No Greater Love Than Mine: A Silver Linings Novella will be out next week (on Friday 6 July 2018). Here’s a preview. Enjoy!
No Greater Love Than Mine
© Harper Bliss
“You have no choice,” Harriet says. “I wish I could get you out of it, but you have to go see Roger.”
I tap the tip of my shoe against my boss’s desk. I don’t care if it annoys her—in fact, I’m pretty sure it does, and am glad of it.
“Maybe you can work something out with him,” she says. “But administratively, my hands are tied.”
‘Administratively’ is one of Harriet’s favorite words. Especially in combination with explaining how tied her hands are exactly.
“That’ll be the day,” I scoff, “when Roger lets a woman off the hook.” I hang my head in desperation. “How is this guy still working for the department?”
Harriet leans over her desk. “You didn’t get this from me, but I hear he’s on his way out.”
“About ten years too late, but still, some good news today.”
“There can be much more good news soon. Five mandatory sessions is all it takes.” Harriet fixes her gaze on me. “I need you back on the squad, Angela. As soon as possible.”
I shuffle in my seat and, inadvertently, wince.
“If you’re physically ready, of course.”
“Just a bullet to the shoulder,” I say sarcastically. “Comes with the territory.”
“I hope you know I don’t question your mental readiness to return to work.” Harriet sends me one of her attempts at a smile. She used to be my partner. I know smiling isn’t her forte.
“But someone in HR does,” I say.
“We have to cover our bases. That’s all it is.” Harriet tilts her head. “Five hours of your life spread out over two weeks. You’ll have the rest of your time to recover from whatever Roger Bradley’s therapeutic skills unearth from the depths of your soul.”
I snicker. “It’s not funny. I just want to work. I’ll even have you chain me to a desk for the coming two weeks.”
Harriet arches up her eyebrows. “If you only had an ounce of desk jockey blood in you, you’d be sitting on my side of this very desk right now.”
“But action is what gets you killed.” Even though it was a through and through, sometimes, it’s as though I can still feel the bullet lodged in the flesh of my right shoulder.
“Don’t even say that.” Harriet and I worked side by side for seven years, until she got promoted.
“Fine then. I’ll go waste my time in Roger’s office.” I make to get up. It’s not because I have all the time in the world that the captain of our squad doesn’t have a million things to do.
“Call me after,” Harriet says. “Screw confidentiality.”
“Yes, boss.” I give her a faux-salute and leave her to tend to her many administrative tasks.
* * *
I’ve been lucky enough to never have to avail of Roger Bradley’s services during all my years as a police officer with the LAPD, but I’ve heard all the stories.
I hope Harriet’s right about him being on his way out, although it doesn’t help me much now, as I sit in a nondescript waiting room, wishing it was evening already, and my hour with Roger over.
It’s not just his reputation that gets my hackles up. I’m not a believer in talk therapy and the prospect of having my soul shrunk sets my teeth on edge. It’s just a formality, I repeat in my head, as I see how the seconds tick by on my wristwatch. Maybe I can try something with Roger, get him to sign the necessary paperwork without me having to sit through five actual sessions with him.
The door to Roger’s office opens and a colleague I know vaguely—I think he works in Vice—walks out. We nod our recognition, or perhaps our commiseration, and he walks off. The door remains open, but I’m not being called in. Maybe Roger needs to make some notes on the mental wellbeing of his previous client first.
A few more minutes pass and I just sit there waiting in front of an open door. I check my watch and it’s not 4 PM yet, that’s true, but only about fifty seconds off.
When the seconds counter on my watch turns to ’00’ a woman appears in the doorway. A woman who is decidedly not Roger Bradley.
“Detective Hill,” she says. “I will see you now.”
For a second, I’m chained to my chair. At the sight of her, I simply can’t move. My legs have lost all their power.
I mumble something, but nothing sane comes out of my mouth. What happened to Roger Bradley? It would be a delight to have a therapy session with him now that I’m faced with the alternative. Because this will be a trip down memory lane I swore I would never take.
I’ve had time to prepare for this. Still, seeing her knocks me for six. It’s been twenty years, yet I could pick Detective Angela Hill out of a crowd of millions. She has aged, of course. Twenty years in this job will do that to you, yet her essence has remained the same. Those pale blue eyes—the undeniable sparkle in them. She’s not in uniform anymore, but she still tucks her blouse tightly into the waistband of her trousers, revealing a fine figure.
“You’re not Roger Bradley,” Angela says, after I’ve closed the door behind her.
“Very perceptive.” I point at two club chairs facing each other near the window. “Please, sit down.”
“I’m not sure I should stay,” Angela says. “It must be against some protocol.” She fidgets with the wristband of her watch.
With any other client, I’d put a reassuring hand on their shoulder, but I can’t do that with Angela.
I sit down, hoping she’ll follow my lead. “I assure you, it’s perfectly fine.”
“Where’s Roger?” She sits down and slings one leg over the other, her arms crossed over her chest.
“Mr. Bradley has been suspended. I’m covering for him until a suitable, more permanent replacement is found.” I find myself distracted by a freckle next to Angela’s nose. Has that always been there?
“Okay.” Angela eyes me through narrowed lids. “So, am I to assume that you’d rather be somewhere else instead?”
I give her a hint of smile. “Whatever gave you that idea?”
“You’ve read my file. You know what happened. It’s LAPD procedure for every officer who’s the victim of a shooting to see a shrink. But I’m fine. We can just skip this whole thing.”
I relax my hands on the armrests of the chair, hoping to inspire some calm in my reluctant client. “Is that what you were going to say to Roger?”
