At First Sight (Pink Bean 10) will be out next week on 15 December 2020. The audiobook (narrated by Angela Dawe) will follow on 9 February 2021.
Here’s a preview. Enjoy!
At First Sight (Pink Bean 10)
© Harper Bliss
Jill took a deep breath and opened the door. It had been a while since she’d welcomed a new client. Despite decades of experience, a ripple of nerves coursed through her.
There were two women in the waiting area, but she recognized the blonde as one of Patrick’s clients. The one with the long dark hair would be for her then. Both women glanced at her.
“Amelia?” Jill said.
The dark-haired woman drew her lips into a smile and rose. Without saying anything, she followed Jill into the office.
“Please, sit down,” Jill said. “Make yourself comfortable.” She pointed at the chair opposite her own.
While Amelia settled in, Jill grabbed a notepad and pen from her desk, giving her new client some time to acclimate to her new surroundings.
A reassuring smile on her lips, Jill turned and sat. “Because this is your first session, I’ll be making more notes than I usually would. Please don’t be put off by that, it’s mostly for admin reasons. Or if you’d rather I didn’t, I’ll try to exercise my memory and make the notes after you leave.” She broadened her smile and took the opportunity to let her gaze linger on her new client’s eyes. Deep-brown and rather captivating. Jill found it hard to look away from them.
“That’s fine,” Amelia said. These were the first words she’d spoken and if her eyes were arresting, her voice was even more so. Husky and low, like a soft and soothing bass note.
A tingle of heat crept up Jill’s neck. This was not a normal reaction to a first session with a new client. Jill forced herself to look down at her notepad.
“Do you want to tell me a little about yourself or would you like me to go first?” she asked. “Either is fine.” She looked back up at Amelia.
“You go first.” Amelia’s face was all tightness. She was probably nervous. In all her years as a psychiatrist, Jill had never encountered a new client who wasn’t a bundle of nerves during their first session. Seeking therapy was a big step for most people. One they’d often already put off for a long time.
“Sure.” Jill rested the pen and the notepad on her knees. “I’m Jill.” Way to state the obvious. “I’m here to help you with whatever it is you want or need to discuss. Absolutely nothing is taboo in this office. This is your safe space. Nothing you say will shock me. I’ve been doing this for a very long time and helping people through a difficult time in their life is my passion. It’s what I do. Apart from a couple of obvious exceptions, there is complete confidentiality between us. I can tell you about those exceptions if you wish.”
Amelia shook her head.
“But otherwise, nothing you say will ever leave this room.” Jill followed up with another smile. This was the moment to make the client feel a touch more comfortable. She discreetly glanced over Amelia’s body to see if any tension was leaving her muscles. Apparently not just yet. Some clients needed to unload before they could relax. “I’m here for you, Amelia. I have your GP’s referral, but I’d like to hear your reasons for coming to see me in your own words.” Jill caught herself being a bit too eager to hear Amelia’s voice again. She waited with increased anticipation.
“I—uh,” Amelia started. “I had a burnout.” She swallowed. “Very ‘of the times’, I know. I’m usually never up with the latest trends, yet here I am.”
A rather dark and self-deprecating sense of humor, Jill thought, but didn’t write down. She wanted Amelia to talk freely before she took any formal notes. Jill sent her another encouraging smile.
“About a month ago, I had a massive panic attack at work. I thought it would pass after some rest. I took a few days off. But as soon as I got stuck in again, the panic returned.” Amelia put a hand over her sternum. “Since then, I’ve had this continuous agitated sensation right here. I just… I can’t shake it. I can’t relax any longer. I have no energy. I had to drag myself over here. It’s been… utterly grueling because I hardly recognize myself.”
“What do you do for work?”
“I’m a biochemical researcher for a pharmaceutical company. My team and I develop new drugs.” She scoffed. “But as far as I know, no drug has been invented to change the way I feel.”
“Is it a very high-pressure environment?” Jill asked.
“You could say that.” Amelia sighed. “I know I need to talk about my work but even thinking about it makes me feel exhausted.”
“It’s all right. We don’t have to talk about your work right now.” Jill positioned the notepad in front of her. “Is it okay if I take a few notes now?” She waited for Amelia’s nod. “What else do you do beside work? Do you have a partner? A family?”
“I’m single.” It seemed Amelia’s voice had dropped into an even lower register.
Jill hoped to figure out later if that meant anything. For now, she just listened and jotted down some short sentences.
