Authors: M. J. Rose
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Thrillers, #Psychological
The contrast of who she was and how she presented herself was just one of the many things that intrigued me.
“Dr. Snow, no matter what kind of gentle words I wrap it up in…I sell sex. That’s what I do for a living. How could I be a good girl?” She kicked off one of her very high-heeled shoes and noticed my glance. Even though I’d looked at her shoes before, she’d never paid attention until today. I made a mental note of that.
“In my line of work, you always wear stilettos.”
“Because they are so sexy?”
“Because they are weapons.”
That was the last thing I had expected her to say. I certainly knew how dangerous prostitution was for street hookers, but the way Cleo had described her extremely exclusive business, the need for weapons hadn’t occurred to me. I covered my surprise. “Other than your shoes, you make a real effort to look like a good girl, don’t you?”
“It’s how I look. Why is that so hard to reconcile? I look like this. And I sell sex. And since I do, I can’t possibly be a good girl, now can I?” By repeating the question, she made it impossible for me to ignore it or how important the issue was to her. We’d talked about this before in the past six months, but there was obviously something about it that we still hadn’t uncovered.
“Well, we aren’t necessarily what we do, are we?” I asked, then leaned back in my chair, crossing my ankles, noticing my own modestly heeled pumps. Classic and not inexpensive, but not sexy like Cleo’s shoes.
She cocked her head and thought about my question. Not
everyone did that. Some patients just blurted out whatever came into their minds. But because we’d been meeting for a long time, I already knew Cleo was more calculated with her words, sometimes saying what she wanted me to hear, instead of what she really thought. That was what we’d spent most of her sessions talking about: not that she was a prostitute or her conflicts with her lifestyle, but her inclination to please people too much—both sexually and in other ways. And not just her clients. That would have been natural. But the other people in her life.
With her forefinger she drew circles on the pillow. Her eyelashes were long and dusted her skin, and for the first time since she had been coming to see me at 10:00 a.m. each Monday and Wednesday, a single tear escaped from her eye and rolled down her cheek.
She kept her head bowed.
Still, Cleo didn’t move. I took the opportunity to tuck my hair behind my ears. Straight, dark hair—almost black—that hung to the top of my shoulders. Cut to curve and frame my face. My twelve-year-old daughter liked to experiment with it: setting it, braiding it, putting it up with clips. She also liked to do my makeup. Other kids dress up in their mother’s clothes; Dulcie preferred to dress me up and prepare me for the makeshift stage that doubled as the far side of our living room. And then, once I was in costume, she’d make me act out plays with her.
“Morgan Snow appearing as the lead in…” she’d say, and fill in the part I was playing at her direction. She’d act opposite me. Happier with this game than any other.
My daughter wanted to be an actress. Which wasn’t surprising since her father was a film director, and I, being an overindulgent mother despite my better instincts, accommodated her. I didn’t mind that it was her hobby and her ambition,
but she wanted to try to act professionally while she was still in grade school, and I didn’t want her to.
Acting is a tough business and I wanted my daughter’s life to be filled with acceptance and success—not rejection and frustration.
Cleo finally looked up. Her gray eyes were soft and wet.
“What is it?” I asked.
“I am really confused. I wish I’d found you sooner. I wish I had known you a year ago. Two years ago. I needed someone like you who I could trust not to judge me, but who would push me to judge myself.”
“That is not what I want to do. This isn’t about judgment at all.”
“Is it about redemption?”
“Do you need to be redeemed? Do you think of yourself as a sinner?”
More laughter. Even though Cleo, at twenty-eight, was only seven years younger than I was, she reminded me of my daughter. For all that she had seen and done in her life, she remained untouched in some fundamental way.
“Not necessarily a sinner. No. But I’m not a good girl, either.”
“You say it as if you are proud of it. What would be so bad about being a good girl?”
She grinned at my unintentional wordplay. “There are some very good things that I do. If I talk about them it will sound like propaganda from some pamphlet.”
