Water and silence surround me.

I’ll never make it to the surface.

I inhale, sucking down water that sets my throat on fire.

Someone touches me, pushes me, begs me.

Again and again I swallow until I am nothing.

I am dead.

Gasping, I woke up from my afternoon nap and kicked out, legs fighting the sheets. My body shook violently, adrenaline pounding through my veins. Clutching my rolling stomach, I sucked air in through my mouth. My hands pressed against my eyes as I called out to a deaf God to make the nightmares disappear.

I raced for the bathroom, falling on top of the toilet and retching as my fist pounded the tile floor. I vomited until there was nothing left in me but memories, little pricks of pain that festered inside, refusing to let go. I collapsed on the cold floor, tucking my knees up to my chest as I rocked myself.

When would this end?

An hour later, I sat in Dr. Cooke’s office for our weekly appointment. In her forties and stylishly dressed in a pale blue pantsuit, Wilson highly recommended her as a therapist. I’d been coming here for over a year.

“How are you feeling?” she asked me as I sat in a comfy chair next to her desk and crossed my legs.

“Old as dirt. I see people my own age and want to remind them that the grim reaper can pluck them up whenever he feels like it and yank it all away. On top of that, I’m sick of being afraid to stand up for myself.” I laughed at a distant memory. “When I was a kid, I punched Dougie Lombardi in the nose for trying to look up my skirt on the playground. I got an after school suspension for that one, and now look at me—I can’t even tell a girl at the coffee shop to fuck off after she insults me. I’m just—pathetic. I hate it.”

She nodded and tapped her pencil on her pad. “Conflict is a trigger for you. If a situation makes you uncomfortable, you want to withdraw and disengage. But you can’t cocoon yourself forever—not if you want your old life back. You have to be willing to take chances again.”

She was right, but admitting I needed to change was easy. Living it was the hard part.

I stood to pace around her office. Feeling fidgety. I came to a stop at the window and peered down below. Everyone looked busy. Happy. I watched a young couple hold hands as they crossed the street and found a table at an outdoor patio. Loneliness settled in my gut.

What was Sebastian doing? Was he with Blair? What was going on with them? When he’d pulled away from our kiss, she hadn’t been the reason why. What was he not telling me?

“Any more suicidal thoughts?” She always asked that one.

I sighed. “Not in a while, no.”

“Have you tried the new breathing exercises we talked about?”

Like a million times. “Yes. One long breath in and a longer one out.” I tapped my leg. “Speaking of heavy breathing, remember the guy who moved in a few weeks ago? I—I’ve played for him.” I left out the whole part about catching him spying, stripping for him, and the tequila. I didn’t think she’d approve of my methods.

Her eyes widened. “That’s wonderful progress, V. How did this happen?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know. He’s probably the next big thing in Hollywood, but that isn’t the reason. It’s like something in me just clicks when it comes to him. He gets me and he loves music, and it makes me feel the music again.” I twisted my hands together. “There’s more. We kissed, and I—I wanted to go further. What do you think that means?”

She blinked and adjusted her glasses. “That you’re ready to move on. You’ve been an island unto yourself for two years, V. You need people.” She smiled. “Are you falling for him?”

Was I?

“It doesn’t matter. He’s unavailable,” I muttered.

Moving on, I described the details of my new nightmare. “Anyway, it was different this time. Someone in my dream pushed me toward the surface. He—a man—helped me in the water. It’s odd that I’ve never remembered that before.” Emotion welled up, and I plopped back down in the leather chair. “I can’t recall how I got on that cushion and most days I wish I hadn’t. But—what if—what if my dad put me on that cushion? I was swimming toward him when I blacked out. What if he was there the whole time, and I never knew it? If that’s how it happened, then why did he let go? Why didn’t he hang on?” My voice cracked.

She nodded. “It’s possible your subconscious is telling you more of what happened—perhaps because you played for your friend. This is good.” She continued. “About your dream, you might need to consider that the cushion was too small for two people or he was exhausted after getting you there. Your father was in his sixties, V. It must have been difficult for him to swim in the freezing water.”

I sucked in a shuddering breath. Her words were like knives to my heart. My parents had been elderly—I’d actually been an IVF baby after years of them trying.

“But, I wanted to save him.”

“Don’t you think he’d sacrifice his life for yours?” she said softly. “As a parent myself, I’d do whatever it took to make sure my child lived—even put her on a cushion and let go.”

I sat there and wept as realization dawned. I’d been selfishly wishing I was dead along with them, when he’d saved me and then let me go. I didn’t know why, but somehow I knew it was true. Excruciating pain sliced through me at the image of him sinking below the waves, yet at the same time, hope bloomed.

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