Skin of the Night

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Chapter 87: We've Derailed

William

After I’d lunched with Violet, I had subconsciously been counting down the minutes till the clock would strike five, because unless any of the other solicitors had asked her to stay behind, I knew Cara would leave the office then.

There was no doubt that her professional assistance would have made tomorrow look more promising, but I could as well ask Elisabeth or Matthew. There was no reason for me to ask her in particular, aside from the fact that I didn’t want her to leave.

Not for a moment had I been able to ignore the suspense of our circumstance, nor the hope it ignited. Accompanying it was a strong desire to speak to her, so that I might fish out some answers. For instance, why had she returned my gift? Did she truly intend to move on? Had she already? She’d told me I looked nice, but had she done it purely out of civility, or had she dropped a clue that she missed me?

Since our accidental encounter this morning we hadn’t interacted at all, and it was mainly because I was too much of a coward to face her, so I’d been seated in here most of the day, and meanwhile, she’d been occupied with Violet’s demands.

The last five minutes before the clock turned five, I contemplated asking her for help quite seriously, and it dawned on me then that keeping her here would equal keeping her from him.

I soon realised that if I did ask her to stay behind, I had the security of having her to myself tonight. My rival wasn’t present. I wouldn’t have to compete with him for her attention. The satisfaction that reality incited was enormous. Tonight, she was mine alone.

As if on cue, she arrived by my door and paid it two knocks three minutes to five.

“Yes?”

She dared only peek through the small gap she created. “I’m sorry to disturb you.”

Had it been a month ago, I would have told her that I could never consider her a disturbance.

“Come in,” I said, but I spoke too soon and instantly regretted granting her permission to enter, because I hadn’t removed my jacket from her plant.

She obeyed at once and was quick to shut the door behind her, eyes browsing the room before they rested on that fucking irritating plant. God, how I hated that plant. Now look what it had managed. Not only had it bothered me all day, but it was now conveying how affected I was. I was certain the view spoke louder than words ever could.

I’d no idea what to say, because there was no good excuse for what I’d done aside from the truth, which was that its presence could as well have been screaming the reminder of her when I desperately needed to focus on my work rather than my broken heart.

“I had no idea that a Japanese peace lily could serve as a coat stand. I must say you’re quite innovative and resourceful,” she commented, and for once, I despised her wit, because it only reminded me of why I loved her so terribly. Her mind had been made for mine. Couldn’t she see that? Was she truly that blind?

I refused to accept that this passion could only be one-sided. I would stop believing in everything if that was the way it was.

“Thanks. I’ve been needing one for a while now.”

“Comes with the benefit of a leaving behind a lovely fragrance in the fabric. You’ll be leaving today smelling like a flower. Perhaps you should patent this idea.”

She’d dragged it on for long enough now, so I only looked at her. After releasing a sigh, she walked over to lift my jacket away, and it would seem I’d managed to bend the stems of the plant with the weight of it.

“How are you coming along?” she enquired as she brushed my jacket off and then left it on the armrest of the sofa.

“I might need to spend the night here.”

Pity took to her lovely features. “Would lending you a hand prevent it?”

Since I was too proud, I did not want to make her aware of how desperate I was for her company, so I chewed on my pen and merely watched her for some time while I pretended to contemplate her offer as though I hadn’t already made up my mind, and I hoped it would unsettle her. Only when she expressed unmistakable signs of discomfort did I decide to reply, and I did it by betraying my own convictions, because I imagined that the more I increased her pain, the more I’d lighten mine, as if we truly were linked.

“Don’t you have a friend in need to look after?”

I could tell from her reaction that I’d hurt her, and yet all I experienced was infernal satisfaction.

“Not today,” I could barely hear her, but I wished I hadn’t at all. ‘Not today’, she had said, as if her willingness to offer me help depended solely on his wishes. I had preferred her when she had no master.

