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Bathrooms & Psychiatric Offices

By Sasha McCallum

Copyright 2017 Sasha McCallum

Smashwords Edition

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

About the Author

Other titles by Sasha McCallum

Connect with Sasha McCallum

Sample of The Reader & The Writer


Chapter 1

"Dr. Straub? Dr. Straub?"

Carly was all but shaking Alex by the shoulder.

"Please, don't call me that. It's Alex. I've told you before."

"Are you okay?"

"Yes. Of course."

"It's just that you've been standing there staring at the wall for like three full minutes, maybe more. You're totally spacing."

"I'm just waiting for a file to print off."

"Well ...okay, but nothing's happening. The printer's out of paper again. I can refill it now, but I'm going to need you to..." Carly gestured with her hands, "you know, back away from the copier. Also, there is a two o'clock waiting in your room."

"Oh, sorry. Have they been waiting long?"

"No, you're all good." Carly checked her tablet screen. "A Mrs. Forsyth. She's only just arrived. Her cat's stopped eating."

"Good, good. I'll be just a minute," and she hurried towards the restroom door.

She dreaded having to face another old cat woman. It was difficult for her even on her good days. Surely, she thought, it would be another one on its way out and she would be forced to try to comfort the poor, old lady with words of science which meant nothing. She was certain that some of these old people saw their ancient cats who had been their companions for so long dying as a prelude to their own demise. She sympathized, she understood, and hated it. There were too many thoughts in her head at once as she studied her reflection. I want to go home, she thought for the umpteenth time that day.

"No!" she said to her dark eyes in the mirror, not really meaning it to be out loud but liking how reassuringly determined she sounded. "There is a point to me being here ...even if I don't know what it is. I absolutely cannot just cop out and play hooky for the afternoon." Yes, that's more like it.

"I know how you feel."

What the hell? Mortified, Alex froze and stared into the mirror, as behind her an immaculately dressed woman emerged from one of the stalls and moved towards the sink beside her.

"Um ...this is embarrassing, I didn't realize there was someone else in here," she mumbled.

"You're having an existential crisis." It was a statement, not a question and Alex fumbled with the paper towels trying to avoid contact with the large, blue eyes peering at her in the mirror. "I've had a few of them myself. I understand it's pretty normal for someone with a decent brain. The way life goes for most of us is highly questionable."

"Yes, uh doubt." This strange woman was being awfully familiar with her. Maybe she felt sorry for her. Perhaps she saw danger in Alex's desperation. Alex looked at her sideways. "It's all a game where we go insane," she said lamely, then felt stupid and hurried out of the ladies room with an apologetic glance over her shoulder.

She bustled into her clinic, putting a show of hurried professionalism on for old Mrs. Forsyth.

"Right, sorry to..." The room was empty save a small carrier cage, where two pale eyes peeped from the front bars. Alex scanned the room again; no, she was alone. She looked at the tiny, crouched figure in the cage and did an immediate assessment -half-closed, weepy eyes, fur bristled, slight tremor. Might be pneumonia, might not.

"Where's your old Mom gone then, hey puss?" She fingered his fur between the bars.

"You've met Stone-age," a familiar voice said from the door and Alex whirled around to find herself face to face again with the woman from the restroom. "I'm his 'old Mom'." She smiled at Alex.

"Wow, we are getting off to the worst start." Alex was blushing now. This is terrible, she thought wretchedly, while at the same time was relieved her client wasn't a fragile geriatric who might be devastated by bad news.

"Just one of those days, huh? So you are the vet? You're a doctor? I thought you people wore lab coats..." She was looking Alex up and down in a way that made her feel only slightly uncomfortable. She crossed the room, pulled her coat off a hook and slipped it over her shoulders.

"Better?" She reached over and put her hand out to the woman. "I'm Alex Straub. Yes, I'm one of the vets here."

"Alex, hello. Lily Forsyth." She took Alex's hand and shook it slowly then quickly withdrew looking embarrassed. Alex wondered fleetingly if her hands were clammy but they felt fine to her. "This is Stone-age," Lily continued, "my stepson’s cat. He hasn't eaten anything for three days. Just a bit of water now and then. He's not moving much either. Jacob loves him, so do I truth be told, though I rarely admit it." She smiled sheepishly and Alex noticed the dimples that formed to the sides of her mouth.

Oh Christ, she's beautiful, she thought, and felt her heart skip a beat. They stood staring at each other for several seconds before Alex remembered to breath and shifted her gaze toward the cage.

When she lifted Stone-age gently out of his cage and began to examine him on the table his owner approached too and watched what she was doing closely. It was very distracting for Alex to have this woman ...Lily, so close. How odd, she thought. It had been such a long time since she had felt even a twinge for anyone. Why today? Why this woman? She could smell her perfume with her so close and it was quite intoxicating. Lily's face flashed through her mind, her dimples etched into her smooth, creamy skin as she had smiled. She had light brown hair pulled into a French twist and big, clear, blue eyes which radiated sincerity.

"How old are you, Mrs. Forsyth?"

"How old am I?" The other woman looked startled.

Alex winced and quickly corrected herself. "Excuse me, how old is Stone-age?"

After some questions and completing the examination Alex knew her initial diagnosis had been correct. She explained the situation to Lily Forsyth, and tried to reassure her.

"For a cat of this age it's not a death sentence. Keep him inside, warm, and well watered. I can prescribe him a broad spectrum antibiotic to treat the infection which he'll need to take twice a day."

"Are they tablets?"

"Yes. I can dispense them directly from the clinic and add it to your invoice, if that's okay with you?"

"Of course. But he's not eating. How do I get him to take them if I can't put them in his food?"

