As David unwrapped his arms from around her, Jocelyn felt as if a down comforter were being ripped away and her skin exposed to the cold night air. Her fiancé’s mere presence always seemed to raise the temperature of the room a couple degrees. His tall build, muscular frame, and chiseled jaw would quicken the beat of any woman’s heart. His position as an up and coming trial lawyer at a prestigious firm advertised intellect and ambition. His kindness and empathy indicated that he would not only be an outstanding lover and provider, but also a best friend.
David pointed the remote at the television and paused the episode of Masterpiece. Jocelyn’s past boyfriends would suffer through episodes of the British drama series with her, but she knew they prefered sports or action movies. When David, knowing nothing of Jocelyn’s preferences, had first shared his love for the Masterpiece shows, Jocelyn had felt destined to marry this man.
David stood up and walked toward the kitchen. “A little peckish,” he said. “Want anything?”
“What are you getting?” asked Jocelyn. Please, she thought, don’t let it be—
“Just a few jelly beans. Want anything else or something to drink?”
Jocelyn felt as if a needle had pricked the balloon that contained her perfect world. “You don’t want popcorn instead? I’ll share a bag with you.”
“You know me and my sweet tooth. Anyway, one of my clients signed me up for a jelly bean of the month club, so I’m going to have a lot of jelly beans for the next year. This month it’s a whole bag of green apple—my favorite. But I’m happy to pop some popcorn for you if you’d like.”
“I guess I’ll take some,” said Jocelyn, as the love and serenity that she had felt just seconds before continued to deflate. Maybe the crunch of the popcorn would mask what she had come to think of as the jelly bean squish. David always displayed outstanding table manners whenever they shared a meal. He ate slowly, took small bites, and chewed with his mouth closed. When it came to his favorite candy, however, David consumed aggressively. He would pour a generous pile of beans into his hand and pop them all in his mouth at once. And while he would chew with his mouth closed, the sound is what made Jocelyn clench her teeth. It was as if her fiancé’s mouth had become a giant churning vat. She pictured miniature elves, positioned at the roof of David’s mouth, using sticks to pound and stir once solid material into gelatinous goo. The sound reminded her of a washing machine that had started its cycle with the door open.
David returned with a steaming bag of microwave popcorn in one hand and a bag of green apple jelly beans in the other. Jocelyn, trying to create a buffer zone, had shifted toward the end of the couch, but David sat close enough to resume his snuggle. David restarted the Masterpiece episode, a murder mystery set in a picturesque country village. Jocelyn ate some popcorn and focused on the program. She loved to intuit who the killers were before the persistent detective revealed their identities. This particular case was intriguing and difficult—
Squish, squish, squish squish…
Jocelyn put more popcorn in her mouth to increase the crunch volume, but David’s face was right next to hers. She could almost feel the brush of David’s mandible as it pumped up and down. As for the sound, it was like she was listening to an MP3 recording of David’s chewing on noise-cancelling headphones. She could visualize molars crushing the material, and glands squirting copious amounts of saliva to aid digestion.
Jocelyn scooted out from under David’s arm and stood up. “I’ve got to go to the bathroom really quick,” she said. “Don’t worry about pausing it.”
David swallowed his mouthful. “You sure? It’s no problem.”
“Positive. I’ll just be a moment.” Jocelyn went to the bathroom, closed the door, lowered the toilet lid and sat down. As she breathed deeply, she told herself that she was being irrational. David’s only downside was that he made disturbing noises when he ate a particular candy. Nobody was perfect. People always had to weigh the good and the bad when choosing a prospective spouse. Jocelyn knew she was lucky to find someone who was a complete package.
She flushed the toilet and opened the door. Whenever David ate jelly beans, Jocelyn would start to list all of his positive qualities. She would replay a specific scene that highlighted David’s deep love for her. She would not let a mere sound deprive her of the opportunity to have a fulfilling marriage with a wonderful man.
“Did I miss anything important?” Jocelyn asked as she wriggled back into David’s embrace.
“Somebody just killed that old busybody lady.” David poured another mouthful of jelly beans into his hand.
“I could see that coming from a mile away.”
Squish, squish, squish, squish…
Jocelyn never figured out the murderer in the episode. She lost track of the plot as she replayed the magical evening she and David had shared on the one-year anniversary of their first date.
