Help Me Cope


emily4_icon.gif everleigh_icon.gif

Scene Title Help Me Cope
Synopsis After being restored to a human form, Emily finds it's not so simple to move on from her experience as she'd dreamed it would be. With Everleigh's guidance, she realizes the path to healing starts with a single step, and comes to accept that it's often a winding one.
Date October 2020 - January 2021

The Offices of Everleigh Madison

October 20, 2020

The last time Emily Epstein was here was Monday, January 13th. She'd not seemed well, then. After the two months of sessions during which she'd made some progress forward, her last visit had seemed like a backslide emotionally, for reasons she hadn't elaborated on. No one person heals, grieves, or deals with their trauma in the same way, so it hadn't been a concern at the time.

She no-showed on her February visit entirely, though. Several attempts to follow up went unanswered.

Nearly ten months later, she's showed up as an unannounced walk-in, looking almost like an entirely different person. She's reacting— overreacting to every small sound that comes her way, has barely spoken, and hardly makes eye contact. Leaning on a single forearm crutch for support while she stands in place, she appears thinner than usual, but of good color. Whatever happened to her, she's recovering from it.

And if she's finally come here again, it's because there's a part of her recovery she's chosen not to neglect.

"Everleigh," Emily greets quietly, faintly. Like should she speak at any level louder than that it'd somehow be too much. She chances a glance up at Everleigh, confirming if she's more or less the same in her own appearance.

It's impossible to hide the look of surprise on Everleigh's face at the sudden appearance of Emily. Dressed in some comfortable looking but stylish professional attire, she has remained very much the same as she had during Emily's last visit. The surprise quickly melts into a warm, but also concerned, smile.

"This is a pleasant surprise," she offers, gesturing towards the seats as she closes the laptop she had open on her desk. She makes her way towards one of the chairs, not making any quick movements. She definitely noted the way Emily responds to the sounds of things around her. "My office is always open to you."

Emily manages a small smile of her own— knowing, tired, grateful. With the help of the crutch to keep her balanced in the event of a moment of weakness, she walks with more confidence to the couch, sitting down on it slowly and slipping her arm from the cuff to rotate the tan bag she has slung around her so she's not sitting directly on it. In a mauve zip-up and grey tee underneath, she looks comfortable as she can manage. Converse high-tops match with pale jeans.

Emily's normally icy eyes are like water in how she looks to and fro, trying to figure out where to start. One of the throw pillows makes its way into her lap as an anchor. It's difficult to bring someone in on the truth she's come back from, and it'd be preferable to talk about it precisely never, but…

If there were anyone it was safe to talk to about this, it was Everleigh Madison.

"There was a case I was on last year, Christmas into New Year's. Into… February." Her brow furrows, confused at how it could still possibly be the same year as this even though it feels like a lifetime ago. Her voice sounds hoarse, quiet. At this point, it can't be from disuse. "A serial killer who turned their victims into trees. We thought we'd caught the guy. A professor at my college. But… we hadn't."

"The killer was someone I knew. Someone I trusted." Emily's voice wavers, not looking at Everleigh. "And about three weeks ago, they found her, and found out she could undo what she did. And it's been…" She pauses, counting. "Seven days since I came back from what I turned into."

Taking in a long breath, she looks off to the side. "So that's what's new with me."

While Emily doesn't directly say what happened to her, it's all in the context. She doesn't have to say it outloud, nor does Everleigh push to get her to fill in those details. She's calm, quiet, relaxed, and whatever surprise was on her face before has mellowed out into a neutral expression.

"You know," she says slowly. "During the war I didn't really work for a hospital or for myself directly. I came and went, just doing what I could after people had experienced violence and trauma. It wasn't anything that was on the books. You don't really schedule appointments during a war." The words get a slight smile of amusement before she continues. "But during and after the war was where I feel like I did the most good. People had some awful things happen to them and everything I'd come across during my residency paled in comparison."

She shifts, resting her chin on her hand as she leans against the arm of the chair. A relaxed position. "Going through something like that is certainly traumatic. Especially if it's prolonged for any length of time," her tone is soft, but there's some kind of weight behind it. "Do you feel safe?"

Emily sits in quiet while Everleigh shares her own experience, not connecting the dots at first. There's no impatience to her lack of understanding, but when she pieces together that she still has a place here— isn't seen as too overwhelming with this kind of situation— the corners of her eyes soften.

