Lunch was an exercise in tact, a balancing act between truth and lie. I tried to avoid going into any details about what had happened to me but Beth was persistent. In the end I told her I’d run away from home, which was kind of true, and had been attacked, also kind of true. She knew about Mz Gregory, but I didn’t know if she knew details.
“She said if I needed help and could come to her-”
“You could have come to me!” she interrupted me. I… had that even crossed my mind? I couldn’t remember.
“I didn’t know if you’d be ok with it, Mz Gregory specifically said I could come to her. Also I didn’t want to freak your mom out and have her not let you see me… Besides her place was a lot closer and I wasn’t in that good shape.”
“hmm” She reluctantly nodded in agreement. “But I would be ok with it, if you have to. If your mom is causing you trouble again,” I didn’t correct her with the real reason I’d ended up leaving, “I can convince my parents. You are back at home now aren’t you? Not sleeping on the street or anything?”
“Yeah.” Damn, she forced me. But how could I explain where I got rent for where I was staying now?
The school intercom system marked the end of lunch. I said my goodbyes to Beth and promised to meet her after school.
I had the last of my compulsory counselling sessions next. Not lasting quite as long as class it wasn’t so important to be there on the dot so I waited in the dining hall for most of the crowd to filter out.
Haley and a group of friends were getting up from a table across from me. She hadn’t given me any trouble since Mike had talked with her. For the first time since she glanced over at me, conspicuous in not getting up to leave. Her eyes narrowed but she turned away. She was still keeping her distance.
When I was sure she had left, I had to take a few minutes to convince myself that she wouldn’t be waiting for me as soon as I went through the door. Repeating to myself that I was just being paranoid, I left myself.
Empty corridors were so much more comforting than full ones. You could move freely, no one looked at you. I didn’t have to be so vigilant. But the atmosphere of the school was still there. The presence of hundreds of people packed in rows behind every wall, even though the corridor echoed with my footfalls it still pressed down on me.
After dawdling half way to Mz Andrews’s office I realised I was going slowly on purpose; I was putting it off. I hadn’t decided to put it off I’d just done it. It was like my body did something without me telling it to. Feeling rebellious I started walking faster. I got to the door and knocked before I could start thinking in circles.
Now I hesitated.
* * *
The room was just as I remembered it. It felt like I hadn’t been here for an age, but it had only been a week or two since my last ‘session’.
“Hello Alexis, please have a seat,” she said, gesturing at one of the more-comfortable-than-standard school chairs. It had padding and everything.
I sat, wondering what I was going to say. I had a lot I could talk about but it wasn’t like I was going to actually tell her anything.
“So, I hear you have been off sick,” she stated. Guessing she wanted a reply I nodded.
She waited, I assume to see if I would expand. I didn’t, so she prompted me, “What was wrong?”
With a sigh, because I really didn’t want to be here, I lied. “I got ill. Flu or something.”
I’d never had flu but mom got it a few times and it lasted about a week.
“Really?” She left the question hanging and gave me a penetrating look. Did she..? “Alexis, please don’t lie to me. I can’t help you if you lie.”
Was this a bluff?
“I’m not lying.” Was it really that obvious?
“How did you cut your face?”
Ah, forgot about that, “Oh, nothing really. Some guys tried to steal my phone. It’s not as bad as it looks.”
“Alexis. This is a safe place. You can tell me pretty much anything. I cannot tell anyone else and even if, by law, I could. I wouldn’t.” Her normal mask of calm, neutral expression slipped a fraction, showing a hint of frustration.
She was wrong though. I couldn’t tell her anything. I couldn’t tell her I’d killed someone. That I’d ripped open someone’s artery, spilling their life onto the floor and not even noticed. I felt a shiver go down my spine. She raised an eyebrow at me. Damn.
“Listen. I know you didn’t have flu. Jane spoke to me, she told me why you were off and that you were staying at her flat.”
I… I didn’t know what to say to that. Mz Gregory had told someone. Two people now.
I found myself standing up, unconsciously clenching my fists. The one time I trust someone with anything. I just needed some help… And they betray me.
“When? When did she tell you?” I asked, trying to keep my voice steady. I don’t know why I cared.
“Whoa, calm down Alexis! She came to me on Monday. Listen, she was just concerned about you…”
I stopped listening. It didn’t even take her a full day. I turned and started towards the door.
“Alexis! Stop, she was just worried about you.” I paused, hand on the door handle. “She knew you had sessions with me and she thought it was best I knew in case there was something you were telling me and not her.”
Even if she was just worried about me, even if she did want to help me…
“She had no right to tell anybody.” I wasn’t even sure I believed that myself. I owed her a lot for her help, regardless of what she did.
“Maybe, but she did it anyway.” She paused. It didn’t feel like her usual pause, she was thinking, before continuing more gently, “I know now, but I don’t know the context. Come and sit down. Talk to me.”
