The Play (Briar U, #3)

“Well, yeah. If I keep coming over to see you, your sisters will start getting insanely jealous, and their resentment will eventually make them treat you poorly and you’ll lose all of your friends. Is that really what you want, Semi?”

She laughs. “Oh no! You’re right. From now on you should climb in through my window. Like Romeo.” Her tongue shifts her lollipop to the other side of her mouth. “Spoiler alert: Romeo dies.”

She ushers me into a room on the second floor and closes the door.

I examine the bedroom. The walls are yellow and the bed is one of those four-post ones that looks like it should have a billowing canopy but doesn’t. The bedspread is purple, and there’s a stuffed panda chilling on one of the pillows.

Demi’s desk is laden with textbooks. Chem, bio, and a math one I can’t read the title of. I raise my eyebrows. If she’s taking all of those in one semester, that’s an intense course load and I don’t envy her at all.

But my gaze is more interested in the large bulletin board over the desk. It’s practically overflowing with pictures, and I move toward it to take a closer look. Hmmm, there are a helluva lot of dudes in these photographs. Some girls, too, but Demi’s friend group seems to consist mostly of guys. Several photos feature Demi with the same raven-haired guy. Boyfriend?

“So, how are we doing this?” I ask, dropping my bag on her desk chair.

“Well, Andrews said we’re supposed to treat these meet-ups like real therapy sessions.”

“Right.” I waggle my eyebrows. “You ready to play doctor?”

“Gross. I’m not playing anything with you, hockey boy.”

“That’s hockey man, thank you very much.”

“Okay, hockey man.” Demi digs into her schoolbag and pulls out the manila envelope we got in class yesterday. She sits on the edge of the bed with the envelope on her lap. “All right, so I figured you would be the patient, and I’d be the doctor. That means you’d be doing the easier part of the write-up.”

I frown. “What makes you think I need the easy part?”

“Oh, sorry, I don’t mean to insult your intelligence,” she says, sounding sincere. “But a friend told me you’re a business major.”

“So?”

“So I’m the psych major in this partnership, and I think writing the case study and doing all the diagnosis work would be more beneficial to me than you, since I want to make a career out of this. But if you really don’t want to do the research element, we can draw straws.”

I think about it for a moment. She does have a point about the career stuff. And I don’t mind doing the research portion. “Sure, whatever. I’ll be the patient.”

“Perfect. Done.”

“See how well we work together?” My gaze drifts to the small loveseat tucked beneath the window. “Sweet, it’s like a real shrink’s office.” I stride over to the couch and cram my too-large body onto it, stretching my legs over the edge. Then I reach for my zipper. “Pants on or off?”





4





Demi





I burst out laughing at the outlandish question. “Please, for the love of God, keep your pants on.”

“You sure?” Hunter says, his fingers poised over the button of his jeans.

“Positive.”

“Your loss.” He winks and shoves his hands behind his head.

Davenport is entertaining, I’ll give him that. He’s also too attractive for his own good. My sorority sisters left drool puddles on the floor when he walked by them before. Most of them have a huge thing for jocks, so they’ll probably burst into my room begging for details the second Hunter leaves.

He stretches out on my little couch and kicks off his shoes. He’s wearing jeans that are ripped at the knees, a black T-shirt, and an unzipped gray hoodie. Muscular but not bulky, he’s got a great body, and the heart-stopping face to go with it. And when he flashes me a cocky grin, I’m horrified to feel heat rise in my cheeks. That smile of his is dangerous. No wonder Pax is obsessed with this guy.

I open the large envelope and extract a stapled packet with the instructions for our assignment, as well as two other envelopes. One is labeled “DOCTOR,” the other “PATIENT.”

“Here.” I toss the patient envelope at the couch. Hunter catches it easily.

Inside my envelope, I find a stack of papers, and flip through it. It’s blank templates that I’m supposed to use for my “session notes.” I skim the instructions bundle. We need to log a minimum of eight sessions, but we can do as many as we want. My session notes will apparently be included in the appendix for the case study I’ll need to write. My package also includes diagnostic tools and tip sheets.