When the Detective Inspector and his trusty sidekick finally arrested the village’s kind doctor for the murders, David turned his attention to Jocelyn’s neck. While her fiancé’s nibbles were not an unpleasant sensation, Jocelyn could not stop thinking that the lips now making contact with her fair skin were not long ago awash in jelly bean juice. Spittle, warm and sugary, had oozed out of the vat and was now coating her soft flesh.
Jocelyn pulled away. “I’m sorry, David. I have a terrible headache. I think I just need to go back to my apartment and go to sleep.”
David unattached himself from her neck and gazed into her eyes. There was not a hint of anger or disappointment in his eyes, only concern. “That’s okay, babe—no need to apologize. I’m sorry you’re not feeling well.” David took her hand in his. “Do you need some aspirin or something before you go?”
Guilt and relief washed over Jocelyn as she pushed herself off the couch. “You’re sweet, but no thanks. I think I’m more tired than anything else.”
Three days after her squish-induced escape from David’s couch, Jocelyn found herself on another couch at the office of her psychiatrist, Dr. Amy Dalton.
“So how are you?” asked Dr. Dalton after Jocelyn had taken up her usual position on the sofa’s far-right cushion.
Jocelyn did not want to admit any problems, but she had paid her psychiatrist a lot of money over the years. She felt a financial responsibility to tell the truth and receive value for her investment in mental health. “I feel like my OCD has been flaring up a little more than usual lately.”
Dr. Dalton jotted some notes on a legal pad that was on her lap. “Do you find yourself washing your hands more than you used to? Are you checking your gas stove?”
“No, nothing like that. I think the medication has helped me a lot with those things. It’s this stupid jelly bean thing again.”
Dr. Dalton flipped through some of her previous notes. “So the sound that your fiancé makes when he eats jelly beans really bothers you.”
Jocelyn sighed. “I know it sounds dumb. It is dumb—that’s why I think it must be the OCD. David is a wonderful man in every other respect, yet my thoughts just latch on to this one minor thing.”
“Hmm,” said Dr. Walton, skimming more of her past notes. “You said that he sounds like an open washing machine.”
“Yes. It’s like his mouth is sloshing.” Jocelyn shuddered. “I don’t even like to think about it.”
Dr. Walton flipped back to the top sheet of her legal pad and set her pen down. She leaned forward in her seat and received her patient’s full attention. “Your other compulsions are rooted in fears, Jocelyn. You wash your hands because you fear that if you don’t keep them germ free, you will get very sick. If you don’t check that the gas stove is off, you’re afraid your apartment will explode. Everybody will have thoughts like these from time to time, but your mind doesn’t want to let them go, even though the chances of such things occurring are very small. My question for you now, Jocelyn, is what do you fear when David eats jelly beans?”
As usual, Dr. Dalton had asked an apt question that reached to the heart of the matter. Jocelyn considered her answer. She did not feel fear so much as disgust and repulsion when David ate jelly beans, but she had no doubt there was some kind of obsession here. It was similar to her problems with Gail, a fellow graduate student in English Literature, who packed her seminar papers with excessive commas even after Jocelyn had helpfully pointed out the problem. Dr. Dalton had given her permission to think about the commas but make no comments orally or in writing about the overuse. Jocelyn had taken the advice and her obsession had eased.
The jelly bean squish was another phenomenon that annoyed her, but Jocelyn recognized key differences between the situations. First, she was not planning to marry Gail and spend the rest of her life reading the woman’s comma-infested drivel. Second, her criticism of David was only in thought and not in deed. She was not engaging in any actions that she could stop to ease the obsession.
Uncertain, Jocelyn took a stab at Dr. Dalton’s question. “I guess I fear having to live with that sound for the rest of my life.”
“Do you think you may harbor deeper fears that David isn’t the right person for you to marry?”
Jocelyn shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. In just about every respect, David is the kind of man I always hoped I would meet and marry one day. And I’ve showed you a picture of David. You’ve seen how handsome he is. Attraction is not an issue at all, until he pulls out those jelly beans.”
Dr. Dalton folded her hands and drummed her fingers together while she considered her next comment. “Have you ever tried talking to him about it? Maybe he’s got some physical problem that’s causing him to hypersalivate. Maybe he needs to go see a doctor.”
“But this is only when he eats jelly beans,” said Jocelyn. “And it’s not like he has a problem with drooling or anything.”
“Then you need to just talk to him honestly about the problem,” said Dr. Dalton in her brook-no-dissent tone. You are about to embark on a lifetime journey with this man. You need to be able to tell him about things that are bothering you, big and small. I mean, he knows about your OCD, right?”
