What is True Will Find a WaybyGeist26©
A quote referred to in the story below comes from Martian Time-slip by Philip K Dick:
"I'm not much, but I'm all I have."
This story is a change of pace for me; I wanted to try my hand at something a bit different. It's quite slow to start so anyone seeking a quicker pace might want to move on. For those that read I hope you enjoy. I mostly wrote this with someone special in mind and I'm hoping that a certain bright star from Texas knows that.
Helen Reeve gazed at her reflection in the long mirror. It was becoming an altogether familiar ritual. She would study herself with a critical eye and try to divine the reasons why she was alone. Looking at herself today, dressed for work, she felt older than her 32 years. Her posture slumped as she thought of her better days slipping away.
It had been five years since her last meaningful relationship. Other than a handful of short dalliances, that had never gone far, physical intimacy was something she had missed for far too long. In the mirror she saw only her flaws and while the truth was far removed she added daily to her personal list of reasons why she felt so unattractive.
Her job was the only thing left she took real pride in. Working as a counsellor she had a chance to help others to make real change in their lives. Her job was rewarding in that sense though the irony that she felt unable to reconcile her own issues was wearing thin.
Helen was not without friends and loved ones, she tried to live a full life as much as she could, but her smile was becoming forced and she longed for companionship, something deeper to give her life meaning. The worst thing in the world was being alone in a crowd, feeling lost and alone.
With a heavy sigh she set off for the day.
Ryan Williams closed the door of his car with care. It was not a new car as such but it was at least new to him. He treated the vehicle with a certain reverence and drove with uncommon caution. The car park was only sparsely used with a only a small handful of other cars around but it served the needs of a local swimming pool, community centre and doctor's surgery.
Ryan clicked the appropriate button of his key fob, waited for the click of the locking mechanisms and checked the doors were secure. He felt a sense of trepidation as he started his walk to the surgery. After just a few yards he turned and clicked his key fob again trying to reassure himself that the door was indeed still locked. He knew it was but he had a sudden irrational need for certainty, this was just one of many rituals that he observed during the day. He knew it was a compulsive behaviour but it was one he struggled to shake nonetheless.
It was a quiet day with unseasonal but bright sunshine that made the air warm and heavy. Ryan took a deep breath, his chest felt heavy, as though a great weight was strapped to his body pressing down and confining him. He clutched at his chest and rubbed tensed fingers over his heart in a vain attempt at relieving the sense of pressure. It had become a habit these last few months and despite being the most ineffective of gestures it still gave Ryan some small measure of comfort.
The air felt oppressive to him, he struggled to fill his lungs and panic started to take hold as he approached the surgery. All he needed to do was walk through the door but it felt like such a big step. Ryan fought back the urge to turn away and forced himself to push at the door before him. The door heaved open with some considerable effort into a small reception area.
Ryan cringed as the door whipped back into position with a loud clatter as he let go. He stepped towards the reception counter though it seemed that it was unattended. The counter was little more than a hole in the wall with an open sliding frosted glass window. Ryan could see through into the adjoining room as he approached but he soon grew aware of the thundering sound of heavy purposeful footsteps approaching.
As he reached the counter a portly woman with rosy cheeks and a withering stare appeared. Her hair was a nest of sharp, tight curls that appeared to pull her skin taut.
"Mr Williams?" asked the woman with a rictus smile.
Ryan nodded, he had expected a surlier encounter when the woman approached but there was a surprising tenderness to her voice that took him by surprise.
"I'll let Helen know you're here, go take a seat in the waiting area, I'm sure she'll be along in a moment."
Ryan reached and turned the door handle to his right, it screeched at the apex of its movement setting his teeth on edge. The door was thick and heavy in its frame, poor hinges could hardly hold its mass and it required more effort than would be expected to open.
