The thought had merit. “Cool. That’s a good idea.”
“Sometimes, I’m brilliant. I’m tied up with Grey Isles today, but tonight works.”
“I have couples counseling tonight.”
“Oh, right. Have fun with that. Tomorrow? Maybe we’ll pick up a few things for Ibiza, too.”
The reminder of the weekend’s plans made me feel pressed for time. I couldn’t help being anxious about it, even knowing how much fun it would be to spend time with my friends. “Tomorrow’s good. I’ll come to the apartment.”
“Sweet. We’ll pack, too.”
We hung up and I held my phone in my hand for a long time, feeling a sense of grief. For the first time since we’d moved to New York, it felt like Cary and I were living in two separate places. I was settling into being home with Gideon, while Cary’s home was still very much the apartment.
My calendar app beeped a reminder that Blaire would be showing up in thirty minutes. Cursing to myself, I dropped my phone on the bed and hurried to get ready.
“How are you both doing?” Dr. Petersen asked, as we all three took our seats.
Gideon and I sat on the couch, as usual, while Dr. Petersen settled into his armchair and picked up his tablet.
“We’re better than ever,” I answered.
My husband said nothing, but he reached over and took my hand, pulling it over to rest on his thigh.
“I received an invitation to your reception.” Dr. Petersen smiled. “My wife and I are very much looking forward to it.”
I hadn’t been able to convince my mom to include even the tiniest bit of red on the invites, but I thought they were pretty all the same. We’d agreed on a vellum invitation, tucked into a sheer pocket, with an exterior white envelope for mailing and privacy. It gave me butterflies thinking of them being received. We were another step closer to putting the façade of an engagement behind us.
“Me, too.” I leaned my shoulder against Gideon’s and he put his arm around me.
“The last time we met,” Dr. Petersen said, “you’d just quit your job, Eva. How has that been?”
“Easier than I thought. I’ve been busy, though, so that helps.”
“Helps with what?”
I considered my answer. “From feeling aimless. I’m busier now. And I’m working on things that actually make a difference in my life.”
“The wedding, of course. And moving into the penthouse, which I’m doing in baby steps. And planning some renovations, which I’d like to talk about.”
“Of course.” He studied me. “Let’s talk about those baby steps first. Is there any significance to that?”
“Well, just that I’m not doing it all at once. It’s ongoing.”
“Do you view it as a way to ease into the commitment? Previously, you’ve acted very decisively. Eloping. Separating. Quitting your job.”
That made me think. “It’s a transition that affects Gideon and Cary as much as it does me.”
“As far as I’m concerned,” Gideon interjected, “the sooner she’s moved in, the better.”
“I’m just being careful.” I shrugged.
Dr. Petersen scrawled across his tablet screen, taking notes. “Is Cary having difficulty adjusting?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “He’s not acting like he is. But I worry. He falls into bad habits without support.”
“Do you have any thoughts about that, Gideon?”
He kept his tone neutral. “I knew what I was getting into when I married her.”
“Always a good thing.” Dr. Petersen smiled. “But that doesn’t tell me much.”
Gideon’s hand lifted from my shoulder and went to my hair, playing with it. “As a married man yourself, Doctor, you know there are concessions a husband makes to keep the peace. Cary is one of mine.”
That hurt me to hear, but I understood Cary had started out with a clean slate with Gideon. Then he’d made several wrong moves—like having group sex in our living room one night—that put marks against him.
Dr. Petersen looked at me. “So you’re attempting to balance the needs of both your husband and your best friend. Is that stressful?”
“It’s not fun,” I hedged, “but it’s not really balancing, either. My marriage—and Gideon—comes first.”
I could tell Gideon liked hearing that when his hand fisted gently—possessively—in my hair.
“But,” I continued, “I don’t want to overwhelm Gideon and I don’t want Cary to feel abandoned. Moving a small bag of stuff over every day makes the change gradual.”
Once the thought was out, I had to admit how maternal that sounded. Still, I couldn’t help wanting to protect those in my life who needed it, especially from pain my own actions might cause.
“You’ve mentioned everyone but you,” he pointed out. “How do you feel?”
“The penthouse is starting to feel like home. The only thing I’m struggling with is our sleeping arrangements. We’ve been sharing a bed, but Gideon wants us to sleep separately and I don’t.”
“Because of the nightmares?” Dr. Petersen asked, his gaze on Gideon.
“Yes,” he answered.
“Have you had any lately?”
My husband nodded. “Not the really bad ones.”
“What constitutes a really bad nightmare? One that you act out physically?”
Gideon’s chest expanded on a deep breath. “Yes.”
The doctor looked at me again. “You understand the risk, Eva, but you still want to share a bed with Gideon.”
“Yes, of course.” My heartbeat quickened at the memories. Gideon had pinned me down viciously, ugly words of pain and fury spilling out in terrible threats of violence.
In the grip of a nightmare, Gideon didn’t see me, he saw Hugh—a man he wanted to tear apart with his bare hands.
“Many happily married couples sleep separately,” Dr. Petersen pointed out. “The reasons are varied—the husband snores, the wife steals the covers, et cetera—but they find that sleeping apart is more conducive to marital harmony than sleeping together.”
I straightened away from Gideon, needing them both to understand. “I like sleeping next to him. Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night and I watch him sleep. Sometimes, I wake up and I don’t even open my eyes, I just listen to him breathing. I can smell him, feel his warmth. I sleep better when he’s beside me. And I know he sleeps better, too.”
“Angel.” Gideon’s hand stroked my back.
Looking over my shoulder, I caught his gaze. His face was impassive. Gorgeous. His eyes, however, were dark blue pools of pain. I reached for his hand. “I know it hurts you. I’m sorry. I just need us to work toward having that. I don’t want us to ever give up on it.”
“What you describe,” Dr. Petersen said gently, “is intimacy, Eva. And it’s one of the true joys of marriage. It’s understandable that you crave it. Everyone does to some extent. For you and Gideon, however, it probably seems particularly important.”
“It does to me,” I agreed.
“Are you implying it’s different for me?” Gideon said tightly.
“No.” I twisted to face him. “Please don’t get defensive. This isn’t your fault. I’m not blaming you.”
“Do you know how shitty this makes me feel?” he accused.
“I wish you wouldn’t take it personally, Gideon. It’s—”
“My wife wants to watch me sleep and I can’t even give her that,” he snapped. “What is that, if not fucking personal?”
“Okay, let’s discuss,” Dr. Petersen said quickly, drawing our attention to him. “The root of this conversation is a craving for intimate familiarity. Human beings, by nature, desire intimacy, but childhood sexual abuse survivors can find this need especially acute.”
Gideon was still tense, but he was listening attentively.
“In many cases,” the doctor continued, “the abuser works hard to isolate the victim to help conceal their crime and make the victim dependent. The victims themselves very often withdraw from friends and family. Everyone else’s lives seem so ordinary and the troubles of others so insignificant next to the terrible secret they feel forced to hide.”
I slid back into place against Gideon’s side, pulling my knees up to hug him with the whole of my body. His arm came tight around me once more, his other hand reaching for mine.
Dr. Petersen’s face softened as he watched us. “That deep loneliness was alleviated when you both opened up to each other, but being starved of true intimacy for so long leaves a mark. I urge you to consider alternative ways to achieve the closeness you crave, Eva. Create signals and rituals that are unique to your relationship, that don’t threaten either one of you and bring you both a sense of connection.”
Sighing, I nodded.