“Uh-huh.” There was a pause. “Becoming close with Jensen again, has that been stirring up anything?”
My lips pursed.
His eyebrow rose.
I sighed again. “A little bit, I guess. I mean, it’s kind of hard not to think of . . . of him, but we don’t talk about him.”
“Maybe you two should.”
I bit the inside of my cheek. Considering how talking about Penn this morning had gone, it wasn’t something that I wanted to repeat immediately.
“I’ve always said that the way Jensen views what happened with Penn would be of value to you.” Dr. Oliver lowered his hands. “He doesn’t feel the same way you do.”
It wasn’t that Jensen didn’t feel any remorse. I knew he did, but he was, as Dr. Oliver put it, pragmatic about things. Jensen believed that no matter what we had done or didn’t do, Penn would’ve eventually taken his own life either way.
Penn was sick. I accepted that part of it. It had taken me a long time to realize that our one singular act hadn’t driven Penn to take his life, but we had been the tipping point.
“Do you still feel responsible for Penn’s death?”
The breath I exhaled was shaky as I met Dr. Oliver’s stare. Part of me wanted to lie, because I knew if I said yes, this appointment was going to continue far longer than I wanted it to. But I guess honesty time was over. “Sometimes I . . . forget about it. I mean, not really completely forget, but I don’t think about it.”
“That’s normal, Ella.”
I winced. “It doesn’t seem right though.” I didn’t want to continue, but Dr. Oliver was giving me a look that said he’d sit there and stare at me until I did. “I don’t want to forget him—forget Penn. He was . . . he was my best friend. I grew up with him.” My voice turned hoarse. “It’s not right to just forget about him.”
“No one is saying you need to forget him, Ella, but life does go on. It always has and will. Letting that happen is no disrespect to Penn’s memory,” he said patiently and then sat back, hooking one leg over the other. “You have to learn to let this guilt go.”
Pressing my lips together, I folded my arms across my chest.
His gaze turned shrewd. “You did not kill that boy. Neither did Jensen. Choosing to go to one party over another does not make you responsible. It sucks,” he said, raising his hands before pressing them together under his chin. “It was a series of unfortunate events, but nothing you two did equals ownership of blame.”
I wanted to believe that so much. “What about Monica? Vee?”
“What about them?”
“They picked on him relentlessly. Are they to blame?”
Dr. Oliver didn’t answer for a long moment. “When you bully someone, picking at them day after day, stripping away their self-worth and confidence, their very will to live, then you do have ownership of the blame. And what they did to him is very different than what you and Jensen did. You know that.”
“I’m going to be up front with you,” he said, and I schooled my expression blank. “What you’re feeling—the anxiety and fear, even the nightmares, after a violent attack is normal. You’re probably going to experience that for some time, maybe even until they apprehend the person responsible, but it’s not affecting your daily life. So that’s good. And I also think it’s great that you’re reconnecting with Jensen. In a way, getting to know him again is the right step for you to be taking.”
He nodded, pulling a thick pad out of his desk. “It’s all about finally letting your past go, and it’s about time that you do that.”
I hadn’t really thought of it that way.
“But I am going to write you a prescription for something to help you sleep.” He scribbled across the pad and then ripped the slip of paper off. “Sleep is important.”
I took the paper. “So I’m okay?”
“As okay as any of us are.” A quick smile flashed across his face.
My gaze dropped to his barely legible handwriting. “Can I ask you a question?”
He leaned back in his chair, hooking one leg over the other. “Have at it.”
“You’re a therapist, right?”
His eyebrow arched. “On some days.”
I smiled at that. “What I mean is, you do this for a living, and with . . . what has been happening around here, why. . . . why do you think someone is doing this?”
“Ah . . . well, I don’t think there’s a simple answer to that question,” he said. “There are people who kill for the thrill of it—thrill killers. There’s no rhyme or reason. Their victims are usually random, and they tend to move about, not staying in one city or location.”
“And you don’t think that’s the case here?”
“I don’t think there’s enough evidence to say either way, but I’d be surprised if that’s what the police have on their hands. People kill for different motives—greed, love, hate.” He paused, his gaze meeting mine. “Revenge. So on and so forth. And if the police can find a motive linking the murder to the disappearance and the attack, then they’ll find their guy.”
I turned that over in my head. “But what if there isn’t a motive?”
Dr. Oliver leaned forward, the chair creaking under the shift in his weight. “Thrill killers are rare, Ella. There’s almost always a motive. And most of the time it’s what’s staring us right in the face.”
A chill tiptoed down my spine.
“I want to see you in three weeks,” he said, reclining back. “Just in case you’re not okay. Now get out of my office.” He smiled. “Wife is making spaghetti for dinner. I don’t want to be late.”
I grinned at him in spite of the coldness his observation had left behind. “All right. Bye.”
Leaving the office with my brand spanking new sleeping pill prescription in the pocket of my jeans, I slipped out the door, closing it quietly behind me. I headed down the hall, reading over the prescription. Sleeping pills. Would I take them? As haggard as I looked, I needed to.
Last night I’d slept pretty good. Even waking up as early as I did, I’d still gotten more sleep than I had in days. But it wasn’t like Jensen could be my little bed buddy forever.
Of course, I immediately thought of this morning, of how he felt against me and what we’d done, and then at lunch, when he . . . Face burning, I slapped my hands over my cheeks as I turned the corner and walked right into someone.
Swallowing a shriek, I stumbled back, smacking into the wall behind me. Strong hands settled on my shoulders, steadying me.
“Whoa, are you okay?” Gavin asked.
I pressed my hands to my chest. “Oh my God, you scared me.”
“Well, you were walking around the corner with your hands over your face. I doubt you would’ve seen anyone.” A slight smile appeared. “You sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah, I just wasn’t paying attention.” Looking up, I took in his pale complexion and the deep shadows under his eyes. “Are you okay?”
His brows knitted together. “Of course I am.”
“You look . . .”
“Tired?” he supplied, and a dry laugh rattled out of him. “Well, as you know, school’s been a bit of a bitch this week.”
I winced. “Sorry. I really am sorry that you’re going through all of this. It’s not fair.”
“Yeah, but I think Vee got the really unfair end of the deal.”
“True.” My stomach tumbled a bit.
Gavin’s hands were still on my shoulders. “What are you doing here? Are you seeing Dr. Oliver again?”
I nodded. “Yeah, after everything, Mom thought it would be a good idea. I haven’t been sleeping well, and I . . .” Then it hit me. I frowned. “What are you doing here?”
“Helping the parents. They’re cleaning offices. I’m stuck with them for the evening.” His fingers curled around my shoulders, tangling in my hair. “Actually, I’m glad I ran into you. Maybe we could grab something to eat. I’m sure my parents would understand.”