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By Della Street


He had just finished his sandwich when he saw her in the waiting room, fifteen minutes early and pacing nervously. Even if her name had not already been scribbled on his calendar, he would have known the moment he saw her face. He had seen it often enough in the Times.

"Dr. Haslam?" she said, extending a hand. "Blair Warner."

"Pleased to meet you." He gestured toward one of the two chairs arranged casually in front of his desk.

Like many of his patients – clients, he corrected himself – she seemed a little surprised to see chairs, rather than the proverbial couch. Before sitting down, she paused, deciding to get something out of the way, apparently. "I was told that you're . . . open minded."

He smiled reassuringly. "I have several same-sex couples as clients, if that's what you mean," he said.

Satisfied, she lowered herself to the chair nearest the door, tucked her purse beneath it, then laced her fingers together on her lap. He waited to see whether she would take the lead, or wait for him to coax the information out of her.

"As I said, my name is Blair," she said. "My . . ." She hesitated. ". . . friend's name is Jo. She'll be here at two. At least she said she would."

"Do you have reason to doubt it?"

"No, not really," she replied. "When she says she'll do something, she usually does. She'll be here, unless she has to go on a stakeout or something." Unnecessarily, she added, "She's a police officer."

"How long have you two been together?" he asked.

"You mean . . . that way?" At his nod, she answered, "Two years and four months."

And already having problems? Not encouraging. "Tell me about her," he invited. He held up a finger. "Start with one word."

"One word?" She gave it some thought. "Barbaric, I guess." She nodded, as if confirming her own choice. "Rude, sarcastic, vulgar. She has no manners, makes fun of my hobbies, tells off-color jokes, has no fashion sense, complains when I spend money on her–"

There was a pen on his desk, and he reached for it.

"–plays with greasy things, tells people I'm not a natural blonde, which is not true–"

Trying to keep up, he scribbled hurriedly on his pad.

"–makes me vote Democratic, insults me in front of our friends, and is basically a Neanderthal."

He tried not to let his surprise show. "Well, that's a lot to work with," he said.

"Work with?" she repeated. Realizing his meaning, she said, "Oh, I'm not here about those things. She's been that way for fifteen years."

"Fifteen years?"

"We've known each other since high school." She went on, "No, those aren't the problems. The problem is . . . ." She seemed reluctant to say it, not uncommon among his patie–er, clients. "The problem is . . . ." She rose and walked toward the window, looking out at the skyline. "She doesn't find me attractive any more."

Eying her body language, he asked, "You mean physically?"

She sighed. "Yes," she admitted.

After only two years? "Why do you say that?" he asked.

"When we first . . . you know . . . she was – it was quite often. If she got home late, she would wake me. And before she went to work. Weekends. She made me late to several luncheons." She turned around to face him. "She has no sense of discipline. 'Had,' I guess."

"A drop off in sexual activity after the honeymoon phase is normal," he pointed out.

"I understand that," she said. "But . . . ." She started to turn around again, then changed her mind and faced him directly. "She hasn't touched me in two months."

"At all?"

She shook her head. "She rarely kisses me, and when she does, it's halfhearted. She says she's tired, but . . . . Last week, I waited up for her."

She didn't feel entirely comfortable talking about sex, he could tell. If only she knew some of the things he had heard in his career.

"With just my robe on," she explained. "I was waiting for her on the couch, and . . . ." She turned her attention to the silver-framed diploma on his wall. "I undid the knot. She just looked at me, then turned around and said she had to go back to work."

"Maybe she did."

"She had already hung up her jacket and taken off her shoes!" she nearly shouted. "She had to put them back on again. She knew I wanted to be with her, and she didn't. She stayed out all night."

He couldn't fault her deductive reasoning.

"I think maybe she's seeing someone," she said. "Or at least considering it."

"Why do you say that?"

"A couple of months ago, she fell down some stairs chasing some reprobate," she said.

"When I went to pick her up at the emergency room, she was talking to a pretty blonde woman." She frowned. "Very pretty. They stopped talking when I walked up."

"Maybe it was—"

"Please," Blair interrupted. "I know a change of subject when I hear one. Especially with Jo." She leaned back against the window sill, resting lightly on her hands. "Maybe it's me," she said. "I didn't have much experience before we got together. Jo had been married."

"I'm sure that worked itself out," he said.

"I think she's bored with me," Blair said. "She likes . . . ."

She pressed her lips together, summoning the resolve to disclose highly personal information. He waited to see if she could manage it. If not, it would be Twenty Questions time. Fortunately, she had booked the entire afternoon.

"Sometimes she likes it a little . . . you know, she throws me on the bed, or up against a wall." She shook her head. "And I just can't be that way. I can't do it."

"You don't like it when she gets rough?"

"What?" She seemed confused by the question. "Of course I like it. What I mean is that I can't really do that to her. It's just not me. And she talks dirty when we're . . . . you know, says things in my ear. It's natural for her. She's been talking that way all her life. It's not for me."

