Dr. Franic was taking too long to write her notes. The scratching of her pen was making my leg bounce.
"Did you go to Richard's trial yesterday?" she asked without looking up.
I shook my head. Black eyes met mine at last. "No, I didn't."
"He was found guilty of all three charges. Councilman Colin let the lawyer give his defense, and it took the council about three minutes to deliberate. He was sentenced to two-hundred-fifty years."
"He needs to sit out in the sun."
"You think he deserves the punishment, yet you didn't attend the sentencing. Why is that?"
I shrugged. My fingers laced together. "I don't know. Didn't wanna see his face."
She breathed through her nose and folded her arms over her notebook, leaning forward. "You haven't been diving deeply enough into yourself, Mr. Palmer. My entire job is to help you process your traumas, and not going to the trial of the man who's tried killing you twice is related to that trauma. You've been seeing me for two months now, and I feel like I know less about you than when you first came in. I can find you a different therapist if we're not clicking, but you have to let me know."
I swallowed hard. Rubbed the puckered scar on my throat out of habit. Ran my hand up my head, grazing my horns. "I've never been good at therapy. I usually see my psychiatrist for my Klonopin, then call it a day."
"Is that still working for you?"
Another shrug. "I was able to lower the dosage last week."
"Do you think your anxiety has improved?"
"It's more tolerable. Like a background hum instead of this…soul-sucking creature that sits on my chest all day." I raised a finger. "And before you ask, yes, I think these stupid sessions have something to do with it."
"I'll take that as the highest compliment from you." Another note was added. "Do you also think your support system at home has been helpful?"
"Yeah. Cade's been working from home and keeping me company while I'm on sabbatical. Goldie's been promoted to management, so she's busy operating MMES but still Facetimes me whenever she gets a break and comes over on weekends."
I rubbed my throat again, feeling the diagonal scar tissue. "He's the healthiest relationship I've ever been in, and I'm so fucking scared that I'm going to sabotage it somehow. Cade can't leave me because she's my sister, and Goldie has seen me at my worst so she knows what I'm like. But Felix…"
"You're already preparing for the worst."
"And I hate it. I'm waiting for the day when he realizes what kind of person I really am, and he's going to leave me."
Dr. Franic put her legal pad on the coffee table between us and crossed her leg. "What kind of person do you think you really are?"
"A shitty one."
"I need more than that."
"I'm useless. An actual waste of the elements I'm made of. My dad's told me on multiple occasions that I was a waste of his sperm, and it's harsh, but he's not wrong. I think the only person I hate more than Richard is myself." Tears burnt my eyes. "And I'm waiting for Felix to feel that way, too."
She readjusted her posture, both feet flat on the ground. "Mr. Palmer, from the way you've described Felix, he's a positive force in your life. You said that he's been nothing but good for you. I would believe that he feels just as strongly about you as you do for him."
"But that's the thing. I'm going to drag him down, and he's gonna get sick of it."
"Then we'll work on your self-esteem. You're an accomplished, clever man, and you need to give yourself more credit for that. What I'm asking you to do until our next session is find things about yourself that you like. It can be anything at all. Just five things. We'll start small. Bring it with you next Wednesday."
Cade was waiting for me outside of the office. Like she always did, she greeted me with a bone-crushing hug, as if that would expel any negative vibes I had accumulated during my session. "Shelby's?"
She did me the favor of waiting until we made it from the Mazerene Mental Health Services building to Shelby's Diner before she started asking me how it went.
"I have to make a list of things I like about myself before next Wednesday."
"That shouldn't be too hard." She hid her face behind the menu, as if she didn't already know what she wanted. "Your natural curiosity and nosiness led you to being a damn good detective."
"I think that was more backhanded than you meant."
She shrugged. "Did you two discuss returning to work?"
I rolled my eyes, knowing I was about to step on a landmine. "I'm still starting back next month."
"I don't think it's a good idea."
"Goldie already said she's going to keep me and Felix on the same team for a little while. I'll be fine with him there." He had willingly stepped down as lead investigator to be on the same level as me, freeing up the space for Goldie. She took it with plenty of apprehension
Cade pulled her lips into that judgmental expression she excelled in, the "Mom-look" we started calling it. "I don't think that's a good idea, either. What if something happens to him while you're in the field?"
