Story Preview: Remember/Forget

A Smuthunter Story

The apartment wasn’t great, but transitions generally never were. His house, well his old house, it was going to take Grant a while before he was used to that, was sold, and his new one wasn’t ready yet, so this was it.

An apartment, and by not ready yet, he realized his new home was a year away from completion, a year.

But, that had been the plan before his life changed, or fell apart, or sprained its ankle, or he started this new transition, whatever you wanted to call it.

No matter how he put it, here he was, his new apartment.

Close to work, far from quiet, it was like being in his early 20s again, and even though his living situation was beneath his station, it was about where the nostalgic part of him wanted to be.

That was the thing with transitions, they tended to shake a lot loose, and sometimes your dumb emotional brain would latch on to the wrong things, so you didn’t spend all your time worrying about the right things.

Old job, new house, new title, old car, old problems, new faces, that had become his life, that was his world, the universe of a 35 year old man, newly single but with the same old fears of being alone, of being rejected, and having to settle.

But, transitions were temporary, otherwise they weren’t transitions.

There was a knock on his door.

“Hi,” she was shortish, young, like early 20s young, dark skinned… maybe Middle Eastern, no… maybe Indian? Half Indian?, had shortish dark hair, black rimmed nerd glasses… that’s what they were, nerd glasses, a pretty smile, deep brown eyes, and the body of a hot girl in her early 20s, “I’m Sam, I live in the unit next to yours, I wanted to come over and say hi.”

She was kind of awkward, hot body or no, and Grant did not feel super great about eye-banging what he guessed was a college senior. He could tell she was not naturally social, or more like not naturally used to talking to strangers.

He put on one of his work smiles, sincere and direct but grounded in manners without losing too much charm, and he offered his hand, “Hi Sam, I’m Grant. Here to warn me about your party?”

She looked a little flustered, and he realized maybe her glasses told him all he really needed to know about her, “No, uh, hah, no, I’m not really a partier, I just wanted to say hi. Well, hi, so I guess…”

Grant laughed a little and realized the poor girl probably felt like she was drowning out there, then it dawned on him, he was a well put together, handsome older man, and when that light came on in his head he almost wanted to blush, “Yeah, no of course you’re not. But, the landlord didn’t really give me a straight answer, does this place get loud?”

He saw the physical relief on her face, “A little, sometimes, but the walls and the floors are thick, and it’s still quieter than the dorms, so, I don’t know.”

“Are you still in school?” He was trying to use his client voice, the one where you get to know the people you work with, but not do that whole ‘real friends’ thing.

She seemed to get a little more shy when he asked, and he wondered if her not making eye contact was an autism spectrum thing, or if she was just nervous. He was pretty sure it was nervous, but who knows, turns out these days it could be both?

“Yeah”, she was wearing jeans and a white T-shirt, and he accidently noticed that her bra was darker, maybe black, maybe purple, he was trying really hard to not make things more weird. “I’m a, well I decided to switch majors so now I’m a fifth year senior.”

He laughed, “Half the guys I work with were 6th year seniors, and not because they changed majors.”

It was weird, his alpha male brain had decided he needed to make this girl feel not nervous? Comfortable? He didn’t know for sure, but it was something. “What’s your new major?”

She pushed up her glasses, she actually pushed up her glasses, and he noticed she had a small stud in her left nostril. “Psychology.”

Her body language was pretty closed off and when she spoke, she shifted a little more than she had been before.

“I know, it’s a dumb major and people leave it when they’re this far along, not switch to it, but I just like it. It was my minor.” It was a sales pitch to cover her own personal embarrassment, and it was the first time he heard a little bit of an accent.

“Are you Indian?” Grant was smiling, as much to himself as to her and the rest of the world. He didn’t quite know how he’d found himself in this strange hallway conversation, or why they were still talking, but this was just how it went with new neighbors.

“Half, “ she smiled and looked down, not really making eye contact, “on my mother’s side. My accent comes out a little when I’m nervous.”

“It’s really hard to notice. Did you grow up there or…”

She shook her head, “No, I grew up here, but my mother spoke Hindi with me, and her family and the accent just came from that.” She shuffled her feet again slightly, but she managed to make eye contact with him. “What do you do?”

“I, “ now it was his turn to be embraced because he knew how college kids felt about his job, “work in finance.”

She laughed, she laughed like someone genuinely laughing at a fart, “And you live here?”

She had him there.

“Yeah well, let’s just say I also changed majors, and living here seemed better than living in a hotel or renting a house for a year out in the suburbs.” His own private shame, his guarded inner disappointments started to cloud over then, but he kept his work smile on.

“I’m sorry, that was rude.” He made eye contact with her and he saw the clarity of her honey brown eyes and some kind of relief in her face.

“Well, I’m the next one down if you ever need anything, or if you know where the good parties are.”

