Lash Broken Angel
Author:L.G. Castillo

9

After checking out of the hospital, Welita insisted that Naomi move in with her and Chuy. Naomi didn’t resist and was happy to move in with them. Over the next few weeks, she went to mass with Welita as she’d promised. It wasn’t that bad. Standing and squatting throughout the mass was annoying, but the murmurs of prayers echoing through the large church were actually quite soothing, even if it was in Spanish and she had no idea what they were saying.

Naomi walked past the glass door of the office building for the fifth time that afternoon. She was feeling a lot better and had put off going to the psychologist, thinking she wouldn’t need him after all. However, when she’d asked Welita if she could have her bike back, Welita told her it was time to visit the psychologist. Chuy pressed her even more after Mrs. Watson kept calling in to see if Naomi had met with Dr. Dantan.

Naomi sighed and pressed her face against the glass, trying to see inside. Chuy had dropped her off ten minutes ago, and she still couldn’t force herself to walk in.

“You could see better if you actually went inside.”

Naomi jumped at the man’s voice. She turned around to tell him off. “Why don’t you mind your own—”

She was at a loss for words as she looked into a pair of the most beautiful hazel eyes she’d ever seen.

“Is something the matter?” Lash asked.

Her tongue felt like it was stuck on the roof her mouth. Her brain kept telling her to say something—anything. He was just a guy who happened to be drop dead gorgeous. Nothing special. She’d seen attractive men before.

“Habla inglés?” Lash winked.

She didn’t know much Spanish, but she understood that. Who was he to make assumptions about whether or not she could speak English? “I was going to say you should mind your own business.”

“I was minding my own business, but you’re blocking the door.” He pointed to the glass door behind her.

Her face warmed. Please don’t let him be Dr. Dantan.

“If you don’t mind”— Lash gestured for her to move away from the door— “I don’t want to be late.”

“Are you—” she squeaked. Damn it. She cleared her throat and lowered her voice. “Are you Dr. Dantan?”

Lash placed a hand on the door and leaned into her. “What would you say if I was?”

Naomi balked at his brashness. “I’d say screw this. I’m leaving.” She stepped under his arm and walked away.

Lash laughed and ran after her. “Don’t go, Nao—, uh, don’t go. I was kidding.”

A strong hand touched her arm, and a thousand butterflies somehow found their way into her stomach. She looked at him warily, hoping that her body would behave and not do anything embarrassing. It didn’t.

Her legs wobbled as she stared at his lopsided smile, perfect white teeth and the smattering of stubble along his strong jawline.

She shook her head trying to clear it. Good grief, what was wrong with her? She didn’t even know the guy, and her body was acting like a hormonal teenager.

He was long and lean, his long-sleeved black t-shirt emphasizing the muscles on his chest. That was it. She knew there was something suspicious about him. No one in his right mind wore long sleeves in the middle of summer in Texas. That little flaw made her feel better.

“Hey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend.” Lash pulled his hands up and looked at her wide-eyed. “Would it help if I told you I was getting treatment for my apparent personality disorder?”

Naomi couldn’t help but smile at the way he looked when he said it. “No need to apologize. I’m not normally like this. I guess I’m not looking forward to meeting Dr. Dantan. So, you’re a patient, too.” Oh, God, now I’m rambling. Focus, woman. Focus.

“Yep. I’ve been coming to this group for a few weeks,” Lash said as he pulled the door open, and a gust of cold air rushed out. “After you,” he said, holding the door open for her. “It’s the second door on the left.”

Naomi took a breath and regained her composure. After walking through the waiting room, she stepped into what she assumed was supposed to be an office, but instead looked like someone’s living room. It was not at all what she’d expected. The walls were lined with bookshelves. Curtains covered faux windows that had painted sceneries with rolling hills covered in blue bonnets. In the center of the room, there was a beige sofa with at least half a dozen pillows, a matching love seat, and several wingback chairs. A brown leather chair completed the circle.

“Come on,” Lash said. “They won’t bite. Well, except maybe for Tori over there. She looks like a biter.” He pointed his head toward a girl sitting on the floor next to the brown leather chair. Her head was bent over a sketchbook; dark blue hair hid her face.

