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Lending a Shoulder


August 3, 2016 by Lyn

Year Five of the Addergoole School, at the time of Book Seven

Maria Mendosa started the morning over coffee and danishes with Catherine Caitrin and Nurse Josephine. They started most mornings that way, checking off names from the roster in a shared breakfast of concerns.

“Joff?” Maria asked. “I can’t get him to come in to see me.”

“I could lean on Rafe,” Josephine offered. “He tends to listen to me.”

“That seems a bit like cheating,” Catherine frowned. “Making the boy’s Keeper force him in to therapy?”

“There’s a lot worse things he could be forcing him into,” Maria pointed out, so that Josephine didn’t have to. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it made the woman uncomfortable to contradict her direct supervisor. “And the more we learn about that crew, the more I want to see their former Kept get the help they need.”

Catherine nodded; she knew all that, of course. She’d been the one who’d said Something’s wrong with Eris, who had noticed how thin Joff had gotten. “You’re right,” she agreed. “I’m going to talk to the Director again about making yearly visits mandatory for everyone, and monthly visits for pregnant girls.”

“I don’t know why she stalls on that,” Josephine complained. Maria, who thought she understood, said nothing. Regine’s motives took a whole shelf of textbooks on atypical psych and another shelf on historical mindsets to even begin to understand, and, at that, she was still a cipher more than half the time.

“Habit,” Catherine answered instead, and they moved on to less uncomfortable topics: the high rate of rejection, mothers who wanted nothing at all to do with the children they’d borne, and if there was anything they could do to resolve this going forward. They split just as the children were beginning to trickle in for breakfast, ready for their day.

She had no early morning appointments, so the doctor left her office door open and settled into her favorite leather wing chair with a good book on social dysfunction in fatherless children.

Less than twenty minutes had passed when her first drop-in showed up: Caity cy’Akatil, a sturdy and thoughtful girl who had not seemed much in need of Mendosa’s services in her first weeks here. She stepped in hesitantly, as if unsure of her welcome. “Can I… maybe just talk to you for a few minutes?”

“Of course.” She closed her book and smiled engagingly at the young girl. “Close the door and have a seat, Caity.”

“You know my… oh, I guess there’s not that many of us, are there?”

“No, and I make a point of knowing everyone’s name. What’s on your mind today, Caity?”

“Everything,” she exploded expansively, both of her arms flailing open wide as she flopped down on the couch. “This place is insane! I don’t know how anyone ever learns anything here.”

Maria hid, with long practice, a wince, as she began to worry that she would have to nudge the girl’s thoughts away from that particular train. She kept going, though, with a rant that seemed to have been building for quite a while.

“Everybody’s mad about dating and babies, and Owning and keeping and boys. Okay, fine, graduation requirements, but it seems like there ought to be a more rational way to handle all of this, instead of acting like a bunch of sitcom teenagers.

“Okay,” she added, before Maria could even think of interjecting, “we are teenagers, I know. But that’s really no reason to act like it. I mean, I never thought so, but back home, I could just hang out in, you now, the wood shop and the metal shop and sometimes band, and people left me alone.

“Here, I can hang out in Professor Akatil’s lab, I guess, and, I mean, he’s really cool about letting me, but, I mean… I have a boyfriend.” She rolled her eyes at the absurdity of that. “I have a boyfriend. And why do I have a boyfriend? I mean, I’m not really all that interested in the whole dating thing. I have a boyfriend so that the other boys don’t think I’m fair game to drag into a closet somewhere!”

She flopped back against the couch. “It’s absurd. And do you know the worst part?”

Dr. Mendosa, somewhat fascinated by the girl’s energy, shook her head slowly, no, certain she would hear the worst part no matter what she said.

“It’s like, not only does that make perfect sense to Richard – and I really do like him – but the rest of this place just goes over his head. Like he’s not really here, except that one place where he’s decided not to be blind. Me.”

She was quiet for a moment, long enough that Maria thought she might have to ask for clarification, before continuing, so very softly as to sound like an entirely different person after her earlier boisterousness. “So… sometimes it feels like he just used it as an excuse, you know? ‘Here, I’ll protect you from the monsters, just come live with me where it’s safe…’ when most of the time, him and Coy and Genny/Davy, they don’t even seem aware that there’s anything wrong.”

“Do you want them to acknowledge that there’s ‘something wrong,’ then?”

She shook her head. When she looked up at the doctor, there were unshed tears in her eyes. “It’s stupid,” she muttered.

“Emotions often seem that way.”

“Emotions are stupid,” she muttered. Maria pondered the girl’s family tree and said nothing, waiting for her to continue. And she did, after a couple ragged breaths. “I mean, I don’t want him to have come up with this whole ‘woah, watch out for the monsters’ shit, sorry, stuff, just to, just to date me, you know?” She wiped her eyes angrily. “I don’t want it to have been a line.”

Once it was out in the open, it was easier to work with, and the two of them talked for a while. It was Maria’s professional opinion that Caity was in no way ready for dating yet, but it was the nature of Addergoole to force children into situations they weren’t ready to accept, and Richard, all things considered, was a nice boy and rather steady, much like his father.

That wasn’t a train of thought to be having on the clock, however, so Maria resolved to call Lyell some time soon (it had been a long time, and that last dinner had been wonderful. Besides, he might want to meet his grandchildren. Their granddaughters.), and went back to working with Caity.

When she sent the girl on her way, she felt as if she’d done some good. If nothing else, perhaps Caity and Richard would have a conversation they should have had weeks ago. Little problems, Maria had found, could often be solved just by talking.


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