A Yarnball Of Problems And A Helper To Untangle Them


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Scene Title A Yarnball Of Problems And A Helper To Untangle Them
Synopsis During her mandated time away from her internship, Emily Epstein reluctantly decides to find someone to help her 'unpack'.
Date November 22, 2019

The Office of Everleigh Madison, Elmhurst

Everleigh Madison’s office location was carefully chosen. Elmhurst was approachable from whatever walk of life one might come from, was a fairly central location, and the cell phone service meant that she could be reached—something that she wanted to make sure was possible at all times. Being there was key.

The exterior looks nearly identical to the buildings nearby with only the address number and a small plaque that reads “Dr. Everleigh Madison” to betray that it is, indeed, where she works. The interior of the office gives off a warm vibe. The color palette seems to also follow the warm scheme, the walls a nice shade of golden yellow, with soft pastel blue overstuffed couches and a bean bag in the corner. There’s a small desk in the corner that serves as reception and a bookshelf with plenty of well-worn books in case of the need to wait, which usually doesn’t happen. A stack of clipboards each with a small questionnaire attached sit near the reception desk. The reception desk has a sign that simply reads, “Please fill out a questionnaire and come inside!”. Next to that sign is another that reads, “Job Available”.

Emily Epstein stands in front of those two signs, loathing that she cannot in fact berate them and feel any sense of satisfaction from it. They are not people, and they can't answer why the questionnaire is necessary. Despite that, a quietly-uttered "Are you fucking kidding me?" comes from her anyway.

Leaving would be well within her capabilities, as she lacks anything preventing her from doing so. Physically, at least. Mentally, though…

"You gotta be fucking kidding me," she swears under her breath. She doesn't pull the clipboard off the counter, but bats it with her fingertips into an easier-to-read position like a petulant cat, skimming the questions. They don't read like any other medical questionnaire she's ever filled out. "What is this bullshit?" she whispers to herself, eyes narrowed and icy. Question after question is read, each with its own skeptical, profanity-laden version of I don't know either mentally or furtively spoken. She scowls in frustration at it, actually turning and walking away, making it as far as the door.

The glass is cold under her hand. Something in it makes her reconsider. With a sharp suck of breath, she turns back around and heads to the desk with the determination and speed of someone willingly diving into icewater. The questions are reviewed again, her handwriting hasty before she slaps the pen down and heads for the shore of Dr. Madison's office, knocking loudly with three raps of her knuckles.

Then she waits, tension piling in her arched shoulders and the stupid fucking clipboard held in her other hand.

There isn’t some perky voice calling for Emily to enter, nor a cold one permitting her to step through the doorway. Instead, the 5”4’ petite doctor opens the door herself, stepping aside to allow entry. Everleigh’s smiling but it’s not an overly bright Finch-like smile, it’s a calm one that seems to visually say, ‘Yeah, it’s going pretty well, how about you?’ She gestures inward and waits for her to comply before shutting the door behind her. “Welcome, have a seat wherever you’d like.”

There are several different kinds of seats spread throughout the room: a couch sits in front of a coffee table, flanked by an armchair with a high back, a pair of beanbags are tucked into a corner, and several floor cushions are littered around the room. Another armchair sits tucked under a window where the sun hits and warms the cushions when it’s sunny.

While she’s left to contemplate her options, Everleigh holds out a hand to take the clipboard.

Emily seems to reconsider on seeing Everleigh, not quite shrinking back, but she hesitates on passing over the clipboard. When she finally does, it bears little more than her name (a single E. for a surname) and answers to only two other questions on the board. A third has the beginnings of a letter, but was abandoned before answering.

She steps in, and when it's clear there's options instead of a single place to sit, simply stops in the middle of the room. There's no one right answer, and maybe it momentarily trips her, or maybe—

"Do you take insurance or is this all out of pocket?" Emily asks, turning back to Everleigh with a tight fold of her arms across her chest. The forest green nylon jacket she wears whispers with the fold. The thick red scarf she has bundled about her neck is doubled over for warmth, and can't be overly comfortable now that she's indoors, but she doesn't move to remove it yet. There's the matter of the question. "Because I need to know if I've got enough on me if this is through cash."