"Do I feel safe?" she chokes out, not nearly as bitterly as she'd have liked. It sounds wounded, and Emily finally looks up toward Everleigh. "What kind of question is that?" Her eyes show her hurt, deep and honest in all the ways she normally would distance herself.

Before, when Emily Epstein had first suffered trauma and come to visit, she'd not allowed herself to feel. After what's happened now, it seems that's all she's able to do.

"I can't trust anyone again. Ever. I can't." Tearing up, she lowers her gaze, taking in a heave of a breath to keep the tears in rather than out. "I should've never let anyone in in the first place. People just… use one-another. Or worse."

"It's less a real question and more of something to figure out where you are in the trauma recovery process," Everleigh says, her tone gentle. "Trust is a hard thing to build. But to assume that everyone in the world is untrustworthy is putting everyone in a generalized category. I can think of a half-dozen people who are absolutely worth trusting, and the world is a better place with them in it. To deny yourself the ability to trust in someone is denying yourself the chance for many of the joys in life."

She pauses, her tone still gentle. "But those feelings are your own. After having something like that happen, it's understandable not to feel like it's worth trusting anyone. I won't ask you to trust me, trust is yours to give and take as you feel you can. I do want you to at least take my words into consideration. I'll always be entirely candid with you if you ask for anything. The only thing I have to gain here is that I enjoy seeing people find themselves, I enjoy people getting their footing and thriving. You can consider it a selfish desire if you like, but what I get out of this aligns perfectly with you learning to trust again."

Emily sucks in another breath, looking down with a set jaw. It's difficult for her to explain how Everleigh isn't a person she'd hold at arm's length— how certain people are exempt— how perhaps she's just lashing out in the moment when she says what she has. But her eyes soften anyway as she peers down between her feet, glad for the lack of demand upon her.

She sniffs to be sure her voice will hold, then admits, "I'm not sure what to do. When I was stuck in there— there were a few times people reached out. Through telepaths. Through— dreamwalkers. And I was stuck in the dark, alone, with nothing but my thoughts, my dreams, my nightmares, these— senses that were inhuman— and I swore to myself that if I made it out I'd go on living. That I'd stop pushing people away. That I'd appreciate… things… more."

Her voice does quaver at the end, but in frustration. At herself. "But then all my senses came back, and they were overwhelming. Moving felt foreign. Hearing— noise is just hard. And she was there, and I saw her, and the look on her face…"

Emily catches herself, hearing— no, feeling the thing in her voice even though it's harmless, directionless in its command. Because what if it isn't the next time it creeps out? Her eyes widen slightly and she falls quiet, her arms folding tightly.

"Trauma isn't something you just get over in a week," Everleigh notes, her smile as gentle as ever. "If anyone expects you to feel or be who you were before the incident, they clearly don't have a grasp on the situation. Perhaps you thought things would be different, but are you expecting to make those adjustments overnight too?"

The mention of her catches Dr. Madison's attention. "What did you feel when you saw her?"

Abruptly, Emily can't. Putting words to the screaming knives and pain feels insurmountable. Maybe someday, she'll be able. But not today.

She shakes her head once. "I— I don't think I can handle talking about that right now." But she can't just let the topic die, can she? "It's— I can't. But, my dad was there. He came all that way only to leave me lying on the ground. My cousin, Julie, she and Devon helped get me up. But him…" (her dad, that is) "I swear if it's not a problem he can fucking shoot he just doesn't know how to deal with it."

Emily laughs suddenly, finding humor in that truth like it's some kind of inside joke. The laughter tapers to something pained-sounding, then silence.

"You're right, though," she admits quietly. "I can't just get over it in a week. I'm not gonna get over it now." Hesitantly, she wonders, "How's your calendar look?"

Everleigh nods. It's clear the reluctance to talk isn't something she takes personally. It's all part of the process. "I'll make sure there's a time that works for you. However often you need. I'd rather not go for longer than a month without seeing you. This will take time, but it's not a process that happens entirely without effort."

There's a small smile from the doctor. "I believe in you, though," she notes. "You came in here on your own—I'm confident that you'll come back."