She smiled, turned and took 3 steps before she was at her own door. He found himself watching her go, and found himself shaking his head as he admired her ass.

Also, she’d made a joke, and not one of those weird ones that people that were really socially awkward made that always bombed.

It was Tuesday, Grant had been in his place for less than a week, and thanks to a moving company and the things that made his home a “home” being in storage, he almost felt moved in. But, with work it wasn’t a project he’d be able to tackle all at once.

There was a knock on his door.

“Hi Sam, “ he hadn’t seen her since the other day “what can I do for you?”

She sucked on her lower lip slightly and he could feel the nervous energy coming off of her as she forced herself to make eye contact and smile, “I have an idea for an independent project I have to do, and I would like your help with it if you can.”

She was wearing a teal tank top that was more of a mini-dress than a shirt and black leggings, and had a gold hoop bracelet around each wrist. Her honeys brown eyes appeared larger, like wide dark pools under her black-framed nerd glasses.

He couldn’t help but think of them that way; that was what they were.

“What is,” he didn’t want to be rude, but he also didn’t want to get involved in anything really, anything at all past working and unpacking, “I mean, what do you need, what are you doing?”

He saw her thinking, actually saw her trying to remember her script, her sales pitch, and he almost agreed just then so the poor girl wouldn’t have to go through all this. “You said you work in finance, do you consider it a stressful job?”

He wanted to laugh, but he could see the way she was positioned, narrowly balanced on the edge of confidence, and he knew it could be dangerous to even chuckle. He admired her effort. “Yeah, it is pretty high-demand some days.”

“And did you know that according to some very recent studies, Tuesday is the most stressful day of the week?” He felt like at any minute she was going to ask him to save the children, the whales, the trees, subscribe to a magazine, or buy cookies.

Also, every day was the most stressful day of the week depending on the job and the schedule.

He knew he was playing a part, and he also knew he was trying very hard to keep eye contact with her. The tank top was a little plunging and something had dawned on him in a terrible sort of way.

He’d forgotten what real life large breasts really looked like.

He’d been single for long enough that porn had made a real big return into his sex life and the girls there were, well they were super porn-y, and he’d forgotten that a real full C-cup really stuck out.

Grant just wished it wasn’t a realization that came while he was trying not to mentally undress his socially awkward neighbor that was at least 13 years his junior.

Whatever he wanted to think wasn’t helping with what he was thinking.

“I’ve heard studies similar to that. Why do you ask?” His real question was are you a large C, or maybe small D?

“Would you say,” he saw that she was locked into her sales pitch and she couldn’t adjust the script to answer him, it was just how some people were when they were learning to do these sorts of presentations, “that you handle your stress well?”

Just stay in the parameters of the conversation and eventually you’ll stop eye-banging your neighbor.

“I do alright, I take pretty good care of myself. Is this a stress test thing, or an interview, or a survey kind of deal? “ He was trying to put out an inviting energy, a positive and open body language to help her feel comfortable with saying and asking everything.

“We’re covering stress and stressors and relaxation functions, and if you would let me, I would like to study the way you respond to relaxation exercises. We all have to explore a psychological concept or practice in the real world and when we talked it gave me this idea.”

“So, you show me some breathing exercises and some yoga and?”

“Oh, no, no yoga. No, I don’t know any yoga really, yoga is a western conceptual invention that co-opts…” she stopped herself and he was watching with something akin to an anthropologist’s interest when he wasn’t casting brief looks down her top and hating himself for it. “I’m sorry, being, well Indian, any time someone says yoga, it’s like a Pavlovian response. No, I mean, breathing exercises, mindful meditation and guided visualization to help the body and the mind process your stressors.”

“How long would this take. I mean, I’m not trying to be rude, and you’re nice, but I don’t have a ton of time and I don’t want you to depend on me for your academic success. Also, you know you don’t really know me right? I could be a weirdo or a creep.”

He saw the slow crawl of terrible realization make its way across her face.

“But don’t worry, I’m not a creep.” He tried to laugh it off, but the damage had been done, and he started to feel a bit more like an ass.

“That is something a creep would say though isn’t it?” He watched as she dug up some sort of high-minded intellectual confidence and then smiled at him. “But, I know creeps, there is no greater centralized population of creeps than in college boys. Besides, you’re not a Game of Thrones villain, you wouldn’t warn me about yourself in some arch tone, I can see you’re a grown man, and a decent man.”

Now grant had to laugh, “Nope, I’m not Littlefinger. But, are you really that good a judge of character?”

She smiled, “Why wouldn’t I be? You’re decent, you’re polite, you have honest micro-expressions and even though your body language is deliberate, it isn’t condescending, and you are respectful.”

“Micro-expressions?” He was pretty sure he’d heard about that on a cop show.

