"I'm just kind of doubled over, helpless, getting tickled in my nose by my own pubic hair. But I never move. I just kinda sit there."
Dr. Valerie Crowley coughed uncomfortably, somehow managing to maintain eye contact with her patient. She sat behind a polished oak desk, adorned in her favorite black dress with her knees pressed tightly together. In one hand a pencil drummed up and down, quivering as if at any moment it might smack into the polished wood, never quite making contact, never quite going all the way. In the other, she held the blue notebook that served as Andy's case-file. It wasn't the only blue notebook she had opened that day. But it was, she reminded herself, undoubtedly the most bizarre.
"Are you choking on it, or," she asked tentatively, which is the only way you can ask something like that, "or are you—partaking?"
Was 'partaking' the word she was looking for? Oh hell, was there a right word?
"No, no. I'm not sucking on it or anything." Andy uncrossed his hairy legs and put each one up onto the matching footrest of the oversized purple chair he was sitting in. He wore a tattered, comfortable T-shirt and khaki shorts to match; overall he radiated a relaxed, confident attitude. Beneath a trimmed beard, his boyish gaze drifted through the office ceiling, as if he were waiting for a bright light to shoot out of heaven and rescue him from life, from bills, from failed relationships and unappreciated ventures. He was not, however, waiting for any such thing. He was simply sitting there, talking about his penis. Again.
"It's just kind of there. It's not even erect. It's soft. Really soft. Have you ever had a dream like that?"
Valerie blinked twice, the sun catching her gold-colored eyes. Her dark, slender eyebrows raised a tenth of a millimeter.
"What," she asked, "that I woke up with a dick in my mouth?"
"Well, not just any dick. Your dick. You know what I mean."
Dr. Crowley shook her head and flipped back a couple of pages in the blue notebook. Andrew John MacFadden-Ketchin. Two fathers, one mother. Six girlfriends in the past three months. A history of very, very strange dreams.
What psychological significance that strange piece of trivia held, she had no clue. And yet it came up every session. She asked all of her colleagues about it, about the significance of uncircumcised penises, to which most of them replied with laughter, shrugs, and ethnic slurs. She couldn't help that most of them were Jewish.
"Well, Andy, that should give us plenty to talk about next week. Unfortunately, we're just about out of time."
Andy drew a pocket watch out of his khakis, temporarily tearing his gaze away from the ceiling to glance at the bronze time piece. "We still have three minutes. So what do you think it means, doc?"
Valerie sighed, her attention escaping to the decor of her new office. It wasn't anything special, but she had worked hard for it and she was satisfied with the room. Blue carpet stretched from wall to wall, disappearing occasionally under a purple chair or her twin bookshelves. 2nd street bustled two stories below outside the window next to her desk. A bust of Carl Jung occupied the left corner of the desk's polished oak surface.
A cute dentist occupied the office across the hall across the hall.
On the bookshelf, many books. There were books about psychology, of course, as well as relaxation and stress management. There were books that covered everything from schizophrenia, to paranoia, to chemical imbalance. In her desk drawer, where her patients couldn't see, there were several how-to's by the infamous Dr. Ruth, coupled with another famous how-to: a copy of Sun Tsu's Art of War. The room was teeming with books, on every shelf, in every drawer, in stacks on the coffee table. Yet there was nothing in any of those books that could have anticipated Andy MacFadden-Ketchin. Above the bookshelf, her diploma from the University of Virginia hung framed against the yellow wallpaper with the blue flowers on it. The diploma never could have anticipated Andy, either.
"I think," she postulated, "that maybe you feel a little helpless. I think you want to get your dick out of your mouth. You, however, don't do anything. I think you're bright, but poorly motivated."
Andy smiled and shook his head.
"See, that's what I thought, too. But I'm not so sure now. Cause last time I had this dream it was different."
"Different how?" she asked, waving her pencil.
"Well," he said, "I still have it in there, and I'm still doubled over like a stuffed shrimp. But this time I push myself up with my arms and start crawling around on my fingers."
Burying her gaze in her notebook, she concentrated on not drawing a little Andy stick-figure, folded backwards with a little stick-dick in its stick-mouth.
"Did you go anywhere in particular?"
"The kitchen. I crawl to the kitchen, and somehow—don't even ask—somehow I manage to make a sandwich."
"And it's still in there?"
"Oh yeah. Which is a problem, cause I went through all that trouble, you know? To make myself a sandwich. And I can't eat it, because—"
"Because your dick is in your mouth."
Dr. Crowley glanced up at the clock.
"Andy, I think that's it for today."
He started to get up, but when he was on his feet again he paused and stared out the window.
"Did you know I'm uncircumcised?"
She sighed. "Yes, Andy, I know."
"Doc, I think I'm in love with you."
She folded her slender arms across her chest.
"That's fascinating, Mr. MacFadden-Ketchin. Save it for next time."
"His dick in his mouth?" said Dr. Steno, standing on his tip-toes to put a box of dental floss on top of a tall shelf. "Are you supposed to be talking to me about stuff like this?"
Dr. Crowley frowned and leaned back into the reclining dental chair with her arms behind her short, black hair. "Probably not. But how could I not? You ever get anything like that in here?"
Dr. Steno strained in concentration, his square jaw shifting ever-so-slightly to the left as he stroked its clean-shaven surface.
"No," he replied after a few seconds. "I had seven patients today. Lots of plaque. No dick."
Valerie stared back at Doug Steno's handsome face. He had to be in his forties, but there was a younger quality to him. He seemed to be all grins, a ball of constant energy. Part of this appearance, she speculated, was due to his heavenly smile, symmetrical rows of dazzling whites. But there was something else, too. He never seemed unhappy. After six long hours of coping with depression, nursing patients through their childhoods, and untangling years of frustration, Dr. Valerie Crowley valued his relentless happiness above any of his other qualities.
Steno pulled a couple suckers out of his pocket and offered one to her. She shook her head. The dentist's room was just as she'd imagined it: sterile, bland, a torturous chair in the middle with several evil-looking devices jutting out of it. Pointy metallic instruments strewn about here and there. A poster of a neurotic cartoon molar wielding a dreamy smile and a toothbrush on the wall. She had met her office neighbor several times since moving her practice into the building on 2nd street, but today he had invited her inside, and she had graciously accepted.
