The 5 Stages of Grief

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Chapter 20, Dr. Alexander

“You’re right on time,” Chloe said, glancing over her shoulder at the Grandfather-clock nestled in the corner of a zigzagging hall. The antique didn’t fit with the rest of the décor – a kind of modern look, as far as he could tell – though in his profession it was better to observe, not jump to conclusions, as the answers, the stories behind such things, usually disclosed themselves in due time. “Actually you’re ten minutes early,” she smiled, breaking his wandering thought, pulling the door open wider for him to enter. “What kind of man are you?”

Unlike him, she had not overdressed for the occasion. Instead, she looked casually thrown together in a white tank-top and a pair of khaki shorts with matching canvas runners. The shorts were not tight, but they were short enough to show off her natural legs – sans nylons. Her make-up was perfect and her hair drove him mad, like always, running all rational thought from his mind. Her look was intentionally casual, not a detail left out of place.

He, on the other hand, was wearing his best suit, a Zegna, or so he’d been told by the guy fitting it. Said it was made with the finest fabrics in the world – from Italy of course. It was a light grey with fine white pinstripes, immaculately cut and tailored with a white shirt and white silk tie to go with his matching shoes and belt. “So California!” he’d been informed at the store when they put the look together for him. He’d no idea whether it was or wasn’t, didn’t matter, it was the only suit – other than his black formal – that he’d packed, so it would have to do. He’d never known clothes could cost so much and was convinced that – when added together, including the watch and accoutrements – the ensemble cost more than his car. Which he’d gotten rid of a few months back finding it too expensive.

“I’m sorry. Am I too early? I could come back.” Did I just say that?

“Don’t be silly. You’re here now and we have a lot of work to do. Nice suit,” she said, nodding her head, pointing towards it with her chin as he squeezed by, stepping through the doorway, trying not to bump into her as he did. Is she being sarcastic or does she genuinely like it? his mind wandered, though was cut short as she continued. “I’ve set us up at the table over there, if that’s okay with you? She glanced to the bag clutched against his chest. “You brought wine, I see.”

“Yes.” He held out the bag. “Where would you like me to put it?”

She opened the top of the outstretched offering and looked in. “Three bottles? Wow, did you ever bring wine!” She turned her gaze on him, her eyebrows arched, her voice stern, what he imagined to be her best assistant district attorney impression, though he thought she held a smile inside. “What are your intentions, Dr. Alexander?”

It had never registered to him what bringing three bottles of wine might be suggesting. A light flicked on in delayed recognition. He panicked, failed to hide it from his face. “Oh—? No! Nothing at all! I— I just didn’t know what you would like and I don’t know anything about wine and I was so confused with all the questions so I bought all the suggestions the wine man made. I didn’t mean to—”

Laughing, she put her hand to his forearm. “Never mind, I’m sure I can handle myself. Put them in the kitchen, it’s at the end of the hall, the opener is in the second drawer left of the sink and the glasses are in the cupboard above the stove. Why don’t you pour us a glass, we can order something in a little later. And take that bloody tie off, you look like the gay mafia for Christ’s sakes.” He looked at her, wondering what she meant. She winked, her smile genuine. Sighing relief, he went to fetch their first glass of wine.

“So, your father – he’s still alive then? Both folks?” She took another sip of what she commented to be, “Outstanding wine.” He refilled her glass then carried the empty bottle to the kitchen.

“Yes, he is – very much so. Mother passed on a few years back. Cancer. No one knew except her and her doctor. She refused any treatment, just died one weekend without complaint. Mother never complained. Personally, I think she just wanted to get away from him. Probably thought that if she’d told him, he would’ve had his lawyers figure out a way to have him take legal control over her body and keep her alive forever. That way she’d have to listen to him bitch and complain, watch him manipulate and bully the world and everyone around him.” He came back with a freshly opened bottle and two clean glasses. Funny how quickly he felt at home? He would have to think about that.

Pouring into the fresh glasses “to let it breath” she had informed him, he noticed her rolling her neck and rubbing her shoulders. “Stiff?” he asked.