"We're doing minor things for the first few months. No more murder investigations until November, per Felix, Goldie, and the entire council." Akiya had a few choice words for me once he knew I was okay. He at least waited for me to get home before lecturing me via Skype about my negligence towards self-preservation.
Cade placed her hand over mine, eyes softer now. They were a hazy blend of cardinal and chocolate. They were tired. "I'm worried for you, Mew. Since that night, you've not been yourself. It's like someone snuffed out a flame in you." Her throat jumped. "It reminds me of the first time with Richard all over again."
That hurt. I didn't want to acknowledge how right she was, though. Something within me had been snuffed out. The depression had filled in the hole my lessened anxiety had left. I knew it. But it was knowledge I was better off without.
"At least we know what to expect, then," I said. "Give me a few months, and I'll start to be okay again. Like last time."
She didn't hide the uncertainty on her face. The waiter was my only saving grace from any further questions.
We ate in relative silence.
Cadence insisted staying the night on Mazerene that night, claiming she had new files she had to dig through to update personnel files. I think she was wanting me to have a change of scenery that wasn't my bedroom or Felix's living room.
The view of the Mazerene nighttime was helpful. Bright lights speckled the island, welcoming the nightlife, operating at all times of the day for every species to be able to go about their lives.
Felix could have conducted his life easier if we lived here instead of rural Georgia.
I wondered when he was going to realize that, too. The sand was falling through the timer, ticking away the moments when he realized he didn't have to deal with me anymore. He had the choice to leave me. I could have given him that opportunity at any time.
My heart clenched at the idea of letting him go.
Tears welled up when I smelled tea and firewood before the knock on my door even sounded.
Felix had no time to speak before he was pulled into my hotel room, likely thankful that he wasn't frail with how tightly I was crushing him to me.
"Why are you on Mazerene?" I asked into his hair.
"Cadence said you weren't doing well after therapy. I missed you, anyway, so I took the first night plane here." Glittering gray eyes searched my expression when I finally let him step away. "If that's okay."
Something about the response made his eyebrows curl upwards. "Tell me what happened."
There wasn't much to it. I omitted the pieces I told Dr. Franic about thinking Felix would wise up and leave me, leaving in the part where she gave me homework. At that, Felix got up from his seat on the bed with me and found the stationary on the desk. When he returned, he curled up against me, pen poised over the paper.
"Okay, number one. You have eyes that artists would spend decades perfecting." His cursive was delicate and looped, as always.
"Number two, you have the determination of a rich white man who was told he couldn't get something he wanted."
That earned a smile out of me.
He was staring, those lips lightly opened in their usual position. I wanted to kiss him. "Three," he started before I could. "If your face was a piece of art, someone would go through a lot of trouble to steal it, keep it for their private collection, and once they die and it's sold for auction, it would be appraised for a few million, easily. And, like, it would one of those really big auctions with multiple international buyers, and the auctioneer would be like, 'this is the largest bid we've ever seen in art history' And it would be a severe disappointment to everyone who couldn't have the chance to look at your beautiful face every day." The corner of his mouth jerked.
I couldn't help the laughing. "You're ridiculous."
"Yes, and you're laughing. Number four—"
"Stop," I whined, face buried in his neck. "I don't wanna hear what you think of my laugh."
"Oh, I could go on about it." Piano fingers lifted my chin to get me to look at him. "I will go on about how incredible you are for as long as it takes you to see what I see. I don't care if it takes me decades, as long as you have some inkling of how much I cherish you and everything that you are."
He kissed my forehead, my eyelids, my nose and cheeks. He lingered above my lips, enough for me to grow impatient and finish for him, finally getting the kiss I wanted.
"Promise me you'll tell me if you start to get tired of me." I couldn't pull myself from him, our noses brushing together. My eyes were closed still, scared of seeing any confusion or disappointment from him.
"I can promise you'll never hear that from me."
For a heartbeat, I believed it. I wanted to hold onto that hope for as long as possible and live in this tiny, impenetrable bubble with Felix.