"When was the last time you had a checkup, little lady?" he had asked. At first, she had hoped he was hitting on her. Instead of sprawled across his desk, however, she found herself anaesthetized and leaning back in the evil-looking dental chair with his fingers in her mouth, and not even suggestively. They tasted like latex. Similar to many of her encounters with men, the checkup was done within several minutes.
At least dentists were among the few men who encouraged spitting.
"Tell me, doctor," she said, still tasting the residual gritty feeling of dental instruments in the corners of her mouth and under her tongue, "are you Jewish?"
"No. Not really," he said, wiping off a rather phallic metallic cylinder of unknown function. "Well, one-eighth."
Dr. Steno put his arm around her shoulder and walked her toward the door. She wanted to lean her head against his side, but she realized that he probably performed this gesture with all of his patients. Shoulder slut, she thought.
Flipping off the light and locking the door behind him, he never lost the slight smile that seemed always to dance at the corners of his lips. Valerie crossed her arms, but then recognizing it as a sign of nervousness, thrust her hands into her pockets. Just as Steno began to turn around, however, she decided that a casual pose was best, folded one arm across her thin stomach, rested one elbow upon it, and stroked her chin in a lightly thoughtful, not-too-interested yet not-quite-uninterested fashion. It was a stroke of genius.
"Are you okay? You look pensive."
"Yeah," she said, arms drooping down to her sides, "Yeah, I'm fine."
"Say, doctor, what are you up to tonight?"
Her jet-black eyebrows, known to her friends as her only tell in poker, raised a smidgen. This is it Val, she told herself, Get back into the driver's seat.
"Um, you know, I think I might have an hour or two free around 8:30."
"How's ten?" he said, the smile still stuck to his face like gum on the bottom of a shoe.
"Okay," she said, nodding.
Okay. White shirt. Black shirt. It wasn't that big of a decision.
One on hand, the white shirt was very flattering to her small frame. It was simultaneously cute and casual, and said, "No big deal, I'm up for whatever."
On the other hand, literally, she considered the black shirt. It was cut dangerously, and it didn't need to say anything to let you know what it was thinking. Perhaps, it was more of a second date shirt, and yet Dr. Valerie Crowley hadn't taken very many chances recently. Maybe it was time to live a little, to make the first move, to be motivated. Maybe it was time to get her dick out of her mouth.
The doorbell rang.
Is it ten already? she thought. She was still un-showered, sporting her office clothes. Flinging the two shirts onto her queen-sized bed, she stubbed her toe running in to the bathroom to check her makeup. Flicking the switch up and down, she realized only after a couple of seconds that the light had burned out. Downstairs, the volume of the television suddenly seemed painfully loud. Through Alec Trebec's voice on Jeopardy, she could barely hear her neighbor's annoying beagle barking its high-pitched bark at the visitor on her porch.
Groping for a hand mirror, she speed-walked back into the bedroom to glance herself over. She looked essentially like she had earlier that morning, which wasn't at all a bad thing. Her dark hair was short, neat, and businesslike, and her eye-makeup still framed her warm, golden-potato colored eyes. Her favorite black work dress hugged her small frame, calling attention to her slender features while remaining professional. She could use a little sun, she thought, but there was no way in hell that was going to happen in the next sixty seconds so she resigned to open the door in her present state, flinging the mirror onto her bed with the piles of clothes.
She developed a plan: she would invite him in, explain that she'd been busy looking over some of her patients' files, and ask him to be patient as she 'freshened up.' Surely he wouldn't mind watching the end of Jeopardy while she showered? Did she even need to shower? After all, the place he was taking her didn't exactly sound like a four-star restaurant.
"Harpoon Larry's," he had said early that day, as they stood outside their offices. "Ten o'clock. I'll pick you up at nine-thirty?"
She continued to nod.
"Um, can I have your address, Dr. Val? Or is that confidential?"
Now, as she ran down the stairs, she wondered what type of ambiance existed at such a place called "Harpoon Larry's." It sounded like some sort of nexus for pirates and scallywags and drunkards, the kind of place where bar fights erupted spontaneously, where men flew out the windows as you approached the swinging, saloon-style doors. The kind of place that reeked of cigars and fish, and where the floors were sticky, hopefully with beer. The kind of venue where thick, rope nets hung from every wall, some with swordfish and dolphins still twitching within. And yet, Steno said it was one of his favorite joints, and she had agreed without a word of protest. Actually, she had replied with no words at all, and had simply continued to nod as she backed down the hall.
"I'll be right there!" she called, taking a deep breath. This is it. Stay calm. This is it. Don't panic. This is it. This is it!
She opened the door after carefully posing herself into a casual stance.
And standing in a casual stance on the other side of the door was Andy MacFadden-Ketchin.
"Hi Doc," he said, "I'm having this problem, and I think it constitutes an emergency. I haven't urinated all day. I've already called the hospital five times. I went to the emergency room. They said there's nothing wrong with me."
Against her will, Valerie's mouth sank slowly open. "Jeopardy" went to a commercial break.
"What the fuck are you doing at my house?"
Andy ignored the question, which he thought perhaps was rhetorical.
"Are you okay? Why are you standing like that?"
She stared at him in disbelief, only stopping for one second to move her hands to her hips from where they were perched at her sides.
"What," she exclaimed, clearly perplexed, "the fuck are you doing at my house?"
Andy walked in and looked around. The two story house had polished hardwood floors in every room that he could see his reflection in, and high arching ceilings that were well-lit, giving the place a warm, cozy feel. A short staircase led from the front door directly into Valerie's bedroom, the only room on the second story of the house. Seeing his curiosity turn towards her sleeping quarters, she shook her fists to regain his attention.
"Say, this is a nice place. Very, very nice. So anyway, I looked you up in the phone book."
She followed him stiffly into her living room, leaving the front door wide open. Picking up the remote control, he lowered the volume of the TV set. On the muted screen, Final Jeopardy was coming to a close. One of the contestants, a pudgy man with crazy red hair, smiled nervously as his answer was illuminated: "What is 'Psycho?'" He lost seven thousand dollars.
