Therapy by Kevin M. Casin
Dr. Michael Allen leaned back in his green leather armchair and twirled his pen as he watched his patient—Sean—pace around the room. The morning sunlight trickled in through a broad window behind his chair, dispelling the evening shadows away from the antique furniture of his practice. The light seemed to focus on the plush grey sofa at the center of the room. Sean’s course encircled the couch, like he was a shark preparing to devoir it. His jaw was clench so hard that Michael worried he might phial down his teeth to the nub.
“Sean why don’t you sit down and talk to me for a bit. Why are you here?”
“I don’t know why I’m here. Stop asking me that. It’s getting on my nerves.” As Sean rubbed his temples, he stretched his fingers, pulling them so hard Michael was afraid his skin would tear.
“What happened there?” Michael caught the burn marks on Sean’s arms and pointed to them. Sean bunched the sleeve tips, stretching the fabric over his forearms. He perched on the edge of the cushion, then wringed his hands like a sticky goo had clung to them. He stopped at the base of his empty ring finger and twisted the flesh as if the brass band he used to wear was still there. Where did it go? Michael wondered.
Sean huffed again. “I’m only here because he told me once that if I didn’t go to therapy, he was done for good. I want him back. I’m tired of being alone.”
Michael creased his brows. “He? You mean Tom?”
Sean shrugged, then slumped forward still toying with his finger. Michael thought of Gollum from the Lord of the Rings lamenting the loss of the One Ring. Michael pitied him. He wanted to hold him and tell him everything was going to be all right, but that wasn’t his job.
“This is the first time you’ve mentioned Tom in a few months. Have you been thinking about him lately?” Michael bit his pen.
Sean laid back and pensively stared at the ceiling. “Ever wonder what it would be like to fly; leave this world behind. Everyone would look so small.” He paused for a moment, then continued angrily, “he didn’t care about me anymore. I went to see him last week. He lives around the corner from Jason. I went there to see how he was doing and I just…bumped into Tom. No big deal.”
“You asked him to come back?” Michael made a quick note in his book. He straightened the thick, black frames of his glasses—they tended to fall when he lowered his head. He peered over the lenses, eager for a reply. He loved that he had the right to get into people’s business. He figured that therapist was a better profession for him than gossip columnist.
Sean didn’t answer, so Michael waited. He hoped uncomfortable silence would spur Sean into opening up. Sean habitually deferred his issues. Michael was determined to help Sean face the problem.
“Who ended the relationship? You never told me that.”
Sean was silent. His eyes shifted side-to-side like he was processing the inquiry. “I don’t remember,” he whispered, then rolled on his side and buried his face into the couch pillows.
Michael held the pen to his lips, debating his next move. He sensed Sean’s issue was bidding its time. He felt it lurking in the shadows; he just had to coerce it out.
“You don’t want to talk about this? Then what do you want to talk about, because I’ll be fine once I walk out this door, but you…I’m here to help you.” Michael said in frustration. He set the notebook on the table beside him and tossed his glasses on the book. Sean didn’t move. The grey hoodie lifted away from the belt straps on his jeans, revealing the cotton fabric of green boxer shorts. Michael tore his eyes away from Sean’s lower back. He wouldn’t look; he couldn’t.
Sean shot up and leaned forward. He was like a boy thrilled at the chance to describe his mischievous exploits. Michael held his breath and thought, finally a breakthrough.
“Tell me about you.” Michael exhaled his disappointment, letting the breath carry away the draining energy.
“We aren’t here to talk about me, Sean. Why don’t you tell me about your day? Any more encounters with Jason?” Michael emphasized the word “more” hoping it pokes Sean just enough to spill the beans.
“Come on,” Sean whined. As he stood, the excitement fell away from his face and he approached the window. Michael watched him tuck his hands in the sweater pockets. He wanted to get into that head to untangle the bramble he knew was in there.
Sean calmly glanced over his shoulder. “Tell me a little bit yourself. Every week I come in here and tell you about my problems. Let’s change it up a bit for once. Where are you from?”
He turned and walked toward a large bookcase of old, leather-bound books that Michael collected. He, and some patients, found them comforting. Something about the feel of bristle paper stained with age and fragranced with a musk that—one imagined—came from a sepulture, the vault of lost wisdom.
“Do you think the ancients knew anything about this psychology stuff? You think people were just nuts, and the ones beyond any help were just…spared the agony?”
“I’m from Chicago. I moved here a few years ago,” Michael surrendered, hoping it would earn him Sean’s trust.
“Chicago! Sounds like a cold place to live.” Sean grabbed a worn book, the cover half dissolved. “On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Nice.
So, what brought you here? Couldn’t have been because of me.” Sean slapped the book closed and placed it back on the self as he glanced over his shoulder with a smirked and a wink. Michael had mixed feelings about the perceived flirting. He needed to repress his urges. Sean didn’t make it easy.