November 18

This is Emily's second visit since then. She is, in fact, gaining confidence slowly. She's walking on her own again— the crutch she carried with her quickly more a mental one than one she physically needed— and this time she's left it behind entirely. She's more put-together, her hair tied back into a bun, clothes more smartly picked out although she's still avoiding the color green like it might hurt her if she incorporated it anywhere.

She's wearing sunglasses indoors, though— a set of blue-lensed reflective aviators. That's new, but they seem to help her feel more comfortable, so as far as Emily's concerned, that's that.

"I'm gonna go back to work," is how she starts the session as soon as she sits down. Like before, she gathers a pillow into her lap to anchor any potential nervous picking at, but she doesn't fuss with the fringes of it immediately this time. "I think— I think that's the right choice. I can't stay at home forever. I need— I need to feel like I'm doing something. And I don't think going back to school is it. Not now. Not yet. I don't think I can handle both at once anyway."

Emily hesitates for a moment before she gets to the question that's been weighing on her, seeking an opinion that she not only values— but will be the key to whether or not she can do what she aims. "Do you think it's too soon for that?"

"You're asking for my approval on something you already just admitted you feel like doing," Dr. Madison notes. "The problem is, I can't answer that question for you. I could explain some of my observations if you'd like something to help you feel more comfortable with your choice, but you're the one who makes that decision."

She rests her elbow on the arm of her chair. "The fact that you want to does speak a lot for your progress. It also speaks to the fact that you're not exactly someone who likes to sit still and see how things come," Everleigh gives a slow nod in her direction. "So let's break it down so you're able to confidently decide to or not. Convince me: tell me why you think you need to do something."

With a slight tuck in of her chin, Emily considers that. "Because if I don't start moving now, I'm not sure I ever will. Because I'm not the only one who's hurt this year, and not everybody can do something about it. Because it's what Nat would do. She'd have gotten up and kept going. And…"

She loses her steam, realizing she's said approximately way too much in her sudden bout of honesty. "I feel like I should, too. If I really want to— to stop being afraid all the time, then I've got to just…" Emily looks down and aside before she looks back up. "I'm not sure there's training wheels for this, just picking up pieces of your life and seeing which are still too heavy. I won't know until I know, and I will never know unless…"

The thin blonde lifts her shoulders in a tiny shrug.

"Fear is a rational response. It's human nature— fight or flight. It's supposed to be our body's way of telling us the situation we're in is dangerous and we need to preserve our life. It's when fear takes over that it's less about there being actual danger and more that you're hurt and learning to overcome it. If you get burned by a hot stove, your body kicks in to react— you're hurt and you learn the stove is dangerous. Eventually, though, you get hungry and you figure out how to cook without hurting yourself."

Everleigh offers a smile. "Honestly? I think you should lean into those feelings. If you feel like that's what you want to do, if you want to stop being afraid, pursue it the way you feel is best. What's not helpful is saying that you 'should' do one thing or another. You're projecting limitations on yourself. There isn't a right or wrong way to recover, it's your own journey. Maybe there's no training wheels, but that's a terrible analogy. Bikes are made that you have to go fast enough or you lose your balance. Life isn't an all-or-nothing. You can take baby steps. Find something you really want to do and do it. Not because you feel you 'should', but because you want it."

With the glasses on, it's hard to read the entirety of Emily's expression, but she seems relieved to be encouraged on. A little uncertain as ever to know there's no right or wrong way, because she needs that structure, but overall confident.

"Sure," she answers almost evasively. "And what I want to do is not be stuck in this rut forever. I… ran into someone who gave me a wake-up call about that, honestly. Gave me some, um…"

She laughs to herself without meaning to, even if it's quiet and a tinge bittersweet. "Perspective I'd started to lose sight of on my own." Her mood mellows quickly. "And it was the motivation I needed to get back up on the horse, or the stove, or whatever. In multiple ways."

"The whole reason people use therapy is because sometimes it's hard to have that view of ourselves in any sort of accurate light. While you're the one who obviously knows yourself best, sometimes others notice and pick up on things we're too close to see," Everleigh's calm smile is encouraging, even as she explains. "It's good that you're able to recognize that you may not have the full picture in view. I hope this person continues to be a good influence."

She presses her lips together in a thin line, momentarily seeming to be considering something before eventually speaking again. "You may be motivated to get back to doing things, but keep in mind that this is for you. Do it because you feel it's right for you, not because you feel like people expect you to be in a different place than where you are. Take it as slow as you need to, but if you find you're speeding off on that bike… all the better. It's all about moving forward and knowing when it's safe for you to do so."