"No," she said, shaking her head, "no, you didn't find me in the phone book. Because I am not listed in the phonebook."
"No, you're not listed in the phone book anymore. You were, however, in the phonebook three years ago. I went to the library."
Her mouth hung open. She blinked twice. She thought about grabbing her car keys and running out the door, but somehow she knew that wouldn't solve anything, that even if she came back later that night he'd probably still be there, watching television with the volume all the way down.
"Andy, you—you can't do this. It's not allowed."
He frowned. "What do you mean 'I can't do this?' I haven't urinated since seven o'clock this morning!"
As he said it, he pointed to his crotch and a painful look swept across his handsome, boyish, yet obviously mentally disturbed face. Then, he sat down on her couch, asking her permission almost as an afterthought. For the umpteenth time that day, she nodded wordlessly.
"Andy," she began, taking a deep breath, "you are a very important patient to me, but we have to keep our relationship professional. And that means you have to meet me at the office, not at my home. It means you can never, ever meet me at home. For Christ's sake, I have a date in—"
She glanced at her watch. It was not 9:45, as she had expected. It said 7:01.
"Two and a half hours," she finished, weakly.
"Our sessions last an hour. Of course, I will pay you for your time."
"I don't want your friggin' money, Andy! I want to get ready for my date and relax before he gets here. I want to watch Jeopardy and take a shower, and not have my patients showing up at my private residence in the middle of the night."
Andy glanced out the window at the setting sun.
"Well, it's kinda more like late mid-afternoon—"
Valerie went over and closed the front door. For a brief instant, she considered calling the police. However, she knew better than anyone that he wasn't an inherently dangerous person. In fact, his psychological profile indicated that he was nearly incapable of violence of any kind.
Hell, he can't even pee, she thought, biting her lower lip, I doubt he's capable of any kind of sexual assault. Then, recalling his dreams, mentally added: Well, except against himself.
Observing his relaxed figure on the couch, she decided to do what she could to help facilitate urination. Short of milking, of course.
"Goddamn it, Andy," she said, turning off the TV, "let's see what we can do. But you're out of here by nine, or I'm inducing pee by castration."
"Would that work?"
She rolled her eyes, hoping that Dr. Steno wouldn't show up early.
"The bathroom's in the hall. Go prep yourself. We'll conduct this session through the door."
"You got it, Doc."
"Is that it?"
"What? Is that what?"
Valerie's head was resting against the bathroom door. It was 7:40, and outside the sun had gone down. A musical trickle had begun to splash steadily on the other side of the door.
"Is that it—are you peeing?"
There was a second of silence, except for the water sound.
"No. No, I turned on the sink to see if the noise would help."
Her heart sank. "Oh."
He had chased down three cups of water with a cup of coffee, and she figured it was now only a matter of time. Surely enough, several minutes after he had finished drinking he had felt nature calling, and yet for the past twenty minutes he had been standing in there, unable to perform.
Though only a minute had passed, she glanced at her watch again. This was ridiculous! She had to get ready. She wanted to look casual, and relaxed, and open for anything tonight. She wanted to be natural, sexy, and spontaneous. And in order to do that, she was going to need hours of preparation.
"Have you ever had a traumatic experience involving urination, Andy?"
"A traumatic pee experience?"
"Well, well yeah, I guess so."
"Well, there was this time that my friend and I got smashed at Goody's, and on the ride home I had to go so bad I had to pee in a cup."
"And that was traumatic for you?"
"Well, the road was kind of bumpy, and I was kind of drunk, so I ended up pissing all over everybody in the car."
"Okay. Okay, there's a start. But have you ever had a pee experience that was traumatic for you?"
There were several seconds of silence. Even the sink had been turned off.
"Well, I did wet myself on the playground once."
"Go with that, Andy. How did that make you feel?"
"How did it make me feel? Jesus, Doc. It was embarrassing, of course. Larry Hilton had just ripped the back of his pants, and it was so funny that we were all laughing at him. Only I had had to go really bad, and when I started laughing uncontrollably, I just couldn't hold it in any longer. So then it happened, and then everyone was laughing at me. I didn't know what to do, so I just kept on laughing and going, laughing and going. It was a vicious cycle."
"Christ, Andy. How old were you?"
"How old? This was just last week."
Not only did Valerie's eyebrows shoot up to her scalp, but she lifted her head off the door in disbelief. Unable to form words, she bore holes in the wood with her eyes.
As if on cue, however, Andy continued. "Shit, I'm just kidding, Doc. It was right before my eleventh birthday. No one showed up for my birthday party that year."
Relieved, and experiencing a rare moment of sympathy, she uncrossed her arms and almost forgot to check her watch for a couple of minutes. In a little over an hour, Dr. Steno would pull into her driveway, ready to whisk her off on a romantic evening out at Harpoon Larry's. And when he got here, what would he find? He'd find her talking to a patient with his dick in his hands (at least it wouldn't be in his mouth) in the same black dress she was wearing at the office. She had to act quickly and get Andy's plumbing fixed soon. Or, maybe she should just kill him and bury him later. Either way, Drain-o should do the trick.
"Andy, I want you to try something for me."
"What's up, Doc?"
"I want you to try to not think of peeing. I want you to relax, and think of something else. Maybe about what you're going to be doing tomorrow. Maybe about what you're having for dinner tonight. Anything, just not about peeing. I need to shower and get ready, okay? And as soon as I'm ready, I'll come right back down and see how you're doing."
"You're the boss."
"And if you succeed," she added, "feel free to help yourself to another beer, or anything in the fridge. Just be gone by nine, or Andy, Andy, I swear to God I'll—"
"I'll be out by nine, Doc."
With her bra hanging loosely behind her back, she connected it in front of her belly button and then pulled it up, twisted it around. A purple towel was wrapped around her short, dark hair, and she was already wearing the jeans that she had mentally selected while she had showered. Spying the two shirts and the mirror on the bed, she frowned and retreated to the closet instead of returning to her previous clothing quandary. Selecting a new T-shirt, a light-blue cotton with a simple design on the front, she pulled it over her head and removed the towel to allow her hair to finish drying naturally. It was almost as if there were no patient downstairs in her bathroom, trying to piss as she was getting ready for her first date in weeks.
