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Hey There, Lonely Girl


T. J. Robertson

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2017 T. J. Robertson

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Like a daffodil in spring, she would appear early--6:40 to be exact--at the Harvard Square Station and board the Boston-bound, subway train. Discreetly, I would find myself following her onto the coach and taking a seat on the opposite side, never, however, directly facing her. Because there was no ring on the fourth finger of her left hand, I assumed she was single. Except for her and me, everyone else, like Rodin's thinker statue, was absorbed in his or her smart phone or tablet. Although she was not unattractive, wispy bangs hovering, like shades, above dark brooding eyes, a small nose sloping up at the tip, and pursed lips gave her face a sad, if not pained, expression. With her hands clasped, arms thrust upon her breasts, and legs pressed against her seat, she was not unlike a spring ready to uncoil at a moment's notice.

What was going on in her life that gave her such an aura of loneliness and gloom? Was it a problem at home, on the job, or with a boyfriend? I wondered.

So, all spring and well into summer, she became the focal point of my morning ritual. Sitting across from her, I cannot tell you how many times, strange as it may sound, that I heard strains of the song, Hey There, Lonely Girl:

Hey there, lonely girl, lonely girl,

Let me make your broken heart like new. . .

Ever since he broke your heart you seem so lost.

Each time you pass my way

Oh, how I long to take your hand

And say don't cry; I'll kiss your tears away.

Hey there, lonely girl, my lonely girl,

Let me make your broken heart like new.

Hey there, lonely girl, lonely girl, . . .

You think that only his two lips can kiss your lips

And make your heart stand still.

But once you're in my arms you'll see

No one can kiss your lips the way I will. . . .

She would always get off the train at Charles Street and I would continue on into the heart of the city, South Station, where I worked at a mental health clinic.

One should never underestimate the role that chance plays in his or her life. I offer myself as exhibit number one. Because I grew up in a dysfunctional family--my father was a gambler; my mother, an alcoholic--had not a high-school English teacher taken me under her wing and set me on a path toward college, only the Good Lord knows where I might have ended up.

My good luck continued in college, too. For, one warm and humid evening, after the agony of the final exam period had just ended, a friend invited me to unwind at a dance somewhere outside of Boston. In the dimly lit, barn-like dance hall I saw her. Whether it was her bewitching hazel eyes, infectious smile, or radiant elegance, I am not sure. All I know is at that moment I felt like an errant planet being irresistibly drawn into the orbit of the sun. It happened so quickly--the glance, the smile, and the electricity.

"Pardon me but may I have this dance?"

"Yes, of course."

"My name is Jack."

"Hi, Jack, I'm Vanessa."

We danced the night away and the music played on and on….

Not long after, I proposed but asked that the wedding be put off until I received my master's degree in guidance and counseling. Gleefully, she agreed. No sooner had I gotten it than I was offered a full scholarship to study for a doctorate in psychology.

Although she listened politely to what I thought was good news, her look and posture told me she did not like what she was hearing. Breaking the long silence that followed my disclosure, she said, "I love you, Jack."

"As I do you." With those words, I took her into my arms.

"But I refuse to wait for you any longer." Her beautiful eyes darkened with emotion.

I shrugged. "Hey, what's a couple of more years?"

"A couple of years of course work, perhaps." She frowned in exasperation. "But what about your dissertation?"

"Not long, I hope."

"You hope?" She tore herself from my grasp and stared across at me. "I'm sorry, Jack, but I just can't go on this way."

"With the doctorate, we'd be on easy street," I pleaded.

"You've got your master's in guidance and counseling. Concordia High, one of the top secondary schools in the state, has offered you a job." Her voice though quiet had an ominous quality. "With my salary as a dental hygienist and yours as a counselor, we'd already be on easy street."

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity," I persisted. "You don't know what it means to me."

Her eyes narrowed and hardened. "You know what I think?"

"No," I snapped, "I'm not a mind reader."

"I think you're hell-bent on finding out why your father preferred to gamble and your mother, to drink rather than spend their time with you."

Enraged, through gritted teeth I replied, "You have no right bringing my parents into this."

She shrugged. "Lovers keep no secrets from one another."

"But ex-lovers do," I retorted, spitting out my words.

"I spoke my mind." She bit down hard on her lower lip. "I was going to ask you to make a choice--a doctorate or me--but, obviously, you've already made that decision."

Often, in anger unkind words are said and this was one of those times. "You're damned right I have." With that declaration, I turned and strode out of her life.