The clipboard is only really given a cursory glance before it’s set aside. Everleigh raises an eyebrow at the question, but then smiles. “Insurance, out of pocket, barter… I’m flexible. The idea is that it’s open to all. Payment should not be the thing to worry about here. I’ve never denied a patient for monetary reasons.”

She glances towards the clipboard, then back to Emily. “You seem very conflicted about all this. Would you like me to talk you into it?”

"I don't think you need to do that," Emily replies very frankly, and though there's an edge to her voice despite an overt attempt to be polite with it. "I'm here. I've come here. I know I need to talk to someone." She looks a way to the window, shoulders pitching up in a shrug before she looks back, very matter-of-fact. "So I should just get on with it— get it over with so I can go back to the way things were before."

Barely a beat passes before she explains, "I don't know if I just need to get it off my chest and this is like a rubber ducky sort of situation, or if I actually need— proper help, I guess— so it didn't seem fair to just unload this on someone who might not be prepared to tell the difference. I don't want to burden someone with this and then we're both f— stuck," Emily's eyes flutter shut as she works to control her language, gaze still icy as she opens her eyes again and fixes her attention on Everleigh. "not having an answer, or being able to identify a way forward."

She exhales slowly, gaze slipping indicatively to the clipboard and its answers. "Sorry I didn't play the little sign-in game, but I'm really not here for any of that." Emily explains, a little unhappy at herself both for her honesty and for her unwillingness. "The reason I'm here is I recently went through something you'd probably refer to as a traumatic experience and I just need to know if I'm going to get over it on my own, or if I'm going to need some help."

Looking back up, she ventures, "So that's where you or someone like you comes in, I guess."

She still doesn't take a seat.

“I’m pretty sure you’re coming into this for the wrong reasons. Or perhaps the right reasons at the wrong angle,” Everleigh says, moving to take a seat herself. She chooses one end of the couch, leaving every type of seat still open. Emily might not be sitting down on them, but they’re there, waiting.

“The point in the questionnaire isn’t a game, the purpose is to make you think about things that may be hard for you, it helps you look at things in a more introspective way,” she explains, leaning back against the couch. “In your case, I don’t think I’d worry too much about that sheet of paper.” She glances around. “You might want to sit, though, unless you’re more comfortable standing.”

Emily's throat works for a moment, no more smart rejoinders at the ready. None that aren't vague or direct insults, at least, and that'd not be a great first step to take with this woman. "Okay," she says after a pause, sounding vaguely willing to play ball. "But like, none of this is hard to think about. I'm not in denial about what happened. I faced it, I went and filed a police report about it. I've relived it, gone over it, gone over the circumstances surrounding it, gone over what I did and come to terms with there's nothing I could have done differently, gone over the fact I failed to tell the people closest to me and what that probably means…"

It's a checklist, and she's gone down the list, she feels. All the boxes ticked. She's self-assessed the shit out of this, she should be good. Right?

Emily lowers herself into a seat in the armchair not under the sun. It's close enough to Everleigh to remain conversational, anyway.

“So what I’m hearing is that you haven’t let yourself hurt over it,” Everleigh shifts her weight to face Emily a bit more now that she’s settled in to a chair. “You’ve processed things logically, which is a great first step. It gets you to a safer place in order to deal with the thoughts and emotions you’ve left alone. You’re basically stalling.”

She tilts her head to the side. “So was coming here just another logical choice? Or did you feel something?”

The young blonde woman furrows her brow suddenly. Emily feels the urge to sit down again, if such a thing were possible. She'd like to lie to herself and say she's actually not stalling, but … Everleigh has a point. In light of that, she decides maybe she's staying after all. She lifts a hand to grab the scarf bundled around her neck and pull it free, loop unwinding and sliding away to reveal a bandage over the left side of her neck, gauze held in place by corners of medical tape.

She sighs long and looks down at the bundle of scarf in her lap. "Both?" Emily answers, sounding uncertain. It was more the former, for sure.

"I should be at work right now, at my internship. They're having me take time off, to process." She massages the knitted red fabric between two fingers, continuing, "And … like I said, maybe I've processed all I can on my own." The admission is cautious, her gaze not lifting.

