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Secrets Revealed

By Strickland83

 

 

Part III – The Truth

 

Tim and Fran woke up on Saturday morning. Tim wanted to play some more, taking advantage of a night in a hotel without Laura, but Fran had butterflies in her stomach. She had an appointment to face her worst fears.

 

They tried to have breakfast at the Polo Grille inside the hotel but Fran ended up only with a cup of coffee. Tim managed to eat a little more but he was also nervous. He was torn—he was meeting with the woman he had loved, the woman who had let him go so he could fall in love with his wife. Though he wouldn’t admit it, he was as nervous as Fran was.

 

They left the restaurant, their shoes making a hollow sound on the marble floor. Tim held tightly onto Fran’s hand as they walked to the parking garage for the ten minute drive. Leaving the garage, they drove on South Ludlow to Highway 35. There was almost no traffic on that Saturday morning so they quickly passed the big park and found the street where Patrice lived. Turning left, Tim started looking for house numbers.

 

“That one,” Fran said, pointing to the fourth house. “4526, see?” she said.

 

“But the one right before it is 4520. Are you sure?”

 

“Look at the mailbox,” Fran said.

 

Tim saw what she was pointing to and pulled into the driveway. With the garage door closed they couldn’t tell if anyone was home. He turned off the engine, still looking out the windshield. His thoughts were of a summer long ago, of a face he hadn’t seen in many years. The touch of his wife’s hand stirred him.

 

“Let’s go,” she said, her voice quavering.

 

“What are you going to say to her?” he asked.

 

“I’m not sure. I’m sorry?” she answered.

 

As Fran got out of the van, she noticed an older man in the yard next door, wearing a straw hat. He was kneeling on a pad, the same green color as the grass, and pulling weeds from a flowerbed. He looked over, studying the arrivals. Fran smiled and waved. He waved back but kept studying the strangers without smiling.

 

Fran walked around to where Tim was waiting. Taking a deep breath, she grabbed his hand and they walked up to the front door of the red brick house. Tim looked at the bricks and was reminded of another building at a small airport in Louisiana.

 

The couple stood at the door, each taking comfort in the other’s touch. Fran reached for the doorbell, but her finger paused just over the button. She had a last thought that she was about to finally get answers, finally be completely freed of her guilt. She pushed the button in. A bell could be heard faintly ringing inside the house. Her heart was pounding as she waited. She was so grateful that Tim was there with her. After a minute, she turned to her husband.

 

“Maybe she’s not here,” she said.

 

“There was no guarantee she would be. We should have called.”

 

Fran had come this far and she wasn’t going to give up. She rang the bell a second time.

 

Tim looked to the yard next door and saw that the man in the straw hat was still watching them.

 

“The Neighborhood Watch is out in full force this morning,” he joked.

 

Any response Fran was thinking of making was cut off as the sound of the lock turning caught their attention. There was a click and the handle turned. The door opened with just a faint squeak. A pleasant looking brunette stood in the doorway. She looked at Fran, a polite but noncommittal smile on her face. Then she looked over Fran’s shoulder to the man standing behind her.

 

Recognition flooded across her face. She looked at Tim, feelings from long ago gripping her heart. Her lips parted slightly and she drew in a breath, feeling an ache in her chest. Her mouth formed the sounds but the word Tim didn’t quite escape her lips. She looked again at Fran, now realizing who she was.

 

“Fran?” she asked in disbelief. “Fran, is it really you?”

 

Fran couldn’t speak, her heart pounding in her chest. She just nodded.

 

“How did you find… I mean, where, oh, what are you doing here?” Patrice stammered. She stood there, staring at her two visitors in disbelief. Finally realizing this was actually happening, she invited them in.

 

Fran and Tim stepped through the door, entering a nicely decorated living room. Artwork graced the walls. The furnishings revealed that no children lived there.

 

Patrice directed her guests to the sofa with her hand before taking a seat in the chair opposite. The three of them just looked at each other for a few minutes, the shock of the moment keeping them spellbound. A clock ticked in the distance, marking the passage of time.

 

Patrice’s eyes diverted to Fran’s left hand for confirmation before breaking the silence.

 

Waving her hand at them, “You two are married, right?” she asked.