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I had been at the clinic for three years and enjoyed the job immensely. Because I was good at what I did, had difficulty saying no to clients who insisted on working with me, and was intent on saving the world, it should come as no surprise that I had the heaviest case load of all the therapists. High-school underachievers, manic-depressives, phobics--my clients ran the gamut. But, if I thought I had seen it all, I was mistaken; for Ryan Goodman--his last name was a misnomer if I ever saw or heard one--was unlike any client I had encountered before.

Tall and thin with sleek dark hair, large green eyes beneath bushy brows, a swarthy complexion, and an unctuous smile, he dressed smartly in Tommy Hilfiger suits, Brooks Brothers shirts, and Gucci loafers . Just as moths are attracted to the light of a bulb, so women were drawn to the mystique of Mr. Wonderful--I dub him so because he viewed himself as God's gift to women. That I am not impartial in my description of him I admit.

On the day of his first visit, he came bounding into my office, unannounced, and made himself comfortable on the sofa. Taken aback, I regained my composure and sat down on the armchair opposite him.

"Ryan Goodman, I presume?" I offered.

"Your presumption is correct, Sir Stanley." With that quip, he broke into laughter.

"How may I help you?"

He wagged his head. "You can't?"

"Oh?" I leaned back and surveyed him intently. "Why is that?"

"Because I'm incorrigible."

"In that case, why would you want to waste your time and mine? Not to mention your money."

He chuckled. "Because I'm not paying for it."

As I have intimated, I did not like this guy. He was vain, cocky, and insulting. By admitting my antagonism toward him, I was violating one of the basic tenets of the code of ethics of my profession. So, I got up and extended my hand, saying, "Although I appreciate your frankness, I'm not going to waste my time or your money."

"Hey, not so fast," he declared, "I promised Amy I'd come and give it a whirl."

With a frown I stared down at him. "Who's she?"

"My significant other."

I found myself muttering, more to myself than to him, "A person with whom you've established a romantic or sexual relationship."

He chortled. "Hey, I'm not about to take the college boards, so I don't need to brush up on my vocabulary." He had the habit of laughing at his own jokes, if one could call them such, and I would be lying if I said it did not annoy me. "The point is she's the one who says that I'm incorrigible."

"She may be right," I replied, unable to resist needling him.

"And, unless I go for some counseling," he said, ignoring my dig, "it's over between us."

Again I sat down. "And you don't want it to end?"

"No, of course not."

"Then, you love her?"

"Whoa there, Doc," he protested with a wave of his hand. "I wouldn't go that far."

Previously, I never had a problem with being called Doc, but the demeaning tone of his voice in uttering the word grated on me. "Then, tell me; just how far would you go?"

An eyebrow raised in amused contempt. "I'll keep on going until the flame on the candle burns out and darkness descends upon me, if you get my drift?"

"Or until a brighter light appears on the horizon?" I offered, taking his measure.

"Ah," he enthused, "you do get it after all."

I sighed with exasperation. "At the risk of offending you, let me speak frankly."

"I assumed you were already doing so." As if the quip were not bad enough, the grin that went with it was worse.

"You're a crass opportunist," I retorted, irked.

He wagged his head. "Yes, that I am." Not only did he agree with what I said but he did so proudly. Shattering the awkward silence that followed, he said, "Frankly, Doc, I'm surprised that a man of your intelligence would believe in that love crap."

"How do you know I do?" I retorted with cold sarcasm.

He leered at me. "Because I know your type." Although he was getting under my skin, I held my tongue. "Women are like grains of sand on a beach," he explained, gesturing, "and I could be happy with anyone of them, depending upon which one I caught between my toes first."

If his metaphor, weird and nasty as it was, accomplished anything, it revealed the low regard in which he held women. "And, so right now Amy's the one?" He nodded and I asked, "And the flame of your love--or rather your interest--in her," I said, catching myself, "is still burning?"

He hesitated and, then, with a twisted smile, said, "Yes, it's still glowing but flickering a little."

"Soon, however, its light, as you've implied, will be no more?" I scoffed.

"Of course," he declared with a wag of his head, "that's the way of the world. Doesn't winter follow autumn; divorce, marriage; and death, life?" He paused and, turning his smile into a grin, said, "Et après Donald Trump, le déluge." Annoyed that I sat still and did not share his mirth, he offered, "Obviously, you're one of those distraught liberals, who are just going to have to suck it up and get on with your life."

"A liberal, no; a progressive yes," I relied through gritted teeth. "And, as for sucking it up, I'm here with you, aren't I?"

When his laughter subsided, he said in a grudging voice, "Oh, don't get me wrong; Amy's a good person. If the truth be known, she's too good for the likes of me." Again he hesitated and stared across at me. "I'm not the most responsible of persons, you know?"

"Yes," I replied, goading him, "so I've noticed."

"Ouch!" he exclaimed.

Startled, I jumped up. "What's wrong?"

