My chest heaved as I struggled to catch my breath. With a sickening feeling in my gut, I surveyed the wreckage. Broken guitars everywhere. And now a fucked up painting, too. I picked up one of the broken guitars and looked at, but it was pointless. It was too messed up to ever come to life again.
The door flew open and there she was. Riley. My heart sank. What the fuck had gotten into me? She was the last person who deserved to see me like this. We'd been through some awful shit together, and she'd stuck by me while being an incredible badass through it all. The last thing I wanted was to burden her with my pain.
Taking a deep breath to try and calm myself down, I tossed the splinters of the guitar against the wall.
I watched her gingerly survey the damage before looking at me with those mischievous, beautiful blue eyes. I knew she was trying to put on a strong face when inside she was scared as hell. That tore me up more than anything else.
"Need any help smashing stuff?" she asked, plunging her hands into her pockets. "I have a pretty good arm."
Nine Days Ago
I'd never been to therapy before, but I needed answers. I was literally losing my mind, and I had to do whatever it took to get better—even if that meant talking about the dark stuff that I normally shut out.
But it was hard. It was the most difficult fucking thing I'd ever done. I'd never talked about my dad with anyone except Riley. But Dr. Feinstein didn't push me. He just sat at his desk, listening patiently. I lay on the couch. For some reason, not looking at him while I talked helped. But I hated every minute of it.
For the most part, I concentrated on what had happened that night with Darrel, since that's when my problems started getting out of control. Ever since then, everything had just gotten worse and worse. The nightmares. The flashbacks. My anger. Seeing things that weren't there. My fear that I was losing my mind. By the time I was done, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach.
I lay on the couch, listening to the scratch of Dr. Feinstein's pen on his pad of paper, my stomach sick from having to talk about painful shit I'd tried for years to forget. There was no way this guy was going to help me. I was too fucked up for some feel-good talk to make things any better.
He cleared his throat, and I glanced at him. His eyes looked serious, and I swallowed, hard.
"I know this has been a painful process, Jax. It takes a lot of bravery to open up about your past like you have."
I remained silent. His compliment didn't make me feel better. It just made me more anxious about what he was going to say next. What his diagnosis could be.
He continued, "Good news is, I don't think you're crazy."
I ran a hand through my hair. Was that good?
"When people go through traumatic events like the ones you've described," he replied, sounding sympathetic, "They often have symptoms like yours. Nightmares, mood swings, and especially flashbacks are all indicators. It's common in soldiers—a condition called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD."
My shoulders stiffened. "But I'm not a soldier."
Dr. Feinstein folded his hands across his lap and sat back in his leather chair. "They're just the most commonly afflicted. Anyone who has experienced a life or death situation, where they feel intense fear, horror, and powerlessness, is at risk for PTSD."
"Okay," I said slowly, "And that means . . . what, exactly?"
He spoke slowly and distinctly, his fingers flexing against each other. "For you, your father has all the power. And that's what we need to fix—we want to give the power back to you."
My jaw clenched. "I left home when I was fifteen," I said tersely. "Darrel does not have all the power over me."
He nodded as if to concede the point. "Okay, I may have misspoken. Not all the power. But still, more than you want. Is that fair?"
"Very well. That is what we want to fix."
"How?" I asked.
Instead of answering my question, the doctor stayed silent for a moment. I waited with a feeling of impatience. Why wouldn't he just tell me what to do?
He cleared his throat. "When you think about that night, what comes to mind first?"
I frowned. How was this going to make me better? "I try not to think about it."
"But when you can't help it?" he continued, his voice gently persistent. "What do you think of first?"
I sighed. "Darrel."
"Good." His pen scratched over paper. "What else?"
I closed my eyes. "Fire."
"My bike not starting." My palms began to sweat, and I opened my eyes. "So what? What does it matter what I think about?"
Dr. Feinstein didn't say anything. I clenched my hands. The silence in the room grew.
"Why do you want me to keep thinking about this?" I blurted out. "I don't want to think about it any more. That's the whole point. I've been going out of my way to avoid thinking about this shit."
He tilted his head to the side. "And has it been working?"
"No. I told you."
"Why do you think that is? Why can't you forget when you're actively trying to?"
I closed my eyes. "I don't know. Something's getting in the way."
"Right," Dr. Feinstein said, "And what do you think that could be?"
"I don't know, Doc," I groaned, wishing he'd give me answers instead of more questions. Opening my eyes, I stared at the ceiling. "Something is making me remember when I don't want to."
Dr. Feinstein nodded. "It's not just something, Jax. It's more specific than that. Anything you saw that night can trigger an emotional response, like the ones you've been having."
I let that sink in for a minute. The doctor scratched something on his pad, seemingly in no hurry to say anything else.
His pointed silences were beginning to piss me off. "So you're telling me that if I avoid the stuff I saw that night, all this shit will stop?" I asked, unable to keep the irritation out of my voice.
Dr. Feinstein smiled for the first time, and I could tell from the pleased look on his face that I'd hit on something. "The mind can heal itself, but not if it's being aggravated by constant reminders of your trauma. This is where I want you to start. Do you think you can try to avoid all the things that remind you of that night?"
I frowned."Maybe. I mean, Darrel will be easy to avoid. I never want to see that bastard again."
"What about fire?" Dr. Feinstein asked, his calm voice urging me on. "Can you do something about that?"