Jane Summers shifted in her seat uncomfortably, like she was watching an unpleasant movie. “Look, I’m only here because Gary said I needed to do this.” Her tone was sharp. “I told him I wasn’t going to go on disability, I didn’t need a — ” she spat out the word — “diagnosis.”
On the other side of the large wooden table, Dr. Sumeet Patel leaned back in his chair. He tried to look as reassuring as he could, as he brought his palms together, fingers interlacing under his bearded chin. “The only thing that Gary asked of me, was that I talk with you, Miss Summers. Gary’s is very worried about you, and doesn’t know what he can do to help. So that’s why he gave you my name — to help you, not diagnose you.”
Dr. Patel waited for Jane to reply. Her name had sounded familiar when Gary had called him, and although he hadn’t recognized her face when she arrived at his office that afternoon, he knew they had likely both attended the same parties at Gary’s home over the years. Dr. Patel remembered Gary speaking fondly of Jane, had seemed comfortable, even grateful, for the role he played as her surrogate father. Which had made their call earlier that week all the more strange. She has a — unique problem. (Gary had uncharacteristically refused to provide any more detail on that topic). And she’s only going to talk about it with someone she trusts. My saying you’re a good guy will go a long way with her.
“I know.” Jane Summers shifted again in the stiff armchair, her shoulders relaxing. “That’s what Gary does. He can’t figure something out, he calls in the experts.” Her eyes scanned Dr. Patel’s office, moving quickly past the thick volumes on the tall bookshelves, past the framed Renoir print from the Art Institute, her gaze pausing only when she located his diploma.
“I’m honored to hear Gary thinks of me as an expert.” Dr. Patel’s chair creaked as he leaned forward, his jacketed arms resting on the desk in front of him. “He speaks highly of you as well.”
Quickly, Jane snapped her head around, tension returning to her shoulders as she glared directly at Dr. Patel. “I don’t have to lay down, do I?”
Dr. Patel smiled, tilting his bearded head back while closing his eyes leisurely. “Only in the movies, Miss Summers.” His eyes smiled open. “I don’t even have a couch.”
Jane twitched her head, confirming his assertion with her eyes. “OK. Good.” She blinked, cleared her throat. “Jane. Call me Jane.”
“Thank you, Jane. And please, call me Sumeet. Or Sam. Or Dr. Patel, whatever’s most comfortable for you.” He leaned back in his chair, his hands forming a tent under his chin. “So tell me, Jane — how can I help you?”
Jane looked down at her hands folded in her lap. She sighed noisily. “Honestly, I don’t know if you can help me.” She looked up, her eyes meeting Patel’s across the desk. “How much did Gary tell you about — what’s going on with me.”
Sumeet shook his head, his hands lowering to the chair. “Nothing. Not even when I asked. All he said was that your — condition, he called it — was unique.”
Jane laughed, turned her head. “You could say that.”
“Are you in danger?”
Jane turned back to Dr. Patel, her eyes wide with surprise. Patel stared back placidly. “You’ve been nervous, even a little scared, since you’ve walked in this office.” He pointed a thumb in the direction of the diploma she had been studying. “I don’t need a degree to tell me that. You’re holding back something, just like Gary was holding back. Something is wrong, Jane. And I think you need to tell me what it is, that’s bothering you.”
Looking back across the desk at Dr. Patel’s placid stare, Jane was suddenly reminded of Gary — professional, no-nonsense, let’s just get to the point already. And she finally accepted that this meeting, this evaluation from a mental health expert, was the right thing to do. Because even though she believed that every word she was about to say was absolutely correct, she knew that most people, upon hearing her story, would think she was crazy.
She sighed, and smiled. “No, I’m not in danger. It’s just — all right, then.” She inflated her cheeks, blew air noisly past her lips. “Here’s what’s going on with me.”