There were one hundred and four steps from my front door to the street. One hundred and four exactly. I knew because I counted them, mourned their loss as my world shrank every day.
“And how does that make you feel?” Dr. Brenninger’s deep voice surrounded me, pulling me back into the present. I leaned against the doorjamb and stared into my front yard, one I hadn’t crossed in almost three years.
I narrowed my eyes and whipped my head around, meeting the steady gaze of his crystal clear blue eyes as he waited—a pillar of patience—for my answer.
“How do you think that makes me feel, doctor?” I flung my words at him, stripping him of his name, returning him to a title.
My gaze fell to my toes, unable to hold his weighty stare any longer. I was behaving like a petulant child. Our required hour was almost up. I could ignore him.
The ticking of the clock mocked my resistance. My sudden anger fell away as swiftly as it had appeared. I bit my lip to hold back the apology I knew he deserved.
“Fiona,” Zak sighed softly, “you know I’m here to help. We’ve made a lot of progress. Don’t shut me out again. Please.”
It was the please that got me. It always did.
“You’re fighting dirty.” He knew my weakness. I refused to shift my gaze from the black polish on my toenails.
“And you’re acting like my five-year-old niece.” He was right, but that didn’t make the gentle barb hurt any less.
“Aren’t you supposed to be helping me? Instead, you’re calling me names. Mocking me.”
“I’ve obviously struck a nerve. Why is that?”
“I’m tired of talking about how I feel.” I stumbled to my couch and sank into the soft cushions. Stacking pillows around me I built a fort between us. “Can’t you just leave me alone?” A small space opened between the floral square pillow I had mercilessly frayed and a gray chevron print my mom had dropped off last week. I peeked through the opening. The new pillow smelled like chemicals and plastic and kept me from his seeking eyes.
“You know that isn’t an option.”
Once a week, we’d sat in this very spot for the last four years.
“I’ll be here until I either shut down my practice or…” he trailed off.
We both knew the unspoken alternative would never happen. I’d never be fixed, nothing would ever change—unless you counted things getting worse.
My world continued to shrink, year by year. That’s all it had ever done.
Dr. Brenninger—Zak—said he didn’t believe that. It was an argument we’d had over and over again. He knew better than to mention it. The last time I’d refused to talk to him for two weeks.
“Fine.” My azure eyes met his, snapping fire. “I feel angry. Wouldn’t you?”
“We aren’t here to talk about me.”
I made a frustrated noise in the back of my throat and threw the abused floral pillow at him. It hit him square in the face, knocking his glasses free. We both watched as they tumbled through the air and bounced on the floor, landing unharmed on my soft carpet.
I let out a breath. It trembled on its way out.
He stabbed his fingers through his hair, mussing the dark waves. My gaze lingered on the flex of the muscles in his arm as he retrieved the fallen glasses. He tossed them onto the coffee table and kicked his feet up beside them.
My lips pinched together in censure, which he ignored. I waited a second, then two. The words rushed out, “Zak, you know I hate feet on my furniture.”
“So I’m back to Zak?”
“Why do we still have to do this? I’ve only gotten worse.” It’s not that I wanted our visits to end—I could no longer imagine my life without him in it. I just wanted the fun parts: the friendship, the movies, the popcorn binges.
“I know.” A shadow moved in front of his eyes, softening his steady gaze. “But I’m not giving up on you. I never will.” His smile was soft, gentle. “You know how much I care for you.”
My heart clenched, and the pain robbed me of my breath. I punctuated the air with a cough to cover the silence and revive the wilted organs.
He didn’t mean it, not how I wanted him to. But oh, how I craved it. I was starved for love, frozen in time in this shrinking box.
I was in love with my therapist.
How stupid was that?
Nothing would ever come of it. He didn’t see me that way—never would. I was a puzzle to figure out, a friend in need of help. Nothing more.
None of it mattered anyway.
I was untouchable. Literally.
It had been two years since I’d had any human contact, four since my last hug. And that had been a disaster. One that landed me a trip to the nut-house and a therapist making home visits.
A therapist I had a crush on. Pathetic.
A single touch was all it took. With a simple brush of my fingers I could see someone’s deepest secrets, tiptoe through their memories. It was an unforgivable invasion of privacy, one I had no control over.
It had stolen my life and left me trapped. Trapped in this house and in the mockery of a life.
It wasn’t always like this. In the beginning I’d used it to help people.
My lips twisted and my stomach plummeted as my mind threatened a trip down memory lane. It was better to forget how things used to be. Less painful anyway.
I shoved the rest of the pillows onto the floor with my memories and stalked into the kitchen. Zak knew better than to follow me; visitors were only allowed in the living room. My house was my sanctuary, the only one I had.
“What are we watching?” Zak’s voice followed me. I peeked my head around the doorway and barely held back a sigh.
His feet were still propped on my coffee table, but he’d leaned back, hands resting behind his head. The definition in his arms made me ache. I wanted to trace the lines of muscle.
He looked relaxed, content. Happy even.
My curiosity burned along with my cheeks.
“You making popcorn?” He turned his head just in time to catch me staring. His sapphire eyes met mine.
“I’ll bring you some.” I rushed back into the kitchen, throwing a scoop of kernels into a pan with some oil. “Wayne’s World,” I shouted, answering his previous question.
“Exqueeze me? Baking Powder?” He threw the lines at me.
That man. A smile worked its way onto my face despite my stormy mood. I turned down the heat on the popcorn and quickly covered it with the lid as the corn burst to life. The pinging of the kernels against the metal cover mimicked the erratic beating of my heart.
It was hard to be in a bad mood around him. He knew more about me than anyone on this planet, and he used it to make me as happy as he could.
Once the sounds quieted, I poured the hot popcorn into a couple of bowls. My stomach twisted as I yanked back on my gloves. The thick fabric made eating popcorn frustrating, but I’d never allowed anyone in my home without them as the final barrier, my extra precaution against an accidental vision.
“Should I put on another movie? You don’t need to suffer through it again.” I tried not to stumble as his mega-watt smile kicked me in the chest.
“Hell no! It’s a classic.”
I handed him his bowl, my gloved fingers far from his.
My smile froze as a film covered my eyes.
I stiffened as the colors muted around me. Blood rushed through my veins. The sound drowned out everything else. All my senses dulled as the world around me faded around the edges. And then everything went dark.
Exposed is available in ebook and paperback.