It was 8:45. He had fifteen minutes to get, or she was kicking him out. He wasn't a bad patient, by any means. Of course, he could grate on her nerves sometimes, and he was so bizarre! And yet, he kept things interesting. It wasn't as if he was constantly depressed, as many of her other patients were. He didn't seem to feel insignificant, nor did he take himself too seriously. If anything, he was a little obsessed with his dreams and his anatomy. But that was eccentric, not crazy. Perhaps she would recommend restructuring their meeting times to a monthly—rather than weekly—basis.
Now sporting her fashionable sandals and having streaked her short hair lightly with gel, she very nearly danced down the stairs. Sure, the night had taken some odd turns, but no matter. She was unstoppable! Dr. Valerie Crowley refused to tip-toe around her life any longer. She was going to make her sandwich and eat it too. Even if she was eating it at a place called Harpoon Larry's.
She was going to get laid.
"Doc, are you there?" asked Andy, hearing someone moving in the hallway.
"Yes, Andy. I'm getting ready for my date. How are you doing?"
"Okay. I'm still not thinking about, you know, it."
"Well, keep it up. You're doing fine, I'm sure." She grabbed her purse out of the hallway closet and was rifling through it for her lipstick. "Oh, one thing though. Not to put any pressure on you or anything, but I need you out of here in fifteen minutes. That's final."
"Okay, I'll see what I can do. But shit, this isn't gonna be easy."
As she applied a subtle coat of lipstick in the hallway mirror, she heard a series of groans and grunts from the bathroom. She tried her best to ignore the ruckus and made her way into the kitchen.
Retrieving a Corona out of the fridge, she walked through the hall, back toward the living room. Turning the TV back on, she found herself staring at a commercial for, of all places, Harpoon Larry's.
From what she could make out, the place met all of her expectations. The dimly-lit restaurant/pub was decorated with ship's steering wheels, anchors, life preservers, and of course, big, rope nets. It was an oyster bar. They had one beer on tap which she had never heard of, called OBX, and though there were no obvious pirates in the commercial, she did see a lot of middle aged men and ragged shirts, slumped over the bar. She wondered how a man like Doug Steno would ever come to be interested in a hole in the wall like Larry's. But then she remembered: care-free, easy-going, spontaneous. Pirates it is, she resigned, and added almost enthusiastically, Arghh!
She was so caught up in her newfound affection for scallywagging that she missed the annoying bark of her neighbor's dog trying to chase off whoever was coming up her driveway. One finger had curled into a pirate's hook when the doorbell rang, scaring the piss out of her and hopefully Andy too. The remote control clattered on her hard, wooden floor. From the bathroom, Andy called, asking if he should remain silent. Rushing over to the peep-hole, she saw Dr. Steno's smiling face waiting expectantly on the other side.
"Just a minute!" she called, frantically, hoping she didn't sound like she was just on the other side of the door. "I'm just getting decent."
Scampering to the bathroom, she whispered through the still closed door.
"Andy, whatever you do, don't make a sound."
"I got you Doc. Go have fun. After you're gone, I'll just let myself out. I appreciate all you've tried to do for me, though. I really do. I guess I"ll just have to—"
Exhaling, she made her way back to the front door, smoothed her hands over her jeans, and opened the door. Doug stood before her with a smile on his face, as it always was. He was wearing a ragged shirt and jeans, much like the men she had seen on the TV commercial. Inviting him in, she breathed a sigh of relief that she hadn't worn the black blouse, a much too formal and elegant piece for a pirate joint.
"Say," he said, bringing his hands together as he spoke, "this is a nice place you have here."
"So I hear."
"I really dig the arching ceilings. I wouldn't have guessed there was a second floor."
Unsure if his last comment was a compliment or a criticism, she offered him a seat on the couch and a beer as she once again turned the television off. He graciously accepted both.
"I apologize for being so early," he said, opening a Corona with his bottle opener as she sat across from him in her easy chair, "I thought I would have trouble finding your place. I do that all the time."
"It's no problem. None at all."
"Besides, I figured if I caught you early enough, I might save you from the trouble of getting ready. Harpoon Larry's isn't exactly the kind of place that you need to get all dolled up for. I see I'm too late, however. Dr. Valerie Crowley, you look stunning."
A little color touched her fair cheeks. Her eyebrow's rose a tenth of a millimeter closer to heaven.
"So, this is a beautiful house, but a big one. Do you live here all by yourself?"
Resting her hands on her knees, she nodded. "Yeah, I've had my eyes on this house for some time now. It's only recently that I've been able to afford it. I had a small practice in Roanoke for a little while, but a friend of mine suggested I come to Hampton. There's money here, and not a lot of good psychiatrists, and a lot of people who seem to need one. So I've been doing alright for myself, at least for now."
He laughed. "Yeah, I guess you could say that. There's a lot of sailor wannabees around here. A lot of people with a drive to escape from their lives, and drift about in the ocean in their yachts like they were little pirate ships. But different things always stop them from actually cutting loose and getting out there, on the ocean. Most of the time, their boats sit in the marina, collecting barnacles. Getting used by their kids as places to drink without being hassled. And landlocked sailors are bound to go crazy, eventually. Shit, have you heard the kind of music they listen to? If I hear "Margaritaville" one more time, I'm going to walk the friggin' plank."
"Oh, God, I agree. I hate that song." They laughed for a few minutes and made small talk, and she let herself finish her beer quickly. Rising to get another Corona, she offered to grab him one as well.
"No thank you. I'll come get it with you. Still haven't seen the kitchen yet."
Shrugging her shoulders, she motioned for him to follow her down the hallways. The kitchen was dark when they walked into it, but flicking the light one revealed a well-maintained, sparsely used facility. The oven, the fridge, the island in the kitchen's center were all made of stainless steel. Blue tiles crept from the floor up columns in the walls toward the ceiling. It was a beautiful room, but most commonly, Val would grab dinner on her way home from work and eat it in the living room. Opening her fridge revealed barely more than a case of Corona, a half-sliced lime, a gallon of milk, and three to-go boxes from Oyster Alley, a waterfront restaurant near her office on 2nd street. She retrieved one of the bottles, which Doug politely opened for her with his key chain bottle opener. For a second, just as the pressure in the bottle was released from its metal cap, their eyes met.