"Oh, ya veo. Come, I'll show you with his first pill. Could you hold on to him?" Lily grasped him gently and Alex demonstrated how to get him to swallow the pill. "You have to get your finger between his back teeth and put the pill as far back on his tongue as you can then push his mouth closed. As a reflex he'll be forced to swallow it. It's a normal practice and it doesn't bother them. I know it seems cruel to someone who hasn't done it before..."

"No. You did that really well. He's not fussed at all." Lily seemed surprised.

"I think somehow they understand that you're trying to help them. You'll be able to do it with his next pill?"

"I think so. Thank you."

"You are very welcome."

"How are you feeling?"

"What? Oh mean the thing in the ladies. I'm fine really, it's an integral part of my daily routine, nothing to worry about," Alex chuckled.

"Well, I'm glad you didn't run off for the day."

They walked out to the reception area together and Alex tried to scorch the woman's gorgeous figure into her brain. "He should start eating again within a couple of days, but if not, bring him back in, okay?"

"Sure, thank you so much."

Alex nodded and turned to walk back to her clinic but Lily put a hand on her arm and stopped her.

"Would you like to have coffee sometime?"

Alex raised her eyebrows in surprise. "Um ...aren't you married?"

"Oh God, I'm not coming on to you or anything, I just think you seem like an interesting person. I especially liked that little speech you gave yourself in the mirror. I'd like to talk to you more, but if I'm out of line, I apologize."

Her eyes were so beautiful, so penetrating, Alex couldn't really help herself.

"Yeah ...sure, I mean I guess it couldn't hurt. You have your cell?" Lily reached into her bag and handed Alex her phone.

"Okay. That's my number. I'm here every day except Sunday and I usually break for lunch around 1pm. We could meet then, if it suits you."

Lily took her phone back and gave Alex the most dazzling smile.

"You'll be hearing from me. Count on it," she said and whisked past Alex, disappearing through the front doors. Alex stared after her, a bit dazed and still surrounded by a cloud of her delicious scent. That was very weird, she thought, and trudged back towards the depths of the building, shrugging at Carly's questioning look from the reception area.


Alex felt a distinct unease at having given her number away so easily for a while after first meeting Lily Forsyth but by the following Thursday she had removed the encounter from her forethoughts, ideas of seeing the other woman again replaced by the monotony of her work days and the blandness of her personal life. Which was, of course, just when she received a text message from an unknown number.

Alex, hi. This is Lily from the clinic last week. Can I pick you up for lunch today?

A wave of anxiety and shock made Alex's knees momentarily weak. She sagged back against her table and allowed herself a few moments to think about how boring her personal life really was. A simple lunch with a married woman was not a big deal for most people, and even Alex needed friends. She knew it would be good for her to agree to it, despite the warning bells going off in her head. She added Lily's number to her contact list and replied quickly and sparingly before she had time to reconsider.

Hello Lily. Sure. Meet me here at the clinic at 1pm?

The reply was almost instantaneous.

CU then :-)

Alex checked her watch. Now to get through the next three hours without having a nervous breakdown. She marched out to reception and approached Carly.

"Finished your break already?" Carly smiled up at her.

"Yes. How's the day looking? I need to keep really busy until one."

"Yeah? Well..." Carly scanned the screen in front of her. "You've got four dogs, and uh ...three cats booked in from 10.30am. But actually, Petersons got overflow as usual. I'm sure he'd appreciate it if you took some of his backlog."

"Happy to." The morning went quickly as Alex immersed herself mainly in vaccinations and electronic tagging. She was completing some paperwork at her desk when she heard a light knock on her door. She glanced up expecting to see Carly with another file to handle, but it was Lily standing in the doorway looking tentative. Alex inhaled sharply as she took in the other woman's beauty. She thought she had remembered it well. She hadn't.

She stood up quickly and stammered, "Is it one already?"

"It is ...but you are busy." Lily's voice was silky smooth though she seemed cautious, even slightly disappointed.

"No, todo bien. I've been trying to keep busy since you texted. I guess it worked a bit too well." She pulled on her heavy, winter coat, grabbed her phone and bag and confronted Lily head on in the door frame.


"Hi." The famous dimples appeared then, transforming Lily's face.

"Lunch, yes?" Alex returned her smile.

"Right." Lily turned and they made their way out to the car park at the front of the building.

"Wow, nice car!" Alex said as Lily led her to a white Mercedes.

"Yes, one of the perks of marrying into money," Lily said grimly.

"One of many, I should think." Alex climbed into the passenger side and inhaled the immaculate interior.

"So I was thinking of this Italian place a couple of blocks down. Is that okay?"

"Yeah, where ever. I normally don't eat much lunch. I'm not a big eater period."

"I can tell. There's nothing to you."

Alex grimaced and felt Lily glance her way as she pulled expertly out of the car park. "That came out wrong. You're gorgeous looking ...but you make me feel like feeding you."

They spent the next few minutes in silence as Alex contemplated this strange mixture of compliment and insult. I think too much, she chided herself, and decided their silence was more genial than uncomfortable. Lily parked the car and they headed toward a small Italian bistro.

"I've passed this place a million times and have never been in," Alex scanned the warm interior. "It's nice."

A young waiter led them to a table, handed them menus and then disappeared into the back. Normally this would be the part where Alex's nerves would be getting the better of her but all she could do at that point was notice again how lovely the face opposite her was. There was a tiny candle flickering in a glass at the center of the table. Fleetingly Alex wondered if she was dreaming.

"Does anything in particular appeal to you?" Lily asked meeting her eyes.

"Oh ...uh, you mean food-wise..." Alex looked down at her menu unseeing, thinking only that Lily had caught her staring. "I'll just have the Mediterranean salad," she mumbled. Lily's order was somewhat more substantial and Alex couldn't help but be impressed, wondering how she managed to keep her figure. The waiter disappeared, leaving them to stare at each other in silence again.

