If You Stay

Chapter Thirteen


I lie awake, staring at Mila's painting of me. She finished it a couple days after she started it and I had brought it to my house and hung it next to my bed. It's amazing, but it's a bit too personal to hang in the living room. Even though it's an abstract, you can still tell that I'm naked.

The bronzes and golds of my body are contoured into curved muscles, tightly coiled. My tats are blurs of color, more conceptual than real. My eyes are closed and my head is bowed as though I'm thinking. It's incredible and I'm touched as hell that she actually finished it for me. Nobody has ever done something like that for me before.

I study it, wondering what the Painted Me is thinking.

The Real Me is thinking that I'm fucking hungry.

I swing my legs out of bed and make my way to the kitchen to grab a slice of cold pizza for breakfast. Mila and I had ordered it last night after our third "official" date. This time, we had watched a movie here at my place, and this time, the movie was my choice. It was no chick flick. It was completely made up of gunfire and gore. A man's movie. Mila watched it like a trooper, thumping her chest and pretending to scratch her imaginary balls.

I am chuckling at the memory when my phone rings. My mouth is full of pizza, but I answer it anyway because I see Mila's name.

"Hey," she says and she sounds a bit breathless. I immediately imagine her breathing like that into my ear with her legs wrapped around my hips. And just like that, I'm hard as hell.

"Hey," I answer, adjusting my erection. "Good morning."

I smile into the phone because I can't help it. This girl makes me smile like an idiot.

"I was just calling to remind you of the therapist appointment this morning," she tells me. "I figured you'd forget. Or change your mind."



She's right. I don't want to go. But I'm willing to go for two reasons. One) I want to stop dreaming about my mother because it's freaking me the fuck out. And two) I think it will help put Mila at ease. I know she's struggling with the idea of dating me. She thinks I'm going to stomp on her heart. To be completely honest, I'm afraid I accidentally will. So off to therapy I go. I can do this. I'm no pussy.

"Whatever," I tell her, rolling my eyes. "Oh, ye of little faith. I haven't forgotten. I'm all showered and everything."

She laughs.

"Oh, really? You mean you aren't standing at the windows with bedhead and in your underwear? And eating a slice of pizza?"

Startled, I look down and find Mila standing in my driveway. She holds up a white paper bag and grins.

"I brought you doughnuts," she says into the phone. "Come answer your door."

I shake my head, but honestly, I'm happy she's here. Fucking ecstatic, actually. I had been disappointed when she didn't want to sleep over last night, curled up on my couch with me. She was afraid that she couldn't trust herself not to move too fast.

This might make me a pussy, but she's been the first thing I've thought of every morning this week when I woke up. And she's the last thing I think about when I go to sleep. Not that I'd ever admit that to anyone.

I try not to break my neck as I hurry to the door and open it. Before Mila can even say a word, I grab her and kiss her hard, smashing her against my chest. I hear the crinkle of a paper bag as we smash it between us. Her arms come up and wrap around me, pulling me closer. She smells like flowers and vanilla. And winter.

"I missed you," she murmurs against my neck. She's cold from the outdoors and I pull her inside.

"You just saw me last night," I remind her as I nibble at her lip. She smiles against me and I add, "But I missed you too."

I really did.

And that scares the shit out of me.

But of course I don't say that. Instead, I just pull her into my kitchen where we eat smashed doughnuts, perched atop breakfast bar stools.

Mila eyes hers. "I guess it still tastes the same," she shrugs. "Even though you flattened it."

She raises an eyebrow and takes a huge bite of her chocolate drizzled roll. She licks her finger, which causes my gut to clench.

"What time was my appointment?" I ask, looking away from her tongue and glancing at the clock.

"It's in thirty minutes," she tells me. "Dr. Nate Tyler. He's in town. I texted you the address."

I nod. "I've still got it. Don't worry. I'm going to jump in the shower and then I'm out of here."

She stares at me. "I really just wanted to tell you good luck. And that I'm proud of you for doing this. I know you don't like to talk about personal stuff."

"You got that right, sister," I mutter as I swing around on my stool. I drop a kiss on her cheek. "I've got to get moving if I don't want to be late. Want to join me?"