Running a finger over his knee, he flashed that absurd grin of his. "The crease in my trousers is so sharp I just cut my hand on it."

While he was rollicking with laughter, I called for a cease fire in our war of words and adjourned the meeting.

That session was, without a doubt, the most difficult one I ever had to endure. Frankly, I thought it would never end and, when it did, with reluctance I found myself entering the director's office.

As the daughter of wealthy parents, Diana Redgrave had the luxury of attending the nation's best private schools and colleges. And before assuming the reins at the Melrose Mental Health Clinic, she had never worked a day in her life. In no way do I want to demean her; for, she was smart and talented. How else could she have breezed through medical school and become a psychiatrist?

With her flowing blond hair, beckoning blue eyes, and irresistible smile, she was beautiful. Charm and poise made her all the more so. With her penchant for Tiffany bracelets, Dior handbags, and Clark shoes, she would have looked more at ease on a page of Harper's Bazaar than in the front office of the Melrose Mental Health Clinic.

From the moment I first set foot in her posh office for my job interview, I knew that her character was not as good as her looks. Photos and poems of Edna Saint Vincent Millay, with whom she was obsessed, adorned the walls. And, like the poetess, her love life, as I would soon learn, was fast and furious. Her skirt, in the words of Winston Churchill, was long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest. And, believe me; there was interest galore on the part of the opposite sex.

During the interview, she made some overtures which I ignored; for, at the time, I was suffering pangs of remorse over my breakup with Vanessa. After I was hired--heck, the money was too good to resist--she, unperturbed, continued her pursuit of me and I, in turn, kept resisting her advances. Her behavior was, of course, unethical and, although I eventually resigned myself to Vanessa's loss, the last thing I wanted was to become one of Diana's trophies.

As soon as I entered her office, she took one look at me and set her pen down onto her desk. "Are you okay, Jack?"

"No, I'm not."

"What's the matter?" she asked, moving forward on her chair.

"One more session with Mr. Wonderful and I swear they'll be carrying me out of here in a straitjacket," I declared. "So, because I treasure my sanity, I'd like you to assign him to another therapist."

She shook her head in disbelief and smiled wryly. "I assume you're talking about Ryan Goodman?" As director, she made it her business to know to which therapist each client was assigned.

"The one and only," I grumbled, "and this is no laughing matter."

"Forgive me but the truth is I thought you were unflappable," she said, toying with her bracelet, "if not invincible."

In resignation, I threw up my hands. "Well, now you know I'm neither."

"But, seriously, what's the problem?"

"Because I don't like the guy, I find myself lashing out at him," I confessed, my exasperation spilling out. "If I continue to work with him, I'll become a warrior in mortal combat rather than a counselor in a helping relationship."

"That's not good."

I wagged my head in agreement. "So for his wellbeing and mine, I'd appreciate your assigning him to someone else."

"No problem," she replied, reaching across her desk and adjusting the picture frame of her favorite poetess, Edna Saint Vincent Millay. "Do you suggest a male or a female therapist?"

I shrugged. "Either one. As long as it's somebody who'll set limits."

"How about me?" Her voice was low and seductive.

"Are you sure you want to take this guy on?"

She crossed her shapely legs and a sensual glint flashed in her eyes. "You know how much I like a challenge?"

Hell-bent on getting rid of Ryan Goodman as a client, I paid no attention to her gestures. "Frankly, I was thinking of Grant McFarland but you'll do just fine. One thing for sure, you know how to set limits."

"I'll contact Mr. Goodman," she said, settling back on her chair and smiling, "and let him know of the change."

"Thanks," I replied, breathing a sigh of relief.

"Now why don't you get some air," she said, pushing aside an errant strand of hair, "and have lunch?"

I glanced at my watch. "Sounds like a good idea."

If I thought I had heard the last of Ryan Goodman, I was mistaken. A few days later Diana popped in on me. "May I have a word with you, Jack?" she asked, making herself comfortable on the armchair next to me.

"How could I refuse?" I quipped. "After all, you're the boss around here, aren't you?"

"Not really. In case you haven't noticed, Linda's the one who runs the show." After we had shared the laugh about the receptionist, the look on her face turned serious. "I met with Ryan Goodman."

"Oh, Mr. Wonderful," I groaned. "How'd it go?"

Her mouth curved into an unconscious smile. "He's interesting; that's for sure."

"Methinks thou art being too tactful," I quipped.

"That's part of my job as director." She took a deep breath, leaned back in her chair, and looked at me intently. "He refuses to work with anybody but you."

"You're kidding?" Frankly, I was surprised; for I thought he disliked me as much as did I him.

She shook her head. "No, he got very upset and refused to take no for an answer."

