Deleted Scene from PERSONAL DEMONS
This was just about the last major edit I made. I’d originally planned to use the Partners a lot more, but as often happens, the story took on a life of its own and focused elsewhere. So we really didn’t need this much information about them all, and the basic outcome of the scene could be handled easily with simple exposition.
First there was the day to get through, a task made far more difficult with the addition of Brian Stone, who dogged her every footstep when she wasn’t forcing him to wait in her little office while she saw clients. All of whom were perfectly willing to speak to him, no matter how strongly she tried to suggest it wasn’t a good idea. She refused to use her abilities to alter their free will in that matter, and as a result they, rather annoyingly, exercised it.
At ten o’clock she called Kevin and told him she would meet him at Fearbusters that night. He was delighted. After hanging up with him she grabbed Dante’s card—which was noticeably innocent of any professional titles—and informed him she would be at the hospital at nine, available for whatever conversation he wanted to have.
“That’s a little late,” he said.
“It’s no later than the other times you’ve shown up uninvited,” she replied. “Nine or nothing.”
He sighed. “I’ll be there.”
She hung up without saying goodbye.
She and Brian were just getting ready to leave for lunch when Lucy entered the room, clutching her upper arms as if she were cold.
“What’s wrong, Lucy?”
Lucy lowered her voice to a whisper. “Megan, the Partners want to see you.”
It was a surprise, but not one that made Megan nervous. The Partners often had little meetings to discuss buying new waiting room furniture or lease terms or whatever other issues arose. So why did Lucy look so upset?
“Okay,” she said. “Is there something I should know before I go in there?”
Lucy bit her lip and shrugged, refusing to look at Megan.
“I think they’re mad.”
“Mad? About—” Megan glanced behind her to where Brian stood in the doorway. “Oh. Mad about that.”
“Oh well.” Megan closed the client folder she’d been notating, shoved it in the cabinet and locked the drawer shut. Brian stepped out of the way as she brushed past him into her office and grabbed her purse.
“Can I come?” Brian asked.
Megan shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
“Megan, I’m supposed to shadow you all day when you’re not with a client. The magazine wants a real slice-of-life feature, and I can’t get that if you shut me out of your life.” He sounded like a wounded boyfriend.
“Too bad,” she said. This was not going to be good, and the last thing she needed was more humiliation dumped on top of her already generous helping.
* * *
The cool green paint on the walls of the conference room was meant to be soothing and to promote calm, intellectual discussion. The placement of the plants and table were supervised by Althea Honeycutt, resident feng shui fanatic and Megan’s favourite Partner. The older woman always had a smile or a cheerful word, and threw great parties.
Today, however, she was not smiling. Neither were any of the other four, with the possible exception of Jeff Howard, although his expression would better be described as a smirk.
Megan steeled herself and sat down, dropping her purse to the floor next to her. “You wanted to see me?”
Jeff cleared his throat and leaned forward, his hands clasped together on the shiny mahogany table. “Megan, our community has some concerns about your recent activities.”
Here it comes. “Concerns?”
“Your radio show, your pet journalist, your fit last night in a popular restaurant—”
“Excuse me,” she interrupted. “I was ill. There’s nothing in my contract that says I’m not allowed to be ill.”
“If it was illness,” Jeff said.
“What are you implying?”
“Hold on now.” Dr. Frederick Norman broke in. The others turned to look at him. Fred barely ever spoke, but when he did, they listened. “I hardly think these accusations are productive,” he said. “Certainly whatever illness overtook Meg last night at whatever restaurant you’re discussing is none of our business.”
“It is if she was drunk,” Jeff said. “If she was on something. That reflects badly on all of us.”
Althea waved one large, mannish hand, jingling with trinkets, in Jeff’s direction. “For heaven’s sake, Jeff, calm yourself. You know as well as we do that Meg’s not a drunk or on drugs. If she says she was sick, she was sick.”
The room was silent while Althea and Jeff stared each other down. “I’m still suspicious,” Jeff said finally, “but I’ll let it go for now.”
“Thank you so much,” Megan snapped.
