Safe And Empowered


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Scene Title Safe And Empowered
Synopsis A new patient of Everleigh's comes seeking advice, but not just for his own sake.
Date March 12, 2021

The Office of Dr. Everleigh Madison, Elmhurst

It took several weeks— nearly a month— for any sign of follow-up from Odessa's Ourania's fiancé after the curious bent his joint session with her had gone, but when he phones to schedule, it's for the next day. He arrives without a coat at all, though he doffs a pair of sunglasses as he enters the lobby and approaches the open door of the office. They're half-folded in the hand he uses to knock on the doorway.

"Dr. Madison?" Harry is cordial, dressed in a deep green suit, the pairing dress shirt so dark a navy it nears black. An arm of the sunglasses goes tucked away into his breast pocket. "Thank you for seeing me again. I've meant to stop by, but my dual schedule has proved… challenging, recently."

He smiles warmly, a tinge of apology in it. "But at last, the stars align."

“Please, come in,” Everleigh says, a gesture given in the direction of the seating as she moves away from her desk. Dressed in a pastel pink colored blouse paired with a pair of grey slacks, her business attire seems to range on the comfortable side of things. There’s no suffering for fashion on her part.

“O will be pleased you came.”

It is, after all, the obvious reason as to why he’s there. She’s under no impression that he’s interested in this for himself. “As a reminder, this does fall under doctor-patient confidentiality. Whatever is spoken about here remains between us unless you decide it’s in your best interest to share it with someone.”

"Fantastic," Harry replies offhandedly, as though the topic were about an appetizing dish or a pleasant surprise. He makes his way in with more comfort in his own skin, in the place he finds himself, than his last visit. Like a cat, he languidly observes his surroundings, finding himself drifting in the direction of the teapot he'd passed on last time, one hand slid into his pocket.

"We're doing well, she and I," he mentions absently. "But I'd be remiss to think that will last forever. So, best to circle back now than at some…" He dithers on the phrasing, examining his options. "Critical juncture. Obtain whatever tools needed to handle those moments better prepared for them."

“That’s a good way of looking at things,” Everleigh notes as she settles onto a chair, making herself comfortable. “Having tools to deal with potential conflict is incredibly helpful. So I’m curious if you have a particular issue you’re worried will come up, or if you’re merely looking for ways to calm things down should they get heated.”

Harry lets out a tone of passing interest as he pours himself a cup of hot water, nabbing a bag of green tea to steep in it. He picks up his drink and navigates to the comfortable armchair, seating himself slowly to not disturb what he's gathered. "There's no one thing in particular," he admits thoughtfully. "Just… things I have never faced before in my interpersonal relationships. Her past is complicated there. She has trouble trusting I care for her, in trusting in us. I do my best to reassure her, but…"

Narrowing his eyes for a moment, he glances up to Everleigh finally. "There's a lot of history to work against. And there are only so many times I can tell her I'm not giving up on her before it becomes stale, untrustworthy. I'm running out of ways I can say it differently, make her understand how genuine I am."

After a beat, Harry adjusts the string of the teabag and admits, "I've never had a long-term partner with anxieties like she has."

“She does have a complicated past and complicated emotional processing because of it,” Everleigh agrees, the faintest hint of a smile on her lips. “But that makes it so much more interesting when you can slowly see her grow and change over time. It’s an emotional investment with very clear returns.”

“Well, let’s start with how you express your feelings to her. You said you were running out of ways to say it differently. What do you instinctively do to tell her you care?”

Green-grey eyes study Everleigh as she promises growth and clear returns. He seems torn on addressing that point or her question directly, brow ticking together in thought before smoothing over. "Instinctively?" Harry asks dubiously. "I'm sure there's more than I'm aware of, because the times I try to go above and beyond are consciously made decisions." He shakes his head slightly. "But I grant her ground emotionally the way she does in turn with me. I've shown her vulnerability in little ways… and in larger."

