The Hypnotist's Love Story(17)

by Liane Moriarty

“I saw one of those stage shows once,” he said. “You know, where they call people out of the audience to hypnotize them. I have to admit, and I hope this doesn’t offend you, but I’m assuming stage hypnotists are very different from, you know, proper hypnotherapists like you, but the thing is, I sort of hated it.”

Ellen smiled at his guilty expression.

“That’s fine,” she said. “It’s completely different from what I do.”

“I hated the stupid looks on their faces.” He demonstrated by slumping back in his chair and letting his chin drop to his chest. He straightened back up and took a sip of his wine. “They looked so pathetic. It was like he’d drugged them and he could make them do whatever he wanted.”

“He couldn’t really. They were still in control. He just helped them lose their inhibitions,” said Ellen.

“I like to be in control,” said Patrick. “That’s why I’ve never been a big drinker, and I’ve never taken drugs. I want to be in the driver’s seat all the time, so to speak.” He paused, took another olive and then delicately placed it back down on the plate in front of him. He kept his eyes fixed on the olive. “That’s what I hate most about this thing with my ex. She’s in control. She affects my life and I don’t get any say in it and there’s not a thing I can do about it. So I’m sorry if I sometimes seem a bit weird about her. It’s just that when we’re talking about her, it’s like she’s in the room with us.”

He looked up at her with the same pleading, desperate expression of the many clients who came to her seeking a solution they didn’t really believe she was capable of providing, and Ellen experienced a sudden tiny shock of sympathy. It had been all false bravado on that first night when he’d told her about his stalker. Of course he was damaged by it: He was a stalking victim! It had been incredibly insensitive of her not to even think about this before. She had been so interested in Saskia and trying to understand her motivations she hadn’t even properly considered the potential impact on Patrick. She was behaving as if only women felt real emotions, as if men were somehow a less complex life form.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “When I was asking all those questions about Saskia I hadn’t thought about how she’s the last person you want to talk about. I mean, the way this must affect you—it must be—well, obviously I’ve got no idea what it must be like.”

Patrick was still looking at her, straight in the eyes. There was some complicated feeling he was trying to convey to her. Perhaps he was having his own mini satori.

He leaned forward. She leaned forward too. Good. He was going to share. This was going to take their relationship to a new deeper, more spiritual, more profound level.

“Do you want to go upstairs for a few minutes?” he said.

“And I think he’s going to tell me something profound and meaningful, and it turns out he just wants a quickie! With his son right there. Sex was the furthest thing from my mind!”

“It’s always the first thing on their mind,” said Ellen’s friend Madeline.

They were talking on the phone. Ellen was filing paperwork in her office and she could tell by the hissing and clattering that Madeline was cooking, probably something elegant and organic, and probably with a floral apron tied around her pregnant waist. Madeline was glowingly pregnant with her second child. She and Ellen had shared a flat when they were in their twenties, back when Madeline would have fallen about laughing at the thought of ever wearing a floral apron.

Ellen would have called Julia, but she’d found that Julia’s interest in hearing about Patrick had ever so slightly cooled as the relationship progressed. Even before Julia’s divorce, she had always been the sort of friend you called when things were going badly rather than when they were going well. Now that Patrick was officially Ellen’s “boyfriend,” there was just the tiniest hint of contempt in Julia’s voice when Ellen mentioned anything about him, unless it involved his crazy ex-girlfriend; she loved hearing about Saskia. It wasn’t that she didn’t want Ellen to be happy; it was just that she didn’t think there was much to say about happiness.

Madeline, on the other hand, was the sort of friend who cared deeply but was hopelessly inept when things were going badly, who panicked and changed the subject fast if someone’s voice so much as trembled with emotion.

Now Ellen frowned at the dismissive tone in Madeline’s voice. “That’s not true. That’s a cliché,” she said. “I’ve been out with men who never think about sex. Anyway, I’d just that moment had this revelation that I needed to stop thinking of him as a man, and think of him as an individual, as just another human being.”

“Just because he felt like sex doesn’t mean he’s not human.”

Madeline seemed to be missing the point.

“Yes, but with his son in the house?”

“Well, if you’re going to live with him, then you might have to get over that.”

“Don’t parents wait until their children are asleep?”

“Wasn’t the whole point of this story something to do with the expression on his face?”

“Yes, that’s right. So when I declined his charming offer, he got this look on his face, and I think it might have been a sulky look.”

“What do you mean you think?”

“Well, the expression was only there for a flash. I think those people who specialize in detecting lies call it a ‘micro-expression.’ After that, he was fine. We had a lovely dinner, and afterward we played Monopoly with his little boy and that was fun. But I kept thinking about that face he pulled, that micro-expression, and I thought: Is this a sign? Am I going to look back one day and say that was the moment I should have got out? Because that’s what micro-expressions do. They reveal your true self.”

“Ellen, this is the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard. The poor man is so enamored with you he wants sex every second of the day, and then when you turn him down, he shows the briefest look of disappointment—”

“I know, I know, I’m awful. Overanalytical. Hysterical. It’s just that I want this one to work, Madeline, I really want this one to work.”

“Well, of course you do,” said Madeline crisply.

So it’s serious. The hypnotist has met Jack. As far as I know, that’s the first woman he’s introduced to Jack since me.