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It was physically painful to separate from her. Her low moan of anguish echoed inside me, reflecting my own. I flopped onto my back and was immediately subjected to a tongue bath, Lucky-style.

“He really loves you.” Eva rolled onto her side and reached out to scratch behind his ears. That had the welcome effect of luring him over to her. Her squeal of laughter as Lucky proceeded to slather her face made me smile despite my aching dick.

I could complain about the damn dog, lack of sex and sleep, and more. But really, my life was as close to perfect as I could want.

Once I got to work, I powered through my morning.

The release of the new GenTen gaming console was imminent and while speculation was rampant, we had managed to keep the virtual reality component a secret. VR was in development everywhere, but Cross Industries was years ahead of the competition. I knew decisively that LanCorp’s PhazeOne system was simply an overhaul, with advanced optics and increased speed. It could compete with the previous-generation GenTen, but that was all.

Shortly before lunch, I took the time to call my mother.

“Gideon.” She sighed tremulously. “I suppose you heard?”

“Yes. I’m sorry.” I could tell she was hurting. “If you need anything, please let me know.”

“Chris is the one who suddenly isn’t happy in our marriage,” she said bitterly. “And it’s all my fault, of course.”

I softened my tone, but spoke firmly. “Not to be insensitive, but the details don’t concern me. How are you?”

“Talk to him.” The plea was heartfelt. Her voice cracked. “Tell him he’s made a mistake.”

I debated how to answer. The assistance I offered was fiduciary, not personal. There was nothing personal left in my relationship with my mother. Still, I found myself saying, “You won’t want my advice, but I’ll offer it anyway. You might want to consider therapy.”

There was a pause. “I can’t believe you, of all people, would suggest that.”

“Preaching what I practice.” My gaze slid to the photo of my wife, as it so often did during my day. “Eva suggested couples counseling shortly after we began dating. She wanted something more out of our relationship. I wanted her, so I agreed. Initially, I was just going through the motions, but now I can say it’s been really worthwhile.”

“She started all of this,” she hissed. “You’re such a smart man, Gideon, but you can’t see what she’s doing.”

“And this is where I say good-bye, Mother,” I replied before she got me riled. “Call if you need anything.”

I hung up, then spun in my chair, making a slow revolution all the way around. The disappointment and anger that always accompanied interactions with my mother was there, simmering, but I was more aware of it than usual. Maybe because I’d so recently dreamed of her, reliving the moment when I had realized she would never come around, was deliberately choosing to turn a blind eye for reasons I would never comprehend.

For years, I made excuses for her. I manufactured dozens of reasons for her refusal to protect me to give myself some comfort. Until I realized she was doing the same thing in reverse, making up stories about why I’d lie about being abused so she could live with her decision to pretend it never happened. So I stopped.

She had failed me as a mother but preferred to believe I’d failed her as a son.

And so it went.

When I faced my desk again, I picked up the phone and called my brother.

“What do you want?” he answered.

I could picture the scowl on his face. A face very unlike mine. Of my mother’s three children, only Christopher resembled his father more than he did our mom.

His acrimony had the predictable effect of making me want to bait him. “The pleasure of hearing your voice. What else?”

“Cut the shit, Gideon. Did you call to gloat? Your fondest wish has finally come true.”

Leaning back in my chair, I looked up at the ceiling. “I’d tell you I’m very sorry your parents are divorcing, but you wouldn’t believe me, so I won’t bother. Instead, I’ll say that I’m here for you, if you need me.”

“Go to hell.” He hung up.

I pulled the receiver away from my ear and held it aloft a moment. Contrary to Christopher’s belief, I hadn’t always disliked him. There had been a time when I welcomed him in my life. For a short time, I’d had a comrade. A brother. The animosity I felt now, he’d earned. But no matter, I would take care of him and see that he didn’t stumble too badly, whether he liked it or not.

Returning the handset to its cradle, I got back to work. After all, I couldn’t have anything pressing over the weekend. I planned to be completely incommunicado while with my wife.

I studied Dr. Petersen, who sat completely at ease across from me. He wore dark, loose jeans with a tucked-in white shirt, as comfortable as I’d ever seen him. I wondered if that was a deliberate decision in an effort to seem as innocuous as possible. He knew my history with therapists now, understood why I would always find them threatening to some degree.

“How did your weekend in Westport go?” he asked.

“Did she call you?” In the past, when Eva wanted to make sure I discussed something in therapy, she would bring it up to Dr. Petersen in advance. I grumbled about it and often didn’t appreciate it, but her motivation was her love for me and I couldn’t bitch about that.

“No.” He smiled, and it was gentle, almost fond. “I saw the photographs of you and Eva.”

That surprised me. “I wouldn’t have taken you for the type to follow the tabloids.”

“My wife does. She showed me the pictures because she found them very romantic. I have to agree with her. You both looked very happy.”

“We are.”

“How do you get along with Eva’s family?”

I settled back, draping my arm over the armrest. “I’ve known Richard Stanton for many years and Monica for the last few.”

“Casual and business acquaintances are very different from in-laws.”

His perceptiveness rankled. Still, I was honest. “It was … awkward. Unnecessarily so, but I dealt with it.”

Dr. Petersen’s smile widened. “How did you deal with it?”

“I focused on Eva.”

“So you maintained distance from the others?”

“No more than usual.”

He scribbled notes into his tablet. “Anything else happen since I saw you on Thursday?”

My mouth twisted wryly. “She bought me a dog. A puppy.”

He looked up at me. “Congratulations.”

I shrugged. “Eva’s tickled by the whole thing.”

“Is it her dog, then?”

“No. She got all the gear and dropped him in my lap.”

“That’s quite a commitment.”

“He’ll be fine. Animals are good at self-sufficiency.” Because he waited with expectant patience, I moved on. “My stepfather filed for divorce.”

Dr. Petersen’s head tilted a little as he studied me. “We’ve gone from in-laws, to a new dog, to the dissolution of your parents’ marriage in the space of a few minutes. That’s a tremendous amount of change for someone who strives for structure.”

That was stating the obvious, so I didn’t add anything.

“You seem remarkably composed, Gideon. Because things are going well with Eva?”

“Exceptionally well.” I knew the contrast to last week’s therapy session was striking. I’d been wild with panic over the separation from Eva, terrified and frantic that I might lose her. I could recall the feelings with anguished clarity, but I had difficulty accepting how quickly I had … unraveled. I didn’t recognize that desperate man, couldn’t reconcile him with what I knew about myself.

He nodded slowly. “Of the three things you mentioned, how would you rank them from most important to least important?”

“That would depend on your definition of importance.”

“Fair enough. Which would you say impacts you most?”

“The dog.”

“Does he or she have a name?”

I held back a smile. “His name is Lucky.”

He noted that, for whatever reason. “Would you buy Eva a pet?”

The question took me aback. I answered without really thinking about it. “No.”

“Why not?”

I considered that a minute. “As you pointed out, it’s a commitment.”

“Are you resentful that she made you take on that commitment?”

“No.”

“Do you have any pictures of Lucky?”

I frowned. “No. Where are you going with this?”

“I’m not sure.” He set his tablet aside and held my gaze. “Bear with me a minute.”

“Okay.”

“Taking on a pet is a big responsibility, similar to adopting a child. They’re dependent on you for food and shelter, for companionship and love. Dogs more so than cats or other animals.”

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