Everleigh takes a visual note of Emily’s injury, though she doesn’t press for the details. Not yet. Right now she seems more interested in getting Emily settled in and actually comfortable. “Taking time off to process something isn’t bad. Recognizing that sometimes it’s hard to process everything by ourselves is an important part of moving forward.”

Folding her hands neatly in her lap, she watches Emily. No clipboard, no notebook, nothing but her full attention on the room’s other sole occupant. “Alright, let’s start small, real small. Tell me how you’re feeling.” She pauses, just to get the point across before she elaborates. “Tell me how you’re feeling right now, in this moment. It doesn’t have to do with what happened, but it could. Just whatever you’re feeling. There’s no right or wrong answer here.”

She’s about to leave it at that but interrupts her own pause. “Don’t think about it too hard.”

Somehow the clarification doesn't help the young woman, her brow knitting together as she fights down the urge to question the purpose of the exercise. Her hand kneads into the scarf as it slowly curls into a fist, a second round of profane scoffing barely withheld. The knee-jerk reactions out of the way, she tries to face the simple inquiry.

It's just a question, Emily. One you should be able to answer.

"I don't know, like, ten fucking things at once," comes from her in a mutter, attempting honesty, as exasperating as it is. "I'm just… I'm frustrated with this, yeah? The whole thing." Her eyes narrow, a tear of a sigh coming from her. The tension in her eases slightly. "Not like this thing in particular, but the whole thing. You know?" Another wave of nerves washes over her, her train of thought becoming sharper.

"Right now," she abruptly clarifies more succinctly, clearly— and perhaps overenunciating. "At this very moment, I am pissed I don't have a better answer." She scowls for a moment, gaze unfocused. "But it's a lot. There's… there's just a lot."

She looks up to Everleigh with that same severe expression. She realizes the sum of her frustration lies in what the other woman said, and latches onto that like a life raft. "There's no right answer, and I'm tired of that being the case. I'm tired of things being complicated, and this is just one more thing to add to the pile."

Emily swallows hard, feeling the urge to apologize for the lack of a better answer. These were her feelings, though, and they were asked for, so she shouldn't apologize. A smaller sigh comes from her and she lifts one hand, letting it hang off the side of her neck while she shrugs. "If… if I had to sum it up, I guess that's it," she says, the apology woven into the tone she speaks with.

Everleigh makes no moves to cut off Emily or any of her reactions, instead sitting very still and just listening. It’s only once she’s certain that feedback is being requested that she speaks up again. “You don’t have to sum it up though. A person might be considered a sum of their parts but that ignores the fact that there are parts. Right now you’re frustrated because you’re seeing that sum. You’re seeing the frustration. But the point is, you recognize that there’s a lot to it. Don’t lose sight of that.”

Her hand raises to gesture to a small table nearby with mugs and an electric kettle. “There’s tea if you’re interested. You can get some any time you like.” It’s almost an aside, but it’s left there on purpose—it’s an out, if Emily needs to break from these emotions just long enough to retrieve something warm.

“When you’re doing a jigsaw puzzle, you start with corner pieces. Let’s unpack something that should be simple to start. Tell me something that makes you happy. Person, place, or thing, anything. And if you don’t feel happy right now, that’s okay too. It’s just a starting point.”

The offer for an out is enough to cap some of Emily's frayed nerves, her gaze tracking to the teapot and then back to the conversation before she shakes her head, the action almost smooth.

Then comes the question that 'should be' simple. Happiness feels so distant from her present that all she can do is blink at Everleigh. "Happy? Are you—" Her back teeth grind and she closes her eyes hard. This was embarrassing, her lack of a filter, and her inability to meet Everleigh in the middle. I know you're gonna hate this, echoes a voice in her head. but you're a lot like your old man.

She does hate it, thank you very much.

"Kettle." Emily decides abruptly, reaching for something neutral, comforting, uncomplicated. She opens her eyes, still coiled and tense, but explains. "I have a kitten. He's black. His name is Kettle. I adopted him in the summer."

“Good, that’s a perfect starting point. Tell me about Kettle for a minute. What do you like about him? What brought him into your life?” Everleigh adopts a calm expression—she doesn’t want Emily to focus on her, just the thoughts she’s trying to draw forth. As few distractions as possible, especially since it already appears that she’s having some difficulty getting into things.

“If Kettle makes you happy, how does he do that?”

