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Julia Trent knocked on the open office door. “Peter, I’ve got to run out. Can you meet with the Othalman Group?”
Peter frowned. “I’m not really up to speed. Besides, you’re the lead architect.”
She softened her eyes and gave him a desperate look.
“Please, it’s too late to cancel. They’re already on their way.”
Peter did the math. As the newest member of the firm, he figured he should go along. “Okay.”
She grinned and dropped the tube of plans on his desk. “Thanks, I owe you one.”
* * *
Julia guided her Audi out of the lot, down the connector street and on to the expressway. A mile down the road traffic came to a halt. She slammed her hands against the steering wheel. Thirty minutes of stop-and-go traffic later, she squeezed by an overturned SUV sprawled across two lanes. More than an hour after departing, she cruised down a shady street lined with leafy green trees and pulled into her driveway.
She exited the car with keys in hand, rushed to the door, unlocked and opened it with one swift move and marched down the hallway into the kitchen.
The coffee maker was off.
It was always off.
* * *
The obsession began a few months ago.
In the car about to leave for work Julia wondered if the coffee machine were still on. She’d head back in to check and it would be off. Of course.
On the way to work the idea would take hold again.
But she already checked. Or had she?
She’d turn around, drive home and arrive late for work.
She started unplugging the machine before she left. But as she sped down the highway, doubt entered her mind. Had she unplugged it that morning, or was she remembering yesterday?
She’d even taken to not brewing her morning coffee and stopping at Dunkin’ Donuts, but she still couldn’t shake the feeling that somehow the machine was on.
She imagined the cord melting, or a roll of paper towels sitting too close and catching fire. Her beautiful home engulfed in flames.
In the last few weeks her fixation grew worse and she felt compelled to leave the office to make sure the coffee maker was off. She was managing to juggle work; this was the first time she missed clients. So far, no one at the office said anything. Perhaps they didn’t notice.
* * *
“Julia, we’ve always been pleased with your work,” said Harry Wendell, Jr. the firm’s managing partner. Harry and his father Harry Wendell, Sr. sat across from Julia in the firm’s conference room. “You’ve got strong design skills, excellent rapport with the clients, and a great work ethic.”
“If this about Othalman, I asked Peter to co—”
Harry raised his hand. “Peter’s fresh out of school. You’re the lead. Our clients have certain expectations. That’s what they’re paying for. That’s what we’re paying you for.”
Julia flushed. “Yes, Harry.”
“Is everything all right, Julia? You’ve been coming in late, disappearing during the day.”
“This hasn’t affected my work,” she said.
“This hasn’t affected your work...until now,” he said.
“Is it the drugs?” asked Wendell, Sr.
“Dad!” Wendell, Jr. covered his face with his palm.
Julia bit her lip. “No, sir, Mr. Wendell. Not drugs. Just a personal issue.” To the son she said, “Harry, I promise. I’ve got it under control. It won’t happen again.”
* * *
A series of psychiatrists prescribed the latest treatments for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The drugs made her sleepy, dizzy, congested, manic and one even made her brain itch. None proved effective.
A therapist insisted that Julia’s refusal to speak with her sister Sarah was the source of the problem. Julia suggested her problem with Sarah was the $10,000 she loaned Sarah’s deadbeat husband which he promptly blew at the craps tables in Vegas.
“Watch the watch,” said the blonde in the librarian glasses.
The hypnosis sessions didn’t cure the obsession, but Julia did manage to lose six pounds.
* * *
“Katie, I’m at the end of my rope,” Julia told her best friend.
“I think there’s a guy in the Pysch Department that could help,” said Katie.
Julia groaned. “Oh please, not another shrink.”
Katie shook her head. “This guy isn’t like any psychiatrist I’ve ever known. He’s kind of a radical. Got quite the reputation for unorthodox cures.”
Fighting back tears, Julia said, “Okay. See if you can arrange a meeting. I’m on the verge of losing my job. I’ll try anything.”
* * *
Dr. Travis Chamberlain allowed Julia to describe her problem uninterrupted. When she finished he removed his spectacles, carefully cleaned them with a handkerchief and returned them to his nose.
“Well?” said Julia.
“Take the coffee maker to work with you.”
“What?” she asked.
“Take the machine to the office with you and leave it in your car. You can run out and check on it whenever you want. This way you won’t miss any work.”
“How is that a cure?” asked Julia.
“Do you want a solution or do you want a cure?” said Chamberlain. He folded his arms indicating the conversation was over.
* * *
The next morning, after Julia drank her coffee, she unplugged the machine. She carried it to her car and laid it on the front passenger seat.
That day at work she stepped out once to check and, sure enough, the machine was there.
She checked twice more that week.
It wasn’t a cure, but it worked.
The Wendells were happy. The clients were happy. Even Julia was happy.
* * *
Four weeks later Julia sat in Dr. Chamberlain’s office.
“How are things going?” he asked.
“Pretty good,” she said. “I drag the coffee maker out to the car every day. I bought a pair of bird-watching glasses and started parking where I can peer into the car from my office.”
“Sounds like my solution worked.”
“Mostly? What’s the problem?”
“Now I can’t shake the feeling that I left the oven on.”
James Blakey is a network engineer in suburban Philadelphia. His work has been published by "Mystery Weekly", "Splickety" and Beyond Centauri." He has climbed 38 of the 50 United States highpoints and is aiming to pick up his 39th, Kings Mountain in Utah, this July.