"How is Stone-age?" Alex enquired, desperate for something to ease the quiet.

"Doing well. He still isn't eating as much as usual but you did say recovery would be slow. Jacob is thrilled. Thank you for asking." Alex nodded and took a sip of water. "Can be honest with you?" Lily continued.

Alex raised her eyebrows. "Of course," she said warily but nonetheless curious.

Lily stared at the jug of water in front of them and fiddled with the silver chain around her neck. She suddenly seemed quite vulnerable.

"The truth is I felt very silly about it the night after I asked you for coffee. I looked at your number over and over again thinking you hadn't really wanted to give it to me, that you'd done it not to hurt my feelings. You seem like that kind of person. I don't mean a push-over, just like someone who wants to avoid pain where ever possible. I guessed I'd read too much into you and now I was second-guessing myself for doing it. I have too much time on my hands, I suppose." She paused and Alex absorbed this new information, surprised at Lily's openness. "My point is, I'm sorry for putting you on the spot like that. I think my social etiquette might be somewhat out of the range of ...normal."

Alex chuckled slightly to herself but then saw the nervous sincerity in Lily's expression.

"Sorry but, and this might make you feel better, I'm not really within the 'normal' range myself when it comes to dealing with people."

"You? But you deal with people all day."

"That's different. It's work. And even then my bedside manner is kind of terrible. I'm trying to get better but very few of the clinics clients want to interact with me on a personal level. I can't have made a very good first impression on you either. I was so nervous about this lunch I took on extra work this morning to distract myself from having a heart attack."

Lily leaned back in her chair and stared openly at Alex.

"May I ask why you said yes? I mean if some stranger asked me for coffee I would have made up one excuse or another for sure. Did you feel sorry for me?"

"God, no. You don't seem the type anyone would feel sorry for. In fact I was thinking the same thing about you. That you were some random do-gooder who was worried about that pathetic scene you witnessed in the clinics bathroom."

Lily laughed lightly. "That particular scene did grab my interest. But not because I thought it was pathetic. It was just ...real. But you still haven't answered my question."

"You're very direct, you know. Um ...I guess there were a couple of reasons." Alex chose her words carefully. "The first and foremost is that my therapist thinks I need to interact with people more on a personal level. She thinks I isolate myself too much and it's having a detrimental effect on my health and well-being."

"Sounds like we have the same therapist. Mine says things like that to me all the time. He's a man though." Alex breathed a sigh of relief, this was turning out easier than she had expected. "So what's the detrimental effect on your health supposed to be?"

"I'm depressed. I'm depressed because I never do anything and I never do anything because I'm depressed."

"Ah yes, the vicious cycle. I know it well."

"You do?" Alex couldn't hide her surprise.

"Of course ...but you have a job. You do plenty."

"It's not enough. I'm supposed to be making an effort with people socially. I was thinking of getting a new therapist. On the other hand, she got me here, talking to you. That's something, isn't it?"

"Yes, it certainly is."

"Don't you work too?" Alex asked, wanting to keep the conversation flowing as long as possible.

"No. I never have. I got married when I was nineteen. Frank was very, very wealthy and I knew then that I would never have to work. But I feel quite useless sometimes. And genuinely lonely."

"Why? Nineteen is young to marry but it seems like you've got it good. A wealthy husband, a stepson you seem fond of." A shadow crossed over Lily's features and she suddenly looked quite deflated. "What's wrong?"

"I'm like you I suppose. I never talk to anyone. But I'm sure you have at least some friends."

"Not really. A few from my past but I generally avoid people. It's a weakness. Are you a nihilist as well?"

"A common 21st century problem. If you study life without meaning you start to need medical help. I take it you haven't accepted Jesus Christ as your lord and personal savior?"

"I ...No... I was raised in the church but no ...I'm not..." Alex looked at Lily wondering how to put it delicately but the other woman was smirking at her. "You're joking." Alex felt the tension drop as Lily laughed at her.

"You should have seen your face. You looked like you'd just been given two months to live."

"You idiot. That could have been super awkward."

"Sorry, I couldn't resist." Alex shook her head at Lily in feigned disapproval and she continued more seriously. "So people... I think marrying someone like Frank left me quite alienated from my peers, even my family. This could be the first real conversation I've had with someone my own age in ...possibly years. Damn, that's hard to believe, even for me."

"I don't understand. What about your husband?"

"Big age difference there." Lily waved a dismissive hand as the waiter arrived carrying platters.

"Are you sure that's enough?" Alex was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of food.

"I know you said just a salad but you should try some of this." Lily scooped steaming spaghetti onto Alex's plate and waited looking expectant. Alex tried a mouthful.

"Mm. Nice." Lily was pleased, her dimples appeared.

"What about you, Alex? I see you are not wearing a ring. Are you completely unattached?"

"Uh ..." Alex swallowed and dabbed at her mouth. "Yes, I have no interest in getting married or having children. I've lost interest in relationships. I think it has something to do with the medications I take, but even before that I had given up."

"Hmm, you're too young to have given up on relationships."

"Why? People suck."

"I would have to agree with you there," Lily laughed. "You've got the right idea concentrating on animals. Much more loyal, far less of a threat."


"So... You like women?" Alex almost choked and struggled to regain her composure, wiping sauce from her mouth and hand. Lily was highly amused. "Sorry, I just thought you might. Judging by how you reacted when I asked you for coffee. You thought I was hitting on you."

"You are refreshingly straight-forward. Yes, I like women. But don't worry, I'm not going to jump you."

"Ha-ha... It's nice you can be so open about it."

"I'm not really, I just don't lie. You asked me, remember."

"I did, yes." She studied Alex curiously. "It seems like I was right about you."

"What do you mean?"

"You aren't a game-player or a liar."

"And you are very strange."