Emily’s brow knits together, but there’s not any frustration-driven lashes that accompany it.

She’s just thinking this time.

“He— I don’t know. He’s playful and he’s a moody pain in the ass, but he was something I didn’t know I needed. He was a part of a litter that was in a box abandoned at Raquelle Cambria’s salon out in Red Hook. He was very offended at everything, but he curled up on me and I just… I wanted to make sure he had a good home.” She looks off from Everleigh, trying to get back on track. “Sometimes he’ll pretend to be mad and act like he’ll swat at you, but he always catches himself.” Her head shakes, realizing she’s not exactly stating anything positive. “Otherwise, he’s usually very loving. He’s a sucker for pets. He goes to bed with me at night a lot.” She sighs, unable to stop herself from adding in a mutter, “I mean he keeps me up some nights, but for the most part…”

Expression softening, Emily shrugs. “Kettle’s easy. His world is small. Me and my roommate are his everything. For him, the biggest mystery and adventure is what’s outside the window— what’s out the front door. The biggest trouble he might have is that we, god forbid, feed him five minutes late.” She pauses for a moment, teeth touching as the core of it finally slides into place for her, ending the stream of spoken thought. “When he gets rowdy and we play, for me the world becomes smaller for a bit, too.”

“It sounds like you have a good thing going on with him,” Everleigh says, carefully cluing into how things are phrased. “It sounds like you like the world being a little bit smaller. So let’s keep things small. Take this feeling, this happiness you have in Kettle’s world and examine the first thing that brings you out of it. Whatever it is. It might be a situation, a person, a feeling… just the first thing that takes you away from somewhere you feel good.”

The easiness that had gradually worked its way into Emily’s expression fades all too quickly, accompanied by a beat of silence. “I feel like ‘literally anything’ is a bit dramatic for a response,” she says aloud, a forced lightness straining her voice. Her eyes close. “But it’s… honest? I mean, it’s all there, waiting in the background for something to remind me about it. Kettle’s just … he’s just a distraction. But he does make things easier, even if it’s just for a few minutes at a time.”

She shifts uncomfortably as she opens her eyes again. The young woman is grades calmer than she was than she walked in, the roil of her emotional rollercoaster nearing a simmer. Instead of jumping from one to the next with a frenetic energy that didn’t allow any single one to stick, she’s nearing the introspection Everleigh is coaxing her toward.

“I know,” Everleigh says. “Think of this like… yoga. I know, yoga can be kind of silly when you have one of those instructors telling you to imagine a beach while you’re doing stretches you’re not sure your body can maintain. But I want you to take a minute, close your eyes if that helps you, and think of that feeling you get. Kettle’s looking at you, he wants pets, you’re petting him. Now just focus on the first thing that comes to your mind that takes you away from that experience. I’m going to give you a moment to think about that. Just focus on your kitten. And when I say so, just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind.”

An actual attempt is made at closing her eyes, one quickly abandoned with a discomforted look when she realizes she finds the whole thing awkward. Silly, like Everleigh said. So Emily simply lets her gaze slip out of focus instead. Her hands fuss with the scarf as she tries hard to imagine herself at home.

She does. She can. She forgets the part of the instructions where she's supposed to wait, and trucks right on ahead with listing distractions. "Television. A queue popped. My roommate, making something in the kitchen or studying in the dining room." None of these things are inherently bad, a realization she comes to with some embarrassment. "Sometimes, schoolwork. I procrastinate a lot by playing with the cat."

“You’re getting too literal now,” Everleigh says, the tiniest hint of amusement in her voice. “Those might be distractions but I sincerely doubt that the television is what’s causing you to be wound as tightly as a coiled spring. If you want, we can get more direct and discuss what happened to you, but I was trying to start off gently.” She gets up for a moment, lifting up Emily’s barely-written questionnaire.

“So we’ll try the direct method. I’ll give you a choice… we can talk about the injury you have and the circumstances around it or,” here, Everleigh holds up the paper. “… we can talk about your relationship with your parents.”

When Everleigh abandons the exercise to go back to the questionnaire, hurt flickers for a moment in Emily’s expression before she’s able to rein in it. She’d really been trying to do what had been asked. Her mouth flattens into a line when presented with the choices. “What do you think would be more useful?” she asks deadpan. She seems resigned to a non-answer, but asks all the same.

