Chapter no 16

Never Lie

I’m running late.

I tap my fingers impatiently on the steering wheel. This is not like me. I pride myself on always being prompt. But I was finishing up the last chapter of my proof copy of The Anatomy of Fear, and I just couldn’t stop reading. I’m so incredibly proud of that book. It’s a conglomeration of the personal accounts of several patients who have survived intense fear-inducing incidents and my expert analysis, as well as advice to readers who may have experienced something similar.

This book will really help people. It’s my crowning achievement.

The light in front of me turns from yellow to red—good God, it will take an eternity to wait for another green light at this intersection. Without thinking about it, I shove my foot onto the gas pedal to breeze through seconds after the light has turned. I hold my breath for a second, bracing myself for the sound of police sirens.

But they don’t come.

Technically, I went through a red light. While I don’t endorse breaking the law, there are mental health benefits to doing so. A psychological study demonstrated that cheating or breaking rules resulted in an unexpectedly good mood afterward. As well as a brief sense of freedom from all rules. So perhaps we should all bend the rules sometimes.

I reach the mall parking lot with one minute to spare until my clinic begins. I don’t advertise this fact, but once a week, I volunteer my time at a low-income clinic in the Bronx. I handle medication management for patients with serious psychiatric issues. I’m the only psychiatrist they have at the clinic, and these patients are desperate for my help. Many have been waiting years to see a trained psychiatrist.

The sessions I have at my house are the ones that pay the bills. And while I do have some challenging patients who have been through real trauma like some of the people in my latest book, the majority of my roster is composed of unfulfilled housewives of rich bankers or lawyers, or else their adult children like EJ, who are going to my sessions on their parents’ dime—a desperate attempt to push them out of the nest.

The patients at the free clinic need me. I make a real difference here. I even donated a sizable chunk of my book earnings to the clinic, when I found out that they were in financial trouble and might shut down.

It’s lunchtime and a beautiful day, so the strip mall parking lot is packed with cars. I’m already running late, and my blood pressure escalates as I cruise down three lanes in a row without finding any parking. There is a spillover lot, but it’s a ten-minute hike back to the clinic from there. The clinic has booked back-to-back patients and many of these appointments run over their meager allotted time, so I can’t afford to be late.

I finally see a spot at the end of the fourth aisle I check.

Thank God. I’ll only be about a minute late.

I roll down the aisle, making a beeline for the spot with my turn signal on. But a split second before I can get there, a red Jetta turns into the aisle, tires squealing. Before I can blink my eyes, the car dives into the empty spot.

I sit there in my Lexus, the turn signal still blinking. Usually, I don’t let things bother me. But I’ve got to get to

my clinic. My first patient is a schizophrenic who is convinced that he is Superman, and I want to see if the new dose of Geodon will be enough to keep him from making a flying leap off the roof of a building with the presumption that he will soar through the air. I don’t have time to spend the next ten minutes searching for parking.

So I do something I shouldn’t do. I lay the palm of my hand onto my horn and let it rip.

I know the second the sound rings out that it’s absolutely the wrong thing to do. Perhaps if I got out of the car and explained my dilemma, he might have listened. But then again, the driver knew I was waiting for that spot. He knew exactly what he was doing.

A man in his thirties with short hair and a pair of Ray-Ban’s pushed up the bridge of his nose gets out of his vehicle. I honk again. He grins at me with a mouth full of white teeth and sticks up his middle finger. Then he walks away.

He has a lot of nerve. As he walks right in front of my car, I muse to myself that all I would have to do is switch my foot from the brake to the gas, and it would change his entire world. It would wipe that smirk off his face, that’s for sure.

But I’m a civilized person. I will not mow down a pedestrian in the middle of a crowded parking lot.

What I’m going to do is calmly find another parking spot.

When I arrive at the clinic, I am huffing and puffing and sincerely regretting my choice of heels. I will certainly have blisters tonight, and after all that, I’m still fifteen minutes late. It’s an embarrassment. Not to mention my pink face, my hair coming loose from the French twist I carefully tied, and the beads of sweat on my forehead.

“Dr. Hale!” Gloria, the plump middle-aged receptionist, beams at me when I walk in. “How are you?”

Those three useless words. How does she think I am?