"Well, one thing for sure," I said, clenching my fists, "he can't be allowed to dictate the rules of the game."

"I couldn't agree with you more," she replied, rising. "For that reason, I told him we couldn't treat him here."

"Oh, I bet he liked hearing that."

"Incensed, he went stomping out." Then, with a sudden, arresting smile, she said, "And now I'm about to do the same thing only I'm not incensed." With those words she left my office as quickly as she had appeared.

One morning, a week later, I arrived early and was going over my appointments for the day, all of which consisted of clients I had been working with for a long time--all that is except one by the name of Amy Dwyer. Because Diana had not yet arrived at her office, I went to the receptionist, Linda Hadley, for an explanation.

Although her build was small and slight; her face, pale and drawn, looks can be deceiving. Beneath that veneer lurked a dynamo of energy and perpetual motion incarnate. The truth is she knew more about the daily workings of the clinic than did the director. Whenever a staff member had a question about protocol, he or she would seek her out to get the answer. No matter how hectic the hour or difficult the situation, she always kept her cool. If in a crisis she made a snap decision and angered a therapist, she would flash that devastating smile of hers and all would be forgiven.

"In case you've forgotten, Linda, I have a full caseload and, reluctantly, am not taking on any new clients," I complained.

"Oh, I haven't forgotten," she replied cheerfully.

I pasted a stern look upon my face. "Well, why am I seeing this Amy Dwyer at one o'clock today?"

"Oh, her," she said with a shrug, "I squeezed her in because she's a one-shot deal."

"A one shot deal?" I asked, puzzled.

"She asked to meet briefly with you. When I told her how busy you were, she assured me she'd take no more than fifteen minutes of your time." She paused and handed a folder to a passing staff member. Then, turning her attention back to me, she folded her hands and flashed that awesome smile against which I had no defense. "Now don't get angry with me; for, despite her sad and lonely expression, deep down inside she seemed like such a nice woman I couldn't refuse her."

"You're lucky," I replied with a sigh of resignation, "I'm nice, too."

"Yes, I know you are." Again she rewarded me with a smile.

"But, in the future," I said with mock severity, "I advise you to remember the saying: Nice guys finish last."

That morning had gone well. So much so at lunch I threw caution to the wind and savored my favorite dish--a veggie pizza. When I got back to my office, I opened the folder on Amy Dwyer and looked over the intake report on her. Frankly, all I gleaned from it was that she lived on Mount Auburn Street in Cambridge and worked as a nurse at Mass General Hospital. No sooner had I closed the folder and leaned back on my chair than Linda appeared at my door. "Miss Dwyer is here to see you?"

Glancing at my watch, I got up and could not resist needling her. "Let me know when her fifteen minutes are up." She smiled and I said, "But, seriously, please show her in."

Those next few moments are indelibly etched within the recesses of my mind. In she walked and had I not reached out and steadied myself on the edge of my desk, I would have collapsed in a heap onto the floor. For, standing before me was the lonely girl with the brooding eyes and pained expression, opposite whom I sat on the train every morning on my way to work. "I'm sorry to bother you, Dr. Roberts," she said, her hands clenched stiffly at her sides, "and promise to make what I have to say brief." I stood, statue-like, and stared across at her in silent disbelief. Apprehensive, she pushed aside her wispy bangs and stammered, "Are--are you okay?"

"Oh, yes, Miss Dwyer, I'm fine," I lied, coming out of my fog.

"You look familiar," she said, studying me intently. "Have we met before?"

Straightening up, I took a deep breath and smiled. "Not formally but I do see you mornings on the red-line train," I confessed.

"Oh, yes, of course," she replied, blushing. "I apologize for not recognizing you but the truth is I've had a lot on my mind lately."

"Why don't you sit down and make yourself comfortable?" I said, gesturing.

"No, thank you," she replied with a nod. "I know how busy you are. So, I'll make this quick."

Delighted at her unexpected visit, I gave a dismissive wave of my hand. "Oh, I'm not that busy."

"Linda, your receptionist, was kind enough to squeeze me in and I promised her I'd take no more than fifteen minutes of your time." I shrugged and she added, "And I always keep my promises." I was tempted to respond that promises are meant to be broken but held my tongue. "Now, if I may, I'd like to tell you why I'm here."

I leaned against the desk and took a frank, admiring look at her. "Please do."

"It's about Ryan Goodman." Lurking in her voice was a faint tremor as if some emotion touched her.

"Oh, no," I murmured, unable to believe what I was hearing.

"What?" she asked.

"Is that so?" I answered, trying to cover up my dismay.

"Although the director was kind enough to offer to counsel him, he doesn't want to work with anybody but you." The look on my face prompted her to say, "That surprises you?"

