[Parts 1-51 are here. Thank you for reading and please don't hurt me.]
James looks up. Her face settles into view. Short, silver hair. Laugh lines. Kind eyes. He blinks and pats his chair uncertainly.
“Where were you just then?”
He stares at her, still struggling to break free of images plaguing his mind.
I wasn’t a good brother. But I loved you.
“In the hospital,” he whispers. His mouth is dry. He reaches for the water beside him. A creak in his shoulder tells him he’s not up to that yet. He uses his other hand. She watches him, waiting for him to go on. She knows him well enough not to push.
“With him,” he finishes quietly, picking up the glass. “I was remembering being with him.” He lowers his gaze and stares at his hands.
“Tell me about it.”
James shifts uncomfortably in his seat. It doesn’t escape her notice.
“James,” she says gently. “It’s okay. Anything you say to me is confidential.”
James raises his eyes to meet hers. She reminds him of his mother. Caring. Warm. Attentive. “It’s not that,” he says. “It’s that I…” He hesitates. She smiles encouragingly.
“…I hate psychiatrists.”
She laughs. “I know. You’ve mentioned that a few times now. But remember; I am not a psychiatrist. I am not a psychologist. I am a counsellor. I’m not here to diagnose you or label you. I’m here to listen. To help, if I can, but mainly to listen.”
James swallows. He’d promised he’d try. For Alexander. “It feels like a nightmare. All of it. When I think about it, it feels like I’m watching a bad horror movie. Like I’m watching someone else’s life. I keep expecting to wake up and for everything to be as it was, but…” He runs his hand through his hair and lowers his voice. “There is no waking up. God, I want to wake up.”
Her expression is sympathetic. “I understand that. It’s normal to want to go back to when things were better. But you can’t go back to the before. All you can do is do your best in the after.”
“I don’t know how to live in the after,” he says without looking at her. “I don’t know how to move on from the before.”
Her voice is kind. “And that’s why you’re here. This is the how. We will navigate through this, James. What you’ve been through, what your family has been through…It’s horrific. Unimaginable. But you survived. You’re here now.”
“Some of us,” James says bitterly. “Some of us survived.”
She waits for him to continue. When he doesn’t, she changes tact.
“How is Alexander doing?”
He looks down at his feet. His latest gift from Alexander peeks through between his jeans and his shoes.
“He’s doing better, I think,” he says, staring at his Astro Boy socks. “I think his sessions are helping. He doesn’t wake up screaming as often.”
The words evoke memories he wishes he did not have. He squeezes his eyes shut and counts backwards from ten.
It’s over now, he tells himself. He’s safe now.
“Is he still sleeping in your room?”
“That’s probably best,” she says, writing something down on the notepad in her lap. “It will take some time for the night terrors to stop. For both of you. It’s important that you don’t try to force it. Don’t try to make him progress faster than he’s capable of. Don’t push him and don’t push yourself. You need each other right now, and that’s perfectly okay. Over time it will get easier to be apart, but for right now, I think together is exactly where you need to be.”
James manages a small smile. He likes her more with every session.
She looks at her notepad. “Do you want to talk about Michael?” she asks softly.
James tenses. He grips the arms of his chair.
“It’s okay,” she says quickly. “We don’t have to go there until you’re ready.”
James tries and fails to relax.
“I think that’s enough for today,” she says, eyeing him cautiously. “Are you going to be okay?”
He nods once. Tears prickle the corner of his eyes. He closes his eyes.
It’s over. We’re safe. It’s over.
When he opens his eyes, she’s watching him.
“Are you sure you’re going to be okay?”
James forces himself to meet her concerned stare. “No.”
He’d promised honesty when he agreed to this.
“But I don’t think that’s something we can overcome in just ten weeks.”
Her gaze softens. “No,” she agrees. “But we will keep at it for as long as it takes.”
He releases his iron grasp on the chair and stands up. A dull ache blooms in his shoulder from all the tension. He tries to shift it into a more comfortable position, but his range of motion is limited. He rubs it instead.
“Next week?” she asks, walking James to the door.
He nods. “Yeah. Thanks, Selina. See you then.”
She smiles and holds open the door as he leaves.