"You've never been inside his house?" Max didn't seem too surprised when Shawn told him that.
"No. I think…" Shawn shrugged. "I think maybe it's his private place if that makes sense—where he can go to be alone and feel safe."
"That's very observant of you."
"Well, in a way, I know why." Shawn frowned, unsure if Max knew Gene's history well enough to get what he was saying—or not saying.
"He's afraid," Max replied. "Having been through the same things you have, he's got the same fears you have. The problem is he's been carrying them for so long, they're deeply ingrained into his psyche, even though he might not realize it. I'm fairly certain he didn't have someone to help him get past them the way you do."
"The way he's helping me." Shawn nodded. "But he can't be afraid of me. I mean damn, look at me. I couldn't knock out a fly, to say the least of a larger man, even if I wanted to which I don't and I never would."
"Of course you wouldn't, but you know there's more to being abused than just the physical part."
"Yeah, I do. From what happened to me—and to him. He told me about it—how he stayed with the dude even after he quit beating on him. About the mental and emotional stuff the guy put him through. But damn it, Max, I'm not going to pull something like that." Shawn smiled wryly. "I'm not a control freak. If I was, I wouldn't have stayed with Jared for more than a day or three."
"You know that; I know that, and so does Gene. But there's knowing and there's believing. I'd be willing to bet even though you're sure Gene would never hurt you, you still react sometimes as if you thought he might. It's instinctive right now. Duck or cower when you say something that would have had Jared coming after you verbally or physically. Right?"
"Right." Shawn nodded slowly. "I try not to but sometimes I can't help it."
"Exactly. Gene's well past that at this point, but like you said, his house is his safe haven. He's built walls, physically with the house, as well as emotionally. You're breaking through the emotional ones from what I've seen, and now he's giving you permission to get inside the physical ones."
"If I screw up…"
"That will only happen if you're not honest with him. If he does something that upsets you, tell him. The same goes when he does something you like."
"Oh, I do that all the time, the liking part."
"And if he upsets you?"
Shawn chewed his lip. "Not so much so. Maybe never?"
"Understandable, but you can't build any kind of relationship without honesty." Max chuckled. "Maybe I should get him in here and have this same talk with him."
"Oh boy. Still, you do a good job of it so—"
"I had two very good teachers, my father and Linda. But that's neither here nor there. Just remember what we've been talking about, if and when he tries to put the walls up again. He's in the same boat you are, so trust comes hard. You're learning to trust him, with good reason. Just don't give him any reason not to trust you."
"I won't, I promise."