The waiting room had seen better days. Mismatched chairs in dire need of repair or replacement were dotted around the room. A low coffee table was stacked high with aging magazines of limited interest. The room was sparsely populated with other people but Ryan took the opportunity to sit in the darkest corner he could find in the one seat that stood apart from the others. It meant no one could sit beside him and gave him a measure of comfort as his anxiety began to build. He tried to distract himself by looking around the room. His appointment today had been set up through his usual doctor, the practice he was registered with had a series of branches that were positioned all around the local community but this was not the one he would usually attend. While the rest of the practice seemed to have been upgraded several times it seemed this building was stuck in the past. Ragged older messages were taped to the walls barely legible due to their tattered state while more recent ones seemed to be in better shape enclosed in a laminated plastic shell. Wallpaper peeled away at every seam, the paintwork and walls had black scuff marks at irregular intervals around the room.
Ryan sat back, closed his eyes and waited patiently for his appointment, he tried to keep his thoughts still and clear but all too soon his mind flashed back over the last few months. He could feel the weight press down hard on his chest, the pressure seemed to his mind to be inextricably linked to his thoughts and the more he dwelled the heavier he felt. He was slowly being crushed beneath the weight of his own despair. Ryan opened his eyes, his gaze darted around the room as he tried to find anything that might distract him from his thoughts. Posters for winter flu jabs, oddly out of season, gave only the briefest reprieve as he raced over the words. A young mother sat with her child cradled in her arms, Ryan only glanced over for a second as she quickly became aware of him. He turned before she could make eye contact feigning interest in the rack of flyers nearby. Nothing helped ease him, he could feel the panic rising and he almost shook as he tried in vain to steady his frayed nerves.
Breath came in ever more shallow bursts, he felt his mouth dry up and he coughed and spluttered despite his best efforts to stifle the episode. He could feel the eyes of other patrons upon him and it only served to feed his anxiety.
Ryan could hear the sounds of a door opening around the corner accompanied by heavy movements that almost screamed apathy. A male voice rang out but in his stressed state Ryan was unable to discern the words. The young mother rose from her seat and left the room. No one could see him now, it made Ryan feel safe and with some effort he was able to start slowing his breathing once more.
"Mr Williams?" a melodic feminine voice spoke his name, a honeyed tone that was calming and serene.
Ryan sat still, he had heard his name this time but something stopped him moving. He looked down at the floor. He knew he needed help, something to help him manage but he was so locked into himself that faced with the uncertainty of what may come he was trapped in place.
He sensed rather than saw a shape to his side, someone peered around the corner and he felt their eyes bore into him. Ryan stayed still, he felt paralysed for the moment.
"Mr Williams?" asked the woman peering at him, "My name's Helen, it's time for your appointment, are you ready?"
Ryan tried to nod, his effort resulting in a spasmodic and vigorous movement that he had little control of. It was a sudden, frightened movement. He could feel his anxiety rising again.
"Just follow behind me Mr Williams, I'll show you the way, it's a real rabbit warren here."
Her voice was playful; her words were carefully chosen to avoid any suggestion of why he was there. She walked away as Ryan mustered the willpower he needed to stand. He shuffled along behind her like a timid child, staring at his feet all the way. Helen led him down a winding corridor, passing a series of other consultation rooms until they found their way into the recesses of the building. It was darker here, only limited natural light found its way into the darkness and an old yellowed ceiling light scarcely compensated.
Helen stopped for a moment as she approached the last consultation room. As she opened the door a bright halo of light lit up the dingy corridor.
"Take a seat Ryan," the warm velvet voice of Helen welcomed him into the room and despite his increasing apprehension he did as he was asked.
Helen Reeve took stock of the man before her. She closed the consultation room door as she watched him take the seat she had motioned to. Ryan Williams had a dishevelled appearance, he seemed to have foregone shaving for some time, his hair needed brushing and his clothes were crumpled. She circled into the room and took her place in a seat she had placed directly opposite her patient. Looking at him she felt sure a handsome man lay behind the bedraggled appearance, he had intense eyes, a focused stare that almost called to her.