“Let me worry about that. I think you are much harder on yourself than you need to be. And we need to talk about that. It plays into you doing too much for other people. You deserve to feel good even if you don’t want to be good.”
She reached out and touched my hand, to thank me. Her skin, even on her fingertips, was like finely spun satin. It was unusual for my patients to touch me, but I didn’t pull back,
didn’t flinch or show any reaction. Touch is telling. Lack of touch is even more telling. There is nothing as sacred as one person reaching out to another with their body to offer connection, and I would never treat such a thing lightly. There was nothing sexual about the way she put her fingers on the back of my hand and exerted a small but real pressure, but it woke me up in a momentarily sexual way. It made me think about sex, not with her, not with a man, but just inside of myself. Two fingers on my skin and she made me crave something I couldn’t quite name.
“I don’t meet many people willing to forgo making judgments about me,” she said.
The current of connection between us was strong. It was not something I ignored with my patients. I intrinsically understood some better than others.
“What do you think would make you feel good?”
“Having my book published.”
Cleo had just finished writing a memoir, a tell-all about what she had learned about men and sex, based on the clients she had worked with over the past five years. She’d submitted an outline and the first five chapters to a publisher and just two weeks ago had been offered a substantial six-figure deal.
Now she was dealing with the reality of what she had signed on to do. Reveal secrets, albeit anonymously, about men, albeit disguised and not named, who had paid her and trusted her to never do exactly what she was doing.
My phone rang and Cleo glanced at it with a slight frown, but not nearly with the consternation that some patients show. I don’t usually answer the telephone during sessions, but I do look at the caller ID in case it is Dulcie, or Dulcie’s school.
It was neither, so I let the machine pick up, apologizing to Cleo.
“That’s all right. But you asked me another question and
I never answered it. What was it? I don’t like unanswered questions.”
Her voice was soft with a faint hint of a Southern accent. Too soft to be talking about such hard facts and harsh realities.
She sighed and crossed her ankles. It was a dainty movement. A woman sitting on a veranda sipping iced tea and wearing a flower-print summer dress would cross her ankles like that.
“A patient after my own heart. I asked you what was wrong with being a good girl.”
“Can you think of anything more boring?”
“Can you?” I asked.
“Okay. You don’t answer questions, I do. I forgot. So, no, I can’t think of anything more boring than being a good girl. They have no power, no clout. They are so easy to dismiss. Wives. Girlfriends. Sweethearts.” Cleo grimaced. “I know their husbands. I look into their lovers’ eyes.” She shook her head and her hair swung like golden silk. “You know, everyone talks about men having all the power, but it’s easy to take it away. Especially if you have the one thing they want so badly.”
“What is the difference between you and those women? What do you know that they don’t?” I wanted to hear her answer as much to learn about her as to understand more about the men she serviced.
“I know what they want and my entire energy is focused on giving it to them. And to make sure they don’t have any reason to fear me. I’m not about approval or disapproval. Men are scared, Dr. Snow. Some worse than others. Some men, who have trouble getting an erection, or who have trouble with premature ejaculation, are just scared of what is between a woman’s legs. Do you know that? Of course you do. You know even more than I do about all this. One man told
me that he imagined it as a big gaping hole with rows of tiny sharp teeth inside and he was worried that if he stayed inside me for too long, I’d bite him off. Have you ever heard that from a patient?”
Not for the first time, I was reminded of how much Cleo and I had in common. In figuring out what her clients wanted, in satisfying them, she had to listen to their fears, which was exactly what I did with patients.
I leaned forward just a little, to make the connection between us stronger. “Did it bother you when that man told you that?”
“Bother me? No, but it made me sad. And it made it much easier to do what I could for him. I never took him inside me. But I saw him for months. Talking, soft touching, listening to him. I’d go to his hotel room every time he came to the city on business. He’d order whatever I wanted from room service and then we’d get into bed with the food. He liked me to feed him. And then he liked to feed me. And he liked me to massage him. Just lightly, you know, with oil. He was strong, worked out a lot, and I liked looking at him. All stretched out on the bed. He never closed his eyes, though. And we never shut off the light. I’d use the oil to loosen him up, and then I’d—”
She cut herself off. “I guess there’s no reason for me to go into all that, is there?”