“I moved here for personal reasons.” Michael placed his glasses back on, then cleared his throat. He opened the notebook and buried his nose in the pages. He caught Sean’s shadow making its way back to the couch.
“Personal reasons? How can you expect me to open up when you won’t even tell me why you moved to San Francisco? We’re very open here. You can’t keep secrets from us. We can be very persuasive.” Michael looked up and saw Sean spread his legs wide as his hand trickled down along his crotch.
“I got married,” Michael replied sharply; he needed to clarify the boundaries. “We decided to move to San Francisco once I started at Berkeley. We just stayed here after that.” Michael closed his notebook again. Annoyed, he sat and stared at Sean, who flashed a wry smile. Michael thought the vanity was cute at times, except when he didn’t get his way. Sean understood he was attractive—that was easy for Michael to deduce—and he was playing Michael. He refused to be a ploy.
“I didn’t know you were married.” Sean closed his legs and walked back to the window. With a sigh, he added, “just goes to show you all the good men are taken.”
“Is that why you went to see Jason?”
Michael noticed Sean’s jaw muscles clench and vein in his temple shook. Michael gave Sean what he wanted, now he had to pay up.
“I didn’t call Jason.” Michael watched Sean play with the strings protruding from the sweater hood. He twirled them around as his eyes fluttered again.
“You’re right, you went to see him. Why did you do that?”
“Jason called me. That’s not against the rules, right? I wasn’t supposed to call him. I picked up the phone and it happened to be him. That was all. He wanted to talk. Who was I to tell him he couldn’t?”
“You think he wanted you to come to his home?”
“I don’t know. I thought he might want to apologize. I thought he was calling to tell me he made a mistake, and he was leaving his wife. I thought I’d find him outside my apartment door with a bottle of wine and a box of condoms. When he didn’t…I guess I just wanted to know why…”
“What did you two talk about?” Michael leaned forward. He was getting somewhere. He knew it.
Sean sighed again. “What normal people talk about. You know. Life, work...” He crept over to the ficus tree beside the window. He played with the leaves. “He told me he loved me.”
“Did you believe him?”
“That’s a good question.” He ran his fingers over the leaves, seemly tracing the veins. “He said it before and then look what happened. Did I believe him? Probably not.”
“Who ended it?”
“I don’t remember. What does it matter? It ended. He didn’t want to leave his wife. Why can’t it just be the end? Like it has to have significance or logic.” His fingers webbed again, spreading wide like he was about to swim across the lake, his breath ragged. “Some things just aren’t meant to be and why can’t we just accept that?”
“Is it hard for you to accept? The end? Or that he loves you?”
Sean stormed back toward the couch and raised a scolding hand. “I know what you’re trying to do. You’re not going to distract me from what’s going on here. You can’t take your eyes off me.”
Michael cocked his head and uncomfortably shifted in his seat. “Excuse me?”
Sean rolled his eyes, then climbed onto Michael’s lap. Sean’s breathe poured into Michaels’s mouth; their lips so close Michael could feel the static between them. “I’ve seen you checking me out. You want me,” Sean whispered seductively.
“Sean. I’m married.” Michael tried to free himself, but Sean’s lips were so close they made him weak. Michael glanced up at Sean’s consuming, fiery amber eyes that immitted a strange heat, like burning stars scorching down his walls. Michael fought his fingers, keeping them gripped to the armchair. They wanted their freedom, but Michael refused.
“Never stopped me before.” Sean laughed lightly, then slipped his tongue into Michael’s mouth, then his lips closed in.
Sean’s hands slithered down to his neck and the first shirt button came undone. Michael was tempted to give in. The siren song was blaring in his ears and his body was screaming for pleasure. He couldn’t deny himself the truth: he did want this. Ever since their first session, he thought about it. On some level, he wondered if he was trying to fix Sean so he could have him. It wasn’t right. None of this was right.
Michael pushed back Sean’s face and he looked into Sean’s eyes. “Stop it, Sean. This isn’t helping.”
Sean moved his hands to Michael’s belt, then crossed the line and smirked. “Oh, I think it’s helping something.”
“We should be talking about you.” Michael pulled Sean’s hands from his pants and tore himself from the chair. He knocked Sean back, and he tumbled to the floor.
With his hand on his waist, Michael sauntered over to the picture on his bookshelf. He looked into the eyes of his beloved wife. He felt ashamed. He didn’t start it, and he certainly ended it, but it was the process that haunted him. He garnered some pleasure from it. He’d swore that would never happen again. Sean made him feel it again.
“This is an important time for you, Sean. You shouldn’t be wasting it,” Michael urged. He concealed his fury—like he normally did—with concern and a desire to help others.
“I was trying to make the most of it.” Sean kept his seductive tone.
Michael felt a hand slide around his waist. He heard the ring of the brass hook and the resistance against his untoned abdomen release. His belt was coming undone. “You should do the same,” Sean whispered.
