It’s funny how some memories flood through you. How the mention of someone’s name causes a cascade of emotions that make you tremble. That wash over you so fast that you have to go somewhere quiet, get out of the public, to collect yourself.

That’s what happened to me when I flipped open that chart. I knew that particular patient hadn’t been back for a while, that the chart from her last admission was old. But I’d forgotten the timeline. Seeing his name in the discharge summary was like a punch in the gut and a tall drink of ice water all at once.

I had to get up. I had to leave the unit and hide. I made it to the elevator and down to my office, thanking the stars that my officemate was out. I collapsed into my chair, shaking. He’d done so much for me, had showed me the doorway to the life I currently led. Without him, I don’t know if I’d be nearly as happy, nearly as fulfilled.

A sob lurched out of me, and happy, giddy tears slid down my cheeks. Had it really been that long? It was a couple of months, about five years ago. Six years out of grad school, certain that working in a psychiatric hospital was the right thing. I was finding my way, figuring out a career path. He came in and he helped me discover something fundamental about myself.

He’s always there, in the back of my mind.

*~~* *~~* *~~*

I knew what he was, as soon as he walked in. I don’t mean that I knew he was the new psychiatrist. Everyone knew that a temporary doctor was starting, that he’d be there a month or so while they tried to replace the one who’d quit. I don’t mean that I knew he was from New York. That much was obvious the moment he opened his mouth. The accent was unmistakable.

What I mean is that I knew instantly he was a Dom. It’s not supposed to work that way, right? It’s not like people have tattoos on their foreheads declaring their sexuality. No one includes a preference for control or submission when they’re making introductions. But I saw him, and I knew. I looked at him and his nature, complementary to mine, announced itself as surely as his accent did.

I saw it in the way he looked around the room, taking all of our measures in one swooping glance. I heard it in the easy confidence in his voice, joking with our notoriously officious and arrogant medical director. I watched him making himself at home in that crowded room, the assurance rolling off of him in waves. It looked like arrogance to so many other people. But his attitude resonated with me, deep in my core.

I felt it, in the way my mouth went dry, my uterus did a backflip, and my clit stood up at attention. I felt it in the way his eyes seemed to bore into me, and how I struggled to meet his gaze. I felt it, in the way I was rooted to my chair, the blood rushed to my ears, and I sat up straight. I felt some kind of primal, almost cellular, connection to him, even in that moment. Every time I glanced up, he was looking at me. That moment is crystal clear, preserved in my brain, unalterable.

He walked into the conference room for that first Morning Report with the medical director, Dr. Dale, shooing him in the door and muscling their way to the table. We were crowded around it, in the beat-up, mismatched, hand-me-down chairs that state funded institutions always seem to have. There were more people than chairs; a gaggle of interns, medical students, and one late coming psychologist tried to squeeze into the corner. That’s why I always get to those meetings early. All the staff from both treatment teams, nurses from both units, all crammed into that space. It was supposed to be a quick recitation of the events of the previous twenty-four hours.

At Morning Report we heard about who slept, who ate, who paced in the hallway all night long. We heard about who hit whom, or who tried to kiss whom, or who refused their medications. Sixty acutely mentally ill people, in as wide a variety of conditions as you could imagine. But that day, I had no idea what the nurses said about the patients. I had no idea what anyone said about anything. I was too focused on him, to acutely aware of his every move.

After the meeting was over, I rushed back to my office feeling like a high schooler with a crush on a teacher. I had just turned thirty-three, and the grey at his temples made me guess that he was closer to fifty than forty. His eyes were the clearest pale blue, and his lips were full and pink, darker than you’d expect on someone with skin as pale as his. His hair, where it wasn’t going to white, was very dark brown. He wasn’t tall; his shoulders were fairly broad, but that might have been the cut of his suit jacket. He looked nothing like the men I’d been attracted to before. But my body quickly told me my history was irrelevant.