“Yes, the fine body language components of the face that constitute a wide array of non-verbal cues and modes of communication. But,” again she pushed up her almost comically oversized glasses, or well just large nerd glasses, “to answer your question, all I would need is three thirty minute sessions and a short follow up interview with you at a later time, and perhaps for you to verify your participation with my professor via a phone call, nothing too time consuming, nothing more than that.”

He noticed that she started to become more confident and more relaxed when she spoke in jargon and babble, then became more self-aware as she ran out of terms and definitions.

She was, there was no other way to put it, a little odd. She also clearly had no idea how attractive she was, and he hoped she hadn’t paid attention to any of his micro-expressions of checking her out.

Then, he felt even more guilty and the words just fell out of his mouth, ‘Yeah, I can help you with that, that’s not a big deal at all.”

She smiled an awkward and self-congratulatory smile, “I believe, since you’ve just come home from work and are still probably feeling the stress of the day, right now would be the best time to have a session, if you are free.”

Grant shrugged, he’d just eaten, and even if he wasn’t still a little amped from work, all of this had put him a little on edge. “Yeah, you know, now’s as good a time as any I guess.”

She was beaming, “Wonderful, I’ll go get my notes and be right back.”

He shook his head as he watched her leave, once again feeling his eyes roaming to her tight ass, half covered by her top but mostly on full display in those leggings, as she made the short distance to her door.

In a blink she was back with a spiral bound notepad and a pen, “We should go inside for this. Do you have a couch and a chair? If you don’t, we can do this at my apartment, but you will likely feel more relaxed here, so we should do these exercises here if we can.”

She was systematic in her speech and he could tell she’d game-planned this part as well. At least she was thorough, it actually helped explain a little bit of her weirdness; he’d noticed that some socially stilted people were like that because they were always trying to say too much at once.

“I have both a couch and a chair,” he smiled and made a wide gesture with his arm, “please come inside.”

He was in the doorway so he had to move first, and he was a little surprised when she closed the door after them.

He’d done a lot with a little to make this place feel nice, as nice as a half unpacked temporary lodging could be. He walked over to his couch and sat down, “Choose any chair you’d like. I’m the one that’s supposed to be on the couch right?”

He laughed.

She took one of his plain wooden kitchen table chairs and brought it over to him.

She looked puzzled.

“Sorry, I…” well, who gave a fuck why not tell her, “my ex used to get on me all the time about seeing a therapist.” He smiled, and saw her continue to look both stern and slightly confused.

“You know I’m not a therapist right? I’m just a student and this isn’t psychoanalysis.” She paused. She smiled a deep and wide smile, one made wholly of shame and not mirth. “I get it. I’m sorry, this is not a great way to start.”

She broke eye contact with him and was looking down at her notebook.

“No, it’s alright. You’re very literal aren’t you?” He, from their angles, couldn’t help but look down her top again. How could someone that was so hot be such… oh, she probably didn’t get hot till college. It happened, he’d seen it, and he continued to feel too old to be admiring her the way he’d just been doing.

“I suppose I am, that’s a very accurate way to describe me sometimes, yes. Now, “ she looked up from her notebook and made eye contact with him “this may feel somewhat unnerving or invasive, but for me to measure your responses I am going to have to study your eyes, including eye movement dilation and your tendency to close them. Having not done this before, I have been told that it may help you to help me, if you keep eye contact with me, but you do not have to.”

Her eyes were sharp, that was the thing about them, they cut into you. They were also rich and felt like they should be warmer than they were. The honey brown color of her eyes seemed like it should be more inviting, and maybe if he didn’t know her at all, at first sight they would be.

“Do you have any questions before we begin?”

There really was no trace of her accent at all. The little bit he’d heard had crept up around the edges of her voice, and ever since, he’d been half-heartedly seeing if he could notice it. He couldn’t.

“No, I’m good. Just follow the exercises you walk me through? Just do the things the way you say them, stuff like that?”

“Those are two questions, and the answer to both is yes.” It was hard to tell, he realized, if her weirdness made her seem kind of like a bitch, but then he thought about all her awkward moments, and her little moments of social victory, and he realized she wasn’t good with people.

Man, with her looks, that had to be hard.

“Relaxation is an interesting sensation,” she was making very focused eye contact with him now and it did not seem conducive to her project’s goals but Grant blew it off as part of her questionable social skills, “if I tell you to relax, or tell you to try and relax, you become aware of it and attempt to deliberately maintain something that is a result of other behaviors.”

She inched her chair slightly closer, then crossed one leg over the other, ankle over the knee, “It is like going to sleep, when you realize you cannot sleep and you think about not being able to sleep, it is an endless process of failure. So, instead of thinking of the end goal, we will go through the steps, and measure their impact separately.”