"You think she wants you to talk dirty?"

"I don't know!" she exclaimed. "I don't know what she wants! I just know that it isn't me. I can try, but . . . ."

"She must love you," he said. "She agreed to come here today. That means something." She would probably be surprised at how many couples counselors never met half of the couple.

She shrugged. "She says I'm not totally annoying," she replied.

He wasn't sure how to respond to that.

"Trust me–that's romantic for Jo," she said. "She says she's just working hard, that she's under a lot of pressure on the new job. But she's had this job for almost a year. She has a new partner, I don't know . . . . He's a man."

And her partner had been married.

"You think she's interested in him romantically?" he asked.

"I don't know." She shook her head. "Isn't this one of the first signs?"

"If it had been six months, I might say yes," he replied. "But two months? There could be another explanation."

She closed her eyes for a moment. "My mother was divorced three times," she said. "I've seen it. It's the cold shoulder, and then separate bedrooms, and then yelling and screaming until you finally do what should have been done a long time ago." She open her eyes again and met his gaze. "I can't go through that again. . . ."

As predicted, a brunette strolled past him at two o'clock on the dot, ignoring his proffered hand and plopping down on the nearest chair.

"Thank you for coming," he began.

"Whatever," she said. "Look, you're gonna tell Blair what I say, right?"

"I'll help facilitate a dialogue," he replied.

"Whatever," she said again. "I don't know why we gotta pay someone to pass on messages."

"I like to think I do more than that," he said. "Consider me a mediator of sorts."

She seemed uninterested in considering him at all. "Well, Mediator, I'm just here to tell you that everything's okay," she said. "Blair and I don't have any problems. As far as I'm concerned, we're stuck with each other. So, if you could just tell her that, we'll clear this whole thing up." She clamped her hands on the arms of the chair, waiting for permission to leave.

The approach for this one would be quite different than her partner, he quickly deduced. "I won't lie to her," he said casually.

"Lie?" She leaned forward in the chair. "It's not a lie."

"You haven't given me any reason to believe that it's true."

Angrily, she said, "I'm telling you that it's true."

"And is that why you haven't been intimate with her for eight weeks?"

"Eight weeks? What is she, keeping track?" She crossed her legs, as if he wouldn't notice that she hadn't answered the question.

"It's not hard to remember when your partner isn't attracted to you any more."

"Not attracted?" she said. "Is that what she said?"

He nodded.

"And did she also tell you that I've been working my ass off?"

"Yes," he replied. "But that excuse will only hold up for so long."

She rose and leaned over the desk. "Fuck you," she said. "It's not an excuse." She strode over to the window, but instead of gazing out at the city, she gave it only a perfunctory glance and returned her attention to the source of her irritation. "You need to understand that Blair blows everything out of proportion. She's got one hair out of place, it's the end of the world."

"That doesn't make her feelings any less real," he said.

She didn't reply; apparently she understood that already.

Taking another tact, he invited, "Tell me about her."

This was such a waste of time. He could read the thought as clearly as if she had said it aloud. And then, as she glanced at the clock, another unspoken question: If she left early, would Blair find out?

She finally made her decision. "Okay," she said. "Blair. She's spoiled, shallow, lazy, thinks money can buy everything–"

He reached for his pad again.

"–does whatever the hell she wants, is totally clueless–basically, your all around pain in the ass."

"When did you begin to have these feelings?" he asked.

"The day I met her."

How did these two ever get together? "Fifteen years ago?" he said, hoping she would volunteer the story.

"Fourteen and change," she corrected, "but close enough. She says our time together should be measured in dog years, so I guess it's more like a hundred."

He shouldn't ask this, he supposed, but she was already irritated with him, so . . . . "Do you two have anything in common besides sex?"

"Well, we lived together for ten years without sex, so I'm guessing that's a yes." She checked her watch, then leaned back and stared at him, crossing her legs at the knee. She would be content to sit through the rest of the session without saying a word, evidently.

Might as well get to the point. "Tell me about your sex life," he said.

Warily, she replied, "It's great."

"Even lately?"

"I told you, I've been working," she snapped. "That's a foreign concept to Blair."

"So tell me about it," he said again.

"I told you, it's great."

"Is that all you can say?"

"Forget it," she exploded. "I'm not payin' you to get off thinking about Blair and me in bed." She pointed at him. "And I am paying my share of this. Would I do that if I didn't give a shit?"

"Blair thinks she doesn't satisfy you."

Her shock was genuine, he gauged. "What?" she said. "Bull."

"Convince me otherwise."

"What do you wanna hear, that she gives great head?" Jo said. "Okay, she does. Is that what you want?"

Calmly, he replied, "I'm just trying to solve a problem."

"There's no problem," she said. "She's great in bed–and that's all I'm gonna say."

"When's the last time you made love to her?"

