Once Jolene heard the outer door of reception close, she stood up and stretched, arching her back and yawning fiercely. She'd been fighting a yawn almost since Mrs. Gribolt walked in the door. The woman had been a patient of Jolene's since before she opened her own practice, loyally following the nervous, young psychiatrist out into the suburbs, away from the hugely impersonal psychiatric center where she'd started her career.
Good old Mrs. Gribolt, thought Jolene, loyal to a fault. It's just a shame that her problems are so god-awful dull.
Taking the opportunity to stretch her legs, Jolene walked out into the reception area. Andrea, her receptionist, quickly clicked off of the game of solitaire she was playing on the computer and tried to look busy.
"Put the red nine on the black ten," said Jolene idly, yawning again.
Andrea smiled, "Long day, Dr. Carmichael?"
"Not really," said Jolene, rubbing the back of her neck, "but Tuesday afternoons are not the most interesting. That's why I scheduled our last patient for Tuesdays. I need the calm before I deal with him."
He's trouble," opined Andrea, "isn't he?"
"Not exactly the word I would use," said Jolene, "but he's very... intense and... infuriating."
"He seems friendly enough," said Andrea uncertainly, "and awfully cute."
Jolene ignored the comment. "I feel like I'm walking on eggshells with him. He doesn't miss a damned thing. At our first session, I had a run in my stocking. I hadn't even noticed it. He told me he hoped our special arrangement didn't mean that I thought it was okay to be sloppy."
"Well, that's rude," said Andrea.
"What made it all the worst is that he was right," said Jolene. "He came across as so easygoing at first that I felt like it would be all right for me to let my hair down a little during our sessions. In less than ten minutes, I'd completely forgotten what Dr. Kilmartin told me about him."
"You're not getting a thing for him, are you?" asked Andrea.
"Certainly not," said Jolene quickly. "I'm his psychiatrist. Besides, I'm ten years older than he is."
"He's only twenty seven?" asked Andrea. "He seems too sure of himself to be so young."
"I know," said Jolene, smoothing her skirt. "It's more pronounced in session. How do I look? I'm determined not to give him anything to nitpick today."
"You look fine," said Andrea after giving her a quick glance.
"Really look, please," said Jolene. "He will. And, trust me, he won't miss a detail."
Jolene knew it was an odd request, but Andrea rose gamely to the challenge. Taking her boss by one shoulder, she looked the doctor up and down, then turned her slowly. Finally, she said, "You might want to redo your bun. You've got some wispies going in the back."
"Thanks," said Jolene, running over to the open door of the patient washroom she'd had installed in one corner of the reception area to look in the mirror. The modern, sterile room was the only big change she'd made to the historic house she used for her office. Everything else was the original polished mahogany and black oak.
"So," asked Andrea behind her, "he really undresses you with his eyes, does he?"
Jolene looked over her shoulder, "I could handle it if that was all he did. I'm used to it. But, it's like he doesn't stop at skin level. It's once he finishes undressing me and starts vivisecting that I start to get uncomfortable."
"Well," said Andrea, biting the end of her pen, "tell him if he wants someone to undress, I'm available." She giggled. "And, he doesn't have to stop with his eyes. He can use whatever he wantsóhands, teeth, tongue..."
"Andrea," said Jolene reprovingly. Then, more gently, she added, "That's an uncharacteristically bawdy comment for you."
"I know," said Andrea, "but you're right. There's something about him that makes me want to forget my receptionist's oath."
"There's no such thing as a receptionist's oath," said Jolene.
Andrea just smiled, "Speaking of dressing and undressing, I've got a study date tonight that I'd like to get ready for. Would it be okay if I cut out after he's in session? All of his paperwork is in order and he takes care of his payments up front."
Jolene wanted to say no. She was nervous enough to be alone in her office with that man. The idea of being alone with him in the house gave her a little frisson of fear. But, she refused to let her irrational concerns force her to refuse a reasonable request.
"Sure," she said, "you can go now if you want. As you said, his paperwork is all in order. I can enter a check into the system easily enough."
"No," said Andrea, smiling crookedly. "I'll make sure he's checked in, then go."
Jolene shook her head at her receptionist's uncharacteristically shameless behavior before examining herself one last time in the mirror. She was generally proud of the way she looked. But this patient made her uneasy. Tan suit, tanned skin, her sun-streaked blonde hair, alternating light and dark stripes, stylishly retro black-framed glassesóeverything seemed to be in order.
At five twenty-two, she went back into her office, sat behind her desk, and began to do deep breathing exercises to calm her jittery nerves. This was only the fourth session, but she already knew her patient well enough to know he would be there at exactly five twenty-five.
