The UnrequitedBy: Saffron A. Kent
This one, hands down, goes to my husband. This book wouldn't be here without him. I'm sorry for all the grief I put you through. You deserve so much better than me and my absent-mindedness, but I'm not letting you go. Also, I owe you a strawberry cheesecake, and I'm gonna make it this time. I promise.
My heart is not an organ.
It’s more than that. My heart is an animal—a chameleon, to be specific. It changes skin and color, not to blend in, but to be difficult, unreasonable.
My heart has many faces. Restless heart. Desperate heart. Selfish heart. Lonely heart.
Today my heart is anxious—or at least it’s going to be anxious for the next fifty-seven minutes. After that, who knows?
I’m sitting in the pristine office of the school’s guidance counselor, Kara Montgomery, and my heart is going haywire. It’s fluttering, dipping up and down in my chest, bumping against my ribcage. It doesn’t want to be here, because it takes offense at seeing the guidance counselor, which is really just a euphemism for therapist.
We don’t need a therapist. We’re fine.
Isn’t that what crazy people say?
“Layla,” says the guidance-counselor-with-a-psychology-degree/therapist, Ms. Montgomery. “How was your vacation?”
I glance away from the window I’ve been staring out of, forgoing the scenery of the snowy outdoors to focus on the smiling woman behind the desk. “It was all right.”
“Well, what did you do?” She is rolling a pen between her fingers, and then it slips out of her hand and falls to the floor. She chuckles at herself and bends to pick it up.
Kara is not a typical guidance counselor/therapist. For one, she’s clumsy and always appears frantic. There’s nothing calm about her. Her hair is never in place; strands are flying everywhere, and she’s forever running her fingers through them to make them behave. Her blouses are always wrinkled, which she hides under her corduroy jackets. She talks fast, and sometimes things she says aren’t very therapist-like.
“So?” she prompts, giving me her full attention. I want to tell her that her glasses are tipped to one side, but I don’t; she is less intimidating this way. My heart doesn’t need any more threats than what her degree represents.
“Um, I took walks, mostly.” I shift in the cushioned chair, tucking a strand of my loose hair behind my ear. “Watched Netflix. Went to the gym.”
Lies. All lies. I binged on Christmas candy my mom sent—or rather her assistant sent, because my mom didn’t want me to come home for the holidays. I sat on the couch all day and watched porn while sucking on Twizzlers and listening to Lana Del Rey in the background. I’m addicted to that woman. Seriously, she is a goddess. Every word out of her mouth is gold.
I’m not addicted to porn or Twizzlers, however. Those are just for when I get lonely…which is most of the time, but that’s beside the point.
“That’s great. I’m glad.” She nods. “You didn’t feel lonely without your friends, then? It was all good?”
Now, this is what I don’t get: why is she smiling at me? Why are her eyes curious? Is she trying to dig deep? Is she trying to fish for answers?
Her questions could be a cover for other loaded questions, like, Were you good, Layla? Were you really good? Did you do something crazy, like calling him in the middle of the night? Because you’ve done this before when you were lonely. So, did you call him, Layla? Did you?
The answer to all of this is a big fat no. I did not call him. I haven’t called him in months. Months. All I’ve done is stare at his photo on my phone—the photo no one knows about, because if my mom knew I was still pining after him, she’d send me to a real therapist, a real live one who would ask all sorts of questions rather than disguising them with euphemisms.
So no, I did not call him. I have only stared at a stupid picture like a pathetic lovesick person. There, happy now?
I shift in my chair and open my mouth to tell her exactly that when I realize she hasn’t even asked the question. I’m only thinking she has. It’s all in my head. I tell my anxious heart to calm down. Relax, would you? We’re still in the clear.
I exhale a long breath and answer, “Yeah, it was good. I kept myself busy.”
“That’s great. That’s good to hear. I don’t like when students have to stay back for holidays. I just worry about them.” She laughs and her glasses become even more crooked. This time she straightens them up and folds her hands on the desk. “So have you given any thought to what electives you’ll be taking this semester?”
Of course not. I’m not made for education. The only reason I agreed to college was because I was given the choice between school in Connecticut and the youth rehabilitation center in New Jersey, and I’m not setting foot in New fucking Jersey or going to a rehab center.