Orchid Ch. 02

byAwkwardMD©

I cross my arms a little more tightly, grabbing at my ribs with the tips of my fingers, and breathe slowly. It's hard to keep myself calm, and the more upset I get the more I ramble. Lara is always fine with me rambling. Stream-of-conscious output, both verbal and nonverbal, is a very useful as a therapeutic outlet, she says, but I'm not in the mood.

"Kit?"

Eye contact is the best I can manage.

"You're very quiet today."

"I don't... I don't know what else to say." I sigh. "I feel like all I did was repeat myself last time."

"Still spending most of your time in your head?"

I nod.

"Still thinking about Calvin?"

I nod, trying really hard not to cry, and tighten my arms around my chest just a little more.

"May I make an observation?"

"Yeah."

Lara puts her pen down, and interlaces her fingers over her crossed knees. "You really put yourself out there." There's a piece of a cough drop wrapper on the floor. "You exposed yourself, and really put yourself in his hands. I am in awe of you. That took real strength." Sort of a grayish-white corner of a piece of waxy paper, with some reflective text written at an angle. "We always take risks when we expose ourselves, and this was one of those times where it got you hurt." The wrapper isn't close to the trash, and it's closer to where Lara usually sits than where she has her patients sit.

Clients, not patients. I hope Lara isn't getting sick.

"It sounds to me, more than anything, like you and Calvin started off in very different places. To him, you were a former student whom he found attractive, and you were two consenting adults when he ran into you later." It's almost shaped like a perfect right triangle. Almost 90º, 45º, 45º, but not quite. "To you, he was a dream. A... uh... a fantasy. You were already putting him on a pedestal, and when he showed interest in you, that sent your feelings for him skyrocketing." I tilt my head a little; the reflective text has a lighter, non-reflective shadow. "It's not your fault. Please don't hear that I'm blaming you. No one is to blame here." More of a grey shadow.

"Every relationship has an arc, you know, to the intensity of the feelings, and I think you started off quite a bit ahead of him. That's not his fault, and it's also not your fault." There's another piece of white fluff right next to it. Could be another part of the same wrapper, but more likely, it's a different piece of trash. "Are you sleeping any better?"

"Um..." I blink, trying not to cry again. "Yeah." Lie. I can tell her the truth. I can trust her. "No. No. I'm not."

"Thank you," Lara said, smiling softly. "I know you don't want me to worry about you."

"Last night, I think I got maybe 3 hours."

"That's not enough. It's better than before, but it's not enough." She sits back in her chair and stares pensively at her pad of paper. "I'm going to offer—"

"No," I say.

"—again—"

"Please no."

"—I can call Dr. Minjae to talk about a prescription for you to help you sleep."

"No thank you."

"He can prescribe something that wouldn't have any interactions with your existing regimen."

"No thank you." I get very nervous about taking more than I'm taking now. My hormone cocktail works for me, and I'm terrified of how fragile that balance is. I don't even like taking aspirin.

Lara smiles and nods. "I didn't think so, but I had to offer." She picks up her pen and paper, and takes a deep breath. "Let's talk about something else."

"Ok. What should I..." It's been hard to think about anything BUT Calvin, even though it's been almost four months.

"How about your classes? How are they going?"

"Well enough," I say, "but I'm not paying as much attention as I should. I keep..." I sigh and take a deep breath. "I feel like I'm waiting for him to storm into the room and... make some grand gesture in front of everyone. Like a... a showy declaration of feelings for..." My voice trails off the longer I ramble.

"He's not going to do that."

"No," I say sadly.

"You know he's not going to do that."

"I know."

"I'm not trying to reprimand you. I just mean that..." She pauses to collect her thoughts for a moment. "There's a disconnect there, between the things you know to be true and the things you want to be true. We all have that, to some degree or another. We lie to ourselves about all kinds of things."

"I know."

"You've always been very self-aware, and I don't think it's a coincidence that this one fantasy keeps coming back around to trip you up."

"I know."

"Because it isn't just about Calvin."

"I know," I say, more emphatically. "I know."

Lara smiles tightly and nods, the tips of her fingers held up almost defensively. "How about work? Has that been getting back on track?"

"I haven't called out in three weeks," I say, nodding.

