I dropped my bag on the floor and eased into the hard plastic chair as he walked around the desk to sit across from me. An obvious Father’s Day gift—a mug proclaiming his greatness—sat on the desk next to a closed file that had my name scribbled along the tab.
“May I call you Lena?” he asked.
I nodded, shoving my hands between my knees. That didn’t feel good on my arm, so I pulled my arm up and laid it on the table.
“Perfect.” He smiled faintly. “As I said, my name is Dr. Perry. I have my own practice, but I work for the school district, brought in as needed in certain circumstances where staff may be overwhelmed by the need for counselors.” He fired off credentials at that point, and they were impressive. Undergrad at Penn State. Grad school at Brown University. A ton of certifications that were like a different language to me. Then the conversation turned to me. “How are you feeling about starting school?”
“Okay,” I answered, crossing my ankles. “I’m...I’m ready.”
He rested an arm on the table. “It has to be tough missing nearly two weeks and dealing with the deaths of your friends.”
I jolted at the unexpected bluntness. He was the first to just put it out there like that. “I... It’s been...” I blinked. “It’s been tough.”
“I can imagine. The deaths of four young, bright people who had their entire futures ahead of them is a very hard thing to grasp, to fully comprehend.” His brown eyes were sharp as he spoke. “And it’s more difficult for you. You were in the car with them. You were seriously injured, and according to your file, these injuries will affect volleyball? A lot has happened.”
Tensing, I winced as pain shot across my ribs. I glanced at the door, debating on making a run for it.
“We’re not going to go there today,” he said softly. “You can relax.”
My gaze shot back to him. “Today?”
“We’re going to meet three times a week for the next month,” he announced, picking up his Greatest Dad Ever mug. “I’m not sure if your mother mentioned that to you.”
Mom had so failed to mention this part. Too irritated to speak, I crossed my arms over my stomach.
“Typically our sessions will be on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Today is a little different, but we’ll get together tomorrow and get on schedule.”
Three days a week? Oh my God. I exhaled roughly as I looked up at the ceiling. “I don’t think this is necessary.”
He sipped his coffee. “It’s necessary and you’re not the only one that our team has been meeting with. You’re not alone in this.”
My gaze darted to him, and I wanted to ask who else he was meeting with. Was it Sebastian? That would explain why he was so incredibly on point with some of the stuff he’d been saying.
I didn’t ask, because I figured he couldn’t answer that.
“No one is going to judge you for meeting with me.”
I wasn’t so sure about that, since this was high school, after all, and everyone judged everyone for everything.
“And this is needed, Lena. You may not feel like it, and at first it may feel like it’s doing more harm than good.” His gaze was unwavering. “You got some stuff in there you’re going to need to get out.”
Clamping my jaw shut, I didn’t say anything.
He studied me a moment, and I had this unnerving sensation that he saw right into me, gazing upon the stuff I didn’t want to speak out loud.
“The guilt of living when everyone else has died is a heavy weight to carry, Lena, all on its own. Survivor’s guilt is no joke. You’re never going to truly get rid of that burden, but we can lessen it. We can make it bearable.”
I exhaled softly. “How?”
“I know it doesn’t sound possible now, but your life is still going to go on. You’ll have tomorrow. Next week. Next month. Next year. You will eventually move past this.”
I didn’t see how that was possible. “I...I didn’t expect this to happen,” I whispered, briefly squeezing my eyes shut. “I know how stupid that sounds, but I never thought this would happen.”
“It’s not stupid, because no one ever does. No one ever thinks it will be them.” When he paused, I knew right then he knew. He knew. My gaze dropped to the file in front of him, and my heart started racing. Had he spoken to the police? My mom? And when he continued, I wanted to get up and run from the room, but I was rooted to the chair.
“I know what happened.”
“You’re not going to volleyball practice?” Dary asked.
“Not today.” I didn’t elaborate beyond that. Coach had caught me just after lunch, when I was at my locker. He’d asked if I would be at practice, and I told him that I still tired easily and my mom wanted me home.
That wasn’t really a lie.
Coach then told me he expected to see me at practice next week, and I nodded. I had plenty of opportunity to tell him that I wasn’t coming back, but I pushed it off to another day.
In other words, I chickened out.
Sebastian walked several feet ahead in the hallway outside the gym, his backpack slung over his shoulder, mine dangling from his fingertips.
“Not a bad view,” Dary admitted to me in a whisper.
A tired smile tugged at my lips. There was no way I could deny that, but what I really wanted to do was crawl into bed and nap. I was drained.
On the other side of Dary, Abbi’s fingers were flying across the screen of her phone. “He’s being a real helpful guy, isn’t he?”
Surprised, I looked over at her. Abbi hadn’t been very talkative. Not in Chem or at lunch. Everyone else had been chatting. Like the girl in the morning, so many people had approached me throughout the day. I got so many hugs, so many well-wishes from people I barely knew. There were others who didn’t approach me. Jessica and her friends hadn’t, but I guess she wouldn’t, since she’d been dating Cody. Skylar hadn’t looked in my direction during class earlier.
But I got the distinct impression Abbi wasn’t exactly thrilled with me, and there could be a ton of reasons for that. “Yeah, he’s been really...helpful.”
“Is that what they’re calling it nowadays?” Dary joked. “When boys are into you, they’re helpful?”
“That actually sounds like a nice way of putting it.” Abbi’s gaze was on Sebastian’s back. “Has something changed between you two?”
I opened my mouth, about to tell them what Sebastian had told me, but I stopped. I was sure they didn’t want to hear it.
Abbi’s lips pursed as we stepped out the double doors. The sky was overcast, and the scent of rain lingered in the air.
Eyes wide, Dary glanced between us. “I was thinking maybe we could meet up for something to eat later? Like we...we used to do.”
Like we used to with Megan.
“I don’t know,” I said hoarsely. “I have a lot of work to catch up on.”
Abbi’s half smile was bitter and her words sharp as we crossed into the parking lot. “Of course.”
My gaze shot to her as my stomach dipped, and Abbi sighed. “Maybe next week you’ll be better caught up?” she asked.
I nodded and replied with a quiet “Sure.”
“Text you guys later.” Dary quickly kissed my cheek and then Abbi’s before darting off toward where she was parked.
Up ahead, Sebastian looked over his shoulder at me. He was almost near his Jeep and I knew he didn’t have a ton of time, but I had to talk to Abbi. The question was bubbling up. I knew I needed to just keep my mouth shut, but I couldn’t.
I stopped, angling my body toward Abbi’s. “Can we talk for a second?”
Her brows rose as she slowly lifted her gaze from her phone. Her stare wasn’t hostile, but it wasn’t exactly friendly. There was a wall between us. “What’s up?”
Drawing in a shallow breath, I asked, “Are you...mad at me?”
Abbi lowered her phone as she tilted her head to the side. For a moment, I didn’t think she was going to answer. “Honestly?”
My heart turned over heavily. “We’ve always been honest with one another.”