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The abysmal décor in the room was distracting. It wasn’t that the brown shag carpet was a complete eyesore or that the dingy white walls made her long for a bucket of paint. It was the general, overall sense the room had simply given up on life. Why they didn’t paint it an inspirational, sunny yellow and pair it with hardwood floors was beyond Sydney’s comprehension. Surely a man in Dr. Carter’s line of work could afford an interior designer.
Sydney wondered if his home looked anything like his office. Thinking about what kind of curtains he had in his kitchen was infinitesimally more interesting than his current line of questioning.
“And how does that make you feel?”
She winced at the cliché question, her discomfort apparent to Dr. Carter given the way he reciprocated the gesture. Her gaze moved to his, pinning him with a stare she wished could burn a hole through his face. Slowly she returned her attention to examining her perfectly manicured nails done in OPI Black Onyx. It was her favorite nail polish brand, featuring her most favorite color.
Black—like her soul.
Sydney briefly thought of all the times her grandmother had called her dramatic and realized Grams was right. Dr. Carter probably had a note in her file listing her as a drama queen or an official diagnosis like generalized anxiety disorder. It wouldn’t have surprised Sydney if the doctor had a drawing of her with crazy eyes next to the things he needed to pick up later from the grocery store.
“I guess it makes me feel worthless. Like there is essentially no point in me being alive because I have nothing to give anyone and all I’m doing is making a carbon footprint on this earth.” Sydney smiled. “Maybe you should increase my meds. I shouldn’t be feeling anything at this point, right?”
Dr. Carter cleared his throat like he was uncomfortable but didn’t respond. Sydney frequently got the feeling he didn’t care—not about her—and not about the court-ordered therapy the judge had signed off on. Thinking about court made her remember that if he didn’t give her a rubber stamp or if she made a no-assed effort, she could be stuck in therapy for another six months, and that was the last thing she wanted.
“I’m sorry, Dr. Carter,” she forced out. “The joke was inappropriate.”
“Yes, it was.” He reviewed his notes again. “Do you feel like you are making progress, Sydney? I would be happy to refer you to another therapist if you feel, perhaps, a woman would be better suited to your… situation?”
Sydney shrugged. “I only have a month left.”
Dr. Carter didn’t sigh, but there was definitely disappointment in his gaze. “Very well. Have you decided if you will have the surgery?”
She shrugged again. “There isn’t really a point when I’m not in a relationship, is there? I mean, I guess if I wanted to go to a bar and hook up with someone, there’s always that. But it didn’t work out so well for me last time.”
“Do you intend to remain celibate for the rest of your life?”
The question took her by surprise. He sounded genuinely curious, but it wasn’t something she wanted to discuss with a man, let alone a therapist. She had been down that road many times since she was diagnosed with a medical condition known as Rokitansky Syndrome or Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser Syndrome, which most people referred to as MRKH.
A few months after Sydney had turned fifteen, her regular doctor uncomfortably explained she would never have a period because she’d been born without a uterus. She would never get pregnant the old-fashioned way or any other way. The doctor saved the best for last… Sydney was born without a vagina.
For months afterward, she walked around in a daze, only snapping out of it when she began to get into trouble both at school and at home. In some ways, she was still in a daze. Everything was normal on the outside. She was able to bring herself to orgasm as many times as she wanted but couldn’t have penetrative sex without surgery or dilation therapy.
Sydney briefly thought of the reason she was there, to begin with… she’d wanted a drink after having a bad day, gotten shit-faced, and decided to spill her guts to a random stranger who accused her of being a man. Sydney had tried explaining to him women who have Rokitansky Syndrome are biologically female, but apparently Sydney didn’t do a very good job of explaining a complicated medical condition. It wasn’t as though sober Sydney did a brilliant job of it either, she acknowledged. It had rarely been something she spoke about without much planning and emotional turmoil. She’d never even discussed it with her mother outside of doctor visits or the reasons why her life began falling apart when she learned of it. Who wanted to talk to their parents about their vagina?
Vagina was verboten in her household.
When Bar Guy screamed slurs in her face and shoved her, Sydney responded by breaking a beer bottle over his head. He had to have his scalp sewed back shut, and Sydney had to take anger-management classes, combined with once-a-week therapy with Dr. Don’t Give a Shit.
She passed the rest of the therapy session by giving canned responses to his questions and decided not to antagonize him more than necessary. She wanted this mental torture to end. Therapy hadn’t helped her. There was nothing anyone could do to help her get this crazy outside of her head. It had taken up residence like a spider spinning webs in the dark, luring happiness inside where it could not escape.
