"And when did you two meet?"
"When did we meet?" I looked over at the familiar face staring back at me from a stiff upholstered chair. "Oh, gosh. I was… thirteen?" I did the math. "So about eighteen years ago."
"You were high school sweethearts, then?"
"Oh, geez. No. No. I wasn't interested in him at all." At the moment, I was mad. I didn't feel like rehashing the details of a young romance. "What? I didn't even like you," I said, glancing at him and quickly looking away. "You were… dorky," I mumbled. "And boring."
The therapist scribbled something on a notepad. A legal pad. The most ominous kind of notepad.
"Hey…" I wasn't fond of her facial expression. "What are you writing?"
She dismissed me with a quick shake of her head and continued.
"And when did you realize you had feelings for one another?"
"Oh, it took a long time. Years." I shrugged. "At least for me."
He remained quiet.
"Well, uh, I dated a lot of other sports over the years. Hockey. Tennis. Soccer. I totally had a thing for football, but—" it was still a sore subject—"it didn't work out. I guess I wasn't his type. Whatever."
"But you two were friends through all of this?"
"I wouldn't say we were friends. We were more like forced acquaintances. We didn't hang out because I wanted to hang out. We hung out because I had to."
"I mean, he was a necessary evil."
She looked up from her notepad. The eyebrow thing. She did the eyebrow thing.
"Okay, sorry. Maybe not evil, but he was a necessary… something. He helped me stay in shape. He made me quicker, fitter. He made me stronger. I mean, when tryouts rolled around, I called him. When I needed to get back in shape after an injury, I called him. Even during the off-season, when all the other sports abandoned me, I called him."
"And he always called you back?"
"He didn't have to. He always answered."
"Early. Late. Rainy. It didn't matter. He was always there."
"And did you ever suspect that he had feelings for you?"
"I mean, he asked me out a couple of times—a 5K, a long run. That kind of thing. I always said no." I looked at the floor. I looked at him. "I think I laughed. I guess I figured he was joking." I looked at the floor again.
"I didn't realize—he never said anything about it. He never brought it up. He was just… there. Even when I said no. Even when I made it clear I wanted to be anywhere but with him. Even at the end of a workout, when I would say all sorts of mean things. That he was stupid. That I hated him. He never left. He stayed with me."
"And it never occurred to you that he… might be in love with you?"
I shook my head.
Well, don't you see an awful lot? I wanted to say. I didn't.
"Sorry," I stammered. "I was young. I… I wasn't thinking."
"And all of these other love interests, what happened with them?"
Those guys. I cringed.
"We had our ups and downs. Who doesn't, right?"
She didn't say anything. She just scribbled.
"I broke up with soccer after eighth grade. We started 'dating' in kindergarten. Kindergarten! He was my first crush." I smiled. "But we were going to different high schools, and kids were getting more serious in their relationships at that time. We had to make a choice. We chose to end it. It was a mutual decision. It was amicable."
Relentless. She was relentless. I took a breath.
"Football…" My voice trailed off. "I knew there was never a future for us. Don't get me wrong. I tried. I spent hours in the front yard, throwing spirals. I ran routes." I lowered my voice. "I even resorted to… kicking."
She looked up. The eyebrows again.
I wasn't proud of it. "If I had to be a kicker—if being a kicker was the only way I could make it work—then I would do it."
"But… whatever." I blinked. I bit my thumbnail. I continued. "Hockey was my rebound. But then, as time went on, I fell head over heels in love. I was like, 'Where have you been all my life?'" I chuckled.
"Anyway," I cleared my throat, "So we started going out. We even dated after high school."
"And tennis? You mentioned something about tennis."
"Oh, yeah. Tennis and I dated off and on for years. Even when we were seeing other people, we stayed friends."
"But none of these relationships worked out?"
I shifted in my chair. It was upholstered in "Doctor's Office Floral."
"I don't know. Something was missing. I mean, there were some sparks. But something deeper, familiar, more genuine—it just wasn't there."
"And when you struggled with these relationships? When they ended?"
"I called him."
"I called him to tell him everything, really. When I felt my best—I called him. When I felt my worst—I called him. He made me feel better. He didn't care if I was grumpy or tired or hysterical. He didn't care what I looked like, if I had just climbed out of bed or if I hadn't showered yet or if I could have benefitted from dropping a pound or two."
"Sometimes—a lot of times—I blamed him for things that weren't his fault."
"I said I hated him. I accused him of hating me, of making the miles harder than they should have been. If I felt slow, I blamed him. If I felt inadequate, I blamed him. When I couldn't finish a workout, I blamed him. When I missed a run, I said it was his fault. If only he weren't so boring. If only he weren't so difficult. If only he weren't so demanding."
My eyes started to burn. I felt tears.
"I said that we didn't belong together. That I wasn't his type. That it wasn't going to work out."
"And what would you do then? After you blamed him for all of those things?"
"I would call him back."
"And he would answer?"
"Yes," I said quietly.
She scribbled some more before looking up.
"But certainly there were some good times as well?"
"Oh, my gosh. Yes. We had fun together. We ran all over the city. We discovered trails. We explored roads I'd never seen. He even convinced me to run a few races. And not just 5Ks, but marathons! Can you believe it?" I smiled, even though my eyes were still wet. "I swore I'd never run a marathon!"
I laughed and looked over at him. He was smiling.
"And, now—" I shook my head. "You don't understand how crazy this is. I never thought I could do any of this."
"But he did. He saw the best in you."
"And the worst."
"He saw the real you. Your strengths and your weaknesses. The beautiful and the ugly. The you that requires no fabrication or pretense."
"Yes, he saw the real me."
"And he loved you anyway."
"Yes, he loved me anyway."
She adjusted her glasses and suspended her pen above her notepad.
"Now, what was your complaint?"
I looked at him. Still, he was quiet.
"Oh," I shook my head. "Nothing."