"Frankly, it shocks me," I confessed.

"He feels you understand him and can help him in dealing with his problem."

The desperation in her voice did not go unnoticed. So, despite my disdain for him, I tempered my tone out of concern for her. "I appreciate his confidence in me but I'm not sure I can help him."

Her gaze lowered as did her voice. "I'd appreciate your giving it a try."

For a moment I found myself studying her with a curious intensity. "At the risk of getting too personal, I'd like to know what your relationship is with him."

A muscle quivered at her jaw. "I'm a friend."

"A girlfriend?" My heart jolted; my pulse pounded.

"Ex-girlfriend," she said in a broken whisper.

At that moment I wanted to know everything about her. So, pushing my luck, I asked, "Are you in love with him?"

Before answering, she drew her lips in thoughtfully. "At one time I would've said that I was but now I'm not so sure. His definition of love is a lot different than mine."

"In what way?"

"I guess I'm old-fashioned," she said with a sigh, "but I believe love is forever."

My questions came fast and furious. "And his definition?"

"To him, love is fleeting."

"A passing fancy, eh?"

She nodded. "When I told him I didn't see any future with him, he got upset and begged me to give him another chance."

"A chance for what?"

With her hands palms up, she gestured. "Hopefully, to change for the better."

Again I could not resist lashing out at him. "Do you believe a leopard can change its spots?"

Her eyes grew misty and wistful. "Fortunately, he's not a leopard and hope springs eternal." She glanced at her watch and, with a gentle softness in her voice, said, "Because my time with you is almost up, let me end by saying that I'd appreciate it if you'd reconsider your decision and continue to work with him." Stroking my chin, I did not respond. "I'm begging you to do so, Dr. Roberts." Her voice trailed off to a hushed whisper.

At that moment there was a knock on the door and Linda poked her head in. "Time's up, Miss Dwyer."

"It's okay, Linda," I replied, waving her off, "we're just about to wrap things up." She smiled wryly and withdrew.

"Well, what do you think?" Amy asked, shifting her feet nervously.

My blue eyes met and held her brown ones. "I'll do it on two conditions."

"What are they?" she replied eagerly.

"I'll have one more meeting alone with Ryan and after that you'll be present at every session."

She heaved a sigh of relief. "I see no problem as long as he agrees with it."

"He has nothing to say about it. If he wants to work with me, he'll agree to it. No ifs, buts, or ands." I snapped, bristling with indignation. "Do you understand?"

Taken aback by my tone, she said, "I'm sure he'll agree to do so."

I broke the silence between us, saying in a low, awkward voice, "I apologize, Miss Dwyer; I had no right speaking to you in that way."

She shrugged. "Because I want to keep my promise to Linda, I'll now be on my way." Then, extending her hand which I took like an unexpected present, she said, "But before I do, I want to thank you for seeing me on such short notice"

"The pleasure was all mine." And believe me; no truer words were ever spoken.

Opening the door, she turned and said, "Oh, Dr. Roberts, you never did tell me your second condition."

Still remorseful over my angry response to her mention of Ryan, I paused and pulled my drifting thoughts together. "Frankly, just once I'd like to see you smile."

Caressing her cheek thoughtfully, she replied, "I'll do that when I have something to smile about."

"Fair enough," I murmured.

If my session with Ryan had been the most miserable I had ever experienced, this one with her, despite my flash of anger, had been the most enjoyable. So much so, at that moment, I was reluctant to see it come to an end. Unfortunately, however, I had other appointments and, so, had to be content to walk her out to the reception room and have Linda set up an appointment with Ryan for the following week. But, frankly, I was already looking beyond that session to the one including her. I might have stood there forever watching her disappear out the door and savoring the touch of her hand on mine, had Linda's voice not jolted me back to reality. "Dr. Roberts, Mrs. Washburn is here to see you."

"Oh, yes, of course," I said, turning with a start. "Nice to see you, Mrs. Washburn; please come on in." With that greeting, I held the door open, followed her inside, and got on with my day.

Although I was not looking forward to my next session with Ryan Goodman, I did not dwell on it, for, Amy Dwyer occupied my thoughts. More so with each passing day. Those sad eyes, pursed lips, and taut limbs bespoke her plight and silently beckoned for help. And I was going to answer their call. If, in doing so, I had to shed the cloak of the therapist, so be it.

In the mornings that followed our chance meeting at the clinic, I would stand at the far end of the platform at Harvard Station and avoid entering the coach which she chose. But on a damp and dreary Wednesday morning, the die was cast: I would confront her with the truth about Ryan Goodman. So, like her, I got off at Charles Street and followed her down the staircase to Cambridge Street, where I drew up alongside her. "Excuse me, Miss Dwyer, but I need to talk with you."

