The Hypnotist's Love Story(2)

by Liane Moriarty

She looked up at him.

“I’ll just…” He gestured at the back of the restaurant.

“All right,” she said soothingly.

“Over there to your left, sir.” A waiter discreetly pointed in the direction of the toilets.

She watched him go.

Patrick Scott.

She didn’t really like the name Patrick anyway. It was a namby-pamby sort of a name. You could imagine your hairdresser being called Patrick. Also, his male friends apparently called him “Scottie,” which was … well, perfectly acceptable really in that Aussie blokey way.

If he ended it, it would definitely hurt. Just a little sting, but a sharp one. There was nothing extraordinarily wonderful about Patrick Scott. He had an ordinary pleasant face (long, thin, slightly receding hairline), an ordinary body (average height, quite broad shoulders, but naturally broad, not look-at-me-I-work-out broad), an ordinary job, an ordinary life. It was just extraordinary how comfortable she’d felt with him, almost straightaway, within minutes of meeting up with him for the very first time in that embarrassingly empty café. She’d suggested the café and had been horrified to find it virtually deserted, so that their nervous first-date voices seemed too loud, and three bored teenage waitresses stood about the room with nothing better to do than eavesdrop on their stilted conversation. They’d been waiting for their cappuccinos, and he was playing with a packet of sugar, turning it around in circles and tapping it on the table, when their eyes met, and they sort of grinned at each other in mutual recognition of the awfulness of the whole situation, and all of a sudden Ellen felt all the tension in her body drift away, as if she’d been given a powerful painkiller. She had the strangest feeling that she already knew this man; she’d known him for years. If she believed in past lives (and she didn’t not believe in them; in her work she’d seen it all, her mind was wide open to all sorts of bizarre possibilities), then she would have said they must have known each other before.

That sort of instant warmth had happened to her many times before with women; oh, she was the star of female friendship—but never with a man.

So yes, she barely knew this nice surveyor called Patrick Scott, but it would hurt if he broke up with her. Probably more than a little sting.

She thought about the hundreds, maybe thousands of stories of rejection she’d heard from her clients over the years. “I cooked a three-course dinner party for thirteen of his relatives, and while I’m doing the washing up, he announces he doesn’t love me anymore.” “We had a fantastic holiday in Fiji, and on the way home we’re drinking champagne and she tells me that she’s moving out! Champagne—as if it’s a celebration!”

Oh, the naked pain that still furrowed their faces, even when they were describing something that happened years ago. Rejection by a lover or even only a potential lover was so tough on the Inner Child. Fears of abandonment, memories of past hurts, feelings of inferiority and self-loathing, all rose to the surface in an unstoppable torrent of feeling.

She was trying to observe her situation, objectively, like a client’s case history, in the hope that she could stay detached from it. It wasn’t working.

Of course, all this panic might be for nothing. Patrick might not be about to dump her at all. There had been no signs, and she was good at reading people. That’s what she did for a living, after all. He had said she looked “gorgeous” when she opened the door for him tonight, with such a pleased expression on his face, as if he’d just been handed a gift, and he wasn’t the smooth, charming type who automatically gave the sort of compliments women liked to hear. There had been a lot of eye contact over dinner, some of which could have qualified as “lingering.” Throughout the meal she had noted that he was leaning forward toward her (although perhaps he was a bit deaf; it was surprising how many men were just a little deaf—she knew this both from dating and from her work).

She had felt that their body language and breathing rhythms were in sync, and that wasn’t because she’d been patterning him, at least not deliberately, the way she would with a client.

There had been no awkward pauses or uncomfortable moments. He had been interested, in a respectful way, about hypnotherapy. He didn’t say, “Show me! Make me cluck like a chicken!” He didn’t sneer, or worse, take a gently condescending tone and say he wasn’t really into “alternative medicine.” He didn’t say, “So do you need any training for that?” or “Is there any money in that?” He didn’t seem afraid. Some men she’d dated seemed genuinely frightened that she might hypnotize them without their knowledge. He just seemed curious.

Also, a few minutes ago, he’d shown her photos of his son! His adorable blond, skinny little eight-year-old son, on a skateboard, playing the trombone in a school band, fishing with his dad. Surely, he wouldn’t have shown her those photos if he’d already decided it wasn’t going to work.

Unless the decision had just hit him with a flash. Now that she thought about it, it had been oddly abrupt, the way he put down his knife and fork to make his announcement, his eyes looking over her shoulder, as if he’d just seen a glimpse of a different future in the distance. She’d been midsentence, for heaven’s sake. (She had been telling him a story about a patient who was obsessed with Jennifer Lopez. The patient was actually obsessed with John Travolta, but she always changed the details for confidentiality reasons. And the story sounded funnier if it was Jennifer Lopez.)

He’d looked so sad. Even if he wasn’t about to dump her, he was definitely about to say something unacceptable or unpleasant.

Perhaps he’d lied about being a widower. He was actually still married and living with his wife, even though they slept in separate rooms.

He wasn’t a surveyor at all; he was a mobster. Now the FBI would come after her and insist she wear a wire. Her body would never be found. (She’d watched the entire series of The Sopranos on DVD last summer.)

Or perhaps he had a terminal disease. That would be terrible, but at least not personally hurtful.

Whatever it was, she was pretty sure that sunshiny feeling she’d been experiencing all day was about to vanish.

She took a large mouthful of her wine, and looked up to see if he was on his way back from the toilets. No. Goodness. He was taking a while. Had he just splashed water on his face and was now standing at the bathroom mirror staring into his own eyes, his hands gripping the sink, breathing heavily?