“Break free of an image that stops you from standing up for yourself.” – Unknown
I was sure I would be driving myself up the walls will all of my newfound free time, but I quite liked not going to work every morning. I got to sleep in, clean up around the apartment, and most importantly, I didn’t have to carry the burden and responsibilities of my job anymore.
The days had turned into weeks, and before I knew it, Halloween was just around the corner. My neighbors had already begun putting up all sorts of decorations, and grocery stores have had the Halloween candy on display since September.
I was sitting at the kitchen island nursing a cup of coffee and scrolling through my phone when Zoey’s caller ID flashed across the screen. Pressing the green answer button, her face filled my screen.
“Yes?” I cocked an eyebrow, surprised she was calling me this early in the morning.
“I am freaking out!” She stared back at me with wide eyes, her hair tangled in a messy bun. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say she had pulled an all-nighter.
“What’s going on?” I asked, propping my phone against the fruit bowl so I could free my hands. “Are you okay?”
“No!” She exclaimed. “I am not okay! In fact, I’m far from okay. I have my first physics midterm in three hours and I know nothing!”
“Zoey,” I glared at her through the screen. She used to say the same thing back in high school, and the following day when I’d ask her what she got on her test, she had aced it. “You’ll be fine!”
“Fine?” She shrieked, her eyes boggling out of their sockets. “I will most certainly not be fine! Our stupid professor doesn’t believe in homework grades or anything else other than the midterm and final exam. This exam is worth fifty percent of my grade!”
Ah – that brings back memories of nightmare professors with a stick up their ass.
“Breath!” I sighed deeply, leaning back on the island stool and crossing my arms. “Tell me what the exam is on.”
“Right – ” Zoey set her phone down and began flipping through her notebook. “Linear momentums, elastic collisions, sound and light, and wave parameters.” She then went off on a tangent about the role of kinetic energy in elastic collisions as I sat there listening to her talk and giving the occasional grunt and yes when necessary.
Although I had no idea what any of what she was saying meant, it was clear she did and all of this was just the overwhelming pressure to succeed getting to her.
I was on the phone with Zoey for a little over an hour when I glanced at the clock and saw it was already half-past ten.
If I didn’t leave soon, I was going to be late.
“Look, Zoey, I have to go – I’m late for an appointment,” I said, walking towards my bedroom to get changed. While I don’t think Caryn would mind me showing up in pajamas, I was trying to show her I was getting better, not worst. “Don’t stress yourself out. You know all the answers, all you have to do is breathe. Take a shower, eat something, and before you know it it’ll be over.”
“You’re right.” She nodded, though her eyes told me otherwise. “You’re right – I’ll just... I’ll take a break.”
“You’re going to keep reading that textbook and reviewing your notes until the exam, aren’t you?” I sighed, shaking my head.
College had certainly been an adjustment for Zoey. She went from being the smartest girl in the room, to a room full of smart people. Of course, being the overachiever that she was didn’t help with the transition.
“Yup.” Zoey deadpanned. “I’ll call you after. Love you Kenz.”
“Love you too,” I replied right before she hung up.
When I went to visit Zoey last week, I could immediately tell there was something wrong. She was paler than usual, the dark bruises under her eyes were more accentuated than ever and she had lost some weight too.
I don’t know what exactly she was expecting college to be like, but the whole experience hit her like a ton of bricks. After some convincing and a pint of ice cream as leverage, Zoey finally told me that her classes were harder than she expected them to be, and because she was spending so much time studying, she didn’t really have time to make friends. Besides her roommate and a girl from her Intro to Biology class, she didn’t have any other friends.
I tried telling her that she didn’t need to kill herself trying to get straight A’s, but that went in one ear and came out right the other.
Throwing my phone on the bed, it landed with a bounce on the dark gray comforter.
Rummaging through my closet, I settled on a pair of high-waisted jeans and a white knitted sweater with some black leather boots. The weather was as yucky as ever, gray clouds painting the sky and threatening a thunderstorm.
On my way out the door, I grabbed my keys and my favorite blanket scarf before pulling the door shut behind me. When I stepped foot outside, a flash of forked lightning lit the sky as heavy raindrops continued to come down.
By the time I made it to my car, the front and back of my jeans were already wet – and some of the rain from the large puddles had seeped into my boots, wetting my socks.
Fantastic, I thought as I turned the key in the ignition and the engine came to life.
“Come on in Kenzie.” Caryn poked her head into the waiting room where I was flipping through one of the Architectural Digest magazines they had lying around. I followed her through the dimly lit corridors, all the way to her office in the corner.
Just like the rest of the floor, Caryn’s office was also dimly lit – only a tall lamp in the corner radiating off a warm yellow light. The room was entirely closed off with no windows. There was a green couch pushed up against the wall with four decorative pillows – two yellow and two red. A light brown armchair with a small round table and a lamp resting on top was positioned directly across from the couch, and various knick-knacks adorned the walls.