"You know, this really is a big place for a pretty doctor like you to be alone in all the time."
For once, she wasn't nodding, simply returning his constant, steady gaze.
"So are you proposing marriage? Or do you just want to move in with me?"
He smiled. "Well, both sound pretty damn good. But I was just going to suggest, however, that I come over and visit more often."
Tentatively, she took a step closer to him. He was several inches taller than her, with graying hair and that dancing, eternal smile. He smelled good, but not at all of cologne; he had the scent of the ocean mingled with the sweet tobacco smell of pipe smoke. Thankfully, all traces of latex were apparently missing from his olfactory ensemble, though she did hope, perhaps, that it would be present and involved later in the evening.
"I think," she said, wrapping one pale, slender arm around the back of his neck, "that I would enjoy that quite thoroughly."
"We could watch Jeopardy together."
"And I could help you slice some limes. We could fill your fridge. Coronas and limes."
"Sounds great," she said, as his arms pulled her tightly against his body. It wasn't perfect, by any means. He was a little soft around the middle, and he was hairy. His arms and chest were a forest of hair. But he was muscular. And more importantly, he was happy. He was big, and jolly, and pirate-like in his shabby clothing, and he had a presence that was making her melt. "And what else could we do?"
His kiss pulled at her heart and her panties with the gravity of the moon, and she quickly felt the tide coming in. She ran one hand up the back of his curly hair. Simultaneously, the other dropped lower, feeling for his belt buckle. Never parting lips, he turned his head nearly perpendicular to hers as he ran his fingers down her spine and across her cheeks. Fiddling with his belt, she finally managed to unhook it, and loop by loop, his pants were freed of their leather shackle. Every contact with his skin was electric. Every second of their never parting kiss was a hungry one, and this hunger seeped down through Valerie's skin in a warm wave, leaving her aching for seconds. His hands found their way down the back of her jeans, reaching lower, working their way around to the front.
"Valerie," he moaned as she kissed his neck. She pushed him onto the stainless steel island that occupied the middle of the blue-tiled kitchen.
"What?" she asked, briefly allowing her lips to escape their magnetic hold to his Adam's apple.
"Valerie, what is that noise?"
Through her pounding pulse, she could faintly make out a sound echoing through the hallway. Her hands froze halfway down his pant's zipper as she perked her head up to listen.
Oh no, she thought, horrified, it can't be . . .
Surely enough, however, Andy MacFadden-Ketchin was pissing noisily at fire-hose velocity from behind her closed bathroom door. It wasn't deafening, but the noise was unmistakable. What was more, to enhance the effect of his victory, he was emanating some low-pitched groan of satisfaction, a satisfaction which was no doubt compounded by thirteen hours of waiting for the event to occur. It sounded not unlike a child's impression of the sound of a race car engine.
"Is there someone else in the house?" asked Dr. Steno, pushing her gently to the side and re-buckling himself. Tears welled up in Valerie's soft, green-brown eyes, but she promptly wiped them away before they could ruin her makeup. She prayed he hadn't noticed.
"Dammit," she arose and adjusted her clothing, "it's fucking Andy."
"Andy?" said the doctor, a hint of something bitter in his voice.
"A patient. He made an irritating, not to mentions illegal," she ejaculated, loudly, "trip to my house today. He needed emergency therapy."
"Andy? The dick guy?"
"Yes," she affirmed, eyes flashing, "the dick guy."
A look of doubt set up camp on Dr. Doug Steno's face. Without his familiar smile, he was a fierce-looking character. With his tattered clothing, ocean-swept hair, and muscular forearms, Valerie found herself wondering how this man could be the very same dentist who worked next door to her every day. It was frightening, and yet . . .
"Hello," called Doug, "Andy?"
For a second, no one said anything. Valerie wondered if Andy would try to keep his word and stay silent until he thought they were gone. Indeed, perhaps he had thought they had left already, and his display of auditory pyrotechnics was done only for his own enjoyment. But then, perhaps knowing he was caught, a loud flush emanated from the bathroom. Andy emerged a second later, still drying his hands with Valerie's favorite hand towel.
"What's up, Docs. Jesus, that was the best piss I've ever had."
"Well," said Steno, "is there anything else we can do for you?"
Andy's eyes rose to the ceiling again as he considered it.
"Andy!" Val snapped, and then, having gained his attention, mouthed the words, "Get out. Now."
Andy realized what she was saying, raised his hands, and nodded his head as he backed down the hallway. Turning his attention to Steno, he smiled a smile oozing with charisma—a perfect replica of Steno's infamous smile. He opened the front door, stepped out, and then turned to wave at the couple who were staring at him from the kitchen.
"Take care of her, Dr. Steno," he said, tossing Valerie's towel to the dentist, "she's a talented lady. I haven't peed since seven o'clock this morning. Since seven. Damn, that felt good!"
And with that, he closed the door and was gone.
As Valerie's water came, she glanced nervously around the room. Harpoon Larry's Oyster Bar reeked of cigar smoke, codfish, and vinegar. The table looked like it hadn't been cleaned since the last people left, and the menu was sticky with something she hoped was cocktail sauce, though it might be blood. The burly man in a Harley Davidson tank top who was sitting next to them looked like he had spilt some blood in his time. At any rate, she was afraid, almost repulsed, to touch anything at all. Her water looked cloudy.
Steno also appeared to be staring at her glass, and for the first time since he discovered Andy in the bathroom, a faint smile rekindled on his lips. "I forgot to warn you, Val. The water here tastes kind of like it came straight out of the bay. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if it did." He glanced out of the port hole window at the Atlantic Ocean, or at least the part of it that filled the Chesapeake Bay. It was gusty, and in the moonlight choppy waves could be seen crashing against an old, decrepit pier.
Val stuck a pinky in the water and brought it out again, feeling the water's gritty texture. She said, "How . . . authentic."