 

“Yes, we are,” Fran said, taking Tim’s hand and gripping it tightly in a sweaty hold. “We have a daughter and we live in south Texas.”

 

“That’s a long drive. Are you here on vacation?”

 

“No, actually,” Fran explained, “we came here hoping to find you.” The tension gripped Fran’s stomach and she was glad at that moment she hadn’t tried to eat breakfast.

 

Patrice’s right hand idly played with the fabric of the armrest as she tried to keep her voice steady. “A daughter? That’s nice.”

 

“Patrice, I wanted to say… I need to tell you… I mean, I never got to, but I tried…” Fran tried to say but the sentences wouldn’t form in her mind. She had too much to say and didn’t know how to say it. She silently wished that she had rehearsed a speech beforehand. There was only one way to say it and she knew that. Tim felt her hand grip his tighter, almost painfully.

 

“I’m sorry,” she said as tears started to finally flow down her cheeks. “I’m so very sorry.”

 

Tim pulled free of her grasp and put his arm around his wife to comfort her. He didn’t notice that Patrice stiffened slightly as he did that.

 

“Sorry for what?” Patrice asked. She knew what she should do. She had talked about it. Could she do it?

 

She gathered her courage, remembering the words of encouragement, and stood. She walked to Fran and sat next to her on the sofa. She reached out and touched Fran’s cheek, a touch that spanned too many years. She could feel the wetness of the tears. She hadn’t heard Fran cry in so long.

 

Patrice swallowed hard before speaking. “Fran, you don’t have anything to be sorry about.”

 

“Yes, I do,” Fran said through the tears. “I took Tim away from you, and I didn’t regret it one bit.” She was crying full force now, the pent up guilt and fear cascading out of her and washing her soul.

 

“We talked about this, back then. We came to a decision.” Patrice’s words were almost cold, unfeeling.

 

“I kept my promise. I never told him, until a few weeks ago. I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t keep it from him any longer,” Fran sobbed.

 

Patrice looked around Fran to meet Tim’s eyes. She didn’t see in there what she hoped to see, what she had seen in there the last time she looked into those eyes. The love wasn’t there anymore. He felt love, she was sure of that—Tim had such a great capacity for love—but that love was for someone else now. For Fran.

 

Patrice wanted to say so much, but she couldn’t bring herself to say the words. So much had changed, had happened, over the intervening years. She trembled as the memories of the years passed through her mind, a parade of images. She was starting to cry now, too. She put her arms around Fran and remembered a time long ago in a dorm room.

 

She looked to Tim once more. “Tim, there is a box of Kleenex in the next room, on the table. Would you get it, please?”

 

Tim nodded and got up. Patrice followed him with her eyes until he rounded the corner.

 

“Fran, how much did you tell him?” she asked her friend in a whisper. “What does he know?”

 

“He knows that we were both dating him, that you let me have him.”

 

“Are you two happy? Really happy with each other?” Patrice asked, almost desperately.

 

“Yes, we are. We are so much in love. I just had to come here to tell you how sorry I am.”

 

Tim found the box on a table, next to a pen and a closed notebook. It was one of those nicely bound blank books, like a diary. He was tempted to look inside but stopped himself. Patrice wasn’t part of his life anymore. He did seize the opportunity to look around the room though. A bookshelf caught his eye. There were many books on self help taking up an entire shelf. Realizing he was going to be missed, he picked up the box of Kleenex and headed back to the living room.

 

Patrice heard him coming and whispered one last thing to Fran. “Love him. That will make up for it.” Then, composing herself and turning to Tim, she took the offered box and smiled a wan smile. “Thanks,” she told him. She pulled a few sheets out and offered them to Fran, then took a few for herself.

 

The two women sat back and dabbed at their faces.

 

“This must seem so foolish to you, Tim,” Patrice said.

 

Tim was lost in memories, remembering that summer long ago. When he realized Patrice was talking to him, he said, “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

 

Patrice’s smile broadened. “I was saying that the way we are acting must seem so silly to you.”

 

Tim thought about what she had said. He was surprised that he still felt so much for Patrice, in spite of what had happened. He never doubted his love for his wife, that was supreme, but he still had a tender spot in his heart for Patrice. He knew he always would.

