If You Stay

Chapter Nineteen


I know I'm being a pussy now.

But as I stare at Mila, at the beautiful girl in front of me, I can't help but know that I've never loved anything like I love her. It's true. The baffling thing is that she loves me back. That's mind-boggling...this beautiful girl wants me. I keep waiting to somehow fuck it up. But I haven't yet and she is still here.

She kisses me now, her lips wet from her bath and I inhale her, my hands running over her naked back.

"You're a wrinkled prune," I tell her, chuckling. I hold up the towel and she steps out into it. I wrap it her shoulders, then grab another one to dry her off.

"You're too good to me," she announces.

"Not possible," I answer.

God. I am a pussy.

She runs upstairs to slip into one of my t-shirts and I light the fireplace. We curl up on the couch in front of the fire and chat for at least an hour, watching the lake ripple under the silvery moon.

"This has been the perfect date," she murmurs, curled halfway onto my lap. "Even if we did almost burn down your house."

I chuckle. "Thank god I'm insured."

Her giggle is interrupted by a wide yawn. She slaps her hand over her mouth, embarrassed.

"Sorry! You wore me out tonight, I guess. Are you ready for bed?"

I nod and turn off the fire and follow her upstairs. I marvel in the fact that it seems so comfortable with her here. She makes it feel like home. And for some reason, that terrifies me and I don't know why. So I do what I always do when something bothers me. I shake it off and block it out.

I curl up behind Mila and wrap my arms around her. I fall asleep with my face buried in her hair.

But then I dream.


Even as I dream, I know that I'm dreaming. But I can't force myself to wake. It's been the same thing for months now.

I'm somewhere small and suffocating. There is barely any light, but I hear my mom.

"Please. Please. Please." She's begging.

Is she begging me?

I don't know and it's fucking killing me.

I try to call out for her, but my lips are frozen. I'm too afraid to call out.

Why am I afraid? What do I think will happen if I make a sound?

I don't know that, either.

She's begging again.

I hear my name.

And then I'm awake, gasping for breath.

"Pax," Mila is shaking me.

Mila was the one saying my name. She woke me from the dream.

I sit up, trying to stop my fucking heart from pounding, by taking deep breaths. What the hell?

"You're drenched," Mila says softly, pushing my hair away from my forehead with her cool hand. "The same dream?"

I nod. "I don't know what the fuck..."

She strokes my back and pulls me down to lie next to her. She enmeshes her fingers with mine, then lifts mine to her lips. She kisses the scar on my hand, then tucks it back up next to my chest.

"We need to figure out what this is," she tells me softly.

"I know," I answer. "But we're not going to figure it out tonight. Go back to sleep, babe. I'm sorry I woke you."

"Don't be sorry," she says quietly. "I just hate to see you so upset."

She snuggles against my back, stroking my arm. But it isn't long until her fingers fall limply against me and her breathing turns soft and even. She's asleep.

I enjoy her warmth pressed against me and I try to sleep. I count sheep. I recite song lyrics in my head. I watch the moon. Nothing works.

"Fuck," I mutter. I get out of bed as carefully as I can so I don't wake Mila. I glance down at her and she hasn't moved. Her lips puff out just a little as she breathes and I smile before I quietly walk away.

The house is silent as I make my way downstairs to the kitchen. I don't know what the fuck is wrong with me. Maybe it's my body's way of withdrawing itself from hard drugs. But that can't be it. I haven't used anything but whiskey in two months.


Now, there's an idea. If ever I needed it, it's now.

I grab a bottle from the cupboard and a tumbler. Then I decide to forgo the tumbler. I carry the bottle with me to the couch, where I collapse heavily and watch the water moving under the moon from the window. I take a swig of Jack. Then two. Then three.

Before I know it, half the bottle is gone.

And I'm finally sleepy.

I close my eyes.

When I wake, it's morning and the living room is filled with light.

Mila is sitting at my feet, looking fresh and perfect. She's already dressed and her hair is pulled back neatly with a band. She's holding a cup of coffee and another sits on the ottoman in front of us.

"I brought you coffee," she says. She glances at the half-empty bottle of whiskey. "I thought you might need it."

I squeeze my eyes closed to block out the light. "Thanks," I mumble. "I couldn't sleep. I thought the whiskey would help."

"I'm sure your head will thank you today," she answers wryly.

I grunt in response and pull a cushion over my head.

"What does Dr. Tyler say about your dreams?" she asks seriously. "He must have an opinion."

I lay there silently, trying to force my head to stop hurting. It doesn't work. In fact, it feels like it's going to split in two.