"Want to try the OBX?" With one finger he pushed his mug towards her, some of the frothy pilsner spilling out across the already messy table. The waitress returned just as she was screwing up her face at the beer's bitter taste, and she promptly ordered a Corona. Steno admitted that the beer was a bit "different, to those who aren't used to it."
After they had placed their order, and the waitress had gotten off of the lap of the man in the Harley shirt, the silence at their table was nearly as thick as the cigar smoke in the air. Every fifteen seconds or so he would take a sip out of his mug, and when he was finished she would take a sip out of her bottle. It was an odd, dysfunctional mating dance which continued for three or four marathon minutes. Finally, exhausted, he laughed and put his beer down.
"Maybe it would be a little less awkward if we drank a little less and talked a little more, huh?"
Relieved, Val smiled and put her drink down as well.
"I'm so sorry, Doug, about the way tonight started. I can't imagine what you must have been thinking when you heard Andy pissing in my bathroom."
He shrugged, and waved it off with his hands. "Are you worried about that? It's no big deal. A little unexpected obstacle, I guess we could call it. We've got the whole night ahead of us."
"I certainly hope so," she said, trying hard not to bat her eyelashes, "the whole night."
When her food came, it looked surprisingly good. She had ordered scallops broiled with crab meat on a bed of lettuce, and they smelled so enticing that she popped one into her mouth as soon as the plate landed on the table. As the warm flavors exploded in her mouth, however, she glanced at Doug Steno's plate and nearly inhaled the bite down the wrong tube in surprise. Choking, she held her napkin over her mouth and began to cough furiously.
"Are you okay?" he asked, rushing over to pat her gently on the back. As she managed to free the half chewed scallop that was lodged in her airway, she nodded and took a sip of water. "What's wrong? Was it too hot?"
She didn't respond. She was too busy staring at the six stuffed shrimp on her date's plate, each folded over like a tiny Andy MacFadden-Ketchin, as if each were trying desperately to jam its little tale into its mouth. A half dozen little pervert Andy wannabees.
It was the most disturbing dish she had ever seen.
"Too hot," she choked, wishing it were true.
"Well, that's what you get for being impatient, little lady," he said, smiling sweetly, returning to his chair. "If you're okay, let's get started. I'm hungry as hell."
With that, Steno drenched a tiny Andy in cocktail sauce, parted his two perfect rows of perfectly white teeth, and crunched down on the stuffed shrimp hungrily. A little tartar sauce had smeared at the corners of his mouth, and he didn't seem to notice. In the background, 'Margaritaville' started to play.
"Excuse me," she said, gagging, "I have to go to the bathroom."
Too queasy to eat, Dr. Valerie spent the rest of the date slamming down Coronas, trying to kill the mental image of Andy doubled over like a stuffed shrimp. Making up something up about occasional stomach problems, she insisted on staying at Harpoon Larry's and ordered another beer.
"Sure you don't want to leave?" he asked her through a mouthful of french fries, "I can get this to go."
"No, let's stay." She replied, taking a long draw from her beer.
By the time they had gotten back to Val's house, her sobriety had gone south for the winter, probably to Margaritaville, or at least Coronapolis. After all, she had nothing to eat that day except half a sandwich from Oyster Alley, eight Coronas, and, consequentially, eight limes. It took several minutes to get the front door open, the neighbor's beagle yapping at them the whole time.
"If you don't shush up," she slurred at the dog, threatening it with one of her sandals. The dog, who seriously doubted Valerie's marksmanship even when sober, refused to yield. She missed, of course, and the sandal smacked against the ugly chain-linked fence that surrounded her neighbor's yard.
"You showed him," said Steno, guiding Valerie inside.
"I sure did," she stumbled up the first two steps towards her bedroom and then sunk down against the wall. "Would you like somethin' to drink Dr. Steno?"
"No, I'd better not," he said. "Right now I think we'd better get you into bed."
"I concur," she giggled, "You know, we're both doctors."
"Yes, yes we are."
"I mean, I'm a young, intelligent, attractive. I mean, I think I'm attractive." She stopped and grabbed Steno by the collar. "Do you think I'm attractive, Doctor?"
He continued to help her up the stairs, one arm around her waist, the other on her hip. "Of course, Valerie. How could I not? You're all of those things."
"And you are a doctor," she said, slurring her words, "and I think you're attractive—the bedroom is that way." She pointed to her door. "So it only makes sense that we'd be attracted to each other, two, attractive doctors."
Doug Steno pulled the clothes off of her bed and peeled the comforter back.
"I'm sorry the place is such a mess. I'm sorry I'm such a mess. I couldn't decide what to wear."
"It's okay. You're going to be just fine. What do you normally sleep in?"
Jumping onto the bed, she rolled until her head was peering off of the other side and she rustled through the clothes on the floor. A second later, she held some pajama pants above her head triumphantly.
"These are my Pjs!" she cried.
Doug smiled. They were blue, and covered with tiny yellow stars and moons. "They're beautiful."
"But I usually sleep alone. I don't think I'll need them tonight."
Slowly, and apparently with much effort, she began to remove her clothing. As she peeled her T-shirt over her head, she banged her elbow against her bed board but was barely able to feel it through the alcohol. Her remaining sandal swiftly followed. Now nearly naked in her bed, she pulled the covers over herself, and a few seconds later the bed spit out both her bra and panties. As one slender arm emerged from beneath the sheets, she patted the bed next to her.
"I'm ready for my examination, Dr. Steno."
Grinning, he pulled off his T-shirt. He didn't have a bad body for a man his age, and well developed shoulder and pectoral muscles were visible, even in the dark. Above his heart, a faded and greenish tattoo of a shark swam out of his chest, jaws open and gleaming, row upon row of pointed teeth beaming. Like many rich white men of the area, he had a complexion that was somewhat of a mix between a horrible sunburn and a tan, and out from his reddish-brown skin a light forest of brown and gray hair sprung.
He undressed until he was wearing only his shorts, and crawled into bed where Val was waiting. Wrapping one muscular arm around her, he snuggled against her back and brought his lips to her ear.
"I've had my eye on you since the day you moved in to the office across the hall." He kissed the back of her neck. "My God, every little thing you do sets me on fire. Every time you move, I just want to jump on you and tear your fucking clothes off. Do you know how hard it was, when you came into my office today, to control myself? Do you?"