“I was a cliché: the employee who turns the lights on in the morning and switches them off in the evening. I used to be utterly obsessed with my job. I actually loved it because I felt as though what I did mattered, but, along the way, I seem to have lost that conviction and now I feel like just another cog in the wheel of Big Pharma.”
“What changed?” Jill asked.
For the first time, a small smile played on Amelia’s lips. However tiny it was, Jill still thought it a beautiful sight to behold. She shoved that unprofessional thought away. She had just promised Amelia that she would be there for her and that she would help her. Being entranced by a hint of a smile was not going to further that goal. She’d need to give herself a stern talking-to later.
“Here I am, talking about work regardless,” Amelia said.
“Considering you suffered a burnout, I’d say that’s why you’re here.”
The side of Amelia’s lips tilted into a crooked grin, the sight of which sparked a new tingle of heat to ignite in Jill’s chest.
Oh, good gracious god. Jill wondered if she should ask for a moment to gather herself. What was happening? Who was this woman? She was a new client with a burnout. She was someone who needed Jill’s help, for crying out loud. So why was Jill getting so worked up about the degree at which her lips slanted when she half-smiled? She should make a note to discuss this with her own therapist tomorrow. Vic would surely give her an earful.
“To answer your earlier question.” Amelia’s low voice pulled Jill back to earth. “I don’t have a family. I don’t have the best relationship track record. It’s just not something I’ve ever been overly interested in.” She just shrugged as though her relationship status was the least of her worries. It probably was. “Meanwhile, I think my biological clock has ticked past my eggs’ use-by date.”
Jill uttered the tiniest of chuckles while she looked at her notepad. She’d copied the information she’d gotten in the GP’s referral. Amelia Shaw was forty-five. She was one of those women who looked neither young nor old. Maybe she just looked her age. Either way, there was something about her that had Jill much more intrigued than she’d been with any of her clients in a long time. She didn’t consider this a good thing at all.
“No wish for a child?” Jill inquired.
Amelia just shrugged again.
Jill looked forward to finding out if this was her genuine attitude toward relationships and children, two of the key factors in most people’s lives. Amelia was either very good at pretending, or had adopted this apathetic stance subconsciously over time for another reason. That was also the thing with a new client: there was still so much to discover. Jill’s interest was piqued. Professional curiosity. The challenge of figuring out a brand-new-to-her person. The intricate puzzle of their personality and how it first presented itself. A woman like Amelia was one of the reasons Jill loved her job so much. Although in Amelia’s case, it seemed it wasn’t just Jill’s professional interest that was piqued.
“I don’t have any children,” Jill said, which was true, although it didn’t mean she had never tried to have them.
Amelia simply nodded. She didn’t appear to be one of those clients who liked asking questions. She was here for herself. She hadn’t come to deflect the attention away from her which was a technique many a new client tried. Jill was very skilled at gently diverting personal questions right back at reluctant clients.
“Do you have any hobbies?” Jill asked. “Something that takes your mind off work?”
“I’m the goalkeeper for the Darlinghurst Darlings.” It was the first time Jill detected some genuine animation in Amelia’s voice.
“Soccer?” Although Jill had lived in Sydney for more than ten years, most of them in Darlinghurst, she had never heard of the Darlinghurst Darlings.
“Yep. I take immense pride in keeping a clean sheet.”
Jill arched up an eyebrow.
“Not letting the other team score,” Amelia clarified. “Although my spot on the team is in danger, now that I’m in my forties. I’m the oldest player on the team—even, I think, in the league. You could say I’m holding on to something that I should let go of. You know, give someone younger a chance, but it’s hard for me… That team is like my family, even though most of the women I started out playing with have long stopped. And I will admit it’s not always easy keeping up with the younger ones.” She puffed up her cheeks and blew out some air. “Then again, as the goalkeeper, I don’t have to run that much during a game.”
Amelia’s precarious spot on the team might have contributed to her work burnout. Jill jotted another note.
“Sounds like a fun hobby.”
“I love it… I’ve been thinking about starting a league for 40+ women, but the pickings are slim. Turns out women in their forties have other things to do in their spare time than play soccer.” She narrowed her eyes. “How old are you, if I may ask?”
Jill burst out into a chuckle, although, these days, she didn’t particularly enjoy being asked about her age. “Forty-nine.”
“Do you play any sport?” Amelia sure was passionate about this topic.
“I’m, um, more of an art aficionado,” Jill heard herself say. Could she sound any more pretentious?
“Oh, well, I guess I shouldn’t consider you for my mature players’ league then.” Amelia’s lips stretched into the most glorious smile Jill had witnessed for as long as she could remember. The thought that she’d be willing to try soccer for Amelia flashed through her mind but she managed to extinguish it as soon as she identified it as utterly foolish.