"Should I take that as a compliment?"

"Strange is good," Alex nodded, trying to concentrate on her plate.

They chewed in pleasant silence for a while, the lull in conversation giving Alex a chance to observe her surroundings properly. The atmosphere had a tranquility to it; there were only a few other patrons, all keeping to themselves, chatting quietly. Most of the light was coming from the stark snow-spattered pavement outside the front window panes, but inside it was warm, with an actual open fire burning in the back wall. Alex thought she should come in here more often, she loved fire.

"May I ask you a personal question?" Lily said.

"Like you haven't already," Alex chuckled. "Sure, go ahead."

"What medications are you taking?"

"Ah ...antidepressants, anxiolytics ...nothing too serious. I've had trouble functioning in the past because of depression and insomnia." She paused, trying to gauge Lily's reaction, but couldn't see any judgment in her watchful gaze. "I suffered a kind of emotional breakdown a couple of years ago, followed by a suicide attempt. Ever since then I've not questioned whether I should be on the meds or not. I take them. They keep me stable."

"Shit," Lily put her fork down and wiped her hands. "I would never have imagined that about you. I'm sorry I asked you something so private ...but I am happy you trusted me enough to tell me about it."

"It's in the past and you didn't seem like you would judge me." Alex forked a cherry tomato into her mouth.

"No, I wouldn't ...not for that."

"You're looking at me funny."

"Sorry." Lily returned her attention to her food.

"How old is your stepson?"

"Smooth change of subject. He's 11. You like kids?"

"I love kids."

"Really? Why haven't you ever wanted any of your own?"

"Labor scares the hell out of me ...I remember those videos they used to show us at school, I've been freaked out by it ever since. Plus, I don't like my genetic propensities."

"What propensities would those be?"

"Just what I said before. I wouldn't want to put another child through the same thing I dealt with growing up. As soon as I hit puberty depression kicked in. I think it's from my maternal grandmother. I never met her but my Mom told me she was schizophrenic."

"Schizophrenia and depression are hardly the same thing."

"Major depression can easily spiral into psychosis, especially for someone with a genetic predisposition. My point is, no, I've never wanted a child of my own." Alex felt a strong need to change the topic of conversation. "What kind of ancestry are you from, Lily?"

"I'm not entirely sure. I think I remember something about my great grandparents being from Sweden originally. But I was born and raised here, as were my parents. You're Spanish, right?"

"My mother was. How did you know that?"

"You have an interesting habit of dropping Spanish words into your sentences. And you look a bit Spanish. I mean, your skins so pale, but only because it never sees the sun, I think."

"You are pale too. I guess we're both vampires."

Lily laughed. "True. I prefer night time." She glanced out the window at the snow. "And winter."

"So few of us prefer the cold." Alex nodded her approval. "So, you don't have any biological children?"

"No. I'm not big on kids, noisy and messy. Jacob is different, we were thrown together and I've grown to love him. He's shy, quiet, and very smart. He doesn't like people much either. I've never seen him so attached to something as he is to that cat. And his computer."

"What do you do for entertainment?"

"Ugh, nothing noteworthy. I read a lot, watch movies. And I binge watch TV shows. I have to watch them all at once or I get impatient and frustrated."

"Me too. What have you been watching lately?"

"Let's see. There was Orphan Black, Sense8 and called Fortitude."

"Fortitude, that's the one set in Norway or something, right?"

"You've seen it? Wow, I threw that one in as a wild card, you must watch a lot too. And you work six days a week. I wouldn't have thought you'd have the time."

"If I have trouble sleeping at night I put something on. It helps me relax and chases the bad dreams away."

"So true. What was the other reason you decided to come?"


"You said there were two reasons you decided to come today. What was the other?"

"You ask a lot of questions."

"A side-effect of not talking much, maybe. Is it annoying?"

"Not really. Not today, with you." Alex marveled at how little Lily's inquisitiveness did actually bother her. "I wasn't just blindly following doctor’s orders. I do struggle with people, nihilism, and disappointment. You asked and you seemed sincere ...on some level I thought I'd be safer saying yes than saying no. It might have been your dimples. You're so beautiful."

"You think I'm beautiful?"

"You are, you must know that." Alex realized Lily's expression had blanked over for the first time all afternoon and she thought she must have gone too far, said too much. "I didn't mean anything by it," Alex tried to reassure her and looked at her watch. "Oh Christ, it's past two. I really need to make a phone call and wash up. Sorry, I'll just be a minute." She rose from the table and headed to the foyer, dialing the clinic on her way. She got Carly on the phone and apologized to her explaining she'd be back shortly then pushed her way into the ladies room and scrubbed at her hands. Her reflection didn't appear nearly as frazzled as she felt as she half-heartedly applied some lip gloss. She shouldn't have said those things to Lily, she knew. The lunch had gone fairly well up until that point. What's done is done, she sighed to herself.

She was just going to leave the bathroom when the door pushed inwards and Lily appeared in front of her.

"We've got to stop meeting like this. No speeches in the mirror this time, I swear," Alex tried to make light of the situation. "Are you good to give me a lift back to the clinic?"

Lily, still expressionless stepped slowly towards Alex until she found herself backed against the wall.

"Um ...we should go, shouldn't we?" she ventured, unsure what was happening. "Lily?"

"Please, can I just be close to you ...just for a moment." And Alex felt Lily's body, breasts pressing lightly against hers. She could feel her breath against her neck and how close her lips were to touching her skin. She shivered involuntarily as Lily whispered "God, you smell so good," into her ear. When she brought her head back to look into Alex's eyes, her own were filled with open longing. Her lips found Alex's and she whimpered audibly as Alex returned her kiss. It was so soft, so gentle, exploratory, and her hands went to the soft, creamy skin of Lily's neck.

