Monday afternoon rolls around, and I'm waiting in my designated spot to be checked in before boarding the bus to go home. I'm a little concerned that Officer Beck hasn't arrived yet to do my pre-board check in. My time schedule isn't exactly flexible, and I don't need a parole officer at my door when I return.
I check my chronometer, grimacing to see that I've already lost seven minutes of travel time. Hell, the bus has to have already left without me. I start to take out my net-phone to report the anomaly before this becomes my fault.
As I'm pulling up the contact number, an announcement catches my ear.
"Attention students: Michael Scott, if you are still on campus, please report to room Twelve-A immediately – again, Michael Scott, if you are still on campus, report to room Twelve-A immediately."
Confusion swells in my chest, but I dutifully adjust my bag and book it for the counselors' rooms.
Suddenly, I'm going back through my day trying to find a place where I might have upset, insulted, or made fun of someone. I come up completely blank. I haven't been showing the depressive tendencies of last year.
So why would the counselor want to speak with me?
A little pang of dread goes off in my gut – what if it's about…
I roll my eyes, guilt and nerves tightening into a ball in my middle.
As I round the corner into the hall where the administration offices reside, I don't see any indication that what I fear is going to happen. While I expect the officer to be standing in the hall impatiently waiting for me, I find he's not there. I do see shadows moving beyond the opaque glass mounted in the middle of the door to Twelve-A and hear low words being exchanged.
My overly acute ears take the mystery out of what's going on behind closed doors there. One voice is my sophomore counselor. Surprisingly, the second voice is also familiar, but I can't understand why he would be here today, nor what any of that has to do with me.
I pause outside the door and, despite a want to eavesdrop more closely, promptly knock, knowing that my time is running out for that electronic check in.
"Ah," I hear Mrs. Clarkson utter, before I see her shadow round her desk to open the door. As it swings back, her thin, wrinkled face reflects her worry. She brightens forcefully. "There you are! Didn't anyone tell you to report directly here after school?"
Administration is well aware of my issues over Thanksgiving break, and the conditions of my continued attendance at school. One being where I'm supposed to check in and when.
Another, which I hope to never test, is the idea that if another violent offense occurs, I will be expelled and sent to a community day school four blocks away.
I might as well write my death certificate if that happens. A gemue in a school full of the most misaligned students in the district? If there ever was a last bastion of gemuphobic attitudes, that's where it would be found.
Yeah, let's not and say we did.
"I'm sorry Ma'am, no. I was awaiting Officer Beck in the usual spot until I heard the announcement."
"Figures," a rough grunt interjects as Uncle Steve steps into view. He's dressed rather formally from the other times I've seen him. Nice tan slacks – a turquoise button down top – brown dress shoes. I wonder what the occasion is.
I goggle at him a moment, curious as to why he's even here.
"Beck was supposed to give you your counseling schedule yesterday at this time," he adds, pulling his net phone out of his pocket and booting something up.
I shake my head, even when he's not looking at me. "No. I didn't get anything of the sort from him."
He glances up, one brow rising above artificially brown eyes. I'm curious about the emotion driving the expression, but can't read him well enough to get the right idea.
He frowns. "Well, get over here so we can get you checked in before it sets an alert. Wouldn't want them sending the precinct after you, now, would we?"
Mrs. Clarkson steps aside to make a path between me and Uncle Steve. I hurry over and extend the device towards him. He waves his net-set across the band, and takes a moment more to type some sort of comment before replacing the phone in his back pocket.
My curiosity is rising that my uncle would have the clout to be responsible for performing house arrest check-ins.
"Now, being that I figured Beck would forget his ass if it wasn't attached, here." He extends a piece of paper towards me. "Your schedule."
I suppress a snicker, having a harder time getting the grin off my face, before I take the paper from his hands.
"Be sure you report directly to this room after school each of the dates that are listed there. Sorry they're not more consistent, but, I've got other kids on my case load."
It finally clicks.
Uncle Steve's current job is as a counselor for troubled teens, in cooperation with the local police department. Personally, I never thought he was the right disposition for such an endeavor, but he's been doing it for like five years now, so what do I know.
He glances to the school counselor. "Mrs. Clarkson, I've got it from here."
She flushes and quickly says, "Sure, Mr. Martin, be sure you lock up when you leave."
He grins at her momentarily, answering with, "Thanks for making sure he made it here."
"No problem." She smiles broadly at him and then levels a firm glare at me. "You behave yourself, Michael."
I blink and straighten.
What does she think I'll try?
I'm standing next to a cyborg who could easily tie me into a pretzel should he so desire. My natural strength pales severely to his artificially amped up musculature. Then again, there are a lot of people out there who still aren't aware of Uncle Steve's abilities…
Before I can recover, Uncle Steve pipes in with, "He'll be no problem, Mrs. Clarkson, really."
