Read Out of the Blackness Online
Authors: Carter Quinn
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Gay
“Yep.” I hear the grin in his voice. “Number two was when you didn’t run away at the sound of my voice.” His long legs start to fold at the knees and I quickly duck all the way inside, pulling the door locked behind me. I hear his delightful laugh through the metal and realize there’s a genuine smile on my lips for the first time in weeks.
The week passes slowly. Monday I have an appointment with my doctor, who chastises me for the way I stopped taking my anxiety meds. She’s a nice enough lady and she takes her job seriously, but she doesn’t get me at all. After two years, she still seems befuddled when Sam answers most of the questions she poses. Some of his observations surprise even me, and I realize again how much attention he pays to my moods and health. It makes me feel vaguely guilty for taking up so much of his energy. In the end, Dr. Farris agrees to change my anxiety meds to something that shows the nightmare side effect further down the list. Just in case, though, she also issues three refills for the Ambien after Sam assures her I am not abusing it.
Noah Yates continues to haunt the fringes of my work life. I see him Friday, Saturday, and Tuesday for a few minutes each. Sometimes I notice him trying to stifle a laugh while pretending to shop when he’s really listening to the almost incessant banter between Molly and me. I know the quality and spontaneity of my sense of humor dims when Yates is around, but it’s out of self-protection. Sometimes he engages Molly or Brian in conversation and tries to drag me into it, but I’m always careful to keep just enough distance from them I can just walk away when he tries that. He seems to keep a close eye on the alley and feels it necessary to at least say hello when he finds me back there. He hasn’t talked about having lunch together again, but I know it’s coming. Molly seems absolutely taken by him, which doesn’t seem to bother Brian in the least. I’m the farthest thing from an expert on heterosexual relationships, but Brian’s lack of jealousy surprises me. Is it because he knows Noah is gay?
Wait. No one ever said Noah Yates is gay. Yes, Molly said he thinks I’m cute, but puppies are cute, too. Maybe he means cute in an entirely nonsexual way. That would be good, actually. Not that it’s possible anyway, but the last thing I need is that big galoot thinking of me and sex in the same sentence. The very thought nearly makes me hyperventilate my potato soup.
Instead of contemplating the possibility of Noah Yates wanting to have sex with me, I allow my mind to touch on the very real threat of my upcoming therapy appointment. I’ve done it before, this head shrinking business. It was a less than successful venture. In fact, it was an unmitigated disaster. After they took Tommy away, the state insisted I submit to counseling. But even at that tender age, I already knew that the second surest way to end up bruised and bleeding was to speak. The shrink stared at me for hours while I concentrated on twisting my fingers together in my lap—all of it in complete silence. After five seemingly endless sessions, the doctor had declared an end to the experiment.
Years later, after Sam rescued me from the last year of group home living, he insisted I try again, with absolutely the same results in only three sessions.
I know this time will be different because Sam has found this psychologist, a Kendall Moorhead, through the police department. He has already briefed her on some of my past. She has even given permission for Sam to sit in with me as long as I was comfortable with it. I know I won’t be able to keep silent with Sam there. Even if I don’t answer, he can. He knows everything about me—well, all but the darkest thoughts that suffocate me.
The chime on the door interrupts my train of thought and I look around the edge of the stack I’m straightening for the thousandth time this week to see Yates standing there scanning the store like he’s looking for someone. Idiotically, I think to call out to him in case it’s me he’s looking for, but then sanity takes hold once again and I move to out of his line of sight to continue my straightening. Against my better judgment, I am beginning to believe the man doesn’t want to hurt me, but a decade and a half of training have taught me not to listen to those little voices inside me. Even if he doesn’t want to hurt me at this moment, once he realizes who I am, sees the real me, he’ll be just like the rest of them. It’s the way of my life. So I have to concentrate on the reality—Sam, Kaleb, and Molly are the only people I can completely trust. Everyone else I have to keep at a safe distance, both physically and mentally.
The sound of his voice is loud enough to break through the cacophony of thoughts scrambling my brain. I’m startled enough I push the book I’ve just placed all the way to the back of the case, causing the ones on both sides of it to collapse onto my arm. Surprised, I jerk my head in his direction and see the smile on his handsome face and the twinkle in those stunning hazel eyes before I force my own back to the mess before me. “Hi,” I say softly, getting back to work.