"That's good!" Her smile is so warm. I love seeing her. It's never easy having someone set you straight when you need to be set straight, but she can go right back to being joyfully supportive in the blink of an eye. "I'm so glad to hear that!" I'm very lucky to have been referred to her.

"I'm... I think I'm... going to try going back to the... to the gym tonight."

"Good! Reclaiming your routine is a wonderful step." She tilts her head. "Have you thought about how you'll react if you see him?"

"Drop to my knees?" I laugh nervously, cheeks flush, and shake my head. "No, I..."

"You should have a plan. Even if the plan is just 'I will turn around and walk the other way'."

"Will you sue me if I steal your plan?"

"Of course not," she laughs. "Please. Steal my plan."

"Ok."

"Can I hear you say it?"

I nod, smiling lightly. "If I see Calvin, I'll walk the other way."

"Good. It would be too soon for you to try confronting him, I think."

"I wouldn't..." I shake my head tightly. A small, vigorous motion. "I wouldn't know what to say."

"You will," she says with a smile. "I know you. When you're ready, you'll know exactly what to say." She looks over at the wall and smiles, and I know my time is up. She stands, putting her notepad aside, and holds out her arms to me. "C'mere."

There are a lot of reasons that I like seeing Lara more than any of the other therapists I'd seen during the course of my transition. Her willingness to engage in hugs when I need them, during and after a really heavy session, is right near the top.

"I'm proud of you," she says, as she scratches the back of my head. I lean into her shoulder, soaking up the feeling for a few more seconds. "Same time next Tuesday?"

"Yeah," I croak, voice failing me almost completely. "Yeah." Better the second time. I leave as quietly as possible, and do my best to disappear into the crowd as I head toward the subway.

***

Go.

Go.

Go.

Go.



No matter how much will I exert upon them, my feet are stubborn and refuse to take steps forward. They talk back and forth about how cute my running shoes are, but I'm onto them. They're just stalling. They're stalling because they're afraid.

I'm stalling. Because I'm afraid. I indulge myself in these games, rolling my ankles and pretending my feet are talking to each other, because I'm terrified. Because fantasy is easy, and I don't want to get hurt again.

The first step is hard.

The girl at the counter waves cheerfully. Emmy, maybe? Emma? She's new, or at least she was the last time I was here. I smile and wave back as I head through to the locker room. A quick glance around, added to the number of empty lockers as I claim my favorite spot, suggests I might have hit the jackpot; the gym is nearly empty. I breathe deeply and evenly as I head back out into the main concourse, with my water bottle in hand and a towel slung over my shoulder. A dark gray sports bra underneath a loose-fitting orange racerback tank, and some black tights that just reach the tops of my calves.

The treadmills are calling my name. I pop in my earbuds and turn on one of my favorite playlists as I pick out a machine in the middle of the front row. 2 mph. 2.4. 2.6. A nice slow pace to start. I keep looking over my shoulder, hoping to see him almost as much as I fear it. Logically, I know he probably won't approach me. He sent one more text, a week later, to ask how I was doing, but I didn't respond to that either.

Or, at least, I didn't send any responses. I must have typed up a hundred different answers, between one and one thousand words, but I never sent any of them. I couldn't push send. By the time I finished writing them, I always felt differently. I either got over all the anger I'd just finished venting or I was too mad to let him know I'd forgive him in a heartbeat. Which, of course, were all glaring red flags; signs that I was in no shape to talk to him.

4.8. 5.1. 5.5 miles per hour.

My legs ache when I creep the speed past seven. I wish I'd stretched more. I usually run at six and a half for thirty minutes because that's a nice pace where the cadence of my footfall lines up with my breathing, but I just...

7.4. 7.8.

Eight miles per hour. Getting closer to the best full sprint I can manage. It's a moment of lunacy when I watch my hand reach for the plus button. 8.1. Arms pumping. Chest heaving. One of my earbuds falls out of my ear, but the other one seems anchored enough that it's not going to get down between my feet and trip me up or break. 8.2. Lots of sweat streaking down my face. Across my brow. Down my cheeks.

Not all sweat. 8.3.

I cry out as I slam my palm down into the treadmill's dashboard, pressing and holding the minus button. The speed drops precipitously, streaking back through the range I'd just climbed back up, and steadies at 5.3 when I finally lift my palm back up. The slower pace allows me to grab hold of the errant earbud and reinsert it, but suddenly the music feels wildly inappropriate. Upbeat and happy when what I want is to feel like shit.

