Chapter 6, Luke
She had no idea about the impact she had on me.
When I looked down on her face in the morning, I felt as if she was holding my heart in her fist. I was either bound for real love or bound for heartache. Either way, I didn’t care. I was captivated by her. It was frightening to realize that, even asleep, she could make me do her bidding.
The irony was that it was wrapped up in the guise of me being her Daddy; me being the one in control.
The truth was, in fact, the very opposite. She had me. All of me. If I were any kind of man at all, I had to admit that.
After we had orgasmed at the same time, I pulled her to my chest. It was of those rare experiences that I could only remember reading about. Was I just thinking with my dick here?
It didn’t feel like it. It felt like it meant something.
It meant a lot of things to me.
I wanted to make her mine and brand her with my kisses so that she could never forget the way that she felt right now.
I pulled her onto my chest where she lay and uttered her candy-flavored, shuddering moans of afterglow.
It was just right.
We fell asleep that way. Me holding her tight. Gracie sheltered in my arms.
* * *
I looked at the clock. 3:00 a.m. Someone, somewhere had called this the witching hour. Was this why?
What was this?
How could we go from being safe in each other’s arms to straight-up terror in a matter of hours?
Gracie had awakened me with her irregular, panicky panting when she sat up straight in bed. Something, some unnamed and unseen thing, was stealing her innate human ability to inhale.
As if the thing keeping her from drawing a proper breath had teeth and claws, pinning its heavy self down on her chest, waiting for her to stop struggling. To stop breathing.
“Gracie. Gracie! What’s the matter?”
Her eyes were wide open in panic. She clutched at her throat.
“Hey, I’m with you. You’re here with me. Breathe in. Breathe in slowly. Look at me.” I turned on the light.
She looked at me, staring at me with wild eyes as if she were going to fly away any minute into the air where the bird of prey, Terror, reigned, grabbing her by the throat with its talons.
“It’s okay, Gracie. You’re safe. I’m here. You’re with Daddy. You’re safe.”
I pulled her onto my lap and stroked her hair, listening to her respiration take strides back toward regularity.
“Gracie, what is it? What’s making you wake up like this in the night? Is it what happened between us today?”
Her breaths had slowed down to emulate the deep inhaling taught by yoga breathing. Something that would calm a person and center them.
It reassured me.
“It’s just left-over stuff, Daddy.”
I continued to pet her, scared she would leave me again.
“Tell me when you can. I want to know.”
I held her and stroked her back, reassured by the sound of her return to regular breathing and worried that whatever monster had made her afraid could show its face again at any time.
“My therapist told me it comes from growing up in foster care.” There was a long pause while she continued to breathe deeply.
I could wait.
“She said that children in foster care have post-traumatic stress disorder twice as often as U.S. war veterans.” She let out a long shuddering sigh.
I hugged her close to my chest and held her there. “You’re safe now, princess. I’ll take care of you.”
She nestled closer to me. “It’s just something that happens sometimes. I guess that buttmunch today set it off again. Don’t worry, Daddy.”
It hurt my heart to hear her say that. It also fortified my desire to keep her out of harm’s way. She didn’t deserve any of what she had gone through in the past, nor today, and she deserved pampering to make her whole again.
Call me Captain Pamper.
We lay back down together, and she shoved her bum against me. I wrapped my arms around her from behind, and eventually the intentional deep breaths that I took seemed to coax her back to sleep.
* * *
I woke up feeling agitated, in spite of Gracie’s apparent good humor. She played the Dixie Chicks while washing the dishes after breakfast and belted out “Cowboy, take me away” totally carefree after sampling my country fries, bacon, and spinach omelets.
Well, bully for her.
This did not sit well with me. Being head over heels with a little girl who had a tendency to wake in a panic at night.
Ever since waking up together after Gracie’s panic attack, I had a feeling of unease that I just couldn’t shake, her seemingly untouched, but with me worrying beyond telling.
It made me grumpy and unbearable.
It wasn’t going to work. Her unpredictable outbursts of fright; my inherent need to keep her safe.
Her fit of fear somehow felt like it was my fault. I couldn’t protect her from internal threats.
I didn’t know how to approach the topic. I didn’t want to rain on her carefree demeanor this morning. Clearly, I was out of my league here.
It was finally time to see Nelly, no matter how much I hated to admit it.
I finally had something in my life that made the embarrassing effort worthwhile.
If not, I might lose Gracie.
My sister would be happy. At last, after all her years of harping, I would be seeing a therapist.
Heaven help me.
* * *
The small white cottage may as well have been Grand Central station. My worst nightmare.
“Hey, Luke! Fancy meeting you here.”
“Gordon. How are you, man?”
“Oh, jeez. I always feel like a million bucks or wrung out like a wet towel after a session with Nelly, lemme tell ya. Saved my marriage.” He gave an ostentatious wink. “I owe her the world. You’ve come to the right place, man.”
“Good to hear. I’m actually here on behalf of someone else, but good to hear that she’s worth her fee.”
“Huh? Never heard of anyone going to therapy for someone else, but hey: whatever works. You won’t be sorry. Seriously, Nelly is the shit.”
“Glad to hear it.”
I shuffled quickly inside, not wanting to be seen by any other residents of our small town. Gordon was enough, and, knowing him, word on the street would soon be that the owner of Lost Coast Solar was seeing a shrink.
I entered the cottage and saw butterflies everywhere. Butterfly wall stickers, butterfly mobiles, butterfly paintings.
“Well, hello,” greeted a short woman with short hair, wearing slippers and a big, lumpy cardigan sweater that was so big on her that the sleeves hung past her hands. Was I supposed to take someone who wore slippers to work seriously?
I knew this was a bad idea.
“Come in, please. Would you like water? Tea? A snack?” She pointed to a bowl which contained several small packages of almonds, peanuts, trail mix, healthy energy bars, cookies, and apples.
“No, thanks. I’m good.”
“Come in. Have a seat.”
* * *
“Okay. Let me get this straight. You came here on behalf of someone else?”
“Uh huh.” What was everyone’s deal? Seemed simple enough to me.
“Yeah, so… that’s not how this works, and I’m afraid I might not be able to help you. You see, in order to help you, we need to discover the things that you need help with. There is no such thing as therapy by proxy.” She smiled, steepled her fingers, and put her slippered feet up on the stool in front of her.
“Do you think that for the next 90 minutes you could agree to focus on you? To leave all of your distractions behind and not worry about anyone else for a bit?”
“I think that will be very hard for me.”
“So that’s something to notice; something for you to be aware of. Let’s start there.”