He was avoiding eye contact. His gaze was restless as though he was doing anything to keep from focusing on his thoughts. He held himself in a closed, defensive way and struggled to keep still. Even before he spoke she could see he was tearing himself apart from the inside out.
"Ryan?" asked Helen, bobbing her head in an attempt to engage him, "My name is Helen Reeve, do you know much about what we are going to try and do here?"
Ryan shook his head, only once, in a sharp manner. He had tried to read through the leaflets that his doctor had given him but he felt it might be easier not to go in to this with a preconception of what would be involved. The little he read made him fear he would flee at the first opportunity.
"Your Doctor sent me a referral letter, so I have some information about what you've been going through. You also answered a set of questions that we use to see how you might respond to things. What we are going to try and do is help you talk about the things troubling you and look at how you might go forward. Today is a chance for me to get to know you a little better and then from there I'll be able to look at the ways I can try to help you, is that okay?
Ryan stayed quiet but Helen could see that he was listening to her, his gaze remained focused on a fixed point on the floor. Ryan nodded his agreement again but this time he seemed calmer as though he might be settling.
"Sometimes when people go through Counselling they can find it very demanding," explained Helen, "at the moment we have 6 sessions, after today they will be shorter but we'll use the same day and time every week. After 6 weeks I can make a recommendation and if we need to go further we can. The last thing before we go further is to say that sometimes people find this a difficult process. You might find yourself leaving here feeling drained and tired but other times you might feel more positive. It's different for everyone but you can always stop if you need to."
Her voice had a serene melodic lilt that Ryan found soothing, she was easy to listen to but he remained worried about being asked to talk about himself. He always avoided that whenever he could.
"Ryan, I have a couple of questions for you to start with, I'm just picking up on your responses to the questionnaire. I need you to be honest with me. Have you ever hurt yourself or thought about hurting yourself?"
"Yes," whispered Ryan, his voice tainted with shame.
"Have you ever thought about taking your life?"
"Yes," muttered Ryan after taking a deep breath to steady his nerves. Saying it gave those dark thoughts power, he had never told anyone but the temptation to take the easy road stared him in the eyes every night.
Helen was a naturally caring person but even with her experience she was concerned about how hopeless Ryan seemed to feel. She felt there was something familiar about him, that perhaps they had met before but beyond that instinctual feeling she was no closer to placing him. The questions continued but beyond simple one word responses Helen was finding it almost impossible to engage her new patient. So far she had used closed questions to monitor any changes in the information he had given to his doctor a few weeks ago, it seemed little had progressed and given how deeply Ryan was locked into himself she found that unsurprising. His breathing was heavy, laboured even and he had a habit of clutching at his chest when a particular question was uncomfortable. As the questionnaire was drawing to an end Helen was concerned that these sessions alone would not be enough even at this early stage.
"Thank you for answering my questions, I just have one more thing to ask you," said Helen, "what do you hope to get out of this process?"
Ryan had to think now, he needed to have a reply and his mind was simply dry. So far every discussion that involved him just confirmed that he needed help, he had no real idea how Counselling was supposed to work. He glanced up for the first time since entering the room.
He caught her eyes, just for a moment, beautiful green eyes that seemed to light up the room. But in that fleeting moment he remembered her, like a dam bursting his memories of her flooded back to him. He remembered the first girl at school he had ever noticed. The one he never had the courage to speak to. He could see the prettiest girl he ever saw smile at him across a classroom every time she noticed him looking. He saw that same girl flash past him in a school bus as he walked home; he remembered the way she gazed wistfully out of the window sucking her thumb in the most adorable way even though she was far too old for such a habit. He remembered her wave to him every night when she saw him and how his heart skipped a beat each and every time. He remembered the tears she shed when his head was battered through a metal locker by bullies. For almost five years they shared every class and he never had the courage to say even a word to her. He saw her grow from a girl to a young woman who grew more beautiful with every passing second.
Most of all he remembered his abiding failure, to take the step he wanted to and when that reality hit him he had to look away, it was too much for him to take and his gaze dropped again. This time he was still looking towards her. Helen could see the effort he was making to talk to her, she wanted to give him time but it was heart breaking watching him punish himself.
