“So, can you tell me why you think you’re here?” he asked, taking out his stethoscope. Without thinking I let him slip it inside the thin fabric and against my skin. It was cold to the touch, but he listened as he moved it about, and the familiarity of the procedure somehow calmed me down. I had done all of this before. Maybe everything would be okay.

“My mom thinks I have a problem,” I said, unsure of what else to say. I certainly wasn’t going to offer more than I had to.

“And how about you?” he asked, opening the gown further as he continued listening to my breath. “Do you think you have a problem?”

“I don’t know,” I said, trying to control my inhalations. “I don’t think so. She’s just crazy and controlling.”

“Well, she doesn’t seem crazy to me, but I can’t tell you if she’s controlling,” he said with a warm laugh. “Some mothers are more protective than others, and some simply worry too much. Do you think she’s just worrying too much?”

“Yes!” I said, thankful that someone actually understood me. “She’s always telling me I’m too loud or too excited. She doesn’t care what I do as long as it’s normal and doesn’t bother the guests.”

“And do you think what you’re doing is normal?” he asked, eliciting a blush from me. I thought of all the late nights, sweating in my bed with my fingers between my thighs, and wasn’t sure how to answer. The truth is, I had no idea what was normal and what wasn’t.

“I don’t know,” I finally said looking down.

“Well, touching yourself, is, of course, totally natural,” he said, finally stepping back and looking me in the eye. “The question is whether or not how you’re doing it is normal. I assume she wouldn’t have brought you here if there wasn’t a real concern, so here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to lie back on the table here and show me what you do at home, okay? Do you think you can do that for me?”

“I’m not supposed to!” I said, my embarrassment at what he was asking me to do instantly visible in my cheeks. The thought of doing that in front of him was almost too much to process, but the small chance that he would take my side was also enticing. Was it possible he would tell my mother everything was fine?

“Well, I can’t really tell you if it’s normal unless I see. I’ll dim the lights for you,” he said, turning off the overheads and switching on a small lamp on his desk. “Is that better? Just lie back and show me what you do. This is a safe space, Simone. You have nothing to worry about. Start at the beginning and go all the way through to the end. Just like you do at home, okay?”

I lay back, unsure of what to do, and he walked up next to me like it was the most normal thing in the world. He pulled a stool up and sat down, undoing the strings to my gown with his thick fingers. It fell open on both sides, and when I looked up he simply nodded and smiled, his face as calm as ever. I looked back at the ceiling before finally sliding one hand between my legs and barely parting my thighs.

“Just like that,” he whispered to me, brushing my hair from my eyes. “Just show me what you do at home. I promise, everything will be alright, Simone.”

From the novella The Day The Lights Went Out, in my new collection, The Ortolan Hunters.