It was difficult to understand what she said next, probably because she wasn't saying anything at all. Doctor Valerie Crowley, Corona champion of the evening, was out and snoring like an Irish millionaire.
"Oh, oh no." He shook her, to no avail. "This can't be happening."
He tried kissing her, rubbing her, talking, singing, shouting. It was no use. She was passed out. For a few minutes he lay there, naked, in the dark bedroom, mouth open in disbelief. Then, scowling, Steno grabbed his clothes, pulling them on as his heavy steps carried him down the stairs, past a yapping beagle, and out to his car.
"Dr. Crowley? Hello?"
Valerie glanced up from her cold cup of coffee, at her patient who was sitting up a little too straight on the purple chair. She had already canceled her first appointment of the day, and her second, Mr. Smithers, hadn't been getting much of her attention through her throbbing headache. His luminous bald head, a head which seemed a size smaller than the rest of his body, seemed to disgust her more than usual today. She wanted to vomit into her lukewarm coffee. In fact, almost every other thing that morning made her want to vomit copiously.
That morning, instead herself waking up to a handsome doctor and sticky sheets, Valerie found herself in bed with a headache and the urge to crawl under the rug and die, if she even made it that far. She felt dry and puffy, and when she first opened her eyes the room was still spinning. After forcing herself into the shower and downing three glasses of water, she decided to cancel her first appointment to allow recovery time. To make matters worse, when she opened her door to head to the office, she found one of her sandals sitting on her doorstep—filled to the straps with her neighbor's beagle poo. She didn't quite remember why her neighbor would have access to her sandal in the first place. She didn't quite want to.
By ten o'clock, she was sitting in her desk in front of Mr. Smithers and a lukewarm cup of coffee, not really paying attention to either of them. Mr. Smithers was a half-bald, half-dead old man who spoke incessantly of things he didn't like and things he couldn't change. He had a soft voice that might leave the impression that he was homosexual. This last thing, however, is an impossibility, Mr. Smithers approving neither of homos or sexuals.
"I'm sorry, where were we?"
He looked from left to right as if he were considering two invisible options, sighed, and continued as if nothing had happened.
"I was talking about how I hate it when I don't get exact change back at restaurants."
"Ah, yes. I remember now."
"I go out to have a simple meal. I'm a single man, doctor. And I'm old, and not a very good cook, so I go out to eat a lot. A little change here and there doesn't hurt, sure. But when you go out for almost every dinner, it starts to add up. One meal. Ten percent tax. Gratuity. But when it's $16.45 cents, and I give you seventeen dollars, I should get back fifty five cents, right? I mean, am I crazy?"
"No, no you're not crazy, Mr. Smithers," she lied, "I like my change back too."
"You know what else I hate? I hate when I order my food, and a few minutes later the waitress comes back and says 'I'm sorry sir, the kitchen's really backed up in there,' or some bull like that. Why are you telling me? Is that going to make it come sooner? Give me my food when it's ready, let me eat in peace. And if my food is not there yet, refill my drink and leave me alone."
Valerie was pondering the fact that she had awoken naked that morning. Had he been there when she undressed? More and more, she was growing reluctant about her inevitable confrontation with Dr. Doug Steno later that evening.
"Mr. Smithers, is there anything you do like about going out to eat at restaurants?"
He scratched his balding head, his fingers running over the moles and liver spots on its shiny surface.
"I like it when the servers who are carrying plates in their hands spill food off of them. Or even better, when they drop them altogether."
"And why," Val asked, reluctantly, "do you enjoy that?"
"Because it serves them right. Use a blessed tray, why don't you? I hate it when they carry it in their hands."
He was going to be furious. How could he not be? Slowly, between the Smithers appointment and her lunch break, she had pieced the night together from fragment to drunken fragment. She remembered throwing her sandal at her neighbor's beagle. She remembered, vaguely, being guided up the stairs and into, God help her, her bedroom. She could even recall through her mind fog removing her clothes, inviting him into the bed. But there was nothing more. She had wondered at first if anything could have happened after that. But she would have known if she had sex. The only conclusion was mortifying, enough to bring color to her skin just in thinking about it.
She had fallen asleep.
Now she stood outside of Dr. Steno's door, fighting herself on what to do. From minute to minute her hand would rise to the doorknob—only to retreat from it a second later, as if it were emanating a burning heat. Several times, she had to arbitrarily remind herself not to pose as helpless, or nonchalant, or embarrassed when she finally worked up the courage to go inside. She knew that she tried too hard sometimes to carefully maintain her outward appearances. But this time, she promised, she would go in with her heart on her sleeve.
She discovered that her hand had found its way to the knob and had turned it, and slowly Steno's door crept open to reveal an empty reception room. For some reason, she had halfway been expecting him to be waiting on the other side, arms crossed and pissed off, ready to scold her. She realized it had been a silly notion, and that he would probably be his same, cheerful old self. She found her feelings for him in this regard soothing her fears slightly. If there was anything reliable in this world, it was Steno's constant, unfaltering cheer. She needed that. She desired that. She couldn't allow Mr. Smithers' outlook on life to infiltrate her own, and when she treated patients like him constantly, it was growing more difficult by the day.
"Hello?" she called softly into the office, still not quite confident enough to speak loudly. Almost at a tip toe, she moved softly through the reception room towards the dental room where she and Steno talked a day earlier. As she moved closer to the door, which was half open, she experienced a resurgence of reluctance. As she pushed it open completely, words and excuses for her behavior began busting out in a great flood of emotion. She blamed her stomach, herself, Harpoon Larry's, Andy, circumstance, fate, Corona. She apologized, and suggested they try again, and asked for a second chance, and begged him to come over all in one sentence. And as her last burst of speech was about escape, she suddenly stopped short. Dr. Steno was laying back in the chair, motionless.
"Doug, are you okay?"
When he didn't respond, she finally entered the room completely. To her horror, a hard plastic mask covered his mouth, and his hands were lying heavily across his chest like some kind of napping, doped-up Dracula. On the wall, the poster of the neurotic cartoon molar was smiling stupidly, a smile parodied on Steno's blank, coma-like expression. For the first time, she noticed a faint sound of hissing in the room, coupled with a faint smell like ozone. Ripping the mask off of his face, she turned the nitrous oxide tank off and felt for his pulse. He was still breathing, but he was high off of his ass, and didn't look like he was getting up anytime soon.