"I don't know what I want," said Ryan at last, "I just don't want to feel like this anymore and I'm worried about what I might do. I suppose I just want to figure out how to change myself."
Now that he was speaking that sense of familiarity was pecking at the back of her mind once again. Helen wanted to ask him, but as he was barely able to look at her she realised that might be too much for the moment.
"Tell me about how you're feeling," instructed Helen.
"I can't sleep; I haven't slept properly in weeks. I don't know what to do with myself. I might lose my job over this but I don't really care anymore. I just feel trapped and I don't know how to break free."
Ryan looked up again, this time he avoided eye contact but was able to study his Counsellor, at least a little. She was dressed conservatively, her hair was a dusky chestnut brown and he could see her brush wayward strands behind her ear as she took notes. She was writing as he spoke, her mouth moved just slightly as she made her notes. He could see her and this time she was not staring back. This was really the first time he had seen her as a grown woman, she was beautiful, really truly beautiful. In the years that had passed she had done more than blossom, she had flourished. Her lips had subtle colour that emphasised a slight but notable pout. Her green eyes seemed to sparkle. When she looked up this time she smiled, a smile that could melt even the most frozen heart, the same smile he remembered and like always made his heart skip. Ryan felt his heartbeat pound in his chest as it started again, not pain this time just a rush of blood that made him feel alive for once.
He broke eye contact again but this time his eyes traced their way down following the contours of her body as he looked back to the floor. To his eyes she was simply breath-taking. She made even her conservative attire somehow alluring. A dark cardigan covered most of a blue blouse adorned with shining pearlescent buttons. Charcoal grey trousers did little to disguise long svelte legs.
Helen felt a flutter in her heart as she realised Ryan was looking at her. No one looked at her the way he did, so full of longing it was palpable. It made her smile, even blush a little to be looked at that way. He seemed to linger over every detail in open mouthed wonder. She tried to force the thoughts back in her mind but at least she could see that under the pain there was a man bursting to be free of his self-made prison. When he finally looked away the sadness returned to his eyes, like all hope suddenly abandoned him as it fled from every pore.
"Okay Ryan, we're almost done for the day but we need to focus on what we can achieve in the time we have over the coming weeks. So when we meet next time we will start working on things together, we'll start to look at why you feel trapped and how you can deal with that. Are you feeling okay?"
Ryan nodded, a little easier than he had earlier. His movements seemed less forced, less intensive and Helen found herself hopeful that her patient could move past his pain.
"Good," said Helen smiling, "Well that's all we have time for today I'm afraid. I'll see you next week Ryan."
Helen placed her pad on the desk beside her and rose to her feet. Ryan took his cue to stand and shuffled in the direction of the door. She followed him to the door and for the first time he caught the gentle fragrance of her perfume in the air. It etched its way into Ryan's memory in just a heartbeat, a scent he would always associate with her now. She reached for the door just as Ryan did; their hands came so achingly close to touching she could almost feel the heat rising from his skin. He shrank away so quickly that she realised straight away how nervous he was.
Ryan turned away from Helen; his body language was defensive as she opened the door for him. She realised how uncomfortable he was when people were close to him, proximity and affection were alien to him. It made her sad to see someone so closed off from their relationships and so lacking in confidence. She watched him walk away; wracking her brain as she grew ever more convinced that she knew him.
Ryan sped from the surgery silently cursing his awkwardness. He mulled over and rehearsed every detail of the conversation, imagining how things might have been different. His obsessiveness would consume him for days and deprive him of sleep. Try as he might it was impossible to move on, but it dawned on him just days before his next appointment that what he was thinking about most was her. As hard as he found it to be near people, he still wanted to see her again. The fact he knew her from so long ago somehow made it easier to find the courage to speak or at least want to do so. He could see that she had no memory of him but that too made it easier. It made the prospect of returning more palatable, something familiar to give him comfort and to draw strength from.