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"Do you..." Jake paused, digging his fingers into the sofa cushion beneath him. "Do you still love me, Abby?" he asked, cautiously lifting his eyes to meet her gaze.

"What kind of a silly question is that?" she cried.

Biting his bottom lip, Jake quickly hung his head. The ex-convict was confused and embarrassed. Desperately fighting the impulse to flee, he braved her indignation and waited for an answer.

"Of course I do, Jake!" said Abby, fighting back tears. "Do you have to ask?"

"You once promised that you'd tell me every time I needed to hear it," said Jake, brushing aside a stray tear with the sleeve of his shirt. "I really need to hear it now, Abby."

Abby opened her mouth, but her emotions momentarily robbed her of her voice.

Jake looked up at her with hurt brown eyes. The thought suddenly flashed through him that maybe he was too late. Maybe her feelings toward him had changed, after all. A silent, frantic prayer sounded in his heart.

"I love you," she answered, each word sincerely coming from her heart. "When I look back at our time together, I realize that I've always loved you, even before I knew what to call it. I love you, Jake. If you have to ask me that question now, then I suppose I haven't been saying it often enough."

A big smile briefly flashed across his boyishly handsome face, but quickly vanished at the thought of the next question he had to ask her. God had answered his prayer, but now he needed heaven to answer another request. If Abby could only understand-- if only she would say "yes." Jake swallowed the bale of hay in his throat and began to speak.

"I can't promise that I'll ever be what you'd like me to be," he said, digging his fingers even deeper into the sofa, "but I want to try, if you'll let me."

Abby searched his face, unsure if he was really talking about what she thought he was talking about.

"Jake and I have discussed this possibility in the past," explained Dr. Jacoby, "and he has now decided that he's ready to begin the process."

Abby smiled grimly. Now she was sure they weren't talking about the same thing.

"'The process'?" she repeated.

"The abuse Jake has experienced over his lifetime," continued Dr. Jacoby, "has made the sensation of human touch almost unbearable to him. To get over this, he needs to desensitize himself to touch-- your touch, to be more specific. If you agree to this, Jake will set a series of goals that could help lessen his psychological difficulties. This will occur in stages over a period of time, so your cooperation and patience will be essential to his progress. Jake alone will decide what the goals will be, and when he is ready to move on. He must not be pressured into intimacy before he feels he's ready. This will require a lot of understanding on your part, so if you have any objections, it's best to voice them now."

With a pensive face, Jake watched her out of the corner of his eye. He was feeling so unsure of himself, that he almost expected her to turn him down. Jake could only hope and pray that she would give him a chance to try.

"I think I understand," said Abby, thoughtfully. "Does this mean he'll eventually get over the whole touch thing?"
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