Sebastian ended the call with a frown on his face. He was finely attuned to Iya’s moods and she’d gone from sounding tired and beat down to tired and worried during the course of their short conversation. Something about his request to go with her to her doctors appointment had alarmed her. Was she having yet another panic attack? The frequency with which they had returned alarmed him. It was almost like back when they were in college where she averaged 4 a week. But why a panic attack about that? And if she was having a panic attack why hadn’t she kept him on the phone to talk her through it as they had done countless times before? Why hang up so quickly?
Something was wrong.
He sensed it but he just couldn’t put a finger on it. It niggled at the back of his mind. It felt like it was something he should know – would know if he just gave it enough thought. A self evident truth hidden in plain sight. This was after all Iya, the one woman he’d consciously and deliberately taken time to learn. To know.
People talked about falling in love like it is a chance occurrence that happens to people in spite of themselves. Like you meet someone and something about them just tips you over and you fall into that state of knowing them, of caring about them just as much as you care for yourself, of being willing and able to bare your soul to them. For him and Iya, it had been a deliberate process. He’d started out determined to be the best friend she could possibly have. Guilt and remorse from being powerless to bring her the justice she deserved had pushed him to it. At first it had been easy. She had been broken. She had needed a friend. He’d kept a respectful distance but had made sure he was always available to talk and offer any support he could. They had spent hours talking, arguing, laughing, even crying. Her reluctance to see a real therapist meant he’d assumed the role unofficially. He’d gone out and bought books on psychology and therapy just so he could read and be a better friend. This had meant spending a lot of time listening to her,watching her, learning her moods, knowing when she just wanted to be left alone and when she needed someone. It had been fascinating to him. listening to her perspective as a woman, from a completely different culture, trying to reconcile the values she’d been brought up with, with the reality that was her life. She had struggled with whether or not to tell her family and the boyfriend she had left back in Cameroon, but ultimately had decided not to, fearing their reactions. They’d discussed the victim blaming that usually follows women being raped, especially if the woman had been drinking. He’d suggested then, that the best solution would be for girls at parties to only accept drinks from people they know well and could trust. He’d regretted the words as soon as they left his mouth. She gave him an arch look and a heated argument has ensued where she’d questioned why he placed the responsibility on the girl to avoid being raped, rather than on the men to not rape women. His attempts to back track had failed completely. She kicked him out of her apartment that day and refused to speak to him for weeks. But he’d come back, first from worry about her mental state and eventually, after other arguments, because he just could not stay away.
Kyle’s presence on campus and his bullying had cast a specter. Sebastian had printed some of the emails Kyle had sent to Iya and taken them to his parents, pleading with them again to approach the Hammonds and ask then to rein in their son. Eventually, the emails had stopped but the occasional calls had persisted until Kyle graduated. The year after Kyle left campus was when she had made the most progress. She’d made new friends, gone out more and needed him less, but they still spent time together. He’d never had a real long term girlfriend. Between Iya and the on and of again relationship he had with Kate, he hadn’t needed to.
He wasn’t sure when his feelings shifted from concern to full blown love but he remembered the day the realization had dawned on him that he was deeply in love with her. At was finals week of her junior year. It had been a particularly brutal semester and she was waiting for results from the third exam in her Strategic Pricing class. She had struggled with the course content and he’d tutored her the best he could. A score over 90% pretty much guaranteed her an B in the class, which meant even a passing grade on the final would get her an A. She’d been obsessively refreshing the course page to check if the teacher had posted grades. He’d heard her gasp and the she’d launched into what he had come to think of as her wriggly dance, where she shook her shoulders and took dainty little steps around the room. She had described it as lingombi , a dance from her village. He’d thought it was hilarious the first time she’d done it. This time had been different. Her face alight with joy, her voice melodious as she hummed some song in her traditional language. He’d started to laugh, but had ended up watching her in wonderment, suddenly profoundly aware that she was the one person he felt completely comfortable with, the one woman at whose feet he could lay down his burdens, the one woman he felt he could and would do anything for. The realization had left him ecstatic and he’d jumped up to dance with her, trying to imitate her gyrations.
She’d stopped and watched him for a few seconds then burst out laughing, telling him he looked like a chicken being electrocuted. “I’ll show you an electrocuted chicken…” He threatened playfully and chased her around her small apartment. That had been the first time they’d been together and she’d been completely in the moment, focused on him and the magic their bodies had created together. It was also they first time they had forgotten protection. The resulting pregnancy scare had been epic, seeing as she’d caught the flu shortly after that.
Sebastian smiled to himself as he remembered how panicked she’d been. His smile faded away as connections started forming; Iya’s frequent panic attacks, the dizzy spells, the tiredness, the throwing up and her evasiveness on the phone.
He felt the blood drain from his face.