By: Jennifer Jamelli

Chapter 1

the appointment

{IN MY HEAD RADIO, THE Pretenders start the second verse of “I’ll Stand by You.”}

“Have a seat, please, Miss Royce,” says the red-headed receptionist as she extends a manicured hand to indicate the seating area. Red. Bright red nails. And a small scratch on the pad of her pointer finger. A scratch or perhaps some wayward nail polish? Please let it be nail polish. Please don’t let it be blo—

She stares at me, waiting. I flush.

“Like I said, I’m fine here, really, if I’m not in your way or anything. I don’t mind standing. Really.” Stop talking, freakshow. She gets it—you don’t want to sit. I move slightly away from her desk so I am standing in the seating area. We are both quickly distracted by the jingle of bells at the door. A short, plump man with a trench coat and a briefcase comes flying in the room. {Frank Sinatra takes over, crooning “Fly Me to the Moon.”}

I step back further into the waiting room just in time to prevent the side of his briefcase from touching my black pea coat. Clutching my silky black and white purse, I watch him fling the briefcase on the counter as he talks at the receptionist.

“Cancel my appointments for today, tomorrow, and Friday. I have to get to the airport by three to be in New York by evening visiting hours.” He pauses to breathe and quietly adds, “He’s in critical condition.”

To avoid imposing further upon this conversation, I take another step into the seating area, careful not to touch any of the clustered blue chairs. I look down at my purse and fiddle with the silver hardware on the handles. {Sinatra moves right on to the second verse.}

Mr. Briefcase finally gives the receptionist a chance to speak.

“Yes, sir, Dr. Spencer. I’ll cancel your appointments right away. Oh but, um…” I can feel her gazing toward me. I keep my hands and eyes on the silver rings on my purse.

She quietly says, “Your two fifteen is here a little early. A referral from Lennox Counseling.” I look up at this man who is apparently going to be my psychiatrist. I remember the card from Dr. Lennox hanging on my fridge. Dr. Keith Spencer. Pierce Mental Health. 2:15 p.m.

“See if Dr. Blake can handle it,” he says, picking up his briefcase with one hand while fumbling for his keys with the other. “If he starts the initial consultation, he can just leave the paperwork on my desk.” He glances over at me, and I move my eyes abruptly back to my purse. He then continues his conversation with the receptionist. “I’m sure I’ll be back here by two fifteen next Wednesday.”

When I eventually look back up, Miss Receptionist and Dr. Spencer peer intently at her computer screen. Perhaps Dr. Blake can’t “handle” me either.

The receptionist taps a red nail on the computer screen as she whispers, “But he won’t treat—”

“It’s just an initial consultation,” Dr. Spencer interrupts before turning and flying back through the door without another glance in my direction.

Won’t treat what? Women? Graduate students? Catholics?

“I’ll be right with you, Miss Royce.” The receptionist cuts into my thoughts as she stands up from her chair to go toward the back part of the office.

Back to my purse buckle. {Time for the refrain again. Ready for a big key change.}

“Ma’am.” She is at her desk again. “Dr. Blake, a psychologist in this practice, will be seeing you today. Please just step through this door, and I’ll show you to his office.”

I look at the brown door to her left, the one those red fingernails point out to me. It isn’t one of those swing doors I can just push in with my foot or leg or back. It has a horizontal silver bar handle. Shit. SHIT. SHIII-TT.

Since the receptionist appears to be gathering a file (mine?) from the desk, I quickly thrust my coat-covered elbow onto the end of the silver handle and push down and forward at the same time. The door opens. I catch it with my right black pump and try to move my elbow back to a normal spot. But instead, I drop my purse. Smooth, Callie. So graceful.

Now holding my file, the receptionist is looking at me. Awesome. I grab the top part of my purse, carefully avoiding any contact with the sections that touched the carpet or door.