but the moment her alcoholic husband came back from rehab and started beating her up again, her self harm restarted with a renewed vigor. She had been my client for two years. I was supposed to be helping her get out of the hole, not digging it deeper.
Then there was the little issue of Emmett. I now knew why we were advised never to engage in a therapeutic relationship with someone we were personally involved with. It is emotionally harrowing and it makes you lose objectivity. You lose the clinical eye and start seeing the situation from the heart. If I’d known this, I wouldn’t have done what I did that night, but I never claimed to be the smartest pea in the pod. I was more like that pacman on its last life who runs straight into the mouth of the enemy because they were trying to eat its precious dot.
Anyway, back to my stupid mistake, thinking I was helping when I was only helping myself. I met up Emmett that night. We went for dinner in a fancy restaurant which was his idea because, I quote, “our first was as non-fancy as it gets with takeout food and no electricity”. I had never heard of the place before and I’d never visited the area in which it was situated, so I was a little skeptical, but when I pulled up in the parking lot, I realized that Emmett was excellent at the place-picking business. (I just made the term. Roll with it.) It was brilliantly lit with fairy lights, decorated in warm shades of royal red and beige, a coziness to the atmosphere. A live band played cover songs on a stage set up in the corner and there were beautiful candelabras situated in the middle of every table, giving a romantic look with the most minimalistic décor.
I met Emmett in the bar. He was sipping a bourbon, chatting with bartender, dresses up in his signature torn jeans but this time paired with a sports jacket instead of a leather one. It brought a huge smile to my face to see him dressed up for me.
“Damn, why so handsome?” I murmured as I hugged him.
“Hello there, Dreamy,” he spoke in my ear as he pecked my cheek chastely.
Once I’d seated myself beside him and ordered a drink, he said, “Our table will be ready shortly.”
I glanced around appreciatively. “How do you even know about something this out of the way?”
He glanced at the bartender who was sliding a glass towards me. “This is Hunter. He used to bartend at a bar in Brownsville that my comrades and I used to frequent. When he got to know I was in the city, he hit me up, just in time to tell me about this awesome place.”
“All these perfectly good neighborhoods in the city and you found Brownsville, the most dangerous one, to make your pet?” I asked incredulously, sizing up Hunter from the corner of my eye. He had the same wild eyes, restlessness and bad boy vibes oozing from him like Emmett did. If I could ever imagine Emmett having stereotypical friends, he would be the kind I would imagine, except I would envision him ugly and straight who would never think of touching Emmett. But Hunter gave me the creeps. I felt like I had seen him before but I couldn’t pinpoint when.
“Hey, who better to man those crime-ridden streets than a couple of army guys?” he shrugged.
“I don’t know how many times a day I’m capable of thinking, “Thank god, he’s still alive,“, I said.
He laughed and wrapped his fingers around mine, bringing up our entwined hands to the counter. “And this devastatingly handsome man,” he said to Hunter, gesturing towards me, “is Ajax. He is a psychiatrist, looks after a whole orphanage like they’re his own kids and is caring to a fault.”
Hunter nodded towards me in greeting in the gruff way men do. “I’ve been hearing about you.”
“Don’t believe him. He overplays me,” I said conspiratorially in a hush even though I was secretly pleased he regarded me important enough to talk about.
Emmett dramatically placed a hand over his heart like the drama queen he was. “I don’t believe it,” he gasped. “You think I lie? Hunter, look at him and tell me. Have I said a word that exaggerates him?”
Hunter genuinely gave me a once-over, making me raise an eyebrow. “Well, you gotta have some magic if you made him step out of that leather jacket of his.”
“Next time, do that without checking him out or I’ll punch your fucking face,” said Emmett with a huge smile, just casually handing out threats like he was giving away candies on Halloween.
The scary looking man actually shivered. I realized it wasn’t the first time he had been threatened by Emmett and from the way his face darkened, I could bet he had stood good on his threats too.
“Okay, but seriously, I’ve known you for six years and this is the first time I’ve seen you without a leather jacket and a posse of unfortunate admirers. What’s up with that?” said Hunter, changing the topic.
Before anyone could comment on that, an attractive lady dressed up in really skimpy clothes came to tell us that our seats were ready. If I was paying attention, I would have noticed she was another one of the bimbos who was trying to flirt with me and/or my date, not realizing the obvious fact that we were gay, kind of apparent because my date was a man. But nope, some people will always be hopeless.
So this hopeless case led us to our table somewhere in the middle of the crowded restaurant which was decorated by a single rose in a crystal vase and a bottle of wine with two glasses. After facilitating a little taste test and handing us the menu, she went away.
I leaned forward, glad to have no more disturbances to our conversation. “A posse? Really?”
He shrugged, a playful smile still pasted on his lips. “You’d be astounded at how many people wanted a piece of this ass.”
“I’m more interested in how many actually got it,” I said.
He leaned towards me too until our noses were almost touching. “You’re a lucky, lucky man.”
“Oh, I know,” I whispered.