“Avery.” I hear the pleading tone in his voice but choose to ignore it. He’s leaning against a short stack that runs perpendicular to the tall one I’m working on, keeping several feet and hundreds of books between us. I’m thankful for the safety that provides and I wonder for the second time if he knows this is what I need, or if it’s just happenstance.
I sigh and turn in his direction, keeping my eyes on the shelves of books he’s leaning against—science fiction, authors G – I. “Yes?”
“How are you? I haven’t seen you for a couple of days.”
I shrug and nod. I still can’t figure him out. If he doesn’t want to use me as his own personal living punching bag, why does he keep coming around? I’ve said maybe two dozen words to him in all of his combined visits, so it’s not like he’s fascinated with my conversational skills. He’s observant enough to know his very presence drives me to the edge of my nerves, yet that doesn’t keep him from coming around repeatedly.
“I’m glad to hear it. I’ve been worried about you.” I hear the smile in his voice and wonder what put it there.
I frown and turn back to my job, absolutely at a loss about what to do with that new information. “I’m fine,” I say, my voice barely above a whisper.
“So how about that lunch then?”
Immediately I begin shaking my head no, terrorized by the mental image of being alone with him. I back away from the stack, silently calculating my escape route.
“Avery.” Yates’s voice is low and soothing, just the right tone to arrest my flight for a moment. “Molly and Brian can be there. I don’t want to scare you, but I
want to spend time with you somewhere other than the alley.”
I’ve known this was coming, as much as I’ve tried to deny it. No matter how much I want him to, it doesn’t look like Yates is going to leave me alone any time soon. I have three choices—have Sam come chat with him, deal with it, or find another job. But where will I find another job where I won’t be the freak? How will I possibly survive the interview process? I was lucky that Walter knew Sam, so I had two things in my favor when I found this job—Walter was one of us and Sam could tell him a little bit about me before we met. I know I won’t have that sort of luck again. And working somewhere without Molly around to kick butt for me? It wouldn’t be nearly as much fun, not to mention the damage it would do to my already fragile grip on sanity.
I manage to rein in my runaway thoughts long enough to notice Yates is still standing there awaiting my response. “Why?” I ask, risking another glance in his direction.
I see the smile spread his gorgeous lips before I force my eyes away. “Because I like you, Avery, and I think you might like me, too, just a little bit, if you’d give me a chance. I don’t want to hurt you, buddy. I know you don’t believe me yet, but you will. I’d like very much to be your friend.”
I feel my head shaking no, but I don’t remember setting it in motion. This is everything I’ve feared since Yates sat down beside my car. He’s going to break me one way or another: if not physically, then surely emotionally. I can’t let him in, even if I want to, which I don’t. No one but Sam and Kaleb can see the real me—especially not Noah Yates. Even Molly only gets to know certain information. Because as much as I will deny it if pressed, Noah Yates seems to be a decent person, but even seemingly decent people kick dogs and throw out the trash. And as soon as he figures out who I really am inside, that I shouldn’t be breathing, I know he’ll make me pay for it. Instead of saying any of this—because really, how can I?—I say, “No, thank you.”
Very carefully, I force myself to study the pattern in the carpet as I walk away into the stockroom, keeping my ears alert for pursuing footsteps. He doesn’t follow me. I turn back to look through the stockroom door windows to see him grinning at me, holding up four fingers.
What the heck did he win this time
, I wonder.
stare resolutely at my hands clasped tightly in my lap and wonder if this could possibly be the world’s lumpiest couch. It’s certainly not comfortable, but I suppose that’s sort of the point. It’s therapy; it’s not supposed to be comfortable.
Sam and I have been sitting in Dr. Moorhead’s office for twenty minutes while she gets basic information about me from Sam. I can’t speak; the terror is just too close to the surface. I realize this woman isn’t here to hurt me, but eventually she’s going to want to delve deep into the recesses of my brain and dig around for my most painful secrets. I want nothing more than to get up and leave, but I know Sam won’t let me. I’m at least grateful Sam didn’t find a male therapist. I know I would have already bolted if he had. Dr. Moorhead—Kendall, she insists—is a tall, thin woman with long waves of red hair. It’s not a brassy red, but something darker and richer, the color I’d like to have if my hair were red. Luckily, though, my own hair is a thick, dark brown. I cut it so it mostly hides my eyes, especially when I’m looking down, like I am now. I can feel her gaze on me as I fidget and I wonder what color her eyes are. Probably green, but certainly not the same hazel as Noah’s.