“If you want to tell me about it, I want to hear about it,” I offered.
She’d pulled me in and lulled me with the cadences of her speech. If Cleo Thane wanted to become a sex therapist, she’d be very good at it. The only problem was that as much as I earned—$225 an hour—she made more than three times that.
“It hurts. This confusion. These conflicts…” Her lips trembled and she looked away.
“What scares you the most? What is the most confusing?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe it’s the book….” She hesitated. And then in a quieter voice said, “No. Not exactly the book. But it’s related to the book. It’s really the man I’m seeing.”
“Seeing? As in seeing a client?” I was surprised. In all the time she had been in therapy with me she had never mentioned that she was seriously dating anyone, and I’d been waiting for a revelation like this.
Six months may sound like a long time for a patient to hold back important aspects of her personal life, but opening up was not always a simple act. Cleo had been obfuscating since she started with me. It was my job to be patient and do the best I could and trust that she would tell me her secrets when she was ready.
She shook her head. “No. He’s not a client. He’s my fiancé. A lawyer. At a very prestigious white-glove law firm. I hired him a year ago to help me set up an offshore account for my company.” She let out a delightful peal of laughter. “How ironic is that? I hired him. After a while he asked me out. This love shit is worse than the guy who pulled the knife on me in bed when I first got into the business. Him I knew what to do with—I reached out and grabbed him by the balls. I squeezed so hard, his little baby fingers opened and the knife just dropped out. But this love stuff? I don’t know where to grab.”
When you are a therapist, you often become preoccupied with a patient’s body language and voice. Obsessed with those things, in fact. From an inappropriate smile you understand a conflict, from crossed arms you pick up on an unwillingness to open up, from closed eyes you detect a reluctance to face the truth. In listening to a client, you hear not just the words, but the subtleties of inflections, pauses and rhythms of the voice. You sometimes hear words that almost come out but are aborted, the sighs, the hints of tears. For me, voices
are a rich source of information, especially when a patient is lying down on the couch and I can’t see his or her face.
But Cleo was sitting up and facing me. She had been clear from the first: she didn’t want to lie down on my couch. That, she said, would make her feel too much as though she was working.
“What is so confusing about the love stuff, as you call it?” I asked.
“I never believed in romantic love. I once read that it’s something that was invented in the twelfth century. And up till now every experience I’ve had was just more proof. This has never happened to me before. And I’m not sure I’m cut out for it.” A faraway look in her eyes suggested just the opposite.
Doctors are not supposed to admit this, but we like some patients more than others. And I liked Cleo a lot. She was refreshing and honest. She was authentic. And that went far with me. But mostly it was because I—Morgan Snow, not the doctor part but the woman part—identified with her. It was partly the similarities in our professions and partly that I, also, had to work hard at not trying to please the people in my own life too much.
Identification with a patient is a healthy, normal part of therapy. In fact it helps us to get deeper insight into the men and women we are treating. But it is important to be aware of this identification so that we don’t lose our objectivity.
“Why don’t you think you can be in love, Cleo?”
“That’s not what I said.”
“You are too clever.” She gave me a smile, along with the compliment.
This woman was seductive in the most delightful way. Her charm was like a song that made you happy and, just for a little
while, while you were listening, enabled you to stop worrying about everything else.
And if I reacted to her that way—me, her therapist—then I could just imagine how the men she met reacted.
“You do ask good questions,” she said, trying to get me off the track.
I nodded. Waited. Knew she had more to say.
“The man I am in love with thinks I might be in danger.” A slight frown creased her forehead.
This was not what I had expected. “Why?”
Outside a cloud passed in front of the sun and the office was cast into shadow. Just for one second. But in that second, Cleo looked frightened. And even younger. And vulnerable.