There are moments in life when you reflect back on everything that you went through in order to reach there, all the mountains you climbed and all the seas you drowned in to make you worthy enough of that one thing. It seemed like my whole life had been leading up to this one moment, sitting across from this gorgeous man who could mesmerize me by one glance. And when I looked into his mysterious eyes in the setting of a dim golden glow, I knew that against all reasons, without a doubt, I had fallen in love with all that was Emmett Delcour. And as the night wore on, I fell deeper and deeper into the cataclysmic void.
By the end of the night, we were roaming around the neighborhood, his hand clasped in mine, and it turned out that it wasn’t as rough as they made it sound in the newspapers. It was calm as any other street in New York, a little darker maybe but that was because it wasn’t so popularly inhabited. I said so to Emmett and he just shook his head with a little smirk on his face. “You thought I would take you out between muggers and robbers?”
I punched his shoulder playfully but with a huff. “No, silly. I meant that it doesn’t live up to the horror stories they tell us.”
“Reality rarely ever lives up to the stories,” said Emmett. His sounded faraway but his gait was relaxed. more at ease than I’d ever seen him. Maybe it was because he was out in the open and not holed up in a room which was unfamiliar territory for him. One thing was for sure- he hadn’t started therapy. If he had been through his first session in the past couple of days, he would have been blowing all over the place and vowing to never go back there again.
“You’re never going to go for therapy, are you?” I blurted out.
He gave me a long sideway look. I was mentally cursing myself until I saw his expression was mildly amused rather than outraged. “I would really love to know how you reached there.” When I kept staring at him pointedly, he sighed and glanced away. “You’re right. I’m not. But hey, look at it this way. Getting such a long break is pretty therapeutic in itself.”
“Why?” I said shortly and I wasn’t asking about the long break.
“Spouting out my life history to a stranger who will be judging me and pinpointing what screws exactly are loose? Nah, pass,” he said.
It wasn’t meant that way but it felt like a jab straight to my heart. I was a psychiatrist too and I didn’t sit around judging people and pinpointing what screws of theirs they had lost. I genuinely tried to help those who needed it.
“First of all, therapists don’t judge. That’s kind of their whole point, you know. We’re taught in psychology 101 that an effective helper is non-judgmental and uses non-directive questioning. No one is about to poke you with a long blade, I assure you.” I had to stop to take a breath after the unexpectedly long tirade. “Secondly, you need it.”
“I’m not some broken toy that needs to be fixed, Ajax,” he said, a hollow shadow covering his earlier sunshine.
“Who said you are broken?” I grabbed the sleeve of his jacket and spun him around, halting both of us in the middle of the road. Our shadows merged into one from the overhead streetlights right behind both of us, making us look like one giant man on the concrete below. “You’re not broken. Trust me, I’ve seen broken. You’re far from it.” Like Jane. Tough as it was, at least Emmett had the strength to get up from bed everyday, smile and laugh, crack jokes and go on dates. I had seen so many people who couldn’t even say that much.
“You look at me like I am,” he said softly.
“I don’t. I’m sorry if it seems that way. But I’m scared that you will break if you carry on like this. I can’t bear to see that,” I said.
He chuckled without humor. “It’s sweet that you care this much but I’m not going for therapy. You can’t change my mind about that.”
I knew I couldn’t change his mind. Mind is a complicated thing that likes the way it is set. Changing its course takes a lot of time and influence. In a perfect world, he would see reason and immediately call up a therapist. But of course, in a perfect world, he wouldn’t have these problems and we would have a happily ever after.
He unexpectedly grinned and dragged me a few feet forward until we had reached the sidewalk of a crossroad. There was a small group of street-side artists playing songs that the people passing by were stopping to listen to. One redheaded girl was playing the harmonica, another guy with a gothic haircut was fiddling with an autoharp and the main guy, who was also singing, was playing an acoustic guitar. The case of the guitar was lying open in front of them where we threw some money, getting ear-splitting smiles in return. They couldn’t have been more than twenty but they played like they had been born with those instruments.
Emmett being Emmett put an arm around my waist and pulled me close to dance with him, right in the middle of everybody. I liked dancing and being a crazy ass in general but not in front of people. Nevertheless, I clasped his hand and let him do whatever he wanted to. If we were going cliche, we’d rather go the whole way.
“Am I allowed to give you an alternative?” I asked as we swayed in time to the music, still not able to let his decision go. He shrugged so I said, “Don’t go into therapy. Just talk to me for an hour everyday. That’s it.”
“As immature as I portray myself as, you do know that I’m not five years old, right?” He arched an amused brow.
“I’m not trying to diagnose you. We’ll be at home, or in a cafe or a park, wherever we can talk. That’s all. Just talk to me,” I tried to explain which was a little tough considering he was spinning me around again and again.
Some kids in a wannabe thug getup hollered at us from the distance, saying the usual crap about ‘fags’ along with insults. My ears burned red in anger but Emmett good-naturedly laughed it off. Seeing me mildly surprised, he winked. Before I could understand what his masterplan was, his lips were on mine, his hands clutching me tighter than I was clutching him and the applause of the gathered people and the kids’ insults drowned out in the distance.
He leaned his forehead against mine when we pulled back from each other. “I don’t want to let go of you. At least, not so soon. So if this is what it takes to keep you happy, then fine, we’ll talk.”