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going to war

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The first time they meet it is like going to war. He walks into her office, hackles raised, his mind mercifully still his own despite the drugs (Andrew doesn’t believe in mercy as a rule but his mind is his last true stronghold, somehow undefiled after all these years, and he can’t, he can’t—) and her eyes reflect through her glasses like stained glass windows, and her smile when it comes is shattering, glass breaking in shards that slide down her face and come to rest in the deep lines that carve out chasms around her mouth. And he didn’t think that there was anything left in this universe that could stun him, but he is stunned, at her arrogance, at the office, at the truth beneath those hard-won wrinkles. In anyone else — from frowning. In Dr. Dobson — the opposite. 

Andrew reminds himself of something that he has never previously forgotten: that this is a war, and the battle lines are him vs. them, and he is a creature of hate and rage, and nothing more.  

He sits down when she asks. 

She is temporary, lucky number thirteen, poor little Dr. Dobson with her genuine warmth and her titanic smile, what could she really know about Andrew Doe? He doesn’t make bets (except with Renee, who always bets against whatever he says, likely out of principle, maybe religion, he’ll never ask and so he’ll never know, but he long ago made peace with ignorance in favor of silence and isolation), but if he were a betting man he’d bet on himself. (It stands to reason, then, that Renee is poised to win a fortune in this case). 

In a move that reveals a deeper understanding of Andrew than he expected, Dr. Dobson sits down across from him and dispenses with formalities.

“I want you to know I’ve read your entire file,” she says. 

He raises one eyebrow, the drugged smile crawling up his cheekbones, ants crawling up his skin, a mask covering his blankness. “And?” 

She stares back at him, face smooth. Her smiles, apparently, are judiciously reserved only for moments of actual mirth. 

“Aren’t you going to tell me how you don’t believe a word of it, and how you believe I’m misunderstood and can change?”

Her steady stare continues, limpid eyes refractory behind her glasses. Eyes are the window to the soul, some cultures believe, and how is he supposed to eviscerate her with a layer of bulletproof glass between them? 

“Is that what you want me to say?”

He laughs. “I don’t want anything.”

“What would happen if you did?”

The words leak out of him, the last drips of a faucet he can’t quite turn off, not with the drugs still beating a tambourine tap dance through his system. “I’d remember why I don’t want anything,” he replies. 

“I believe you believe that,” Dr. Dobson replies, which isn’t really an answer at all, and then she makes a note. 

“Writing down what I say? Is this a court-recorded session, Dr. Dobson? Let the record reflect that I swear to tell only the truth, so help me God,” he drawls.

“From what I’ve read about your memory, I doubt these sessions require recording.” 

And just like that, she has surprised him again. He leaves. But next week — he comes back. 

*** 

She sits across from him, unperturbed as before, and her eyes through her glasses are scattered and shattered. 

“I want to start this question with an acknowledgement of something that happened last week. You said you would tell the truth. Let us predicate our work on this: you will tell the truth, and I will believe you.” 

“And if I don’t believe you?” 

“We are bother better judges of character than that, Andrew,” she says, and the words are too saccharine and too honest for him to reply. 

“So how will you have me?” he asks instead. “Wrists extended, scars exposed? Or on my stomach, bent over and pinioned?”

The words are weapons, aimed to shock and horrify. (They are also true). Dr. Dobson blinks once and her mouth curves down in what might be pity, might just be consternation. (The idea of pity is too visceral for him to address and so he bludgeons ahead in his mind, readying the next salvo, but she interrupts his thoughts with her calm words.) “Why don’t we start with something difficult,” she says. “Tell me about the scars.” 

***

It is weeks of this before he realizes that she is disarming him, stripping him first of his anger and then of his secrets. 

He tells her as much. “Dr. Dobson,” he laughs, his smile in full force today, “you’ve been so-o subtle, so subtly poking and prodding around me, working away, like a little bumblebee. You’re a regular Betsy-bee, always buzzing.” 

“You don’t have to ask my permission to give me a nickname,” is all she says. And that’s how he begins to call her Bee. 

***

They both know where the sessions are going, but he decides to ignore it. He tells her about the scars and the different homes, he tells her about Aaron and Kevin and promises past and promises yet to come. 

For a few weeks, Bee says “let’s do an easy question today” and listens. 

In October, she says let’s do a hard question, today, Andrew, and he folds his arms.  

“If you’re going to ask me to undress, Bee, you’d better have a bribe.” 