It's advice Emily could stand to listen to. Advice she needs, by all means.

"I will," she promises with hollow confidence. "I'm going to set boundaries when I go back. Ask to be taken off of field duty. Give me time to get back up to speed."

She has no way to know for sure she will make good on that threat. Or that work will even allow for it. But she'll at least submit the intention for it.

December 28

"Merry Christmas," Emily mutters as she comes into the office, trying and failing to force a smile. She doesn't take off her coat as she comes to sit on the couch today, genuinely distracted. She takes in a breath to try and find the words, and then failing to find the best ones, settles with the ones she's able to find with a small sigh.

"Something… happened a year ago. It— popped up on my feed. I'd taken a picture with Devon after it happened, and I'd— I'd not really thought about it at all since…" Her expression catches, nearly flinching with the force she runs into her discomfort. Her gloved hands thumb across each other as she looks down at her lap, asking, "I-I don't know. Can we talk about that, today?"

"Of course," Everleigh replies, her gaze fully taking in Emily's body language. She moves to the couch as well, bridging any distance the room might have brought before. "For some things, the mind's good about making us forget when it doesn't know how to deal with things. You might not have thought about it for a reason."

She offers a calm smile. "So explain it to me, however you're most comfortable. What happened?"

Pulling a small throw into her lap out of habit, Emily can't make eye contact, but she doesn't need to in order to tell this tale. "A year ago yesterday, my dad called me in the middle of the night. Drunk. Said he— needed to see me, to come to Rochester. Just trust me, okay— he kept saying that over and over."

She's talked about her relationship with Avi Epstein only vaguely, never referring to specific events when vacillating between taking umbrage with his very existance and back-handedly defending him.

"I didn't have a car, so I called Devon to borrow his since he was in town for the holiday, and he refused to let me go alone. So we drove up the three hours, and as soon as we get there, he's still just as agitated as before. Devon trusts me when I tell him I need to handle it myself, but my dad…" Her brow furrows, eyes glassy as they narrow. She realizes there's an important piece of information.

Sucking in a breath, she admits in a quiet voice, "And the important thing here is that— after I got jumped, he found out I'd manifested." A thing she's definitely never mentioned before. "And he got so afraid of anyone ever trying to use me for my ability, at that time, and…"

"So I get there, and he's drunk and he has a gun and he takes me down into the Bunker's basement, and there's someone I can't see in the dark, someone I know, and he just says…"

Emily takes in another unsteady breath, laughing out, "Make her tell me why she hurt my friend." Her hand balls on top of the pillow, quivering. "Because she had— she'd had a vision and was worried, and something went wrong, and she ended up causing some kind of self-fucking-fulfilling prophecy where Francois nearly died."

"And he fucking tells me," she says with vitriol that can only be attributed to mention of her father. "To use my ability to tell him what he wants to hear. A-and that— Everleigh, that's not even how it works. And it just gets fucking worse, because as soon as I see she's already been shot, I get him to come to his senses and call for help, so I call my sister— and she c'n…"

It's painful, moreso than she thought it'd be to stumble into mention of Nathalie. With a choked laugh, tears break free of her eyes as she continues to look down. "And she can heal people," she whispers carefully and tensely, like the words themselves are fragile. "And then it wasn't just me dealing with him making unfair demands with other people's abilities. I brought her into it, too."

Emily rocks forward once to free up fabric she's sitting on uncomfortably on her coat and then sits back, tugging her glove off so she can wipe at her eyes. "I didn't think about it for a reason, because it's too painful to, because it's unfair what he and Eileen put me and Nathalie through, because it was one of the last times I saw my sister alive and—" Her expression crumples in on itself. "It wasn't even a good memory."

Forcing herself to look down again to take in a breath and try to stop her crying, Emily offers up, "And I just don't know what to do with that. It— it is what it is, but I just want it to have been something." Tears still in her eyes, she shakes her head. "And I don't want to be the only person holding him back from doing something stupid like that ever again. I'm scared if it's just me I'm not gonna know what to do next time."

"But that's what happens if I try to work things through with him. He'll just…" Not even sure how to end that, Emily tapers off with a frustrated breath and twists the fabric of her glove in an effort to tie herself back together.