His eyes half-lid. "I've let her in, in every respect. I let her know just how much she's on my mind each day. We've made plans together, plans I consciously am following up on and won't allow to fall through."

Lifting his head again, his pace slowed from his earlier confidence, Harry adds, "I don't leave it just to words. I demonstrate it with acts. Affection, physical. Doting, emotionally and with gifts. I remember her favored color, the styles she likes. I try to give her those things, to let her know she should be no one but herself— to not…" He sighs as he lifts one hand. "Try to be any one thing for my sake. To let her know I want her partnership, to admire the progress she makes on her own as much as together with me."

"Is that so wrong?" he asks, seemingly rhetorically.

"You're not wrong," Everleigh says, feeling the need to reply to the rhetorical question. "Gifts, affection, words… those are all great gestures. There's nothing wrong with that. You did hit the nail on the head with emotional ground, keeping things as equals. Vulnerability is a great way of showing trust. In relationships, trust is key. Knowing that, implicitly, someone has your back or your best interests in mind no matter what."

She offers him a small smile. "I have insight into O because I've seen her for some time. While I can't share personal information, I can tell you that small things matter. Remembering her favorite color is significant, but the trick is to really show her you're listening. What does she tell you that no one else would take notice of? What are things she has insecurities over that you can find a way to soothe? What gives your relationship significance and meaning?"

Everleigh gives a nod in his direction. "Your actions aren't wrong. But what does she want from you? What do you think she wants from you, and are you willing to give it?"

For a moment, Harry looks perplexed. How does he prove he listens aside from all the things he already mentioned? "I listen to the struggles she has at work. I've gone out of my way to help her with a setback she encountered during the holidays. I listen to her limits, even ones she doesn't tell me she has for fear of disappointing me with them."

"I've…" he sighs, looking off. "She's been upset, insecure over her physical limitations. I remind her at every chance she is beautiful, that she inspires so much in me— to be more than the man I currently am."

He hesitates for a moment, still not looking back at her. "We've talked about our desires. After the life she's led, she thinks she wants something… easier. Domestic. And I'm trying, desperately trying, to convince her that doesn't mean she has to give up on living entirely. That it is still fine to want more than to go to work and then go home at the end of each day. That it's fine to want more than just my company."

Harry pitches his shoulders in a hapless shrug. "Because I've reached my limit of how much normal I can handle. Longer than I've known her I've been going through that slog. I want to do more than just…" He's grown somewhat excited, but stumbles, unsure how to couch this. "punch a timecard each day. And I've told her this. I want to open my own business, and I want her there beside me."

"And she…" His mood quiets, and he thumbs the side of his steeping tea. "Her idea of more includes starting a family. Like we somehow aren't family enough." Harry looks back to Everleigh. "She can't have children, though, and neither do I want them." His brow furrows. "And there's been so much of what she's wanted that she's done over not having had it in the past. So it begs the question, does she want them, or is she just pining for them because she can't have it?"

He smirches his tongue off the inside of his cheek. "I'm not willing to stake a quarter of my life on that dare."

“So what I’m hearing is that she wants something normal. I don’t think a time card punching lifestyle is the takeaway. I think she needs a sense of stability, a purpose. I’m sure you want that for her as well, but I think you both view the world in different ways and there’s a disconnect in perhaps her expressing exactly what it is other than ‘family’. She could, perhaps, want a child because that is a concrete tie between the two of you. Something you share that means something to both of you.”

Everleigh offers a compassionate smile. “I think it’s a matter of asking. Of getting to the root of the issue. She may not even know why she actually wants those things. That’s part of why she wanted the two of you to come in. She doesn’t always seem to know how to tell you what she wants, and I’m not sure she fully understands what you want. I’m just here to play translator, to smooth out the wrinkles so you’re both on the same page.”

