Together We Heal by Chelsea M. Cameron

  Cake and pizza and soda were consumed and we all took off our skates. Unlike the others I got to put mine back in the box and take them with me. I almost couldn’t wait to try them out again. Maybe Max and I could go skating in a parking lot or something when we weren’t working. Because we’d be working our asses off this summer to pay for the apartment and then for tuition for next year.

  After the roller rink, we headed back to Stryker’s, where there was a banner that said: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TRISH, YOU AWESOME BISEXUAL.

  I just gave Simon a look.

  “I’m just so happy about it,” he said, giving me a huge hug and whirling me around.

  “Okay, okay,” I said. “Put me down.” He did and we had the second round of the party with movies and popcorn and lots of blankets and couples cuddling.

  It was a sweet end to my birthday.

  “You look like the happiest girl in the world,” Max said when we beat our way into the car again. He was going to have to pop those fucking balloons ASAP.

  “I think I might be the happiest girl in the world. Never thought that would fucking happen.” I didn’t generally think of myself as a happy person, but it was getting better. It made me think of what Beth said to me. To not let the bad stuff kill all the good stuff in my life.

  “It’s a good look for you. I intend to make it my life’s mission to keep you that way.”

  “Sounds like a plan,” I said.

  I WAS EXHAUSTED by Sunday night and I still had massive amounts of studying and paper-writing to do. I wasn’t like Audrey, who was always, like, a month ahead of everything. Not that I liked to get behind, but I was definitely going to be pushing it to get everything done and get my brain crammed full of enough stuff by the time finals happened.

  Max and I were both stressed, so we sniped at each other a lot, but then we had make-up sex, so it worked out.

  On Monday we filled out the application on the apartment. Now came the waiting. If we didn’t get approved, then we were going to crash with Lottie and Zan for a while.

  I didn’t ask Max what he’d told his parents. I knew his mother had called at least twice and he hadn’t answered. It didn’t take a genius to know that when his phone rang and rang and he didn’t answer it, the call was from one of his parents.

  I asked Beth about it at our next session. I’d gone down to seeing her every two weeks. I hoped I’d get to keep seeing her in the summer, but I wasn’t sure if that was going to happen.

  “I think he’d get a lot from coming and talking to you, but I don’t know how to bring it up,” I said. She hadn’t been writing much on her clipboard today.

  “Well, you could tell him how much progress you’ve made and what a positive experience it has been. Tell him how much you care about him and that he might also benefit.” I wasn’t sure how he would take it. It was one thing for me to be in therapy, but it was another to suggest he go.

  “I don’t know. I wish he’d just say that he wants to come and then I could just encourage him.” Beth smiled. I still hadn’t gotten used to how beautiful she was. Like she stepped right from the pages of a magazine, or out of a movie set.

  “That would make it easier, wouldn’t it?” she said.

  “Pretty much.”

  “WHAT ABOUT THESE with these?” Trish asked as we looked at some dishes at the dollar store. She held up some off-white plates and then some others that were a bright turquoise. They’d look nice stacked up together, so I put them in the cart. Neither of us really cared about decorating aesthetics, so we were just picking whatever was cheapest and didn’t look like it belonged to someone’s grandmother.

  My phone rang and I checked to see who it was before I ignored the call.

  “That’s your mom, isn’t it?” Trish said as I pushed the cart further down the aisle toward the mugs.

  “It doesn’t matter,” I said, picking up mugs that would match the plates. “These?” She nodded.

  “Can I tell you something without you taking it the wrong way?” she asked.

  I looked away from the mugs and back at her. She didn’t have her contacts in today and I did a little bit of a double take every time I saw her blue eyes. Today they were accented with smoky eye shadow. Shit, she was gorgeous. Wait, what was the question?

  “Um, I don’t know. That depends. I guess I won’t know until you ask me so…” She leaned on the cart and bit her lip.

  “I mean this in the best possible way and because I love you. But I think you might benefit from going and talking to Beth. Or someone else.” She cringed, as if she was preparing for me to yell at her or something.

  The truth was that I’d thought the same thing myself, but hadn’t had the balls to actually follow through on it. I knew how much it had helped Trish and I wanted that too.

  “No, I’m not offended. I guess I’ve thought about it. Just haven’t pulled the trigger yet,” I said, lifting one shoulder. She seemed shocked.

  “Really? I thought you’d be opposed to the idea.”

  “Why?” That didn’t make any sense.

  “I don’t know. I thought maybe you were okay with it for me, but not for yourself? It seems silly to say that now, but I just didn’t know.” I went to her and put my arms around her.

  “I’m not mad, I promise. And I love that you were thinking of me and that you care about me,” I said, and she rubbed my back.

  “You’re just the best boyfriend, you know that?” I couldn’t help but smile. It made me feel like a billion bucks when she said stuff like that.

  “Well, I’d fight with you, but why bother?” The hugging went to her pinching my nipple between her fingernails and I had to bite back a cry of pain.

  “You watch your words, Maxwell.”

  We kept shopping and then checked out. It took us several trips to get everything from the trunk of my car into Zan and Lottie’s. Trish and I had commandeered a corner of their apartment for our crap. I couldn’t believe they were okay with the piles of stuff, but they seemed to be.