Tori flipped him the finger.

“Tori’s just a ray of sunshine, isn’t she? And this here”—Lash pointed to a boy on the sofa who pounded away on a smartphone— “is Andrew. Gamer extraordinaire. Where’s the doc?”

Andrew continued to stare intently at his phone as he shrugged his shoulders.

“He said he was going to run a little late today,” a soft voice spoke from behind them.

Naomi turned to see a petite girl with large dark eyes.

“Oh, hey, Ellen. I didn’t see you back there,” Lash said.

“No one ever does,” she mumbled as she passed by Naomi and sat down next to Andrew. “He had to check a patient into the hospital, but he’ll be here as soon as he can.

“You owe me twenty bucks,” Lash called to Tori. “I told you Caleb was the next one to visit the padded room.”

Without looking up, Tori dug into her bag and threw a bill at him.

“Are you a friend of Lash’s?” Ellen asked Naomi.

“Lash?”

“That would be me.” He extended his hand to her. “It’s a pleasure meeting you…?”

“Naomi,” she said as she placed her hand in his. Again, she felt that strange sensation. She looked into Lash’s eyes and saw them darken for a moment before he quickly pulled his hand away. For a moment, he looked confused.

“Whoa, static electricity. Be careful with these rugs,” Lash said quickly, turning away from her.

Naomi looked at him skeptically. With Houston’s humidity, there was no way that feeling was static electricity.

“So, did you get your DSM label yet?” Lash plopped himself on the chair next to the sofa. Acting as if nothing happened, he gave her another one of his dimpled smiles.

“DSM?”

“Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” Ellen pointed to a grey book on the bookshelf. “It’s the book that shrinks use to diagnose you.”

“Oh, uh, no. Not yet. At least, I don’t think so.”

“Everybody has one. I got mine yesterday,” Lash said proudly. “I’m schizoid.”

“What’s that?”

“It means he has problems with emotional intimacy,” Ellen said, looking sadly at Lash. “He’s not interested in personal relationships.”

“Yep. No baggage for me.” Lash placed his hands behind his head. “You can guess what Andrew has.”

She glanced at Andrew and saw that he was just as absorbed with his phone, staring at it glassy-eyed, as before. She nodded. She’d heard about video game addiction.

“And Tori over there is just all kinds of messed up.”

Tori flipped him the finger again.

“She has borderline personality disorder,” Ellen said softly. “Do you want to know what I have?”

Naomi sat down in the seat across from her. She thought it was strange that everyone was so open about their problems. She hoped that when she was given a diagnosis she wouldn’t have to share it with everyone else. “What is it?”

“Dependent personality disorder and dysthymia,” she said, her eyes watering.

Naomi felt bad and wondered why Ellen looked like she was going to cry. “I’m sorry.”

Ellen blinked. “What are you sorry for?”

“I’m not exactly sure. It looked like you were going to cry.”

“She’s always crying.” Tori slammed her sketchbook shut and looked at Naomi. “She cries in every single session.”

Ellen’s lip quivered, and Naomi felt a rush of heat. “That’s a bit rude, don’t you think? I thought this was a place to get help with problems, not get more problems.”

Tori glared at her.

Great. The group hadn’t officially started yet, and here she was already making enemies.

“Don’t mind her,” Lash said. “Rude is her middle name. She’s not happy unless other people are miserable.”

“Screw you, Lash,” Tori spat. “You don’t know anything about me. You’ve only been here for three sessions.”

“Being here for twenty-four doesn’t make you an expert, either,” Lash snapped back.

“Enough,” a deep voice said from behind them.

Naomi turned in her seat. Standing in the doorway was a man, whom she assumed to be Dr. Dantan. She was taken aback at the hateful glare he directed at Lash. She blinked, and the expression on his face was now one of kindness.

“Ah, Naomi,” he said, extending his hand out to her. “I see you found your way here. Welcome.”