 

“Not at all. I know you two had a special friendship that ended abruptly, because of me. I’m glad you got to get together again. I’m sorry we barged in like this.”

 

“I was afraid you wouldn’t want to see us if I called first,” Fran said, still dabbing at tears.

 

“Nonsense. I’m glad you came. I’ve spent so much time wondering whatever happened to you. You don’t know how it makes me feel to see how you turned out. Seeing you two together, so in love, it makes it all worth—” and her voice faltered.

 

Fran reached out and hugged Patrice. It was partly in thanks, partly in apology. Tim looked on uneasily, fully aware that this whole scene was because of him. Patrice was in control of the situation and knew it.

 

“What finally sparked the revelation?” she asked Fran.

 

It was Tim who answered. “We were on a trip and passed Camp Kisatchie. I wanted to stop and look around. I didn’t realize what I was doing to Fran by bringing her there.”

 

“It’s still there, after all these years?” Patrice asked, surprised.

 

“The place is still there, but it looks abandoned. It’s not open anymore, but walking the grounds sure brought back a lot of old memories,” Tim said, the ghost of an old smile on his face.

 

“I’m sure it did,” Patrice said. “That summer I spent there was very special to me.”

 

Fran listened, especially to the tone in her husband’s voice. She had never heard him speak that way about someone else before. She knew he had been in love with Patrice. They had shared many discussions about the summer of 1982 since that day at her parents’ farm. Hearing Tim and Patrice talk about it, though, made it so much more vivid.

 

“That was so long ago, so much has changed in our lives since then,” Tim said.

 

“Yes,” Patrice said, her eyes darting to the rings on Fran’s finger, “so many changes.”

 

They reminisced, about that summer and that fall. Patrice didn’t offer much about her own life, she kept them talking about how things had turned out for the two of them. Patrice wanted to help them feel that things had turned out for the best. She wanted them to remember her that way.

 

Three hours had passed when the visit finally came to an end. Fran felt relieved of her guilt. Tim realized he no longer loved Patrice. He loved Fran and there was absolutely no doubt about that. Each of them gained something from the visit, something each needed. As they rose to leave, they promised to stay in touch, a promise Patrice doubted they’d keep. They all had their own lives now.

 

Patrice gave Fran a final hug and a kiss on the cheek. They stood there, the three of them, in front of the sofa, looking awkwardly at each other. Finally, Fran broke the silence.

 

“Go ahead, you two. It’s okay.” Then, “Tim, kiss her.”

 

Tim looked to Patrice, looked into her eyes. Seeing something there, a dying ember perhaps, he stepped past his wife, the love of his life, and gently—almost hesitantly—put his arms around Patrice. The memories came flooding back. For an instant, it was 1982 all over again. Just for a moment.

 

He pulled her to him and hugged her tightly. Patrice drew in a deep shuddering breath as she felt Tim’s arms around her once more. She almost said something she shouldn’t. As they hugged, Tim whispered, “Thank you, Patrice. I’ll always treasure that summer in my heart.”

 

Patrice had to bite her lip to keep from moaning as the sensations overwhelmed her. She knew what she had to do but it was so difficult. In a way she wanted that moment to last forever and in another way she just wanted it to be over and for them to leave.

 

Then Tim looked into Patrice’s eyes. He remembered a last kiss on a late summer day so long ago and… kissed her again. The kiss took Patrice by surprise. She had difficulty separating today from yesterday. She was in Tim’s arms, but those arms belonged to another woman now. It took a Herculean effort not to moan into Tim’s closed lips, not to open her mouth to him. She fought and won.

 

Tim released her and looked into her eyes, her lips still slightly moist from the kiss. There were still feelings for her, but they were in his past. He had no doubts who he really loved. He was glad he had chanced that. He had confronted his own fears that day.

 

Tim blinked and turned to his wife. Fran was smiling faintly, happy for them. Happy that they had shared one more kiss. She had no doubts that her husband loved only her. She was so proud of herself for giving him that moment.

 

Patrice showed them to the door and they left. She closed the door, turned and slumped against it, and cried.

