How did I get here?

Over the course of the last year, Reed Johnson's life has made some interesting twists and turns, and sadly, very few of them were for the better. Now, to get her away from the scenes that provoked her post-traumatic stress, her father has chosen to move the family back home to Nazareth in Pennsylvania.
Both old and new friends quickly start to make an impact on her life, and pretty soon, Reed is caught up in a web of drama while dealing with a lot of stuff herself. With an already fragile mental health, who knows how she'll end up?

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10. Chapter 9

Alex came into my room and crossed his arms. The lights were off to spare me from the headache, but I could still see his look of mixed disappointment, concern, and general sadness.

"Don't look at me like I'm an injured puppy Alex. That's the last thing I need." I mumbled. I removed the wet cloth on my forehead and sat up. My head was throbbing, but at least I'd gotten some sleep now. He sat down on my bed, leaning on the wall. 

"Your room hasn't changed at all." He said, avoiding my request. He looked around him and laughed a little when he saw that half a 'My Little Pony' poster still adorned the inside of my wardrobe door.

"Haven't had the time to redecorate just yet. Or the money." I shrugged. 

"At least it's yours. My mom keeps making adjustments to my room, and deciding to paint it while I'm at school or something." 

"Your mom is bored. It's a good thing she has Gina now to keep her busy." I chuckled. He joined in, and we were silent for a while.

"Reed why didn't you just go to the nurse earlier?" He asked. I laid back down and breathed out heavily. 

"I don't like people touching me too much. And nurses always do. And I was just as surprised as you when I passed out. I didn't feel that bad." I admitted. He nodded, accepting my explanation.

"You scared the shit out of me. Ballet was boring today though, so don't feel bad about missing that." He said with a shrug. And just like that the serious talk was over. 

 

The next day, dad kept me home from school because I was still having a headache, and he wasn't about to take any chances. I had absolutely nothing to do, except reading and watching movies. Which even I grew bored of at some point. 

Dad came home early and knocked on my door.

"Yeah?" I said into my pillow, lying face down on the bed trying to straighten out my back. He came over and sat on the bed, poking my back. I pushed up my torso and looked at him over my shoulder. "What's up?"

"You may have a fever as well, but part of you fainting yesterday was because you've been missing sleep. Are the nightmares getting worse?" He asked. His concern for his little girl was quite obvious, and it pained me to know that my PTSD was affecting him and David so much.

"They're changing. Not necessarily for the worse." I explained as I turned around to sit up properly.

He rubbed his closed eyelids for a moment, seemingly in deep thought.

"Darling I think we need to find you a new therapist here. I know doctor Williams cleared you but now that you're off the antidepressants, I think you're unconsciously relapsing a little bit and we need to stop it before it escalates."

"You sound like a brain doctor too." I mumbled. I rubbed the scar for two seconds before nodding. "Okay. Trial period of three weeks?" I asked him. That was our del whenever I needed a new specialist or therapist. Since I was overall distrustful now, I needed to find ones that I felt comfortable around. So we'd give each a trial period of one, maybe two sessions a week for three weeks before we replaced them if needed.

He nodded. "Good call sweetheart." He ran his hand over my hair with a little smile at me. Just as he walked out of the room, I called after him "Make sure it's a woman!"

 

A week hence, I sat in a waiting room outside the office of Emma Jensen. I'd just arrived, having hitched a ride from Alex as my dad had confiscated my car keys when I passed out.

A young blonde came out of the office and smiled at me. 

"Reed?" She asked. I nodded, and she opened the door fully. "Come on in."

I went inside to see an office with two bean bag chairs on the floor, a soft rug between them. In the corner there was a white desk that was so insanely cluttered I wondered how she ever got any work done at all. She was unlike any other therapist I'd ever had.

"I'm Emma. Have a seat." She said. She sat down in one of the bean bags, and I followed right along. 

"So I've read your file. That was quite the hazzle you were in huh?" She said sympathetically. I realized suddenly that I surrounded myself with men all of the time, though I was more distrustful of them than women. But the only people I spent time with were Dad, David Nonni and Nonno, and Alex. It felt nice to hear a woman's voice. And the fact that she was so young as well helped a lot. Nonni was lovely, and I knew that if I wanted to talk to her about girl things, she'd try her best, but she just wasn't good with the things I needed help with in particular.

"Yeah." I said slowly. Though her very presence was comforting but confident, I didn't know how to respond to that.

"Let me tell you something about how I talk to my clients Reed." She siad with the kindest of smiles, and a twinkle in her eye. "No bullshit. I ask tough questions, I ask them when I need to know. I don't beat around the bush. Now you don't need to answer if you feel like you can't, or if you feel that your boundaries are being broken. They should be pushed, and bent, but not broken."

