The Stillness Of You

By: Julie Bale

I nodded. It was a summer name ironically.

“Yep. As in the peach. As in the state. As in my mom must have been on drugs when I was born because Georgia is just…”

He arched an eyebrow. “Is just?”

I shrugged. “Not me.”

He nodded toward the canvases propped along the wall to his right. Unlike the one on the easel, these ones weren’t empty. They were filled with dark images, open mouths and wide eyes. They were good, but they weren’t for the faint of heart.

“Those yours?”

I nodded.

“So is that what you do? You’re an artist?”

I wasn’t about to tell Ben Lancaster that I wasn’t much of anything. Art was just something I did to fill in the holes that blanketed my life like shrapnel. Sometimes it worked but other times I was left leaking all over place. An injured soul back from some war that no one would ever understand unless you’ve been there.

“It’s just a hobby.”

“A hobby,” he repeated, his dark eyes never leaving mine. “It looks like more than a hobby to me. You’re really good.”

I moved away because the guy was too intense. Too fucking intense.

“Matt sent me a text. He’ll be home soon.”

“Good.” He paused. “So, are you a hockey fan?”

“It’s kind of hard not to be.” I was a big fan of the game and there had been a time when I had been a big fan of several of the hockey players—they were always around. Again, not information I was willing to share.

Silence fell into the loft and for a few seconds it was an uncomfortable silence, broken by a cleared throat—me—and a shifting of feet—Ben.

A few heartbeats passed and then the door flew open, thank God.

My brother Matt strolled into the loft, a wide grin on his face when he spied Ben across the room. “Lancaster,” he said. “Man, I’m sorry. Totally slipped my mind that you’d be hanging here for a few days until you get settled.”

I watched as they greeted each other and it was obvious they had more than a passing acquaintance. Not surprising, at thirty-two, Matt was one of the youngest coaches in the league and he knew a lot of players from when he’d started out as a scout.

There was the shaking of hands, the slaps on the back and the general ‘guy-greeting’ I’d seen a million times before. It was like they wanted to hug each other silly, but it didn’t pass the ‘guy code,’ so the shaking and slapping sufficed.

Matt glanced back at me, his smile in place, but I saw the worry in his eyes. I’d been living with him for three months now and I hadn’t spent much time with anyone other than him and my therapist, Seamus. I had certainly steered clear of anyone male and hot.

Now, I’m sure if our houseguest was the little old lady on the first floor—the one who hoarded magazines like they were gold—he wouldn’t think twice. But this was a guy. This was a hot guy. And this was a hot guy who happened to be one of the brightest hockey players in the league.

I saw the worry in Matt’s eyes and he had every right to be. I’d done a lot of stupid things in the last few years but I was better now. He knew I was better. They’d figured things out. I was taking my meds and my life was a bowl of sunshine and roses.

Okay, that was a huge exaggeration. I was a twenty year old orphaned, college dropout, who had spent six months in what everyone liked to call a hospital, but what was in fact, a fancy, expensive mental institution. I’d been poked, prodded, observed and had been analyzed and talked to death. I’d been diagnosed.

I’d done my therapy, I’d taken my meds like a good girl and now I was out.

So, yeah, it wasn’t sunshine and roses but I wasn’t locked up. I wasn’t looking at life through a cloud of confusion and so what if sometimes things felt fuzzy. So what if fuzzy was only marginally better than the dark, chaotic mess I’d been before.

At least the fuzziness wasn’t always there, seeping into my brain and stifling anything that was expressive.

For now things were good enough. Though there was always the chance I could derail at any time and take a fuck-ton of people down with me and Matt knew it.

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