“I think you’ll find out something about yourself regardless of what path you decide to walk,” Everleigh says, tilting her head to the side. “I won’t give you all the answers. I’m just going to help you find out how to get there. So you tell me… what would help you more right now? I have a feeling that you came in here because of the trauma related to that injury.”

She gestures towards Emily’s neck for a moment. “But we’ll discuss that when you’re ready to discuss that. Are you ready now?”

“Yeah,” Emily supplies readily, glad at least that there’s an apparent leaning toward one path over the other. The there’s no right or wrong answer of the situation is cheated after all. “It won’t do any good to dance around it.”

She leans forward in her seat, her elbows resting on her thigh while she toys the scarf back and forth between her hands. “A week ago today, I was jumped leaving campus, by a former classmate and her friends. They tried to lure me off to talk with them in private, but I didn’t. Long … story short, I wasn’t alone, and the person I was with was braver than me. They didn’t want to run.” Emily furrows her brow down at the red ball of knitted cloth in her hand. “So we were attacked, and we mostly held our ground. We incapacitated two of them, and when a third came at us, I tried to talk to her down. I thought it had worked. Maybe it did. Zachery kept going, though, and I lost my nerve. I went to go pull him off of the kid and I didn’t see the other girl had pulled a knife until she had it to my neck.”

Her eyes shift to one side, gaze sharpening at the memory of it. Her fidgeting stops. “Words were exchanged. She was scared into letting me go. She was worried about the boy on the ground, and we got away.” Emily takes in a breath to steel herself, nodding once. “I was out of it the night of, but I got the nerve to go to the police station the next morning. After the report was filed, it was passed onto SESA, and they mandated I take time off.”

It dawns on her she’s forgotten a key detail, so she looks back to Everleigh. “The girl and her friends — they knew I work with SESA. That’s why they jumped me. Because the internship.”

It’s a straightforward explanation without any real hint as to the complex feelings and emotions that occur in such a situation, and Everleigh’s well aware of that. She nods as she listens to the story, patiently taking in the details until Emily’s done talking. She gives her a moment of silence to recover her bearings after she finishes her explanation before she speaks.

“SESA was the reason you were attacked,” she asserts. “Let’s start with how that makes you feel towards SESA. Does it make you angry that they were the reason you were attacked? Does it make you feel more strongly towards SESA’s objectives? We’ll get into how the situation feels to you, let’s just take a look at how you place the blame, if it’s solely on this woman and her friends or if SESA holds some responsibility for this as well.”

It’s clear then that Emily’s not thought about placing blame, not like that. There’s a look of confusion that passes over her as she examines the situation under that new light. Was it SESA’s fault? “They were mad at SESA, not at me,” she asides. “I just … was the closest thing they had to SESA.” Or so she thinks, so she’s rationalized.

Her gaze flickers again and she shakes her head slightly. “No, it’s not SESA’s fault, though. This… I can’t blame them for this. These people have to take responsibility for their own actions.” She doesn’t sound as firm in that as she’d like to.

Everleigh doesn’t pass judgment on if she believes Emily’s correct in her thinking. She simply nods her understanding before she continues forward. “The people who did this to you… how do you feel about them? You said they needed to take responsibility, but you seem as if that sentiment has something a little more complicated to it. Are you angry, or is there perhaps something else?”

The crease in Emily’s brow deepens as she tries to resist the complex emotion that manifests in her at that. “I’m normally good at being able to see where others are coming from,” she says quietly. “But I kind of … shut down when I consider them as a whole. The girl with the knife— I don’t even know her name— I know that…”

She takes in a breath to steel her to keep going. “I know she was mad at SESA because her dad or something lost his job to someone Expressive. Or at least, that’s how she saw it.”

“The rest, I just…” Her gaze goes unfocused, her mouth hardening into a line. “Shit happens,” Emily supposes. “Their reasons don’t matter as much as what they did, in the end. They’re strangers to me, and if I’m lucky, they’ll stay that way. But they did something to me, and their actions will have consequences.” There’s a flint to that stressed word. “Because you don’t just get away with something like that. You can’t just attack someone on the street and walk away without being punished for it.”