She grins wickedly. "I would. If we were two months further into our relationship." She shrugs. "But as it is... no."

I raise an eyebrow. "So you can paint naked in front of me, but you can't shower with me?"

She slugs me lightly on the arm, rolling her eyes. "Now you're getting it."

I smile. "Good. I'm just trying to get all of these dating rules down. It's sort of complicated. Confusing, really."

Mila grins, wide and beatific. "It's not that hard. I still like to look, even if I'm not ready to touch yet. But good things come to those who wait, mister."

I shake my head and start off for my bedroom. "I hope so," I call over my shoulder. "My hand's getting tired."

I can still hear her laughing as I step into the shower and let the water beat down on me. I was only partially joking. My hand is getting tired. But that doesn't stop me from using it.


"Tell me about your drug use," Dr. Tyler instructs me. He is using the calm monotone that I always think of psychiatrists using. The one that says, If I talk slowly and quietly enough, I'll keep the psychos at bay.

I shift my weight from one hip to the other in an ugly-as-fuck blue plaid chair. The doctor is older, graying at his temples and he's wearing reading glasses even though he isn't reading. I sigh. I really don't want to be here. I feel like a bug under a microscope and the dark paneling of this doctor's study seems to be closing in on me.

"My drug use isn't the problem," I tell him. "The dreams that I've been having are my problem. They're fucked up. I'm sorry," I quickly correct. "They're messed up."

Dr. Tyler smiles a bit as he makes some sort of note on his notepad.

"Why do you think your dreams are messed up?" he probes, his dark eyes assessing me. "Have you ever dreamt them before?"

I shake my head. "They're about my mother. And I haven't dreamed about her since I was small. As an adult, I make a conscious effort to not think of her. I'll admit it, I try to avoid painful things."

The doctor nods as he takes notes. "That's not unusual," he tells me. "Avoidance is human nature. But tell me more about these dreams."

So I do. I tell him how my mother is pleading. And how I am scared but I can't see and how my mother has turned into Mila in them.

The doctor studies me yet again. "It sounds like you are somehow associating Mila with your mother. Was your mother like Mila in some way?"

I think on that. And even though it's been a very long time since I've seen it, I can still remember my mother's smile.

"My mother had a pretty smile," I tell him. "It was very warm, like Mila's. Maybe that's it."

The doctor scribbles. "Anything else?"

"I don't know," I muse. "Mila seems soft and graceful. I think my mother was the same way. My mother was actually a ballet dancer, before she retired when I was born. Mila is an artist...so they are both artistic types."

More scribbling.

"Was your mother very accepting of you? She loved you unconditionally?"

I stare at him. "I was only seven when she died. But I'm guessing that, yes, that was the case."

"Is Mila very accepting of you?" Dr. Tyler asks quietly, his pen paused above his pad. I stare back at him. He might have hit upon something.

"Yes," I tell him. "For whatever reason, she's been very patient with me."

"Just like your mother," the doctor says pointedly.

"Yes." I agree, my heart pounding for a reason that I don't understand. My hands are sweaty, too. I wipe them on my jeans.

"Tell me about the drug use," Dr. Tyler says now, without looking up. I sigh again.

"You're not going to give up on that drug use thing, are you?"

He smiles and shakes his head.

"People use drugs for many different reasons," Dr. Tyler says. "I'd like to uncover yours."

I try to hide my annoyance. I want to get to the root of my current issue, not dig into something useless. But I do my best to humor him.

"I started taking sleeping pills when I was little, after my mother died. My therapist prescribed them because I couldn't sleep without nightmares. As the years went on, I realized that I liked the way I could take them and slip away from reality. I starting using different kinds of drugs. I've never stopped, until recently."

Dr. Tyler stops scribbling and looks up.

"You've stopped using? Why?"

I nod. "I dumped everything out this past week. I don't want to feel numb right now. Like I keep telling everyone, I'm not an addict. This isn't a big deal."

He lays his pen down and studies me. "You don't consider drug use a big deal?"