“Meg,” Althea said kindly. “The thing is, honey, some of us aren’t too comfortable with all this publicity. Lucy’s having a hard time answering all the phone calls lately, and we keep having people just walking into the offices and trying to snoop around.”
“It’s only been two days,” Megan said. Her eyes started to burn.
Once when she was in eighth grade, she’d been accused of stealing by another girl. What she actually thought was that Megan had cast some sort of spell on her boyfriend to make him dump her, but knowing even at the age of thirteen that the school authorities wouldn’t care at all about that, she’d made up a story about books and a bracelet instead. Megan had never forgotten the feeling of being stared at by a group of people who were all already convinced of her guilt, the way their disapproval had tasted like burnt toast in the air of the principal’s office.
Bad as that was, this was worse. The school administrators hadn’t known her, worked with her. They hadn’t been to her home. The Partners had. It felt like they were twisting a knife in her ribs.
“It’s been three weeks since the advance publicity started,” Althea said, “and I know it’s not your fault, but—”
“Whose fault is it, then?” Jeff’s face was turning red. “She’s the one doing the radio show and turning us all into some kind of laughingstock!”
“I think that’s a little harsh,” said Gary Lake, the heretofore silent Partner. Gary was usually silent. Megan always assumed that was why his clients loved him so much. Most clients gave little gifts for Christmas, but Gary’s were always noticeably larger and more impressive, which inspired much good-natured teasing from the others.
He turned to Megan now, his face impassive. “Megan, none of us think you’re deliberately trying to make us look bad. We’re sure you didn’t think this was going to happen.”
“I didn’t,” she said, grateful for his support. “I’m sorry.”
He nodded. “We know you’re sorry. But the problem is, even though you didn’t mean for this to happen, it did happen, and frankly, we’re shocked you didn’t consider the consequences before you agreed to do the show.”
He was right. Megan wanted to argue, but he was right. She’d thought about the consequences to herself, but she hadn’t even realized what they would be until she’d signed the contract. Richard hadn’t explained the ad campaign or the whole “demon” thing until her name was already written on the last page. Might as well have been written in blood. There was no way she could get out of that contract.
“I’m sorry,” she said finally, because she felt all their eyes on her. “I didn’t realize they were going to do so much publicity. I didn’t know it would be so big. It’s not fair to any of you.”
Althea, Gary, and Frederick looked mollified, but Jeff was still red with anger. “You can’t just say ‘sorry’ and expect everything to be okay,” he said. “You’ve put all of our clients in jeopardy, you’ve brought a reporter into our office to spend the week, you’ve got your face splashed all over the city. These are serious issues, Megan, and we’re all adversely effected by your recklessness.”
Megan pushed her chair a little back from the table. The hostility Jeff was projecting was so intense she felt it like a cold wind. “I’m sorry,” she said again. “If you want me to withdraw from the community I will.”
Again Althea spoke before Jeff could. “We don’t want that, Meg. But there are some things you need to do.”
Megan swallowed. Althea was the only Partner looking at her. This was not going to be good.
It wasn’t. They wanted her to hire her own separate receptionist, at least until the initial rush calmed down—if it did. They wanted additional soundproofing for all of their offices. They wanted her to state on the air that she was not accepting new in-office clients for the time being and that she would not answer any of her caller’s questions outside of her show. Last, they wanted her to insist any future publicity ventures be approved by the community if it involved her office or the reputation of Therapy Partners, Inc.
Megan sat silently through it all, nodding and making the appropriate responses. She wanted to crawl into a corner and howl. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes,” she finally said. “And thanks for the chance to make things right. I’ll get started immediately.”
“We sure appreciate that.” Althea smiled her motherly smile, her happiness at reaching a resolution radiating from her. Megan fought the absurd urge to crawl into the other woman’s lap.
“Consider yourself warned, though,” Jeff said. “We all worked hard to build this practice to what it is today.”
“I worked to build my practice.” Gary stared at Jeff. “This is just an office community. I don’t do you any favors, Jeff, and I don’t expect any from you.”
Jeff turned red, but he didn’t respond. Instead he gave Megan a look that clearly said, See the trouble you’re causing?
She had a sinking feeling he intended to cause her just as much in return.