Chapter 1—Introducing…


I was scared and confused…and anxious to get away from everything that had happened to me before now. But after a year in college, I had had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I had to do something, I knew….but what?

So they have these little people they call "career counselors." They talk to you about your likes and dislikes—your hopes and your dreams—your childhood, your deepest, darkest secrets-blah blah blah…and then they come up with a career path for you.

Go into psychology, she said.
You're a great listener, she said.
It'll be just what you need—you can help others while you help yourself, she said.

So here I am—after undergrad, grad school, the internship, and the student loans—listening to another group of grown ass men and women whining about how their self-confidence was shattered beyond repair because in 7th grade, the kids picked them last for dodge ball on the playground. Now don't get me wrong, I understand what it's like to have problems; I know all about the issues that can affect you and shape the person you become. That's why I chose this field in the first place. But if I have to hear about one more blubbering crybaby suffering from low self-esteem because Mom bought her Malibu Barbie instead of Ballerina Barbie, thereby squashing her spirit and forever crushing her dancing dreams and aspirations, I'm going to fucking shoot myself!

People are dying of grave diseases. There is war and poverty all over the world. And here I sit facilitating yet another bi-weekly mind-numbing group therapy session listening to Melba Sornson going on about how she was never able to overcome her obstacles in life because Marvin Handley stood her up for the prom.

It's a good thing I've perfected "the look." You know…the look. That's where you sit with your legs crossed, elbow on your arm rest with your chin resting on two or three of your bent fingers and your thumb, looking around the speaker's head, but never directly in their eyes—giving them the illusion that they have your undivided attention. Our current whiner, erm, I mean speaker is pouring her heart out for the hundredth time about how her parents' divorce when she was 14 left her with trust issues against men. Both of her parents have since remarried and are in long-lasting, loving relationships. They are even friendly with each other. From what she has shared of her childhood memories before they divorced, they were freaking miserable! Mom was creeping up on suicide, Dad was two steps behind homicide, and she herself sounds like she was battling depression.

She is now 33—or so she claims—and still can't wrap her mind around the fact that her parents were toxic to each other and chose to move on instead of continuing to kill each other slowly. She has decided to join us this evening sporting workout garb for the flirty 21-year-old. Her way-too-red hair is styled in this way-too-big bouffant that doesn't match her outfit in any way. She looks ridiculous—like "Clash of the Decades"—sort of Margaret Thatcher meets Flashdance (Sorry, Mrs. Thatcher, and sorry, Flashdance). I just want to scream at her, "Pick an era, Lady-preferably one that's suitable for your age!"

"So what do you think about that, Dr. Steele?" I am snapped out of my reflection by Flashdance Thatcher's need for the proverbial rub on the head. Without even knowing what her last statement was, I can automatically respond, "Well, Joyce, what have we repeatedly said about this particular situation? Aren't we rehashing the same questions over again?" And then I watch as she drops her head and replies, "I know. You're right, Ana. It's just that…" and then off she goes again rambling on about the same thing. I'm so surprised that no one else in the group has snapped on her by now, after having to listen to her drone on and on about wah-wah-wah-wah-wah. I can only assume that they are happy to hear someone else's issue and have the attention drawn away from their own pathetic little problems. I mean, not everyone can be as well adjusted as Anastasia Rose Steele, Psy.D., right?

If they only knew…

I relax on my sofa in my stylish apartment, sipping my favorite cabernet sauvignon and trying to forget the disaster that was today's group session. My only saving grace is that I will have a new group next week and I can finally ditch this current bunch of whiners. Unfortunately, I often find that one group is just as bad as the next. I will miss some of them, though. Mr. Charles Stoles, for example, made some real progress, and he really made me laugh. I called him "Stoley" for short, and he loved it. He was a sweet gentleman who just needed a little push over a bad time in his life. He even got to a point where he was helping others to see the light at the end of their proverbial tunnels. He was no help at all to Flashdance Thatcher, however. I don't think anyone can help someone who doesn't want to help themselves. But I am really going to miss Stoley.

I'm all for helping you sort out your issues. That's what I do. It's my job. But I can't take you by the hand and walk you into Mental Healthville while you fight me tooth and nail on all of the reasons that you can't go. And that's what I have been dealing with these last few groups—people who pretend they want to come into the light when in reality, they just want to stay right where they are and complain incessantly about being there.

Well, aren't you the pot calling the kettle black? And there she is—that nagging little Bitch that shows up in my quiet time that sounds strikingly like my mother. She's always there to try to put me in my place when I have the nerve to feel like I'm finally getting it all together or if I start to look down on someone else in their situation—like I wasn't there myself just a few years ago. Yeah, yeah, Bitch, I know. Now go back to your dusty little soot-filled corner and leave me the fuck alone. My blackberry buzzes that I have a text message.