“This case kept me up most of the night. Well, that and being a single mom. You do know I’m a single mom don’t you?” She froze mid-movement, a look of terror infecting her face. “I’m so sorry if I didn’t tell you. I assumed you knew – that everyone knew. Not that I’m complaining. She’s my world and I would never change it. It’s tough sometimes though, being the provider and the caregiver, I’m just old-fashioned that way I guess. I believe a child needs both a mother and a father, that, that was the plan all along or else we wouldn’t need both to… Oh, listen to me rambling on!” Her face flushed. “Our first bottle of wine together and I’m running on about parenthood.” She resumed massaging her neck. “You have any? Children I mean? Ever been married?”

“No, to both.” He stood, pointed at her shoulders, “Do you mind?” then walked behind her replacing her hands with his. She was nervous at first, it took a moment but she finally lowered her hands and relaxed. He felt the tension slowly begin to release as her shoulders loosened, dropping lower and lower. Nothing was said, not for quite awhile.

“My God, where did you learn to use your hands like that? They’re like magic.” She drooped like a ragdoll under his touch.

He laughed. “Not magic – massage therapy. I used to make extra money as a masseuse. I know, you would never have of guessed it – well nobody does. Though, as I mentioned, my father and I didn’t actually see eye to eye, so I tried to make my own way wherever possible. I haven’t taken a dime from him in years.”

“But a massage therapist?” He could sense her raised eyebrows, the skepticism, even standing behind her.

“Yes ‘a massage therapist’ and I was a good one too! After all, I am a doctor and did study human anatomy quite intensively, surely a lot more than most of the buffoons that call themselves certified. I also found I could tune out while working. That it didn’t take much, if any, of my mental energy to give an adequate massage, so I could think about problems and theorems while working. It all worked out rather well you might say.”

“And is that what you’re doing now?”

“Pardon? What do you mean?”

“Working out problems and the like – is that what you’re doing now?”

He knew she was grinning, teasing him, could feel it through the muscles in her neck. He wasn’t sure how long it took him to realize he’d stopped massaging, was instead tracing her name upon the nape of her neck but knew it was enough for her to notice. That’s when he realized he’d stopped entirely and now stood in silence, his face smoldering ten degrees hotter, his heart thumping, rattling his reason. He jerked his hands back as they’d somehow managed to slip under the straps of her tank, the movement so quick, abrupt as if he’d been burned. His words tumbled out, “I’m sorry. I must have lost myself there for a moment. I wasn’t thinking… Please forgive my—”

“Are you always this apologetic?” She sat still, her head bent forward, not moving to adjust her straps. “I don’t believe you heard me complaining.”

The minutes passed glacier slow, time enough to watch his life or at least the lonely parts, pass before him like a sad and pathetic movie. He looked towards her bared neck, her beautiful white skin, exposed shoulders, slowly replaced his hands, resumed the massage.

“It took you long enough.”

“I’m… new to this.”

“New? I thought you said—”

“Not for someone I’m attracted too. Someone like you—”

“Me? What do you mean – like me? You never gave one of your girlfriends a massage before? I can’t believe they would let you get away with that. Not with those hands?”

“No. I’ve never….” His hands slowed. He wondered whether he should come clean, let her know what a loser, nerd, he was. Decided, he added, “I’ve never had a girlfriend… a date.”

He felt her stiffen under his touch, practically freeze. “What do you mean – never? I mean, we’re about the same age, right? How could you…? What do you mean – never?”

“It was rather easy, really.” He felt himself loosen, now the truth was out. It was liberating. He laughed. “The women don’t exactly line up for us science types. Nerds. We’re mostly in a relationship with our work – at least that’s what we tell ourselves – then the weeks become months, the months turn to years and the next thing you know?” He shrugged. “If you saw my old pictures... I’m sure they would explain a lot.”

