One: Lipstick Therapy
After a few minutes, the obnoxious sound drove Mom up the stairs.
"Mason, can't you hear that? I can hear it all the way downstairs."
I had an intense desire to ask Mom to hold my pillow down over my face so that we wouldn't have to have another conversation about how unmotivated I was.
My alarm stopped, just before she lifted the pillow from my face. I hated the look she was giving me, full of concern and pity.
"Mason, you have your appointment today. You need to get up, or you're going to be late. I have breakfast ready for you downstairs," she said. I heard the light padding of her feet against the hardwood as she left my room.
I don't want to get up. Fuck.
But I knew that she would be back up here in a minute if I didn't move. That thought was worse than getting up and facing the day. I loved my mom, but the way she looked at me like I was broken made my blood boil.
Finally, I managed to force myself up. I threw on a black T-shirt and faded jeans, the same thing I wore yesterday. I ran a hand through my hair as I stared at myself in the mirror, my stubble was thicker than ever before, my dark hair shaggier than usual.
I brushed my teeth and swiped on deodorant. I wasn't so far gone that I would forego those essentials. Not yet, anyway.
Just like Mom said, breakfast was waiting for me at the kitchen table. I scarfed down the sad, half-empty plate that held a slice of toast with jam, and a few orange slices.
"Here are the keys. Take my car," she offered.
I avoided her penetrating gaze on my way to the front hall to slip on my shoes. We'd gotten into an argument last night, and I was still seething from it. I knew if I looked at her, I'd start up again, and I just didn't have the energy.
"I'm fine. I'll walk," I bit out.
As I opened the front door, Mom's protest was replaced by the sound of nearby traffic and kids laughing from the playground across the street.
I'm not an invalid, I don't need the fucking car.
Those were the words I told myself, over and over, despite the uncontrollable throbbing in my leg. The pain never seemed so bad first thing in the morning, but after just five minutes of walking, I was ready to collapse onto the pavement. But, of course, I didn't. Because, what would the people of Newberry think?
I rolled my eyes at the thought of the Godforsaken people of this town. Letting out an irritated sigh, I looked left and right, scanning the street to see if anyone I recognized had seen me. It was ironic how Mom wanted me to go to therapy, yet she was still very concerned with what people might say. She wanted me to be discreet. The problem was the word discreet had never applied to the small town of Newberry.
Deciding the coast was clear, I opened the door to the clinic and approached the front desk. A woman with bright blonde curls and golden-brown skin greeted me with a friendly smile that made me want to either yell at her or just walk right back outside.
"Good morning!" She cooed.
"No, just no," I muttered under my breath.
How the fuck is she still smiling at me?
I pulled out a piece of paper Mom scribbled the therapists' name down on, and then handed it to the absurdly happy woman.
"Oh, great. Mason Locke. You were our nine o'clock appointment. Just one moment," she said, not even annoyed that I was twenty minutes late. Instead, she sounded as excited as if she'd just won the fucking lottery.
She made a call announcing my arrival, then stood and gestured me towards an open door nearby. "Here you are, Mason." She stared at me until I got the hint to step inside the office and shut the door behind me.
"Mason. Hi, I'm Doctor Winters. You can call me Rory." I scanned the room, then met the gaze of the woman in front of me.
Fuck, I thought therapists were supposed to be fat, old, balding men in their fifties.
The woman standing in front of me most certainly was none of those things. I didn't reply to her greeting, I was too pissed off about the situation I found myself in.
"Have a seat," she requested politely, taking her seat in a chair near the window.
I felt her eyes on me as she gestured for me to sit down on a small, gray sofa. The only reason I finally took the seat was because of the constant throbbing in my leg.
"This is pointless," I stated, irritation lacing my words, "I don't believe in therapy."
I avoided her gaze as she spoke. "It looks like you've been mandated by your employer to join me in therapy for two days a week, for at least two months, unless I advise otherwise."
Instead of replying, I decided to give her a good look over. Curious hazel eyes stared at me beneath black, square-framed glasses. Her skin was tanned against a crisp, collared white shirt. A black pencil skirt highlighted long legs, which she politely crossed at the ankle, just above a pair of strappy high heels. Golden blonde hair sat in a neat bun on the top of her head. This woman was supposed to be a therapist. But, to me, she looked more like the naughty librarian from every teenage boys' fantasy.
How the hell does she expect to help people looking like this? She's distracting as fuck.
"So, Mason... all I know about you is that you're a twenty-seven-year-old travel guide. Why don't you tell me a bit more about yourself? Since this is our first session, we don't have to get into the gory details. We can ease into it," she said, with the hint of a smile on her closed lips. The warmth and kindness that coated her voice served to further irritate me. Did she really think she was doing me a favor by offering for me to tell her about myself instead of diving into my problems?
Screw her. At that moment, I felt an idea form. Maybe this could be fun for me, instead of torturous. I angled myself towards her a bit, looking her in the eye, challenging her with my expression, but saying nothing to answer her question. She cleared her throat while glancing down at the file in her hand and the back up at me.
"What do you do for fun? What are your hobbies outside of work?" She asked.
"That doesn't seem relevant. How will knowing my hobbies help anything?"
"It could help us become more comfortable with each other."
Instead of replying, I looked around the room, studying it more closely. My eye caught on a gold frame hanging on the wall. Squinting, I read aloud the name written across the white backdrop within the framework.
"Aurora Isla Winters." I paused, taking in her stoic expression. "Your name is Aurora?"