“Was that how it went?” she asks him, and even though he’d known the words were coming they are wrecking and reforging him, beating him out like scrap metal and heating him up to a cherry red glow. He plunges that hot iron core into ice water and it cools within him, hardening once more. 

“In the beginning,” he replies.

***

There are a variety of theories on trauma, Bee tells him. She knows that he has probably heard some of this before, but she’s going to say it again on the off chance that sometimes, before, he wasn’t fully listening. (She’ll never go so far as to outright accuse him of antagonism toward his previous psychiatrists, but they both know his track record. Her calm words are as close as she will come to a reprimand). Bee doesn’t have a favorite theory regarding trauma processing but she wants him to know that not all trauma theorists believe that talking about and reliving the trauma are necessary or therapeutic. 

“I need you to understand that you can talk about what you need to,” she tells him, “but that you don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to. I don’t expect it, and you don’t have to expect it of yourself. 

She watches him for a minute but he doesn’t speak yet because he knows her well enough by now to tell that she’s not done. 

“Andrew,” she says, “this is important for you to understand. Do not demand more of yourself than you are ready to give. You can and will recover, given time. But recovery is not linear.” 

He breathes and breathes and breathes and breathes and not even the drugs can bring him back down to earth, he was prepared for everything and anything but he was not prepared for this.

“I’m gay,” he says. “I think.” 

It is a bomb inside him, it has been bursting at him for weeks, he has told no one until now, and now he is here. (He doesn’t believe in regret but if he did, would he regret those words? He doesn’t know, can’t answer — but if it were possible to eat words, to swallow them whole, rescind them?) 

Bee looks at him, and he knows that this next question will be a hard one, Andrew. “How long did it take you to accept that about yourself?” she asks. 

So, he tells her. Following her orders, he tells her only what he wants to, but for someone who doesn’t want anything, it’s a surprising amount. He tells her about Drake (in broad strokes) and then juvie, and then living with Nicky, and working at Eden’s, and, most recently (and perhaps pertinently), he tells her about Roland. 

For once, Bee asks the wrong question. “Do you like Roland?”

And he laughs because it’s so rare for her to get something so wrong. “No,” he says.

Later (much, much later), he’ll wonder if that question really was a misstep at all.  

***

At some point, between Bee and Renee and Roland and school and fucking exy, Andrew realizes that his life is tolerable these days. (It’s not fun, and it’s definitely not interesting — so by some definitions, barely a life at all — but it is something, and it’s his). Despite all predictions to the contrary, he is in fact still living, and that is more than he would have expected, if he had ever thought to have expectations in the first place.

He tells Bee this, in a roundabout way (remember, he has promised not to lie to her). He says some days I no longer want to die, and Bee smiles in a way that hurts him, it is pity and pleasure and pain, it is shattered glass tears and smile lines and an unexpected friend, it is a knowing smile, an I’ve been there smile, and he hates that it hurts, that he’s here, that he’s continued to return, and Bee smiles and Andrew hates and then she brings him a cup of cocoa.

This is the day that he adds her number to his phone. Bee.

***

“Let’s make a deal,” Andrew says in December.

She turns her head to one side in a very birdlike way, and from the way she doesn’t say anything, he knows that she is about to surprise him.

“I will tell you the truth,” he says, “and you will promise to believe me.”

“I already believe you,” she reminds him. “And you already tell me the truth. So, no.” They sit like that for a moment, both regarding each other, and she shifts her mug on the table. “Why do you want to make a deal with me, Andrew?” she asks.

He doesn’t reply. Truth truth truth truth, it beats at him. What is the truth for this?

“Do you hate me?” she says, when he doesn’t reply.

He shakes his head, no.

“Then, do you like me?”

He looks away. “I don’t know what that word even means, Bee,” he spits, and he didn’t intend for it to sound so angry and childish and bitter and wanting.

But what she says is: I believe you.  

(He knows that she has always believed him, of course he knows, but he wants it in writing because hasn’t everyone else in his life let him down all the same? The only people who have stayed around are those that he has bound to himself.)

“I wonder if you know that Kevin probably considers you his friend,” Bee muses, almost to herself, and Andrew startles out of his thoughts. She sees his face and smiles. “Oh, yes, Andrew. I think you’d be interested to know that many other people see friendship itself as a sort of deal, and that Kevin would stay with you even if you hadn’t made promises to each other.”