I snarl as I rip the earbuds out entirely, unplug them from my phone, and toss them onto the ground beside me. A few stray bangs, too short to stay put in my ponytail, get caught up in the sweat on my forehead. 5.7. 6.0. 6.8.

7.2.

I fixate on a carpet tile in the floor ahead of me, out in the hallway. A stringer at the corner of it sticks up and out of the rest of the uniformly-arranged fibers. I bet the vacuum pulls it out a little more each night. Stretching it. Ripping it. Every night. Tearing at it. Shredding it.

Every day, a bit more ragged than the one before.

8.7. 9.0. My legs hurt. Thighs, mostly, but my calves and feet are aching too. My lungs burn. The dashboard says I'm already up to 2.4 miles.

A woman walks by in the hall. I wouldn't have noticed her at all except that she steps on the tile I'm staring at. It takes too much of my concentration to keep my speed and balance, so all I can manage is a brief glance. Short-ish. Maybe a bit taller than me, but much thicker. Somewhere well-short of stocky, and not fat. Just... filled in. Hint of muscle. Maybe 45? Older? Blonde?

And then she's gone. Others walk by too, but they're a blur, and it's not until well after the fact that I realize the Blonde was looking back at me.

I surrender when I hit the four mile mark. On the one hand, it feels like I've punished myself enough for one day, and on the other hand, I kind of feel like I might never be done punishing myself. Which is ridiculous, the more I think about it, because it wasn't my fault. I didn't leave him. He left me. Why should I feel guilty? Why should I feel like I need to hide? Why should I feel broken? He's the asshole. He's the piece of shit.

I hope he does show up. I hope he shows up right now.

***

I lace up my left foot, and shift on the bench to tie the right shoe. Shoe tying is one of those things we can do blind. Our fingers know how it should work. By the time we're adults, we can tie our shoes in the dark from feel alone. Most of the time we watch ourselves work anyway for lack of anything better to do, but it's not out of necessity. It's not like driving, where attention is needed for constant adjustment, so it's not a surprise when my head starts turning slowly of its own accord.

It's her. Again. The Blonde. She walked right by me. I didn't even really see her, I saw her bag. Which I saw her carrying two days ago on her way out after she'd walked by me twice. Very distinct burgundy color and pattern. All week I've been seeing her, and I'm starting to think it's not a coincidence.

After heading out onto the main floor, I feel like tonight is the night I finally try the treadmill again. It's been almost 2 weeks. This time, I stretch much better beforehand, and it's easier to stick to my usual speed. My running playlist has more Kelly Clarkson than I like to admit.

And then she's right next to me. She's right next to me. Running on the treadmill right next to me. Cool as a cucumber. I'm doing my best to stare ahead, only bobbing my head back and forth with what seems appropriate for my gait, but there she is. Again. There's 20 treadmills in the room, and she's right next to me.

There's 20 other treadmills. Now it's not a coincidence. Of course, it takes me nearly a mile of running and thinking to reach that conclusion, but I'm here. I've gotten to it on my own.

Her pace is slower than mine. In a fit in inspiration, I stab the down speed button a few times. And then a couple more times. Until my treadmill is going the same speed as hers. Our gaits are different. Even though I'm shorter than she is, my stride is longer. I bounce higher, I take fewer steps, and hers land differently. More solidly. Not heavily, but... with authority. I reach up and pull out my earbuds, and my heart is absolutely racing.

She's at least 45. I definitely have a type.

"Hi," I puff. My face feels bright red, and I couldn't begin to guess how little of that is just from the jog.

"Hello," she says, glancing only briefly to the side. It's a little off putting, and instantly I'm doubting myself. Did I see something that wasn't real? Did I just start putting myself out there again? I look over at her a few more times, and she just continues her jog staring straight forward. Just the tiniest little smile on her lips.

And then I look around again, at the room full of empty treadmills and the two of us running side by side.

"I feel like I've been... seeing you around a lot."

She's quiet for a few seconds, and then says, "Good," offering nothing more.

And then her smile gets just a little bit wider.

"I knew I wasn't crazy," I say, looking forward again. She chuckles, a rasping sound mixed in with our light panting. "I'm Kit."