"He wants to hypnotize me," I finally admit, tossing the cushion down to my feet. "He thinks my mind is trying to protect me from something that I don't want to recall. He said that hypnosis might help me remember it so that I can deal with it."

Mila looks at me thoughtfully. And then, instead of getting freaked out like I was afraid she would, she nods.

"I think that's a good idea. You should do it. Can I come with you?"

I stare at her, shocked. "You'd want to?"

She shakes her head. "Of course. I don't want you to go through that alone. If something hurt you enough to make you want to forget it, I want to help you get through it. Let's chase these dreams away, Pax."

My heart literally overflows with love for this girl.

And I don't care if that makes me a pussy or not.



Pax hasn't said anything since he picked me up at the shop. Today's the day he gets hypnotized and I know he isn't happy about it. He's driving now with a set jaw and guarded expression. I reach over and grab his hand, curling my fingers around it.

"Are you okay?" I ask softly. He glances over at me.

"I'm sorry. I know I'm not fun to be around lately."

"You haven't been sleeping," I point out. "That's enough to make anyone grumpy. But I meant, are you okay right now...since we're on our way to Dr. Tyler's? Are you sure you don't mind if I come?"

I don't know why I'm nervous about that. I guess I'm a bit worried that that's why he's upset, because I asked to come with him. I don't want to pry or to nose into things that aren't my business. But I feel like Pax is my business. And it's killing me that something is tormenting him so much. I just want to get it figured out so we can fix it.

Pax glances at me again. "Of course it's okay if you come. I just don't know what to tell you to expect. During the past two visits, Dr. Tyler has put me partially under to acclimate me to hypnosis, but it won't be the same today. Today I'll be fully under and apparently I won't be aware of my real surroundings. If it works, I'll be totally immersed in my memories. So please tell me afterward if he makes me do anything dumbass, like act like a duck or something."

I laugh and shake my head. "I'm pretty sure Dr. Tyler won't do that. I don't know if the man has even laughed since 1985."

Pax smiles now finally and I breathe a sigh of relief.

"You're probably right," he agrees as he pulls up to the curb. "I don't think he'd know a prank if it punched him in the face."

We climb out and walk up to the building through the snow. Apparently, in addition to not having a sense of humor, Dr. Tyler also doesn't like to snow-blow his walk. He's right on time today though and he meets us wearing his standard tan tweed jacket.

"It's good to see you, Mila," he tells me as he shakes my hand. "It's been a while. Are you doing alright?"

I smile and nod. "I've been doing fine. Thank you for asking."

"And Pax," Dr. Tyler says, turning toward Pax. "How are you feeling today?"

"Frustrated," Pax admits, his jaw clenching. "I haven't been sleeping."

"Well, let's see if we can get that straightened out for you," the doctor says soothingly as he opens his notes. "Do I have your permission to record this session, in case we want to review it later?"

Pax nods. "Yes. That's fine."

Dr. Tyler smiles. "Great. Okay, as we discussed last week, Mila can't be in the room with us as she could be a distraction. She can sit in the adjacent room and watch the TV monitor in there. Okay?"

Pax nods again and I lean up on my tip-toes to kiss his cheek. "It will be okay," I tell him firmly, squeezing his hand. He smiles to hide his nervousness.

"Thanks, Red. Just remember to watch for quackery." Dr. Tyler pretends not to hear that as he leads me from the room and gets me settled in the room next door.

I sip the bottle of water in front of me and watch Pax and Dr. Tyler on the TV as they get settled into their chairs. Pax sprawls out in his normal way and the doctor sits with his legs crossed, his notepad balanced on his knee.

"Pax, are you ready?"

Pax nods as he stares at the red light on the recorder and it's as if he's staring into my eyes. I can see the anxiety on his face, even though he's trying to hide it. I really wish I could sit next to him, to hold his hand, to comfort him in some way, but it's impossible. So I sit in my own chair and watch, my hands twisting together.

"What I'm going to do is walk you through some mental imagery using verbal commands and repetition, just like we've done the past two times. Nothing will be different, we're just going to take it a little farther today. I need you to relax and breathe deeply. Can you do that?"

I notice that Dr. Tyler has changed his voice. It is even more soothing now, deep and slow. I decide that he has already started the process.

Pax nods. "I'm comfortable." He leans his head against the back of his seat and adjusts his legs.

"Good. Now I want you to close your eyes and breathe deeply. Deep breath in, deep breath out. Allow the air to rush over your tongue and past your lips, like you're breathing through a hollow reed. In, out. Deep breaths. Think about a time when you were up much too late and you grew very tired. You are that tired now, in fact. Your eyes are heavy, so very heavy and all you want to do is sleep."

