Prologue (The Playroom)
“My heart fluttered wildly in my chest as I walked towards the door of the psychologist’s office, heading for an appointment that Nathan, my boss, had arranged and paid for. The pills that my doctor had given me to help with the anxiety attacks did little to suppress the all-consuming panic I felt. A panic that wanted to drag me down into the dark places Devon had taken me to time and time again until they were all I knew.
I sucked in several breaths and rubbed my sweaty, trembling hands down my jeans.
You left him! He doesn’t control you anymore! You managed to come here on your own. Think of all the positives!
I sighed at my inner voice’s impatience. Isaac and Nathan had been working on boosting my self-confidence but the nagging self-doubt still hadn’t eased its tight grip on me. Come on. Listen to the voice, it helps.
I was frustrated with the part of me that continued to not only hear my own inner voice, but Devon’s as well. It slid into my subconscious and undid some of the brave steps I’d taken since I’d run away.
At the sound of a door opening, I jerked, not having noticed that I’d reached the psychologist’s office. A man skirted around me as I stood in his way. He didn’t look at me, his gaze fixed on the ground. “Sorry,” he mumbled, but was gone in a flash before I could say anything.
The door in front of me remained open to reveal a simple room, its pale blue walls decorated with stunning pictures of snow-capped mountains. Over by the far wall there were inviting pink chairs with lots of padding which made quite a statement. The carpet underfoot was thick enabling me to move silently into the room. Tucked into the corner of the room was a desk, behind which sat a young woman with bold blue hair which clashed horribly with the fuchsia and purple outfit she wore. My eyes widened and I was distracted from my worries. Surely this woman couldn’t be a psychologist’s personal secretary?
Stop being so judgy!
I offered a tight smile as I walked over to her desk. She looked up and gave me a bright, bubbly smile. “Hello, can I help you?” she asked politely.
The genuine happiness that seemed to shine from her caused the tension within me to release enough to allow my lips to curl up into a real smile. “I have a two o’clock appointment with Mr. Sharpe.”
She looked at her computer and tapped a few keys before glancing back at me. “Your name is?”
“It’s Ferron Robertson.”
“Take a seat. I’ll let Mark know that you’re here,” she stated, indicating in the direction of the pink chairs.” I did as she’d asked, walking over and parking my backside in the soft seat. I glanced at the array of magazines on the small coffee table next to my seat. Just as I was about to grab one for something to do, the door behind the receptionist opened and a balding man with a warm smile stepped out.
My stomach knotted and my mouth dried quicker than a desert in a dry spell.
There is nothing threatening about him.
He was slim and wore a tailored brown suit with a cream shirt and pink tie. What was left of his hair, was dark with flecks of silver which matched his silver eyes. Eyes which crinkled with warmth as he offered his hand to me as I stood. “Ferron, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Mark.” He shook my hand. “Why don’t you come into my office?” As he spoke, he released my hand and stepped back as if he knew I was about to run for the hills.
I swallowed before following him into his office. At the sound of the door closing, I gulped, my fists clenching at my sides.
“I’m sure this is hard for you, Ferron, and if you feel it’s too much for you today, then that’s okay. We can try again when you’re ready.” His calm voice soothed the anxiety clawing at my throat which was making it close up.
You can do this. You can. Isaac and Nathan believe in you.
With that running through my head, I licked my lips. I glanced at Mark’s face but saw nothing but empathy. There was no condemnation. “I want… to stay.”
Mark waited a moment as if he thought I might change my mind, but when I didn’t he gestured over to two leather padded seats that looked as if they’d have been perfect for an afternoon nap or to sit in while I read one of my beloved books.
“Pick a seat.”
I took the one by the window and was surprised to see a beautiful little flower garden and patio as I looked outside.
“In the summer months I like to sit outside with my clients. The space is completely private and some people prefer to be outside. They find it easier to open up.” Mark shrugged as he took the seat opposite mine.
