Qiqi watched nervously as the man undressed in front of her. Something about this wasn’t right, she was sure…but Dr Phillips had assured her it was vital to helping her self-esteem, and so she patiently waited on the bed, her heart and mind racing.
Surely her first time shouldn’t be like this. Surely that was wrong…but Dr Phillips had insisted, and she trusted him.
She trusted him more than anything.
Qiqi Zhou had been seeing Dr Phillips for the past six months. After the unexpected death of her father, Qiqi’s life had been spinning out of control, and it had been a huge effort to admit that she needed help.
That’s when she’d found the card.
“Dr Ron L. Phillips, Therapist.”
Something about the glossy finish had attracted her attention—she’d picked one up, and after a few days of pulling it out and glancing at it, enjoying the semi-sparkly gleam, she’d made the call.
Dr Phillips’ receptionist had told her that he wasn’t taking new patients, but she’d mentioned the card, and the woman’s voice had changed. It had grown warmer, softer somehow, and she’d suggested that Qiqi come in for a free consultation.
Her first session had been on a Friday afternoon, right before the weekend. Qiqi had been planning to spend the weekend like she’d spent most weekends since her father’s death; clubbing, drinking, dancing. Anything to clear her mind of the fact that her father had abandoned her, had willingly and knowingly taken his own life, leaving her alone in the world.
Qiqi was only 18, but her looks ensured her uncarded access into the clubs of Little Beijing, where she let herself get lost in the music, alcohol, and advances of strangers.
Not, of course, that she’d ever done anything with them.
Dr Phillips was in his late 40s, his hair already starting to grey. He beamed at the sight of her.
“You must be Qiqi,” he said, and her eyes widened at the deep tone of his voice. “I understand my card…caught your eye.”
She just nodded in response, and he opened a cupboard and began to rummage through it as he spoke.
“I wouldn’t normally be able to see you on such short notice, but the card was the first step in an experiment I’m running. I have a theory that some people—mostly females—are susceptible to being entranced by certain reflective materials. It’s possible that you’re one of those women, Qiqi, and so I was eager to meet with you as soon as possible. To find out if my suspicions are correct.”
The hairs on the back of the young woman’s neck were beginning to rise with suspicion, but before she could do anything about it, Dr Phillips pulled out a piece of cardboard, and suddenly her suspicions completely faded away.
It was…it was beautiful.
Clearly made of the same material as the good doctor’s business cards, but unadorned with words, or details, or anything that could distract from its shiny, shimmery perfection.
Dr Phillips was still talking, but Qiqi wasn’t listening. Not on a conscious level, anyway. She just stared, stunned, at the cardboard.
For the next few hours, Dr Phillips talked while Qiqi gazed at the board. All he needed to do was slowly tilt it from side to side, and it created an endlessly fascinating array of reflections, shapes, patterns. It was more watchable than anything she’d ever seen, and it was close to 8pm when he finally put it away, and she returned to reality.
“And so,” Dr Phillips concluded, “if you’ll have me, I really think I could be helpful.”
“Of course,” Qiqi said without hesitation, blinking rapidly. What had they been talking about? How long had she been there? “If you think it’ll help.”
“I do,” Dr Phillips said, and Qiqi tried to ignore the chill that his predatory grin sent up her spine.
Ever since then, she’d been visiting him twice a week. Something about the arrangement always made her feel slightly uneasy, but she had to admit that he’d been helping her.
No longer was she drinking to numb the pain, or dancing until she was close to collapsing from exhaustion. No, since seeing Dr Phillips, her life was steadily improving.
At his suggestion, she’d quit drinking, quit going out each weekend, and cut off ties with all her friends. It had been difficult, but he had assured her she was doing the right thing—anything that reminded her of her old life had to go, and soon he was her only contact.
She’d thought about going back to school, but Dr Phillips had told her that was a bad move. It was better to spend her time, he’d suggested, learning to cook and clean, and going to the gym. The suggestions didn’t quite sit right with her, but she’d done as he said. She trusted him—more than anything.
A lot of his insights were spot-on. He’d—correctly—observed that her father’s death had left a hole in her life, a hole that had caused low self-esteem. Even at her most suspicious, she knew that he was correct about that.
But his suggested solution—breast implants—hadn’t immediately made sense to her. It had taken several weeks before she’d given in and made an appointment. It hadn’t been cheap, but she now sported a perky pair of C-cup breasts.
She’d been reluctant to admit that Dr Phillips was right, but the appreciative glances, the wolf-whistles…they had improved her self-esteem. Her new tits were impossible to tell from the real thing, and they gave her a burst of confidence every time she looked down at her new cleavage.
But Dr Phillips hadn’t been satisfied. The death of her father had been a devastating blow, he’d told her, and she would need to take drastic measures to transform her into the powerful, confident woman he was sure she could become.