“Sure, he knows about the hand washing, the checking and the medication. That’s normal OCD stuff.”
“And he still wants to spend the rest of his life with you,” said Dr. Dalton.
“But like I said, that’s normal OCD stuff. That’s what the public is familiar with. Somebody has these compulsions, she takes pills and goes to therapy, and she’s able to improve and live a normal life. This jelly bean thing, though—David’s going to think that’s just plain weird.”
Dr. Dalton pointed an index finger at her patient. “Now that’s the OCD talking. That is an irrational fear. Here’s a man who you know loves more than anything in the world, who only wants to see you happy, and you think he’s going to dump you because you’d rather he eat his jelly beans in private. What if David told you it disturbed him to watch you eat ice cream? How would you react?”
Jocelyn tried to picture the exchange. She would not exactly feel hurt, but it would make her self-conscious. She would probably sit in her apartment for hours and eat ice cream in front of a mirror until she figured out the problem and how to fix it. In the process, she would gain a tremendous amount of weight, and then David would leave her.
Jocelyn knew this was not the time to analyze this imagined sequence of events. “It would bother me a little bit, but I wouldn’t leave him.”
“What makes you think David’s going to be any different?” asked Dr. Dalton. “You and David are partners who are about to commit to each other for better or worse. Talk to him.”
As Jocelyn took a deep breath, she felt like she was absorbing her psychiatrist’s wise words, taking them in, making them a part of her. She felt her determination rise, and she resolved to follow through on Dr. Dalton’s advice. “You’re right,” she said. “I’ll talk to him.”
As the last bite of manicotti melted in Jocelyn’s mouth, David pushed back his chair and rose to his feet. “Where in the world did you learn to cook like that?” Jocelyn asked after she swallowed.
David began stacking the used dishes and silverware. “I can read a recipe. After that, it just takes practice.”
“I’ve tried making manicotti several times. I usually rip most of the shells and end up with something that looks like lasagna.”
“Lasagna’s good too,” said David, as he balanced the last salad bowl on top of the forks and knives. Jocelyn stood up to help. “No no,” he said. “You sit. I’ve got it. I hope you’re not too full because dessert is on the way.” While Jocelyn sat back down, David backed through a swinging door and disappeared into the kitchen.
Jocelyn felt a twinge of anxiety. After a heavy Italian dinner, David might think that a few jelly beans—black cherry for him, licorice for her—would be a perfect way to complete the meal and cleanse the palate. With each compression of David’s jaws, Jocelyn would feel herself losing more and more of her sanity.
David reappeared from the kitchen holding two plates with a slice of cheesecake on each. As soon as David saw Jocelyn, he stopped and his expression oozed concern. “Joc, are you feeling okay?”
Jocelyn almost said that she had experienced a wave of dizziness, but now it had passed and she was okay. Then she remembered her promise to Dr. Dalton. “My psychiatrist convinced me that I need to talk to you about something,” said Jocelyn. “You don’t need to worry—it’s really kind of dumb—but I should tell you anyway.” She pointed to one of the plates. “That looks delicious. What is it?”
Wary, David stepped forward and set one of the plates in front of Jocelyn before sitting down himself. “It’s tiramisu cheesecake. Again, the magic of recipes.”
Jocelyn took a bite and felt like she was in a New York City bakery. “Incredible,” she said.
David just looked at her expectantly.
“This is just me, David,” said Jocelyn. “It’s minor, and it’s stupid, and I haven’t told you before now because I don’t want you to think I’m weird.”
“Just tell me,” said David.
“It’s about your jelly beans,” said Jocelyn. David’s eyebrows shot up, communicating relief, surprise and curiosity all in a single motion. “When you eat jelly beans, your mouth makes this sound. It just disturbs me.”
David tried to process the dramatic revelation and failed. “What do you mean?”
Jocelyn put a hand to her head and looked down at the table. “The sound you make when you chew your jelly beans really bothers me. I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but it sounds kind of like Darth Vader breathing through a wet sponge.”
Slowly, David’s worried face relaxed and he started to chuckle.
“It’s not funny!” said Jocelyn. “It’s part of my OCD.”
David put up an apologizing hand and composed himself. “I know. I’m sorry. “I just got an image of Darth Vader with a wet, yellow sponge rubber-banded around the front of his mask.”
Jocelyn strove to maintain the serious nature of the discussion, but when the same picture appeared to her she could not help but crack a smile. “Okay,” she said. “So the comparison’s a little comical.”
