The man in the chair behind the desk in front of me smiles.

And how may I help you, he repeats, the same sickly sweet syllables sliding out of his esophagus in the same sweetly sick ringing tone of voice. He grins widely at me, and as discomfiting as it should be, it is precisely this grin that sets me at ease, soothes the petrification that had been afflicting me for weeks, the paralysis that had crept in (starting at my lower extremities and inching its way across me before settling at a spot just above my thoracic vertebrae) the moment I set out to find this man; and the relief is so vast and all-encompassing, so liberating, that I ready myself to allow my guard to fall.

But I catch myself before I do.