“That would depend on your definition of importance.”
“Fair enough. Which would you say impacts you most?”
“Does he or she have a name?”
I held back a smile. “His name is Lucky.”
He noted that, for whatever reason. “Would you buy Eva a pet?”
The question took me aback. I answered without really thinking about it. “No.”
I considered that a minute. “As you pointed out, it’s a commitment.”
“Are you resentful that she made you take on that commitment?”
“Do you have any pictures of Lucky?”
I frowned. “No. Where are you going with this?”
“I’m not sure.” He set his tablet aside and held my gaze. “Bear with me a minute.”
“Taking on a pet is a big responsibility, similar to adopting a child. They’re dependent on you for food and shelter, for companionship and love. Dogs more so than cats or other animals.”
“So I’ve been told,” I said dryly.
“You have the family you were born into and the family you’ve married into, but you keep yourself separate from both. Their activities and overtures don’t impact you in a meaningful way because you don’t allow them to. They’re disruptive to the order of your life, so you keep them at a comfortable distance.”
“I don’t see anything wrong with that. I’m certainly not the only person to say family is who you choose.”
“Who have you chosen, aside from Eva?”
“It … wasn’t a choice.”
I pictured her in my mind the way she’d been when I first saw her. She had been dressed to work out, her face naturally bare, her amazing body hugged by form-fitting fitness gear. Just like thousands of other women on the island of Manhattan, but she’d struck me like lightning without even knowing I was there.
“My concern is that she’s become a coping mechanism for you,” Dr. Petersen said. “You’ve found someone who loves you and believes you, who supports you and gives you strength. In many ways, you feel like she’s the only one who will ever truly understand you.”
“She’s in a unique position to do so.”
“Not that unique,” he said kindly. “I’ve read the transcripts of some of your speeches. You’re aware of the statistics.”
Yes, I knew that one in every four women I met had been exposed to sexual abuse. That didn’t change the fact that none of them had evoked the feelings of affinity that Eva did. “If there’s a point, Doctor, I’d like you to get to it.”
“I want you to be mindful of a potential tendency to seclude yourself with Eva, to the exclusion of everyone else. I asked if you would gift her with a pet, because I can’t see you doing so. That would shift her focus and affection away from you, even if only slightly, while your focus and affection is centered entirely on her.”
I drummed my fingertips on the arm of the sofa. “That’s not unusual for newlyweds.”
“It’s unusual for you.” He leaned forward. “Did Eva say why she gave Lucky to you?”
I hesitated, preferring to keep something so intimate to myself. “She wants me to have more unconditional love.”
He smiled. “And I’m certain it will give her great pleasure to see you reciprocating that. She’s pushed very hard for you to open up to her and to me. Now that you’re taking those steps, she’ll want you to open up to others. The bigger her intimate circle is, the happier she is. She wants to pull you into that, not have you pull her out of it.”
My lungs expanded on a long, deep breath. He was right, much as I hated to admit it.
Dr. Petersen sat back again and resumed scrawling on the screen of his tablet, giving me time to absorb what he said.
I asked him something that had been on my mind. “When I told you about Hugh …”
He gave me his full attention. “Yes?”
“You didn’t seem surprised.”
“And you want to know why.” His gaze was kind. “There were certain markers. I could say I deduced it, but that wouldn’t be entirely true.”
I felt my phone buzz in my pocket but ignored it, despite knowing that only a handful of people were programmed to bypass the do-not-disturb setting I used during my meetings with Dr. Petersen.
“I saw Eva shortly after she moved to New York,” he went on. “She asked me if it was possible for two abuse survivors to have a meaningful relationship. It was only a few days later when you contacted me and asked if I’d be open to seeing you, in addition to seeing you and Eva as a couple.”