“No, you’re a grown-ass man recovering from a serious accident that nearly took your life.” I take a deep breath and go for the plunge with my assessment. “Leandro, have you heard of post-traumatic stress disorder?”
“Yes. People who come back from war have it.”
“Yes, but it’s not only military personnel who suffer from PTSD. People who have survived a traumatic experience, like you did, can also suffer from PTSD.”
He turns his face to me. “You think I have PTSD?” He points a finger at himself.
“A mild form, yes.”
He faces forward, staring out the windshield. He’s silent for a long time.
“Does knowing that bother you?” I ask breaking the silence. “I’m not putting a label on what your issue is, Leandro. I’m just giving you something to work from. Understanding your problem is half of the battle to beating it.”
“You sound like a psychology textbook.”
“You read many of them?” I smile.
Meeting my eyes, he returns that smile, and it momentarily lightens his dark eyes.
“Oh, yes, all the time. I have a stack on my bedside table. Idiot’s Guide to Psychology.”
“That’s my favorite.”
He laughs. It’s a rich deep sound, and I feel it all the way down to my toes. I scrunch them up in my shoes.
“Right. Give me your keys.” He thrusts his hand out at me.
“You want my keys?”
“Yes.” His stare on me is direct, but his face is relaxed.
“Because I’m going to see if I can start this engine without freaking out like a pussy again.”
“You sure you’re ready for this? It was only last night when you tried—”
His hand is still held out, so I retrieve my keys from my jacket pocket and hand them to him. It’s impossible to avoid touching him this time, but I make it quick and brief while ensuring I avoid eye contact with him, so he can’t see the effect his touch has on me.
Facing forward, he starts to flex his hands out, and he takes a deep breath.
“Just take your time. You feel stressed or panicky at any point, just stop and take deep breaths.”
“I got this.” He grins at me.
“And don’t worry if you lose it again. I’m insured.”
“Is that an invitation to smash your car up?” He laughs.
“Sure. Why not? It’s about time I got a new one.” My lip lifts at the corner in a half smile.
He laughs again. I really like hearing him laugh. It makes me feel like we’re taking positive steps forward, and it’s not at all about the way his laugh makes me feel inside.
One more deep breath, he punches the key into the ignition and turns it over without a moment’s hesitation.
I watch his eyes close as my car rumbles to life.
His hands are wrapped around the steering wheel, his knuckles white from his tight grip.
“How do you feel?” I ask softly.
“Better than I did last night.” He opens one eye and looks at me, a touch of a smile on his lips.
“Damn, so I won’t get a new car out of this.”
He chuckles, and I can feel the tension already leaving his body.
He closes his eyes again. Hands still on the steering wheel, he rests his head back against the seat and blows out a breath.
We sit like that for a long moment. Leandro acclimating himself to his environment. Me watching him, assessing if a panic attack might be about to happen.
But his breathing seems even, and his grip on the steering wheel has relaxed a little.
“When I woke up in the hospital, I know I should have felt relieved to be alive. And I guess a part of me did. But a bigger part of me wished I’d died in that crash…because I knew, right then and there, that I wouldn’t be able to get back in a car. And if I wasn’t racing, then I might as well be dead.” Opening his eyes, he tilts his head my way and stares at me. “I know you probably don’t understand that, but racing is my whole life. It’s all I ever wanted to do, all I was ever good at. Losing it…it’s killing me slowly.”
“You’ll get it back,” I tell him with surety. Then, I do something I never, ever do. I make him a promise. “I’ll help you get it back. I promise you.” Before I can stop myself, I lay my hand on his arm.
“Thank you.” His words are soft as he looks back out the windshield where small droplets of rain have started to appear.
And I retract my burning hand, knowing I need to find my professional balance here.
MY PHONE BUZZES IN MY POCKET. Pulling it out, I see it’s Carrick.
“I’m in the taxi and on my way. I’m just running late. I had a meeting earlier at Lissa.” Lissa is my team headquarters. Tilting the phone away from my mouth, I give the driver the address to the restaurant.
Over this last month, I’ve been working a lot with her at getting used to being back inside a car. India has been taking me out on drives. First, we started with me sitting in the back and then moved up to me sitting in the passenger seat. I haven’t driven yet, but I no longer freak out at being in a car or the sound of the engine running.
Sounds lame considering what I do for a living, but I have to take it slow. Those are India’s words. She says if I rush it, I might end up hindering myself and risk an anxiety attack, taking myself back steps.
I don’t want that.