Surprised, she stopped and turned to face me. "Oh, Dr. Roberts," she exclaimed, "what's on your mind?"

"I'll--I'll make it brief, I promise." Suddenly I was having second thoughts but too late; for, I had crossed the Rubicon.

She moved a step closer to me and the fragrance of her perfume captivated me. "Go ahead."

"It's--it's about Ryan," I stammered.

A look of fright replaced the one of sadness on her face. "Oh, please don't tell me you're not going to work with him?"

"No," I replied with a flourish, "like you, I keep my promises."

She breathed a sigh of relief. "What about him?"

"You're--you're--" I could not stop sputtering.

Impatiently, she asked, "I'm what?"

"You're too good for him," I blurted out.

Taken aback by my words, she gave me a withering look. "How can you say that?"

"Because I don't want you to get hurt," I answered in a tone filled with awe and respect.

Biting her lip, she looked away. "I think you've just violated the ethics of your profession."

"He's not the man you think he is," I persisted.

"Now, if you'll excuse me I'll be on my way. I don't want to be late for work," she replied, turning and walking off.

"He's a gigolo, who uses women, casts them aside, and, then, moves on to greener pastures," I said, raising my voice and taking several steps after her. "You're going to be his latest victim. Don't you understand?" The louder I spoke, the faster she walked. Long after she had turned the corner, I stood and ranted.

Rather than a counseling session, my next meetings with Ryan turned out to be a war of words. And I admit to having willingly shed my cloak of civility and donned one of combat. Just as he had done previously, he came barging in and plopped himself down onto the sofa.

No sooner had I sat down opposite him than he launched his attack. "You had no right to invite Amy to join me in my sessions with you."

I shrugged. "If you want me as your therapist, you'll have to agree to my terms."

"This is out last meeting," he said tartly.

"I can't say I'm sorry to hear that."

"You don't mince words, I like that." An eye brow raised in amused contempt. "The point is, as I've said before, I promised Amy I'd get some counseling. That's why I came here."

"Only because you didn't want to get off the gravy train," I retorted in a raw, harsh voice.

Long and hard, he studied me. "Let's stop the bull crap, Doc," he said, turning on that phony smile of his. "You know how the game is played."

In exasperation, I heaved a heavy sigh. "I'm not so sure I do."

"Then, allow me to enlighten you," he replied smugly.

"I'm all ears," I mocked.

"You discover a lady--one that's well-heeled, and, preferably, easy on the eyes--shower her with small gifts, charm her with tender words, make whoopee, get bored, and move on." All the while he was talking, he was gesturing like a maestro.

"To a greener pasture," I offered.

"If you want to know the truth, after I leave here I'll be on my way to that pasture." His lips twisted into a cynical smile. "I can't help it if women find me irresistible. Some guys have it and some don't." Again I held my tongue; for, his grin told me he considered me one of the latter. "Let me assure you, however, that one thing I never do in my line of work is hurt a woman."

"Pain comes in two forms--physical and mental," I retorted, frowning. "What do you think happens to a woman's self-esteem and confidence when you use her and then cast her aside like a worn sneaker?"

He shrugged. "They've had the pleasure of spending time--however brief--with me. I doubt you'd find one who'd say that she regretted it."

I clutched the arms of my chair so tightly I feared I might rip them off; for, his arrogance, egotism, and cruelty were more than I could bear. Sensing my unease, he said, "Come on, Doc, spit it out."

"Tell me, will you?" I snapped. "Out from under what rock did you crawl?"

When his chortling subsided, he studied me long and hard. "You know what I think?"

"Frankly I don't give a damn what you think."

"You're jealous."

Reaching the end of my rope with this guy, I got up. "You've made your point and I've made mine," I said through clenched teeth. "So, I think it's time we called it quits and went our separate ways."

"Hey, I'm not moving until I finish what I was saying," he protested, waving a finger at me. "Now where was I before I was so rudely interrupted?" He paused and thought a moment before going on, "Oh, I was saying how jealous you were."

I made the mistake of answering him. "Jealous of what?"

"Of me and Amy."

Doing a slow burn, I stood still and said nothing. "You have a thing for her, don't you?" He looked at me and grinned. "What's the matter; does the truth hurt?" When I did not respond, he shrugged and went on. "Hey, I came, I saw, I conquered. Although she earns a good salary as a nurse and has a steady income from a family trust, I'm done with her." He paused and chortled. "Obviously you like castoffs; so, she should suit you just fine."

