Lily opened the door to Dr. Harte’s office.
It had taken her a while to become comfortable with just walking through Harte’s door without knocking, but he wouldn't respond if she had. As he had explained to Lily when she had first tentatively tapped at his door, he found knocking to be “an unsatisfactory method of communicating a request to enter, lacking in information necessary for a decision on that request.” Lily often wondered whether he actually just wanted people to give up and go away.
Dr. Harte was crouched over session reports and photocopies of the subjects’ drawings, oblivious to her presence. She stood quietly in front of his desk, waiting for him to notice her.
Eventually, his hand wandered across the desk, independently searching for something. Lily reached over and moved Harte’s glasses within range of the questing fingers.
Putting them on, he looked up and blinked. “Ah, Ms. Breckenridge. Are those the Week Two summaries?”
“Place them on the chair to your left.” She did so. Another thing Dr. Harte didn’t approve of was unnecessary linguistic posing; if he wanted you to do something and was in a position to require your cooperation, he wouldn’t ask you to do it or suggest that you do it, he’d order you to do it. Not out of any disrespect or intent to demean, but because he wouldn’t want you to be uncomfortably confused about whether you had a choice.
Still have to work to get him to say “please,” Lily thought. She placed the reports on the seat of the chair, and moved to leave.
“Ms. Breckenridge, could I speak with you for a moment?”
She stopped in her tracks, a shiver of fear running down her spine as she turned back to face the professor. Had she done something wrong? Had the supervisor seen a problem in her relationship with Matthew? Lily was sure she hadn’t acted inappropriately in the last few sessions; it was just that he was so interesting. As a subject. They’d become closer, of course but she was certain she hadn’t crossed any lines. Wasn’t she?
“I received a telephone call earlier today,” Dr. Harte began.
“Honestly, Doctor, I’ve got it under control,” she jumped in. “I haven’t deviated from protocol.”
Harte tilted his head to one side. “You have a set protocol for interactions with your mother? How interesting.”
For a second or two, Lily only felt relief that this conversation had nothing to do with Matthew. Then she realized what Harte had said, and her scalp prickled with horror.
“My mother?” She felt the warmth rising up the sides of her face.
“Yes. She called by telephone and asked me a number of unclear and often ambiguous questions with regard to your participation in this experiment, apparently in the context of certain unidentified psychological ailments suffered by your father. I explained to her that without further information, I could see no connection between the experiment and your father’s medical condition. At that point, she engaged in a degree of invective and ended the call.” Harte’s face softened. “I apologize if I misinterpreted what she was asking. I hope that I did not complicate a family situation. If there is anything I can do to assist, please let me know.”
A single thought drifted atop Lily’s mind, circling a whirlpool of embarrassment, fury and dread: I can’t believe she actually called him. Eventually, she found her voice again.
“No, Doctor, I’m sure everything’s fine,” Lily said almost levelly. “It’s just a misunderstanding. I’ll give her a call tonight.”
“As you wish.” Harte started to return to his work, but raised his head again. “I know that many people think of me as socially awkward, Ms. Breckenridge, and I will admit to some difficulty in that regard. I do, however, care about the well being of my colleagues and students. If there are issues that you would like to discuss with me, you should consider me a resource.”
“Um, thank you, Doctor,” Lily said, and ran from his office.
* * *
I invested my alcohol budget in better sketchpads; but after two nights of bringing my own paper, I arrived at the hospital to find the brand I preferred waiting for me in my room. Lily didn’t say a word about it.
Often I thought about asking Lily out after our sessions, but I hesitated. Lily and I had something, or almost did, but I couldn’t figure out what it was and didn’t want to screw it up. And every so often I got a weird vibe from her, usually when we were talking about my parents...I wanted to ask what was going on, but each time I had the inescapable feeling I should leave it alone.
Hector got in touch a couple of times to check in on how things were going, on both a professional and personal level. While he tried to teach me to play pool better than the average dorm rat, I told him about the dance with Lily.
Hector nodded sagely. “She’ll keep you on that edge forever, dude,” he said, as he gradually but surely cleared the table, flowing from one shot to the next like he was practicing the forms of a martial art. “You’re going to have to make the first move. But you knew that, hey?”
“Should you be saying that?” I asked, still trying to figure out how he got the backspin on the 6. “Isn’t it against the therapist’s code or something?”
“This isn’t therapy? Look, all that will happen is that you’ll get switched to another counselor. We’ll still make sure you get the help you need. If you still want to be part of the project, that is.”
“Some reason I might not want to be?”
“No.” He had paused just a bit too long. “It’s just, if you get somewhere with Lily, maybe you’ll have accomplished your real reason for participating.”
That bothered me. “I’m participating because I can’t sleep. Nothing’s changed.”
“If you say so.”
“Besides,” I said, “I still think she might come around on her own.”
“What are you trying to do, play hard-to-get?” He laughed shortly. “Think about it, man. She’s got an intimate relationship with you, while she still has her professional distance, satisfying her duties to Saint Harte. Why change that up?”
“I don’t know. Some twinge of human feeling? Lust? Lust would be good.”
Hector looked at me, one eyebrow raised.
“Right, right,” I sighed. “So, what are you telling me? I’m stuck?”
Hector grinned. “Did you know that when people see themselves as being stuck, they’re almost always facing a real choice instead? It’s when they’re rolling down a road with no exits that they think everything’s fine. Funny thing, people.”
Yeah, I thought. A regular riot.
* * *
[Go to Chapter 4.1]