I let out a deep chuckle. That might have been the most pretentious name I'd ever heard. She looked taken aback by my reaction, which left me feeling oddly satisfied.
"Yes, that's my name, but I'd prefer you to call me Rory or Doctor Winters."
I smirked, "I think I'll stick with Aurora."
She sat up straighter in her chair, giving me a pointed look, "Actually, I'd really prefer if you'd call me-"
"Aurora," I said, cutting her off, "it all makes sense now."
Her brows furrowed. "What does?"
"Your name. It's pretentious as fuck. So is your whole look, and this office. You come from money, don't you?" I scanned her body again, from her expensive-looking shoes to her manicured nails.
When my eyes landed on hers, I expected to find annoyance in her expression. Most people don't love to be judged as a rich asshole within minutes of meeting them. But she wasn't annoyed at all. In fact, she looked amused.
What the hell?
"That's an interesting observation. Does money intimate you?" She asked.
"Money is the root of all evil."
"What makes you say that?"
I narrowed my eyes at her, wondering how I could irritate her since my previous attempts hadn't done the trick. "Aurora, what do you like to do for fun?" I asked, with a smirk.
"Please, call me Rory," she said, with more assertiveness in her voice. "Mason, this is your therapy session, not mine. I know you're here due to unfortunate circumstances, and I'm sincerely so sorry about that. But, we only have a half-hour left, so let's make it count."
"Answer my question then." I paused, before sharply enunciating the three syllables of her name, "Au-ro-ra." For some reason, I really enjoyed watching the annoyance flash across her face. Why did she hate being called by her own name so much?
She pushed up her reading glasses, and I made a conscious effort not to notice how hot she looked.
"Okay, I don't normally talk about myself, but if you think it would help make you feel more comfortable here, I can," she smiled, revealing her white teeth, along with a bright smear of lipstick on her front teeth. "I enjoy yoga. I find it very relaxing. Now, what about you?"
"Yoga?" I asked, scanning her body again, noticing the definition in her legs and her subtle curves. She was watching me watching her, and surprisingly, she didn't flinch.
"Yes. Now it's your turn."
"Off the top of my head... I really enjoy doing floral arrangements and sculpting," I said, with a straight face. Years of messing with my sister prepared me for this moment.
"Those sound like fun hobbies. Would you consider yourself fairly creative?"
"Oh, shit, yeah," I replied. Is she stupid or just playing along? I can't tell.
She looked me in the eyes when she asked, "what kinds of things do you like to sculpt?"
"The usual. Mostly gnomes, though. That's my specialty."
"Like garden gnomes?" She appeared a bit skeptical for the first time.
"Yeah. You seem surprised. Also, I'm super passionate about Nicholas Sparks novels and the movie adaptations."
Aurora raised an eyebrow at me, trying to decide if I was screwing with her or not. This was kind of fun. "You wouldn't mess with me, would you, Mason?"
"What are you implying? A man can't enjoy those things I listed?" I feigned shock. "And here I thought therapists were supposed to be non-judgmental. Now I can't even open up to you without feeling embarrassed. It's such a shame because I really thought we were getting somewhere."
She was quiet for a moment, studying me. Our eyes locked, and beneath long lashes, I noticed her the gold flecks in her greenish-brown eyes. Then, she looked down at her notebook, writing something on the page. I got curious.
"What did you write?"
She sighed, her face unreadable, except for the hint of a smile in her eyes. Then, she turned the notebook towards me so I could read her note.
Another smile flashed across her mouth, once again revealing the lipstick smeared on her teeth. I realized that she thought she was being funny, playing along with my little game. She probably thought I'd warm up to her now. Screw her. We aren't bonding right now.
"Seriously, Mason. This is your own time you're wasting. Don't you think we should just dive in? At least give me something real? We can discuss your accident if you want. It's up to you." She pleaded softly to me.
My pulse raced at the mention of my accident. I needed to get the hell out of there. "No. Hell no."
"Then we can ease into that. Can you tell me something about yourself, about how you're feeling?" She was pleading with me, using kindness and understanding as tools that would only prove to push me away.
"I'm feeling highly annoyed. Does that count as a breakthrough?" I didn't bother to hide my sarcasm because I'd already decided this conversation was over.
I stood up, immediately wincing in pain, but trying like hell not to let on. "I'm not doing this," I stated, making my way to the door. She stood and walked after me, looking concerned. I needed to make that look disappear.
"Mason, please don't- " she attempted to speak.
"Aurora, I know it's your job to give advice, but do you mind if I give you some?"
"Uh, sure. I guess so," she replied, confused. "Great. You should really try to smile more. Seriously, that's a smile the whole world needs to see," I smirked, feeling satisfied that she'd be confused by my comment - until she looked in the mirror.
Once out of the clinic, I wanted nothing more than to sit back down again. The pain in my leg was excruciating, and I regretted not taking Mom's car. In a hurry to get home, I looked both ways, scanning for familiar faces. I was not expecting to see anyone I recognized. After all, I'd been gone from Newberry for almost ten years.
But there she was. I didn't even need to see her face to know it was her. The long, dark brown hair and the familiar sway of her hips as she walked along the cobblestone street was enough to confirm her identity.
My foul mood intensified, and I turned in the complete opposite direction of where I needed to go to avoid her. Though I knew this decision would wreak havoc on my leg and I would pay for it later, it was worth every second of the pain.