He glanced at his watch. She was late. Sighing, he got up from the chair and walked over to the window where he stood gazing out at the street below. Where was she? She was supposed to be there ten minutes ago. Was she with him again? The last time she was late, she had run into Devon who persuaded her to have a coffee with him and she didn’t show up here until almost half-hour later, apologizing profusely. Fortunately for her, he didn’t have any other appointments for the afternoon so he was able to see her but he had advised her not to be late again. And now, she was late again and most likely, Devon was the reason.
He closed his eyes as jealousy ripped through him. Dragging his fingers through his hair, he made up his mind that he couldn’t continue seeing her. Today they would have their last session and then he would refer her to a colleague.
It was his sister who had referred her to him and when she walked into his office, he should have realized that he was heading straight toward the slippery slope. He tried to remain detached and professional as he listened to her talk about her relationship troubles with Devon, a young man she had been dating since high-school but as the weeks went by, he found himself wishing that she would do them both a favor and end her relationship with Devon. She deserved better. She was beautiful, smart and had so much going for her. She didn’t need to be in this dead-end relationship with a man who clearly didn’t appreciate her. She had so much love to give but she was giving it to the wrong person and that drove him crazy. Whenever he thought of Devon, anger and jealousy consumed him. He doesn’t know how lucky he is. If I had an incredible woman like Ramona, I would treat her like a queen.
He turned when he heard the door open and his heart leapt when he saw her standing there. She came over to where he was. “You’re late,” he said unnecessarily.
“I’m so sorry I’m late,” she said, looking anxiously at him as she quickly removed her leather jacket.
He couldn’t prevent his gaze from traveling over her. She was wearing a black turtleneck sweater, a knee length red skirt with knee high black boots. Her hair fell in thick waves of curls about her face and shoulders and for one maddening moment, he wanted to bury his face in them. Abruptly, he walked over to the chair where he remained standing until she sat down on the sofa. “We only have twenty-five minutes for the session so we’d better get started.”
She sat with her hands in her lap. “Twenty-five minutes isn’t much time,” she said.
“You were supposed to be here thirty-five minutes ago.”
“Let’s not waste any more time with apologies and talk about why you’re here today.”
“I saw Devon at the café yesterday afternoon and—”
“Did you arrange to meet him there?”
“No, I went to get a cappuccino and he was there.”
“Did you leave the café after you bought the cappuccino?”
“I was about to when he came over to me.”
“What did he want?”
“He just wanted to say hello.”
“And after he said hello, did you leave?”
She shook her head, beginning to look uncomfortable now. “Well, we left the café together.”
“Where did you go?”
“We walked back to my flat.”
“What happened when you got there?”
“He wanted to come upstairs but I told him that it wasn’t a good time.”
He tried to remain calm and pragmatic. “So, the only reason he didn’t go up to your flat is that it wasn’t a good time. The last time we spoke, you indicated that you wanted to end your relationship with him but it seems to me that you had an opportunity to do so yesterday but you didn’t take it. It is obvious that you still have feelings for him and don’t want to make a clean break.” He glanced at his watch. “Your time is up.”
She looked upset. “Already?”
“I’m afraid so. Before you leave, I have something to tell you.”
“This is our last session. I will arrange for you to see my colleague, Mike Harris.”
She looked at him as if he had just given her devastating news. “But why?” she asked. “I’ve gotten so used to talking to you and you know so much about me. Why do you want me to see someone else?”
“I don’t think I can help you. You need someone who would be more objective.”
She got up from the sofa and went over to him. “Jackson, please, I need to continue seeing you. I promise I won’t be late again.”
He felt himself weakening when he stared up into those beautiful brown eyes and he wanted to reach up and pull her head down to his…Muttering under his breath, he sprang to his feet and went to stand behind the desk, putting as much distance between them as possible. “I’m sorry, Ramona, but I think you would be better off seeing another therapist. I will have the office get in touch with you.”
She stared at him for a long moment and then, stifling a sob, she grabbed her jacket and handbag and bolted from the room. He stood there, trembling as he fought the temptation to go after her. He believed he had done the right thing–the sensible thing yet why did he feel rotten? He had to take a few moments to collect himself before he was able to see his next client.
He was packing up to leave when the door opened and his sister walked in, her expression a mixture of censure and concern. He looked at her in surprise. “What are you doing here?” he asked.
“Jackson, what happened between Ramona and you this morning?” Noreen asked him. “She came to my office in tears.”
He continued what he was doing. “I told her that I couldn’t continue with our sessions and I recommended that she started seeing Mike.”
“Why did you do that?”
Without looking up, he confessed quietly, “I’ve done something that a therapist should never do. I fell in love with her.”
“And your solution to this problem is to send her to someone else?”
“I can’t continue seeing her when there’s a conflict of interest. Do you have any idea how hard it is to sit in that chair and listen to her talk about another man? I get so jealous that I can’t think straight. She deserves to be helped by someone who can be objective.”
“She said that you were upset with her for being late.”
“Yes, I was. I thought that she was with him—”
“Well, you were wrong. It’s my fault that she was late. I offered to give her a lift but wanted to stop by the cemetery first to put flowers on Tom’s grave. Today is his birthday, you know. He would have been fifty-three. I spent a longer time than I intended and we had to rush over here. Poor Ramona was mortified and was afraid that you wouldn’t see her. I wanted to come up with her and explain why she was late but she declined my offer.”
