Brushing her hand over her hair, Shelby knew that she arrived at the stage where she didn't care about anything or anyone around her. It was torturing her to paint a facade of happiness and caring on a daily basis when the truth was opposite. It wasn't as if she lost the ability to emphatize, but she was too independent and strong for a long time that she felt no one around her recognized her cries for help. The people whom she thought she could count on for support in good and bad times turned out to be shadowy characters of their own, which immediately aggravated matters. She couldn't find a valid reason to look for them after multiple heartbreaks and disappointments.
Things were changing, she was painfully aware of that. Here she was: alone, thousands of miles away from her trustworthy and loyal support group and highly suspicious of the acquainted folks. What was once the cheery and confident person was now becoming an emotional wreck who wanted out of life, and Shelby knew what the consequences were if she followed her heart. Tears and anger would trail her selfish decision and, no matter how she desired to rid herself of the silent pain, she didn't want to subject her family to unnecessary grief. The shadowy characters wouldn't be in mourning for her; they'd be elated at her absence. No, she would follow her brain instead and carve a happier life, although it would take a long time, away from those shadowy characters. For once, she would not let them have a say. For once, she would decide the direction of the game and cards to be played.
She took the risk of gambling her stable life with the prospect of greener pastures with the hopes that it'll pay off. She never foresaw the possibility of her self-esteem taking a blow and not being given fair treatment by her surroundings. Had she known that she'd be more miserable, she'd have given up this opportunity of a better career in exchange for the stability on home soil. She shook her head at the cruel twist of Fate: she was always there for her friends - to the point of flying cross country to physically support them during their emotional times - yet the ones who promised her the stars and moon couldn't do the same. Her former love was the worst of them all. He made her stupidly believe that he was investing in the relationship for the long haul when he repeatedly exploited her intelligence and position for his sole benefit. Because of that experience, the fear of love sowed its seeds in her heart.
Her eyes burnt with sadness as she glanced at the framed photograph of her beloved Fox Terrier snuggling into her. She longed for the moment when she could welcome the dog into her embrace again, but she knew that it would never occur in her lifetime. She made a conscious decision to allow someone else to treat the Fox Terrier in a better manner and she had to live with it although it pained her with regret. The dog was happier with her new family somewhere, and Shelby could only hope that she was a distant memory in the dog's mind.
"Gosh," she whispered with a cracked voice into the air. "You've no idea how much I miss you, Honey, and the times we had together."
She reached out to her cell phone resting on the coffee table and dialed the number of a familiar person on instinct. Her friend from her university faculty and one of the few whom she could still trust.
"Hello," the voice answered on the fourth ring.
"Am I disturbing you, Jerry?"
"Oh, no, you're not, Shelby. What's up?"
"Shelby, are you okay? Where are you?" Jerry's voice panicked. "What's going on? Why are you crying?"
"I'm at home. I'm not sure if I'm emotionally alright, but can I meet you at our usual hangout in two hours' time? I know it's a short notice and you're busy man -"
"I'm coming now. Stay where you are and don't move."
"Shelby, I won't feel good unless I've made sure that you're actually okay." She heard the rustling of keys. "Even if it means me coming over as we speak. Don't move, and I'll see you in ten."
Jerry ended the call before Shelby could speak any further.
His eyes widened with pure horror when his door knocks were acknowledged by Shelby. Her eyes were teary and swollen red, as if she bawled her heart out for hours. He could tell instantly that she hid something from him as she avoided his eyes when she invited him in. Her lips were curled downwards and she was unusually reticent. When they took their seats on the couch, Jerry willed for Shelby to address him in the eye.
"Talk to me. Tell me what's bothering you."
Shelby looked down at her hands, buying time. "I'm tired, Jerry," she broke the silence. "I feel like I'm being suffocated alive and losing trust in those around me. I can no longer see the good in them. Work's going alright, thank God. It's more of my personal life that's in tatters. I want to bury myself with work, but it'll be the death of me. I've a first hand experience of it and let's just say that it's scary and traumatizing..." She sighed, looked at Jerry's eyes. "And this is why I refuse to dabble in maritime and shipping. It is challenging in a positive way, but, no, thanks."
"I really wish that you've told me earlier, Shelby. We could've done something about it."
"Like what? Apply for a transfer to yet another unfamiliar territory? Surrender everything here and return home to a place where I have to start from scratch with my career?"
"Definitely not that, Shelby. What I meant was that you wouldn't have to keep your emotions bottled up."
Shelby's eyes swam with tears. "There's a reason why I didn't tell you, Jerry. I know you're facing with your own issues and I really didn't want to be an extra burden by having you look out for me. I'm a big girl now, and I need to learn to weave around the windy paths of life. The thing is that a part of me wants to throw in the towel." She grabbed the couch pillow tightly to herself for security. "I still have nightmares over what George did. I keep thinking of knives, Jerry. I've stared into the shiny edges of it, wondering how it would feel if it touches my wrist."
Without saying anything, Jerry joined her and embraced her in a hug. His comforting gesture was the key to her locked cage of emotions. Her shoulders heaved up and down as she emotionally broke down in his care.
"It's alright, Shelby. Let it all out," he repeatedly cooed.
Her ear-splitting cries permeated through the entire house and Jerry's heart immediately felt for her. He was aware, even from their university days, that Shelby was a strong person who cared a lot for her loved ones, even to the point of placing herself last. Hidden beneath her lively brown eyes was a girl who endured and persisted through the trials in her life and she only deserved the best. It was high time that she was treated with appreciation by those around her.
It was an hour later that silence returned to the house. Shelby went limp in Jerry's embrace, spent and exhausted from the continuous outburst. Jerry made a space on the couch and gingerly laid Shelby to rest, careful not to awaken her. It was only during her moments of rest that he saw her angelic personality that was buried under the piles of protection. He pushed her stray hair away from her sticky face, tucking it behind her right ear before removing his jacket and placing it on her to keep her warm. With a sigh, he rose to his full height and headed in the direction of the toilet.