Her expression is dubious at best, but she says nothing more, nods tersely, and slips the door shut behind her.
"I think she was hitting on you," slips out of my mouth before I remember why I'm here.
Fearing chastisement for speaking out of turn, I cringe a little before turning to face him.
He just huffs a laugh. "I will never get used to the idea that women like bald men, to be fair. So, yeah, it's possible." His tone changes to something more formal as he says, "Have a seat."
I lower myself into the soft cushions of Mrs. Clarkson's sofa. I scoot over when Uncle Steve opts for the other end of the couch rather than the seat behind the desk.
"You've gotten taller since the last time I saw you," he utters, twisting his wedding band a few times as he observes me.
"Well it's been a few years," I reply, shrugging with one shoulder. "I'm sure it's not just my height that's changed since then."
Another laugh escapes before he adds, "Well things have been busy. And yeah, you've changed in other ways, too. And so seems to be the source of the current troubles?"
A silence falls between us where he seems to merely study me, an air of expectance in his frame.
"So you're my anger management counselor." It comes out of my mouth in a rather incredulous fashion.
"Duh, genius. It's why I'm here."
A bit of mortification slips through my head and probably reflects on my cheeks. "I just, uh, thought it would be some kind of group deal. It's what the judge seemed to be suggesting."
"Your dad requested me," he shrugs. "Figured I would be better equipped to empathize with the situation."
I feel my face screw up into disbelief.
He leans a little closer, his face pinching some. "You look like you're not sure this is the best match counselor to counselee."
I feel heat flood into my cheeks once more. "You're… family…" is about all I can come up with. "Isn't that like, conflict of interest?"
As I was growing up, Dad was quite forward with the idea that Uncle Steve is a reformed gemuphobe. There were still moments those beliefs bled through his try at congeniality. But since Dad helped save his brother all those years ago, he tries much harder to be nice to Dad – and gemues in general.
And while he isn't as chummy with Dad as Uncle Tom is, he does still visit on occasion. Their exchanges have been decently friendly.
"This isn't a court of law, it's not jury duty, Michael. People get counseled all the time by people they know. It's only a conflict if one of us makes it that way." He takes in and lets out a long breath. "Do you feel it will be in conflict?"
"I'm not sure," I answer.
"If you would rather be assigned someone else, we need to establish that now, because it will be harder to transfer your case if we get started and you decide you can't talk to me."
"I don't know, sir."
"Sir?" He grunts and shakes his head. A sigh, almost of frustration, escapes him. "If it will make you more comfortable, what you tell me in session is strictly confidential. I can only report something if you give actionable evidence of potential self-harm or harm to others." He leans closer. "I've made your dad aware of that restriction as well. He understands I won't be tattling on you, if that's what you fear."
I didn't think my cheeks could get any hotter, but they do, realizing he's read me even without me knowing it. Sometimes I think he is better at it than mom, and with no telepathic talent whatsoever. Of course it was his job for a long time, Sheriff - Inspector, so it stands to reason that he can pick up what the body says even when the language doesn't match.
"I… I think I can manage," I say, even when I'm not terribly sure of my decision.
"Good." He smiles at me, and then falls silent.
I continue to watch him, getting fidgety when he doesn't follow up with questions.
"Uh, what do you want to talk to me about?"
He shrugs that signature one shouldered shrug of his. "Whatever you want to talk about. Why? Did you think I'd have some set of scripted questions for you?"
I nod vigorously.
He shakes his head. "I've found that asking questions only leads to answers my kids think I want to hear, so, no… no questions unless we're following a thread of conversation. What do you want to talk about?"
"Well," I dodge, "What's been going on with you?"
He snorts. "Great start," he says sarcastically. He shifts again, leaning back into the cushions. "Good. Been busy with the counseling work, obviously. Maribel's working across town as a manager in a local start up, loves it. We ended up moving to a bigger place last year."
"Well the cottage was getting tight, even when it's just us two. So… we're in a good enough place financially, finally, that we could get something a bit more spacious."
"She didn't dig the bachelor pad anymore, did she?" I ask.
He smiles widely. "Pretty much. There was only so much sprucing she could do. Besides we needed some kind of office area, between her job and mine, and the cottage didn't have the space for it. Sitting on the couch with the net trying to work only ended with distractions."
I laugh, and nod. "I can see that."
His grin is slow to fade, though I think the memory behind it isn't something that's teen appropriate.
"What made you start doing counseling?" I ask, still super curious as to how he even qualifies for this kind of positon.
He purses his lips a moment, seeming to think about how to answer that. "Ended up needing counseling of my own." He glances away, snapping his fingers a few times before he regards me again. Another grin, one that tries to be embarrassed by the news but isn't, crosses his expression. "I know, tough guy like me, shouldn't need counseling, right?"
I nod. "The thought crossed my mind, yeah."