Taking my jacket off and setting it next to my purse, I took a seat on the uncomfortable green couch.
Aren’t these things supposed to make you feel more at ease?
“How’s your week been Kenzie?” Caryn smiled up from her notepad, her eyes scanning my face.
“Good,” I replied, my eyes scanning the room. I had done it a million times by now, but it beat making eye contact with the stranger I had been pouring my heart out to for the past month and a half.
“Anything interesting happen?” She continued, a polite and gentle smile on her lips.
This is how every session started – it had been that way from the very beginning.
“Well McKenzie,” My new therapist, Caryn took a seat across from me. Notepad in hand, she crossed her legs and looked at me expectantly. “Why don’t you tell me why you’re here?”
“I didn’t really have much of a choice in the matter.” I leaned back on the uncomfortable couch, instantly regretting it.
“And why is that?” She scribbled something on her notepad.
“Well, let’s see –” I leaned forward, my hands resting on my knees. “I was told I can’t go back to work until I fix whatever issues I have going on.”
That’s certainly one way of putting it, I thought.
Caryn nodded, and when she didn’t say anything I continued. “I told a client to fuck off because I lost my shit that day. I’ve always been a passionate person, but that day I snapped.”
“What happened leading up to that day?” She asked.
“What didn’t happen?” I snorted a laugh.
“Why do you say that?” Caryn’s eyebrows were furrowed together as she waited for my reply.
“I guess we should start around this time last year...”
Let me just tell you that in that one-hour first session, Caryn only got about ten words in. I told her everything, starting with Justin and ending with Ethan.
At first, she didn’t say much which was annoying, to say the least, because I felt like a broken record being the only one to talk. However, the more sessions we had, the more insightful Caryn became. I started looking forward to our weekly meetings because I always felt much lighter and freer after seeing her.
“Let’s talk about Ethan.” Caryn glanced up from her notepad, her gaze trained on me.
“What about him?” I shifted in my seat, readjusting the scarf around my neck.
“When was the last time you saw him?”
I didn’t see much of Ethan with the exception of Friday nights when he would stop by with food. Sometimes he’d bring take-out, and other times he would cook dinner for us with whatever I had in the fridge.
At first, I was hesitant about us spending so much time together – his words still ringing in my ears, but now, Fridays were what I looked forward to most.
“And what did the two of you do?” Caryn asked.
“He cooked us dinner and then we watched the Rangers vs. Blackhawks game on TV.” I found myself smiling at the memory. Ethan was a huge Rangers fan having grown up in New York, meanwhile, I had no idea what was going on on the screen. I just nodded and gave grunts of approval every time he would curse at one of the players or the referee.
The only sport I remotely understood was soccer, and that’s because my dad used to take me to a Sunday league when I was younger.
“Is this something you do with just anyone, or Ethan specifically?” Caryn continued to jot down notes on her notepad. I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Caryn lifted her head, smiling politely. Then, she asked, “When was the last time you hung out alone with a man that wasn’t Ethan?
That’s a really good question.
“I don’t... I don’t know.” I mumbled, racking my brain for a better answer.
She nodded again, this time taking off her glasses and setting them on her lap. “I only know what you’ve told me Kenzie, but it sounds to me like Ethan really cares about you, and you care about him as well.”
“I mean sure –” I murmured, once again fidgeting in my seat. I should really tell her she needs a more comfortable couch, I thought. “He’s sweet, fun to be around and the sex is amazing.”
“Where do you want your relationship to go?” That question hit me like a thousand bricks. I can’t say I wasn’t expecting her to ask it, I just thought I had more time. More time to figure out an answer, and decide whether I even wanted to start thinking about another relationship so soon.
“I... I’m not sure.” I answered honestly, risking a glance in her direction. Again, she nodded and smiled politely.
“You’re what the textbooks refer to as a fearful-avoidant Kenzie.” Her voice was calm and soothing, and I couldn’t help but wonder what drugs she was on to be so Zen. “It sounds to me like you desire a long-term partner, but are still experiencing discomfort at the thought of such a relationship.”
“And for those of us who don’t have a medical degree?” I cocked an eyebrow in her direction.
“In Layman’s terms, you have a fear of commitment.” Caryn closed her notepad, resting her hands in her lap.
I spent almost two months in therapy for her to tell me I have commitment issues?
Hell – I could have told her that myself from the beginning.
I was forced to grow up real quick after my parents’ divorced, and in the three years before my mom remarried, I was practically on my own for most of the day. Our neighbor, Mrs. O’Riley, would check in every hour to make sure I was okay but other than that it was just me, myself, and I. After my mom married Dave and she started spending more and more time at home, it was too late for us – the bond was severed. This only added to both of our frustrations, and the older I got, the further I pushed her away.
I surprised even myself when I started dating Justin because I never pictured myself as the type of girl to become dependent on anyone else. Sure – I was still stubborn and independent – but I had allowed another person into my heart which was unheard of before.