"Family's a tough thing to deal with because there are often ties there that we don't necessarily like, ones that aren't something you can easily just get rid of," Everleigh's voice is calm, clear, slow. "What he asked of you wasn't fair. It wasn't his place, in any circumstance, to ask you to do something like that. If you weren't related to him, would you have even thought twice about someone telling you to do that? Is it that it was him that made it hard to the point you pushed it out of your mind?"

The doctor frowns, just slightly, shifting her weight to face Emily a bit more. "You aren't responsible for his actions, Emily. His decisions are his to make, as yours are yours. Just because you're in the unique position of being who you are to him doesn't mean that you have any responsibility to keep him from doing something stupid. He's an adult." She pauses, offering the slightest of smiles. "And he probably needs therapy."

Emily finds herself unexpectedly chuckling. "He sure fucking does," she agrees in a mutter. She clears her nose and looks back up to Everleigh, uncertain how she feels. Better, maybe, now that she's not alone under this weight. "I don't need him. He made sure I didn't, by being absent at every turn in my life. I wanted to have him there, and I go back and forth between that, but I don't need him."

She pauses in such a way it emphasises a silent but she hesitates on airing.

"I think he needs me, though," she admits tiredly. "He needs me to be safe. He needs me to be better than him. He needs me to not be dragged down by his bullshit… but then he gets stupid and forgets that, and it becomes about what he wants in the short-term instead."

Shaking her head slightly, Emily comes better back to the moment. "And even if he wasn't who he is, I'd be horrified if someone tried to use me like that. I haven't updated my registry because I never want anything like that to happen." She swallows hard. "And what hurt the most is that he got that. He was more scared than I was about anyone finding out about my ability, out of fear that people would…" Her brow twitches together as she leans into saying, "use me or worse."

"I don't regret, necessarily, anything I said or did," she clarifies as she looks down at her glove. "I just wish it'd never happened."

"If what he needs is for you to be a better person and be safe, then perhaps him not being overly involved in your life would be a good thing," Everleigh notes. "At some point parents realize their kids have to live their own lives and they have to let go and let them do it. Even if he's not willing to let go, he doesn't get to have that say over you." The mention of Emily's father being scared of someone using her actually gets a rare frown from the doctor.

"I hate to be blunt, but your father is a hypocrite. He wants no one to take advantage of your ability and yet he himself is an exception? Him trying to heavy-handedly control you somehow allows him to be the exception to the rule?" She lets out a slow breath. "Sometimes things happen and we grit our teeth and move through it, but it doesn't mean that we like it. Even making decisions you are comfortable with doesn't make it any easier that you had to make the decision."

Emily just nods. "Yeah," she says opaquely between some of it and all of it. "Yeah."

"Do as I say, not as I do might as well be an unsung family motto between the Raith and Epstein in me," she realizes, and it brings her to laugh again. It's more cathartic, this, and she'd thought it would be.

"So… the other thing, though." The levity and honesty here has given her the strength to go back to it. "Nat." Okay, no more tears yet. "Nathalie." The world hasn't ended yet. Her heart hasn't caved in yet.

It might be a precarious thing, but she figures if she doesn't bring it up now, maybe she never will.

"I don't suppose you have advice for… what to do, or what to feel, after someone close to you gets kidnapped by terrorists and doesn't come home. Or what to think about someone who did make it back, at the expense of her…"

That's as far as Emily makes it before her throat locks with knots. But maybe that's enough to go off of.

"Everyone deals with grief differently, I'm afraid, but the best I can offer for that is to find what feels right for you. If talking about her helps, we can do that. But don't let anyone tell you there's a right or wrong way to feel when something like this happens. Anger, fear, frustration, agony, loneliness… people have different ways of viewing loss," Everleigh's smile is less of a happy one and more of a sympathetic one.

"Me, personally, I tend to distance myself from the situation with a bit of time. Distract myself with things that keep me busy or things I like, and let the grieving process set in once I've had time to get over an initial shock." She glances over, resting her hands neatly in her lap. "So… how do you feel?"

Emily exhales a long breath. "Hollow, still. I knew something had gone wrong before my dad wanted to admit it, but the reality was just…" She starts to shake her head at it, tongue twisting over itself while she thinks. "I grieved. I know she'd not want me to fall apart. But I struggle because she deserved so much better than what happened to her, and we should have— I just hope she knows how hard I wanted to fight for her to bring her home. I I-hope that she'd know, you know?"

