Ravaged River(7)

By: Lindsey Cross

What could she say? Of course she would. She'd drop everything for him. Still. Always. But it would never happen.

"Sometimes it's not just the person who suffers from PTSD who's the victim. The people around him can be just as impacted by post traumatic stress disorder. It's been months, but you're not moving on...and you're not making progress. You're too young and too smart to get stuck in a battle you’re not equipped to fight."

The professor's words took a hammer and chisel to the weak walls of her defenses. Hayden made a show of zipping up her backpack, hiding the tears stinging her eyes. At least the room was empty except for them.

"I'm not trying to fight for him. I haven't even talked to him." She shot to her feet. Pick. Pick. Pick went his chisel. Let’s play the game of dissecting Hayden and her ongoing obsession with a broken man.

He told you he didn't want you. Move on. Special Forces soldiers who've been through what he went through never come back whole. The memory of her brother's words drove the chisel even deeper, breaking open a hole in her chest. The anger she'd buried inside erupted.

"How can you say I'm stuck when I haven't even seen him?"

"Because you haven't seen anyone else." The professor stood up beside her, but his own tone stayed calm. Gentle. Well, it wasn't his heart that had shattered.

"I don't want to see anyone else."

The professor took her hand and the understanding in his gaze nearly broke her. "I know. I know how hard it is to move on when you lose someone you love. Just because Hoyt didn't die, doesn't mean he's not gone."

She cracked. A sob broke free. "He's not dead. He's not your wife."

"No, he's not. My wife had a much more merciful ending than Hoyt did. Her life was over in a second."

Hayden was breathing fast and sharp now, the tears tracking down her cheeks.

"He saved me,” she said. “You don't know this, but a while ago I screwed up. Big time. I slept with a married man, my brother’s best friend. His wife found out, everyone found out. They shunned me, and I can't blame them. Hoyt was the only one who stood by my side. He made me remember my own worth." Tears pricked her eyes as she said it. She would never forget what it had felt like to be the subject of all those accusing eyes. All that gossip. "How can I just give up on him?”

He'd never given up on her.

"Because his trauma isn't the result of a bad relationship. The only way he can overcome something like that is through intensive therapy and years of counseling. You can't pull him out of that pit. Not alone. And it doesn’t sound like he’s ready to get the help he needs."

He took her hand again. "All I’m asking of you is to stop pretending to be a normal college student and actually be one. Go out. Meet new people. Live a little. And if Hoyt is as strong as you think, you'll be here when he's ready."

"But what if I'm not ready?" The words gushed from somewhere deep in her subconscious.

"You are ready. You just have to trust yourself. I know you can be an amazing psychologist, but in order to graduate and help others through their problems, you have to work through yours first."

Hayden pulled free of his grip and wiped her face dry. "I might try going out more often." She could relax and make casual conversation about...whatever. It didn’t matter much, did it? No one's life would be at risk if she inadvertently said the wrong thing. The stakes in the real world weren’t the ones her brother, Hoyt, and the rest of Task Force Scorpion faced in their line of work. They went to the places normal people didn’t go, willingly putting themselves in danger to protect their country.

"That's better. Now, I know there must be any number of functions this weekend you could attend to seek out new beaus."

She couldn’t help but smile at that. "Professor, it's 2015, not the fifties. There are parties. There will be guys there.”

"Ah, yes, of course. I'm afraid my last date pre-dated your birth, and possibly your parents'." He put a hand to his mouth and cleared his throat, his tan corduroy blazer stretching with his movement. "Is there a party you could...ahem...scope out to meet guys?"

"Hasn't anyone told you that you're supposed to be a stodgy old professor?"

The room filled with Professor Latham's deep laugh. The sound bounced off the walls and ceiling and landed right inside Hayden's chest.

"Of course. And you know as well as I, that I listen as well as you do." Hayden moved in for a hug, and the scent of pipe tobacco and old spice wrapped around her. She didn't have a grandfather. Not a real one. Professor Latham was as close as she was going to get. "My friend and I met a guy at the coffee shop, and he invited us to a party tonight. My friend’s been trying to get me to go.”

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