“Oh, so you’ve been let off for the day. I imagine that’s well-deserved if you’ve spent the past three weeks on him, figuratively and literally.”

The sound of her sharp inhalation echoed through my ears as a warning of an explosion about to happen, much like a fuse hissing as it closed in to set off the bomb, but to my surprise, she did not retaliate. I found that infuriating, because it summoned that detestable feeling of powerlessness. I couldn’t even hurt her effectively. Her indifference was truly insufferable.

I’d believed for a while that it was a misconception that hate and love were opposites. The true enemy of love was not hate but indifference, and she was portraying every symptom of it. I couldn’t understand it. How was she able to switch off so easily? Was her heart made of stone? Was it truly possible that she could be happy without me? I found it so strange a thought, because there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I would never be happy without her.

But I’d misread her reaction. Her eyes turned shiny while her shoulders sank. It was evident she was exhausted, and it inspired me to regret my nasty tongue.

“No, Will,” she meekly said. “I’ve supported him only as a friend would.”

Since I was so desperate for her reassurance, I couldn’t resist saying, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to recall you being in the habit of fucking your friends.”

“If you don’t rein your temper in this instant, I’m leaving. I won’t stand here listening to this. You’re being cruel on purpose, and if you knew what I know, you’d be appalled at yourself.” It was a threat, but it had not sounded like one, and I thought that her ability to remain calm even when I was unleashing my wrath was truly admirable.

Suddenly, I looked at hate like a creature of stupidity that I did not want to be associated with. “I’m sorry,” the apology leapt out of my mouth, but I did not regret it. “I have no right... I’m sorry.”

She veered after a composing breath, “Would you prefer if I helped you from here, or shall I remain by my desk?”

Now ashamed of myself, I averted my eyes. “From here.”

“Then I’ll fetch my things. What would you like for dinner?”

Since I had absolutely no appetite to speak of as a result of my own behaviour, I didn’t reply.

“I’m in the mood for Chinese,” she eventually said. She might as well have struck me over the head, because I did not fail to recognise it as a deliberate reference to our first date.

I spoke the only thing that came to mind, “Ask if they’ve got fortune cookies.”

That made her grin, and I marvelled in the view. “I’ll make sure of it.”

They did not have fortune cookies, but it wasn’t a grave disappointment. All it had robbed me of was an opportunity to flirt, but I would find other ways. However, since I didn’t know where to begin, I remained quiet throughout most of our meal, squandering our time together. Seeming to prefer silence, she said nothing either while she devoured her noodle soup on the other side of my desk. It was only when she was nearing the bottom of her dish that I found the courage to ask for her attention, because I could not afford to wait any longer.

As I leaned toward her, I noticed her stiffening. Was she preparing to get attacked? I supposed I deserved her reaction, but that didn’t help my remorse.

During a flicker of doubt, I decided on a sympathetic approach, “How is he dealing with things?”

She looked at me in blatant disbelief. I could tell from the amount of time it took her to respond that she had not expected me to ask. “We don’t need to talk about him, Will.”

“I’d actually like to know,” and I meant it. I hated Robby for being important to her, but that did not mean I thought him a despicable human being deserving only of the worst.

“Really?”

“Really.”

She faced away from me and blinked several times to herself. “It’s hard to tell. He seems to be doing alright whenever we’re together, all things considered, but I suspect he’s only putting on a brave face.”

If that were true, it would seem I had something in common with him aside from our mutual love interest and fascination with the law. “It’s not unlikely. Men generally don’t like to bother people with their feelings.”

“It’s a severe defect of your gender,” she alleged, and I surprised us both with the chortle that escaped me. “If only you could understand that you’re a much bigger bother when you hide them,” she continued blasély.

“We have our reasons.”

“Such as?”

