Chapter 26

Love Me Anyway

“Welcome back, Eric, doctor Holland is ready to see you.”

“Thank you, mr. Holland.”

“Hello, Eric. How have you been doing since last time? You’re still staying sober?”

“Yeah. I think I’m doing pretty well, actually. I mean, it’s still rough sometimes, but I mostly struggle when I’m alone for too long. And my neighbours check up on me regularly and invite me over for dinner, and my parents call me at least twice a week.”

“That’s good. And the antidepressants seem to be working too – do you want to try lowering the dose a little?”

“I don’t know… actually, no. It doesn’t feel… safe. Not yet. I really don’t want to relapse.”

“Understandable. We won’t touch them yet, then. How’s your daughter?”

“Oh, Freya’s great! She’s doing well in school, she plays football and basketball and wants to go back to Mt. Komorebi so she can snowboard again. But the best thing is, I just finished renovating the house – and she got a new bedroom!”

“Her mother and I finally agreed that I’m doing well enough that she’s comfortable with Freya living with me every other weekend.”

“That’s wonderful news, Eric! I’m happy for you. You deserve it, you’ve worked very hard in the last year. What about your job then?”

“Well, I’m still running the clinic alone, and it’s hard, but it also means I’m too exhausted to lie awake for too long at night, so I guess that’s positive. I’m still debating whether to hire a nurse or a vet. But I promise that it will be a man either way.”

“Good. I don’t usually approve of hiring someone based on gender, but I don’t think it’s wise for you to be working too closely with women just yet. You still have some work to do.”

“I know. It gets lonely, though. I mean, I haven’t… been intimate with anyone for almost a year now. Not since the vacation to Mt. Komorebi.”

“I know. And I’m no stranger to mixing love and work – after all, my husband is my receptionist. But until you’ve dealt with your tendency to use sex as a distraction, I think it’s better this way. Have you given some thought to what we talked about last time, about figuring out what you really want?”

“I’m trying. It’s just… I thought I already knew, right? I had everything planned out since I was a teenager, so there was never any doubt or insecurity to deal with. And then I met Katherine and suddenly my carefully planned future looked completely impossible. I felt lost.”

“You were still able to graduate and start a vet clinic, though. That was part of your plan, right?”

“Yes, but it just didn’t… quite live up to my expectations, I guess? My plans hadn’t involved Freya or her mother at all, so everything felt wrong. And I couldn’t even bond with my daughter at first, it was horrible. I didn’t know how to deal with it, I just tried to escape it all like a coward.”

“Don’t be too hard on yourself, Eric. You were only 23, you had a lot to deal with, and postpartum depression in men is woefully under-diagnosed, I’m afraid. But now that you’re doing better, what are your long-term goals? What do you want out of life? What about finding love?”


“Yes, love! I’m not going to force you to be celibate forever, Eric. So what do you want? Do you want to fall in love? Do you want to get married? Have more children?”

“I… yes? I think I do. I’ve just tried not to think about it, not since – I had an ex once, we really had something special but we broke up when we went to different universities. Then one day she came into my clinic, and I remembered how I always wanted to find true love and get married and all that. But I’d just had Freya at the time, and… things turned out differently.”

“Eric, listen. You’re what, 31 now? Take it from me, I’m twice your age, and your life is far from over. You have plenty of time to fall in love again, get married, have as many children as you want.”

“I guess you’re right.”

“Well, that’s all for today, Eric. Keep working on your goals. I’ll see you in two weeks, and remember – no women, no booze.”

“No women, no booze. Thanks, doctor Holland.”

“Same time in two weeks, Eric?”

“That’d be great, mr. Holland. Thank you.”

I left feeling strange. I often felt relieved or exhausted after a therapy session, but this time I felt… excited? Scared? Maybe a bit of both. I hadn’t allowed myself to even consider getting into a relationship for a long time. Was I even able to fall in love? I loved my parents and my daughter, but I couldn’t even imagine romantic love any longer.

I picked up Freya so she could do her homework before we had dinner with Colten and Kailani. I’d been angry with them for helping Katherine leave me, but I later realised that they had done everything they could to help Katherine save our relationship.

Now they invited me and Freya over for dinner once a week. It was a great excuse to see Freya between her weekend visits, and Colten and Kailani’s youngest son, Samuel, was her best friend. He always came over when she was visiting me.