My hand dropped form the handle of the door, limp. She was right, I tried to reason with myself, and she hadn’t told anyone about the bullying.
But a little bit of school bullying was hardly the same as what… what I was doing.
I turned and slowly returned to my seat.
“Tell me what happened.” She said after a moment for me to calm down.
“What do you know?” I asked, trying to get some footing on what she had been told.
“Well, Jane came to me Monday and expressed her concern for you, and asked about our sessions. I told her that everything you told me was confidential and I couldn’t discuss it. That’s when she explained that you had come to her the night before in quite a state.”
“Did she say..?” I interrupted.
“Yes. You had a gunshot wound and that cut to your face, which was apparently quite deep.” There was a silence.
“I’m much better now.” I said, trying to give my voice an optimistic tone. I don’t think it was a success.
“Alexis, how did you get hurt? I’m going to be honest with you, more honest than I am usually with my patients. I thought that your previous problems were due to domestic violence but this… Domestic violence doesn’t often involve guns.” She looked into my eyes. “I’m not saying it can’t though if…”
“No. It’s not that.” However bad my mom is, I don’t think even she would have ever shot me.
“Then how did it happen? Is it… gang related?” I almost choked. Did she know? No, wait, she thought I could be in a gang? “This school has a lot of problems with them, it’s not unusual Alexis. You don’t need to be worried about my reaction. I’ve dealt with it before.”
Has a lot of problems with gangs? Don’t need to be worried? I hadn’t thought that there might be members I might need to avoid in school. God how stupid of me, I’d have to be more on guard here. Haley was nothing compared to the Kolmek.
“A lot of young people get attracted to what they offer, especially those with… less privileged backgrounds. We have ways of dealing with it-“
“No.” I interrupted her. How could she think I was one of them? “Mz, I’m not in gang! Do… Do you really think I could do that? I hate them!”
I could feel myself getting worked up. The one word reply she gave me further infuriated me. I knew she was just trying to get me to say more.
“I… It wasn’t something I would have thought,” she said, “Not having got to known you. Why do you hate them?”
“Why? Isn’t it obvious? They ruined my life, they ruin everyone’s lives. Where I live, it’s destroyed by… by drugs, and those that sell them. Crime, gangs they are the root of it all.” I picked up a pen from the desk and started twisting it in my hands, nervous.
“I’m sorry, but what is it then? What are you not telling me?”
I unscrewed the cap and stripped it down to its component parts, laying them out in order along the front of the desk. I liked the little magnets inside. I put one on the sheet of blank paper on the desk and watched the arcing patterns draw themselves.
I put the pen down. What could I say to her? “I really don’t know what to say.”
“Ok, how about I ask some questions. If you feel like it you can answer yes or no.” She said. I tried not to take it as patronising and nodded.
“Did you… get hurt by someone you knew?” she asked.
I shook my head, and then thought about how long I had to have met someone to have ‘known’ them. No, I don’t think it qualified.
“Ok… Where were you? I mean…”
“Auteuil, the Island. Not that far from where I live.” I said, this twenty questions thing really sounded stupid.
She nodded, “Outside? In a building?”
“Outside- No, both. Kind of. I got shot outside and then cut; that was inside.” I said.
“Ok. Was it the same people? A gang?”
“Yes, I’d rather not say which.” I said
“That’s fine. So how did you end up in that situation, do you owe them money? Is it something you did or because of your family?”
They owe me a life. I hesitated… Not really sure how to phrase an answer, or even if I should.
“Ok. Yes or no.” She thought for a moment. “They want something from you?”
“Err, no?” Unless you count my head. Minus the body.
“You did something to them?” She asked.
Yes… I remained silent.
“Ok.” She nodded knowingly. Crap, so that’s how this questions thing works. “Have you thought of going to the police? They can offer protection and-“
I cut her off with a laugh. I was surprised at how harsh, bitter, it was. The police? They were useless, the Island was red. They didn’t even consider policing it. I was breaking the law every night I went out anyway.
I couldn’t let her know any more, it was too dangerous, it was wrong of me to ever go to Mz Gregory’s. I shouldn’t have let Jim know so much, if I was going to take this seriously…
“We stop here.” I stated.
“I think we’re really managing to get somewhere Alexis, it would be a shame to stop now.”
“Why do you want to know about this? How is it going to help me?” I asked. This whole counselling thing, it just felt like it was to get things from me. For her to peer into my life for her amusement. I couldn’t see what it was good for.
“Well, people often find it helpful to go over their problems somewhere safe. It helps organise their feelings, expressing them to someone.” She started putting the pen I had dismantled back together. “Someone impartial who isn’t going to judge you, and may even be able to offer you some advice or guidance.”
She held it out, now complete, to me. “If you don’t feel like continuing, then we stop.”