The doctor's voice is smooth and calm and even I feel sleepy. I'm surprised.

"I want you to take a few more deep breaths and you are tired, very tired." He pauses and looks at Pax. "Are you tired?"

Pax nods. "Yes."

"Good. Now, I want you to think about that place, that place that you keep dreaming of. It is dark there. I want you to remember how you got there. As you remember, recite your memories aloud so that I can hear them. Are you there now?"

I look at Pax and find that he is so relaxed that his jaw is slack. His eyes are still closed, but I can see them moving behind his lids. I wish I could see whatever it is that he is seeing.

"I'm walking down a hall."

His voice is so stilted and abrupt that it startles me. A monotone. He doesn't sound like himself anymore. I watch him with morbid interest as he continues to speak.

"There is sunshine on the floor. I can see pieces of dust spiraling in the light."

"That's good," Dr. Tyler assures him. "You are doing very well. What else do you see?"

"I am stepping over a toy dump-truck with logs in the back. I almost tripped on a rug, but I didn't. There are pictures on the wall. This is my house."

"Good. Is it nice to be back home?" Dr. Tyler asks. I am utterly fascinated by this process. I have never experienced such a thing in my entire life. It's amazing.

"No. There's a noise. Something scary." Pax almost sounds like a child as he speaks.

He grips the arms of his chair, his fingers digging into the blue fabric. Dr. Tyler answers him calmingly.

"It's okay, Pax. Nothing can hurt you. You are safe here. Listen closely. Do you know what is scaring you?"

Pax pauses, seeming to listen.

"My mother is crying. I've never heard her cry before, so it scares me. I'm running now, all the way to the end of the hall to her bedroom. But her door is closed."

Dr. Tyler makes notes and then looks up. He looks as fascinated as I am.

"Can you open the door, Pax? Remember, nothing can hurt you now."

"Okay." Pax seems nervous. "I'm opening the door."

He startles now, and his face turns white as he flinches.

"What do you see, Pax?" Dr. Tyler asks quickly.

"My mom is sitting on the bed and her shirt is ripped. Her nose is bleeding, and the blood is spattered onto her shirt. There's a man next to her, and he is holding a gun pressed into her side. He's got yellow teeth."

The doctor is still. "Do they see you?"

"Yes," Pax answers in his strange monotone. "My mom is screaming for me to run. And she's saying, 'Not him, not him.' But the man grabbed me. He's holding my arm so tight that I can't feel my hand anymore. I can't move. I can't run."

"Does the man speak to you?" Dr. Tyler asks slowly.

"Yes," Pax replies. "He just said, 'Lookie here, kid. Can you make your mom behave? Can you help her be a good girl?"

Pax is silent for a minute. Even his foot, which he was banging against the chair, has gone still. He swallows.

"I want to tell him that she already is a good girl," Pax says. "But I know the man is a bad man, so I don't. My mom is still crying and she's got black streaks on her face."

It must be her mascara, I think. And I am stunned that Pax saw something like this. Who is the man with his mom?

He's got yellow teeth.

"What is your mom saying?" Dr. Tyler asks. Even his quiet voice seems very loud in their room right now. You could hear a pin drop. Since I am utterly frozen, my room is even quieter. I think I can even hear my own heartbeat.

"She's saying, 'Leave him alone. Please. I'll do anything. Just don't hurt him.' But the man is ugly and his breath smells. He just said, 'Anything? So, you'll behave now?'"

My heart is pounding, so hard that it almost hurts. What does the man want Pax's mother to do? I almost don't want to know and I feel a big sense of dread building in my chest.

"My mom nods and she says, 'But please let my son go. I don't want him to see.' She's sad but the man is laughing and he yanks my arm and pushes me into my mom's closet. I kneel down, but I can still see through the tilted slats."

Oh, god no. I want to shout at little boy Pax to look away, to not watch whatever is about to happen, but obviously that is impossible. Whatever he sees next is going to scar him forever. My hands shake as I wait.

Dr. Tyler swallows loudly and I can hear it. His mouth is dry. He's probably hesitant to hear this, as well.

"What does the man do? Can you see it, Pax?"

Pax nods slowly, still gripping the chair.

"The man is unbuttoning his pants and they fall on the floor. He's got a tattoo on his hip. It's a black snake, coiled up. It says, Don't Tread On Me. He's holding the gun to my mom's head now. He says, 'Do it. Or I will kill your son as you watch."

Holy hell.

Oh My God.

Please God, no.