Samuel was only a month younger than her. I remembered how Kailani and Katherine had bonded over being pregnant together when we first moved in.

Their oldest son, Charlie, was a few years older, just starting high school.

Freya found him fascinating, and he was always nice to her, but obviously not too interested in playing with younger kids. Even so, Freya somehow often talked him into it, much to Samuel’s annoyance.

Charlie was just entering that rebellious teenage phase, and I knew Colten and Kailani had some problems with his attitude recently. But still, it was nice just seeing a normal, loving family.

Love. What was love, anyway? I had tried so hard to love Katherine, but I couldn’t force it. I hadn’t been in love in over a decade. Not since Cecilia.

I felt my heart ache at the thought of her. Her smile, her eyes, her laugh. And her disappointment as she left me in the clinic, just after Freya was born. Had she hoped we would get back together?

I wondered what she was doing now. I briefly toyed with the idea of trying to look her up on social media, but no. I didn’t think I could handle seeing her with a husband and kids.

“Earth to Eric, are you even listening?”

“Oh, sorry, Colten, lost in my own thoughts for a bit.”

“Yeah, you have that post-therapy look. Did the doctor give you a lot to think about?”

I explained that I had to think about my long-term relationship goals and Colten smiled.

“Oh yeah, you should totally get back out there when you feel ready. I mean, now that even Katherine -“

He stopped abruptly, almost as if Kailani had just kicked him under the table. She glared at her husband and smiled innocently at me.

“Kailani? Please tell me, I know she tells you everything.”

“Alright… You should really hear this from her, but yes, she’s seeing someone. I mean, she’s obviously been dating on and off for the past few years, but she haven’t found anyone serious enough to introduce to Freya until now.”

“To Freya? Has Freya met this guy, then?”

“I… I think so, his name is Conrad, he’s an actor like Colten. It seems pretty serious.”

Later that night, when Freya was asleep, I texted Katherine and asked for the whole story. Apparently, Conrad had talked about hiring someone to manage his stock portfolio, and Colten had recommended Katherine.

They’d gotten closer, and finally started dating a few months ago. It was going well. She had been planning to tell me soon, but couldn’t find the right time.

From what she told me, he seemed like a great guy. I knew Katherine would never let him near our daughter if he wasn’t – she wouldn’t even let me be around Freya when I was being a toxic idiot.

To my surprise, I discovered that I was happy for Katherine. I had felt incredibly guilty all these years for being the reason she ruined her marriage, but not give her the loving relationship she wanted. I genuinely hoped this Conrad guy could give her what I couldn’t. She deserved some happiness.

Then I felt a pang of worry. He would become Freya’s stepdad. What if they moved in together? Would this man tuck in my daughter at night? Play basketball with her, comfort her when she cried?

Would my daughter start calling him dad? Suddenly I felt sick to my stomach. I desperately wanted a drink.

“Don’t look at me like that, Zoe. No women, no booze. I know.”

I had to be strong, for Freya – and for myself. So I called my parents and cried instead.

A few months later, Katherine and Freya indeed moved into Conrad’s house. I tried to deal with my emotions about it in therapy. It helped that Freya was now spending a lot more time with me.

After all, Katherine and Conrad wanted to have some privacy. Luckily, he also lived in the Bay, in a fancy refurbished warehouse down by the harbour, so picking up Freya was easy. But I still felt hollow whenever I dropped her off again.

I’d just gotten back home when there was a knock on the door. Cooper started barking like crazy. I figured it must be Colten asking if I wanted to go for a run.

Then my heart stood still. I couldn’t believe my eyes.


I tore open the door, closing it behind me to keep the barking Cooper inside, and took her in my arms.

Her laugh was slightly muffled by my shoulder.

“Hey Eric. Sorry if this is weird, but… I run into your parents around town now and then. I told them I was heading to the Bay this weekend, and your dad said you could use a visit… from a friend.”

I asked her to take a walk with me, then quickly changed into something warmer. The spring sun was bright, but the wind was chilly.

As we walked away from the house, I put my arm around her. I couldn’t believe she was really here. Suddenly she stopped. I turned towards her, wondering why, as she leaned in to kiss me.

I quickly turned my head away.

“Cecilia… we need to talk about something first.”

She looked upset.

“Oh no, I’m so sorry, Eric. I thought… This is so embarrassing. I shouldn’t have come.”