The kiss couldn't have lasted more than a few seconds before she felt Lily pull away. Alex, back still pressed against the wall, stood looking at Lily, both of them breathing unsteadily.

"I'm so sorry," Lily said, unable to account for her actions. "So, so sorry. I shouldn't have done that. I don't know what came over me."

Alex threw her hands up, part in surrender, part in exasperation. "It's okay. It's nothing, really. Let's forget it. We should just go." Lily looked defeated and miserable and nodded.

"Of course. I'll take you back." Alex led the way to the counter but Lily took her arm and guided her past it and out of the doors. "It's okay. I've settled the bill."

The five minute car ride back to Alex's mundane work day was quiet as she struggled to come up with something to ease the tension. When Lily dropped her off, she killed the engine and Alex knew she had to say something to make this right. She looked over at Lily.

"I ruined it, didn't I? You must have just got confused because of what I said to you at the table. So, I'm sorry. The last thing I wanted was for us to feel uncomfortable around each other."

"You didn't do anything wrong. I did."

"It doesn't matter." Alex thought that for a moment there it hadn't felt wrong at all.

"Yes. It does."

"But I enjoyed talking to you today." Lily finally looked over at Alex and she was astonished to see tears welling up in her big, blue eyes. "What's wrong? Please, don't feel bad." Lily leaned over and gave Alex a half hug.

"I liked talking to you too. Maybe I could call you ...?"

"Anytime," Alex smiled reassuringly at her. "Thank you for lunch." She got out of the car and watched Lily speed away, leaving her to her confusion and a vague sense of yearning and loss.


The following Monday as Alex was about to leave work for the evening she caught Carly looking at her strangely as she approached reception with the last of the daily files. She returned the look enquiringly.


"Nothing, it's just... What happened to you last week? You had that late lunch on Thursday and you've been acting different since. Other people are starting to notice." Carly paused and Alex frowned at her and shook her head.

"I never know what you're talking about, Carly."

"It was that woman, wasn't it?"

"Excuse me?"

"The client. The one with the cat had lunch with her. What happened?"

"Don't be impertinent, it doesn't suit you."

"She was gorgeous and obviously into you." Alex was shocked and quite speechless. "Something must've happened." Alex shot her a warning glance.

"Everybody's a psychologist," she said incredulously. "Watch it, I got you hired, remember?"

"Alright, alright. But something's up with you."

"I'm tired, that's all," she reported drearily. She sighed and rubbed at her temples. "I'm off. See you tomorrow."

"Yup. Have a good one."

Alex smiled at her wearily as she left. Carly wasn't exactly a friend, but she was nice, simple. And it was daringly kind of her to inform Alex that other people had noticed a change in her behavior. She had felt different the last few days, though in what specific way she wasn't sure. It was a kind of shell-shock, a bizarre feeling that she should contact the beautiful woman who had accosted her in a bathroom the previous week along with a terrible insecurity that it would be both unwise and unwanted. So she waited. She knew eventually this dazed sensation would dissipate and boredom would set back in.

Later that night she surprised herself and sent a text message to Lily Forsyth.

I was just watching season 5 of orphan black and I thought of you. I hope u r doing okay? -Alex

She would probably regret it in the morning but at least she had made an effort.

Around midmorning the next day Lily texted her back.

Hey you. Thnx for the text. Yeah, I'm okay. I was happy to hear from you. I'd like to talk. Can I call you tonight? If so, what's a good time?

Hmm, interesting, Alex thought.

Yeah, course, any time after 7.30 is good.

Okay, catch u later.

At exactly 7.35 that evening, just as Alex was peeling off her work clothes to put something more comfortable on, her cell phone rang and taking a couple of seconds to collect herself she answered on the fourth ring.

"Hi, Lily."

"Hey, Alex." Lily enquired after her week and made some brief small-talk. Her voice sounded so far away and Alex found herself imagining her face and expressions as she spoke. She pondered that now was as good a time as any to stop this infatuation in its tracks but Lily was barely letting her get a word in.

"You have no idea what a relief it was to hear from you again. I've been making myself crazy thinking about last week. What I did was so stupid of me."

"It's okay. You confused me that's all, I'm a pretty sensitive person. But I get it."

"No, I really don't think you do get it. I wanted to talk to you tonight because I feel like I should make some things clear to you. You opened up to me the other day and told me things that must have been difficult for you. I thought I should return the favor. That is, if you want to hear about me, which I would understand if you didn't ..."

"Yes, I'd like to hear about you. But you don't owe me anything. I'm just your vet. I mean, you seem to have this idyllic, perfect life and you probably don't need a wreck like me coming in and screwing anything up."

"My husband is dead," Lily blurted out as Alex was trying to formulate her meaning eloquently.


"My husband, Frank ...he died three years ago."

"Oh, I'm sorry." Alex wasn't, but she was surprised Lily hadn't said anything about this before.

"Don't be. Frank was a cruel and violent man. Even his own son doesn't miss him."

"Ah ...I really don't know what..." Alex had no idea how she was supposed to respond to this.

"I want you to understand that although I was young when I married him, I wasn't naive. I had seen the hateful side of him and I married him anyway ...purely and simply for money." Lily paused but Alex stayed quiet, frowning into her phone. "I'm sure that you're shocked, maybe even repulsed by such an admission." Then silence lapsed in which Alex could hear Lily's unsteady breathing.

"Why are you telling me this?" she finally managed to ask.

"Because I want to be as honest with you as you were with me. Because my life is neither perfect nor idyllic and I don't want you to think you're messing anything up."

"I was wondering why you hadn't mentioned it before. I guess you don't like to talk about it."

"I never talk about it. But you trusted me with something that's hard for you to talk about. I want to spend more time with you, but I would understand if you didn't want to. This is absolutely the worst thing about myself I have to say, but it's also not something I can hide for long. It's the big reason that I'm so unwilling to invite people into my life."