"Susan."

I keep looking over nervously, unsure of what to do or say. She's almost indifferent to my presence, except that I know she's not. I know she's putting herself here. Next to me. On purpose. I just wish I knew why.

I know why. She wants to get to know me. I'm just afraid to be wrong.

We continue on, jogging together, for another mile in relative silence. It doesn't feel awkward though I can't explain why. It should be weird, but... there's something about the way she carries herself that's appealing. Her confidence is attractive, and I like being near it. It's also infectious. Like she might walk into a room full of people arguing and have them all listening to her in under a minute.

But then, when I think about it, she's the one who pursued me. Instantly, my back is a little straighter. My posture is a little better. My strides are a little longer. Something about me was attractive to her. That feels nice.

"Well Kit," Susan says abruptly. "I'm going to hit the showers." She plants her feet beside the track of her treadmill and lays two fingers on her left wrist.

"O-oh," I stammer. "Ok. It was um..."

"Would you like to join me?"

"Ummm..." I look down, and stare in shock that I've already gone 6.4 miles. I'd completely lost track of my workout for the night. It's hard getting lost in my narrative. "Y-yeah. Sure. A shower sounds great!"

"Great."

I hop off my treadmill while it's still powering down and jog after her, but I slow way down almost at once. The last couple weeks have been lousy with peripheral glances and double takes as she's passed me going here and there. Now, behind her as she's walking...

Susan has shape to her. Her tights fight snugly around hips I could only dream of having, and when she lifts her arms up over her head to stretch, her sports bra-top swells outward just enough to be visible from behind. A delightful amount of tightly-compressed breast tissue inside of the elastic. There's a dangerous swell in my own tights that I have to pinch myself to stop.

I've always considered myself a fairly accepting girl, sexually speaking. I find a wide variety of body types appealing. It's not like anyone has ever asked me for my opinion on the matter, but I tend to think of myself as omnisexual. A pansexual is interested in hearts, not parts, and it's not that genders are irrelevant to me. I notice and appreciate all the different parts, in different but mostly equal ways.

My last girlfriend was thin, like me. Artistic and dreamy. We had some really great times, but she was ephemeral. She drifted out of my life as smoothly and abruptly as she'd drifted in. Before her I'd mostly dated boys, none of whom had anything approaching Calvin's size or physique. And now, here I am following a woman I am almost embarrassed to admit is a MILF, because I really would. I really would like to.

And that's kind of foreign to me. The emotional connection is always such a powerful part of any intimacy. Most of the time, it's that closeness that I crave the most. The moment when the world disappears, and there's just me and them. Ten minutes ago, I would have told you I needed that, but now? Staring at this woman?

I have to pinch myself again.

The locker room is quiet. I skip back to the corner, grab my towel and bag of sundries, and kick off my shoes and socks. I lose track of Susan in the rows and just head back to the stalls on my own, and she leans up against the end of my stall before I shut the curtain.

"So what's his name?"

"Is it that obvious?" I ask, surrendering to the overwhelming urge to look down and away.

Susan laughs, folding her arms across her chest beneath her breasts. "Not exactly, but in my line of work you get good at reading people." I nervously putter in my stall, pulling the shampoo and soap out and setting them on the little shoulder-height ledge. "I was pretty sure it was a someone and not a something that's had you all twisted in knots for the last couple weeks, but it was a wild guess on the gender."

"Calvin," I say, pulling my tank top over my head. Just the sports bra and my black tights.

"Asshole."

I giggle and nod. "Yeah, a little bit."

"Did he know?"

"Know what?"

"About your penis?"

"What?" My arms instinctively wrap around my torso, and my legs cross at the knee as I awkwardly shrink into the corner. Aside from being barefoot I'm still clothed, but it's like she can see right through me. "What ... what... what are you..."

"Relax," she says, leaning back slightly and looking down the hall. "There's no one back here."

"It's kind of hard to relax when I'm being... observed!"

"Oh stop," she laughs. "You've known I had my eye on you. I know you did."

"Yeah, but..."

"I'm not gonna tell anyone. Your business is your business. I just happened to notice when I was checking you out." After a moment, she adds, "And, to be clear, I was checking you out because I thought you were cute."

"Well... thank you."

"Still do," she says, staring at me very directly.

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