  “I’m so excited you’re going to be so close to us,” Lottie said as she dusted the bookshelves. That was a full time job for her. She had so many damn books and Zan had added to her collection.

  “That’s if we get the place. Don’t jinx us,” I said and Trish rolled her eyes.

  “I have a good feeling about it,” Lottie said, pointing her duster at us. “I always trust my gut feelings.”

  “You do, do you?” Zan said, coming out of the bedroom and taking the duster from her so he could get the upper shelves and tops of the bookcases.

  “Yes, I do. Even when I wanted to hate you, my gut wouldn’t let me. So there.” She scrunched up her nose at him and he bopped it with the duster.

  “Sorry, you had a little something on your nose, L,” he said and she glared at him.

  When it came to relationships, Trish and I had a lot to live up to. All our friends seemed so happy and in love all the time.

  “Okay, we should get back,” Trish said, tugging at my arm. It looked like Zan was going to start using that duster on a few other places on Lottie’s body and Trish and I didn’t need to witness that.

  “So if I was to do this therapy thing, how do I do it? Do I just go in and ask for an appointment?” I asked when we got back to her dorm room. I could count the number of times I’d seen her roommate this semester on one hand. If I hadn’t seen her, I would have thought she was a figment of Trish’s imagination.

  “Um, pretty much. I think she’s expecting you, so it should be no problem.” Now that I was thinking about it seriously, it did feel right. I really hoped I was doing the right thing.

  “Now enough about that. Come and kiss me,” she said, her arms out and her lips puckered.

  “Who am I to deny you?” I said and crossed the room.

  MAX CALLED ME in the middle of class the next day and his message was rushed, but the gist was that we’d officially gotten the apartment.

  I might have done a little fist pump like Judd Nelso
n in The Breakfast Club in the middle of the quad while several people stared at me like I was crazy. But one guy did it in return as he walked by. At least that guy got it.

  I wasn’t supposed to see Max until he came home from work, but I couldn’t wait, so I surprised him at work with a cup of coffee, a scone and a whole lot of kissing.

  “I’m so fucking excited,” I said as I threw my arms around him.

  “I know! I can’t believe that a few weeks ago, this was only a dream and now it’s happening.”

  “I brought you a little something,” I said, pointing to the coffee and bag with the scone in it.

  “You are the sweetest thing ever,” he said and I made a face.

  “Don’t let me hear you spreading that around.” He stuck his tongue out at me before taking a sip of coffee.

  “I wouldn’t dream of it,” he said, tapping my nose. “But I should probably get back to work. When I get back we can start planning. Fuck, now we have to buy furniture.” I laughed, because that was a pretty good problem to have.

  “SO I WENT in and made an appointment with Beth for next week. It’s right in the middle of finals, but whatever. No time like the present. And I also have something else to tell you.” That kind of scared me. I didn’t want to know that there were any skeletons in his closet.

  He reached under the mattress and pulled out a stack of papers.

  “You inspired me to write shit down and so that’s what I’ve been doing when I can’t sleep. You were right. It does help a lot.” I sat down next to him on the bed.

  “So are you telling me that you have a secret I don’t know about and you’ve written about said secret on those pages?” I asked, hoping that wasn’t the truth. Hell, I could barely handle my own, let alone someone else’s.

  “No! No. Fuck, no. I just wanted to tell you that if you find these pages, or if you wake up on the middle of the night and I’m writing, this is what it is. Not some weird anti-Semitic manifest or something.” I snorted.

  “Well, that’s good to know. And I’m glad you don’t have any more secrets. I mean, other than stupid stuff like you peed your pants in third grade.” I hadn’t filled him in on all the details of my past, but Beth had helped me understand that I didn’t need to tell Max every single minute detail. My past was finally going to start staying there.

  “Uh no. I did not pee my pants in third grade. Second, yes.” I’d only meant that as a joke.

  “Really?” I asked and he nodded, his face a little red.

  “Yeah, well it happens to the best of us,” I said, patting his arm. “And I’m okay if you keep those kinds of secrets to yourself. Sometimes there are things we’d rather our significant other not know about.” I had plenty of those. Granted, he was going to figure out some stuff when we were in an apartment together. Yes, we spent every night together now, but that was a whole other thing. We’d be sharing a bathroom. I’d find out about his flossing habits. It was going to be weird. Awesome, but weird.

  “Are you excited about moving in with me?” he asked, as if he’d been reading my mind. He did that a lot.

  “No, not really,” I said, feigning indifference.

  “Oh, hell no,” he said, grabbing my wrists and then pinning me back on the bed, straddling my hips.

  Well now. I wasn’t indifferent anymore.

  “Are you… excited about moving in with me?” He ground his hips against mine and kept my hands above my head. What… what was going on? What was the question? Well, I only had one answer.

  “Yes,” I said. It was the only thing I could say.

  His smile was slow and sexy. If he wasn’t already on top of me, I would have tackled him.

  “Thought so.” I had no idea what we were talking about. The blood was rapidly leaving my brain and going to other places in my body.

