As written by a mystery writer,
typed and revised by Nickolaus A. Pacione
Story from Plots Magazine, 1990
��� Sherry cancelled our Saturday breakfast again. Of late she had three excuses; she had to babysit her nephew; she really must not miss another water-color class; or, and this one is the most important, she and a friend were going to witness for Jesus on street corners. I shuddered at the thought.
���"In Chicago? Aren't you afraid?"
���I knew that it was a stupid question. Sherry looked at me that way. I hated it when she looked like that. I don't need any pity, God's sake.
���"Leigh, remember, when you have the Lord there is nothing to be afraid of. Only fear those who can harm your soul."
���I sighed. So far, Sherry had either avoided to talk about our Saturday breakfasts or made excuses. By now I was paranoid. I felt no one wanted me and not for the first time, either. Was I depressing? Did I smell? Was I boring, uninteresting, dull? I wanted to ask Sherry all this, but I was afraid. Afraid she would be honest and concede, yes, you getting to be a bit depressing, Leigh. You are a wet blanket; I'm busy Leigh…
��� Sherry was concerned now.
���"Nothing. You just seemed not quite yourself for a second. Well, gotta go. I'll call, or better yet, you call me later this week, we'll see about next Saturday, okay?"
���Before I could answer, she was gone. Vanished. I'd forgotten which excuse she used this time.
���Rain drummed outside my door. Sitting at the kitchen table, alone with my lukewarm coffee, I pondered my life. I like that word. Pondered. Here I was at thirty-three with no boyfriend both my parents gone. Well let's be honest here, okay? Mom is dead; the only one who ever cared a damn and who cared too much at times, dead at forty-two. Mom never remarried after Dad left us when I was only three weeks old. She never should have told me that he was given a choice. It was either his dog or me. Well, you get the picture, don't you? But enough with the self-pity. My Dad doesn't know how much he missed.
My thoughts stray and I must tackle the issue at hand. I am tired; I must sleep.
���Within the last two weeks, I had two people tell me maybe, just maybe, I could use some therapy. "Sure," I said. It must been the way I had said it. Roxanne rolled her eyes at me, then lowered her voice. We were on break in the cafeteria.
���"Leigh, listen. Please don't be offended. I'm a friend, aren't I?"
��� Take notice here. She said "a" friend, not "your" friend.
���"Anyway," she droned on, "the company pays for the first ten therapy sessions. So you're not out any bucks, right?"
���Hell, she was pleading at me with her eyes. I felt like an insect specimen a microscope. Even worse, I thought Roxanne was reading my mind, so real fast that I got rid of all the bad thoughts that I had about her. Kicked 'em right out my left ear.
���Now Roxanne looked a little scared. Had she read any of those mean things on the way out? No, I was too quick, I'm postive.
���Roxanne fidgeted a little, glanced at her watch, then sipped some her Coke. Immediately she choked. I hid the smile deep inside where she would never find it. She got control of herself and stood. I followed suit and were soon working away the rest of the afternoon. At quitting time, I didn't get to say good-bye. She was too busy talking to our boss, but at least they both watched me leave. I wonder why they looked worried.
���In the car I switched the radio station to soft, easy-listening rock. In the mornings it has to be hard rock to keep me going, rev me up. At night, it's relaxing time. If I went home wound up, there's no telling what might happen. Or what I might do.
���The music relaxes me. I try to stay in the slow driver's lane. At least there is less stress with slower drivers; moist times they're older or not too sure where they are going. As far as that goes, do I know where I'm going? If I drove and drove and got lost, would anyone miss me? Worse, would anyone know I ever existed? Tears threatened and I swallowed hard and bit my tongue to stop them.
���Tears are not a wise driving tool; even in the slow lane.
���Eventually I found my way home. Everything was as I had left it. Hell, no one wants to rob the damn place. I opened a can of soup, threw some chips in a bowl and poured a soda. Or did I open the chips and throw a can of soup in a bowl? Anyway, nice diet. How could I eat so little and still be a blimp? So what if my face has, at very long last started to stay clear? I would rather have a few zits than all this blubber. Maybe if I was thinner I would have more friends…
���No, I would still be me. And that's the worst part. Say, I know! Why didn't I think of this before? Know what I need? A personality transplant. Wait. I bet I would have to cut my head open. Oh God, no. I must hold my head together with both hands, yes, before it cracks open and my dull boring brain comes oozing out.
���Oh God, the pain.
���But the pain is not in my head; no, it goes far deeper and don't know how much longer much longer I can stand it.
���My soup is cold.