 

Outside, Fran noticed as she opened her door that the man was no longer there tending to his garden. The midday heat must be too much for him.

 

Fran felt like her relationship with Tim was even stronger now. They had faced Patrice together and 1982 was no longer something that divided them, but rather what brought them together. As Tim turned the key, Fran put her hand on his arm. It was a loving touch, a symbol of a bond. They drove off and back into their own lives.

 

 

Benjamin leaned back in his chair, looked at the clock on the wall for the third time, and sighed. His five o’clock was late again. It wasn’t until ten minutes after the hour that his phone buzzed. Marie’s voice broke in to tell him that she had finally arrived.

 

“Thanks, Marie. You can go. I’ll lock up,” he told her, knowing she would be grateful for not having to stay any later.

 

As the door handle started to turn, he stood to meet his patient. He was about to gently berate her for again being late when he saw the look on her face.

 

“Patrice, what happened?” he asked, his compassion taking over the other emotion.

 

“Oh, Ben, they showed up,” Patrice said, starting to tear up.

 

Benjamin gently directed her to the love seat and she sat next to the end table, automatically grabbing a handful of tissues from the box. He sat in the upholstered chair that faced her, a folder in his hand.

 

“Who showed up?” he asked, taking a pen from his pocket.

 

“They came to see me, Tim and … and her.”

 

“Tim?”

 

The name seemed familiar to Benjamin. He leafed through Patrice’s folder, notes of her therapy sessions, looking for the name.

 

“We talked about him last week, at the end,” Patrice prompted.

 

Benjamin found the name in the entry he had made the week before. He scanned his notes as Patrice rambled on. He let her talk, knowing it was good for her to refresh her memories right before they discussed them.

 

“We were going back through all of my relationships to try to see why they kept failing. Tim was my first, you know, to take me. He was 1982, the summer camp.

 

Benjamin, nodding, skimming the notes. They had been working backwards over the last few months. At the end of last Monday’s session, she was beginning to tell about her affair over the summer of 1982. She had given her virginity to another counselor at the camp. The relationship had ended strangely in the fall. Patrice was just about to start explaining why when time ran out.

 

“Yes, Tim. Camp Kisatchie. You were telling me about how you developed a sexual relationship with him. Why don’t you continue?” Benjamin prompted.

 

“Well, you know I slept with him. He was my first, and he was wonderful. He cared for me, we were in love with each other, and he was so handsome. I had never felt ready to give that up for any other boyfriend. With Tim, I felt like I couldn’t wait to do it with him.”

 

Patrice paused for a moment to collect her thoughts.

 

“My roommate at the camp, we became close friends—the three of us—had a messy breakup with her boyfriend over the summer while we were there. Tim and I helped her through that time. As the summer came to an end, he and I talked about keeping things going, you know, in the fall. I was going to school in Arkansas, and Tim was in school in Louisiana.

 

“When I got back to school, my roommate had transferred so I ended up with someone else. Her name was Fran and we bonded really well. She had never had a boyfriend before so she hung on my every word as I told her about Tim.”

 

Patrice paused, as if unsure whether to talk about the next part.

 

“Go on, you can tell me about it,” Benjamin prompted.

 

Patrice looked at the door, to reassure herself it was locked.

 

“She wanted to hear about everything, even the sexual parts,” Patrice said, blushing a little. “We decided that it would be innocent enough if we didn’t use names. She wouldn’t know who he really was that way, so I told her everything. I can’t believe how intimate the details were, but it was strangely satisfying to be able to share that with someone. Without using his name, it was anonymous somehow. We just referred to Tim as him. After a few weeks, Fran knew Tim almost as well as I did. I got letters from Tim and even called him a few times. I could tell that things weren’t as, uh, passionate as they had been over the summer. The distance was wearing on us.”

 

Patrice gripped the Kleenex a little tighter, a gesture that Benjamin noticed out of the corner of his eye.

 

“I knew we were drifting apart and I didn’t know what to do about it. Fran was hanging on my every word so I invented some of the later details. I couldn’t tell her the truth.”

 

Patrice sniffled as she got to the more emotional point of her tale.