Pulling the phone into the room from the office, she yelled at his unconscious husk as she dialed 911.
"You fucking idiot. You stupid, fucking, idiot—"
Big, heartbreak-sized tears welled up in her golden eyes and rolled down her cheeks as the operator answered the phone.
Dr. Valerie Crowley sat at her desk in her favorite black dress, sorting through parti-colored stacks of notebooks and neglecting a lukewarm cup of coffee. It had been a week since Doug Steno had huffed a little too much gas after his daily appointments and knocked himself out. The MD told her had she found him too much later, he would probably be brain dead.
"He's already brain dead," she had replied.
Now Steno was taking a week off, and she was taking a week to pack her things. She was moving her practice back to Roanoke, and all around her office there were boxed. Boxes of books. It wasn't that she was running away. And it certainly wasn't a career move—there weren't nearly as many crazies there as there obviously were in Hampton. But at any rate, she had to get out of there before she stopped treating the Hamptonians and became one of them.
As Val lifted the last stack of notebooks into an empty cardboard box, she cast a glance down onto 2nd street. To some extent, she was going to miss this place, with its waterside restaurants and wanna-be-pirates. She would even miss hearing 'Margaritaville' playing incessantly in odd places like 7-11, shopping malls, and church. But Steno had taught her something about happiness—she couldn't quite put her finger on what—and though she hadn't figured it out yet, she knew the answer lay in Roanoke with her family and friends. Maybe someday she would come back and try again.
Just as she was wrapping up these psuedo-nostalgic thoughts, a faint knock came at her office door. Briefly, she feared Steno would be on the other side, but she reminded herself that was an impossibility. Dr. Steno was at home with his wife, recovering.
To her astonishment, although it probably shouldn't have been, it was Andy.
"Andy, this is a pleasant surprise. Didn't I call you and tell you there was no appointment this week?"
Andy's boyish face smiled beneath his beard and nodded. He was wearing loose jeans and a plain white tee-shirt, and he stepped over boxes and into the room. Lifting some notebooks off of the purple chair, he had a seat and put his feet up in a comfortable, familiar fashion.
"I know doc. Actually, that's what I'm here to talk to you about."
For some reason, it comforted her to see her most bizarre patient on her last day of work. Andy was unpredictable, bizarre—but also he was resilient, impenetrable. He didn't seem to care about all the shit pressing down on him in the world. Most of the time, he barely seemed to notice it was there. He concerned himself with himself. Especially his penis.
"Well, before you say anything Andy, I think it's only fair that I let you know that I'm moving my practice—"
Andy nodded his head.
"And that you've been a great patient, and I think you're going to be just fine. If you'd like a good recommendation for another therapist, I could certainly give you a list of phone numbers."
"Actually, doc, Valerie, this works out for the best. I was coming today to tell you that I don't think I could be your patient anymore."
For some reason, she found herself taken aback. She glanced at him, reclined in the chair, staring off into space or heaven or whatever it was he thought about that wasn't between his legs. Was this some kind of sick joke? Was he trying to make her feel bad?
"Oh," she said, simply. Then, forcing the words out, she continued. "Andy, can I ask you a question?"
"Do you not want to be my patient because of something about...me?"
Andy momentarily removed his gaze from the ceiling and brought it to Valerie's eyes.
"No, doc. Like I told you last week. I think I'm in love with you."
Somewhere outside a car honked, and two men started screaming at each other. The bustle of the day was picking up, but inside Valerie's office on 2nd street where her life was packed up in crumpled cardboard boxes, the bustle of Hampton was very distant somehow. Without posing she stood and maneuvered around her baggage until she was sitting on the footrest across from him.
"Andy, you're not in love with me. You don't even really know me. I think that you like me, and that we have good chemistry, and that maybe you've developed a little crush on a woman who's been trying to help you, but that's all."
Andy's hand found its way to the back of his neck, and he rubbed the boundary between his skin and his short hair.
"You're probably right, doc. You're always right."
With that, he got up, stooped over to give her a hug, and stepped over a box towards the door. Then, feeling an impulse to put some closure to her life in this town, she rose after him.
He froze, but continued to face the doorway. Looking over his shoulder, he replied, "What can I do for you, Dr. Crowley?"
"I wasn't finished yet. I wanted to tell you that you've been one of the most interesting people I've met here. And I think—I think I've learned something from our little talks together."
"What? That I'm uncircumcised?"
She laughed. "No! Well, yes. But something else."
"Well? Well what is it then?"
Valerie was smiling, and started to reply but found herself unable. Inside she was buzzing with a golden feeling, something she hadn't felt since she had graduated from school several years ago. It was a feeling of enlightenment—or else, it was a feeling of satisfaction with the moment she was in. She didn't know quite how to explain what it was to Andy.
So, she invited him out to lunch.
"You know," she added as a disclaimer, "just as friends. To say goodbye."
"As friends. To say goodbye." He seemed satisfied.
As they walked out of the building together onto second street, she asked him where he wanted to go.
"Have you ever been to Harpoon Larry's?"
"No Harpoon Larry's. Somewhere else."
"Maybe a sandwich."
"Yeah, remember how I couldn't pee? And remember my dream? Do you think maybe, doc, that my mind still thought I had my dick in my mouth?"
"That would certainly discourage me from pissing," she said, hoping that it wouldn't also discourage her from eating.
"I was thinking, maybe if I can eat the sandwich, maybe I can prove to myself that everything's okay."
She shrugged. "Andy—" she started, but left it hanging, unsure of how to continue. "Andy...okay. Why not? Sounds like a plan."
"Good stuff. Where should we go?"
"Um," she considered it, "well, what kind of sandwich did you make yourself? Chicken salad? Ham and cheese?"
"Yeah. Foreskin sandwich. I won't go into details."
Val's hand flew up to her stomach, and she narrowly avoided shuddering like an epileptic break dancer.
"How about Oyster Alley? They have some pretty killer stuffed shrimp there."
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