It was strange how exhilarating it was to engage in conversation with her again. It served as a solid reminder that our chemistry remained unmatched. As a result, my intention wasn’t to hurt or seek vengeance upon her. In fact, it was as though receiving her undivided attention had momentarily muted out the demon in my brain, because it was apparent that her presence was delighting me. So far, I’d experienced more joy the last hour than the past three weeks combined. For that reason alone, I refused to think any further than the moment, for in it, I was free to enjoy the alluring alleys of her mind without the demon polluting my perception. I was happy just to have her to myself again, and I wasn’t about to ruin it for myself.

There was no demon and there was no Robby. There was only she and I.

“Well,” I said, “aside from what we’re biologically predisposed to, with thanks to hormones like testosterone and such, there are the social constructs to be considered, and how they indoctrinate boys from a young age into thinking that feelings should be avoided because they are irrational and purely a feminine quality. And I think most men don’t want to appear weak because we prefer to be a source of support for others. We don’t like to seem dependent, vulnerable, or in any way like a burden.

“And you know, perhaps most importantly, I don’t quite think all men feel an actual need to talk about their feelings. I’m aware we should, but I seriously don’t think we experience it as a need.”

“That’s ’cause you’re bloody dense,” she muttered, but I knew she was only joking. “You once told me that you’re proud of your feelings.”

“I’m proud of my positive ones. Not my negative ones.”

“Women aren’t proud of their negative emotions either. That doesn’t mean we ignore them.”

“We’re generalising in a way that should be criminal right now,” I told her.

“We are, but in the end, men are born with a penis and women with a vagina. Some gender differences can’t be ignored.”

“You don’t believe in gender fluidity?”

“I do.”

“Then your point is moot.”

“It isn’t. I’m saying we are born with a set of biological assets. We don’t necessarily have to remain that way.”

“We were talking about Robby.”

Humour twinkled in her eyes. “We’ve derailed.”

Our relationship had, too.

“Per usual.” I returned her smile. “Have you been seeing him a lot?” I wished I had asked out of unsullied curiosity, but the larger part of me was seeking to gain some insight into their current dynamics.

A small crease formed between her brows while she poked around the remainder of her dinner. “I’ve visited Heather with him a couple of times. She’s looking awfully frail. Other than that, we’ve spent some evenings together.” She was quick to add, “But we haven’t slept in the same bed, and there’s been no physical contact beyond hugging.”

“Not even a cuddle?”

“No.”

“Did you know her well? His mother?”

“It’s not past tense yet, Will,” she corrected me upset.

“Sorry.” I grimaced. What a clumsy move. ”Do you know her well?”

“I do. She’s one of my role models.”

That took me by complete surprise. She had a personal relationship to his mother, and it was that profound?

“Is she?”

“Indeed. Robby’s father was a drunk, so Heather was forced to care for Robby and his little sister Sarah by herself. She was working as a waitress back then, but over the years, she was promoted to restaurant manager. I’ve just always admired her strength. Out of all people, I hadn’t thought Heather would suffer such a fate.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. She sounds like an honourable woman.”

“She is.”

After a few minutes without conversation, I gritted my teeth. I had so many questions. Did she have none?

“Why did you return the tickets?”

I could tell my question unsettled her because she tensed in front of me. “I didn’t feel I had the right to keep them. And you were the only person I wanted to go with.”

For a moment, I struggled to believe I could have read her that wrong. “That you didn’t feel you had the right to keep them is nonsensical.”

“Is it?”

“Yes.”

“How?”

“A gift is a gift, Cara. It’s not something you can demand returned. It’s the transfer of possession.”

“But you made yourself clear, Will. I’ve got nothing to wait for. It made me think I wasn’t entitled to them.”

I wanted to tell her that there was something to wait for; that I would cure my jealousy tomorrow so that we could be together again. But that wasn’t a guarantee I could give, so I didn’t. Instead, I decided to surrender my dignity and confess, “I read it as a sign that you were moving on,” because I hoped she would disavow it.