At the appointed minute, she heard the door to reception click open. While she couldn't hear the words, she could hear her patient's rumbling baritone and the receptionist's contralto laughter in counterpoint. It sounded like Andrea was flirting. Jolene wished she wouldn't do that. It gave the wrong impression.
At seventeen seconds after five thirty, the door to her office opened and her patient strode in. Andrea took a small bit of relief in the idea that he did not do so exactly on the minute, then wondered if maybe her watch wasn't seventeen seconds off.
"Good afternoon, Dr. Carmichael," he said, flashing her a warm smile and extending a hand to shake. "Are you ready to get started?"
"Yes, Marcus," she said, smiling back, "Why don't you have a seat and we'll begin."
He lounged across the patient couch, arms thrown carelessly across its back and side, legs spread a little. He was immaculately tailored and coiffed. Jolene had yet to see him with a hair out of place.
Once he was settled, Jolene said, "This week I'd like to focus on..."
Marcus interrupted, "Why are you sitting behind your desk?"
"What?" asked Jolene.
"I said," he leaned forward and spoke more slowly, "why are you sitting behind your desk? For our previous sessions, you always sat in this leather armchair, over here. Now, you're behind your desk. Why is that?"
Jolene cursed inwardly. It had been foolish to think he wouldn't notice. She decided to try to use it to her advantage. "Is it important to you that everything remain exactly the same every time?"
"No," said Marcus. "It's important to me not to have to raise my voice. I've been repeatedly told that I am very intimidating when I raise my voice. So, I try not to do it. Come sit over here."
Jolene found herself rising to obey before she'd even thought about it. Once she'd started to rise, she felt foolish at balking, even though his request had not been worded as a request. Her foolishness made her a little bit petulant and she said as comfortingly as she could, "You're not going to intimidate me, Marcus."
Marcus refused to rise to the challenge. "I found myself a copy of this couch. I have it in my office now."
"Oh," said Jolene, "I didn't know they were making replicas. I've been meaning to move that one to the main house before it gets too ragged."
"They're not," said Marcus. "I found an original at auction in Vienna and had it shipped here."
Jolene rubbed the back of her neck. "That seems like a lot of effort to get a couch."
"I find this one very comfortable," said Marcus, "considering that I sleep two or three nights a week in my office, a comfortable couch is very important."
Jolene felt the conversation going off track already, but a horrifying thought crossed her mind, "Not in your suits?" The charcoal gray suit Marcus wore hugged his body like a glove and looked to be extremely expensive.
Marcus laughed. "No. It wouldn't do to get them all wrinkled. I have a private shower off of my office. Before I go to sleep, I take off the suit and take a shower. Besides, I sleep better naked."
Jolene felt a flush threatening to rise in her chest as she got a momentary visual flash of Marcus sleeping naked on her couch. She pushed down the urge and the image quickly, but not so quickly that she didn't see a sardonic grin momentarily flash across his face.
"On that subject," she said, trying to cover her awkwardness. "We really need to talk about why you came to see me. In three sessions, we've talked about your business, my mode of dress, my couch, but nothing about why you're here. You're paying a lot of money for this after-hours session. You may want to make better use of it."
"Actually," he said, "I'm making my company pay for it. And, don't knock the couch session. It was more useful than anything I got in three months with Dr. Kilmartin."
"Your company insisted you come here," said Jolene, "as part of a legal settlement."
Marcus corrected her, rising and pacing. "The venture capitalists who funded the company insisted on it. Originally, they wanted me to take sensitivity training or some similar new age bullshit. I told them I would go to a real psychiatrist if they insisted. If I'd known they were going to suggest that freeze-dried hippie..."
Jolene secretly agreed with Marcus's assessment of her colleague, but interrupted with, "The settlement was with two women who charged you with sexual harassment."
Marcus stopped pacing long enough to glare at Jolene. Even though she knew the glare wasn't for her, she shirked a little in her chair. "They never should have settled that. Women like that should be stripped to the waist and flogged in the town square."
"Is that what you said to them that got you in trouble?" asked Jolene.
"No," said Marcus, "one was a convention representative. There's a certain implied standard of appearance to that job. She had this wiry black hair that gets pressed flat under her pantyhose and makes her look like an ape. I told her she was either to shave her legs for conventions or not wear hose."
Jolene nodded, "Is it your job to critique the appearances of your company's employees?"
"I'm the CEO," said Marcus irritably. He sat back down, his knees bent as if he meant to jump up again any second, "it's my job to make sure the company runs smoothly. If I see something wrong, I have no one to kick it up the chain to."
"What about the other woman?" asked Jolene.