"You said he was a cruel man... You didn't kill him, did you?"

Lily let out a sound somewhere between a laugh and a sob.

"He died of heart failure. He was... Never mind about that, it was a natural death. But you understand what I'm saying don't you? I sold out. I sacrificed myself for money and now I hate who I am. For years I've been like a zombie, numb with self-loathing. I considered suicide as an option too, many times." She sounded choked up.

"What can I do?"

"Don't hate me."

Alex was finding it difficult to wrap her head around Lily's confession but she didn't hate her. She was already trying to make excuses for her behavior in her head and imagining how years of guilt can change a person drastically. But she could think of little to convince Lily that she didn't hate her.

"You know, I've just found this TV series I've never seen before called American Housewife. It looks funny. Do you want to come watch it with me sometime?" It was the one bone she could think of throwing Lily at this point.

"Really?" Lily sniffled.

"Yeah, if you want. If you haven't seen it."

"I haven't. Where? When?"

"I don't know." Alex laughed, relieved she'd said the right thing to change the mood of the weepy woman on the other end of the line. "How is your Saturday night looking? Or Sunday?"

"Free. Completely."

"Cool. Around 8pm Saturday? It seems like we both need some time off of the serious stuff. A couple of drinks if you feel like it. I'll text you my address, okay?"

"Hey, Alex? Thanks."

"No problem. You'll see, we can have a few laughs for once."

When they said goodbye and Alex rung off she wasn't in one of her highly anxious states that usually kept her awake all night. She didn't feel like over-thinking or dwelling on the conversation she'd had and slept easily and dreamlessly.

Chapter 2

At forty minutes past six on Wednesday evening Alex was sitting in her psychiatrist’s office staring blankly at the bespectacled older woman opposite her.

"Alex?" Dr. Stansfield said. "Alex, you've been sitting there in silence for...," she glanced at the clock on the wall, "...two minutes. What's wrong? Talk to me."

"Something happened." Alex wasn't sure where to start but it seemed once she got going it was easy to divulge the story of Lily Forsyth. As she spoke the words out loud she found herself becoming more and more distressed, her voice reaching a crescendo of anxiety until she stopped her rant in mid-sentence, ashamed of her overwrought pitch. She was quite close to blubbering but, after all, if she could be honest about the intensity of her feelings anywhere, it was here. Dr. Stansfield sat listening placidly and now she whistled through her teeth.

"Whew. You've had quite a week then. I think that's the most you've ever told me about your practical activities." She gave Alex a reassuring smile. "Take a few deep breaths and let me tell you what I see." Alex nodded her on. "Good. Let's take a step back and evaluate these circumstances with respect to why you are here and the problems you first came to me with. Let's look at this simplistically. You have a problem with depression, yes? That problem is exacerbated by your social isolation which has been self-imposed since your breakdown. You agreed you needed to and were going to make more of an effort with people in order to combat this isolation. Now, when you told me you had met someone who seemed eager to be friends and you had agreed to meet and socialize with her, I was pleased. This is progress for someone in your position. You realize that, don't you?"

"What happened was more than just a social interaction. It wasn't quite what we discussed. It was complicated. It is complicated."

"It does seem to have turned out that way, true. But nothing ever goes as planned, Alex. Having such a 'complicated', as you put it, outcome to one of your first real efforts at human contact on a personal level since your recovery is surprising and I can understand why and how it has stressed you out so much. On the other hand, you are a rather a complicated person and it may be that you are always going to illicit complex reactions from others, or in this case, attract another person who's also complicated."

"I can see that is not a very comforting thing for you to hear at this point. Alright. Let's look at it another way. If you are going to be opening yourself up to friendships this kind of thing will, on occasion, be inevitable. You are young and attractive. Other people, even old and unattractive ones like me have to deal with it too. In your case it feels so overwhelming because you are unused to putting yourself out there, but it may be something you will have to develop a thicker skin about. Having said that, and purely from an outsiders perspective, the feelings you associate with this encounter were clearly mutual. I'm here for you of course. You're taking tentative steps into what is for you, at this time in your life, something of a wilderness. But I have to ask... Was it really that bad? It sounds exciting, and excitement doesn't always have to be expressed negatively."

"But she's a gold-digger, Dr. Stansfield. She came right out with it. I'm not just being paranoid, I have good reason to be worried, don't I? Surely I'm just the next thing that she feels like playing with. Why the hell did I invite her to my house to watch fucking TV with me? What the hell am I doing?"

"Why did you ask her?" Dr. Stansfield peered at her. "Think about it, Alex. Why did you ask her?" Alex leaned back and thought carefully.

"She seems so lonely and sad. But that could be just a ruse. If she's lying about it then I may have opened myself up to some kind of predator. If she's not, then she's vulnerable and only wants to spend time with me because she's so desperate for company ...which is just sad for me." Dr. Stansfield looked as if she was trying very hard not to laugh. "Ah! Why do I always end up feeling like I'm here purely for your entertainment?"

"My apologies. Maybe she just likes you. It does seem like this woman did her best to be honest with you. And you, Alex, have you been completely honest with her?"

"Yes. What do you mean?"

"Have you told her about your problems with relating to people in the past? You may be able to gloss over the facts about your life, but you haven't always had a heart of gold either. And in a logical sense it's probably the reason why you're always so worried about other people victimizing you somehow."

"I don't do that anymore," Alex said sulkily. "Anyway, I think you're exaggerating a bit."

"That's hardly the point. We both know you're too smart to lie to people directly. No, what you do is manipulate conversations in a way that points people toward what you're comfortable about revealing and away from what you're uncomfortable with. It's textbook stuff, and may I remind you that when I first started seeing you it was that particular part of yourself you disliked the most. I think you should be careful of re-establishing habits that have been intrinsic to your nature for most of your life and of over-differentiating between yourself and the rest of the world."