“It is,” said David, “but again, I apologize. You’re trying to communicate a serious problem to me and I should not be laughing. So let me get this straight. When I eat jelly beans, it kind of grosses you out.”
“I wouldn’t put it that strongly,” said Jocelyn, “but it does disturb me.”
“Okay, so it disturbs you. Here’s my suggested solution. I just won’t eat jelly beans around you anymore. How does that sound?”
“You shouldn’t have to make that kind of sacrifice for one of my silly obsessions,” said Jocelyn.
“Darling, if your happiness meant giving up jelly beans altogether and settling for say, Starburst, I would gladly do it.” David motioned at the plate. “Now try your cheesecake.”
With the last vestige of doubt eased, Jocelyn spent the next two days finishing her paper on Bleak House and browsing online and in magazines for wedding dresses. Late in the evening, when she should have been grading student essays, Jocelyn narrowed down the infinite dress choices to two.
In order to make the final decision, she wanted her future husband’s opinion. As part of his overall near perfection, David also had exquisite taste in clothes, décor, art, and anything else of a visual nature. Jocelyn checked the time—10:13. Even an over-worked junior trial lawyer should be back in his apartment by now, unwinding from the day’s labors. She would drop in and surprise him. She loved to see his face light up when he met her unexpectedly. And if by some chance he was out having a drink with a co-worker, she would not have wasted much time. David only lived five minutes away.
Jocelyn made the short drive and rang David’s doorbell as she held printouts of the final two dresses in her hands. She heard David’s solid gait approach from the other side and felt a thrill of anticipation.
David opened the door, saw Jocelyn, and beamed as expected. “Joc! I thought you were going to be swamped with essays tonight.”
Jocelyn crossed the threshold, threw her arms around David and gave him a wet kiss. His mouth tasted of sugary sweet green apples. As she pulled away, she had an image of herself kissing the cold, metallic lid of a washing machine, dirty socks and underwear swishing in a soapy maelstrom below.
David put his hands on Jocelyn’s shoulders. “Joc, you all right? You look a little dazed.”
Jocelyn handed the printouts to David and walked past him into the main living area. A baseball game was on the television and an open bag of green apple jelly beans was on the coffee table.
David examined the printouts. “Wedding dresses—oh, these are both nice. Are these the finalists?”
Jocelyn stopped at the coffee table and stared down into the almost empty bag. It was obvious that for the last two days, David had been devouring them. His suppression of his craving in her presence had made his lust for the bean that much more powerful in her absence. She imagined David pouring the candy straight from the bag into his mouth. She heard the chomping, the slurping, the squishing.
David understood the problem after following the direction of Jocelyn’s gaze. “Sorry, he said, dancing around Jocelyn and grabbing the bag. “Just having a little snack. Let me get these out of here.”
Jocelyn sat on the couch as David disappeared into the kitchen. She had thought her fiancé was going to give up jelly beans, but when she replayed their previous conversation in this apartment, she realized that this was not exactly what he had said. He would give them up if she wanted him to. Clearly, David loved jelly beans. Jocelyn had no doubt that David would claim to love her more, but did that give her the right to make him renounce one of the greatest pleasures in his life?
Even if David acceded to her selfish insistence, there was now another problem that might be harder to overcome. She feared she would find it hard to think of David without thinking about the jelly bean squish. When David felt passion, expected passion, Jocelyn was not sure that she would be able to reciprocate.
David, now holding a wedding dress printout in each hand, reentered the living area, and sat down next to Jocelyn on the couch. “These are both stunning,” he said. “I don’t think you can go wrong with either one.”
Jocelyn could still smell green apples on David’s breath. She shook her head. “David, I can’t do this.”
As Dr. Amy Dalton savored the warm glow of sexual satisfaction, she rested her head against one of David’s toned pectorals. Her Adonis slowly slid out from under her embrace, and Amy felt the chill as David folded back the covers and rose from the bed.
“I’ll be right back,” said David as he walked out of the room. The sight of his splendid golden haunches instantly made Amy warm again.
She was amazed and delighted that her amorphous plan had worked to perfection. When Jocelyn had first showed her psychiatrist David’s picture and Amy had seen the broad shoulders, the glinting, blue eyes, the Hollywood teeth, the good doctor had known what it meant to covet in the Biblical sense. When Jocelyn described all of his other good qualities—his sense of humor, his cleanliness, his cooking ability and so much more—Amy began having her own obsessive thoughts that her neurotic patient was not worthy of this incredible man. Surely David would not be happy spending the rest of his life allaying the fears of this lesser woman. What David needed was an equal, a helpmeet who would be there to support him in his time of need.