She watched me in horror, as if she hadn’t thought I could interpret it that way. “What – no. That’s completely wrong, Will.”

I wondered if my eyes conveyed how much I wanted to believe her, because she continued without my prompting her, “I meant what I said that day. I’m prepared to wait.”

Unsure of what to make of her statement, I was quiet for some time. There was one thing that made no sense to me at all. “But if you love me, why’d you let me go?”

“I haven’t let you go,” she argued, and I found her nonchalant tone quite puzzling. From the sound of it, she’d fully accepted our circumstance. I certainly hadn’t.

“You did let me go. You accepted my decision to leave you.”

“No, I did not let you go. I accepted your decision because I respect both you and your autonomy. I certainly don’t agree with your decision, but I still respect it.”

She really was an extraordinarily bewitching woman. I could listen to her thoughts all day without ever enduring even a moment of boredom.

I watched her with gross curiosity. “Then if you haven’t let me go, do you want me to take you back? And don’t mistake this for an offer, because it isn’t.”

She scowled at me. “No, Will, because I don’t want you back, either.”

The pain her words inflicted was immense. It confirmed my worst fears. I was inadequate in the battle for her affections. I wasn’t enough. Had I been, she would have wanted me back.

It took me several seconds to regain a portion of my equilibrium. Once I did, I cleared my throat to ask, “Why not?”

She sighed. “It’s not that I don’t want you. I do.” Was I adequate after all? “I just don’t want you like... this. I’m sorry, but I really can’t accept any other way. I mean you said it yourself, Will. We don’t get to choose whom we love. We can only choose whether to pursue them or not. So if you can’t let me be there for my friend, I’ll have to love you without being with you.

“I know what I’ve done, and I understand where your insecurities stem from, but since I know I’ve been entirely faithful to you ever since we agreed to be exclusive, and because I know I’d never cheat on you, I can’t accept your distrust. I don’t deserve it. I’m sorry, but I don’t. I’ve got to respect myself at least that much.”

Uncertain of everything, I averted my eyes and leaned back in my seat. Supposed it made sense, and I quite admired her integrity. I always had. She had seduced me with it the very first night we met.

I gritted my teeth and regarded my jealousy as an ugly thing that served no other purpose than the destruction of all things good. All I wanted was to cast it aside so that I could be with her again. Surely that was what she had meant to say; she did not want to be with me unless I tamed the wild beast that was my jealousy.

Stealing a glance at her, I caught her brooding to herself while she poked around her dinner with a pout on her face, leaving her lips to protrude just slightly.

I could hardly resist the urges the sight provoked, so I tucked my hands into my pockets where I fisted them very hard to release some of the tension I experienced.

I yearned to kiss her again.

In fact, I yearned to kiss her to the extent that it seemed like a physical need, and yet I couldn’t bring myself to try, because I knew that it was only an impulse, and we couldn’t afford to be impulsive about this. We would not survive the damage at this point, and I knew because my sensibility reminded me that I was only feeling secure now because she was here. The minute she walked out that door, my jealousy would shred apart everything she’d said and rearrange the fragments so they would become lies I’d believe, and we’d be back to square one.

“Cara, have you truly not done anything with him?” I asked, because I needed to know, but I had not anticipated the tears that surfaced in her eyes. Unsure of how to react, I merely stared at her.

A sigh travelled out of her mouth. As if she were about to collapse from exhaustion, she leaned forward and rested her head in her hands. “No, Will,” she feebly replied. “I only want you like that.”

I desperately wanted to believe her. So desperately, in fact, that I decided I would have to go to stronger measures in trying to achieve it, and I would do that by bringing the issue up with Dr Fielder tomorrow. I not only owed it to myself to fight my demons, but I also owed it to her, and most importantly, to us.

I was also starting to realise that by hurting her, I was only hurting myself as well. In other words, the pain of being with her couldn’t possibly be worse than the pain of not being with her, could it?