While Everleigh speaks, Harry takes a moment to attend to his tea, pulling the steeped bag up the side of his cup before he rises slightly to lean closer to the trash to toss the drained bag in after pinching it dry. Shaking his hand off as he settles back down, he admits, "I've been working on that, on giving us something tangible that's both of ours. I've been speaking with a breeder upstate, and on her birthday, I arranged for them to bring down one of their latest litter."

"Discussion happened previously where I said we'd have to try first having a pet before we could remotely discuss children," he qualifies this. "So while it will be a surprise, it's also… not."

Harry glances to Everleigh with a small frown. "A house of our own, not the one I have now, is a separate matter. That will take longer to arrange. Plenty to consider outside of what land outside town is cheapest to build on, and so on. There's matters of safety to consider."

He rolls his bottom lip before taking a sip from his tea. "I would say the problem is she doesn't always know what she wants. She'll…" He sighs. "She'll tell me, but it's not what she really wants, at times. She's not used to a relationship where she can ask for…"

Lapsing into quiet for a moment, Harry stammers out, "And f-frankly, that's the issue. That's what I don't know how to overcome. How she won't ask for what she wants. How she won't tell me if she doesn't like something." He scratches along the side of his nose before looking down at his cup. "The most I can do is just keep stressing her to lift her voice on things, whether it's dinner, or what we're doing with the rest of the time we have together… but I question the efficacy of that, if it's not been effective so far."

"That, unfortunately, is something that she has to work on," Everleigh notes, a compassionate look in his direction. "She's got walls that I don't think she knows how to break down. I've worked with her for a while, I know the relationship means a lot to her. What I think is that you've got the right attitude. Perhaps it doesn't seem effective, but every time you hold her hand and let her know how much you're on her side, how much she can trust you… that's helping her take a step towards tearing those walls down."

She pauses for a moment, gathering her thoughts. "I think the idea of a pet is a great thing. Not just for her, but for what it represents, what she can learn about you from it. There's a disconnect in her line of thinking, so think of it as physical therapy for someone who has been injured. It takes time and it's frustrating, but you have to do it slowly and regain that strength, to tough through the pain as things become stronger. With a pet, she can see things she didn't know she needed to look for. How do you treat something small and defenseless? How much care and effort do you put into something, and are you genuinely enjoying that. If she sees you caring for an animal, protecting it, guiding it, it might help teach her that she can let those walls down… even if she doesn't know she's doing it."

Harry furrows his brow while he listens, drinking a little deeper from his warmed cup. Hearing he's doing what he needs to do, that he's been right all along, is… nice, certainly. But patience with his partner, when he's demonstrated so much of it already, feels tiresome.

He sighs before Everleigh goes on about the pet. The idea of physical therapy being similar to this appears to resonate with him, at least. He understands and respects that concept. More, he's seen the payoff that has had for Odessa.

Well, that and some miracles, but what he doesn't know~…

"Perhaps the dog will be more beneficial than I first thought. I'm merely concerned it will become too much and she'll resent herself, it, or me by the end. That's not the end goal here," Harry balks plainly. He glances up at Everleigh wonderingly.

"What do you do to build her up, anyway?" he asks abruptly.

"I do the job of a therapist. I let her talk, get her to let out what she's feeling in a safe space. Sometimes speaking what you're feeling out loud is all you need to process. Other times, she just needs an outside perspective. Sometimes people get so caught up in their own issues or their own worlds that they end up missing the bigger picture. I offer suggestions and points of view that are different from her own."

Everleigh offers him a smile. "It's very different from what you do. I don't have to let her in. She has no obligations to me or my emotions. She doesn't have to worry about what I think of her because she isn't trying to impress me or carry my burdens or feel as if she's burdening me. My sole purpose in her life is to build her up. She makes the choices. She steers the ship, I just offer her what I can see on the horizon. She doesn't need to follow what I say either—sometimes having the freedom of choice makes all the difference."