“Okay, I was wrong about why she was late today but the fact remains she’s still hung up on her boyfriend even though he treats her like…” he broke off as he found himself getting upset. “Let’s face it, Noreen, I’m in love with a woman who wants to be with a man who doesn’t deserve her. Such is life.”
“Is that what you believe? You believe that Ramona wants to be with Devon?”
“Yes.” The word came out as a strangled whisper. It was torture loving and longing for someone he couldn’t have.
Noreen touched his arm, her eyes searching his face and seeing the pain etched in its features. “You’re wrong about this too,” she told him quietly. “Ramona doesn’t want to be with Devon. She broke up with him weeks ago.”
Jackson stared at her. “She broke up with him?” he repeated, looking puzzled. “But why did she continue to come here and talk to me about him if she ended their relationship? It doesn’t make any sense.”
“People do strange things when they’re in love, Jack.”
“In love? Are you saying that–?” He shook his head. “No, you must be mistaken. She may have broken up with him but she’s still carrying a torch for Devon. That’s why she’s been coming and talking to me about him.”
“I’m not mistaken. She told me herself. She kept coming to your sessions because she wanted to continue seeing you. And when you told her that you were referring her to another therapist, she was devastated. She didn’t tell you how she felt about you because it would be another reason for ending your sessions. She was in quite a state when she came to my office. I gave her a lift home.”
He raked his fingers through his hair, trying to digest what he was hearing. His heart wanted to believe that Ramona loved him but his mind kept resisting. “This is probably transference. You know when a patient transfers his or her feelings to the therapist…”
“I know what transference means, Jack. I don’t believe that it applies here, though. Ramona is in love with you. Why don’t you go over to her flat and tell her how you feel? Put both of you out of your misery.”
“I’m afraid, Noreen,” he confessed, his voice a bit unsteady. “I’m afraid to hope and believe that she could love me when she has loved him since high-school. I’m afraid that he will always be between us.”
“Jack, love is a funny thing. We can’t help whom we fall in love with. Sometimes, it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. But, love is like the ocean. It can be calm or rough, shallow or deep but we can’t know unless we venture out and get our feet wet. Don’t let fear prevent you from following your heart. Life is too short for fears and doubts…and regrets.” She sighed. “What I wouldn’t give to have my Tom alive and with me.” Tom, her husband of thirty years had passed away five years ago, leaving behind their three children and her. “Go to her, Jack.”
Heart racing, he decided to take her advice. “All right,” he said. “I’ll go and see her now. Thank you, Noreen.”
Noreen smiled and her eyes seemed a bit moist. She reached up and hugged him tightly. “Don’t mention it.” They walked out the office together and parted ways in the parking lot.
He sat in his car for a few minutes, wrestling with himself and then he pulled out of the parking lot, heading for the highway which would take him to Ramona. Twenty minutes later, he was standing outside of her flat, his heart pounding hard. His hand shook as he raised it to ring the bell. The door opened and she stood here, staring at him. How he longed to take her in his arms.
“I didn’t think I would see you again,” she said in a trembling voice. Her eyes were red from crying. She stepped aside so that he could go in.
“I’m sorry about today,” he said after she had closed the door and was facing him. “Noreen came to see me and she explained why you were late.”
“I wanted to be early,” she said. “I couldn’t wait to see you. I was looking forward to spending an hour with you but because I was so late, I got to spend only twenty-five minutes which went by so quickly.”
“My next appointment was in ten minutes. Noreen told me that you broke up with Devon. Why didn’t you tell me?”
She glanced down at her hands which were twiddling with a crumpled tissue. “I was afraid that if I did you would stop seeing me and—and I couldn’t bear that.”
“Why Ramona?” he asked huskily.
“I love you,” she murmured, still holding her head down. Her heart was racing. She wanted to throw herself in his arms but uncertainty about his feelings for her held her in check.
His fingers clenched into fists as he fought the urge to take her in his arms. “What about Devon?” His faceless rival hovered between them. “Did you see him yesterday?”
She nodded. “Yes, I did but it didn’t transpire the way I told you. I went to the café to meet my friend, Brandi and he was there. We spoke for a while and then he left.”
“So, all that stuff about him wanting to go up to your flat, that wasn’t true?”
“It’s true but it didn’t happen yesterday. It happened a long time ago when we were on and off and before I started seeing you.”
“What about now?” he asked, his expression tense. “Do you still have feelings for him?”
She looked up then, her eyes wide as they met his. “No. He and I are finished. I don’t love him. I don’t believe I ever did. It was an infatuation which died when I met you.”
He swallowed hard. “I want to hear you say that you love me again.”
“I love you.”
“Say my name.”
“I love you, Jackson.” She moved closer to him. “I love you so much that the thought of never seeing you again was unbearable.”
He pulled her into his arms, his eyes dark and stormy. “I love you too, Ramona,” he muttered thickly. “You have no idea how much it pained me when you ran out of my office. I wanted to come after you but I thought about Devon and…”
She raised her hand and touched him gently on the lips. “Let’s not talk about Devon anymore. He’s my past and you’re my future. And now we have the present.” She trembled when he held her hand and pressed his lips into the palm before he bent his head and kissed her. Cupping his face between her hands, she responded wildly.
For several minutes, they exchanged hungry kisses and then she drew back to gaze up at his flushed face. “Does this mean that you’re no longer my therapist?” she gasped.
“Yes. Today was your last session.”
“Being with you is all therapy I need,” she murmured before she pulled his head down to hers.