I’d left her because I wanted to limit the amount of pain I might suffer if she in the future decided she’d rather be with Robby. Better to end things before I’d stand no chance at recovery, I had reasoned, but now I suspected that it was a defence mechanism that had made me think that way.

“Don’t move on, Cara. Not yet.” It was a selfish thing to request, but I didn’t regret it. If she wouldn’t have me anymore, unlovable as I was, she could say so herself.

She responded only with a solemn nod of her head, and neither of us brought the topic to light again. It was apparent that both of us were emotionally drained, so work was a welcome distraction.

By the time we left the office, the clock had struck midnight. I did not appreciate the thought of her alone on the streets this late at night, so I insisted on walking her home, which she of course objected to. I got my way, however, mainly because she was too tired to argue and partly because (or so I hoped) she wanted my company for a bit longer.

She turned to face me when we reached the front door to her building, and it was obvious from her expression that she was waiting for me to say something.

“Is Jason home?” It was the only reasonable thing I could think of.

“He should be.”

“Will you tell him I’m sorry I’ve ignored his calls?”

So suddenly, her features changed just slightly, going from exhaustion to warm gratitude in a split second. “Yes. He’ll appreciate that. He wants to be there for you, Will, even if he doesn’t agree with your decision. He never meant to take sides like that. He’s been worried out of his mind lately.”

Some guilt stirred in me, but I’d only been avoiding him because he would inadvertently have reminded me of her. “I know. Garrick told me.”

“You weren’t really out when he stopped by, were you?”

I sighed. “No. I’d restricted my visitors to none for a while, Jason included. Garrick’s instruction was to lie on my behalf and say I was out.”

“He told me the same.”

“I was actually out when you stopped by.”

“Oh. Were you out to see your therapist?”

“Yes.”

I could tell she wanted to probe me about my sessions with him, but surprisingly, she resisted. “Well, I hope it’s going well.”

“It might.”

I hadn’t ever endured awkward silence with her until then, and I didn’t enjoy it in the least, so I hurried to say, “I... I don’t think I actually thanked you for the plant.”

“You mean your coat stand?” she passed me a wry smile.

“If I spoiled it, I sincerely apologise.”

“It’s fine. I just took it entirely personally, that’s all.”

Genuine laughter broke out of my mouth, and it both felt and sounded bloody weird. I hadn’t laughed like that in too long. “I’m sorry,” I spoke through it, “If it’s of any consolation, it was personal.”

She beamed at me. “I’m glad we got that cleared up. Now I know where to look if I ever wonder about our status.”

I faced away from her with a terrible grin on my mouth, so I didn’t realise her coming for me until I felt it. It was just a peck on the cheek, but it silenced me immediately.

I steered my gaze to hers, unsure of whether it had truly happened or not, but her smile told me that it had. “Good night, Will. I’ll see you in the morning. Be careful on your way home.”

I wasn’t very careful, because I was entirely dazed.


“Is this your first time experiencing the emotion, William?” Dr Fielder inquired. I’d just unleashed the load of my relationship troubles, and it hadn’t been comfortable. His neutral facial expression told me nothing, and I couldn’t stand it. I wished he would regard me with at least a trace of emotion, be it pity, disgust or whatever. Just something. But there was none.

“Jealousy?”

“Yes.”

I sighed and ran my hands down my thighs. I was feeling unusually restless today, but after walking Cara home last night, I’d actually been able to catch five hours of decent sleep, and that had prepared me for today’s meeting with Acionna’s representatives. It had gone much better than I’d expected, even if Frederick and Lucy had been forced to help me out every now and then.

“Of this scale, certainly. But no, I’ve experienced the emotion before. It’s my understanding that it’s connected to desire, but I haven’t yet made up my mind about whether they are dependent on each other, or whether desire can exist without jealousy.”

He nodded to himself as he dribbled into his notebook. “Curious reflections.”