The smile he aims at me is grim. "The accident led to a loss of self, loss of career, loss of loved ones. Held onto a lot of personal demons for a long time – let them gnaw on me. Laid blame in a lot of places I shouldn't have. Did things I regretted – lots of things." He pauses. "Thought I was strong enough to handle them on my own, until I talked Maribel into getting therapy. Turns out, I needed it as much – more than – she did."
I sit up a bit straighter.
"Took a lot for me to admit that it's okay to seek help." He shrugs again and glances away. After a deep sigh, he adds, "So when I got tired of being a pale shadow of what I was as a Sheriff, I thought I'd try to pay that idea forward. Specifically with kids riding that bubble – the ones where one wrong decision will ruin their lives."
"Like me," I utter, because it feels as if he's including me in that group.
His mouth thins. "I didn't say that. You've got a lot going for you that most of my case load doesn't ever see. Don't get me wrong, plenty of kids in stable homes, with good support systems end up sitting across from me too. But most? Most are at a disadvantage: financially, socially, and/or emotionally."
I frown, knowing a few of those kids, and how rough their lives are, and how their school work reflects it.
"But…," he cautions. "You are here, on my caseload, so, the county thinks you need some help."
I push myself into the sidearm of the couch, that one statement causing my frustration to bubble up. Quickly. I hadn't wanted to talk about it when we first sat down, now I can't seem to stop myself.
"I don't know how they want me to fix what I can't remember doing." I glance over at him with a hurt expression. "And none of them seem to believe me… not even Mom and Dad."
My uncle's head tilts off to one side. "What makes you think they don't believe you?"
"The looks they give me – each other. They have these mental conversations about it, and they look worried."
"Worried about you doesn't necessarily mean disbelief."
I glance away, sighing heavily. "Even my friends are treating me different."
"Oh, how so?"
Meeting Uncle Steve's gaze, I say, "Don't get me wrong, they were there, they all say I was justified in defending myself. But they seem to… mince around me now."
"Because of how far your reaction went?"
I nod. "And…" I stall, scratching the back of my head, "I can't blame them. It scares me that I had absolutely no control of the results. How can they feel any less scared?"
He leans forward. "So, this blackout? I know you said you've not had one previous to this, but have there been any other instances where you felt you were losing control?"
Glancing away, I contemplate how to answer it. I mean I know the answer, just how to word it. The 'fight' with Cory, getting mad at Mandy – several times.
"Yeah, here and there." I meet his gaze only momentarily.
"And when did these stronger emotions start?"
"I've always had a bit of a temper…"
"No, you haven't," Steve bites out, interrupting me. "You were always the happy-go-lucky kid. At least, the moments I was around."
My cheeks heat at being caught in that untruth. I shrug one shouldered, seeming to pick it up because Uncle Steve does it. "I guess the end of eighth grade?" I straighten a little. "That's when things really started getting to me, I guess."
Steve nods, pursing his lips. "That seems to bear out, by your school records, and your parents observations. What have you tried to counter the reactions?"
I take a few moments to explain: breathing, mindfulness exercises, swimming, and walking away when possible.
"How successful have they been?"
I shake my head negatively. "Not very. It seems to take me forever to calm down no matter what technique I employ."
"Now," he says next. "I'm not a doctor – nor am I any kind of psychologist… but the timing of this change in attitude may be…"
I flush completely hot, but I say, "Hormonal," before he can. I nod, rubbing my hands together and not looking at him. "The thought has crossed my mind… many times."
"Have you seen your psychologist or the doc yet?"
Another flush, another shake of the head. "I think that's coming up soon though."
He nods once again. "Be open about what they suggest, right?"
I nod. "I'm trying."
At the end of the session, I'm not feeling any better. Sure it was nice to get my frustration out there, but now I have more questions about the upcoming unknowns than I had walking in the door.
I sigh as Uncle Steve walks me to the front of the school. He waits on the curb with me until Dad drives up. Uncle Steve sketches out a wave to him, but remains rooted in his spot as I make my way around to the passenger's door.
As I get in, Dad says, "Good session?"
"I think so?" I respond, but really am not at all sure.
A/N: Long time no update eh? YEAAAAHHHH about that. I truly struggled with where to take things after last chapter. Seriously. All of this is pretty brand new territory for me and I'm writing it on the fly. I have a very general idea of where I want to get to and am unsure how to get myself there without boring the crap out of my readers.
Adding Steve to the mix was a bit of a help, but I hope again that I'm not going to belabor this novel just because...
BTW I've already decided I will be adding a chapter or two in the first part of this to cover some things I managed to skip over that I feel are important to Michael's development as a character.
Thanks for sticking with this, remember that feedback is welcomed and encouraged! Is this story engaging you? Are there things that are leaving you scratching your head? Does Michael or another character seem OOC with their normal behavior? What are some things you're enjoying as you read this?