By Patrick Foley Plummer
He answered her with an arrogant smile, “What a man does in adverse situations is acceptable.”
“Is that your defense?” she asked.
He studied the intense green eyes and sullen, somber face surrounded by long waves of gray hair, which she refused to cut. Kathleen remained a beauty even though she approached sixty. Age made her gorgeous.
“Am I on trial?” he asked.
“Should you be?”
She touched the button on the timer and started the free consultation.
“One hour,” he commented. “Is that all I get after what we’ve been through?”
“I have other appointments.”
“Couldn’t we talk tonight?”
“You have plans?”
“I agreed to see you for one hour. I don’t even owe you that.”
“Oh, Kathleen, your bitterness is unbecoming.”
“My bitterness is all I have left of you.”
He avoided her eyes and looked at the back of the polished Maple desk, at the lush pile carpet and at his own worn black loafers.
Kathleen had seen his head hung down before, but the hair was grayer now and the shoulders slumped unevenly. The left shoulder dropped, perhaps from some injury of which she knew nothing. Perhaps it was only age. She recalled gripping his younger and stronger shoulders while he entered her body and she immediately repelled the memory.
Kathleen wanted the session to be finished but continued with her commitment. She asked, “Why did you come to see me?”
“I wanted to.”
He looked up and the sly smile appeared full of innuendo and wanting.
“Jack, if you’re not here to see me in my professional capacity, you’re wasting my time.”
“But I need your counsel.”
“You can’t afford me.”
“This hour is free.”
“Then you’d better get to the point.”
He breathed a sigh and studied her lips and wondered why she chose the amethyst shade. The lipstick contrasted with her white hair and emerald eyes. He recalled the morning after they had drunk a magnum of merlot and her lips and tongue were stained violet. He teased her about it and she laughed and stuck out her dark livid organ, which he promptly sucked.
“You’re staring,” she said.
“I was thinking about the time we…”
“Don’t remember anything,” Kathleen warned him.
“Memories are all we have left.”
“Please don’t include me in it. I have my own life now.”
“Really?” He looked around the large desk for any evidence of a relationship. “Who are you seeing?”
“Jack, I did not agree to the counseling to discuss me.”
“So you’re not seeing anyone.”
She reached her left hand toward the timer and Jack quickly held up his hand and said, “I’ll let it go.”
Kathleen’s bony and ringless fingers paused over the clock. He gestured with both hands imploring her to allow him to continue.
“I really do need your advice,” he said.
She quietly folder her hands together on the desk and waited.
“I’ve made a mistake,” Jack said unconvincingly.
She cocked her head to the side.
“Only one?” she asked and clinched her jaws. The jowls sagged slightly but were attractive to him.
“Many,” he rushed his speech. “Many, many mistakes. One after another. And one bad judgment led to another. I’m sorry it ever involved you. I know I hurt you and that is something I’ve never forgiven myself for.”
“I told you not to include me.”
“But how could I not include you. I know I’ve hurt you more than anyone.”
“We’d have to go through a long list of women to determine who you hurt the most. That would exceed your free hour.”
“Do you hate me?”
Kathleen began to grind her teeth as she muttered, “No, Jack, I don’t hate you.”
His sarcastic grin returned, “That sounds like denial.”
“Don’t you dare! Don’t you dare analyze me!”
“That’s good, Kathleen. Express your anger.”
“I’m not,” she caught her breath and slowly exhaled, “angry.”
Jack examined her rigid posture, her clinched fist and her beautiful, taut lips painted purple. Directly behind her was a small table with a photograph of her parents. Beside it was a snapshot of Kathleen and a dog. The picture was framed in black metal. Jack was about to ask about her parents but presumed they were dead. He thought to ask about the pet but a third object caught his eye. It was at the back of the table on a stand. The smooth curve and pearl finish appeared just above the black frame of the pet photograph. It was almost hidden but still there.
“Perhaps it was a mistake coming to see you, Kathleen.” He stood up and looked at her surprised face and then glanced at the shell again. “I thought if we talked again you’d get over me.”
“I am most certainly over you.”
“Really?” He walked around the desk and she rose from her chair. “Then we can shake hands and I’ll go.”
Kathleen sighed, “That might be best.”
“I still upset you.”
“You have that ability.”
“Do you know why?”
Kathleen contemplated the question as he stood close to her. Jack was slightly shorter than her. His face had aged but the dark brown eyes remained youthful and captivating. He was beaming at her and it made her nervous.
“Well?” He asked her again, “Why do I upset you?”
“Too much is unresolved.”
“But I always made you emotional. Sometimes it was good.”
“That was decades ago.”
“But you continue to hold on, Kathleen.”
“I most certainly do not!”
Jack pointed toward the table.
“What?” she asked.
“Corpus Christi. I bought this sea shell for you and filled it with flowers and presented it to you in bed one morning.”
Kathleen flushed. She had kept the memento all these years.
Jack picked up the shell and held it in both hands and offered it to her. Kathleen reached out, touched the warm backs of his hands and accepted the shell again. He moved closer to her and only the mollusk separated them. He kissed her gently.
“That’s a good girl,” he whispered.
She pressed the old present to his chest and pushed him away. Kathleen reached below her desk and brought out a wastebasket. She put the shell into the garbage and clicked off the timer.
“Session over,” she said. When he moved toward her again she demanded, “Go.”
Kathleen stepped away from him. Jack left her office without another word. His silent exit relieved her. When he was gone she retrieved the pearl colored shell from the trash and returned it to the display stand on her table.
By Patrick Foley Plummer