“I’ve analysed my jealousy in great detail as of late.”

Finally, he revealed a trace of emotion in the form of a smile. “I can assure you, William, that desire can exist perfectly without the presence of jealousy.”

I didn’t respond, so he continued, “You’ve said you’ve experienced it before, but never of this scale. What do you mean by that?”

“Well, I’ve been jealous of my mates if they’ve been better at a sport than me, or if they’re more intelligent and things like that.”

“That sounds like relatively harmless competitiveness. And you’re an assertive man. It’s a pronounced part of your personality, so you will be liable to experience competitiveness. However, what you’ve just described about jealousy is quite a lot darker. This level of it, does it occur only with women?”

I frowned. “This level has never happened before.”

“Have you experienced jealousy when it comes to women before, though, Will?”

I thought of Kate and the few times I’d seen men flirt with her. I’d been possessive, surely, but her response to them had obliterated my jealousy in the blink of an eye. If there was one quality Kate had that far surpassed Cara, it was her loyalty and her tendency to go out of her way to express it.

Upon further reflection, I reminded myself that I’d never loved Kate the way I loved Cara. Surely, that was key here, because I hadn’t been afraid of losing Kate to someone else like I was afraid of losing Cara to someone else. There had even been a time when I’d wished someone would tempt Kate away from me, only so that I would be spared from having to break up with her.

“Some jealousy, sure, but not like this. With Cara, it’s like I’m possessed by it.”

“Tell me how you’ve experienced it before.”

“Like a bad feeling in my gut, but it’s never lasted for longer than a day. It’s mainly my ego that has suffered in those cases. This feels much more...,” I paused to search for the appropriate word, “encompassing.”

“And with Cara? Let me rephrase. Would you say it’s situational with Cara, or always present?”

“Always present.”

“Because of this Robby and her interactions with him.”

“Yes.”

“Have you tried to make her cut out anyone other than Robby?”

“What? No, of course not. Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I’m not trying to offend you, Will. I’m simply trying to gauge the depth of this.”

“Go on.”

“Have you ever looked through Cara’s belongings? It’s of particular interest if you’ve done it without her being aware of it.”

I could not help the scowl I sent him. I’d been tempted sometimes, certainly, especially after Robby had returned to her life, however, “I’m a lawyer, Greg. That would be a severe breach of her right to privacy.”

“Have you been tempted?”

I gritted my teeth. “Only recently. At work.”

“And what would you hope to find?”

“Answers, obviously.”

“Answers to what, William?”

“Whether she’s sleeping with Robby, of course.”

His hand never stopped dribbling. “Have you ever wrongly accused her of having an affair?”

“I...” I frowned to myself. “Not technically.”

“Please elaborate.”

“I may have accused her of having feelings for him. But I don’t know that it’s wrong.”

He wrote down my answer and pressed his lips together. “Hm.” After a minute, he continued his inquiry, “Is it only Robby who provokes this jealousy?”

I wrinkled my nose. “Of this scale, certainly, but that’s because of their history.”

“Do you experience jealousy if another man flirts with her?”

“I actually quite like it when other men flirt with her. Feeds my ego, because she’s my girlfriend. I revel in their envy. But what I don’t like is if she strings them along. It satisfies me greatly to see her reject their advances.”

“That’s nothing out of the ordinary,” he assured me. “But have you ever accused her of giving attention to other men without any evidence?”

“No.”

“And you’re sure it’s only Robby who provokes this scale of your jealousy?”

“Greg, Cara is a liberal spirit, and she essentially only has male friends. She frequently sleeps in my brother’s bed, cuddles with him on a daily basis – he’s even seen her naked – and I know she does it with other mates as well. If I were to get jealous over every man in her life, I might as well jump off a cliff right now.”

“Don’t do that.”

I supposed a loose joke about suicide wasn’t appropriate for this environment.

“You know what I meant.”

“I do.”