Marcus sighed and started pacing again. "That one came on to me like a freight train. At one point, she grabbed my ass in the elevator. I ignored her as a matter of course, but she just saw it as a challenge."
"So," asked Jolene, "what did she say you did on her complaint?"
"She came into my office around two o'clock one afternoon and asked me, point blank, if I wanted to fuck."
Jolene raised an eyebrow. "And, you took her up on it?"
"No," said Marcus, "I told her she wasn't pretty enough to fuck during business hours and that she should come back after seven."
Jolene gave a snort of laughter before she could help herself. Then she said, "I'm sorry. That was unprofessional of me. Why would you say something like that to her? Why not just turn her down?"
"Because," Marcus stretched like a cat, "she was pretty enough to fuck after seven. I didn't see any reason to be unnecessarily rude."
For a few seconds, Jolene didn't know what to say to that. Finally she came up with, "Have you ever considered making a rule for yourself not to have relations with women you work with? I understand that makes things go a lot more smoothly in an office environment."
"I considered it," said Marcus, up and pacing again, a picture of restless energy. "But, it wouldn't work. Most weeks I spent every waking hour at work or traveling between work and home. I barely remember what my house looks like. The only women I ever see are coworkers, you, Andrea," he smiled rakishly, "and vendor sales reps. The VSRs are already far too intent on fucking me in an entirely different way for me to be comfortable taking them to bed or, more correctly," his eyes got a faraway look, "to couch... or desk... or..."
"Yes," said Jolene quickly. "Well, it was just a suggestion. What about other women?"
"There are no other women," said Marcus. "There were only two complaints."
"But," asked Jolene, "what about other women you may have harassed? Any women you spoke to in that way or maybe touched in an intimate way without permission? Maybe they are too intimidated by you to come forth?"
He stopped right in front of her chair, forcing Jolene to crane her neck to see his face. "Are you a lawyer as well as a doctor, Doctor?"
"No," said Jolene.
"Sexual harassment is a legal term," lectured Marcus, "and a horribly poorly defined one at that. Does your psychiatric training prepare you in any way to act as legal counsel?"
"No," admitted Jolene. "But..."
"To answer your question," interrupted Marcus, "I talk to everyone pretty much the same. I don't have the energy to do anything else. What little energy I would have for such niceties is wasted on trying not to intimidate people who should know better. As for touching women without permission," he crouched down in front of her, "I do it all the time."
Jolene looked down, rubbing her neck in relief at not having to crane in order to look at him, but painfully aware of how close to touching her he was now. With a chill, she realized that it may have been a serious error in judgment to let Andrea leave her alone with this man.
"You do?" she asked, trying to keep her voice calm.
"Of course," said Marcus intensely. "What the hell kind of man asks permission before he touches a woman who wants to be touched?"
Jolene said, "Maybe, you should go sit down." To her relief, he stood up, but instead of going back to the couch, he circled around behind her chair.
"For instance..." he said. Jolene recognized the tone in his voice and tried to rise, but his hands were on her shoulders, firmly kneading the flesh, "you've obviously got a lot of tension in your neck and shoulders today. Every time I look up, you're rubbing them."
"Please," Jolene said, her voice barely above a whisper. "This is grossly inappropriate."
"That would be a legal matter," purred Marcus, his voice warm in her ear. "I don't think either of us is really qualified to judge the matter." As he spoke, one hand reached down and unbuttoned the top button of her blouse. "You also buttoned your top button today, Doctor. You never did so before. Do I intimidate you that much?"
"Mr. Simon," Jolene said. "Take your hands off me. This session is over." She tried to put as much iron as she could into her command, but it sounded weak even to her.
He undid a second button, the one right between her breasts. "I still have thirty-five minutes left."
His hand slid down, stroking her breast above the edge of the bra. Jolene realized that trying to order him around was not going to get her anywhere. She pleaded now, "Marcus, please. This is rape. Don't do this."
"Is it, Jolene?" he asked, using her name for the first time. "Would that make it easier for you?" He undid another button, leaving only a single one closed, "Would that leave your professional ethics intact?"
"Please," she begged again, gasping a little as his fingertips stroked the flat plane of her belly.
He undid the last button, "If this is rape, Jolene, go ahead. Get up. Throw me out. I'll go." As he talked, his hand worked down her spine, stroking tension out of her muscles.
"Please," she begged again.
He was easing the blouse down her shoulders. Kissing the nape of her neck, he said, "Go on. Stand up. Run. I won't chase you."
Jolene tried to rise, but found that her legs had gone rubbery, betrayed her. She got up a few inches, then fell back. She tried again and fell again. The third time, she managed to lever herself, using the chair for balance. With one hand on her shoulder, Marcus shoved her back down into her seat. Jolene gasped in outrage.