In a rage, I grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, yanked him off the sofa, and hurled him across the room, tearing his tie and ripping his shirt in the act. All I remember after that is Grant McFarland and some other colleagues of mine restraining me and leading my antagonist away. Hell-bent on getting in the last word, he hollered, "Hey, Doc, I'm a lover, not a fighter."

Coming to my senses, I found myself standing in front of Diana Redgrave, who was seated at her desk. Her creased brow, glowering eyes, and taut jaw told me she was not a happy camper. Words of reproach rolled off her tongue like bullets from a machine gun.

"What the hell has come over you? You need more help than your clients do. Ryan Goodman's nobody's fool and it wouldn't surprise me if at this very moment he was in his lawyer's office preparing to sue the pants off you and the clinic. And, to think, this weekend I was planning to spend some vacation time in Paris. If you remain on the staff--and believe me, that's a big if--a seminar in anger management will be a must for you. Now get out of here, go home, and see if you can regain your sanity. Monday morning bright and early, I'll see you here for a postmortem. Meanwhile I'll try to contact him, apologize for your behavior, and hope for the best."

What a weekend! At night, sleeplessly, I tossed and turned, cursing myself for my stupidity and loss of self-control. During the day, over and over again, the same questions bombarded me. What caused me to explode? Was I jealous of Ryan and Amy? Did I have a thing for her? Was Vanessa right about my relationship with my parents?

After what seemed forever, Monday, my day of reckoning, arrived. No elevator for me today; I needed time to pull myself together. Slowly, I made my way up the stairs to the door of the clinic. Pausing and taking a deep breath, I opened it, gave Linda a cursory nod, and strode into Diana's office. Feeling like a private before his commanding officer, I stood, ramrod straight with chin raised and hands at my sides. To my surprise, she looked up from her computer and smiled. "You lucked out, Jack," she enthused.

"Oh?" I replied, puzzled.

"Ryan Goodman really is Mr. Wonderful, you know?"

If she was testing me by using my nickname for him, I kept my cool and smiled. "Is that so?"

"He's not going to file any charges," she said, her blue eyes beaming across at me. "Can you believe it?"

"If you say so," I offered weakly.

She ran a hand through her flowing blond hair and leaned back on her chair, her ample breasts straining against the taut fabric of her blouse. With those gestures, I knew she was back to being her old self. "And I'm going on my vacation after all," she declared with a rasp of excitement.

"I'm happy for you," I said, relaxing.

"But don't think you're home free," she replied, toying with her bracelet.

"No, of course not."

"When I return," she said, leaning forward, "I'm going to make arrangements for you to take that seminar in anger management."

I shrugged. "Whatever."

"Now get back to work," she ordered with a dismissive wave of her hand.

Feeling a need for a mea culpa, I replied, "I'm sorry for the hullabaloo I've caused."

"Heck," she said with a wry smile, "I guess that just proves you're human."

Thankful that I had come out of the fray with only a slap on the wrist--attending a seminar on anger management--I threw myself with abandon into my work. Sitting in my office Friday afternoon and reflecting on my week's work, I was feeling upbeat and confident when Linda appeared at my open door. "Mr. Higgins would like to have a word with you," she said, rolling her eyes. "He's waiting in the conference room."

Oh hell, I thought, the board of directors knows about my fracas with Ryan Goodman. Resigned to facing the music, I replied, "I'll join him there in a moment."

A short, rotund man with a balding head, baggy eyes and ruddy face, Bill Higgins, the chairman, was pacing back and forth, all the while twirling his fedora hat. Upon seeing me, in a single motion he stopped, turned, and shook my hand. "I'm sorry for barging in on you like this, Dr. Roberts," he declared, "but I have a matter of the utmost urgency to discuss with you."

"Yes, I know," I replied, taking a deep breath and preparing for the worst.

"You do?" His fedora was spinning like a top.

"Yes." I swallowed hard and raised my chin. "And I apologize for it."

"You're aware that Dr. Redgrave's gone?"

"Dr. Redgrave?" I said, suddenly feeling confused. "Yes, I know that she's in Paris on vacation."

He looked at me as if I had lost my mind. "No, I mean she's resigned."

"Resigned?" I gasped.

"Yes." As I stood, shaking my head in disbelief, he said, "I've come with the approval of the entire board to ask you to serve as the director until we can hire her replacement."

I broke the awkward silence that followed. "So, that's why you've come to see me?" Relief mingled with the surprise in my voice.

He wagged his head. "As I'm sure you know, the person filling that position full-time must be a certified psychiatrist."

"Yes, I know."

"We hope to have him or her on board within a month. Two at the most," he said. "So, it should be a temporary appointment and, of course, in the interim you will be paid a director's salary."

Pulling myself out of the rubble of his bombshell, I tugged on my chin. "Hem, let me give it some thought."

