Tabitha linked her arm in Preston’s, not pushing or tugging him into walking through the door, just being there with him. For him.

‘I can do this, I need to do this.’ Preston took a deep breath and stepped out into the cool night air. Immediately he closed his eyes as a couple walked by as if that could hide him from their sight.

“They didn’t even look in our direction Pres. Most people are too self-absorbed, especially couples out for an evening stroll together.”

“That was rather childish of me wasn’t it,” Preston replied with a small chuckle as he opened his eyes again.

She smiled as she waited for him to turn in the direction of the park. “Ostrich syndrome.”

“And I’ve been being a big one. But no more.” His voice was steely with determination as he began walking.

A man coming towards them walking his dog glanced at Preston and quickly looked away, but not before Preston saw the look of shock on his face and flinched. Tabitha squeezed his arm gently in commiseration but said nothing as she kept them moving forward. Twice more before they reached the park they passed people who stared and then dropped their eyes when he looked back at them.

“I feel like something out of a freak show,” he said despondently.

“You’re not,” Tabitha said emphatically. “You’re getting the same reaction someone in a wheelchair or with a white cane gets, a cross between sympathy and ‘I’m glad that’s not me’. Most people will react that way until they get to know the person involved.”

“Bull,” Preston growled. “Who would even try to get past this face to see what’s behind it? People love what’s beautiful, not what’s grotesque. Christine may have sympathized with the Phantom, but she went off with Raoul without a second thought.”

“She was a shallow young woman. Not everyone’s like that. Look at Cary, he didn’t run when he saw you.”

“He hasn’t called either. I was sort of hoping…” He shrugged in resignation. “Probably got home, took one look at Hugh, and thanked his lucky stars he didn’t have to face me every day.”

“Or he and Hugh had plans for today and he didn’t get a chance to call. Don’t look for the worst Pres, you might just find it.”

“Been there, done that,” he muttered as they entered the park.

“Exactly, so now it’s time to start opening yourself to what’s good in life instead of being an ostrich, hiding your head in the sand so nothing bad can find you again.”

Preston nodded as he watched a small group of children playing tag under the watchful eyes of their parents. “Wish I was that age again, pure, innocent, not a care in the world.”

Tabitha smiled as she steered him towards one of the park benches. “I think we all do sometimes.”

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