I quickly pulled her close.

“Cecilia! I’m very glad you came. And I do want to kiss you, but I need to tell you something first. Please walk with me?”

She still seemed embarrassed as we continued, so when we reached the sidewalk I stopped and took her hand. Then I leaned in and spoke softly in her ear.

“Cecilia, listen. I have been thinking about you ever since you walked out of my clinic eight years ago. I am beyond thrilled that you’re here, but I’m working through some stuff. It has nothing to do with you, but I need to tell you about it – then you can decide if you still want to kiss me afterwards, deal?”

We found a bench, and I told her everything.

I told her about my affair with Katherine, my broken dreams, my struggles bonding with Freya, the arguments, the drinking. I talked about being sober, about my therapy, about being on antidepressants and trying to learn how to be honest with myself and others.

She listened to it all. She didn’t judge me, but just told me about her own life since we parted ways. She’d been in a few serious relationships, but they never lasted more than a year or two. Something was always missing. She jokingly told me that she’d resigned herself to becoming a weird cat lady.

I finally told her my biggest shame, about the nurses and all the one-night stands, how I had callously used these women as a means to escape. I explained that my therapist recommended that I stay celibate until I got my issues sorted.

I fully expected her to leave, to be disgusted with me.

She just smiled and gently lifted my chin so she could look me in the eyes.

“Eric… Am I allowed to at least kiss you?”

Over the coming months, we’d talk on the phone daily. She’d even travel up to see me every few weeks, when Freya wasn’t there.

She’d promised to help me steer clear of anything that could lead to things getting too heated. We kept it pretty platonic, watching bad movies and fighting over the remote.

Sometimes we would kiss. It was hard to stay in control when all I wanted was to carry her to my bed, but somehow I managed. She always stopped and gave me some distance if she sensed that things were getting too difficult for me.

We would walk for hours, just talking. She listened, but she also challenged my opinions.

She told me about her own problems, shared her thoughts on everything, forced me to consider other perspectives and get out of my own head.

I felt happy just being in her presence. The intimacy of her hand in mine felt better than any sex I’d had. This was all very new to me.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want her, because I did. Painfully so.

Whenever we kissed, it took everything I had to stop before I got too caught up in the moment.

“Cecilia… we need to continue walking. Because if we go home right now, I don’t know if I can…”

“Sorry, darling.” She smiled, dragging me towards a coffee stall instead. It felt like she quite enjoyed my struggles.

Doctor Holland finally decided that I seemed to have developed a much healthier attitude towards relationships, and lifted his ban. I told Cecilia to dress up next time she came, because we had something to celebrate.

“Eric, when you said we were going to be dancing, I didn’t expect it to be in your dining room.”

“Sorry, but I shouldn’t be going anywhere that serves alcohol yet. Besides, I want you all to myself.”

“So what are we celebrating?”

“So, uh… My therapist says… well, he lifted the ban.”

“Oh? Then why are we not in bed yet?”

I picked her up.

“Are you sure you want this?”

She laughed.

“Eric Duchelli, don’t you dare make me wait any longer!”

When we reached the bedroom, I suddenly got nervous. It was weird, I’d never been nervous about sex before. Cecilia sensed it.

“Eric, darling – relax. It’ll be just like when we were 19.”

I laughed and relaxed a little.

“Oh no, this will be nothing like when we were 19!”

It was much, much better.

When we were both completely exhausted, I looked into her eyes.

“Cecilia – I love you.”

“I love you too.”

4 thoughts on “Chapter 26

  1. Daw! Happy end!
    I will say something that urked me was him saying he was the reason for Katherine’s divorce- I really disagree. She made up her mind to cheat, picked you out and everything, you’re not the reason she had already chosen to mess up her marriage.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yeah, Katherine was definitely the worst. Not only was she the one who was married, she was also in a position of power over him because she was the dean and he was just a student, and much younger than her. So what she did was very wrong. But Eric doesn’t quite realise this, and everything we read is what Eric thinks 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m so happy to see Eric getting help in the beginning of this chapter! and he’s doing well at the end too. I’m glad he’s not resentful of Katherine and she may be decent to Freya, but she’s still a predator so… I’m glad it looks like she won’t be getting back together with Eric. He’s only 31 too, so that’s still 7 years younger than when he met Katherine. He has his whole life ahead of him.

    Liked by 1 person

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