"That losing her isn't just something we'd… get over." Her eyes are tired, stinging with fresh salt. She takes in a breath. "This whole next month is gonna be hard. It's going to be memories and milestones and just… none of them good. Not even just this month— the next two to three. It's gonna be rough."

Her eyes dip to her lap before she admits quietly, "I know there's no right way to feel. I think I've got that through my head now." That humor is so bone-dry as to be evaporated on arrival. "I just wish I knew how I feel. If I could just make sense of why it feels so different on the day to day, and why I can't… control my grief."

Emily's brow pulls together as she lets out a pained breath of laughter. "I hate this. I feel like I better understand how my cousin Julie feels now, when she lost her twin sister. She lost her other half in ways I can't even fully understand, but I— I feel like I get it better at least." Worrying her lip, she supposes softer still, "Maybe neither of us have to grieve alone anymore, if only I could open that door with her."

"That's the thing that's always puzzled me about grief," Everleigh sounds honestly curious. "Grief is for the living. Often times I hear people who have lost someone talk about what that person would have wanted. It's a nice thought, but there's no eternal rule saying that when someone dies we have to abide by what they would have wanted. People don't get to dictate how other people feel about them. They can shape it, certainly, but in the end how and what you do to grieve is up to what you need."

She offers a small smile, even if it is tinged with sadness. "We shouldn't ever be able to fully control grief. It's part of what makes us human. You grieve because of some kind of impact someone had on you, some kind of influence. There's no hard and fast way of 'getting over it'. Because you don't. You simply swallow hard and carry on and get used to the new normal… but let yourself be okay with not being okay."

The doctor nods. "But grieving alone… I've often found finding solace in someone else understanding grief with you is probably one of the best ways to get through it. Sometimes it even forms stronger bonds."

Emily gives a slight, small nod. "She's… when it comes to family, it feels like she's all I've got." Her throat is tight, but she manages to say that much. "I nearly lost her once because I couldn't see her grief properly and how it was effecting her. I never want that to happen again."

She thinks on that for a moment before drawing in a breath, rubbing the corner of her eye with the heel of her bared hand again. "Sorry," she apologizes abruptly, and it's hard not to see the mental scramble she does to pick up the pieces of herself she's laid out plain to see— the bits that can't and won't be fixed, just considered.

Having forgotten it was she who entirely pursued this angle of conversation in the first place, she asks, "Where were we, again?"

January 21

Emily looks better today. More comfortable in her skin than even before, though she still hides behind the comfort of sunglasses even indoors. Each session shows progress, even if that progress takes different shape each time. She looks— tired, but in a good way.

Like she's found some the purpose she'd been chasing.

She smiles as she enters the office with her coat already off, folded over her arms. She greets Everleigh today by saying, "So I've found one positive to all my missing time and time I otherwise spent with my head in the ground— I don't have to wait week to week to watch anything that came out this last year. I binged basically the entire new season of River Styx this week."

"Do I regret it?" She pauses to chuckle and admit, "Maybe. But it was just nice to have something to do just because I wanted to. Not because I felt beholden to get it done, or like it was a task on a list." Collapsing into a seat on the couch, her smile flickers, persisting as only a ghost. She seems held up on some thought, but it's one she shares.

"I'm not sure what to talk about today, to be honest," Emily murmurs self-consciously.

"You don't have to come in with anything in mind, Emily. This is to help you get perspective on things going on, sometimes it's just about you getting out and expressing something you feel you need to say," Everleigh crosses her legs, leaning back in her chair a bit. "You said it was nice to do something just because you wanted to. Do you feel like that's lacking in your life? Is allowing yourself something you want a different enough experience that it feels abnormal?"

Instead of shoving the question off with a lash of anger and an attempt at redirection, Emily takes a moment to marvel at the question with an exaggerated blink, looking away in her consideration.

"I do little things, here and there," she admits. "But almost always with a purpose. Not because anybody makes me, but it's just what I need. I decide, even in games, that I want to make progress. I decide I want to read to learn more. I decide to practice fucking yoga to help manage my breathing and my anxiety better…"

A wry humor enters her voice. "But brainless television? Yeah, that's a timesuck that's truly useless."

"Is it, though?"