  Max let go of my wrists, but only to start to lift my shirt and kiss my stomach.

  Yeah, I was going to enjoy living with him.

  MY APPOINTMENT WITH Beth was on Wednesday of finals week. I had a paper due that morning and a test afterward, so my brain was pretty much dead. I’d finished my paper around five in the morning, an hour after Trish had finished one of hers. It probably wasn’t the best thing I’d ever written, but it was done and that was what mattered.

  I was stressed out as I sat in the waiting room. Then a beautiful woman came around the corner and I didn’t need anyone to tell me that was Beth. Yeah, she was definitely traditionally beautiful. Not anywhere near Trish, but no one was.

  “Max?” she asked.

  “That’s me,” I said, giving her a weak smile and standing.

  “If you’ll just follow me,” she said, motioning down the hall to her office.

  Things were a little awkward when I sat down and she pulled out a clipboard and a pad of what looked like legal paper.

  “So, Max, what brings you in today?” I’d asked Trish how the first session was supposed to go and she’d given me the down low.

  “Well, I’m guessing you already know who I am,” I said with a laugh. She smiled. I’d never seen teeth that white. They had to be fake. No one had teeth that pretty naturally.

  “I’m not at liberty to divulge what goes on in my sessions. I can’t even confirm or deny that someone is a patient, so let’s just start from square one, okay?” That made sense and I was glad that she took her job so seriously. Also, she could probably get sued if she divulged information. So there was that too.

  “Okay, cool. That’s fine. Well, I’m here because my girlfriend thought it would be a good idea and I’ve seen the progress she’s been making in therapy and I wanted to have that too.” She scribbled a few things down.

  “That sounds great, but you didn’t tell me exactly why you’re here. What made you think you needed therapy?” Fuck, where to start?

  I had to gather my thoughts for a moment so I made sure I said the right thing.

  “I guess… I’m here mostly because of my parents. They’re not supportive of me being in school. At all. They refused to give me any money and they’ve tried to bribe me to come back home.” Wow, it was good to say that out loud.

  She nodded and listened and didn’t tell me I was wrong. The words just kept coming out of my mouth and I couldn’t stop once I’d started.

  “I guess I’m pissed off,” I said later on. “I’m mad at them.” I didn’t realize it was true until I said it out loud.

  “That’s okay. You’re allowed to feel the way you feel. All your emotions are valid.” Good to know.

  Our session was almost over when I asked her what I should do about my mother calling.

  “I think you should talk to her. Listen to what she has to say, but calmly reiterate why you’re in school and that it’s a positive thing and that it’s made you happy. I can tell from what you’ve said that your parents do love you, but they’re not really doing it in the way you need.” That was exactly it. She made everything sound so simple.

  “I’ll try that.” Hopefully it would work. It might not, and I’d have to accept that. I was going to have to deal with the fact that this was a relationship I might have to walk away from.

  She shook my hand as I got up to leave and said it was nice to meet me.

  “Trish says hello, by the way,” I said and she gave me a wink before I headed out to the front desk to make another appointment.

  “HOW WAS GETTING your head shrunk?” Trish asked when she came back from her exams.

  “I never understood that phrase, but anyway, it was good. You were right about her.” Her eyes narrowed a little and she turned away and started messing with her bag. What was that about?

  “Good. I’m glad you liked her.”

  “Yeah, she was really soothing. And the way she explained things, made them seem possible, you know?” She still wouldn’t turn and face me.

  “And she’s pretty sexy too, huh?” she said in a hard voice. Oh. Shit. She’d misinterpreted what I’d said.

  “I suppose most guys would th
ink she was. But I’m not most guys and she’s not you. The only woman on this planet that I want to have sex with is you.” She looked up and I could tell she didn’t believe me. Her self-confidence and trust in me were still a work in progress. Hell, we were both a work in progress.

  “You, Trish. Only you, wild girl.” I put my hand under her chin and lifted her face so our eyes would meet.

  “I like hearing you say that. It’s hard to believe it still. But I’m trying.” I smiled and brought my forehead to hers.

  “I know you are. We’re both trying and that’s all we can ask for.”

  AT LAST WE reached Friday and the end of exams. We all decided to have a party to celebrate. Trish and I wanted to have it at our new apartment, but we couldn’t move in just yet because the other tenants hadn’t vacated. They were due to move out on the weekend and then on Monday we could start bringing our stuff in. We still didn’t have a bed or any large furniture, but Simon was working on it. He’d already started on a TV stand and a pair of nightstands for us. Trish and I tried to pay him, but he said it was our housewarming present and he had gotten the pieces from Goodwill and was going to spruce them up for us.

  “If we’re not careful, he’s just going to furnish our whole place,” Trish said.

  “I would, if you let me,” he said. “Don’t threaten me with a good time.”

  Stryker got out the kiddie pool that I’d used for the beach date with Trish and we filled it up with water and stuck our feet in and pretended we were on a beach in the apartment parking lot.

  “I feel like my brain has actually been squished,” Lottie said. Zan reached up and started massaging her head.

  “Oh, that feels good. Don’t stop.” Will made a noise and then covered his ears.

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