Unbidden, he let himself get a little more comfortable and he caught her smile, “That’s very good, that is a very good place to start. Now, as I speak, I would like you to do two separate activities. One will be to listen and engaging in what I say, the other will be to put more emphasis on your breathing, more awareness on your breath. We will start with this.”

Her voice had fallen into the same certain and mechanical tone he’d noticed she was most comfortable communicating in, and he took a moment to regulate his breathing like he did at the gym. A meaningful breath in, then pushing it all the way out. He did this a few times and couldn’t help but watch her watching him.

She had her notebook in her lap and made a few quick notes, only breaking eye contact to write. “Now, as you continue to focus on your breathing just as you are doing, think about a time when you were very relaxed. Think about a singular moment, an isolated moment when you were by yourself and very relaxed.”

He could tell she was fully locked into her mental script, “Maybe it was a vacation, an afternoon nap, or a shower.”

There was something that was charming about how awkward she was and how she was trying to seem casual and engaging but she was really just reading aloud for all intents and purposes, “Find that moment, that one singular moment and hold it in your mind.”

Despite her disposition, the sound of her voice wasn’t harsh or stilted and if she was more confident, or more practiced having regular conversations it might even be a little compelling or melodic.

“You are not following these steps now are you?” She tilted her head sideways slightly, almost like a bird, and those honey brown eyes narrowed, not with any sort of malice but with a measured curiosity.

Grant laughed, “Sorry, just settling in.”

“No need to apologize, it is helpful to see your responses. It is like gauging a lie detector test…” She trailed off then broke eye contact again to write a few more notes, and Grant started to think about “Sometimes I carry on, I realize this.”

Grant smiled again, and looked back in his memory to the last time he felt relaxed. It was uncomfortable for him to realize that the last year of his life had been one long stressful endeavor.

“You’re troubled by something aren’t you Grant?” She was watching him again, keeping eye contact, but now in a surprisingly sympathetic way. “If it is easier, please do not close your eyes, but let yourself imagine a quiet afternoon now. See your life as peaceful, understand that you have nothing to do, no work projects, nothing requiring your attention around the home, only a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction at being done with everything. Try this.”

He did, and he found that as he did so, as he continued to pay attention to his breathing, he felt a physical shift in his shoulders, then in the back of his head. He hadn’t meant to, but he’d started to use her eyes as an anchor point.

“Now, to help you personally, and to help us with this process in the future it would be good to remember this moment, create this memory of how you feel now.”

It wasn’t a bad idea actually.

He looked into her honey brown eyes, took a deep breath in and out, and let the feeling sink into his muscles, his bones, and then into his mind and memory.

“If, when I ask you now, or in the future I ask you to remember relaxation, this moment you are feeling now, the sense of lightness you have felt in your body and in your mind, this is the moment it would be easiest for you to recall, yes?” He took another deep breath in, then out.

“Yes, this is pretty relaxing strangely enough.” He let out a little chuckle when he realized she’d helped him to almost instantly take a load off.

Sam smiled in a puzzled way, and again her eyes took on an inquisitive squint, “Are you unaware that deep breathing is the easiest way to ease tension, and that by being mindful of your breathing and your thoughts you can, well, you can feel the way you’re feeling now?”

“I’ve never really thought about it like that.” He took another deep breath as they both kept deliberate eye contact. ‘What’s next?”

“We are going to practice this feeling.” She leaned forward slightly and the little bounce of her breasts passed just at the edge of his field of vision. It was the first time he’d noticed her chest since they’d started the exercise.

She’d managed to pull his focus to her eyes and her voice entirely.

“I would like you to breathe in deep and remember relaxation,” she stayed looking into his eyes, and also raised her hand up, “and forget stress as you breathe out. Remember relaxation, forget stress.”

She repeated this process several more times, and on the last time, as her hand moved down, Grant felt his eyes close on their own.

“You’re feeling very relaxed now yes?” Her voice sounded like it was coming from further away, like it was passing through a gentle filter and had become much more pleasant to listen to.

“Yes.” He did, so much so that it was hard to get he words out.

“We have made very good progress, now for me to fully understand how you are feeling, I will need you to address me by my name., do you understand, yes?”

That sounded reasonable.

“Yes, Sam, I understand.” He felt like there was a veil between his mind and his body, it was nice.

“That is very good, but my name is not Sam, my name is Samaira and you know this now, yes?” He was about to tell her he didn’t know her full name, but this made it easier.

“Yes, Samaira.” It felt like a reasonable thing to say, this was a formal process, it made sense to be formal. Those thoughts fell into place, as a reflection of her tone.

“I’m glad we understand each other, it will help me be clear in my notes. Now please Grant, open your eyes for me and stay just as relaxed and calm as you are now. You will do this for me, yes?”

“Yes, Samaira.” He felt his eyes open on cue, and she was smiling…

I know you want to see what comes next, but it and see!!!

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