Michael closed his eyes. His body tingled with fear and excitement. For a moment, he was paralyzed. His brain was keeping him from preventing this experience it had longed for so long. It would not be denied again. He pried open his eyes. Just enough for him to see his wife looking up at him. She was his salvation, the pin to this balloon.
He threw off Sean’s hand and moved to the window. Michael spun toward him. “StoStop avoiding the problem. Is this what you did to Jason? Or Tom? You can’t connect with anyone other than through meaningless sex. They both told you they loved you, didn’t they? They want you to get better. They made you promise them.”
Sean was unmoved. He stared at Michael with no expression.
“What happened with Jason, Sean? Stop dancing around it. What happened?”
“I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
“Did you love him? Is that why you left him?” Michael advanced toward Sean; determined to extract the truth.
“I didn’t leave him.”
“Then what happened?”
“I killed him, okay?”
Tears dripped from Sean’s eyes and he collapsed. Michael balked. He stood in silence, listening to Sean’s whimpers as he processed this information. The obsession had taken him too far. He hadn’t expected this yet. He hoped Sean could be saved.
“Little by little he started to pull away,” Sean said. Michael felt the energy in his voice building, like an orchestral crescendo. “I knew he wasn’t going to leave his wife and every time, every fucking time he told me that he loved me...I knew he was lying. He probably said that to her too. Right before he would come over, fuck the living shit out of me, say the same thing, and then run back to her.” Sean caught his breath.
“He left me,” his voice cracked. “The last time he told me he loved me and then started to walk away back to that bitch. What was I supposed to do?” Sean shouted “Tell me! Why should I be the only one miserable? Why does he get to have EVERYTHING!”
“So, you tried to settle the score…”
“Of course not! I loved him so much it was making me miserable. It was killing me. It drained the life, my soul from me. I needed to let him go. I just couldn’t stand him leaving anymore.”
Sean dropped his hand from his nose. He caught it with his other hand and rubbed them. Michael watched him traced the pale band again. “I wanted him to hurt the way he was hurting me. I wanted him to feel something about me. I wanted him to care about me, but he never did.”
“What happened that night? Before the killing?” Michael spoke very softly and calmly. He squatted down beside Sean. He reached for a tissue from a box on the end table by the couch and handed it to Sean.
“I gave him plenty of chances,” Sean said as wiped the tears. “He never showed me. There were nights he would lie next to me in bed, and it was like I wasn’t even there. I could have been lying next to him completely naked, and nothing! He wouldn’t even look at me, much less touch me.”
“Maybe he was afraid?”
“Afraid? Of what?”
Sean was startled by the comment. “Me?”
“Maybe he did love you. Maybe Jason loved you so much he was afraid that you would leave him. He had to become so cold and callous out of defense. Maybe he needed time.”
Sean crimpled his brows. His eyes shifted faster than before.
“If Jason hadn’t loved you, would he have given you that ring?” Michael saw Sean looked back down at his finger. He didn’t respond.
“Can you think of a good memory you had with Jason? Any moment where you thought he did love you?
Sean smiled. “It was a few weeks ago. The entire city was disserted; I can’t remember why. It was weird. We wandered down the street. At one point, I took his hand, and suddenly he leaned down to kiss me. Right in the middle of the deserted street.”
“That sounds like a very happy memory. It seems he really loved you.”
Sean’s brow twitched as if he agreed. His smile continued as he traced the band. Michael wondered what happened to the ring, but he didn’t pry. One last question was nagging him. He needed to ask it before time was over.
“Why didn’t you believe that he loved you?”
“I think that those moments were so far and few between that it was hard for me to believe him. I needed reminders. He wouldn’t let me have that. I needed him, but he didn’t need me.”
“Did you need proof that he loved you? Was his word not enough?”
Sean laughed at the question. “I’m sorry. It’s just that he asked me that once too. He said love doesn’t need proof. I just did needed it. I can’t explain it. I had to be sure he was going to stick around. What if I gave him all of me, would he be there?”
Michael stood up, then helped Sean back to his feet. He hugged Sean. “Okay, Sean. I think that’s enough for today.”
After Sean left, Michael reported him to the police. They found him hiding in an abandoned apartment across the street from Jason’s house. That’s where he’d kept the body. Michael thought about going to see him in prison, but it didn’t seem right. So much had happened that day, and his testimony against him almost felt like a betrayal. Sean helped him reawaken something. All he hoped and prayed was that Sean would find some peace. That’s all he wanted for his patients.
I am an emerging fiction writer who identifies as a gay, Latino cis-gendered man (he/him). My fiction has not been features in any literary magazines and I have not yet published my first novel; however I do self-publish on Medium.com under the pseudonym Allen R. Marquez (link: https://armarquez.medium.com/). I often weave stories in the genres of literary and fantasy fiction, focusing on characters that represent body positivity, diverse skin tone, and sexual expression; I strongly believe more of these stories are needed.