DISCLAIMER: Women's Murder Club and its characters are the property of James Patterson, 20th Century Fox Television and ABC. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to Cheryl for the beta!
It was the last thing Cindy would have expected, but when the older woman took off her shoes to walk in the sand, she just went along and did the same. She flinched a little when the motion made the sleeves of her shirt slide up to reveal her arms, but her companion didn't comment.
Cindy watched her as they walked. Ocean was everything she had not expected. She wore her long reddish-brown hair with those few grey streaks open. Blouse, long skirt, sandals. Still, she had this no-nonsense way about her that Cindy associated with Claire. In her early fifties, she looked younger.
After a few more minutes, she couldn't stand it any longer and blurted out, "I thought we were going to talk about my inappropriate behavior and what to do about it, instead of taking a walk on the beach." Cindy knew shrink talk. She had been on the receiving end of it often enough.
"Is that what you want?" Ocean asked.
"I came here, didn't I?" Cindy retorted, aware of the defensive tone of her voice. There hadn't been much of a choice in the past. Others had made that decision for her, not asking how she felt about it. If she'd been honest, she'd have to admit the anger. It seemed like even her friends seemed to think they could act that way.
"Yeah. I understand your friends were concerned about you. But it's not about them in the end. It's about you."
Cindy sighed. She hugged herself against the sudden chill that had nothing to do with the temperature. "I think they were afraid that I wanted to kill myself."
"But you didn't, not this time."
Cindy nodded, her throat suddenly tight. Her everchanging emotions in the past couple of days were enough to make her dizzy. She'd needed to be held. Badly. She'd also hated to cry in front of her friends, even though they'd claimed it was all right. Even though she'd seen them cry before.
After Lindsay had told her that she was 'in', after Jill had claimed that they did trust her, Cindy still couldn't shake the feeling that they saw in her some kid sister that you let tag along, that you tolerated. At best.
"You probably heard it all before, but it's true, you come to a point where nothing else works. Even if it makes you feel like shit."
"You can learn other ways to deal with the hurt. I'm not saying that it's easy, or happening overnight, but it is possible."
"Yeah." Cindy laughed bitterly. "I've tried working until I collapsed. That worked."
"Try again," Ocean said dryly.
"Can I change anything? I'm not so sure about it. How come you are when you don't even know me?"
"If I wasn't, I would have quit this job twenty years ago."
Despite herself, Cindy had to smile. She sobered quickly, though. "It's complicated. And why haven't you asked me about my history yet? Some of the other shrinks I've seen couldn't seem to wait to hear the lurid details."
Ocean shook her head, a flash of anger crossing her face, and for a split-second, Cindy was worried it might be directed at her. Her words made it clear, "I don't work that way, and I can't believe those who do; it's irresponsible. You want to run a marathon, you don't just start running, do you? You train for it. A lot."
It made sense to Cindy though she couldn't quite fathom a way to train herself for talking about things she'd never told anyone about. Maybe, in time, Ocean would change her mind, too. Cindy had seen psychiatrists mad, helpless, annoyed and panicked. Needless to say, none of that had been any help for her, or done a thing to give her any faith in the profession.
Ocean seemed... different, in a way Cindy found both intriguing and upsetting. She didn't want to find herself wanting to come back.
Sensing her struggle, or maybe just having seen it all before, Ocean said, "You don't have to make a decision today. You come inside, take a look at the rooms and everything, we talk about where we can go from here. Then you take your time and make a choice. How does that sound?"
"Okay, I guess." Cindy felt all but okay. Truth be told, she would have rather looked away. Go on with life, hoping that the shadows wouldn't catch up with her. But they would, eventually.
What could she ever do?
Later, when they sat in the practice, she couldn't help the question, "Why do they bother?"
"They pushed you, because they care. Even at the cost of making you angry."
"But I don't deserve this." It wasn't something Cindy had ever questioned. It was something she had learned. Life had taught her, not just once.
"They seem to think otherwise," Ocean pointed out. "They think you're worth their care. Maybe it's time to consider that."
"They don't know me!" Cindy shrank back a little, embarrassed for yelling at the woman she had met less than two hours ago.
"They know you well enough to understand that you're hurt. You love somebody, you want it to stop, even if sometimes, you can only do so much."
The tears felt scaldingly hot on her face, burning with a familiar shame. Never tell. Never let anyone see.
She should have hated these women for cracking that shell she'd effectively hidden inside for the past years. She should... but Cindy realized that she couldn't. "Look at this, you made me cry." She snorted. "You're already worth the money."
They laughed together, and it felt surprisingly liberating.
"What do you think?" Cindy asked eventually.
Ocean picked up the earlier thread of their conversation effortlessly; so she had actually listened. She didn't need long to come up with an answer, either.
"I think that everybody deserves a chance."
The words were still lingering on Cindy's mind when she went back, across the street and to the parking lot where Lindsay was waiting for her. She let herself be drawn into an embrace, inside of her the tug of war of emotions that she was so annoyingly used to.
There was something different, though, and it was terrifying in its newness.
For the first time in a long time, there was hope.
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