She shifts, resting her elbow against the arm of her chair, leaning her chin in her hand. "We serve very different purposes, you and I. We both want the best for her, but my role is as an observer, you're a primary actor. The show must go on, and we both want her to do her best," she says, her gaze firmly resting on Harry. "You seem frustrated though. Torn because you do want her to feel happy and you're worried about her feeling trapped in it. You've made a difference in her life, as an outside observer I can tell you that's a visible thing. But also as an outside observer, I have a suggestion."

She sits up straight again before continuing. "You're worried that you're going to overwhelm her, that she'll quietly resent you or herself and that the dog will become a problem. You recognize the possibility, but you are seeing things in a very binary fashion. To have the dog or not have the dog, those are not your only options. If you feel that O might be burdened, give her an escape. Let her know the dog is hers, but that if she doesn't feel like she can handle it, you'll make sure the puppy has a new home."

"You're giving her the choice. If she keeps the puppy, she's happy with it. If she feels as if she can't handle it and tells you that, you've still won because she's spoken her mind," Dr. Madison continues. "It's not a win-lose situation. You just need to assure her and let her know you're happy to help either way, and that there is no harm in deciding that it's too much. You'll handle the situation and everything will be just fine."

As skeptical as Harry seems at first about the job of a therapist, he keeps a cordial quiet. Any snapping he might have to do about the topic has been taken care of outside of the office already, which gives him the space, perhaps, to listen better now. His jaw rolls, a silent appreciation forming for the way Everleigh acknowledges her distance and doesn't press further. That aspect, explained, makes the seemingly aloof nature of her responses to Odessa more… something. This experience proves itself to be different than what he'd thought it would be.

Validating, maybe, knowing that the actions he takes are judged to be sufficient. There's a satisfying power in that knowledge. There's not something he's missing. No, Ace has done enough, and it's being recognized as enough. It's just a matter of persistence. Patience, which falls on him to summon.

He smirches his tongue off the inside of his cheek.

"It's not a win-lose scenario," Harry acknowledges. "Either way, we learn something. But it'll take time to impress upon her if I see her struggling that perhaps the dog belongs with an owner that has more time for it. She's…" He lets out a faint huff of a laugh under his breath. "She's adamant that such an undertaking isn't just one you give up on. There will be no having that conversation with her now, but…"

He dithers, leaning back in his seat before saying, "Well, that option is back in my pocket now." He sips again from his tea, looking more thoughtful than anything else. He's no longer scrambling to flee out the door.

"What else do you recommend I do to build her up?" Harry asks slowly. "To make her feel safe?"

"If she's so adamant that it's not something you give up on, there's likely a reason for that. She wants to try. If she's floundering with it, maybe not even suggesting somewhere else might be better for it, see what you can do to support her in that. Take the dog for a walk when she can't manage it, take it off her hands for a while if she's overwhelmed. It's a balance of figuring out when to jump in and help without asking, and when to ask because she needs the freedom to choose or do it on her own."

Everleigh thinks for a moment, considering the question. "To make her feel safe, I'd say you need to find out what she needs. You can do this by observation or even by asking her. Asking her might indicate that you're concerned and want to help, so that could be a very good option. Perhaps even focusing on things that are hypotheticals. If you say 'what do you need me to be', she might not tell you everything because she's worried about your opinion or offending you. My advice in this case? Both of you should come in again together. She might be able to admit to me what she needs, and you'll have a window into that. You're a variable she wants to protect."

There's a long pause. "Another way this could work is with me as an intermediary. I visit with her, ask her questions, ask permission to share it with you. That way, I can explain it to you without her having to face you directly. It gives some distance and safety to allow her to be honest but not face the idea of disappointing you. But those are just some options, there are plenty available to you, but those are ones I can personally help with. Other than that, I'd say observe what it seems like she needs and quietly help with that where you can. Don't make a show of it. Just do it, let your actions speak for you."

When Everleigh offers suggestions as to how he can help support her (Odessa) if she's struggling with managing the thing that she (still Odessa) alone wanted in their lives, Harry takes a moment to look away to avoid showcasing an unintentional sourness. That advice he alone has to figure out how to handle, a reality he'll have to figure out how to juggle— and there the therapist goes saying that, too.