 

“Then, there was this competition at a school in Lafayette, that’s south Louisiana, and Fran had to go. She left on a Thursday and didn’t get back until Tuesday. When she came back, it was like she was a different woman.

 

“She glowed and jabbered on about this guy she had met. She was so excited to finally have a guy to talk about. We kept the rules the same—no names—and she told me all the sordid details. In her I saw myself as I had been when I first met Tim, when we first started sleeping together.”

 

Patrice sniffled before continuing. Benjamin watched her intently, looking for clues in her body language.

 

“She raved on and on about her guy. Then, one day, I came back from class and she was even more excited than before. I asked her what was going on and she just pointed to the desk. There was a framed picture of her guy that had just come in the mail.”

 

Patrice stopped to wipe away a few tears. Benjamin waited patiently for her to continue.

 

“It was him.”

 

When Benjamin’s confused expression showed he didn’t understand, she continued.

 

“It was him. It was Tim.”

 

She looked up to check Benjamin’s reaction. It was as shocked as she expected, as she had been when it happened.

 

“We were seeing the same guy.”

 

She sobbed for a minute or two and Benjamin let her work herself up to continuing the tale.

 

“We talked about it a lot. We tried to figure out something but there was only one solution. We couldn’t both have him.”

 

Patrice stopped and sagged back against the cushions.

 

“So what did you do?” Benjamin asked, to get her going again.

 

Patrice looked up at the ceiling, her eyes red.

 

“I knew it wasn’t working out for us and he was going to break up with me. I let him have her.”

 

“And how did Tim feel about this?” Benjamin asked.

 

“He never knew. We never told him that he was dating both of us.”

 

“So this guy was seeing both of you and keeping it a secret from you?”

 

“He didn’t know we knew each other. We never told him that. I made her promise,” Patrice tried to explain.

 

“I don’t understand something, Patrice. If Tim was such a wonderful guy, so loving as you say, to each of you, then how could he cheat on you when he met Fran?”

 

“He didn’t. He wasn’t dating us at the same time,” Patrice said.

 

Benjamin put his pen down.

 

“That doesn’t make sense. You said you broke up with him after Fran met him.”

 

“No, that’s not right,” Patrice said. “We had broken up before.”

 

“That’s not what you said.”

 

Patrice started to respond but stopped with her mouth open. She was thinking it over, checking the details from her memory. As the realization hit her, her face dropped. Pain and sadness overcame her and she started crying again.

 

I broke up with him—before Fran met him. I saw our relationship was going to crash and burn so I called him and told him he should see someone else. We should see other people.”

 

The change in the tone of her voice told Benjamin they had found the point they had been seeking. A breakthrough was imminent.

 

“And when you saw them, together, on Saturday, how did you feel about that?” Benjamin asked, feeling the tingle of excitement.

 

“I was mad,” Patrice said.

 

“Mad at Fran? Or mad at Tim?”

 

“Both of them? No, that’s not right. Oh, I don’t know. I was mad at—” and then it happened. Patrice’s expression changed to one of wonder, maybe disbelief even. Shock might be a better word. “Me,” she whispered.

 

This was the moment Benjamin had been seeking, what he had been waiting for through all those weeks of therapy. This moment, and countless ones like it, was the reason he went into psychology. He couldn’t tell the patient what her problem was. She had to discover it for herself. He was just the guide.

 

“Oh, God! I was mad at me!” Patrice wailed.

 

Benjamin let that thought sink in for a moment or two.

 

“Do you know why you were mad at yourself?” he asked tentatively.

 

Patrice was still in shock at her revelation. She really was coming face to face with it for the very first time. She shook her head but Benjamin’s expression told her she wasn’t going to get off that easily. She had to complete the journey, take the final steps on her own.

 

“I drove him away, Ben. I pushed him away.”

 

Benjamin nodded, forcing himself not to smile. This was a tearful moment for her, but it was success for him, the culmination of a long journey they had taken together.

 

“I always push them away, don’t I?” she asked.

 

Benjamin just nodded again.

 

“Why do I do that?”

 

“Why do you think you do that to your lovers?” he asked her.

 

When she didn’t answer, he prompted.

 

“Think about Tim. It probably started with him. Why did you send him away?” he asked.

