Friendly reminder that this comes with a TRIGGER WARNING.
“I’ll pick you up after school today.”
Autumn stops and turns around. Her hand stays on the door knob.
Her father is holding Teddy’s hand with one hand and his briefcase in the other. He looks tired.
“After school. I…I made you an appointment.”
Her mouth feels dry and the room seems to sway gently around her. She tries to remember the last time she ate, but nothing comes to mind.
“What kind of appointment?” Even as she says it, she already knows the answer. He looks down at Teddy, who is engrossed in the task of picking a scab on his arm. His milky eye lolls about aimlessly in its socket.
“Look.” Her father sighs and shakes his head. “You need help, Autumn. Help I’m not equipped to give you.”
“As I told you before…” She fights to keep her voice even. Steady. She can’t show any signs of weakness. Not now. Not ever. “As I told you before, I don’t need any help. I am just fine.”
She glances down at her thighs and immediately curses herself for it, but he doesn’t seem to notice. Her jeans are hanging off her, too big three sizes ago. She likes them, though, as they help to cover up the thick gauze bandage wrapped around the top of her left leg. Yesterday she got an answer wrong in math. Stupidity will not be tolerated.
“We all need some help,” her father says, putting his briefcase down. “I’ve made an appointment for each of us. We all need someone to talk to. We all need to…Need to come to terms with what happened.”
“I’m going to be late for school,” Autumn says, turning away from him. She opens the door and leaves without looking back.
“For this next assignment, I want you to work in groups of three or four.”
Mrs Lewis walks around the classroom, handing out stacks of paper. She drops one on Autumn’s desk without looking at her.
“In your group, you are to pick one of texts we have studied and prepare a mini lesson to present to the class, addressing each of the bullet points outlined in the guide I’ve just given you.”
Autumn picks up her copy and scans through it. Her stomach is in knots at the thought of standing up in front of the class and speaking, but she tries not to show it. She bounces her leg nervously, causing the gauze to rub against the cuts on her thigh. It’s not entirely unpleasant.
She turns towards the sound of the voice. Jesse. She didn’t even notice him when she sat down.
“Sure!” Mya says before she has a chance to answer. “Let’s work in a group of three. A threesome.” She giggles and flicks the pink pompom on the end on the pen. Jesse laughs, but it sounds forced, like maybe he’s just doing it to be polite. Although she’s not quite sure why, it makes Autumn happy. Just a little.
Autumn looks around the waiting room, annoyed. This is the last place on Earth she wants to be. She keeps her features neutral, but she is screaming inside. It was so hard to keep the truth from Dr Shay. She doesn’t want to do that again. She doesn’t want to do anything. She doesn’t want to exist. Stop it, she tells herself harshly. Just stop it. To distract herself, she bounces her leg until it starts to bleed. She excuses herself and goes into the bathroom to re-apply the gauze to stop the blood from seeping through her jeans. When she returns, the doctor is waiting for her.
She holds her breath. Nods.
“I’m Dr Emma Daniels. You can call me Emma.” The doctor – Emma – smiles and cocks her head towards the hallway. “Come on. Let’s go down to my office.”
Autumn glances towards her father. He is watching the whole exchange but when she looks at him, he looks away. Yeah, that’s right, she thinks bitterly, turning to follow Emma down the hallway. Go ahead and pretend I don’t exist. Go ahead and wish it had been me That Day. I do.
After a moment Emma stops in front of a door and pushes it open.
“Here we are,” she says, smiling. “Go and take a seat. Can I get you anything? Tea? Coffee?”
“I’m seventeen,” Autumn says softly, entering the room. “I shouldn’t be drinking coffee.”
Emma laughs. Light and breathy. “Oh, right. Of course not. Well I’m going to have a cup. 3pm lull, you know. Do you mind?”
Autumn shakes her head. Emma is not like any other therapist she has seen before.
“Alright. Well, take a seat and I’ll be back in a moment.”
She leaves Autumn hovering there and disappears down the hall. Autumn looks around the room uncertainly. It isn’t set up like Dr Shay’s office at all. There’s a desk facing a window and three comfy looking couches clustered around a coffee table. There is a colourful crocheted cushion on one of the couches. It looks handmade. She walks over and picks it up, turning it over in her hands. The picture is of a family of four, all holding hands and smiling. Their woollen faces stare at her, grinning lopsidedly without a care in the world.
“One of my clients made that for me,” Emma says, returning. She takes a seat on one of the couches and sets her coffee on the table.
“It’s beautiful,” Autumn says, setting it back down on the couch. It’s not beautiful, really. The stitches are clumsy and parts of it are fraying, and yet…And yet. She subconsciously curls her fingers over the ends of her jumper and sits down opposite Emma. She looks at her, really seeing her for the first time. She is pale and thin with long, golden brown hair that hangs loosely over her shoulders. Her mouth is set it in permanent half smile, like she might fall into laughter at any moment. After a few minutes Autumn realises that she’s been staring and she looks away, chewing the bottom of her lip.
“It’s okay,” Emma says, lifting her coffee cup and taking a sip. “It’s normal to want to know what I look like. To take me in. You’re supposed to be sharing all your darkest secrets with me, after all. It makes sense that you should want to know who you are talking to.” She grins when she says that, like she is excited at the prospect of sharing secrets. Autumn can’t help but smile just a little. The movement feels unnatural.
“Do you have any questions for me?” Emma asks, setting down her cup.
“Questions,” Emma says, picking up a pad of paper and handing it to her. “Things you’d like to know about me. Things that will help you feel more comfortable about talking to me.” Emma slides a pen across the desk. Autumn picks it up and clicks the top, releasing the nib. Her hand automatically begins to draw a swirling pattern in the corner of the notepad.
“This is weird,” she admits after a moment. “I’ve never had a doctor act like this before.”
Emma smiles. “Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret. I used to be a social worker. My speciality was working with children. This is how we’d get them to trust us. To open up. It works just as well on adults.”
Autumn’s hand stops and she looks up. “So this is a strategy? A trick?”
Emma picks up her cup. “You don’t have to say anything you don’t want to say. This time is about you. We can talk about whatever you want.” She takes a sip and Autumn considers this, returning to her sketch. No one has ever put it that way before. Dr Shay was nice enough, but she was all about fixing Autumn like she was a broken toy. She was always pushing her to talk about That Day, as though reliving the memories over and over again was somehow going to make the pain stop. Dr Shay didn’t even know about pain. About loss. She didn’t know anything. Autumn casts a sideways glance at Emma. She’s staring out the window. A smile dances on her lips. She looks kind. She looks like she can be trusted.
Are you fucking kidding me? The voice is back. Autumn hadn’t noticed the silence in her head until now. No one can be trusted. No one. Talking is against the rules. Crying is against the rules. Everyone leaves. Everyone. Always. Everything just falls apart.
When Emma finally announces that their hour is up, Autumn has drawn a detailed sketch of Adam’s face but she hasn’t said another word.