Everleigh's question is punctuated with a slight smile and she tilts her head to the side a bit. "Everything you mentioned does legitimately have a purpose. You acknowledged as such. But isn't the freedom from purpose a purpose in itself? You're giving yourself permission to just be. Sometimes it's okay to hold still, to give yourself a moment or two where not everything has to be purposeful and productive."

Her smile broadens. "Tell me. Did you enjoy the experience? How did it feel to do something that wasn't necessary, that didn't have a stated purpose?"

Emily tilts her head, nose twisting in a wrinkle at the thought of the average television show providing any purpose apart from distraction. At least, the kind she'd found herself partaking in. Forced to reconsider, though, her eyes half-lid and and she glances down.

"No?" she answers with a hollow shade of a laugh. "Not really, I didn't enjoy it that much, but it felt nice to… catch up." Her expression shifts when she realizes maybe it'd been more 'productive' a time spent than she thought after all. Even if it was on a topic many people she knew found groanworthy.

"I missed out on almost an entire year of my life," Emily unexpectedly finds herself justifying the act. "It was nice to reclaim one little piece of it that wasn't just— finding out what tragedies have happened in the lives of the people around me. It didn't have anything to do with what happened to me, either. Just… something nice and isolated and meaningless that I can be caught up on now."

Her brow furrows sharply. "I guess I needed something like that more than I realized. Most of what I've learned since coming back… a lot of it's been bad. In a I'm sort of glad I missed it way."

She regrets the words as soon as she says them, visible in how she draws herself up and leans back into the seat like she can escape them. "Don't get me wrong, like— some good things must've happened, but they just…" Emily looks back to Everleigh, uncertain just what she feels about this now, and that sensation and transmission of emotion carries preternaturally well. "By the time I came back, all the good had happened long before."

"It's important to remember that as much as you might wish to have experienced those things, you can't change the past. Use that desire for the good to make good things happen now." Everleigh offers a kind smile. "A lot of people really get caught up thinking about the past. The whole idea of all of this," she gestures around the room, "is to learn from what has happened and figure out how to use it as a tool to move forward."

She nods in Emily's direction. "It sounds as if you're doing that, in your own way. Even if it's small you're asserting control over something. The more you find opportunities to do that, the easier it'll be to grasp that control and feel as if you can move forward."

Emily blinks. It's not often she finds this type of validation— confirmation something she's doing has unequivocally been the right thing. It gives her peace she wasn't expecting to find today. She doesn't know what to say at first.

"What's the thing they tell you on planes? Secure your own mask before helping the person next to you? I'm… gonna try to remember to do that. Metaphorically, you know? And maybe try not to be so hard on myself in the process."

She worries her bottom lip for a moment after that, unconsciously pulling the throw pillow on the couch into her lap. "Do you have any advice, though, for the days when terrible things happen to good people— and I find myself wishing I'd not come back at all?" Her expression softens before she shakes her head slightly. "If there's nothing you really can say to that or against it… I'd understand."

"I don't tend to think that people live for no reason. The world might not always feel like the best place to be, but it's what we've got. All you can do is try and do right by the people who you care about. But that's still something we all struggle with."

Everleigh's still got a thin trace of a smile on her lips, even if it's clear she's being serious. "I'd be lying if I said I hadn't felt those things myself. I find it helps to remind myself that if I'm still here, I can still do something even if I don't quite know what that is yet."

Emily looks down at her hands, the pillow in her lap. She manages a small nod to signal the thought she's giving to that. "I… guess that's what I cling to, too. The hope that if I'm still around, that I can…"

She struggles with finding the words for it. "Help, somehow. Someone. Some… somehow."

Smoothing down the fabric of the pillow, she lifts her head again. "It's good food for thought. Thank you." Emily manages a ghost of a smile to convey her appreciation for that.

"I should probably head back— I'm just over here on my lunch break today," she admits. "Can I set up a follow-up for next month?"

"It's less if you're still around. You are and you will," Everleigh replies.

Her smile mirrors the subtle one Emily offers, but then it branches into a broader one. Getting to her feet, she offers a hand to help Emily to her feet. "Make sure you get some actual food with the rest of your lunch break, alright? Thoughts don't make calories." The smile becomes a little more of a grin before she turns towards her appointment book on the side table.

"I'll see you next month. And if you need something sooner? You know where to find me."

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