"Because this turn of events has happened so suddenly, I don't expect you to make a decision right this moment," he offered, "but I would like one within twenty-four hours."

"There's no need for more time," I replied, gesturing, "I accept your offer."

"Oh, thank you, Dr. Roberts," he said, breathing a sigh of relief and wiping beads of sweat off his head. "I'll be in touch; for, the entire board would like to meet with you at your convenience."

Then, after another handshake, he donned his fedora and beat a hasty retreat.

The more I learned about Diana Redgrave's resignation, the more flabbergasted I became. In a strange turn of events, she had run off with--of all people--Ryan Goodman. That he would be interested in her was not surprising; for, she did have both money and looks. But what, I wondered, did she see in him. His good looks and sterling personality--reluctantly, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps. More than likely, however, it was the challenge. Oh, how she loved a challenge! With two such fierce narcissists, their relationship soon would become one of mortal combat. Of that I had no doubt. And, as to which one would emerge victorious, would be anybody's guess.

As much as I might want to deny it, the truth is Ryan Goodman had been right. I was jealous of him and Amy and, yes, I had a thing for her. More than a thing, I was madly in love with her. Oh, how I longed to make her dark and brooding eyes bright and merry; her pursed lips, warm and inviting; her pained expression, sunny and cheerful; and her taut body, relaxed and at ease.

Unfortunately, however, my blunder in confronting her made all that impossible. Not only had I violated the ethics of my profession but I had made a complete fool of myself. So ashamed was I that I could not bring myself to face her. To avoid running into her, I stopped taking the subway to work and, instead, chose to go by bus.

Then, one balmy summer day as I was getting off the elevator on my way to lunch, she was sitting on a bench by the opposite wall. Frozen in place at the sight of her, I could not flee even though shame for my past behavior demanded that I do so. She got up and slowly walked over to me. "At long last we meet again," she said softly.

Unable to move, I stared across at her in disbelief.

"Are you okay?" she asked.

"Yes. I'm fine," I lied, coming to my senses. "I wasn't expecting you."

"You'll never know how many times before I've stopped by hoping to run into you." Her voice was calm; her gaze, steady.

My mouth dropped open. "You're kidding?"

"No," she replied, shaking her head. "I wanted to thank you."

"Thank me? For what?"

"For getting through this thick head of mine just what a scheming, roguish Svengali Ryan Goodman was." Although I said nothing, the look on my face prompted her to say, "You appear surprised?"

I heaved a long heavy sigh. "Unfortunately, in trying to convince you, I violated the most important rule of the counselor-client relationship. But, then again, you already reminded me of that."

Pensively, she ran a hand across her cheek. "Yes, so I did."

I broke the awkward silence between us. "The truth is I was jealous of him."

"But why?"

"Because he had your love firmly within his grasp and nothing I could say or do could shake it loose," I burst out. "I wanted to seize it for myself."

She stared across at me in disbelief. "I--I didn't know how you felt."

"How could you? You were in love with another." I could not bring myself to mention Ryan Goodman by name.

Dipping her head slightly, she said, "I'm sorry, I really am."

"I sat across from you on the train every morning, always wondering why you were looking so sad and lonely," I confessed, my voice simmering with passion, "longing to bring a smile to your face, and dreaming of sweeping you up into my arms and smothering you with kisses."

Remorsefully, she shook her head. "All the while I was oblivious to you, Dr. Roberts," she murmured.

"Forget the doctor jazz, will you?" My words were playful but their meaning was not. "My friends call me Jack and, frankly, as you can see, I consider you more than that."

Her brown eyes caught and held my blue ones. "Love is blind, Jack. It was only after he and Dr. Redgrave ran off together that I, as the saying goes, saw the light." Moving closer to me, she took my hand and whispered, "You want to see something?"

Tingling at the warmth of her touch, I asked, "What's that?"

For the first time since I had set eyes upon her, a smile toyed at the corners of her mouth. "How's that for a beginning?" she asked, looking up at me.

"I'll take it," I replied, matching her smile with one of my own.

Then, hand in hand, as we went out to enjoy one another's company over lunch, I swear I heard strains of that favorite song of mine:

Hey there, lonely girl, lonely girl,

Let me make your broken heart like new. . .

Ever since he broke your heart you seem so lost.

Each time you pass my way

Oh, how I long to take your hand

And say don't cry; I'll kiss your tears away.

Hey there, lonely girl, my lonely girl,

Let me make your broken heart like new.

Hey there, lonely girl, lonely girl, . . .

You think that only his two lips can kiss your lips

And make your heart stand still.

But once you're in my arms you'll see

No one can kiss your lips the way I will. . . .

# # #

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