Chapter 96

               Vince was halfway out the gym door when he felt a soft grip on his arm. Before he even turned around, he knew who it was. How could he not? He’d spent so much time with her, grown so accustomed to her presence. Even now, as messed as he was inside, the idea of letting go and telling her everything was almost impossible to resist.


                “Hey.” Camille released her grip on him, content that he’d stopped. “I wanted to check on you. Mary said you seemed conflicted when you left the bar Saturday.”

                “I… it’s just a weird situation. I’ll be okay.” He felt there was truth in that. He would be okay, one day, when he’d managed to work through the swirling miasma of uncertainty inside.

                “Girlfriend suddenly springing back into your life sounds like more than just weird.” Camille tried to add a laugh at the end of her sentence, but it came out dry and hard. “Look, you know if you need to talk, I’m always here.”

                “I know. Thank you, Camille. I really do appreciate it, but right now I need to go.” Vince resumed his brisk gait.

                “Okay.” She knew his class wasn’t for a while; they often walked along together after gym. But she said nothing as he hurried away, merely watching until he took a turn and his silver hair vanished from sight. Only then did she let out the sigh she’d been holding, binding it down in case it turned into a sob on the way up.

                “I’m jealous of you.”

                The voice came from behind, causing Camille to jump in surprise. She spun around to find Clarissa standing there. The former Hero must move like a ninja-cat to have exited the gym so quietly. Only after her heart-rate slowed down did Camille register what the older woman had actually said.

                “I’m sorry… jealous?”

                “Yeah, jealous. At least yours is willing to consider things like romance and what they want. Most of his type are so caught-up in the job that they never actually stop to think about the world beyond it. Self-denial through self-imposed ignorance, and woe to the poor girl who has lost her heart to him.”

                “Vince is just my friend. He’s going through a rough patch and I want to help.”

                Clarissa stepped forward a few steps and stared down at the shorter woman with an expression of knowing sorrow. “Darling girl, I’ve been where you’ve been and I’ve said those same lies, to myself as well as others. Trust me: if it is at all possible to turn your heart away from him, then do so. Find a simple, decent man who doesn’t walk with the weight of the world on his shoulders. It might not be a happy life, but it will be a content one.”

                For a moment, Camille shuddered, and she feared she was going to finally break and cry. But Camille was harder than her size and gentleness indicated; there was strength in her yet, and she pushed back the wave of emotion before it drowned her.

                “And what if I can’t? What if it’s too late?”

                “Then get your ass off the sidelines and fight,” Clarissa said, her voice suddenly forceful. “Break through that damned thick skull and make him see what you mean to him. Stop pretending this is enough, and go after the thing you really want. The lives of Heroes are measured in minutes, not years. Time is your enemy; do not give him more ground than is necessary.”

                Camille stared up at the beautiful, dazzling, fierce woman, and wondered what man on earth could have possibly resisted her. Then she wondered how hopeless her cause was if a woman like this was unable to capture her heart’s desire.

                “Did he… did yours ever come around?”

                “He was beginning to,” Clarissa said, an unexpectedly gentle smile on her face. It faded in less than a second. “But things went awry in the worst way possible. That’s why I’m telling you to run or act now. You don’t know how long you’ll get. Don’t let these years slip through your fingers.”

*              *              *

                Dr. Moran was reading through a batch of files on the freshmen, flagging any high-risk cases for burnout, when the sharp rapping of a fist fell on her door. She stuck a sticky note into the file as an impromptu bookmark, then shut the manila envelopes and tossed them in a drawer.

                “Come in.”

                Vince Reynolds all but burst through the door. Immediately she knew something was amiss. Vince usually held himself together quite well, but today he was pale and fidgety. There were bags under his eyes, signifying that he’d gotten little sleep as of late. Even the way he’d entered was uncharacteristic; he often called his name before opening a door.

                “Vince, what happened?”

                “I need to schedule a session with you, if possible, please.” He was half-stumbling over his words, manners doing battle with desperation. “I know we usually do Fridays but something happened this weekend that I’d like to talk about.”

                Dr. Moran mentally reviewed her calendar for the day. She had plenty of menial tasks, but those could be shifted around. Later in the day there were other counseling sessions; that left a sizable window where she could cut out some time for Vince.

                “While I do usually prefer to schedule these things with a bit more warning, today I happen to have some free time. Why don’t you take a seat and we can talk.”

                Vince nodded, heading over to his usual chair and settling in. He already seemed to be calming down, just the prospect of being able to talk permitting some sense of relief. After a few deep breaths, he was several steps closer back to being normal Vince.

                “Now then, why don’t you tell me about what happened,” Dr. Moran urged.

                “It’s about the thing I was hiding from you before, trying not to talk about. I didn’t hide it because it was something I was ashamed of, it was just… too hard to talk about. It hurt too much.”

                “And now?”

                “And now I’m scared that if I don’t talk about it, I’m going to lose my mind.”