 

“I don’t know why. I was so happy with him. He was my first real love. I wanted us to be together forever.”

 

“But it wasn’t a fairy book story, was it? You weren’t together like you thought you should be.”

 

“No, he was there, so far away. It wasn’t turning out to be what I thought it would be like.”

 

“Were you afraid that he felt the same way?”

 

“I knew he did. At least, I hoped he did. I didn’t want him to be disappointed in me. I didn’t want Fran to find out that things weren’t perfect, either. So I ended it before it got too bad. I wanted to do the right thing. The noble thing. I wanted them to remember me that way. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?”

 

Benjamin looked like he wasn’t convinced. Patrice tossed the damp tissues in the trashcan and drew out a few replacements from the box. He waited patiently while she wiped her nose again.

 

“Why were you afraid to let things go? It might have worked out,” he suggested.

 

“I was afraid?” She thought about that for a minute. “Yes, I think I was. I always am. I’m always worried that he’ll want to break up with me so I break up with him first. I try to save myself the pain.”

 

She said those last words softly, as if filled with wonder. She was discovering things about herself. Benjamin didn’t want to interrupt her. He waited for her to continue.

 

“And if I keep breaking up with them before we get too close, then I will never have a successful relationship? I never let myself have one?”

 

“That’s exactly right, Patrice. You see that now, don’t you?”

 

“Yes, but why didn’t you just tell me that at the beginning?”

 

Benjamin smiled now. “You had to discover it within yourself. You had to find it. It wouldn’t have meant as much to you if I just told you. Therapy isn’t about me telling you what is wrong. It is about guiding you so you can find the answers within yourself.”

 

“So if I find the answers myself, why am I paying you?”

 

Benjamin chuckled. “I’m your tour guide,” he said and was rewarded with a small laugh from Patrice. Laughing wasn’t something Patrice had done much of in that room, if at all.

 

“I think we need to talk more about Fran and Tim. Did they really just show up on your doorstep unannounced?”

 

“Yes. I was so surprised. I didn’t know what to say at first.”

 

“What compelled them to do that?” Benjamin asked.

 

“She said they had started talking about me because they had visited the old camp, at least what is left of it. Fran felt guilty keeping that secret from Tim.”

 

“What secret? That she knew he was dating you?”

 

“I made her swear never to tell him that she knew me. I thought that would increase their chances for staying together.”

 

“By lying?” Benjamin asked, knowing in advance how much that comment would hurt her.

 

“That was stupid, I admit it now.”

 

“Alright, no more about that. What happened between you and Fran after she met Tim?”

 

Patrice drew in a heavy sigh.

 

“I tried to cope for a few days. After that, I just couldn’t stand being around Fran. She was so happy. He was making her so happy. I was supposed to be that happy. She took that from me.”

 

Benjamin raised his eyebrows.

 

“Okay, I let her take it. Alright, I gave him to her. I did it. I fucked up!” Her last words echoed off the walls. Patrice used the bunched up Kleenex to wipe up a few more tears. “I couldn’t stand being around her so I moved out. She even tried to find me, to talk to me but I avoided her. I guess she finally got the message because she stopped trying to find me.”

 

“Did you two have a fight when you left?” he asked her.

 

“No. I didn’t give her the chance. I didn’t tell her I was moving out. I just took all my stuff and left while she was in class one morning.”

 

“You really did avoid her.”

 

“I’m not trying to pretend it was right, okay? I know I was wrong. I wanted to forget that year had ever happened. In my head, I tried to not think about it. In my heart, well, Tim was still there. And every time I touched myself… down there… I could feel what had happened to me. What Tim had done to me.”

 

“You never forget your first time,” Benjamin observed.

 

He looked at the clock which was prominently visible. Their time was just about up, but he didn’t have anywhere to go. He had rules about extra time, especially for clients who were playing games by being late. He also had rules about extending sessions just a little when a breakthrough was being made. He decided this was one of those times to let the session go over.

 

Patrice smiled wanly. “It was a pretty good first time.” She looked distant, and then focused on Benjamin again. “It was a great first time,” she said with a grin.

 

“What have you learned from all this that can help you now?”

 

“If I ever get another chance, I won’t—” she started but Benjamin cut her off.