Ever since her first panic attack, whenever Amelia felt stressed or anxious, she focused her thoughts on soccer. Because for as long as she could remember, the pitch had been her happy place. Talking about soccer with her new therapist helped to alleviate that crushing feeling in her chest and was easier than talking about the real cause for her burnout.
Although, perhaps, she shouldn’t have tried to recruit her therapist for the 40+ league that didn’t even exist yet. She could have also guessed that Jill wasn’t one for rowdy sport, although you just never knew. Some of the women she played with were unrecognizable to Amelia when they were dressed in office attire.
“I wouldn’t be much of an asset,” Jill said. She was smiling again. “I’ve never kicked a ball in my life.”
This was Amelia’s first experience with a therapist and she hadn’t expected her to smile so much. Maybe she just wanted to put Amelia at ease. It was kind of working, although Amelia was still pretty nervous.
“If you know anyone in our age group from the neighborhood who would be interested…” Amelia inwardly scolded herself for not letting this go. On the other hand, Jill must have heard people say far worse things. Especially first-timers who didn’t really know where to begin.
“Sure.” The skin around Jill’s eyes crinkled. She surely had one thing going for her as a therapist: the woman oozed kindness. It was etched into her face somehow. Or maybe that’s what happens when it’s your job to listen to people’s worries all day long. Your face adapts. That soothing expression becomes permanent. Amelia wondered if any studies had been done about that. She made a mental note to go on Google Scholar later… Argh, no. No looking up any academic research. Amelia was on leave. But it was hard to totally switch off her scientific brain.
“It, um,” Amelia started again. She’d beaten around the bush long enough. “It seems I have a very difficult time relaxing.” She chuckled nervously. “Even on the pitch I’m always doing some sort of calculation to try and predict where the ball will go next.” She shook her head. “I know it sounds a little nuts. Obsessive even.” Another chuckle. “I guess that’s why I’m here.”
“Is it possible to make such a prediction? I thought soccer was mostly a game of chance?”
Amelia frowned. “Whoever told you that doesn’t know the first thing about soccer. I mean, sure, chance and luck have a great deal to do with it, but I would say definitely no more than 50% of the game is down to chance. Technique is very important as is physical condition and of course so is the composition of the team. I wouldn’t say—” Amelia caught herself. She was waffling on, trying to drive home a point that had no importance in this conversation. Although on this particular subject she knew for certain that a scientific study had been done. She’d pored over it with great interest.
“It’s mainly me who doesn’t know the first thing about soccer.” Jill wrote something down again.
Amelia shuffled in her chair. It was a slightly disconcerting thing to witness—someone making notes about her.
“Whenever I have a pressing question about it in the future, I’ll know who to call from now on.” Jill grinned at her.
“I’m sorry. I get quite passionate about the whole thing. My life used to totally revolve around work, but now it seems that soccer has taken its place. I’m on sick leave, which I utterly despise. I want to work, but… I can’t. It makes me feel so powerless.”
“It’s completely normal to feel this way, Amelia.” Jill paused. “In a way, it’s good that you have soccer to turn to.”
“Due to my low energy levels, I’ve missed more than a few practices and let’s just say it’s not that difficult to replace me on the team.”
“Would it be fair to say that you’re currently feeling like everything’s slipping away from you?”
“I think that would be a pretty accurate assessment.” Now that she was a good while into her first session, the burst of adrenaline that had brought her there seeped from her body. Against her will, she heaved a big sigh. “I’m sorry.” Her voice broke a little. “I’m such a mess. I don’t even know where to begin to fix this.”
“You’ve already begun,” Jill said. “You’re here. Coming to me was the hard part. I’ve got your back now.”
Amelia summoned every ounce of willpower she could to hold back the tears gathering behind her eyes. She wasn’t the crying type—at least not until she’d crashed at work with her first panic attack. Oh, the shame of going through that mortifying ordeal in front of her co-workers. At first, she believed she was having a heart attack, despite all the scientific evidence pointing to the contrary. She’d had blood work done only a few weeks prior and her physical health was optimal for her age. There were no indications for any cardiovascular disease in her body, no matter the hours she worked. There had only been one conclusion to draw: what Amelia was going through wasn’t physical. It was mental. It was all in her head.