I exhale and fiddle with my hands. "Of course it isn't legal and it isn't healthy. But what I meant is that I've never been addicted. I've barely craved anything since I dumped everything down the drain."

The doctor nods. "Some people do have more addictive personalities than others. It must be harder for you to become physically addicted to narcotics than others. That's in your favor. But I'd like to talk about why you've done drugs for so long if you haven't been addicted. You've just told me that you know it isn't healthy. So why would you inflict that kind of thing on your body if you could've stopped at any time?"

I stare at the floor, at my feet, at the patterned rug.

"I don't know. Because I craved oblivion, I guess. Because it's easier to fade out of reality than face it. My reality as a kid wasn't that great. My mother was dead and my father might as well have been, because he sure as hell checked out when my mother died."

The doctor nods. "It sounds like you're a little angry about the way he handled things."

I think about that. "Yes. I'm angry about it. He had a little kid to raise and not only did he pretty much neglect me and spend every waking hour at work, but he uprooted me and moved me across the country to live in a place where I didn't know anyone. He couldn't have made a worse choice. I needed normalcy, I needed to be around people that knew and loved me. But instead, I got nothing."

"So, you took drugs to cope?"

"I guess," I answer. "Although that makes it sound like a cop-out."

Dr. Tyler looks up. "It's not a cop out. Everyone has their reasons. Is that yours?"

"I suppose," I admit, and the feeling of admitting it is huge. I don't know why. But there is something freeing about saying it out loud. "I took drugs to cope with the void that I feel."

Does that make me a pussy, after all?

Dr. Tyler looks interested. "Did it help? Did it fill the void?"

I stare at my hands. "Yes."

"When the drugs wore off, did the void come back?"

"Yes," I answer quietly.

"Is the void still there?" The doctor is definitely interested now, his dark eyes staring into mine. I look away, at the wall, at the clock.

"Yes," I answer honestly.

It's quiet now, the only noise coming from Dr. Tyler's pen scratching across the page. I have the urge to reach over and grab it, to snap it into two. But I obviously don't. That would be crazy and I have no reason. I don't know where my sudden anger is coming from. I flex my fingers against my knee.

"You don't like talking to me, do you?" Dr. Tyler observes without lifting up his head.

"No, I don't."

"Then why are you here?"

I think about that, trying to come up with a somewhat polite answer.

"Because Mila asked me. And because I'm tired of the messed up dreams."

The doctor looks at me, his eyes kind. "What exactly bothers you the most about the dreams? It must be something substantial to get you to come see me."

My foot bounces up and down with nervous energy.

"I don't know. I think it's because my mom seems to want something and I'm not able to give it to her and it seems important. And because she turns into Mila and that freaks me out."

The doctor smiles. "I wouldn't worry about that aspect. Many people associate others in their dreams and it doesn't mean anything significant, at least regarding that person. Most of the time, it's symbolic of something else entirely. If I had to guess and at this point, it's an early guess, but if I had to guess, I would say that your mother turns into Mila because you have a deep-seeded fear that Mila is going to leave you like your mother did."

Shock slams into me and I suck in my breath. It's quite a concept and one that I hadn't thought of.

"My mother didn't leave me," I manage to answer. "She died. There's a difference."

"Yes, there is. But to a seven-year old boy who has been uprooted from everything he knows, there's not much difference. And it was at that point, when you were seven, that that idea was formed. In your head, she left you. And it was perfectly normal to feel angry about that. It's one of the normal phases of grief, actually. But since you blocked it out and didn't deal with it, you've never successfully gone through those stages. You might be stuck in the anger phase."

"Fuck," I breathe.

"Indeed," the doctor answers. "You've got some work ahead of you."

He scribbles some more and I pull at my collar as the room seems to get hotter and hotter. Then thankfully, my hour is over.

On the way out, the doctor scribbles something on a little paper and hands it to me.

"It's for Xanax," he says. "If you get the urge to use something again, to block out the stress or anger, get this filled instead."

I give him a hard look.

"I told you. I don't need this." I start to hand it back, but he holds up his hand.

"Take it," he urges me. "Just in case."

I roll my eyes.

"Whatever." I crumple it as I shove it into my pocket. "See you next week."

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