“It’s lovely. I hope to have a little garden of my own one day. I love to spend time gardening. My mother and father gave me a love of nature before they died.” A sob rose in my throat as the sweet memory brought feelings of loss to the surface.
“Do you want to talk about them?”
The simple question had words pouring out of me before I could think to curtail them. “They died about four years ago. They were on holiday and the plane they were on… crashed.” A tear slid down my cheek, unheeded, as I switched my gaze from Mark back to the small garden. “They wanted me to go with them… but… my boss at the time wouldn’t give me the three weeks off that I needed.” My eyes, along with my sinuses, burned, as I licked my lips repeatedly. Guilt squeezed my heart and it was a struggle to stay sitting.
When Mark didn’t bother to offer any of the platitudes my friends had, I sagged back against the leather. He held a tissue out towards me. Only then did I realise that I had tears coursing down my face and dripping off my chin. A shudder rippled through me as I tried to stop any more from falling.
Useless tears! They never make anything better.
“It’s okay, Ferron, let it out. I’m here for whatever you need. We have all the time you need.” The simple reassurance was enough to break the barrier I’d erected after finding myself alone in the world, alone and floating in a sea of grief which had blinded me to what had been right in front of my face. Shame coursed through me and heat filled my cheeks. I lowered my lashes, not wanting Mark to witness my reaction.
“Maybe we should set a few ground rules. What do you say?” Mark’s head tilted to one side as I raised my gaze to meet his. There was something about him that shouted “trust me.”
Look what happened the last time you trusted someone.
Then what’s the point in being here, if I don’t trust him?
As the voice argued back and forth, Mark sat back in the chair and steepled his fingers under his chin as if he was aware of my internal battle.
“What kind of ground rules?” I muttered through dry lips.
His expression remained open, but his lips pursed for a second as his gaze moved to somewhere behind me. “There is a bin over by my desk.” I twisted around to look at it as he pointed it out, before turning back to him, my brows rising. “I want you to humour me and walk over to it.”
I was sure that my brows had probably disappeared under my fringe, but recalling how much faith Nathan had in the man, I got up and walked over to the bin.
“This might sound strange, but I want you to try and give it a go if you can?” He waited for my reluctant nod before continuing. “I want you to close your eyes and imagine yourself placing all the blame, all the guilt and anything else you carry around with you which is negative into the bin. Feel the weight of it floating away and imagine how light you’ll feel once it’s gone. Hold that feeling in the centre of your chest… and recognise how good it feels to let go.”
As he continued to talk in his soft, soothing voice, a sense of inner calm I’d not felt in months, possibly years, spread through my chest. I felt myself sway for a second as I imagined escaping from all the self-hate I held inside me. Mark continued talking, though for how long I had no idea. But it felt good to shut out everything and let myself, if only for a moment, believe that when I opened my eyes the world would feel different. I craved that more than my next breath.
“It will be your choice if you want to pick those negative feelings back up when you leave. I’d like to carry out this exercise every time you complete a session with me. When you’re ready, you can come back and take a seat.”
My eyelids fluttered open. Did I want to stay?
Yes. Yes, I do.
I stared at the bin before glancing back to Mark. His brows rose and there was no smile on his lips. As I walked back over to the chair, there was something about Mark’s presence that left me feeling lighter.
Once seated, I placed my hands in my lap and exhaled. “Where should I start?”
A smile formed on his face, the sub inside me doing a happy dance at pleasing the man.
“Well, that is up to you. Where would you like to start? There are no right or wrong answers here, Ferron. No judgement. This is about finding ways to help you deal with things that are stopping you from getting on with your life.”
Recalling the form I’d completed which gave information about Devon, I inhaled and exhaled twice in quick succession. “It’s probably best to start at the point where I think my life spiralled out of control.” I scratched my head, pulling my thoughts together to think back to where it had all started to unravel and I’d made one of the worst decisions of my life…