“Sure,” I sighed in defeat as I started walking toward the door again. “I didn’t know therapists worked that late. See you tomorrow.”

“Uh, Viper…”

I opened the door and turned back to face her.

She stood behind her desk, grinning at me with her hands on her hips. “That’s seven o’clock in the morning.”

ONE OF THE reasons I loved my job was that I didn’t have to set an alarm in the summer. I could be as fucking lazy as I wanted to be and sleep as late as I wanted. Workouts and practices were optional, though highly recommended, but there was no set time. Fucking time. The annoying beep, beep, beep of my alarm sounded from my phone and I swatted at it to make it stop.

I rolled onto my back and stared up at my ceiling. My meeting with Dr. Roberts yesterday had been mentally exhausting, and I was not looking forward to going back and doing it all over again. If she’d been telling the truth, she knew nothing other than my name, and it wasn’t safe for her to be digging around in my head. Shit, even I tried not to get lost in there.

My alarm sounded again and I turned if off for good this time.

6:50. Fuck.

I jumped out of bed, swished some mouthwash while I took a quick piss, and was out the door.

Suite 301. Same weird little office. Same weird little light switch.

“Good morning!” she cheered as she opened the door, smiling at me.

“Morning,” I grumbled.

I sat on the couch as she sat in the chair across from me and stared.

“What?” I snapped defensively.

She crossed her legs and leaned forward, resting her elbow on her knee. “Here’s the thing… clearly, you’re going through some… stuff. I’d like to just talk to you like we’re friends, about whatever you want. Eventually, any issues we need to address will bubble to the surface and we’ll get to where we need to go. Do you agree?”

I didn’t say anything. I just shrugged.

“I’m going to tell you a little about myself again, from a more personal standpoint this time. My name is Shawn, and I never wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to do flips my whole life and win a gold medal.” She stood and walked over to the fridge again, grabbing two bottles of water this time, and she set one of them down in front of me. “That obviously didn’t pan out because of my bum ankle, and I was angry for many, many years. Without sports in my life, I became a bit of a wild child as a teenager and did some things I swear I’ll never talk about again. After my mom forced me into some counseling of my own, it became apparent to me that I needed sports in my life in one form or another. So… I began running. First 5Ks, then half marathons, then full marathons. There was no denying that deep down I was an athlete before everything else.”

I sat and listened closely, more interested in her story than I would ever admit to being.

“In college, I joined a running club, which kept me on the straight and narrow. After three semesters of forcing myself to pretend I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher, I couldn’t fight it anymore and switched my major to sports psychology. I eventually got my master’s degree and started at the bottom in a private practice. I was forced—well, obligated—to quit that job and decided to start my own practice. So here I am.”

Curiosity killed the Viper.

“Why were you forced to quit?” I couldn’t help it. I was captivated by her and the story she was telling me.

“I started sleeping with my boss.”

Whoa. Not what I was expecting.

“For real?”

“Yeah, but it’s okay. We’re engaged now.” She laughed, holding up her left hand. I was surprised she could lift it with that huge fucking rock on her ring finger.

“Congratulations.”

A big smile spread across her face. “Thanks. The point of me telling you all this is I wanted you to know that I’m not perfect. I’m not perfect, and I won’t judge you. I’m not a typical therapist in that I don’t follow a pattern with my clients. They’re all different, and they all require different things from me. Also, and I want you to really hear me say this, anything—every single thing—you say to me in this room stays in this room. I don’t talk about it with friends, my fiancé, no one. It’s between you and me and Muhammad Ali.” She nodded toward the large black and white picture of the legendary boxer on the wall. “I expect the same courtesy in return. Anything I say to you or tell you about myself doesn’t go past you. Got it?”

I nodded like a stubborn toddler who’d just met his match.

“I demand respect and I will give it back, but what I won’t do is let you bullshit me. I’m going to piss you off and push you out of your comfort zone. Often. But that’s my job. That’s how this works. That’s how you move forward.”

Grabbing the water bottle off of the coffee table, I cracked it open and gulped until the whole thing was gone.

“I’m assuming that means you agree?” She laughed again. “Now, tell me a little about you.”

I took a huge breath and held it for a second, finally exhaling slowly. I’d never had anyone that I could completely open up to before. The thought of spilling my guts to this woman was both terrifying and tempting. More than anything, I wanted someone I could tell everything to and be myself around without fear of judgment or someone spilling their guts to the media.

Baby steps, Viper.

“Well, you already know my name. I’m not sure what else you want to know.”

“Okay, how about I ask you questions and you answer them?”

“All right.”

She stood and walked back to the fridge, grabbing another water bottle. “How long have you played hockey?”

“Professionally?”

“Sure.” She shrugged as she set the bottle down in front of me.

“Eight years.”

“And not professionally?”

“Uh… since I was about ten.”

“Why hockey?”

I pressed my lips together and scratched my chin. “What do you mean?”

“Just what I said. Why hockey? Why not baseball or golf or something else?”

“First of all, golf isn’t a sport. And B, I got into a lot of fights as a kid, so my parents figured if I was gonna fight regardless, might as well do it on the ice.”

She narrowed her eyes and tilted her head to the side. “Why did you fight?”

“I had to.”

“Why?”

“Next question.”

Clearing her throat, she rested her chin on her hand and her elbow on the arm of the chair, not saying a word. “I’m gonna let that go—for now—but I can absolutely tell there’s something there, so we will revisit it.”

Good luck with that.

“Whatever.” I rolled my eyes.

“Why don’t you tell me about your relationships?”

“Elaborate, please.”

“Your relationships, with people. Whoever you want to tell me about. Your family. A girlfriend. Maybe a boyfriend?”

If looks could kill, she would’ve been a corpse. “I don’t have a boyfriend.” I glared. “And I don’t have a girlfriend either.”

“Really?” Her body stiffened as her head jerked back slightly. “No girlfriend? With all that charm?”

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