At first, Amy was not consciously aware that this person was herself. She was certain, however, that David deserved somebody who would not let his jelly bean consumption overshadow his kind nature and sensitive heart. Amy knew that it would be unprofessional and unethical to send David the jelly bean of the month subscription, but she convinced herself that the candy purchase was a valuable therapeutic tool that help Jocelyn become the ideal partner for her fiancé.
Nobody would ever discover that Amy sent the gift. David had never performed any legal work for her, but she had no doubt that the talented attorney had many satisfied customers. When David opened the card that announced the impending monthly deliveries, he would learn that the sender was identified only as “A Grateful Client.”
Even after Amy had taken the plunge and ordered the candy, she continued to ignore the strident commands of her base desires. She may have exceeded the proper bounds of the doctor-patient relationship, but she had always given Jocelyn her best professional advice. When Jocelyn announced the split in her final session before transferring to another university out of state, Amy was as surprised as anyone.
In the weeks following her patient’s abrupt departure, Amy imagined David, handsome and accomplished, sitting in his apartment late at night, alone and dejected. Why shouldn’t his soul mate be her? Jocelyn had transferred her medical records to another psychiatrist, so David was now just another random person in the vast male population. Amy was a few years older than him, but just a few, and she knew that her intelligence and her beauty would be a good match for his.
Amy looked up the phone number for David’s firm and navigated through the protective layers of secretaries until she reached the man himself. She pretended not to know that Jocelyn had left the state and feigned concerned for the mental health of her now former patient. Amy asked David if they could meet at a local coffee shop so that she could hear his side of events.
Once she had a meeting with David, Amy could just employ the tactics of attraction that had worked so well with other men. Before leaving for the coffee shop, Amy piled her long, luxurious hair into a tight bun on the top of her head. She placed a pair of small, round glasses on the bridge of her nose to complete the portrait of a restrained and serious woman. As the conversation progressed, Amy removed the glasses so David could get a good look at her large, hazel eyes artfully decorated with eyeliner and mascara. By the time they finished their coffees, Amy had a dinner date with David for later in the week. The next time they met, Amy wore a more revealing dress and her auburn hair cascaded in gentle curls to the middle of her back. As David admired her softer, more feminine look, Amy knew that this gorgeous being belonged to her.
David now walked back into the bedroom carrying a bag of dark red jelly beans. “Thought I’d replenish my energy,” he said.
Amy patted the empty space beside her on the bed. “An excellent idea,” she said. “You’re definitely going to need more.”
David climbed back into bed and pulled the covers over himself. Amy wriggled closer to this perfect man and began running a hand over the hilly contours of his delectable chest.
“Want some black cherry jelly beans?” he asked. “I’m loving this jelly bean of the month club.”
Amy ran her hand further down David’s torso and began tracing the outline of each individual abdominal muscle with an index finger. “I’ll pass on the jelly beans,” she said, “but I am hungry for something else.”
As Amy’s finger started on the fifth member of David’s exquisite six-pack, she heard a sound that reminded her of an old dishwasher she used to have when it started its heavy cycle. Whenever it was sloshing, she would have to turn up the television in order to hear the dialogue.
Amy’s index finger stopped roaming over David’s toned flesh. She pushed herself to a sitting position. “I just need to freshen up,” she said. “I’ll be right back.”
Since David’s mouth was still in mid-cycle, he nodded.
After grabbing her purse off the bedside table, Amy walked to the bathroom, accentuating her hip sway for David’s visual delight. When she closed the bathroom door, Amy set her purse on the vanity and began to dig through it. She soon found the earplugs that she had purchased before she had first met David for coffee. Just because Jocelyn was neurotic did not mean that her concerns had no merit. As Amy had just discovered, David’s consumption of jelly beans was indeed quite disturbing. She hoped, however, that her mastery of the human psyche would equip her to cope more effectively with the dreaded squish than had Jocelyn. As an initial strategy, she would try a stimulus reduction technique.
Amy pushed the plugs into her ears and let her thick hair fall to mask them from sight. After dabbing on some lipstick, Amy opened the door and struck a sexy pose for her new lover.
Tom W. Miller holds a master’s degree in history from the University of Texas at Austin and now lives in Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley. When not writing or having to earn a living, he enjoys tennis, pickleball and family adventures. His stories have appeared in various literary magazines including The Writing Disorder, Red Fez and more.