Taking a sip of coffee, I keep the cup in my hand. “How does this feel, being here in my car?”
“Fine.” He shrugs. “It’s stationary, and I’m in the passenger seat.”
“How is traveling in a car as a passenger? Better or worse?”
Pressing his cup to his lips, he appears to think my question over. “Well, I avoid being in cars as much as possible, which is easy while living in the city since I can travel pretty much anywhere by the Tube. But when I do have to be a passenger…I’m anxious.”
“I’m not in control.” He takes a breath, setting his coffee on his thigh. His fingers curl around the cup. “I have to be in control in all aspects of my life. That’s what frustrates me about all of this.”
“Not being in control?”
“So, you try to take control back in the only way you can at the moment, and that’s in a destructive manner in your life.”
I can feel his eyes on me, so I turn in my seat to look at him. It’s important to maintain eye contact with a patient—only, being in the car isn’t easy.
“You mean, the drinking and the women?”
Lifting a shoulder, I say, “Do you think those are positive things in your life?”
“I drank and had women before the accident.”
“But I’m guessing, before, you did those things for enjoyment, not to cover your pain.”
He looks out the window, away from me. “Do you always have to be right?” His tone is light, so I know I haven’t pushed him too far. He brings his eyes back to me.
“It’s part of my job,” I say in a teasing manner. “But, in all seriousness, just because I think something doesn’t make it right. It’s what you think that counts.”
“I guess.” He takes another sip of coffee.
“So, it’s easier sitting in the passenger seat. If I asked you to sit in the driver’s seat with the engine off, would that be possible?”
“Do I have a choice?”
There’s no humor in his voice, so I tread back carefully.
“You always have a choice, Leandro,” I say in a soft voice. “Nothing has to happen that you don’t feel comfortable with. You ever think I’m pushing you too hard, tell me. We’ll stop and reevaluate.”
“I was teasing, India, but good to know where you stand. And it’s fine. Let’s do it. Nothing can happen to me in a parked car, right?”
“Right.” I smile, my eyes meeting with his.
“Are you going to crawl over my lap to swap seats, or are we getting out of the car?” He grins at me and my face flushes.
Crawling over his lap…
“We’re getting out of the car.”
We pass at the back of my car, and surprisingly, he’s in the car before me.
I shut my door with a soft clunk. “How does this feel?” I ask him, assessing his face.
“Fine, I guess. I feel…stupid.”
“Yeah.” He rests his forearms on the steering wheel. “I’m a grown-ass man who needs help getting into a car.”
“No, you’re a grown-ass man recovering from a serious accident that nearly took your life.” I take a deep breath and go for the plunge with my assessment. “Leandro, have you heard of post-traumatic stress disorder?”
“Yes. People who come back from war have it.”
“Yes, but it’s not only military personnel who suffer from PTSD. People who have survived a traumatic experience, like you did, can also suffer from PTSD.”
He turns his face to me. “You think I have PTSD?” He points a finger at himself.
“A mild form, yes.”
He faces forward, staring out the windshield. He’s silent for a long time.
“Does knowing that bother you?” I ask breaking the silence. “I’m not putting a label on what your issue is, Leandro. I’m just giving you something to work from. Understanding your problem is half of the battle to beating it.”
“You sound like a psychology textbook.”
“You read many of them?” I smile.
Meeting my eyes, he returns that smile, and it momentarily lightens his dark eyes.
“Oh, yes, all the time. I have a stack on my bedside table. Idiot’s Guide to Psychology.”
“That’s my favorite.”
He laughs. It’s a rich deep sound, and I feel it all the way down to my toes. I scrunch them up in my shoes.
“Right. Give me your keys.” He thrusts his hand out at me.
“You want my keys?”
“Yes.” His stare on me is direct, but his face is relaxed.
“Because I’m going to see if I can start this engine without freaking out like a pussy again.”
“You sure you’re ready for this? It was only last night when you tried—”
His hand is still held out, so I retrieve my keys from my jacket pocket and hand them to him. It’s impossible to avoid touching him this time, but I make it quick and brief while ensuring I avoid eye contact with him, so he can’t see the effect his touch has on me.
Facing forward, he starts to flex his hands out, and he takes a deep breath.
“Just take your time. You feel stressed or panicky at any point, just stop and take deep breaths.”
“I got this.” He grins at me.
“And don’t worry if you lose it again. I’m insured.”