I hid in my office, doing paperwork, calling families and trying not to obsess about having to be in meetings with him until it was time to be in another meeting with him. Not only was he the new psychiatrist, he was assigned to work on the treatment team with me and my officemate. The afternoon meeting was when we discussed the progress patients were making, the doctors would talk about treatment changes, and we’d update the treatment plans. That meeting was the chance that everyone on the team had to express their opinions and talk about what we’d seen from patients.

We went to the afternoon meeting, my officemate Julia, and I. There was less than usual on the agenda, only one treatment plan to review and update. A couple of other items that would be dealt with quickly. We still worked from paper charts in big three ring binders that connected at the top. Various kinds of notes were indicated by different colored paper, and it was a task to decipher everyone’s handwriting.

Suffice to say, there was a lot for the new doctor to catch up on. When I got to the conference room he was already there, flipping through a chart. Julia had peeled off, to go talk to one of the people on her caseload, so I was in the room by myself with him.

I wended my way around to my favorite spot. When I sat, he looked up and appraised me.

“Oliver James,” he said. His voice was a low baritone that rolled through the space. “But maybe you already know that.”

“Yes, Dr. James,” I said. My voice sounded creakier than usual, so I cleared my throat. “We met in Morning Report today. But I’m not sure we all introduced ourselves. I’m Leah. I’m one of the social workers on the team. Leah Abbott.”

He leaned forward on the table just slightly, his eyes still locked on mine. He smiled, and pointed quickly at me, then tapped the table with one finger.

“Leah. I’m sure I will come to rely on you.” He gestured over the chart laid out in front of him. “I’ve got some learning to do, obviously. I’ll need some guidance.”

I smiled back at him. “Of course. I think you’ll find that most everyone here wants to help.”

He tilted his head, and I could see him start to say something else when Julia barreled into the room. Hard on her heels were the rest of the team. I’d never felt so intruded on, even though they were all supposed to be there.

Over the course of that first week, I stole a few moments like that with him. I worked on the unit rather than in my office, and I showed up to every meeting early. Most of the time he was early too. He’d ask me where to find things in the chart, ask me about various policies, or who to go to with particular kinds of questions. I thought he had something kind to say about everyone, that he valued everyone’s input. When we started telling him the history of the patients he didn’t know, he listened. But he was also authoritative. He didn’t like it when team members meandered when trying to give him information. He’d cut someone off if they were going into too much detail. He asked precise questions and wanted concise answers.

Julia, especially, took a dislike to him. She frequently griped to me after meetings about how she couldn’t give a one-word answer to his every question. Outwardly, I sympathized with her. Inwardly, I thrilled every time I heard a certain tone in his voice. I found myself listening for that tone, but also making sure I presented information in a way I thought he’d like. The few times that week that I was on the receiving end of that tone, it didn’t bother me. It made me want to crawl over to him and beg his forgiveness.

I’d leave the team meetings shaking my head, wondering what had gotten into me. But sometimes aroused and always craving his presence. I convinced myself that he leaned forward when I talked, or looked at me longer than the others, or that it wasn’t an accident when his foot brushed against mine under the table.

When I was back at home, I told myself I was imagining it. I told myself it didn’t make any sense for him to be attracted to me. I reminded myself that I’m not pretty. I’m too short, too curvy; I have no fashion sense. I’m opinionated and independent in a way that most men don’t find appealing. But I still felt it. I believed that he had made my measure as quickly as I’d made his. I believed that in the first few seconds when he’d walked in that room, he’d seen into me, seen my reaction, and that he knew what I craved as clearly as I did.

You think about something. You fantasize about it. You imagine and daydream about what it would be like. You plan how you’d react if given the opportunity to experience it. But you never think you will. I had spent so much of my life trying to reconcile the different parts of me. Trying to figure out how the same body held this opinionated, independent woman, who also wanted to be told what to do and used as a sexual object. I wanted respect from colleagues and appreciation for my intelligence, and I wanted to turn off my mind by being made to focus solely on the pleasure of some dominant man.

That had been my life. Imagining and dreaming. When Oliver James walked into that room, I knew the reality was there in front of me. I had only the vaguest sense of how to convert that opportunity into something real.

