It's been a week since I met with Bradford. A week on the SS-whatever he called them and I'm actually feeling better. He'd warned me that it would probably take two to three weeks to see results but I'm quite pleased to find myself ahead of the norm for a change.
"So Millie's conned me in to attending another fundraiser."
Charlie's casual voice draws my attention and I look up to see him scowling around a piece of steak.
"Pulled the James Bond line on you again?" Dad asks with a twinkle in his eye.
"How do you know about that?" When Dad grins, Charlie immediately waves his hands in the air. "Forget it. I'm almost positive I don't want to know."
"Let me put it this way… I've known how to push your buttons for years."
Charlie lets out an undignified sigh. "And you've been sharing trade secrets with the enemy?"
Our old man shrugs. "She's a fast learner." He glances over at me, undoubtedly expecting me to join in on the teasing banter. His face creases into a frown as he spots my plate. "Something wrong with your steak?"
I look down and see that I've only managed one bite in the past half an hour. "No, it's fine. Just not hungry, I suppose." Oh man, now I'm in for it.
"Okay then," he replies nonchalantly. "How about I put it in the fridge and you'll have it if you want it later?"
"Sure." Oh no, the dead voice again. But… I was feeling fine just a few minutes ago. What happened? I'm suddenly aware of a tension flooding through my body. My knee is bouncing ninety miles an hour under the table and I feel a flush of heat wash down my spine. Is it my imagination or are the walls getting closer? "I, um… I'm going to get some air." I make a point of folding my napkin and setting it on the table, despite the overwhelming desire to simply bolt from the house.
Once outside, I gulp the cool evening air and try to gather what little bit of my wits I have left. I thought this stuff was working. I guess the joke's on me, as usual. That awful feeling of despair rises up in me, making my stomach clench and twist while my head spins. I stumble into the yard and collapse onto my mother's garden bench. Sliding down until I'm uncomfortably sprawled along the hard surface, I stare the evening sky and do my best to keep the tears at bay.
I jump at the sound of Charlie's voice and my hand goes to where my gun would be resting if I hadn't left it on the table by the front door. "Don't sneak up on me," I say, my voice sounding as emotionless as I feel.
"Three weeks," he repeats patiently. "Bradford said it would take up to three weeks to start working."
"Up to," I mutter. "I never could get ahead of the curve."
"You have to give this time." Charlie's head appears above me, hovering with the night sky acting as backdrop. "It will get better."
God, I want him to be right. He's always right though, isn't he? Come on, Charlie. Take a turn at the big brother wheel tonight. I'm too proud to ask, but I could really use the support. "How do you know?" Take the hint, Buddy. Please.
He moves around to the front of the bench, grabs my arm and pulls me to sit upright so he can squeeze in next to me. "Because the numbers say so."
"Eighty percent of people suffering from depression can and do make a full recovery."
I swallow past the lump on my throat. "And the other twenty percent?"
"Those are the people who don't want to get better," he calmly responds. "They don't seek out help, don't have supportive loved ones… don't want to get better." He smiles and squeezes my shoulder. "Besides, those are the bottom twenty percent." He stares at me until he's sure I'm listening carefully. "You've never been in the bottom twenty percent of anything."
"No," I whisper with a shake of my head. "That's true." We sit in silence until I gather up enough courage to tell him what I'm thinking. "I thought I was better, you know. It was only a week, but I was really feeling better and then out of nowhere…"
"The walls closed in? The tension and anxiety were back? The numb feeling took over again?"
I look at him and nod. "How…?"
"I've been reading up on depression. I want to be able to help you and, in order to do that, I need to be fully educated on all of the signs, symptoms… everything."
"That's a lot of work," I state with a hint of guilt. "I'm sorry to put you through that."
"Don," he says, his voice firm – as firm as the iron grip on my shoulder. "Listen to me carefully. You are not 'putting me through this', okay? You're going through something and I'm choosing to go through it with you. Dad is too, so please stop feeling so guilty about it." The grip eases up for a split second before he reaches his arms around me and pulls me into a tight embrace.
"I'm…" I don't dare say 'sorry' again, so I search my limited vocabulary for another word. "I'm glad you're here."
"Of course I'm here," he sighs against my ear. "I love you… Even if you are a stubborn mule."
I laugh against his shoulder and relish the warmth wrapped around me. Sometimes, despite every instinct screaming at me not to allow it, it is nice to let your guard down and let someone else be the rock. My smile broadens as I picture how Bradford's face would look if I ever said that out loud.
It just might be worth it.