**Hello my love. I know you are all alone dreaming of me. How about a drink, Baby?**
It's from my best friend Allen Forsythe. Talking to him is almost as soothing as the cabernet. I quickly type out my reply:

**Alas, my darling. Our love could never be since we are batting for the same team. And I am already drinking so you need to catch up**
It only takes him a few moments to send his response:

**Le gasp! Cabernet, no doubt? Without me?**
I laugh audibly and extend an invitation:

**Well, if you hurry, there is still a glass waiting for you.**
I know my answer before I see his response that he is on his way. I go to the kitchen to get a second glass from the cupboard when my phone rings. I answer without looking. "I said 'come over,' not call. Can't you follow instructions?" The voice that greeted me was definitely not Allen.

"Oh really? So after all this trying, am I finally getting my invitation to see you, Rosie?"


"Don't call me that if you expect me to answer." It's Edward. Edward David…a mistake that I made a few years back that keeps popping up to haunt me in hopes that I will make the same mistake again. The crisp tone in my voice was enough warning for him to know that the wrong response would quickly have him listening to dead air.

"I'm sorry. I see we are not in a playful mood today." He says, coolly.
"When are we ever in a playful mood, David?" I shoot before taking another sip of my wine.
"Oh…'David'…definitely not laughs tonight." I sigh heavily.
"What do you want?"

"Well, I was hoping to be able to take you out to dinner, but you act as if you are not happy to hear from me." Is he serious?
"You're kidding, right?" His turn to sigh.
"Not about the dinner part. Please, Ro…Anastasia. I would really love to you see. It's been a long time."

Three years, seven months, nine days….but who's counting?

"I can't, Edward. I have company coming." And like an angel from Heaven, there is a knock at my door. Allen…thank God!

"Yes, I know none other than Flamey Boy is on his way. But I would still like to see you, Ana." He never forgave Allen for telling about his indiscretions and always claimed that Allen wanted him for himself. But I refuse to let him insult my best friend.

"Do you want me to hang up on you!?" I snap.

"No, Ana, please. Don't hang up. You won't return any of my calls. I just feel like we would still be together if it weren't for him!" He spit.
"No, Edward. We wouldn't. First of all, it wasn't his fault that we broke up, it was yours. And second, I don't like to share, so it would've ended anyway, Dear!" I retorted.

"Oh, is that the 'double-dicker?'" Allen yelled in his gayest heavy phony Southern drawl.
"Don't taunt the animals." I say to Allen, pointing to the glass on the counter and the bottle of cabernet on the coffee table.

"I see that your friend has made his appearance, so I will talk to you another time." Edward's voice was dripping with his hatred toward Allen.
"I don't really see what there is to talk about…"
"Ana, please," he interrupted, "I miss you so much. I never stopped loving you…."

"Wow, that must be really painful for you," I say, my voice oozing mock sympathy. "I can truly say that I understand how you feel. I understand because of Charlotte, and Maggie, and Abigail, and Susan, and Whitney…"

"Okay, okay…I get it. But I do still love you, Ana. I so want to make things right between us." I almost laugh in his ear.

"And it only took you three and a half years and countless women to figure that out, huh?"

"I know I deserved that." He said after a defeated sigh. The nerve! You call me trying to sound all broken and contrite after all this time? After breaking my heart? Who cares that I still get a rush when I hear your voice? So what that nickname still makes me a little warm in the lower regions? Who cares that there are some nights that you still haunt my dreams? Who are you trying to convince, Rosie? He can't hear your thoughts, you know. Shut the fuck up and stay out of this, Bitch!

"Goodbye, Edward." I end the call before he can say anything and walk to my bedroom. I plug my blackberry into the charger, leave it on my nightstand, and close the door. "I so hate to hear that name, Al. Why do you keep doing that?"

"Well, that's what he is. He dipped his dick into two pussies in the same night. That makes him a double-dicker—and one of them was yours!" He finished, sitting on the loveseat. I threw the rest of my wine back and proceeded to refill my glass. Noting my obvious bad mood, he added, "Okay, okay, Jewel. I'm sorry. I don't say it to get under your skin. I say it to get under his." He sits next to me and put his arm around me as I sit looking into my wine glass.

"It's still not…completely…healed, Al," I say solemnly. "I mean, I don't sit and pine over the guy…"
Shut up, Bitch.
"…but the betrayal part still hurts a bit." I add, taking another sip of my wine.

"Well," Al begins, placing his wine glass on the coffee table and clapping his hands together loudly, "how about you tell me about some of the sick fucks in your group therapy sessions? I love to hear about people more fucked up than I am!" He turns to face me on the couch. Al has to be the sickest person I have ever met. Even though he knows I can't tell him anything, he takes such joy in other people's calamity….and I love him so.

Monday, I'm going to have a new set of whiners and rejects, so I plan to make the most of this weekend. God, I wish I could have a group full of Stoleys—people who really sought healing and knew that it was possible; people who really wanted to be in a better place and let go of the pain, for Christ's sake. Oh, like you did, you mean? That fiasco with Edward had nothing to do with any old ghosts in your closet, right? As a matter of fact, it had absolutely nothing to do with old ghosts, Bitch! Unfortunately, it is causing some new ones to take up residence.