Luckily for me, he didn’t have any such concerns. As soon as he’d learned enough, and as soon as he had his chance, he made his intention clear to me.

*~~* *~~* *~~*

It was the Friday of his second week. I was sitting in the conference room with several charts, writing my weekly progress notes. One of the charts was for a patient who’d been admitted the previous day. It was the eleventh time he’d been here in ten years, and I’d been the social worker assigned to work with him twice before. I hadn’t seen Dr. James for most of the day, and I had managed to make myself concentrate on what I was doing, rather than sitting there wondering about him.

Then he came into the room and sat in the chair next to me.

I glanced up at him. He asked, “Do you have Mrs. Winslow’s chart?”

“Uh,” I said, looking over the pile of records I hadn’t gotten to yet. “Um, yeah.” I reached over, pulled it from the stack and handed it to him.

“Thanks,” he said. He flipped it open and sat there reading through the notes. I felt his leg brush against mine, his knee tapping on my thigh. I scooted sideways, thinking he wanted space to stretch out. He shifted in his chair, and I felt his leg again. His knee tapped and then settled, firmly, on the outside of my thigh. I glanced over at him, but he was looking through the papers.

I pulled the chart I was writing in more closely to me, I slid my chair back from the table and away from him slightly. He reached a hand out and gripped the armrest of my chair, holding it still. He slid his chair closer, and I felt his knee again. It pressed into my leg, no mistaking the intention, and his hand held onto my chair, preventing me from moving it. I looked over at him, and then he was looking at me. He had one eyebrow raised and a half smile on his face.

I let my leg relax and press into his. He nodded and let go of my chair.

He tapped the chart in front of me. “Mr. Charles. I understand you know him?”

“Yes, Dr. James.”

“Tell me about him.”

I did. It took everything I had to talk coherently, to give him the clinical information and the history that would be useful to him in the concise manner he’d want. The heat from his knee on my thigh travelled up my body, straight to my pussy. The heat from his look as I was trying to talk travelled straight into my heart. It melted my brain. I was in the middle of a sentence and a nurse came in to ask him to rewrite an order. When he turned slightly to do as she asked, he pressed his leg against mine more firmly. My brain came to a screeching halt, and I trailed off without finishing the thought.

When he was done, he handed that chart back to the nurse with a thanks, and turned back to me. His hand brushed mine.

“So, Leah,” he said, and my name sounded like music coming out of his mouth. “You were saying?”

I shook my head. “I’m sorry, Dr. James, I’ve lost my train of thought.”

“Ah, well. Happens to the best of us.”

He pulled the chart he’d been reading, and started writing his own note. I managed to return my attention to the paperwork I was completing. His knee never left my thigh. We sat there for another hour writing notes. I’d pass him a chart when I was done with it. He didn’t ask me anything else; we didn’t talk much. But his knee never left its contact with my leg.

When I was finished, I gathered up the charts. Breaking that contact with him felt wrong. I didn’t move my leg. I just sat there, staring at the pile in front of me.

“Looks like you’re done,” he said.

“Yes, si–. Yeah, I am, Dr. James.”

“Well, then, I guess it’s time for you to go.” He slid away from me, and I bit my lips to hold in the “no” I almost blurted out.

I made myself stand up and pick up the charts. After I put them away, I went back to the conference room for the binder I carry around. As soon as he heard me, he picked it up and handed it to me.

“Have a good weekend, Leah. I’ll see you Monday.”

“You too, Dr. James.”

When I got back to my office, I flipped the binder open to check off my To Do List. He’d put a sticky note over it. It read: I WILL see you Monday. I didn’t know what that meant. But my uterus did another backflip.