His eyes narrow at the wall.

He remains still until she supposes he's something Odessa wants to protect, and he masks his thoughts on that behind another steady sip of his cup. It's getting to be a more bitter thing the closer to the bottom he comes, and he takes a moment to smack his lips at the strength of the escaped tea green at the bottom of his cup.

"There's certainly options," Harry admits as he looks back to Everleigh, releasing the tension of all that he's been given to think on in favor of maintaining amicable conversation. "I would prefer not to have to put you in the position of becoming some…" He lets out an incredulous huff of breath, "intermediary for the two of us, but perhaps if I tell her to try that… maybe she will, at least once, and see how silly it is. That she should just feel free to talk to me, without having to go through all those extra steps."

He takes the last drink of his tea, and it's the most bitter yet. "But giving her the option to do so is the most important part. Ensuring she knows she has the freedom to do either is…" His eyes flutter closed in a long blink before he opens them again. "—key."

Harry looks back to Everleigh once more, brows lifting, expression aloof. "Any other nuggets of wisdom or advice you'd like to pass on for today?" he asks evenly.

"I'm not someone to put in a position of something, Harry," Everleigh points out. "I'm another tool in the whole process of getting her what she wants, what's best for her. You realize that's why she brought you to me in the first place, right? She wants to find ways to communicate better and she's aware there's a disconnect between the two of you. She needs to have that trust where she doesn't feel the need to worry about her feelings souring yours in order to just talk to you about something. If she felt she knew how to communicate with you, she would do it. Sometimes it's hard to say something outloud to someone, maybe even for yourself, and I've got no skin in the game."

She glances at him and his teacup. "I don't think you seem to understand that my position isn't one to be an influence in her life. She's dear to me, yes, in that all my patients are. I want to see them grow and thrive and live their best lives. But I'm not a factor in those lives. I'm a stepping stone to getting there. Don't think of me being silly or an extra step. If that's what she needs to get to a better place of communication, that's what she needs. Giving her options is, of course, the idea here."

Harry's expression doesn't change through the plain telling that she thinks it's clear Odessa doesn't know how to communicate with him. He might as well be made of marble, save for how the adam's apple of his throat shifts with unspoken words that are swallowed back. The rest of it he sits through just as stoically, if placidly. There's no antagony to his contemplation, no chance of lashing out to deny the truth she's spoken.

He breathes out slowly. "That is, of course, the goal. Give her options. Make her feel comfortable. Get to a less-nervous normal."

Dropping his head to look down at the dregs of his cup, he adds, "Ensure she feels safe." He tips the cup back once to see the droplets at the bottom swirl then sets it aside. "And then, empowered."

Coming to his feet, he meets Everleigh's gaze again head-on. "That's all I want for her. To be as powerful in her own skin as I know she can be."

"Then I believe you and I are on the same page," Dr. Madison agrees, a nod in Harry's direction. "And if you're interested in that as well, then I don't think we're at odds here. We give her options and she chooses what she needs, she explores and finds what strengthens her. Regardless of anything else, her freedom of choice, her well-being, and what it is she feels she needs to do are all things I am looking out for. Provided that your desires for her always align with that, I'm certain we'll get along famously."

Harry isn't blind to the conditional nature of that agreement, but he smiles warmly anyway. "It's my hope we continue to," he tells her amicably. "Your counsel is… refreshing."

Collecting his coat, he nods once. "I'm certain we'll see more of each other, Everleigh." The overcoat is folded over his arm rather than slung into, no particular rush in him to leave without first dispensing with the formalities. "Pleasure talking to you. Shall I close the door on the way out?"

"I'm certain that we'll see each other," Everleigh agrees, a smile returned just as amicably. "If there's any way I can ever be of assistance, you know how to reach me, as does O." Her attention moves to the door when Harry mentions closing it, her smile broadens.

"That's not necessary. I like to keep it open."

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