If she hadn’t been staring at the shining, glimmering card, she would have verbally objected to his next suggestion. But she was helpless while it slowly shimmered in front of her, and so Dr Phillips’ suggestions sunk directly into her brain, joining all the other suggestions he’d made to her over the months.
“A stripper?” she’d finally said, when he put the card away at the end of the session. But it wasn’t the indignant response she’d wanted to give—it was a sad, resigned question. Dr Phillips knew best, and she could spend the next few weeks resisting, or she could just accept his wisdom immediately.
“Yes,” he said excitedly, a speck of his spit landing on her cheek. She didn’t reach up to wipe it off. “It’s exactly what you need, my girl—positive attention. Hundreds of eyes on you, each and every night.
“It’s ultimately up to you, of course, but that’s my professional advice.”
And so Qiqi had gone straight out and found herself a job.
It hadn’t been hard—if her beauty hadn’t been enough, the tinge of desperation in her voice, the form-fitting clothes that Dr Phillips had suggested she begin wearing, and the body that they showed off would have certainly sealed the deal.
Within an hour of leaving her therapist’s office she had a new job, and soon she was spending every night onstage, earning more from tips and private dances than she knew what to do with.
Again, she was forced to admit—he wasn’t entirely wrong. The positive attention she got from all those eyes, the rush she got from slowly exposing her new and improved body…even the adrenaline she got from moving around so much.
It made her feel better. Weirdly good about herself.
She’d been dancing for two weeks when the thought struck her. At the start of the month, no one had even seen her topless—now she was getting naked every evening, showing her body to hundreds, spending hours alone with strange men giving private dancers…
This wasn’t right, was it?
The thoughts had continued to bounce around her head, feeding off each other, growing and amplifying until they were all that she could think about. Something was wrong. Dr Phillips had done something to her. The card—it was more than just a relaxation technique, “the latest in psychotherapy and getting patients to open up”—he was putting ideas in her head, wearing down her resistance, controlling her life.
Every piece of clothing she owned, she’d bought at his suggestion. Every hour of every day was filled with activities that he’d persuaded her to take up…and now she was stripping, exposing her body to people she’d never met.
Qiqi was furious. Furious and terrified, in equal measures.
She skipped both her appointments that week. Her phone lit up with messages and calls from the doctor, but Qiqi refused to look at it, afraid to hear what he had to say. She locked herself in her room, missing her shifts at the club, missing her appointments with Dr Phillips. Whenever she shut her eyes, she could see the shimmering card, but she tried to ignore it.
I’m stronger than that, she told herself, and with every day it became more and more true.
Eventually, her apartment ran out of food, and so she decided to brave a trip to her local grocery store. After all, Dr Phillips had other patients, other responsibilities—it wasn’t as though he could just be camped outside her house, waiting for her to exit.
Opening the door, she glanced up and down the hallway, relieved to discover that there was no one there. She made her way to the local store, and one uneventful shopping expedition later, she returned home.
That was when she saw it.
It was on her door—pinned to the door itself, which was why she hadn’t seen it when exiting.
A large piece of the card. The shining, sparkling, flawless, fascinating card.
And on it, in block letters, was an address.
The address of Dr Phillips’ office.
“It’s simple,” Dr Phillips said soothingly, as a tear silently ran down Qiqi’s face. “Our relationship has been acting as a parental substitute of sorts. You lost your father, you found me, and so to some part of your brain, I took his place.
“And obviously you didn’t want to face rejection from another father-figure, so you decided to avoid that by rejecting me first. Does that make sense?”
Qiqi nodded. Everything he said made sense. Dr Phillips always made sense.
How had she ended up back here?
“No, the club tells me that you haven’t been showing up for your shifts. I hate to say it, but I think these shenanigans of yours have rather doomed that career option. Fortunately, I’ve been thinking about it, and I have another solution to your self-esteem problem.”
The young Asian woman sat in silence as Dr Phillips continued.
“You need to feel wanted. You need to feel desirable, attractive. You need to feel sexy.”
Qiqi went to speak, but Dr Phillips held up a finger to silence her.
“Sex isn’t enough. No, you need more than that—you need to know that you’re wanted. Desired. Men will have sex with anyone, but you’re special.”
I’m special, Qiqi thought, unable to turn her head away from the piece of card that Dr Phillips was holding in front of him as he spoke, a slightly manic look in his eye.
“If a man pays you for sex—that’s when you know you’re desired. That’s when you know you’re gorgeous, lovable…fuckable.
“This is going to be the end of all your self-esteem issues, Qiqi. This is going to be the beginning of a whole new life for you.”
liked my old life, Qiqi thought briefly, but she knew it was just wasted energy. Dr. Phillips was right.
Dr Phillips was always right.