*~~* *~~* *~~*

All weekend long I wondered and fantasized and fretted and berated myself for all the assumptions I was making. When Monday morning arrived, I woke up an hour before my alarm and laid in bed with my mind spinning. As I was getting dressed, I paid far more attention to my clothing than usual. I selected my prettiest bra, rather than my most comfortable one. I pulled out a pair of panties that hugged my hips. I picked out one of my favorite skirts. It was long and full, made of a soft cotton with an abstract floral pattern all around the bottom hem. I found a fine gauge knit top that hung to my hip, but felt silky and clung just a little bit around my breasts.

I left my curly auburn hair loose, hanging just past my shoulders and I picked out a pair of earrings that complemented the tunic. I didn’t bother with make-up, because I hardly ever wore it, and I knew suddenly showing up with eye shadow and lipstick would spin the rumor mill into high gear. I slipped on my usual pair of comfortable clogs for the same reason.

I got to work a little early, feeling like I’d had too much coffee. I flew through some paperwork and rushed to Morning Report. When the nurse remarked on my outfit and my obvious good mood, I knew I had to tone myself down some. I shrugged off her comment by saying I’d had a nice lazy weekend.

Dr. James came in with the other psychiatrist. He didn’t so much as glance at me. I assured myself that I hadn’t misread the note, that I hadn’t misunderstood his meaning the Friday before, and that he’d let me in on the plans. It didn’t work. I held myself together, but the whole time I was trying to steal glances at him and trying to figure out if he was paying any attention to me. I made myself concentrate on the information, and managed to chat with our occupational therapist.

When the meeting was over, I stayed and talked with our internist about a couple of patients. She asked about their discharge plans, and I told her where things stood and asked her some details about how much help one of them would need with some chronic medical issues. Dr. James got up and left at some point, and I made myself appear to ignore his departure.

But all day long, especially when I had to talk to him, there was a question stuck to the back of my teeth. All day long I wanted to ask, “You said you wanted to see me, Dr. James? Is now a good time?” All day long, the words echoed, unspoken, in my ears.

I was too distracted to notice whether he was acting any differently. I was too wrapped up in my own warring emotions. But in the afternoon meeting someone commented on my skirt, and he concurred that it was pretty. My heart pounded in my chest, and I had a hard time acknowledging the compliment.

He made me wait all day. He made me wait until the very last minute, until I should have been leaving work. I’d decided to stay a little late, only partially to give him more time, but also to catch up on some things that I’d not gotten to in the rush of higher priorities. I was updating a treatment plan when my phone rang at 4:30PM.

“Social work, this is Leah,” I said, making my usual greeting.

“Leah,” he answered. His voice was smooth and a little gruff and those syllables sank into my brain.

I inhaled, but before I could say anything he carried on. “Come up to my office. Do you know where it is?”

I did, I knew his was on the third floor, on the same hallway as the psychology staff and two other psychiatrists.

“Yes,” I answered. “I’m finishing up a treatment plan.”

“Good enough. Be here in thirty minutes.” He hung up.

When I hung up Julia asked, “Who was that so late in the day?”

“Oh, you know, a family wanting to see me. I’ll go up in a little bit.”

She shut her computer down and packed up. “‘K then. See you tomorrow. Don’t let them make you stay too late.”

I nodded and laughed. We were always griping about families who showed up unannounced and derailed our schedules.

She shut the door and I turned back to the computer to finish the plan. But I just sat there and stared at the monitor for fifteen minutes. My heart was pounding again and blood was rushing to my ears. My mouth was dry again, and that giddy feeling was back in spades. My hands shook, just a little, as I managed to make the changes I needed to and print out the new document.

I had five minutes. I walked quickly to the elevator, never more aware of the cameras in the ceiling that tracked so much of our movement. The elevator rose with its usual slow creaks and when the doors opened one of the psychologists almost crashed into me getting on. I laughed and said goodnight and waited until the doors closed behind me before I turned to let myself into that hallway.

I found his office and knocked on the door.

I heard him say, “One moment.” Then I heard a chair sliding and a quick footstep.

I took a step back from the door and he opened it. His eyes were glittering and he was smiling broadly. He swung the door wide, but didn’t move back, holding his place in the doorway and looking me up and down. He held onto the door with one hand, and reached out with his other.