Mixed Up

an excerpt

I leaned back in my chair. "I may not have suffered the same things that you have. But just like you were trained to interpret data and operate weapons, I've been trained to understand how the brain works. How human beings feel and relate to another as well as how they can heal from traumatic experiences. Did you trust your commanding officers?"

"What? Yes. I did."


He looked as if the question confused him. Of course it would; as a soldier, one of the things you're trained to do is to accept an order without question. While he thought, I took a good look at him.

He was one of the most handsome men I'd ever seen, and one of the most unique. He had black hair, broad shoulders, and large capable hands. His skin was the color of cinnamon cocoa, his nose and mouth curved gently. He had the kind of long eyelashes that women spend thousands of dollars to achieve. The complete effect was arresting.

"I trusted my commanders because they had the training and the experience to lead," he finally said.

I looked him straight in the eye. "You can see my diplomas and certificates on the wall over there," I said. "Do you trust me enough to give working with me a try?"

He looked at me for a long minute. "I'll try anything if it will make the nightmares go away, Dr. Levinson."

"Then let's get started. But I'm not a doctor-you can just call me Ken. Tell me about the you before you went to Iraq, so I know what you're trying to get back to." I sat back, ready to hear Paul's story. I wondered why I found him so handsome-did he remind me of someone in my past? I'd counseled good-looking men before and never felt attracted. Was it about Paul, or was it about what he symbolized to me? That was a question I'd have to consider after our session was over.

"There isn't much to say," he said. "I was born in Nebraska. My mother was from India, studying engineering. She had a white boyfriend, she got pregnant, and he left. Her parents wouldn't let her come back home with me, so she put me up for adoption."

That explained his unique looks. Midwest farm boy mixed with Indian beauty. "That's a tough way to start a life," I said. "How do you know all that?"

"Letter she left with me at the orphanage. My mom adopted me when I was two, then my sister two years later. Judy's half black, part Pawnee, and part who knows what else. Mom had a thing for mixed-up kids."

I didn't like to take notes when I was with a client. I had a pretty good memory, and I found that a counselor always scribbling away made clients feel uncomfortable. Paul realized, and he looked over at me. "You aren't writing this down? Gonna use it to psychoanalyze me?"

"I'm not a psychoanalyst," I said. "I'm a licensed mental health counselor. I don't look for the solution to your problems in your childhood traumas, analyze your dreams, or prescribe you drugs."

"I get enough of those at the VA."

I nodded. "Right now, I'm just trying to get to know you, as a person. You're trying to do the same thing with me. How would you approach someone who might become a friend-what would you like that person to know about you?"

"A friend, huh?" Paul looked over at me, and the late afternoon light illuminated his handsome face. "I don't have many of those."

"Really? Why not?"