Most of the get-to-know-you session passes without me saying a word and I remember practically nothing from it, just the impression that Dr. Moorhead is calm and relaxed. She’s clearly in control of her world but doesn’t seem to feel the need to make sure everyone knows it. I wonder how many sessions of silence I can get away with before she dismisses me like the ones before her have done.
After the initial session is over, Sam takes me to Chipotle for a burrito, one of my favorite things in the fast-food world. Unfortunately, I’m still too anxious from the session to be able to eat it. At home, Sam works a puzzle with me like he sometimes does, and lightly quizzes me about my impressions of the shrink. I try to give vague affirmative answers but he knows me too well.
“She’s here to help you, buddy. I know you don’t really believe that yet, but it’s true. You know I wouldn’t ask you to see her if I didn’t think she was going to help, right?”
I nod, concentrating on the puzzle so I don’t have to see the disappointment in his eyes. Ever since the book incident, when I told him everything, he’s been on a crusade to fix what’s broken in me. He doesn’t understand that it’s not something inside me that’s broken, it’s me. I’m broken.
“Avery,” Dr. Moorhead finally says as she leans back in her office chair and readjusts the legal pad on her lap, “I’m here to help you. You know Sam found me. You don’t think he would send you to me if he didn’t think I could help, do you?”
Reluctantly, I shake my head in the negative. Of course she would invoke Sam’s name and practically his very words—the one sure way to get me to cooperate. It’s two days after the first session and I’m reluctantly back again. We’ve just spent twenty minutes in silence. I’ve concentrated on wringing my hands together in my lap while she stares at me.
“Okay, then.” I can hear the ring of small victory in her voice, but for some reason it doesn’t offend me. “Sam has given me some of your history, but I’d like to verify some facts and get the rest from you. Can you do that for me?”
I nod slightly and begin to answer her questions. Yes, I turned twenty-two on April 23. Yes, I spent most of my childhood in the Englewood group home. No, I didn’t have any friends except Sam and Joey. Yes, I remember my mother dropping me off at the fire station. No, I’m not going to talk about that or what came before.
When I become visibly agitated at the mention of my mother and younger half-siblings, Dr. Moorhead very graciously backs off and says we can talk about them in another session. I don’t bother to correct her. Instead, she probes around into my history at the group home and my relationships with Joey and Sam. I answer all her questions quietly, with as few words as possible. I don’t know this woman. I’m not about to offer up my darkest secrets for her to judge, even if Sam found her. When she asks how Joey’s suicide made me feel, I’m done for the day. Without a word, I get up and walk out of her office, ignoring her calls. Fighting back the torrent of tears, I brush past Sam, who has risen from his seat in the outer office, and continue right out into the hallway.
I’m somehow able to hold myself together until I get to the stairwell. I burst through the doors and break down sobbing. I find my way down to the lowest level, where I tuck myself into the corner, as far under the stairs as I can get, curling up to wrap my arms around my shins and bury my face between my drawn-up knees. Those horrid questions have brought it all back so clearly. I can practically feel every bruise Carl ever left on me. My heart feels split in two and bleeding agony just as it did when I first learned of Joey’s death. And just like then, I hate Joey for not taking me with him. And I hate myself for hating him. Joey was my only friend before Sam. I loved him and he loved me. We were the same. Together, we could face anything, even Tommy Blevins and his gang of thugs. Together, we would doctor each other’s wounds and pretend we would one day be free of all the pain. Except now, Joey really is free of it. And just like my father and my mother, Joey hadn’t loved me enough to keep me with him. He’d found his escape and left me here to suffer more and more. And I know Sam is preparing to follow suit. Sam, who has protected me for more years than I have fingers, is only a few short months—if that—from leaving me, too. I know it. He will marry Kira and I will be alone again. But this time, I will really and truly be alone because Sam will have a happy new life without room for a severely damaged little brother. I want to damn Joey for leaving me, but I can’t. I feel the pain of his absence every day, but he was smaller and even more fragile than me. He deserves his blessed relief. All I deserve is whatever’s coming to me.