"That's awful. I haven't gained anything from my problem, just the opposite, I used it to drive people away."

"I'm only iterating a point. Every single person on the planet has a dark side. Accepting that part of someone is to truly have them in your life."

Alex lapsed into silence but found the doctors voice reflected her own inner logic and was starting to breathe more easily.

"I think for now, I will only ask you to examine why you jump to such negative conclusions about things like this. And then perhaps to consider, if you do see this woman again, to make your feelings or thoughts on the subject abundantly clear -to her, yes, but the same goes for anyone who in the future may make you feel this way. To be a worthy friend you must know each other in all sincerity without being afraid of frightening each other off."

"But this is exactly the kind of thing I've been trying to avoid by staying away from people. You can see that, can't you? How fucking weird it is, that something like this happens the first time I try to make a friend. I'm telling you I feel like I'm at the mercy of unknown forces!"

"And I'm telling you that the 'unknown forces' you are at the mercy of are your own emotions." Dr. Stansfield pulled her glasses from her nose and peered at Alex. "Alex, you know as well as I do that you've been asked for 'coffee' many times before and many times you've declined. Why did you say yes to this woman? Because you felt chemistry with her. Of all my patients you are close to the top of the list of those least comfortable with or willing to admit their emotions. You are responsible for getting yourself into that situation and now you must accept responsibility to remove yourself from it... If need be."

"What do you mean, 'if need be'?"

"I don't believe you should run away and hide. It's what you've always done and it hasn't worked out for you. Quite the contrary. You must face your emotions head on. Feel them, Alex. If you don't they will come back and bite you in the form of anxiety and depression. Neither you nor I want that. For the past year we've had your depression under reasonably good control and I believe we've reached a reliable balance with your medications. Would you agree with that?"

"I would, yes."

"Alright. Which leaves us to work with the mechanisms for improvement we've discussed which don't involve meds." The doctor paused and looked thoughtful. "What would you say you are most afraid of if you do continue contact with this woman?"

"More of this. Distress, confusion; a rollercoaster of emotions which could set me back on the same road I was on two years ago. What if she hurts me? What if I hurt her? What if ...what if I fall in love?"

"All valid worries, certainly. And risks you have to take in any relationship. I would always advise caution. But what if she turns out to be a great friend? What if she saves you from yourself? Isn't that our real goal here, to bring you not up to a level where you are merely surviving day by day, but to a level where you might actually achieve some degree of happiness?"

"Perhaps I ask too much of life. I don't want to risk falling into a trap and losing everything I've gained over the last couple of years. My sanity."

"I think it's good that you can admit you are afraid of that. To me and to yourself. That level of understanding will allow you to assimilate your fear into your everyday interactions, which will take it out of this office, out of your subconscious and directly into the effort to gain and maintain healthy, honest relationships."

"You make a lot of sense. You're not telling me anything I don't already know, but it does help hearing it from you."

Dr. Stansfield laughed.

"You're one of my most intelligent patients, Alex, but you do intellectualize everything. Remember, when you're in emotionally charged situations logic has no bearing and that is when you have to be strong. Anyway, I thought you didn't believe in love?"

"I don't believe in good love. I believe quite strongly in bad love." The doctor laughed again.

"You have a lot of character and I have trust that things are going to turn out better for you in the future. I know you don't believe me, but I've seen the progress you've made and I'm well aware of the strength you have in you." She became serious. "Be that as it may, if you feel anything destructive rising to the surface before our next appointment you will call me, yes?"

Alex nodded. Mixed messages are a part of life, she said to herself, repeating her therapists mantra; no more black and white thinking, Alex.

"You're still here, Alex. After everything you've been through you are still here. Your insecurities about your past and yourself are getting in the way of you living life to your full potential. Don't let them. Of course be cautious with others, but try to entertain a little optimism for a change."

"So you believe I should not cut off contact with Lily?"

"That's up to you. If you do see her again, be honest about boundaries. Our goal is to get you mixing more, and next time you try it could be with someone a lot less interesting." Alex narrowed her eyes at the secretive smile playing on the doctor’s lips.

She's right, though. I might as well see how this plays out.

“How is work? Any problems there …?”


When Alex buzzed Lily up to her apartment on Saturday night she was in her usual state of total panic.

"Hey, come in," she said as she opened the door and rushed back to the bathroom to turn off the tap she had left running. "Listen, I should have said something to you before, but where did you park your car? It's not a good neighborhood to leave a car like that."

"Oh, don't worry about it. I came in a taxi. I thought I might need a sober ride home." She held up an enormous bottle.

"Saki!?" Alex grabbed the bottle and studied it. "Jesus, this stuff is potent."

"I know, right," Lily grinned and held up the bags in her other hand. "And sushi."

"Fantastic. How did you know I wouldn't be prepared? I love sushi."

"You would."

"You have a filthy sense of humor."

"This is a light night, is it not?" Lily followed her into the kitchen and putting her bags on the table she looked Alex up and down. "You look like you're in the middle of something. Did you just get home?"

"Sort of. I'm running a bit late today."

"You go, finish up whatever it is. I am capable of pouring drinks and finding plates."

"Okay," Alex said gratefully. "I'll just be a minute," and she disappeared back down the hall.

When Alex returned to the kitchen a few minutes later rubbing her neck with a towel Lily had plates of food and glasses set out on the table and sat in front of Alex’s open lap top.

"Make yourself at home, why don't you?"

"Sorry, is this okay?"

"Of course it is." Lily was gaping at Alex, wide-eyed. "What?"

"I've never seen you wearing glasses before."

"Oh, right. I always wear contacts for work."