I’m sweating like a pig. “Is Mr. Harris in the room?”

“Actually, he rescheduled.” She smiles, revealing a gold filling right in front. “So you have five minutes until your first patient.”

I feel a rush of relief, accompanied by a flash of annoyance that Gloria couldn’t have called or texted me to inform me of the canceled visit. She manages to track down the phone number of every single eligible male in her family between the ages of thirty and fifty, but she can’t manage to give me a heads up about a cancellation.

“Hey, Adrienne. How’s it going?”

I swivel my head to the computer station behind the front desk, peering at the man navigating the screen with an ergonomic mouse. When I donated money to the clinic, part of it was earmarked to convert the entire clinic from paper records to electronic medical records. I found the entire paper system maddening, and it allowed things to fall through the cracks, to the detriment of my patients. And this man, Luke Strauss, has been enlisted to help the clinic transition. Technically, he works for the EMR company, but it seems like he has become a full-time employee at the clinic recently as the technologically illiterate clinicians struggle with the new system. I must admit that I am one of them, although in the end, it will pay off. Electronic medical records are the present—this clinic was living in the past.

“It’s been a rough morning,” I admit, because I believe Luke actually wants to know the answer.

“Yeah.” He cocks his head to the side. “I can see that.

How about some coffee?”

It is not in any way Luke’s job to get me coffee, but I know from experience that he will insist on getting it despite my protests. So instead, I nod. “Thank you.”

He winks at me. “One cream, no sugar.” He’s got it right. Not that I’m surprised.

Gloria follows Luke with her eyes as he darts back to the break room to pour me a cup of cheap coffee. When he’s out of sight, she grins at me. “He’s cute, isn’t he?”

I shrug because I don’t want to encourage her. Is Luke Strauss cute? I suppose some women would think so. Women who like men that walk around in dress shirts badly in need of ironing, a poorly knotted tie, dark brown hair that looks like he rolled out of bed five minutes ago, eyeglasses smudged at the edges, and jaws that should have been shaved yesterday. Would it kill him to tuck in his shirt? I rarely date, but when I do, I don’t date slobs. The best I can say is he smells of fresh soap. He’s a clean slob, but a slob nonetheless.

“And he likes you,” Gloria adds.

I pretend not to hear her. I don’t want to acknowledge that I am aware Luke likes me. However, I do not wish this relationship to progress past him fetching me coffee and showing me how to send a prescription for Seroquel to the outpatient pharmacy.

Luke returns with my cup of coffee. The liquid is black, and he’s brought me a little cup of cream on the side, as well as a stirring stick in the cup itself. I didn’t even have to tell him that’s how I wanted it. Somehow he figured out that I wanted to add the cream myself.

“Thank you,” I say.

The corner of his lips quirks up. “I hope that helps.”

I pour the container of cream into my coffee. I stir it slowly, until the black morphs into a tan color. I take a long sip and let out a sigh. “I needed that.”

“You must be exhausted, Doc,” Gloria remarks. “You got that big drive both ways. What is it—an hour?”

My fingers dig into my coffee cup. “Something like that.” Luke arches an eyebrow. “You live in Manhattan?”

“No, she doesn’t.” Gloria won’t let me get a word in edge-wise. “She lives out in Westchester. In a fancy schmancy house. All by herself.”

I silently curse the fact that Gloria is privy to my home address. But I appreciate that Luke didn’t know. He may have a pointless and irritating crush on me, but he’s not a stalker—I’ll give him that much.

“It’s not safe out there,” Gloria rambles on. “All by yourself, in the middle of nowhere. You probably don’t even have an alarm system.”

It’s an echo of what Paige said to me when she dropped off the proof copy of my book. Why is everyone so convinced I can’t take care of myself? “I’m fine. Really.”

“You know…” Luke looks up at me from the computer. He has long eyelashes for a man. “A security system isn’t a bad idea. I just put one in for my mother. It was easy, and now I feel like she’s a lot safer.”

Gloria shoots me a look as if to say, See? I told you that you need an alarm system. And also, Luke is such a wonderful son to his mother—don’t you want to go out with him?

I smile thinly. “I’ll think about it.”

I won’t think about it. I am perfectly fine the way I am.

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