Then Jill did that thing Amelia had seen every single therapist on television do. She pushed a box of tissues toward her client. Toward Amelia. For heaven’s sake. She wasn’t even crying yet. Or was she? The tiniest amount of moisture had pooled in the corner of her eye. Amelia guessed Jill could read the signs like no other. Pushing the tissues in her direction was her wordless way of saying that Amelia could cry all she wanted. Better here than anywhere else, Amelia thought, and, with a sharp flick of her wrist, pulled a tissue from the box.
“Do you live around here?” Jill’s voice was soft.
Amelia nodded. She pressed the tissue to the underside of her nose, just to do something with it. She wasn’t ready to admit that she was close to tears. She wasn’t one to surrender so easily, which was part of the reason she was sitting in this very chair—she knew that much.
“Have you heard of Glow? The yoga studio down the street from here?”
“I’ve walked past it.” Amelia took a deep breath. Jill was giving her time to regroup.
“Have you considered yoga or meditation?”
“Who hasn’t in this day and age?”
Jill just shot her a smile.
“I’m a soccer player,” Amelia said. “I’m not the kind of person to fold myself into various impossible positions in the company of a bunch of housewives on mats. It doesn’t align with how I think of myself.”
“Everything’s a scientific analysis with you, isn’t it?” Did something in Jill’s blue eyes sparkle? Amelia noticed for the first time the darker color of Jill’s eyebrows didn’t match her blonde hair.
“I’m a soccer player and a scientist.” Amelia raised a shoulder.
“What else are you?” Jill quipped—at least it felt like a quip. “What other nouns apply to you?”
Amelia couldn’t immediately think of anything else. Sure, she was a lesbian, but she hardly felt like one these days. She hadn’t practiced the art of lesbianism in a good long while. She simply hadn’t had the energy, despite a new girl on the team showing unmistakable interest in her.
“You’re someone’s daughter, perhaps?” Jill tried.
“That I am, but my parents live on the Gold Coast and we’re not really that close. It’s mostly a proximity thing.”
“That, too, but my only brother lives in London.”
Amelia nodded. “Although a lousy one these past few months.”
“Doesn’t matter. I’m sure your friends have had their own ups and downs over the years you’ve known them.”
Amelia nodded. What other nouns could she attribute to herself? Her mind was drawing a huge blank. That was what she mainly was these days: someone who drew blanks when asked a direct question. As though her brain was just so tired. As if, after all these years, it had finally had its fill of science, when it had only got energized by it before. The sight of an equation used to light Amelia up like a Christmas tree. Now it made her queasy.
“Do you like to read? Watch TV? Go to the theater? Dine out? Go to the movies?”
“I used to read all the time, but ever since my first panic attack, I can’t seem to focus on the words long enough. It’s as if the sentences are swimming in front of my eyes.”
Jill wrote something down again.
“I do like some fine dining,” Amelia admitted. “I’m a restaurant snob, in case you’d like to write that down.”
“Do you like art?” Jill asked, seemingly suppressing a grin.
“Good question. I don’t really know. There’s been a real boom of art galleries in the area the past few years and sometimes I walk past a window and I really like a painting or a sculpture, but I can never really explain why I like it or why it might be good, which really bugs me.”
“Does everything need to be explicable?” Jill tilted her head sideways.
“Well, yes.” Duh.
“Yet not everything is.”
“I tend to stay away from inexplicable events or experiences.”
“Okay.” With a neutral expression on her face, Jill made a note.
Amelia wished she could get a look at that notepad, but she knew that was not how it worked.
“For the record,” Amelia said. “As a scientist, I’m hyperaware of the many events that science can’t yet explain. As a biochemical researcher, I know very well that how our brain works is still very much a mystery. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an explanation. It only means we need more time to explain it.”
“Have you ever wanted to be anything else other than a scientist?”
“But would you now say that you’ve fallen out of love with the sciences somewhat?”
“No.” Amelia shook her head vehemently. “My problem is not with science. It’s with what the company I work for, and all the other pharma companies, use science for. As though all it takes is to invent a pill for every ailment. Or worse, an ailment for every medicine we can invent. I’ve grown so disillusioned by the whole thing. By the financial side of it all.” She sighed again. “Maybe by capitalism in general. By the whole notion that money, and nothing else, makes the world go round.”
“There’s a lot to unpack there.” Jill rested her calm gaze on Amelia.
Don’t I know it. At least paying someone to listen to all the issues Amelia had acquired over the past forty-five years had the potential of being money well spent. At least Big Pharma had paid her well, and she might as well use the money for something to make her feel better—to counterbalance what earning that money had taken out of her.
<<End of preview>>
At First Sight will be available as ebook and paperback on 15 December 2020