"Okay." I said with a single nod. Good, I thought. I was fed up with therapists who were all cryptic in a failed attempt to lead me onto some track of self discovery and inner soul searching without actually telling me anything I didn't know already.

"So I'm going to ask you right now Reed, you were in a relationship with Angus for nearly five months before he started to get abusive right?" 

I cringed, but nodded. "That's true."

"And then after that, he started getting possessive and violent? Verbally abusive?" She asked. It was a little much for me with these questions, but from past experience, I knew that a therapist had to push you a little bit all the time, otherwise they wouldn't help you at all.

"He was always possessive. Jealous. In the beginning that was kind of a cute thing." I said, going with total honesty. "And it started small. At first, he'd just snap at me a lot. Then he became really mean constantly, especially whenever I didn't do as he said. And then-" I stopped there, preferring not to speak of the beatings, the bruises, the burns and the cuts.

"And that went on for almost four months? Gradually getting worse and worse?" She asked. She already knew the dates, the periods, she just wanted to hear things from me.

"Yes." I whispered. 

"And why didn't you tell anyone?" She asked. "When he became violent, or when you had to explain where you'd disappeared to all night?"

I debated on answering. It was a little hard hitting, and it was definitely triggering some memories, but I knew the answer.

"Because of the first four months and 24 days." I said, looking out the window at a pigeon cleaning its feathers. "They were so great. We were good together, we worked and I was in love for the first time. And like I said, he was always jealous. So when it just slowly spiraled downwards, I didn't notice at first. And when I did, I was in so deep it didn't feel like I could do anything anymore. I was used to it, so much that I just felt like the things he said were true, that it was my place and that was the end of it." 

Emma nodded occasionally in understanding and followed my eyes to the bird. "You know Reed, you seem like a class A client. You're going to make my job very easy." She said with a happy smile. 

She asked more questions about Angus, and about my mother too, my relationship with my grandparents, lots and lots about David and how he took care of me, and how Alex had made me go to ballet class again because of his utter faith in me. The rest of the session was just her getting to know me. In return, sometimes she came with a funny anecdote from her own life. It didn't feel like therapy, it felt like having a talk with a friend. It seemed like she enjoyed it too. Neither one of us noticed that we'd gone fifteen minutes over time until the receptionist called in to check up and to say that it was five thirty, and the office was about to close for the night.

"Thanks Jane." Emma giggled into her buzzer. She glanced at me. 

"So how are you feeling now Reed. Would you like to schedule an appointment later this week?" She asked me as she gathered up her coat and some files in a stylish little briefcase.

I puffed out a breath. "It's nice to talk to a woman under the age of 73." I said. She laughed a little and shrugged.

"Yeah, you do hang out with a lot of guys." 

We walked out together, and I didn't even notice the car until Emma pointed it out.

"Now that, that is one hell of a ride." She sighed. The look of longing in her eyes made me follow her gaze to see Alex's car. 

"That's Alex's ride." I said. I had no idea that he'd waited for me. He hadn't said anything, and I had only asked him to drop me off after school. I'd assumed I was walking home.

"He's a great friend." She said with a strange smile. "I'll see you sometime this week Reed. You can call tomorrow and make an appointment. Bye." She walked off down the street, and I went to the car.

"Hey. How did it go?" He asked and turned the key like he hadn't just waited out here for an hour and a half. 

"It went great. You didn't have to wait for me Alex." I said in a tone somewhere between confusion and scolding.

He shrugged. "Eh, I had heaps of History homework anyhow, the car is as good a place to do it as any." He brushed me off. I was baffled, and I knew that he was lying to avoid making me feel guilty.

"Alex stop that. You don't need to do this and you don't need to lie to me just so I can avoid guilt." 

"It's not a problem Reed." He said. I let the topic drop with a sincere "Thanks."

"So we have a game tomorrow night. Pre-season. Just a friendly one to get our heads back into the right patterns. Do you want to come?" He asked. I was caught a little off guard, and looked at him, wondering why he'd want me at a game. But hey, if he did, I wasn't in any position to deny him that. 

"Yeah, sure. What school is it?" I asked him, looking out at the passing buildings outside my window. 

"Parston. They've beat us every time since 2008, but never with me as captain. I've been playing the team hard, they can take them. I'm really hoping for a win on this one, I need the team to get fired up for game season." 

I listened to his rambling about soccer happily. Often, Alex got a little caught up in making sure I was okay, he'd forget that I was his friend too, and that I wanted to know about his life. He needed the chance to talk about himself sometimes too. 

He dropped me off at home, and I gave him a quick hug before going inside. 

David was sitting at the breakfast bar, where he had spread out countless spreadsheets, articles, thesis papers and lectures. He was deeply focused, so I sneaked past him and up the stairs to get the pins in my bun out. They were starting to itch.