Other than my two best friends, nobody had managed to get past that barrier.
When Justin asked me to marry him, deep down inside I knew that wasn’t what I wanted, but I felt pressured to say yes. We had been dating for a while, and he had planned a big proposal – how could I possibly have turned him down without coming off as a heartless bitch.
I assumed those doubts would go away when we got married, but they were always present in the back of my mind. The fights and our clashing ideologies only heightened those doubts over the years, until one day I snapped and said enough was enough.
“Here’s your homework for next week,” Caryn continued, breaking me out of my trance. “Figure out if you want to pursue a relationship with Ethan, and if not, tell him that. It’s not fair to keep stringing him along.”
“I’m not –” I began protesting but quickly shut my mouth. Who am I kidding – of course, I was stringing him along. Instead, I said, “Okay.”
“I’m also sensing a minor case of micromanagement and helicopter parenting, but I don’t want to prescribe medication because I genuinely think you can overcome this without it. My suggestion is to try meditation – maybe even yoga – when you’re feeling overwhelmed and under pressure.” Caryn concluded before the end of our session.
Walking back to my car, it had finally stopped raining and the sky seemed to have lost some of its darkness – paving the way for a brighter day ahead.
When I got in the car, I didn’t start it. Instead, I pulled out my phone and began scrolling through my contacts until I found the one I was looking for.
Kenzie: Do you want to have dinner tonight?
I was just pulling into the parking lot of the restaurant Megan and I agreed on for lunch when my phone pinged.
A satisfied smile crept its way onto my face, and I couldn’t help the way my heart hammered in my chest.
What was this man doing to me?
Once inside, I found Megan already seated at a booth furiously typing on her phone. “Who’s got you so pissed?” I asked, sliding into the booth across from her.
“Kenzie!” She looked up, her face lighting up when she saw me. “My long-lost best friend who I haven’t seen in forever.”
“It’s been two weeks, Meg.” I playfully rolled my eyes at her, picking up the menu on the table.
“Two weeks too long.” She snorted. “You know I need my weekly dose of Kenzie to make sure I stay sane.”
“Is that why you looked like you were ready to go on a murder spree when I walked up?”
“Maybe.” She smiled sheepishly, also picking up a menu. “I swear I almost killed Eric last night.”
“Why?” I looked up, only to be met with her scowling face.
“Girl –” She set her menu down, leaning back in her seat. “I had him do the laundry last night because he got home before me and I was tired, and when I went to put it in the dryer, I saw the idiot didn’t separate the whites from the colored clothes. All my white clothes are now a light shade of purple.”
I did my best to stifle my laughing, but in the end, I just couldn’t stop myself. I threw my head back, a deep laugh escaping my lips. Megan on the other hand continued to glare daggers at me.
After the waitress took our order, Megan asked, “So what have you been up to?” I ended up telling her and Taylor that I was taking a sabbatical pretty soon after the paperwork went through, I just didn’t tell them the reason for it.
“Oh you know,” I sighed, fumbling with my napkin. “I cleaned my entire apartment from top to bottom earlier this week, I’ve talked Zoey off the ledge at least three times in the past two days. Oh – and I’ve been doing everything in my power to avoid my mother’s calls.” Megan snorted a laugh, shaking her head before picking up her glass of wine and lifting it to her lips.
Ever since I told her I was taking a sabbatical, my mother had been calling me at least two times a day – always under false pretenses so she could get me on the phone and try to convince me to either go over for dinner or have lunch with her. Deep down, I think this was her way of making sure I was okay, which don’t get me wrong, is sweet and all – but it got kind of annoying after the third call in one day.
“And I started seeing a therapist recently.” I hesitantly continued, my eyes shifting towards Megan’s face and waiting for her reaction.
“Really?” She asked, shock evident in her voice.
“Yup,” I confirmed just as the waitress brought out our food. My stomach growled as the smell of freshly oven-baked crust, melted cheese, and pungent oregano invaded my nostrils. I had ordered a Hobbs pepperoni pizza with a side salad, while Megan said she was craving the pappardelle Bolognese. Thanking our waitress, both of us picked up our utensils and dug in.
“Babe, therapy’s not something to be ashamed of.” Megan finally said in between bites of food, her voice low and serious. “I was in therapy all throughout college, and Eric and I even saw a couples therapist a few months before the wedding.”
“I guess not.” I shrugged, biting into a slice of pizza. The cheesy, meat-pilled crunch immediately hit my taste buds, and the sweet yet tangy sauce tied it all together. “I just never thought of myself as someone who needed therapy.”
“Name one person who doesn’t need therapy in today’s fucked up world.” Megan retorted, stabbing a forkful of pasta.
I couldn’t argue with that.
I don’t know about you guys, but I’m really proud of McKenzie in this chapter.
As for those of you waiting on smut... it’ll happen lol. Just give it a couple of more chapters.
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