“You’ve put in a police report and I’m certain they’ll be held accountable for what happened, but that doesn’t change that you were injured by that, physically and mentally. There’s no one holding them accountable for that, save for you,” Everleigh does sound a bit sad with the line of thought she’s on, but she persists anyway.

“SESA gave you time off for this for a reason. Those students can be held accountable for their actions but they won’t heal them. Healing is all up to you.”

“The fuck am I supposed to do with that?” Emily asks, less of a snap and more of a plaintive question. “I don’t even know what’s wrong with me, if there’s something wrong with me. What do I heal from if I don’t know how I’m hurting?” Her earnestness touches something bitter. “Better yet, what’s to be gained from digging at everything with a rusty knife until we find the actual injury?”

Everleigh takes a moment to try and figure the best approach. “I’ve never seen anyone just brush off an incident like that without at least a scar from it. So I can tell you with utmost certainty that you’re hurting.” She looks to Emily. “People are driven by instincts, just like animals. If an animal is hurt and something approaches it, its instinct is to lash out because it doesn’t want to be hurt further. You and I both know you’re hurting because you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t.”

She shifts her weight in her chair. “Alright, let’s try this a little differently. I’m going to ask you some questions about the incident, just answer honestly. Elaborate if you can, but if you can’t, a simple answer is fine.”

“Were you scared?”


That’s easier, when Emily thinks back to the start of the incident. She forgets about everything else, suspends her disbelief and questions and doubts and focuses in on just answering the questions Everleigh puts before her. She’s not sure the patient doctor will give her yet another ‘let’s try something different’ if she fucks this up again, either.

“I wasn’t expecting it to happen. I’d just had one surprise — an unexpected reunion. So I was working through that, and I didn’t notice the things I should have when they first called out to me… like the baseball bat one of the boys had. But it started to dawn on me that something was off and my heart stopped and I felt cold. I wanted to run away. I was terrified of what would happen if we stayed.”

“Do you still feel scared?” Everleigh asks, gently.

Emily's posture closes off somewhat while she considers the question. "Sure," she supposes. "If for entirely different reasons. I'm scared they won't let me back to work. I'm scared Alissa's friends on campus will make things difficult for me. I'm scared of having to go to court, if that's a thing that happens."

She hesitates. "I'm scared I made the wrong choice in reporting, even though I know it wasn't."

The young woman exhales long through her nose. For all her expressed fears, giving voice to them does something to her. On the end of her breath, it stutters with a short laugh. "Figures it's easier to talk about everything negative." she mutters, her eyes softening. Being able to voice those fears is freeing in its own way. It sounds like she's not, until now.

“People are more afraid of possibility than anything else. It’s terrifying in the moment, because it has to be. That’s your body’s response to a situation it’s not in control of. It wants you to react.” Everleigh offers a gentle smile. “But you got through it. Your fear from before shouldn’t control you now because you aren’t in danger from it. There’s no one standing right here with a baseball bat. So that particular fear, you’ve overcome it. Now, your other fears…”

She leans forward. “Those are fears of possibility. This could happen and it could be bad, that could happen in a horrible way, it’s not about actual danger but it’s about potential danger. You’re focusing all these thoughts on possibilities. Sure, they could happen, that’s why they’re possibilities. But what I’ve personally found is that you can control possibilities. You have time to prepare for them. All you need to do is think them through logically and find ways to prove you’re better than them.”

Her fingertip taps her chin in thought. “So take those people who hoard stuff because they’re convinced the apocalypse is about to happen. It’s only a possibility, sure, but they’re afraid of it. And some of them continue to be afraid and never really overcome it. But then others, they use their resources and set themselves up so if the worst happens, they don’t need to fear in that moment because they’re ready.”

“I’m not saying go prep for an apocalypse, but you can have a plan for what you might do if someone on campus tries to cause trouble, you can think about what you might say in court if it comes down to it.”

It almost certainly will. And the thought of it is a cold, hard thing that drags Emily’s heart from her chest into being an icy thing that settles in her stomach.

She lowers her head, looking down at the scarf between her hands. After a moment, she sits properly upright again to try and ease the crick in her neck that wants to form. She remembers to breathe, letting out an exhale like a sigh that does nothing to diminish her nerves— nothing that helps her tightened coil of a self unwind.