I am completely filled with dread now, and my blood has turned to ice. I want to rush to Pax, to comfort him, to stop this progression of events, but I know that I can't. Because until he remembers, we can't help him. I grab the arms of my chair as he continues, a sick feeling in my stomach and tears dripping onto my shirt.

"What happens now, Pax?" Dr. Tyler asks quietly. "Please remember that you are safe now. The man cannot hurt you."

"The man's back is to me and I can't see my mom very well, but I know she's still there. I can see her moving. Her head is moving up, then down. Up, then down. She's crying still and I can see her shoulders shake. The man just slapped her hard. He just said, 'Stop crying, you fucking bitch. A blowjob never killed anyone!'"

Tears are streaking down my face at will now. I can't believe that Pax saw this. He must have been terrified. It makes my heart break and I ache to fix it for him. But how can anyone truly be fixed after seeing something like that?

"No one has ever hurt my mom before and I want to help. But I'm afraid. I'm the only one home, though. My dad is still at work and I know he would want me to be brave. I'm his little man and I'm supposed to take care of the house when he is gone. So I stand up and run out of the closet.

"I jump at the man with the gun, and he turns just as I grab his hand. The gun is cold and metal. I feel it in my fingers and then there is a noise so loud that my ears ring. My mom falls onto the bed and there is a lot of blood."

I am completely frozen.

Oh my god.

Oh my god.

Did Pax bump the trigger?

Oh. My. God.

"The man is screaming, 'What the fuck did you do?' and he shakes me. Then he screams more. 'You killed your mother!' My mom isn't moving and her eyes are open, staring at me. But she isn't seeing me. The man is right. I killed my mother."

My eyes are wide and I ache to lunge into their room and hold Pax. His eyes are watery and a tear finally breaks rank and slips down his cheek. I ache to go to him and Dr. Tyler must know that, because he turns and looks into the camera - at me.

"We've got to know," he says quietly. Calmly. He's talking to me.


I perch on the edge of my chair, my fist pressed to my mouth as they continue.

"What happens next, Pax?" Dr. Tyler asks. "Remember, you are safe. He can't hurt you now."

"I am crying and the man slaps me. He's screaming again. 'You fucking kid. This wasn't supposed to happen. You fucking little snot nose kid. I'm not going to jail for this. No fucking way. And there's only one way to make sure that doesn't happen.' He grabs me by the neck and shoves me onto the bed next to my mom. I look down and her blood is on my shirt. I grab her hand and hold it. The man is telling me to close my eyes. The gun makes a clicking sound. I close my eyes tighter. But nothing happens."

I realize now that I am holding my breath. This can't be happening. This can't have happened. It's too grotesque, too unreal. No wonder Pax is damaged. No. Fucking. Wonder.

I am numb as the doctor asks Pax what happens next.

"The man tells me that he can't kill a kid. He says he just can't do it. He takes my hand and holds it down tight. He squeezes it too hard, but I don't cry anymore. He pulls a big knife out of his pants and cuts my hand with it. He makes an X. Then he dips the knife in blood and traces over the cut again and says, 'Swear on your mother's blood that you will never tell what I look like. This X is to remind you that I have marked you. I can always find you, anytime, anywhere. If you ever tell anyone about me, I will kill you just like your mom.

"Then he says, 'You're the one who killed her. They'll take you away too, you know. And bad men in prison do bad things to little boys who killed their mothers. They'll hurt you over and over, every day.'"

Pax has tears running down his face now, like the seven-year old boy that he currently is in his memory. I am literally aching. I look at the doctor and I can taste my own tears.

"Please," I beg. "Bring him out of this."

I know the doctor can't hear me. But I can't help but beg anyway. For Pax. For the little boy who shouldn't have to see this anymore.

The doctor nods, finally. He must have decided the same thing.

"Pax, you are safe. When I tell you to wake up, you will wake up. And you will remember everything that you have told me today. Do you understand?"

Pax nods.

"Wake up."

Pax opens his eyes and they meet mine through the TV screen. His are filled with a horror that I have never seen before and I hope to god I never see again. I leap from my seat and burst into their room, dropping to my knees next to him, stroking his back, gripping his shoulders, holding him tight.

The man with the yellow teeth scarred him in so many more ways than one. He didn't need to carve up his hand to do it. His heart will be scarred forever. I honestly don't see how Pax will ever be able to overcome any of it.

The thought makes me weep.

"Are you okay?" I whisper to him, forcing him to look at me. It's a stupid question, really. Of course he's not okay.

He stares at me. "I don't know," he says honestly. "I just don't know."

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