“Yes, thank you.” She swallowed as she placed her hand in his. His hand was soft, too soft for someone who looked like he kept himself in such good shape. There was something about him that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. She didn’t know what to make of him. He wore a vest over a collared striped shirt, and a suit jacket, making him look like the professional that he was, yet he matched it with a pair of jeans and tired looking loafers. His smile appeared to be sincere and lit his beautiful, angelic face, yet his eyes were hollow. Naomi shivered.

“Dr. Dantan.” Tori stood and sauntered toward him. “You look devilishly handsome.” She traced a black-painted fingernail down and around his open shirt collar. “No tie. Nice.” Turning away, she went to sit between Andrew and Ellen.

Naomi studied Tori with surprise. Tori’s sullen expression vanished, replaced by a sensual look. Andrew didn’t seem to be aware that Tori came to sit next to him. Ellen, however, was visibly uncomfortable.

Dantan brushed a hand through his dark-blonde hair and cleared his throat. “Thank you, Tori. Let’s get started, shall we?” He pulled out a cell phone from inside his jacket pocket, tapped on it a few times, and laid it on the coffee table face down.

“Since we have a new member, let me remind everyone about the limits of confidentiality within this group. Everything that is said in this room, stays in this room,” he said.

“That means no blabbing to your twitter peeps, Ellen,” Tori said.

Ellen’s faced turned red. “I don’t do that.” She looked at Lash as if wanting him to rescue her. “Really, I don’t.”

“Tori, please,” Dantan reprimanded. “If I may?”

Tori waved her hand as if giving him permission to continue.

“There are limits to confidentiality. By law, I’m required to call the authorities if I suspect any of you of—”

“Abusing a child, harming yourself, or harming others,” Andrew, Tori, and Ellen completed Dantan’s sentence in unison. It was obviously something they’d heard more than once.

Lash chuckled but stopped when Dantan scowled.

“It’s good to know some of you are paying attention.” Dantan turned to Naomi. “Do you have any questions? We want to make sure that you feel comfortable sharing in the group.”

Naomi bit her tongue, struggling to keep a straight face. Comfortable? She glanced over at Andrew staring intently at his phone. She doubted he would remember anything that was said in the group. Tori continued to glare at her, obviously jealous of Dantan’s attention to her. Ellen was busy looking at Lash with love-struck eyes. And Lash slumped back into his seat, relaxed. For some reason, it irked the hell out of her.

Naomi plastered a fake smile on her face. “Nope. No questions.”

The next hour and a half went by quickly. Naomi was relieved that, as the new member of the group, she wasn’t expected to share too much about herself. She explained that she had been depressed after her father’s death and her grandmother was worried about her, which was why she came for therapy. Surprisingly, everyone was polite, even Tori, who simply nodded, rubbing her own wrists as she eyed the bandages around Naomi’s.

Naomi was surprised to find that Lash was fairly new to the group. He had walked in like he owned the place and appeared to be comfortable with the other members of the group. Unsurprisingly, Ellen leaned forward, captivated, glasses sliding down her nose, when Lash shared a story about his family. He told the others how he was kicked out of the family business for a mistake he had made and how they practically disowned him.

“Tell me, Lash. Who do you miss the most?” Dantan asked.

The room became quiet for a moment, and all eyes turned to Lash. His cocky attitude faded, and the energy in the room shifted.

“Raph”—he cleared his throat—”My uncle, Ralph.” His eyes grew sad. “I guess you could say he’s like a father to me. Well, he’s really the only father-figure I ever had.”

“Is there anyone else you miss?” Dantan’s voice was soft and melodic.

Naomi glanced around the room, surprised how everyone was entranced by his words. It was as if his voice compelled them to listen.

He looked at Dantan, his face seeming to show a struggle between holding back and wanting to share his innermost thoughts. “My best friend, Jeremy. He works in the family business. I don’t get to see him as much as I would like.”

“Lash, I’m going to ask you a miracle question.” Dantan reclined back into his chair and tented his fingers under his chin.

Lash blinked, and the smirk on his face returned. He appeared to find the statement amusing, and Naomi wondered why.

“Let’s say you woke up tomorrow and a miracle had occurred. How would you know something was different? How would you know that your miracle happened?”