"You shouldn't bother. You look really hot, in a bookish kind of way."

“It has nothing to do with looks.” Alex waved a dismissive hand. "Okay, before I start drinking, some ground rules for tonight."

"Ground rules? Are you joking?"

"No, I'm very serious, this is my domain," Alex said feigning solemnity. "And you, Lily, can do anything you want here except, and this is important, say things like that to me."

"What things?"

"Don't play dumb. Don't flirt with me, it's confusing and I'm easy when I drink. Deal?"

Lily laughed to herself. "Your house, your rules. Deal."

"Excellent." Alex poured herself a glass of the strong Japanese drink Lily had brought and clinked glasses with her.



"Wait, what? You speak Japanese?" Lily asked impressed.

"No way. Important words like 'cheers' I like to learn in every language," Alex nodded toward the lap top. "Find what you were looking for?"

"Well porn, I expected to find some hot lesbian sex sites in your browser history."

"You're going through my history? Damn it." Alex pulled a chair close to Lily's and tapped at the computer.

"Whatever. You've got nothing embarrassing to hide."

"I only use my tablet for porn."

"Really? Can I see that?"

"I'm joking and stop it. You're breaking my rule. Although, it does make me wonder what kind of weird stuff I might find if I went through your computer." Lily laughed but made no comment. "Here, look at this." Alex pulled up a set of previews and sneak-peeks for American Housewife. "This is the show I was thinking we could watch. Take a look, see if it appeals to you." Alex moved away and began sampling the food on the table in between sips of saki.

"You know, when you said American Housewife I admit I was skeptical, but this does look quirky. Yeah, I'm keen. Will we watch it in here?"

"Lounge. More comfortable, bigger screen."

"Great. I have to pee. Bathroom?"

"Down the hall on the left."

Alex began carrying glasses and plates into the spacious living room and placing them pointedly in front of the two arm chairs. The further I am away from Lily, the better, she thought fretfully. But when Lily returned from the bathroom she threw herself on the couch at the end closest to Alex's chair. Alex looked at her side-ways while she fiddled with the remotes and the wireless keyboard.

"You went through my medicine cabinet, didn't you?" she joked.

"It was just a quick look. You're a neat freak."

"And you are nosey."

"It's not my fault you're interesting."

The two of them sat quietly through the first two episodes of the show and Alex couldn't help stealing glances at Lily, she had a loud, gleeful laugh which warmed Alex to the core. They took a break and refilled their glasses.

"I like it a lot," Lily exclaimed. "She kind of reminds me of Melissa McCarthy, she even looks a bit like her."

"She reminds you of Melissa McCarthy because she's the actress who played her sister in a comedy series called Mike & Molly."

"Oh wow," Lily looked thoughtful. "Wow, you're right. The pot smoking sister. I remember now, how weird, I didn't even like that show much. It's weird how much the subconscious remembers. Which reminds me, there is a strong smell of weed outside your door in the stairwell."

"Yeah, that'll be my neighbor across the hall, he has a grow room in his place and smokes it constantly. It smells like that almost all the time."

"Really?" Lily was very amused. "He's never been busted?"

"Nah, the police have better things to do. He's a good neighbor, keeps to himself but is always friendly."

By the time they got through the next two episodes Lily's face was flushed and she was starting to slur her words slightly and Alex was very relaxed.

"You're good to watch with. You concentrate and don't talk. People who want to comment on what's happening as its happening are irritating."

Lily looked around the room and Alex started up a playlist quietly and watched her.

"You know, you're kind of a minimalist," she remarked.

"Yeah, I guess."

"I thought I might find something around here that speaks about your past. But all you've really got is electronic equipment."

"I don't have much else to spend my money on. I like technology."

"It's an awesome entertainment system, I have to admit. But no photos, no pictures in frames. It's like there's nothing inside you."

"Ouch, that's a bit harsh... But actually, if it is past you want, take a look in my spare room. Just through there."

Lily opened a door off the living room and squealed in delight as she flicked the light switch on.

"That's what I'm talking about!"

The walls were lined with photos of Alex's family and filled with books, DVD's and junk she had managed to salvage from her parents' home before it was sold. Lily approached a series of photos of her father from boyhood to old age.

"Who is this man? He's so!"

"My Dad. He was in the RAF and a professional weight-lifter. Hence the poses."

Lily stared at the pictures. If she hadn't been tipsy Alex probably would have felt uncomfortable having her family scrutinized so carefully, but as it was she didn't mind. Lily was clearly awestruck, which was a nice feeling.

"Where is he now?"

"He died in 2014. I'll be back in a minute," she said and left Lily studying the walls.

"Is this you?" she asked when Alex got back. "Oh my God, Alex, you were the cutest kid ever."

"I know, what happened, right?" Lily gave her a mysterious look.

"You're not just cute anymore is what happened. You should see me when I was little, I look like a deformed elf." She pointed toward another picture, "Tell me about this one. Such beautiful children."

"That's all of us the day of my christening. My Mom is probably taking the photo."

"These are all your brothers and sisters?"


"Oh wow, that's intense. And are they still around?"

"One's in California, one's in Australia. The others are here. We don't spend much time together anymore. Honestly, I don't get along that well with them. Siblings, you know?"

Lily looked at her. "Not really. I don't have any. You're so lucky, even if you don't get along." She gave Alex one of her dazzling smiles. "Thank you. For showing me this." They returned to the lounge and sprawled comfortably, glasses in hand.

"Why do you keep it all hidden away in there?"

"I don't know. I guess it's just more comfortable for me not to have it in my face all the time. If I'm feeling nostalgic it's there, but it's mostly relegated to my past and I like it that way."

"You are a dark horse. I like your place. It's got ambience and it's ...I don’t know, you can hear things going on in the building, people moving around upstairs, you know?"

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