He can’t help it, he laughs at this. The drugs are happy to laugh, they seethe and surge and erupt. “Kevin wouldn’t know a friend if it hit him on the head with a stick.”  

“We all must allow people to surprise us once in awhile,” Bee replies sedately.

“Like I’ve allowed you?”

“Do I surprise you, Andrew?”

It is his turn to cock his head. “You aren’t predictable,” he gives her.

“Neither am I shocking,” she says, and her words aren’t a rebuke so much as a reminder. He can choose to expect the worst and then he will be constantly surprised, or he can allow within himself the possibility that Bee perhaps is good. (It is too difficult to think about for long).

“What I would like for you,” Bee continues, “is for you to allow yourself to like people, and to want them. As friends, coaches, lovers – as humans, we are allowed to desire the presence of others in whatever way we choose.”

Andrew stares at her and tries to make his eyes black holes, boring into her soul. (Instead, he feels a burning and prickling and, mortifyingly, realizes that he still has the ability to produce tears. He rolls his eyes skyward and sucks in a breath, seeking the void inside himself).

“Andrew,” Bee says, and her voice is soft, so soft, too soft, “you are worthy.”  

He leaves. He doesn’t cry. But for the first time in a long time, he almost wants to.

***

You are worthy. The words seep under his skin and stick there.

Change is slow and boiling. It is a war with himself, with Bee, with Renee, his knives and his armbands, his scars that itch and his pain that cuts and his anger that burns.

Change is a war. With the drugs, it is almost impossible.

And yet – he is here.

***

Andrew has never mentioned exy before in this sacred space, to this brown eyed mirror who watches him impartially.

“Oh Bee,” he says, because histrionics seem in order today, the drugs demand it with their pulsing pull and arching throb, “oh Bee, why be? To be, or not to be? Today, I can’t decide.”

He sits down with more vigor than usual, crossing his arms and propping his legs against the other chair. He eyes Bee sidelong. (He wants a cigarette so fucking bad it’s a wonder he can still speak). What he says is: Kevin is a maniac.

One of the reasons they don’t talk much about Kevin is because Andrew hasn’t been ready for any more hard questions or lectures on friendship or either or both. The other reason they don’t talk about Kevin is simple: exy. Andrew hates it, and is bored by it. (Being bored by it is the worse of the two, infinitely).

He feels himself untethering beneath those cool brown eyes and so he allows the truth to slip between the bricks of Andrew Doe, no, Andrew Minyard, no, Andrew Spear, no, just Andrew, and the truth coats those bricks like cement, and is it filling up the gaps these days?

“Kevin wants to recruit a new striker. He has enlisted me,” Andrew says it dryly, in a monotone, polluting the small office with the stale reek of ennui. Fucking exy. He hates it. He is bored by it. (He wonders who Kevin will pick).

“And what does that entail?” Bee wants to know. Or does she? He can’t tell, today.

He waves a hand. Flippancy, melodrama. These are the words of the day. “Videos, I suppose. Dragging me around to various games. Kevin blabbering day and night about exy statistics.” He pauses, thoughtful. A poet in repose. “Which is to say, nothing out of the ordinary.”

Bee chuckles into her cocoa. “You must have a very high valuation of your own interests, to demean those of other people so thoroughly.”

To maintain truthfulness, Andrew avoids the question. “Kevin is obsessed with one striker in particular,” he says.

“Oh?”

“A no-one from nowhere,” Andrew continues. It has been like this more and more, with Bee. When the words come they won’t stop, foaming and churning up from the depths of him, pouring out between them and piling up, filling, filling, ever filling. He will choke on them. He will choke to death on them. “A no-one who can barely hold the ball but runs like he’s being chased. I don’t like it."  

“Why not?”

“Kevin’s too set on it. He’s blinded by his exy visions. We’re not in the position to take chances.”

Bee sips her cocoa again, and he longs for a cigarette. “What are you going to do about it?" 

“We’re going to see him,” Andrew sighs. “I’ll kill him, I guess.” 

“Kevin probably won’t like that,” Bee notes. 

*** 

When they return from Arizona Wymack sends Andrew to Bee for an unscheduled session to see why it is you feel like trying to hurt everyone and everything around you, Andrew, and in an act supremely out of character, Andrew obeys. He goes.

“David told me you were coming,” Bee says by way of greeting. 

“I tried to break Kevin’s new toy,” he replies.

She doesn’t say I told you so. She asks what changed his mind.

He says: what makes you think I’ve changed my mind?