“— hear me?” Dr. Whittney asked, making Gavin snap back into thought. “What? I’m sorry...” He was dissociating again. It helped him cope. Therapy was something he had to put up with for the time being to ease the worries of his friends. The whole thing tended to make him uneasy, considering strange people who asked many questions were a big trigger for his anxiety.
Dr. Whittney seemed to nod, scribbling in her notebook. “How often have you been dissociating throughout the day?” Gavin gave a vague shrug, shifting on the uncomfortable couch he sat on. He didn’t know how to answer that. It seemed like time stopped while it happened, making it hard to differentiate reality from his headspace.
”I-I dunno, maybe 4?” That was on a good day, but Gavin just wanted to leave. He anxiously started to bounce his leg, flicking his palm as the woman continued to rain questions on him without let-up.
Tea tasted better with honey. Gavin took a sip, inhaling sharply as it lightly burned his tongue. “Damn it.” He muttered under his breath, setting down the mug in his grasp. Writing had become a lot harder in the past few months. The boy was lucky if he could piece together a coherent sentence that fit the mood. Every remedy for writer’s block seemed pointless. Tina had suggested sleeping more, but that was easier said than done.
A light tapping on the front door made Gavin perk up in the recliner, going to check the peephole. It was Chloe, his sister-in-law.
It wasn’t that Gavin wasn’t happy to see her; it was just hard to smile. She hated not seeing his smile. With a metallic click, he unlocked the door, opening it slowly. Chloe stood with a bag, which Gavin could only assume was groceries. “Hey, Gab. Can I come in?”
Gavin hated being called Gab. Sure, it was technically his name, but it wasn’t who he was as a person. Not anymore. “Sure...” He mumbled after a moment, stepping aside to give her space. She entered, clearly glancing directly at the mess that had accumulated over the weeks.
He shut the door, locking it again out of habit. “Let me guess. Did El send you? Or was it Dad?” It wasn’t uncommon for his friends and family to send Chloe to make sure he was still alive. Maybe that said more about himself than it did them.
Chloe just scoffed, giving him a half-annoyed glare. “Can’t I just visit my little brother because I missed him?” Gavin rolled his eyes, pushing past her to resume his afternoon ritual: drinking a hot beverage and writing shitty plot lines.
“Maybe I wouldn’t question your motives if you came over under better circumstances and not just when you need to feel like a saint.” That came out harsher than he intended. Chloe’s expression morphed into a wounded one, making Gavin ease back a bit. “...Sorry. That wasn’t fair.” He slumped into his recliner, gesturing to the couch. “You can sit if you’d like.” She did.
Gavin's suspicions about the bag being groceries were correct. Chloe started to pull out pantry food. “I can buy my groceries. You don’t need to spend money on me.” He mumbled. Chloe ignored him, though, continuing her task.
Truth be told, Gavin probably wouldn’t get his groceries anyway. He seemed to forget little things like that, such as brushing his teeth or eating. Chloe picked up on that rather quickly after he moved out. “I don’t mind doing things like this, Gab. I care about you.”
Gavin sighed, rubbing his face in tired frustration. “Please, call me Gavin or nothing at all... You know I hate that name.” It reminded him of the past. Things he couldn’t seem to forget. Tiny aspects of his life before that made him want to rip his hair out.
The girl huffed quietly, turning to Gavin. “I can see the bags under your eyes. You’re needle-thin. Is the topic of your name significant right now?”
Gavin clenched his jaw, face hardening in sudden bitterness towards the woman standing in front of him.
“Stop worrying about me.” Gavin spat, glaring at her. “I’m fine. Jesus, get off my back.” He fell against the back of the chair, running his fingers through his hair. “I mean, why does it matter, anyway? Isn’t this what you guys wanted? I got independence and shit, got my own place. Shouldn’t I make decisions for myself? I’m my own fuckin' person, Chloe, not your baby brother to coddle to your heart’s content.”
Chloe stood up with cheeks as red as the apples that were now sprawled on the couch. “I came over because you’re obviously hurting, but I can’t help you if you don’t let me in! I worry sick about you every night. I haven’t even seen you since the funeral; nobody has. I’m scared that, one day, I’ll come over and—“
“And what?” He interrupted, rising to his feet to match her level. “You’ll find me locked in the bathroom because I finally did it? News flash, Chloe, I’m not her.”
Chloe froze, balling her fist as her eyes glossed over. After a moment of piercing silence, she grabbed her purse.
Gavin felt his heart sink. “Wait... Chloe, no. I’m sorry. I didn’t—“ Why did he always do this? She paused, looking up with glazed eyes.
Gavin didn’t know what to say, so he just pulled her into a tight hug. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that...” He whispered, suddenly a little scared of himself.
Chloe instantly reciprocated the hug, rubbing his back. “I know...”
Gavin was shaking ever-so-slightly, feeling intense remorse. Things had been hard recently, and he had random spurts of intense emotion. He’d been like this ever since that day. It was normal to feel these things, according to Dr. Whittney. That’s how grief worked. Everything about it felt foreign, though.
After a prolonged moment, they separated, faces now both wet with salty tears neither wanted to address. “I really am sorry.” Gavin reiterated, making sure Chloe knew that he was only speaking in anger and fear. The girl only nodded, giving him a soft smile. It was reassuring to see the gesture. The month had felt dark, but her smile could fill a room with light. That was just something she always was able to do. Positivity radiated off of her like a nuclear substance.
“I’ll go put these in the kitchen, then I’ll make you some more tea.” Chloe assured.
Gavin took a moment to glance at his beverage, realizing it was going cold. She didn’t wait for an answer as she gathered the supplies and headed into the other room.
Chloe had stayed for roughly four hours, mainly just listening to Gavin ramble about the issues he was facing during this difficult time. Talking with her was a lot easier than talking with Dr. Whittney. He knew Chloe and trusted her, but he couldn’t say the same for the licensed professional. Therapy wasn’t really something that ever worked for him, or possibly he never even thought to give it a chance. Either way, it wasn’t like it would matter in the long run. He only had a few months left of that nonsense.
The house felt more silent now that Chloe had left like her sudden absence left a hole in the atmosphere. It wasn’t helping Gavin with his sleeping issues, finding it hard to relax when he could hear his own breathing.
He spent the majority of the night sitting at his desk, coming up with directionless plot points in hopes to somehow morph them into an intelligible idea. In complete honesty, he had been drinking. It helped quite a bit, even if Chloe tried to take all of his alcohol away. He was stealthy when it came to hiding substances from his loved ones, which was perhaps another issue to bring up in therapy.
Thoroughly intoxicated, it was becoming progressively harder for Gavin to string sentences together. After about an hour had passed, his head rested on the desk as he fell into a deep sleep. For the first time in months, it wasn’t the same nightmare. It wasn’t a nightmare at all, rather a beautiful landscape of a beach. Colorful waves crashed against the sandy shore as the sunset glistened in the distance.
There, in that scenery, stood a boy.