Read an Excerpt
Lara McInnis fidgeted in the ginger-colored overstuffed chair taking up most of one corner of her cozy psychotherapy office. Schooling her face to neutrality, she tried to gin up some energy to support her quarreling clients. Bethany Beauchamp wasn’t saying all that much, though; and her husband was cataloging her faults, clicking them off one by one on his fat fingers. Wonder why they really wanted to come here? Lara asked herself, searching for an opportunity to intervene. Aha, there it was.
“Mister Beauchamp,” she murmured, voice pitched purposefully low so he’d have to stop talking in order to hear her.
“Yes, what?” He sounded irritated, voice scratchy from too many cigarettes. “You interrupted me.”
“Yes, I know. But I was interested in what you were saying and I didn’t quite catch that last part before I, um, interrupted. Might you be so kind as to repeat it for me?” Oh-oh. Watch the sarcasm.
Ken Beauchamp straightened self-importantly in his chair, carefully slicking back a couple of mouse-brown hairs that had fallen out of place in his too-careful comb over. Uncrossing short, chubby legs encased in expensive suiting, he turned so he could look right at her with close-set blue eyes. Broken blood vessels along the sides of his nose suggested a far-too-intimate relationship with alcoholic beverages.
“We pay you quite well. The least you could do is be attentive,” he complained, an unpleasant whiny note in his voice.
She nodded, offering a silent invitation to speak to her rather than to his wife who looked exhausted. Bethany’s eight-month pregnancy dragged at her tall, slender frame and dark smudges under her hazel eyes detracted from her showgirl beauty. Light auburn hair fell in limp curls to her shoulders. Though only in her early thirties, today she looked ten years older.
After an imperceptible pause Ken took the bait and, rather than repeating his last statement as requested, he started in on Lara. “Well, Doctor, you’ve been late for our appointments twice out of the ten we’ve scheduled. None of the things you’ve suggested work and our marriage isn’t any better than it was the day we walked in here.” He sat back in his chair, a smug smile on his florid face.
“Which things have you tried?” It was difficult to keep her features pleasant. She was coming to detest Ken Beauchamp and suspected his wife felt much the same. Stealing a glance at her other patient, Lara noticed Bethany seemed to be trying not to cry. Reaching over, Lara handed her the box of Kleenex she always kept next to her chair. “Mister Beauchamp?” she urged. “What things have you tried? I need to know so I can work with you to figure out what might be more effective.” Or, so I can find an excuse to refer you to another therapist.
Ken’s face reddened even more. “I’m sure we’ve tried some of them,” he said defensively. Shifting his bulky body around in his chair, he shot his uncomfortable wife an intimidating look. “Beth, the good doctor here is asking what we’ve tried.”
Withering under her husband’s knife-like stare, Bethany burst into tears, choking on the word, “N-nothing,” as she buried her face in her hands. Outside of her soft sobbing, the corner office, morning sun streaming through leaded-glass window panes, was absolutely silent.
Lara leaned forward, her dark luminous eyes moving from Ken to Bethany. “It’s like I told both of you when you first came here, I can’t fix your marriage. Only you can do that. But, for there to be any improvement, you have to be willing to listen to one another. We’re nearly at the end of today’s hour, but frankly there’s not much reason for you to spend your money coming here week after week just so I can listen to you argue and try to referee. Go home and have an honest discussion this morning while everything’s still fresh. Figure out if you really want to continue seeing me. If the answer is yes, call me and come on back next week. If the answer is no, well . . .” She let her last words hang in the air, realizing she was hoping to never have to see Mister Beauchamp again.
“Uh, here.” Ken rustled around in an inner jacket pocket coming up with a well-creased piece of paper. “Sign this.”
Taking the paper from him, she flipped it open. Damn the man. He’d been court-ordered to attend marriage counseling and he hadn’t told her. In fact, neither of them had. Fuming, she hastily checked the box verifying attendance at ten sessions, signed the document and handed it back to him. “You should have told me, Mister Beauchamp. We might have done things a bit differently.” We sure would have, since I never accept court-referred clients. He just looked at her as he snatched up the paper, a feral smile adding a malevolent note to his already-unattractive face.
“Thank you, Doctor McInnis.” Bethany’s voice was still clotted with tears as she planted her feet beneath her ample belly, then struggled to her feet. Standing, Lara held out her hand and Bethany latched onto it like a lifeline. The two women looked down at Ken who hadn’t made the slightest effort to leave his chair. He was chewing on his lower lip, his face the color of a boiled lobster.
Acting on impulse, Lara let go of Bethany’s hand and gestured to her. “I’ll just walk your wife down to the ladies’ room, Mister Beauchamp, so she can put some cold water on her face. She’ll meet you at the car.”
Pulling the office door open, she exchanged a meaningful glance with her receptionist. “Arabel, could you please see Mister Beauchamp out?”
Without waiting for a reply, she took Bethany’s elbow, pushing her out into the hallway. As soon as they were safely out of the office, Lara turned to Bethany. “He hurts you, doesn’t he?” Her voice was the barest of whispers as she remembered the little she’d been able to drag out of Ken about his obscenely violent childhood.
A single tear leaked from one of Bethany’s eyes as she mumbled, “I, uh, can’t, um, shouldn’t . . .” They had reached the bathroom and were both inside the tiny enclosure. Lara waited, regarding her patient intently with well-honed inner senses. But Bethany maintained an edgy silence, the ragged, darkened edges of her aura radiating a gloomy melancholy. Probing with her psychic side, Lara suddenly knew much of what the woman was unwilling to divulge. And then—as was often the case when she used her gift—she wished she’d left well enough alone.
Reaching into a pocket of her plaid wool skirt, Lara pulled out a pen and one of her cards, scribbling a number on the back. “If things get bad, make an excuse, any excuse. Tell him you’re going out for a walk. Bring your cell phone and call this number. They help women like you.”
Bethany’s hand snaked out and she took the card; then a frantic look washed over her. “But what if he finds the number?” she whimpered.
“It doesn’t matter. They won’t talk to him.” Lara laid a hand on Bethany’s arm. “You probably need to get down to your car. Maybe you could come in and talk to me by yourself.”
“He’d never let me.” Dull voice matching her dead eyes, Bethany let herself out into the corridor and began walking, with the awkward gait of the very-pregnant, towards the stairs.
Back in her office, Lara stopped at Arabel’s desk. “Who else do I have today?”
Hooking her thumb out the door, Arabel asked, “What’s up with them? The mister, he seemed pretty put out. For a minute there I didn’t think I was gonna git him out of the office.”
“You know I can’t discuss patients with you, dear. Or, at least we have to pretend we don’t talk about them.” Lara smiled fondly at the elderly Black woman who had been her sole office help for over twenty years. Arabel was dressed in her usual white blouse, navy gabardine skirt and black flats. An ancient maroon sweater hung over the back of her secretarial chair. Hair in a modified mostly-gray afro, she had a piquant sense of humor and a quick temper that was sparking from her nearly-black eyes.
“Hmmmmph . . .” Arabel bristled, mouth twisted into a frown. “You know I got nobody I’d be tellin’ anything to. Never have.”
“Sorry, sorry. Didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” Lara held out a conciliatory hand. “Truce?”
Arabel cocked her head to one side, the corners of her mouth twitching as she reached up to shake hands. “Truce. Never could stay mad at you. Not for long, anyways.” Turning back to the computer, she brought up the day’s schedule on the monitor. “David Roth cancelled, so you’re free till one thirty. Then you got folk packed in here till close to eight.”