Angela presses her lips together and nods. “I probably would have gone about it differently, but I figure you owe me, so I might as well be direct.”
Ouch. The knives are out already.
“Please don’t do that typical shrink thing and bring your hand to your chin, nodding thoughtfully, and only say ‘interesting’. None of that shit’s going to work on me. I just want to get out of this. If you cared for me at all.” She stalls. Something twists deep in my gut. “Then you’ll at least do this for me.”
“Angela, please,” I implore. “We have an hour. Maybe we can talk.”
How can it be that I still remember her lips on mine so vividly? How those blue eyes stared into mine as she pushed a finger high inside me. A drop of sweat trickles down my spine. Maybe I should have protested more when I saw Angela’s name in Roger’s appointment book. But what could I have said? Detective Hill and I have a secret history together?
Angela shakes her head. “It would have been nice if someone had alerted me to this.”
“I agree. I apologize. Believe me, these are not the circumstances under which I wanted us to meet again.”
Angela scoffs. “As if you ever wanted that.”
I deserve that. I deserve every last ounce of scorn she sends my way. “I got called in to take over from Roger a few days ago. I’ve been in over my head. I didn’t ask for this either, but this is the situation as it is.” I try a smile, although I know it won’t work on her. Or no, I can only guess. It’s been twenty years, and even back then we didn’t know each other that well. “How about we just begin?”
Angela purses her lips. The way her eyes blaze with anger, I half expect her to make a locking up gesture with her fingers, followed by throwing away the imaginary key. She gives a stern nod.
“Would you like to begin by telling me what happened?” I’m glad there’s a safe distance between us. About three feet separate us. More sweat pools in the small of my back. I’ll need to change my blouse if I keep perspiring like this.
“You already know what happened.” There’s nothing but accusation in her tone. “Or did you not read my file?”
I read it last night and again this morning. I skimmed through it again during my lunch break, my glance always halting at her picture. Those eyes. They could cut through steel.
“I’d like to hear it in your own words.”
Angela rolls her eyes. “I can’t do this.” She throws up her hands. “How can you possibly expect me to? I haven’t seen you in two decades and then, boom, here you are. And you expect me to talk about something I have no desire to talk about, with you, of all people.” She massages her temples.
“I know it’s not fair.”
“Not fair,” Angela repeats under her breath. “You should know a thing or two about that.”
I swallow hard. I try to hold her glance, but it’s my own that skitters away. I can’t look her in the eye—it’s a privilege I squandered years ago.
“It’s probably meaningless now, but I’m so sorry about what happened back then.” My hands go all clammy. “My choices were very limited. I had Carl to consider.” No matter the agony of the moment, my voice fills with joy when I say my son’s name.
Angela holds up her hand. “Save it. Whatever you’re going to say is twenty years too late.”
“Everything’s different now,” I say, not sure what I mean.
“At least your ex-husband became commissioner.” Angela’s voice is all venom. “I hope it was worth the sacrifice.”
“I didn’t do it for him.”
“Truly, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care. I’m just flummoxed because I was expecting that poor excuse of a human being Roger Bradley to receive me in this office for a therapy session, not the woman who broke my heart so ruthlessly, so…” She pauses, then waves a hand. “Well, you’re the therapist. I hardly need to explain it to you.”
“You don’t. I understand. If it’s any consolation, it’s a shock for me as well. To see you again after all these years.” I refrain from telling her that, despite all the hard feelings between us, I’m happy to be sitting across from her. To look into the cool blue of her gaze whenever my eyes dare to wander there.
She huffs out some air. “I’ve been so angry with you.” She shakes her head. “Once the anger subsided, I was sad. For a very long time.”
“I’m sorry.” I have to ask. It’s none of my business, but there’s an acute need inside me to obtain this information. “Did you, um, find someone… after me.”
Angela’s eyes grow wide for an instant, then she just shrugs. She just sits there and it’s as if I can still see some of the sadness inside her. As though, faced with me, she’s trying to hide it so well, pulling up all her guards that, in her zeal, she’s forgetting to conceal the most vulnerable parts of her.
“I shouldn’t have asked. I’m sorry.”
“This is turning out to be one big apologizing session for you. I hope it’s cathartic.” Her tone is all bite, but something has softened in the blue of her eyes.
“It’s not.” I wish I could at least say to her that if I could go back in time, I’d do everything differently, but I can’t do that. My child came first. Although, perhaps his happiness was the perfect cover for my cowardice. “Here’s what I propose.” I have to meet her halfway, even though, by doing so I’ll be neglecting my professional duties. But I’m not the right therapist to help Angela with her possible PTSD. There’s too big a conflict of interest. “I’ll write you down as having taken today’s session. I’ll find someone else to take over from me for the next sessions. But—”
“Of course there’s a but.” She taps her fingertips on her knee.
“You’re my last client for today. How about we go for a drink instead? I know I could use one.”
The corner of her mouth quirks up briefly, only to plunge down again and pull her lips back into their dismissive slant. She doesn’t say no immediately. “If I don’t go for a drink with you, will you make me sit out the session?”
“I’m not blackmailing you into having a drink with me, Angela. You’re free to leave if you want to.”
She rises and walks to the back of the chair. She plants her hands on the back of it. I don’t spot any rings on her fingers. “I know a place not far from here. Classy enough to not be crawling with cops.” A small shift in her lips again. “I’m not fit to drive yet, which is bullshit, but there you have it.” She straightens her spine and, for a split second, grimaces. “I’ll be taking a cab.”
“Give me the address. I’ll follow you.” I suppose it’s a step too far to propose we ride together.
<<End of preview>>
No Greater Love Than Mine will be available on Friday 6 July 2018