From the couch, Hunter chuckles softly. I glance over to see him skimming through papers. His stack isn’t as big as mine, likely because his part of the project involves more research.

“We probably should’ve decided on our roles in class,” I realize. “I don’t know if we can do much of a session before you’ve brushed up on your fake condition.”

But Hunter just shrugs. A wry note enters his voice as he studies his papers again. “It’s cool. I know enough to wing it, at least for this first chat.”

“You sure?”

“Yup.” He slides the paperwork back into the envelope and drops it on his bag. Then he gets comfortable again. “All right, let’s go.”

As per Andrews’ instructions, I’m not allowed to record the session. But I’m confident in my note-taking abilities. I crunch the last bit of my lollipop between my teeth, swallow the candy, and toss the little stick in the wastebasket.

Once we’re both settled, we start going through the formalities. “So, Mister…?” I wait for him to fill in the rest.

“Sexy.”

“Veto. You can do better than that.”

“Big,” he supplies.

I sigh. “Smith,” I say firmly. “You’re Mr. Smith. First name, um, Damien.”

“Like the devil kid from that horror movie? Veto. It’s bad karma.”

“You’re bad karma,” I mutter. Jesus, it’s taking forever just to record his fake name. At this rate, the project will never get done. “Fine, your first name is Richard, you picky dick.”

He snorts.

“It’s nice to meet you, Dick Smith,” I say sweetly. “I’m Dr. Davis. What brings you here today?”

I half-expect another bullshit line, something about how this Dick needs to be sucked. But he surprises me. “My wife thinks I need therapy.”

My eyebrows shoot up. Ooh, getting right down to it. I love it. “Is that so… And why does she think that?”

“Honestly? I don’t know. She’s the one who needs therapy. She’s always losing her mind over something.”

I jot down his phrasing. “What do you mean by that, losing her mind?”

“She overthinks everything. She bitches all the time. For example, if I’m home late from work, her brain immediately jumps to ‘he’s been screwing around.’” Hunter pauses irritably. “I guess for the sake of full disclosure, I should mention I cheated on her once or twice, and yes, she is aware of this.”

Wow, this is like a soap opera. I’m already invested.

“All right…this cheating you mention.” I make some more notes. “How long ago did it take place? And was it once, or was it twice?”

“The first affair was years ago, the most recent one this year. I was under a lot of stress at work.”

I note that he ignored my question about how many times he’d actually cheated.

“Why do you think you cheated? Is there a particular reason that stands out?”

“It’s hard to feel connected to somebody when they’re constantly complaining and making demands. She fucking drove me to cheat. I mean, what else did she expect would happen if she kept acting like that?”

Ugh, what a prick. He holds his wife responsible for his cheating—

I stop the train of thought, reminding myself that I’m not supposed to be judge. I’m supposed to understand.

If I’m going to be a clinical psychologist, I’m sure I’ll hear thousands of sordid tales of infidelity. I might even need to counsel someone who physically or emotionally abuses their partner. It’s highly likely I’ll encounter patients I despise, or who I might not be able to help.

My job isn’t to condemn them; it’s to hopefully help them reach self-awareness.

“So when you came clean about the affairs, did you and your wife agree to start over? Start fresh?”

Hunter nods. “She accepted responsibility for her part in what happened and agreed to forgive me. That means it’s done, in the past. Her being suspicious of me all the time doesn’t make me want to spend time with her. Trust me, she’s not making it easy to be around her.”

“I imagine so. But can you recognize why she might be behaving this way? Let’s try to put yourself in her position. How do you think you’d react if your wife was unfaithful?”

“She’d never cheat on me,” he says smugly. “I’m the catch in this relationship. She’s definitely punching above her weight class.”

You’re the fucking worst, I want to say.

“I see,” is what I say instead. And now I understand why therapists seem to cling to those two words. It’s code for whatever expletives are ringing in your head.

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