Lash glanced at Naomi, and the dormant butterflies in her stomach came to life. She held her breath as he kept his eyes locked with hers and said. “I would be home.”

The spell was broken when an alarm from the cell phone went off.

“Well, my friends. That’s it for group for today.” Dantan picked up the phone and clicked the alarm off.

The sigh of relief from everyone was audible.

Andrew powered up his phone and stood. “Laters,” he said, walking out the door.

“Ryan, uh, Dr. Dantan,” Tori said. “I was wondering if you had time for a private session this evening.” She eyed him expectantly.

“Not today, Tori. Call me later this week to schedule an appointment if you need it.” He dismissed her with a wave of his hand then turned to Naomi. “Would you mind staying for a moment? I need to do a diagnostic assessment…for insurance purposes.”

Tori glared at Naomi, grabbed her things, and stormed out of the room.

Naomi looked after Tori and then back at Dantan. “Uh, sure. Do you think I’ll be done before dark? I need to catch the bus home.”

“I’ll wait for you,” Lash said. “I wouldn’t want you to walk alone in the dark.”

“Thanks. That’s nice of you.” Naomi didn’t like the idea of coming across as a helpless female, but walking Houston’s city streets alone at night was not a good idea. Normally, she’d walk down a few blocks to Chuy’s self-defense class and hitch a ride with him, but he was between classes and his next class didn’t start until next week.

Dantan frowned. “There’s no need for that Lash. I’ll escort her—”

“I can give you and Naomi a ride home,” Ellen volunteered.

Dantan’s nostrils flared. “Aren’t you expected at home, Ellen? I believe you mentioned that your mother tended to get nervous when you were out and about after dark.”

Naomi looked at him, surprised. It was as if he wanted her to be alone with him. The eerie feeling that she’d had when she first shook his hand returned.

“I-I-I’m nineteen years old. I c-c-can stay and give a ride to my friends,” Ellen stammered. She pushed her glasses up and straightened her back, standing tall. “You said I should learn to be more independent.”

Dantan’s eyes narrowed briefly, then his face smoothed. “Yes, I did. Good for you, Ellen. Perhaps you should call her first so she won’t be worried. Naomi, please give me a moment, I need to make a phone call before we get started.”

“What did you think of our first group session?” Lash asked as Dantan stepped into his private office.

“It wasn’t as bad as I thought,” Naomi said as she watched Ellen go to the corner of the room with her cell phone.

“Wait until it’s Tori’s turn. That’s when group is really exciting.” Lash wagged his eyebrows. “Now, I don’t know if it really happened or not, but she tells this story about a time when she was in a confessional and the priest…”

Lash trailed off and furrowed his brow. He cocked his head to the side as if he were listening to something.

Naomi strained to hear what he was listening to, but all she caught was Ellen arguing with her mother over the phone. “What’s wrong?”

Lash flicked his eyes toward Dantan’s office. “I knew it,” he mumbled.

“What? Knew what?”

Lash scowled then schooled his face and turned his attention to Naomi. “Uh, Tori’s story. I remembered that I heard it somewhere else before. She made it up.”

Naomi eyed him suspiciously. There was something he wasn’t telling her.

When Dantan opened the door to his office and called her in, Lash took hold of her hand briefly, sending a tingling sensation up and down her arm again. He looked at her intently, sending another flurry of butterflies to her stomach. She wondered if it had anything to do with the burrito Chuy dared her to eat earlier from the new mobile food truck in the neighborhood. It was the only rational reason she could think of for feeling so strange.

“I’ll be here for you,” he murmured quietly. Then he glowered at Dantan and spoke louder, as if he were directing his words to him instead of Naomi. “Ellen and I will be here waiting for you. We won’t go anywhere until you come out.”

Naomi gaped at Lash and then at Dantan. They were both behaving oddly. One minute Lash was spilling his heart out to the group, and the next he was acting protectively, as if Dantan was out to hurt her. She sighed. She had no idea what to expect from Dantan, but he was a well-respected psychologist and had given her no indication during the group session that he was anything but polite and professional. She might as well get this over with. As she walked into his office, she saw Dantan glare at Lash one last time before he closed the door.