She laughed, blew a snort right out of her nose and didn’t care. “So that’s what’s up with the suit!” His face flushed, she turned to see him reddening. “I’m only teasing. Don’t be so sensitive. I love that you’re not like everyone else, and I’m flattered.” She looked back, stretching her neck to catch his eyes. They stared a moment longer, then she pulled her straps back on her shoulders. “So let’s order some food and finish up this work.” She pointed to the table, the books and files, laptop, piled upon it. “When we’ve finished we’ll see whether I allow you to continue your massage or not. I have a feeling my lower back will need attention. Italian okay? There’s a place just around the corner that’s simply fabulous. They don’t usually deliver, but the owner knows my old-man from back in Boston – they go way back.” She’d already lifted the phone and was speaking to some guy named Frankie. She ordered for both of them, which was a good thing as he was was speechless.

Dinner had come and gone. Any remnants, cheese, olives, bread, still sat on the table so they could munch if they wanted, “It helps bring out the full flavor of the wine,” she said. They’d somehow finished two of the bottles and Chloe had opened the third without prompting, their words heating, often tripping into passionate, with each sip – their laughter more frequent, louder.

“What do you mean he’s not crazy? Of course, he is! Just look at him for Christ’s sakes, anyone can see he’s a friggin’ loon! And you’re the bloody guy who’s supposed to be world-renowned in this? How can you not see it?” Her temper, like her hair, could flare at a moment’s notice, only to be replaced a moment later with a wink and a purr. She knew how to present her case. He was dealing with a master here and she was used to winning. She intended to convince him she was right, of that there was no doubt. What surprised him was the position she had taken regarding the case.

“I’m not convinced yet. We can’t afford to be wrong – not here. The wrong diagnosis could have him back in society in a fraction of the time. Not probable – but possible. I’ve seen stranger things happen.” He watched her rise, walk closer to him – too close – the proximity, the proportion of her tiny body placing her breasts in front of his face. Breasts he knew had nothing concealing them than the flimsy white tank-top she wore. Breasts he’d fantasized about since virtually seeing them the other day scarcely concealed by her lace bra. Breasts he tried hard to push to the back of his mind, though it seemed they had more control of him than he of them.

She filled his glass again, handing it to him while taking up her own. She clinked in cheers then watched him over the rim as she sipped. “If you would simply come to reason, then we could stop this nonsense,” she winked, “and you could continue the massage you began earlier.” She stood, stepped closer. He could hear the alcohol in her voice but sensed she was aware of her actions, “Well? What do you say Doctor? Can we stop this senseless arguing and put this one to bed?” Her breasts were only inches from his face. He had to look up into her eyes or he would lose his resolve.

“You present a compelling argument Miss Blantyre. One I find most difficult to resist. However, as a professional and expert in my field, I must be convinced without a doubt as to his mental state of mind before I can offer my diagnosis. I’m sorry.” It was his turn to smile. “Much sorrier than you could possibly know. Even so, I must refrain from judgment until I’m positive.” He hoped his voice had remained steady, though was not entirely sure.

She took his glass from him and placed it on the table beside her own then straddled his legs, sitting on his lap, her hands on his shoulders for support. Wiggling her ass, she shimmied up his lap to get closer, giggling as she did. “And you are sure? Positive?” Almost touching his chest now, she wet her lips then slowly dropped the straps of her tank, one at a time, to just above her nipples. “There is nothing I could do…” she nuzzled his neck with her lips, “to get you to change your mind.” She leaned back, stretched to arm’s length, looked into his eyes and waited for his reply.

He stared, hypnotized by her beauty, enthralled by her suggestion. Screams came from within demanding he give in, that he take this goddess and all that may come, even if only for the moment. Yet, from somewhere – he had no idea where as everything inside him was shouting yes – he felt his head shake side to side. The words slip from his mouth like a thief, an assassin killing his lustful dreams, robbing him of his fantasies. “No Chloe. I’m sorry. As much as it kills me I must remain true to my beliefs, my integrity. And the truth is, I do not know – for certain – where I stand on this one.” He could almost feel a tear, as if it were just hanging there waiting to fall, but not yet.

She stared at him, the intensity of her eyes piercing him, holding him there as surely as a javelin through the heart then nodded her head and smiled. “That was the right answer Doctor. I vowed to myself I would only ever be with a man who was true to himself. Otherwise, how would he ever be true to me?” She lowered the last of her tank, exposing her perfect breasts to him for the first time. “Now what do you say about that massage”


“Shh,” she said and took his hand…

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