I think Jackson noticed because he told them we’d have to leave for the club soon and ushered them out the door.

I felt wrung out when Jackson walked back into the room and leaned forward, elbows on my knees, and buried my face in my hands.

“They don’t get it,” I said, eventually raising my face to look at my friend. “It isn’t their fault. I’m glad they don’t get it.”

“Yeah, but they know better,” Jackson replied. He had an edge to his voice that I’d rarely heard from him. “They’ve been around vets for years. Monte and Benny were raised by them.”

“I can’t ask the world to walk around on eggshells because I have a problem.”

Jackson looked ready to argue with me, but looked away. After gathering himself, he said, “You aren’t the only person with PTSD. We’re everywhere. And as adults, they’re responsible for what they do. It only takes a bit of thinking not to trigger someone, something they clearly haven’t learned yet.”

He had a point.

I sighed. “Yeah, I know you’re right. I guess I just have trouble faulting them when they were excited to see me.”

Jackson pursed his lips. “I get that, man, I really do. But if the roles were reversed? If it’d been me they’d done that to? You’d be fucking pissed.”

Again, he had a point.

“You deserve to extend that same kindness to yourself, man. You deserve it.”

I wanted to believe what he said, I really did, but it was so hard to. Lately, I hadn’t felt like I deserved anything good or fair.

Though I was normally great at concealing my feelings, Jackson was my best friend. He could read me like a book. He’d had an uncanny ability to not long after we stopped going at each other’s throats and became friends.

“I know you have trouble believing that, but know that I believe it, okay?” he said. His voice was so earnest.

“You’re right, I do struggle to believe it. But you believing it? That means everything to me, Jack. I’ve always trusted your judgment.”

He leaned back in his seat, a smile crossing his face. “Alright, you have enough time to snag a nap before we have to go to the club.” His smile widened. “After all, you’re going to need your strength for tonight.”

I grinned back. Ah, yes, I would indeed need my strength.

Because of Erin.

Jackson and I decided to carpool to work that night. Really, I think he just felt better driving me after what happened earlier. Even though I felt up to driving, it didn’t matter to me either way. If it gave him peace of mind, who was I to deny him that.

When we got there, we spent a few hours in the office catching up on business. After completing our rounds of the bar, we decided to wait for Erin at the bar, each nursing a drink.

Even though last night was our first scene with Erin, I felt more nervous today. Would she realize she wasn’t really into BDSM? Would she spend the day regretting her decision? Would she even show up?

Just as I was beginning to spiral down a hole of doubt, a sultry voice in my ear said, “Hey, strangers.”

Turning in the direction of the voice, I saw Erin standing behind us. Relief flooded me. She did come back.

We made eye contact and she gave me a huge smile. “You looked lost in thought,” she said. God, her voice was so sweet to listen to.

I couldn’t tell her about my doubt, about my fear that she’d found something better to do. Someone better to do it with.

Jackson came to my rescue. “Those brainy types usually are!” Erin laughed.

I rolled my eyes. “You say that like you’re dumb.”

“I know I’m not dumb, but I’m not on your level,” he said simply. Then he smiled at me to let me know that he wasn’t upset by that fact.

Sometimes I felt like I really didn’t deserve his friendship. But I was greedy and depended on it.

“Can I get a drink and join you?” Erin asked. She looked unsure, like she didn’t know what we’d say. It was strangely reassuring that she felt as lost about our arrangement as I did.

“Of course,” Jackson said, scooting down a stool.

Her face brightened. “Thanks!” she said, and climbed onto the stool, resting her purse on her lap.

Tonight she wore black jeans and a loose blue top tucked into them. She looked as great in that as she had in the dresses she’d worn the last few nights.

Seth, dressed as a vampire, noticed Erin sit down and walked over to us. “Hey there, what can I get you?” Erin thought about it. “We have a great peach bourbon as our special right now.”

“Oh, yes, that sounds delicious!”

“Coming right up!” Seth said, walking off to make the drink.

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