���Therapy time. How insulting that the only way someone will listen is when they are being paid to listen. The entire idea disgusts me. People should care about one another; how can a professional take money from a poor slob just to listen? Anyway, Dr. Schultz asked to please excuse her while she took care of something in adjoining office. She looked tired, exhausted. I knew what was going on. Even being paid to listen wasn't going to work in my case. I left.
���Can you beat that? Someone was being paid to listen to me and she walked out, away from me and my crisis. Boy she was surprised when she found me gone. I bet she was really worried, too. Right.
���"Leigh! Hey, Leigh, wait up!"
���Roxanne came at a run toward me, her face flushed with a glow all over.
���"Good news, Roxanne?"
���Roxanne hesitated, looked at her shoes; finally looked at me.
���"Well, I was hoping so, silly. Oh sorry, I didn't mean….what I mean is, how was therapy?"
���I looked at that face, those all-seeing eyes; how could I lie? And to a "friend" yet? I tried so hard to look like someone who has been in therapy, but how does such a person look? I hadn't counted on being questioned.
���"It was…well, it…."
���"Hey, It's all right," said Roxanne. "That was stupid and insensitive of me. I'm really sorry Leigh."
���Good Lord, she had tears in her eyes. Had Roxanne counted on my therapy that much? Suddenly I wanted to comfort her. How could I have done this to a friend, to someone who cared about me?
���"Roxanne, it's all right. Really. Uh, it was no big deal. The doctor was very nice." There at least that much was out.
���Roxanne's earlier glow was almost gone, but she managed a smile. "We'll talk more when you're ready. That is, only if you want to."
���That evening driving home, clever thoughts to skip my therapy sessions began to take shape. Skipping them would be a piece of cake; lying about them would be the challenge. What if Roxanne had been to therapy before and could tell that I was lying? But I just would not, could not, go anywhere near that damn shrink again.
���I can fix my own pain, thank you very much.
���The next day, Friday, I could barely keep control. One minute tears, the next, inexplicable rage. Roxanne had been friendly enough the past two days with never a question about my therapy. I had tried hard to keep my lies straight, yet I feel the truth might have spilled out if she asked the right question.
���I just knew it would be impossible to continue like this much longer. What was going to happen to me? Maybe I should move to a small town, like where I grew up. I remember now, the people there cared about me, asked about me. They really like my Mom and me. Why did Mom have to die and leave me along?
���Stupid, stupid, stupid. Moving to a big city did not mean that I would be less lonely, It only meant I would be alone among thousands of people. Sometimes passing through those anonymous faces in the streets, I wanted to grab someone, tell them I am a really good person, that they would never have a friend as loyal, as kind or understanding as me. That they were missing out by not giving me a chance. I would shake them to try me out for a short time for a short time. Hell, if they were unsatisfied with they could return me. What's so hard about that? How could they lose? It was better than a money back guarantee. Because we are talking about an honest-to-God person with feelings here. I need you and you need me.
���Can't you see that?
���I cannot go onto work today. I am so tired; my arms are so heavy. My legs walk so slowly. Or do they walk at all? My stomach was hungry, but the soup is gone, the chips mere crumbs. The soda was gone for almost a week. Wait a minute, here. I took the last soda to work-has it been a week since I had went to work? Am I on vacation? Oh God, did I remember to call in? Poor Roxanne. I bet she's worried sick.
���My mouth is so dry. I need water, anything. But the room is near dark. Usually I leave the night light on; maybe it blew out, Somehow that's funny.
���When did my bed change? Did I buy a new one? With sides?
���Oh, no. My arms are heavy because they are strapped down! I can't move. Please, I need water.
���A door opens and allows a thin stream of glaring light. Someone is in the room with me as the door sighs shut. I can hear the rustling of stiff material and the 'clump' of heavy-soiled shoes. An ice-cold hand reaches for me and finally, I find my voice. But I do not speak. I am so scared.
���"Leigh? Are you awake?"
���Tears slide silently from of the corners of my eyes and dampen my hair, trickle into my ears and make them itch. I still cannot find my voice as I cry. Her voice cares; there is no mistake. Thought the touch is cold and the room is dark, I can feel another's love, the soft voice soothing and wonderful.
���"It's all right, Leigh. You don't have to talk. I'm here to take care of you. Now try to calm down. There now, that is much better."
���I felt the effects of that caring voice, that gentle touch. Soon I stopped crying and began drifting back to sleep. I found my voice as dawn broke and still the cold hand held my own. Finally I could make out a face to go with that soothing voice, that friend I ached for so. I licked my lips and made the effort. She must know I appreciate her. She saved me and I must say it aloud.