 

When you get another chance,” he said in a slightly harsh tone.

 

Patrice started again, but with a smile this time. “When I get another chance, I won’t get scared and push him away. I’ll hang in there and give it a chance. I’ll do something good for me.”

 

“Promise?” Benjamin asked.

 

“Promise!” Patrice assured him.

 

“That’s what I want to hear,” he said in encouragement.

 

“I think I learned what happens when I get scared and pull the plug early. I feel like I am finally ready to see what happens when I ride it out.”

 

“You’ve made a lot of progress. I think we’ve discovered the cause for why you weren’t able to have any meaningful relationships. You were reacting to a fear that wasn’t based in fact. You were trying to do what you thought would make other people happy instead of seeking out your own happiness. It’s alright for you to be happy, too.”

 

He let that sink in before continuing.

 

“I think you are ready to start coming every other week. Let’s have our regular session next week and change your appointments after that. I also want you to start thinking about changing to a group session.”

 

“Group session?”

 

“Yes, I have a group that meets on Wednesdays. It consists of women who are going through a similar situation to yours. It would help you to hear them telling about their situations. Yours isn’t as unusual as you think.”

 

“I’m not sure if I’m ready for that, but I’ll think about it.”

 

“That is all I am asking, Patrice. Think about it. Well, our time is up for this week. I’d like for you to write in your diary how you felt about meeting Fran and Tim.”

 

“Already done that,” Patrice said with a triumphant smile.

 

“Good. You came face to face with your greatest fear, your real demon, and you handled it very well—all on your own.”

 

Patrice smiled proudly at his words. Standing to leave, she took a chance.

 

“Dr. Benjamin, can I… hug you?”

 

“Patrice, you know I feel really happy for you right now.” He thought about that. Rules were meant to be bent. Great breakthroughs had been made. She had really bared her soul and a hug was good medicine for the soul. He also thought about what a hug might mean to her, and how it would be in her best interest not to hug her, regardless of his feelings of empathy.

 

“If I hug you, it may cause problems that you can’t foresee right now. Maybe we can talk about this next time.”

 

Patrice nodded slowly.

 

“Okay, Dr. Benjamin,” she said, then turned towards the door.

 

He walked her out to the lobby and unlocked the door to let her out. He locked it behind her and returned to his office to sit at his desk. Taking a pen, he made notes in Patrice’s file. He summarized what they had discussed. Coming to the end, he thought about how far Patrice had progressed.

 

“She’s going to be alright,” he said to no one and he smiled. “Yes, she’s going to make it.”

 

He closed the file and returned it to the file cabinet. Closing the drawer, he pushed in the lock, hearing it make a satisfying click.

 

Benjamin stopped at the door and turned back around, surveying the room. He thought about all the secrets, all the sins of Dayton, revealed there. He thought about Patrice. As he turned off the light, he said softly, “She’s going to make it.”

 

He closed the door, and then tested the handle to be sure it was locked. It was a ritual he did every night, to separate work from his personal life. He headed down the hall and out the building, to his own life.

 

 

The End

  

 

This story couldn’t have been written without the help of many friends. I am very grateful for the contributions each made to this story. I learned from each of them and the story was improved as a result. Jrb and his wife, lsab, encouraged me and helped me with the basic storyline. The concept of Part III was suggested by jrb. Euterpe and jobeller taught me what it was like to be a counselor at a summer camp and contributed stories of their own experiences, adding realism to the story. A very helpful man named Jason answered my call and told me all about the airport in Natchitoches. Dr. B explained why Patrice was acting the way she did, and also helped me with realistically portraying her therapy session. Bigfdfan told me all about Patrice’s hometown. Nick Scipio lent me the use of his characters and let me give my readers a tiny glimpse of his upcoming Summer Camp Book 4. Finally, Terry Steyaert showed me where I could polish my story further. All these people also kept the secrets while we waited anxiously for the release.

 

I am very grateful for my many readers. Several of them even showed me a few more errors I failed to catch in the writing process. Perfection is not a destination, but a goal merely to be grasped at. Thanks for reading.

 

 

 This story is Copyright © 2006 by Strickland83. All rights reserved.

 

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