“Thank you for everything. For staying with the boys last night. For giving me time. For being you. I don’t even want to think what my life would be like without you.”
I knew just what he meant. We were good for each other, plain and simple. Knox pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me believe I was worth something. And I forced him to deal with the pain in his past and examine the damaging coping mechanisms he employed. My life felt fuller and more meaningful than it had in years.
“I’ll come by tomorrow night after work,” I murmured.
He nodded. “See you then.”
After walking him out and locking up, I fell into bed, my body heavy and relaxed, and let sleep pull me under.
The following morning I was up early, feeling eager to jump into my new life. Of course I had my job at the counseling center and my obligations volunteering, but I was also firm on keeping some of the resolutions I’d made myself and Knox. Beginning with putting myself first. I made an appointment at my gynecologist’s office for later that morning and then drove to a local salon, one of the benefits of still having the rental car. I knew I needed to return it and think about my long-term plans for transportation, but something about having a car in the city felt so decadent after surviving for so long without one.
After getting my hair cut, colored with caramel highlights, and styled into flowing waves, I couldn’t stop touching it and stealing glances at myself in the rearview mirror as I drove. My hair felt so much softer with all the spilt ends cut off. It had taken nearly three hours at the salon, and while that normally would have made me feel guilty and like it was a waste of time and money, today it felt like therapy—something I was supposed to do to take care of myself. I decided my mom would be thrilled seeing me happy like this. All these years I’d told myself I should keep up my punishing schedule for them, to make sure their deaths were not for nothing. But today, for the first time, I realized both of my parents would have hated the girl I’d become. They would have hated seeing me spent and exhausted, the dark circles under my eyes. I never knew indulging myself could feel so good.
When I arrived at the doctor’s office, I fought off the wave of nerves I experienced walking into the waiting room. I was a twenty-one-year-old woman who needed birth control. This might have been new and scary for me, but I reminded myself that the doctor had probably seen and heard it all before.
After filling out a stack of forms, a nurse called my name and brought me back to an exam room, where she took my weight and blood pressure, and then asked me to strip completely and dress in a paper robe and wait for the doctor.
I did as instructed, folding my bra and panties and hiding them under my folded jeans, then climbed up onto the exam table, arranging the stiff robe around me.
The doctor knocked once and entered. She was tall and gorgeous with honey-colored skin and long, dark hair. She could have been Beyoncé’s sister, and I felt self-conscious sitting there in my paper outfit. But she immediately put me at ease, explaining that she’d conduct a vaginal exam and Pap smear, and then we’d talk about birth control options.
I leaned back on the table and placed my feet in the stirrups where she directed.
After several seconds and a little pinch, she stood up and removed her gloves. “You look very healthy.”
I didn’t know what a doctor might say while looking at my lady parts, but I supposed healthy was the best thing.
“What kind of protection are you using today?” she asked.
“Are you in a monogamous relationship?”
“Yes.” I nodded. I felt confident for the first time since Knox and I had begun seeing each other that this statement was true. I didn’t know if it was possible to be completely cured from sex addiction, or if he still had occasional dark thoughts or struggles, but I felt certain I was the only woman in his bed and in his arms these days.
We discussed the birth control patch, pills, and the shot. I decided to go with the shot, knowing it lasted for three months and wouldn’t be something I had to think about every day. The nurse came in and administered the shot, then I redressed and left, feeling confident and in control of my life for the first time in a long time.
After working my shift at the teen center, I drove to Knox’s place around dinnertime. The boys were gathered around the table, eating when I arrived, and Knox set out an extra plate for me, loading it up with a piece of chicken and potatoes. I loved being here with them and as I ate, I enjoyed their banter. The noise volume was a sharp contrast to my own quiet apartment.
While we ate, my gaze kept wandering over to McKenna. Last night had been incredible. It had started a little rocky when she’d brought up wanting to give away her inheritance to fund Luke’s education, but it had ended perfectly. Watching McKenna’s confidence grow as she moved above me in bed had been life changing. It had broken something inside me and as worried as I was about admitting my drunk-driving arrest to her, I had to believe that all this would work out.
“Stop playing with your chicken and eat, Tuck.” I shot my youngest brother a warning glare. The chicken leg I’d put on his plate was currently performing a can-can dance.
Tucker giggled, glancing up at McKenna, and took a big bite. The little shit. He was flirting with her. She choked on a laugh of her own, covering her mouth with the napkin.
“Have you filled out your applications yet?” I asked Luke.
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