Page 20 of The Keeper

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So, I go for it and ask, “Why go to the park, though? How can you get research done in a park?”

“We were actually just reading case studies,” she says, tight-lipped. “I don’t need to justify it to you.”

The waiter returns with our drinks. Emily glares at my bottle of beer as if it has caused her a great disrespect. She manages a thin smile as she orders a salad for dinner.

“You could have anything on the menu and you’re getting a salad?”

“I’m not very hungry,” she says, looking out the window.

My nostrils flare as I breathe in and breathe out. “I’ll have the sirloin medium, and a baked potato,” I tell the waiter, handing him my menu.

After he leaves, Emily hits me with what’s really on her mind. “Why do you have to make everything so uncomfortable?”

“I’m not trying to make things uncomfortable.”

“I mean, even now, you’re acting like a child.”

I hold her stare until she shakes her head and looks back out the window.

We sit in silence for at least five minutes; the time straining between us. Finally, I attempt to make peace for a third time or maybe the fourth at this point. “What are you working on for your thesis right now?”

Emily brightens a bit at this. She is a true academic, and she’s likely to go on to her Ph.D. next. She never passes up an opportunity to talk about her work and she doesn’t disappoint now.

“Well, remember before you left, and I was working with the local school systems to survey kids regarding their interest in and access to counseling and psychological services?”

“Vaguely.” Now, less than enthused.

“Well, the responses were pretty wild, especially when I compared them to the same survey to their parents, regarding how they felt about mental health care when they were their children’s ages.”

“What is your plan with all of this research?”

“Really?” Emily folds her arms across her chest. “I’ve only explained my goals like six billion times, Cal.”

“I mean, I know you want to get this degree so you can go on to the next one, and then you want to teach at the college level.”

“But the research is important. I’m trying to correlate the changing attitude toward mental health care to the too-slow growth of the counseling and psychological services industry.”

“And how will that help anyone? I mean, it’s not like you’re going to take your Ph.D. in social work and then go help people with it. You’re going to study it, write a paper, and then go teach people about something you’ve never once done in practice. It’s weird.”

“Cal,” she says, her jaw tense with warning, “you don’t need to say every little thing that pops into your head.”

“What? We’re talking about your studies. I’m just trying to understand. What is the point of all of this?”

“See? This is why I hang around with people like Nick, who understand what this work is all about and why it’s important.”

“Nick again. Nick’s a real hero, I suppose.”

“Don’t be an ass.”

“I’m the ass? Emily, you keep talking about this guy like he’s a god or something. I’m starting to feel like maybe I should be worried. What’s going on between you and this guy?”

“Nothing’s going on,” she snaps. “He’s in my cohort. We share similar research interests. I find him interesting.”

“More interesting than your boyfriend, the professional hockey player who flew you in for the weekend because he misses you?”

“You miss your routine more than you miss me,” Emily says.

“No, I missyou.”How many times do I have to fuckin’ say it!“I’m the one calling you all the time, not the other way around.”