Tonight, I am having a few friends over for dinner. Nothing huge or fancy—it's summer in Seattle and I just want to see my friends. So we are just going to have some appetizers and drinks, followed by vinegar-braised chicken with leeks and peas with steamed baby carrots and cauliflower and whatever libations my friends choose to bring. The dinner will be rounded off with a "make-your-own-sundae" bar. Good food, good friends—that's how I want to spend my Saturday night.

I am just finishing loading the last of the groceries into the trunk of my Chrysler 300 when I spot him. He is standing across the street talking to one of the vendors in the marketplace. He hasn't seen me, so I can probably get in my car and make a clean getaway. I close the trunk and quickly hop into my driver's seat. Please don't look this way…please don't look this way…please don't look this way. I manage to get the car started after dropping my keys on the floor twice, and casually drive away without drawing any undue attention to myself. I let out a breath I didn't know I was holding as I drove away from Edward David. Edward David—never trust a man with two first names.

I really love to entertain in my humble abode. Well, maybe not so humble. I mean, it's no penthouse, but it's more than comfortable. I own a high-level condo in Seattle's Pike Market District with an unobstructed view of Mt. Rainier and Elliot Bay. Its 1,909 square feet of comfort that I got for a steal a couple of years ago when a disgruntled housewife chose to sell it quickly, which was ironic since I was a disgruntled ex-girlfriend who needed to move quickly. What I really love about it is the partially open floor plan. Although I love to cook for my friends, I hate being in the kitchen while the fun is in the dining room. I opted for track lighting throughout with a few strategically placed contemporary light fixtures here and there. No harsh lighting for me—I need my place to feel homey since most places I work or visit tend to be so clinical. My formal dining table is set for 10 since I know that the six friends I did invite are likely to drag a "do-drop" or two along with them. I call them "do-drops" because no matter how much you prepare, people DO tend to DROP by unexpectedly.

I have just pulled the chicken from the oven when my first guests arrive. Of course, it would be Allen and his latest boy-toy. Allen never seems to settle down with anyone for too long. He says his wings were made to fly and he is just not ready for them to be clipped yet. Strange though—he never seems to be without someone on his arm. I could psychoanalyze him for days, but he hates it when I do that.

"And who do we have here, Darling?" I say in an overly exaggerated manner once I close the door behind them.

"Jewel, this hunk of loveliness is James." Allen presents him like he's showing a new car.

"Pleasure to meet you, Jewel." James is a stunning piece of African-American man—tall with mocha colored skin and dark brown eyes. He is decked in a dress shirt with the top button open and a pair of black slacks that accentuate his lovely derriere. I find myself wanting to bang my head against the wall that this man is gay. I giggle shamelessly when he takes my hand.

"Only Al calls me Jewel. My name is Anastasia, James. But please, call me Ana."

"Pleasure to meet you, Ana." He kisses my hand. I want to slap him. Don't tease me if I can't have you! I just waive them over to the table and show Al where to deposit his wine offering.

"So we are the first ones here?" Allen asks.

"Aren't you always the first one here, Al?" I elbow him and he and James take a seat at the breakfast bar. I don't feel bad leaving them while I go change clothes since this is practically his second home.

After a quick shower, I change into my emerald chiffon strapless dress with the sweetheart neckline and uneven A-line skirt. I add my black belt and black strappy stiletto sandals. My hair held in a clip with ringlets falling along the side and down the back. I decide to wear the jade turtle necklace and earrings Al gave me for my last birthday, just because I think they're cute.

When I rejoin the boys, the rest of the revelers have arrived. First, there's Valerie Marshall. She and I met in junior college when neither of us knew what our major would be. After a year or so when we ran out of generic electives to take, we finally decided what we wanted to do (refer to earlier information regarding that freaking career counselor) but we've been friends ever since. During our years at WSU, we met Garrett Pope. Garrett is a couple of years behind us, but he is a wonderful guy. We don't know why he never settled down with anyone. I tried to hook him up once with Al, thinking that may have been his forte. He is uncomfortable in the room alone with Allen to this day. Finally there's Maxine Sanders and Phillip Guest. Maxie was one the psychologists in the office where I did my internship and Phil worked for an independent document services company that came in twice a week to handle disposal of our confidential records. We all went out to lunch one day and became fast friends. The next thing I knew, a few months later, Maxie and Phil were an item. Hey, you find love wherever you find it.

As we are finishing off the appetizers, Val goes right in about the latest guy she's dating—an advertising executive from some firm downtown, which is right up her alley since she decided to go into advertising as well. We still don't know why she tells us these stories because we are all fully acquainted with Val's dating habits. He can't be less than six feet, blonde preferably. No sports cars allowed because she is only too sure that his compensating for something. He has to work out AND his annual salary has to be six digits. Now, it's not that she's a floozy or a gold digger, but Val comes from money and she knows what she wants. She's a gorgeous, raven-haired bombshell and she will not accept anyone who cannot bring at least as much to the table as she can on her own. To that end, we are only too certain that Ms. Marshall has caught the latest up-and-coming GQ businessman in her net. I was almost relieved to be granted a reprieve by a knock at my door. Expecting this to be one of my friend's latest do-drops, I eagerly answer the door without checking first to see who's there.

Oh shit.
Oh shit.
For once, we agree.