Sydney was on her way out of Dr. Carter’s office when she saw him again. The guy she had been casually flirting with for the past few months though had never spoken to. He had close-cropped light brown hair and eyes like dark whiskey. The kind of eyes that reflected light, making them more amber instead of flat. Tattoos wrapped around his left arm, twisting upward into the sleeve of a faded black band tee. The first thing she’d noticed about him was his beautiful skin, which was a weird thing to notice, but she liked it, especially liked the way the red ink in his tattoos popped against the expanse of a fading summer tan. As she crossed the room, she wondered if he would smile at her again. He had a really nice smile. Sydney was so intent on looking at him discreetly that she bumped into a column, sending her keys flying out of her hand and onto the floor. They skidded across the tile and landed a few feet away from a pair of scuffed-up work boots belonging to her current crush.
Those brown eyes moved up from his phone screen, and for a moment she was paralyzed by the immediate interest in his gaze. Sydney knew she was beautiful. Guys especially seemed to like the pinup, rockabilly style she embraced. Today she was wearing a form-fitting black poplin blouse with a heart neckline and cap sleeves covered in red cherries. She’d paired it with skinny jeans and black Mary Janes. As his gaze settled on her legs, she thought, I should have worn a dress.
When she wore a dress, he really couldn’t take his eyes off her.
He’d approached her about a month after she started therapy when she was leaving Dr. Carter’s office and had been struggling—and failing—not to cry. That day had begun with her keys too… She hadn’t been able to find them at the bottom of her purse. Frustrated, she’d dumped the contents on the floor in the waiting room, then had to spend five minutes shoving everything back inside. When she’d nearly finished, a guy had walked up to her with a box of tissues, then held out his hand to help her up. As she got to her feet, Sydney realized he was about her age and very, very handsome.
Embarrassed, Sydney had bolted out of the room. A few weeks later, she noticed him again, and he started giving her these looks and lazy smiles that made her stomach do a ridiculous amount of flips.
God, his voice. It was smooth and deep and made her think of poetry. His voice was as sexy as the rest of him, and it did things to her. Pointless things, but nevertheless—things.
Sydney reached down and picked her keys up, then took a couple of steps toward him. “Syd.”
“Like that thing off Ice Age?” Jett asked.
Sydney understood what he meant but let her smile melt and arched a brow, just to see if he’d squirm. It didn’t really feel like a compliment, being called a prehistoric sloth, so she gave him her best you-better-be-shitting-me look, and he caved almost immediately.
“Sorry. That was rude.” He looked embarrassed. “I watched that movie last night with my sister. I like Syd. Short for Sydney, right?”
She nodded and decided to trade him insult for insult. “What kind of name is Jett?”
“My mom was a huge Joan Jett fan.” His gaze flickered behind her to the door that led to the various offices of psychiatrists and therapists. “She named my sister after Lita Ford.”
His sister? She wondered if that was why he was here, but a look of unease crossed his face as they made eye contact again, so she decided not to ask about her. Meeting him here, in this place, wasn’t ideal. If he asked her why she was here, the conversation would be pretty awkward.
“I was just giving you shit about the whole Syd thing. Ice Age is one of my favorite movies. The squirrel is hilarious.”
“His name is Scrat,” Jett replied with a laugh.
He stood up and took two steps toward her, his cologne penetrating whatever sense she had left, leaving her brain to flop around inside her head, struggling to come up with a rational response.
Jett was tall. Sydney stood five seven, and he towered over her like she was nothing. She liked it—too much. So much she forgot it was best if all guys kept their distance. She didn’t do relationships. Too many of them ended in disaster, for obvious reasons. The first being the MRKH diagnosis—no sex was kind of a deal breaker for most guys. The second—not being able to have sex—made her act like a crazy person sometimes. But instead of retreating, which was what she would normally do when a guy like Jett moved into her space, she just wondered.
Why me? Why did I get picked to be born a freak?
“Can I take you out for drinks?”
Sydney let his words sink in. Enjoyed them for the briefest of moments. “I can’t. Condition of my… whatever. No alcohol.”
Jett smiled, tipping his head slightly to one side. “Coffee?”
A feeling of panic speared her. Sydney loved it when guys gave her attention. She loved it. She craved being desired above all things, which she realized probably made her a shallow person, but she couldn’t help it. She wanted Jett. She had been hoping he would approach, which she always let the guy do. Sydney wasn’t old-fashioned. She was just deeply self-conscious. With only one month of therapy remaining, Sydney was glad Jett was finally making a move, which meant she could get her little flirtation out of the way and move on.
She wished she had the ability to take him into the bathroom and make him groan her name. Sydney wanted him inside her so deep it would be hard to forget they weren’t a part of each other, that they weren’t in a permanent, centered, metaphase state.
Having MRKH made it impossible. She’d had orgasms with guys but never sex with them. She was efficient at oral, but it made her feel hollow inside. So for the longest time—Sydney couldn’t even remember how long—she attracted; then she rejected.
Even when she was lonely. When she was scared. When she was sad.
Especially when she was sad.
Sydney gave Jett what she hoped was a sultry smile.
“Sorry, Romeo. I have somewhere to be. Maybe some other time.”