Dad came home a few minutes after I'd started dinner, and immediately interrogated me on how it had gone at Emma's. I told him how nice it was, but didn't elaborate too much. I didn't like to include dad on what went down between me and my therapist. It was supposed to be a private thing. 

We ate dinner, chattering over the chicken I'd baked in the oven, and laughing like we used to, for the first time in over a year. I looked around me at my family and felt a great relief, like a two ton boulder being lifted off my shoulders. We were getting back to normal. We were fixing ourselves. Somehow, coming home had given us that little push we needed to be ourselves again. 

"I'm going to the school soccer game tomorrow night dad." I said as David and I cleared away the dishes. Dad looked up from his post-dinner newspaper with raised eyebrows. 

"That's good. How late will you be out?" He asked. I could tell that he was choosing his words carefully, trying to treat me like any protective father would, but I could see him jumping up and down inside like a little girl, happy that I was finally going out and doing normal teenager things again. I almost laughed at him, but instead I chose to give him a bit more to rejoice over.

"I don't know." I said with a shrug. "Might be late, might be right after the game ends, I'm not sure yet." 

I left the room, and as soon as they thought I couldn't hear them anymore, David and Dad started talking about how wonderfully I was doing, and how great a decision it was to come back.

 

The game was more fun than I expected. I cheered madly for Alex of course, even if it was only a friendship game, and Kristie was yelling equally loud next to me, though her shouts were instructions to Tyler and the less skilled players.

"You know a lot about the game." I said in an attempt to make conversation, as we were the only company each other had.

She nodded. "They won't let me on the guys' team. And the girls' team sucks, I hate playing with them." She said. "I could beat Tyler's ass though, that's for damn sure." 

I was surprised. Bookish, smart and lovely Kristie was a soccer player? "I didn't take you for a sports person." I said. "You spend so much time with your books, I just never even considered you might have time for anything else." 

She laughed a little. "You're not the first to think that. But my brother plays professionally with a club in Italy, and my dad was coach at another school before he met my mom. It's just the family thing, you know?" She explained, and I nodded in understanding.

I was thrilled that I was having a pleasant conversation with a girl my age. Things were going so well for me. Finally, I felt the effect of all of the different means to recovery I'd been through, and rarely had I felt better about myself. In a shocking burst of confidence, I offered my services, trying to make a girlfriend.

"Tell you what, if you join the girls' team, I'll join with you. I'm a sufficient player, I have my footwork in order, we could do it. Practice is only on wednesdays and fridays as far as I know, so it won't interfere with dance class."

She looked at me in surprise. "Alright. You have a deal." She said with an acknowledging nod. I smiled at her and turned my focus back to the game, just as Alex stole the ball, dribbled it up the court and shot it to a teammate who then scored.

 

My happiness was short lived. When I came home, I found dad and David crouched around the coffee table, waiting for me to come in. Both were clutching mugs of steaming black coffee, which meant that they'd been up to tell me this for a while, and therefore it was important. 

"What's wrong?" I asked warily. Dad shook his head when David opened his mouth.

"Dad she needs to know. I won't keep this from her." David protested. He opened his arms. "Come sit down Reed." He said gently. I was scared. Terrified. Last time there had been a gathering like this in our living room, mom had been in the car crash that killed her two days later in the hospital.

I sat next to David and leaned into his side, suddenly feeling weak.

"Reed, it's bad news. Well, it's bad news but it's also..." He broke off, and I could tell that he was really nervous about my reaction to this.

"Darling, Angus committed suicide last night in his cell. The doctors assigned to him said that there was nothing more they could do, none of their treatments had worked. He was a lost cause. He felt so guilty over what he did to you that he couldn't do it anymore. I'm sorry."

I was absolutely frozen. My body went rigid, my eyes stared without seeing, and memories took over. But not the bad ones this time. My thoughts travelled back to the summer months when we'd started, the good times, the loving eyes and the caring words. No matter what he did, Angus was my first love. I felt like I should hate him, but I couldn't. I felt like I should be relieved or happy that he was gone, but I wasn't. I stood up slowly and then sprinted out of the living room, and up the stairs to my room. I went to a drawer in my dresser. 'What would Emma tell me to do?' I thought. 

I grabbed a candle from the drawer, set it in a holder, and put it in the window. Then, I went to my closet. I had kept it from dad and David, but I still had one of Angus's sweatshirts from the time he took me to his family's cabin. It still smelled like him, and it was a memory from the days when we were happy and I was unhurt. I pulled it out and clutched it in my hands. I was ready to break down, but there was one more thing left to do. I went over and lit my candle. 

It stood in my window, sending a frail light out into the street. I gave myself until that candle burned down to mourn him. All night, it burned for Angus, and with his sweatshirt in my hands, and his scent in my nostrils, I said the goodbye I hadn't known I needed.

 

 

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