"You mean the day?" she replied. "I don't know. It was a Sunday." She smiled at some memory. "She got home from the Spoiled Brat Society or whatever, and she was wearin' this skirt . . . ." The lascivious grin answered one question: She still found her partner attractive.

"Do you argue much?"

"Are you kidding?"

"How often?" he persisted.

"How often does the sun shine?" Jo replied. "Fighting turns us on. It's our thing."

"She says there have been times when she couldn't do something you wanted in bed."

She thought back, trying to place it. "Like what?" she asked, but he wasn't going to bail her out. "There was one time I wanted to watch, but she didn't feel comfortable," she recalled. "That was okay. Later she did it without me askin'." She made a face. "Did Blair really tell you about that?"

No. "Does that surprise you?" he dodged.

"Yeah," she said. "She's not one for locker room talk."

"Would you like her to be?"

She looked at him as if he had suggested that the two of them have sex on his desk.

"Why would I?" she said. "That's my job."

"She says she's put on a few pounds since college."

Angrily, she replied, "So what? You saw her – she's freakin' gorgeous."

He could see why Blair had little trouble reading this woman; she broadcast her emotions in living color. She saw herself as practical; maybe he should just cut to the chase. "Blair needs to be reassured that you still want her," he said.

"I still want her," she replied. "So tell her."

"I think it will take more than my say so."

"Then what are we paying you for?"

"She's going to go stay with her mother."

For the first time since she entered the room, she was speechless. "What does that mean?" she finally said.

"She says if you don't want her, she doesn't want to stand in your way."

The color drained from her face.

"She doesn't want your relationship to deteriorate like her mother's did."

"She's leaving me?" She gripped the arms of her chair. "When?"

"Tomorrow," he said truthfully. "Unless she's convinced that you still want her."

"I do!" she said. "Fucking tell her!"

"Why not tell her yourself?" he said. "Pick up some flowers on your way home, put on some–"

She shook her head.

"I can't believe you would risk this," he said, a little more bluntly than he had intended. "As unlikely as it seems, you two seem to fit. All she wants is–"

"I got stuck."

He paused.

"By a perp," she said. "The guy had AIDS."

It was his turn to be speechless.

"Fucker jammed it into my hand." She pointed to the underside of her forearm. "They can't test for three months."

That was true.

"I know it's nothing," she said. "I mean, the odds are . . . you know." She shook her head. "But I can't take a chance."

He reached for the Warner-Polniaczek file, tucked his pad into it, and set it in the outbox for filing. "Why didn't you tell her?" he asked.

"I told you, Blair overreacts to everything," she replied. "She would have freaked. She woulda had me at the Mayo Clinic for the last two months – hell, she would have bought the Mayo Clinic."

"She knows something is wrong," he said.

"Yeah," she conceded. "I thought I could pull it off. I figured three months of her thinkin' I'm working too hard, or three months of thinking something worse." Suddenly, she opened up, relieved to be talking with someone about it. "She almost caught me," she said. "Walked in while I was still talkin' to the doc. I fed her some bullshit about falling down the stairs."

The first lie.

"I read some articles," she went on. "They said there's stuff we could do that's, you know, safe, but . . . ." She shook her head. "I'm not risking it." After a moment, she asked,

"What are you gonna tell her?"

At five o'clock she was back, steeling herself for the verdict.

"Miss Warner," he greeted her.

She studied him nervously, searching for any hints as to what he might have learned.

He opened the office door for her. A few steps in, she halted. "Jo," she uttered, surprised.


Neither said anything for a moment, and then Polniaczek spoke up. "I'm sorry, Blair," she said. "I screwed up. I'm not cheating on you, and I'm not done with you."

Blair looked at her hopefully.

As he closed the door behind him, he heard, "There's something I need to tell you . . . ."



He was well trained not to acknowledge patients unless they approached him first. Most of them would not want to explain exactly how they knew him. These two, though, saw him and walked over together.

"Dr. Haslam," the blonde greeted him, extending a polite hand.

The other clapped him heartily on the back. "Hey, Doc."

They seemed happy. "Good to see you again," he said. Delicately, he asked her, "I take it you had some good news?"

She grinned at him. "Great news," she confirmed. "Blair had my pants off ten seconds after I got the call."

Shocked, the blonde exclaimed, "Jo!"

"What?" she countered. "You were practically drawin' pictures for the guy. I thought he'd wanna know that we've been goin' at it like rabbits."

"I can't take you anywhere!"

"Then why do you?"

"I don't know." To the counselor she said, "Perhaps Dr. Haslam could enlighten us."

He could, but the last thing they really wanted was an answer. "Afraid not," he said.

"See?" Blair said. "You broke him."

In the distance, a couple of the event's organizers called for her. She squeezed the therapist's hand again, and began to walk toward them.

"Me?" her partner said. "He's probably writin' a whole book on you."

"He could do an entire set of encyclopedia on you."

He smiled, then cocked his head as he watched them walk away together. At least a chapter . . . .

The End

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