He glanced at me. “I remember when you first came to see me, you and Eva hadn’t spoken for a couple of days.”
“He cut me off,” she said.
“She walked out,” I countered.
Again, it had been a night when we’d really opened up to each other. She told me about Nathan’s assaults, let me see the source of what had unconsciously drawn us together. Then I’d had a nightmare about my own abuse and she pushed me to talk about it.
I couldn’t and she left me.
Eva bristled. “He broke it off with me via interoffice memo! Who does that?”
“I didn’t break it off,” I corrected. “I challenged you to come back. You walk away when things don’t—”
“That’s emotional blackmail.” She released my hand and shifted to face me. “You cut me off for the express purpose of making me accept your status quo. I don’t like the way things are? Well, then, you’ll shut me out until I can’t take it anymore.”
“Didn’t you just do that to me?” My jaw clenched. “And you seem to take it just fine. If I don’t change, you don’t budge.”
And that killed me. She’d proven so many times that she could leave and not look back, while I couldn’t breathe without her. That was a fundamental imbalance in our relationship, which gave her the upper hand in everything.
“You sound resentful, Gideon,” Dr. Petersen interjected.
“And I don’t?” Eva crossed her arms.
I shook my head. “It’s not resentment. It’s … frustration. I can’t walk away, but she can.”
“That’s not fair! And it’s not true. The only leverage I’ve got is to make you miss me. I try talking it out with you, but in the end, you do what you want. You don’t tell me things, don’t consult me.”
“I’m working on that.”
“Now you are, but I had to pull away to make you do it. Be honest, Gideon, I came along and you realized you had a void in your life that I could fill, and you wanted to put me there and leave the rest of your life as it was.”
“What I wanted was for you to let us—be us. Just enjoy each other for a while.”
“My right to decide, to say yes or no, is fucking important to me! You’ve got no business taking that away from me or getting pissed when I don’t like it!”
“Jesus.” Reality check. It felt like I’d taken a punch to the gut. Considering her history, to have her feel—for even a moment—that I’d taken her choices away was a brutal blow. “Eva …”
I knew what she needed, had recognized it from the first. I’d given her a safeword that I respected at all times, in public or private. She said the word and I stopped. I reminded her often, made sure she always knew that the choice to cease or continue rested entirely with her.
But I’d failed to make the connection when it came to her job. It was inexcusable.
I turned toward her. “Angel, I didn’t mean to make you feel powerless. I would never. Ever. I didn’t think of it that way. I’m … I’m sorry.”
The words weren’t enough; they never were. I wanted to be her fresh start, her new beginning. How could I be when I was acting like the assholes in her past?
She looked at me with those eyes that saw everything I’d rather keep hidden. For once, I was grateful that she could.
Her combative posture relaxed. Her gaze softened with love. “Maybe I haven’t been explaining myself well.”
I sat there, unable to express what was churning through my mind. When we talked about being a team and sharing our burdens, I hadn’t related it to her needing the power to agree or disagree. I thought I could shield her from the troubles we faced and make things smoother for her. Eva deserved that.
She poked my shoulder. “Didn’t it feel good, even a little bit, to talk to me about your dream last night?”
“I don’t know.” I exhaled harshly. “I just know you’re happy with me because I did. If that’s what it takes … then that’s what I’ll do.”
She sank back into the sofa cushions, her lips trembling. She looked at Dr. Petersen. “And now I feel guilty.”
Silence. I didn’t know what to say. Dr. Petersen just waited with that maddening patience.
Eva took a deep, shaky breath. “I was thinking if he’d just try it my way, he’d see how much better it could be between us. But if I’m just pushing him into a corner … if I’m just blackmailing him …” A tear slid down her face, cutting into me like a blade. “Maybe we have different ideas about what our marriage should be. What if that’s not going to change?”
“Eva.” I put my arm around her and pulled her closer, grateful when she leaned into me and put her head on my shoulder. Not surrender. More like a momentary truce. Good enough.
“That’s an important question,” Dr. Petersen said. “So let’s explore it. What if the level of disclosure you want from Gideon isn’t something he will ever feel comfortable with?”
“I don’t know.” She swiped at her tears. “I don’t know where that leaves us.”
All the hope she’d had when we entered the room was gone. Stroking her hair, I tried to come up with something to say that would take things back to the way they’d been when we arrived.
Lost, I told her, “You quit your job for me, even though you didn’t want to. I told you about my dream, even though I didn’t want to. Isn’t that how this works? We both compromise?”
“You left your job, Eva?” Dr. Petersen asked. “Why?”
She curled into my side. “It was starting to cause more trouble than it was worth. Besides, Gideon’s right—he gave a little, so it seems only fair to give a little, too.”
“I wouldn’t say what either of you compromised was ‘little.’ And both of you chose to open our session with other things first, which suggests neither of you are completely comfortable with the sacrifice.” He sat back, setting his tablet in his lap. “Have either of you asked yourselves why you’re in such a hurry?”
We both looked at him.
He smiled. “You’re both frowning, so I’ll take that as a no. As a couple, you have a lot of strengths. You may not be sharing everything, but you’re communicating and you’re doing so productively. There’s some anger and frustration, but you’re expressing them and validating each other’s feelings.”
Eva straightened. “But …?”
“You’re also both pushing personal agendas and manipulating each other to make them happen. My concern is that they’re issues and changes that would naturally present themselves and be resolved in time, but neither of you wants to wait. You’re both driving your relationship forward on an accelerated schedule. It’s only been three months since you two met for the first time. At this point, most couples are deciding to date exclusively, but you two have been married for nearly a month.”
I felt my shoulders going back. “What’s the point in delaying the inevitable?”
“If it’s inevitable,” he responded, his eyes kind, “why rush it? But that’s not my point. You’re both jeopardizing your marriage by forcing each other to act before you’re ready. You each have ways of coping with adverse situations. Gideon, you disassociate, as you’ve done with your family. Eva, you blame yourself for why the relationship isn’t working and start subverting your own needs, as you’ve demonstrated with your previous self-destructive romantic relationships. If you continue to maneuver each other into situations where you feel threatened, you will eventually trigger one of these self-defense mechanisms.”
As my pulse began to race, I felt Eva stiffen. She’d said as much to me before, but I knew hearing it from a shrink would validate that worry for her. I pulled her closer, breathing her in to calm myself. The hatred I felt for Hugh and Nathan in that moment was vicious. They were both dead and buried, but they were still fucking up our lives.
“We’re not going to let them win,” Eva whispered.
I pressed a kiss to the top of her head, fiercely grateful for her. Her thoughts were like mine and that filled me with a sense of wonder.
Her head tilted back, her fingertips drifting along my jaw, her gray eyes soft and tender. “I can’t hold out against you, you know. It hurts too much to stay away. Just because you cross the battle lines first doesn’t mean I’m less invested. It just means I’m more stubborn.”
“I don’t want to fight with you.”
“So let’s not,” she said simply. “We started something new today—you talking, me quitting. Let’s stick with it for a while and see where it takes us.”
“I can do that.”
I’d originally planned to take Eva someplace quiet and tucked away for dinner, but I changed the venue to the Crosby Street Hotel instead. The restaurant was popular and the hotel was known to often have paparazzi nearby. I wasn’t prepared to go to any extremes, but as we’d discussed with Dr. Petersen, I was open to meeting her halfway. We would find our middle ground.
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