“Just have to chip away at it,” Emily supposes in a murmur. “One fear at a time.”

“There’s a reason people spend years in therapy. Thoughts get jumbled up like string and it takes time to unwind it in a meaningful way, right now you’ve got the tools to start on that,” Everleigh explains. “You know how to start thinking differently. Just try to catch yourself when you start to think some kind of fear is too much for you. Remember to ground yourself with the people and places around you that make you feel safe. Everything builds together to create something to keep you from letting fears overcome you.”

She nods. “Just a little at a time.”

Emily glances back up to Everleigh uncertainly. She seems she gets it even if she doesn't entirely get her, her motivations, what she's really afraid of. The advice she was proceeding was sound, even if it felt unnecessary, maybe even already known. But after the young woman had appeared and given her zero context, Everleigh was taking it like a champ. She hadn't shown the slightest bout of exasperation with her.

The young woman manages a small nod.

"So…" Emily sighs out, still fixing Everleigh with that glance. "What now, then?"

“That still really depends on what you’re looking for. You’ve taken a small step towards a larger goal but this is really just a limited snapshot of things. If you genuinely want to work through these feelings, we have to unpack things. It’s not the kind of thing you can do in one sitting.”

Everleigh seems thoughtful. “I believe you’ve got enough perspective to start somewhere, and I think that’s the bare minimum that SESA requires of you given your experience. Really, though, I think you’ve got some thoughts you might want to work through with a bit of a helping hand. You didn’t talk about your family yet, and there’s more we could talk about with your trauma… but I have a sense you’re trying to get out of here.”

“Well,” Emily sounds out, as gamely as she possibly can, “Can’t get through it all in one day, can we?” The smile she forces looks genuine for only a flash, and it fades not long after. She looks off to the tea that had been offered earlier, considering it once again before deciding to leave it aside. Another time.

Shifting in her seat, she supposes will actually risk that— a second visit. Despite all her discomfort.

“I don’t really know what I’m looking for, just that I knew I needed to talk to someone. I’ve got a yarnball of problems and normally I can handle sorting it by myself, but it’s just…” She looks unimpressed with her own metaphor, finishing uncertainly, “gotten knotted, lately. Maybe just having someone to talk to while I sort through it myself is really all I need. Some of this stuff, it’s not anything I feel I can talk about with those closest to me, either because I don’t want to burden them with it when they can’t do anything about it, or because it deals with them, and they’re going through enough as it is, so I just…”

Emily worries her teeth over her bottom lip before looking back to Everleigh. “—bottle it.” she admits, her mouth dry. “And that’s not healthy.”

Her gaze flits away and back. “So when should I come back and see you again?”

“The great thing is, you don’t have to be looking for something to come in here, but you’ll find something on your way out, that I can promise,” Everleigh smiles warmly. “So don’t you stress about having something in mind when you walk in that door. Between the two of us I’m sure we can figure out just what knots need to be undone and how to untangle things at least a little.”

“As for when to see me?” She shakes her head. “That’s for you to pick. If you want a regular schedule, we can set that up. If you want to just meet whenever things are tense for you, that’s okay too. You just have to have the foresight to set something up. I’m fairly flexible when I’m available so… just call if you need anything.”

She pauses. “But, to be on the safe side, if I haven’t heard from you in a month I’ll call and maybe give you a gentle nudge, alright?”

Emily lets out a short huff that might be a laugh under better circumstances as she comes to her feet. “Sounds fair,” she admits, stringing the scarf out between both hands. Looping it back around her neck, for a moment it seems like she might just leave it at that and bolt without bringing the conversation to a proper close. Certainly like she’ll leave without a ‘thank you’ for what’s been imparted to her.

She stops with the scarf halfway done, though, looking back to the nearly-empty questionnaire she’d filled out. Hopefully she wouldn’t regret this.

“Here,” Emily asks, gesturing with a hand for the sheet. “Let me leave you my number.”

Everleigh slides the sheet over to Emily, offering her a pen from the desk as well. “I do mean you can call anytime, though. If you find yourself in a bind you need to be talked through, I’m all ears.” She reaches over to slide one of her business cards over as well. Once their numbers have been exchanged, she glances back over.

“Just remember, Emily. It only has to happen a little at a time.”

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