“Robby intimidates me because of their history, and I know he’s special to her. The others aren’t. Not like that. And I can assure you that while he was absent from her life, I experienced no jealousy at all.”

“Well, from what you’ve told me today, we can exclude pathological jealousy,” he murmured and reached for his cup of tea.

“Am I supposed to know what that is?”

He chuckled. “It’s a psychological disorder.”

“I gathered, but that doesn’t tell me much.”

“It’s sometimes referred to as delusional jealousy, and it’s pathological, meaning it’s compulsive, obsessive, ever present, and uncontrollable. Your jealousy, William, is understandable. It’s probably wrong, but it’s founded on something. It’s not entirely irrational. You’re just giving too much attention to the negative evidence rather than the positive. And I don’t blame you. To be fair, the timing of this couldn’t have been less ideal.”

“I’m not following.”

His smile was sympathetic. “You’ve suffered traumatic brain injury, William. Your brain is, and will be for some time, in chemical imbalance. That’s why your negative emotions of late have been of particular interest to me. It’s quite common for a victim of TBI to fall into depression and develop aggressive behaviour among other things. Since you’re predisposed to experiencing jealousy from before, you’ve been particularly liable to this extreme reaction following your assault.

“Now, don’t mistake this for an excuse, because it isn’t. It’s merely an explanation. What you’ve told me today is a serious issue and something we’ll need to deal with in strides.”

I could hardly comprehend what I was hearing. “Do you mean to say that my brain is partly at fault for this?”

“Unless you believe in a higher power, it’s always the fault of actions.”

“You are quite the clever man, Greg.”

He chuckled at my sarcasm. “Sorry. But yes. There’s certainly been chemical imbalance at play here.”

“What does it mean, then? Do you think I can overcome this? Do you reckon Cara and I can make it work?” The potential exulted me. Suddenly, she seemed much closer.

“Certainly, William,” he said, and I thought I could soar. “It will take some time, and it will demand Cara’s active help, but we can most definitely treat this.”

“How would you recommend I start?”

“I want you to start exercising to begin with, to improve your general sense of wellbeing. You’re in need of more dopamine and serotonin, and I prefer not to prescribe medication where it can be avoided. How’s your diet?”

It hadn’t been the best in recent weeks, mainly because I’d had no appetite. “To be honest with you, Greg, I haven’t had much of an appetite lately.”

“You need to eat, William.” For someone so patient, his tone was unusually strict.

Ashamed of myself, I sighed and ran my hands through my hair. “Yeah, I’ll fix it. Besides, speaking to Cara yesterday, and today, has helped a lot. But in general, my diet is noteworthy.”

His eyes, which contained such unmistakable wisdom, quickly scanned my body. “I believe you. As for exercise, have you considered joining a martial arts class?”

Upon the mention, I thought of Alex and his fondness for the sport. “No.”

“I think you should. You’ve been stating concerns about feeling inferior, physically and psychologically, and I think joining a martial arts class, where you’ll learn how to defend yourself, could help reinstate your sense of security in yourself.”

“That sounds reasonable.” I decided I would consult Alex about it straight after our session.

“Consider looking up Krav Maga,” Dr Fielder murmured. “The clients I’ve recommended it to have been rather satisfied.”

“I’ll look into it.”

“As for Cara, I advise you to practice integrative communication while you try to work things out. It’s a term associated with low threat and high directness, and it essentially means being transparent about your feelings in a calm and respectful manner – I cannot stress that enough, William – and calmly and respectfully question her if anything remains unclear. Explain what you don’t understand, and ask her to elaborate if anything is vague. From what you’ve told me about her, she sounds perfectly capable of explaining herself.”

“I’ll bear it in mind.”

“If she feels like you’re talking in circles, or that your questions are exhausting her, remind her why it’s important to you.”

“Right.”

"Calmly.”

“I promise.”

I left Dr Fielder’s office that day with a leap in my steps.

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