Authors: N.K. Smith
I had just finished loading the dishwasher and was turning to make a hasty retreat. “Elliott,” Robin said. I sighed and turned around, finding her deep blue eyes studying me. “What are you going to do?”
My brain raced to find the simplest word in my vocabulary to answer her.
“Are you going to play piano?” she asked with a smile. Of course she knew that the piano was my preferred instrument, but she asked this question every time.
I swallowed and sucked in a large breath of air. I just wanted to retreat to my room. I pointed to the ceiling as I answered, “Yes.”
She cocked her head and brushed her blonde hair over her shoulder, keeping the smile frozen on her face. “The piano’s down here.”
I could barely contain my annoyance. Of course the piano was down here. It was
house; I knew where the piano was. Stephen kept it hostage down on the first floor in an attempt to lure me out of my bedroom. I had a keyboard in my room, along with my other instruments, but he thought if he kept the Grand Piano downstairs I would be tempted to spend more time out in the open. Usually it didn’t work, though every time I passed it, I longed to play it.
I took another breath and tried to push out my word, hoping that it would be enough for her to let me be, at least for one night. It was Thursday after all. I’d have to endure sessions with therapist Wallace tomorrow. The block in my head kept me from saying anything. It didn’t help that her eyes were fixed on me as she waited in that annoyingly patient way of hers.
Finally, I pushed it from my mind and out of my mouth, stumbling the entire way. “K-k-k-keyyyb-board.”
Her smile stayed on her face as she extended a hand and laid it gently on my shoulder. It was times like these that I wished she wasn’t a mother; that she could truly just be a clinical, detached professional. It would have been easier to shut her down; shut her out. But she was in my house after she’d just fed me dinner, smiling at me with that motherly grin. “Play the piano for me and keep me company.”
Since I’d been taught from a young age that requests were just thinly-disguised commands, I relented. Instead of answering, since I knew I couldn’t say no and I didn’t want to hear my loser of a voice concede, I just walked out of the kitchen and into the sitting room. She followed me and took a seat on the chaise lounge as I went to the piano bench.
Truthfully, I was excited, since I rarely allowed myself to play the piano. But my excitement only annoyed me since it meant Robin got what she wanted and she could chalk it up to “helping” me. I raised the cover and let my fingers glide across the keys. I had hundreds of songs memorized, so I rarely needed sheet music. Some were from the great composers that everyone knew, and some were obscure little melodies that only true connoisseurs of classics would know, and still others were my own compositions.
I knew which ones Robin liked the best and decided to start with one of her favorites. When I played new songs for her, she always wanted to interpret them and start labeling my emotions as if I picked the song because it reflected my current mood. Heaven forbid I play Moonlight Sonata. She would instantly think I was depressed and wanted to start writing my suicide note. It would take too many words for me to express that Beethoven’s piece didn’t make me depressed, and it held no connotation of sadness for me.
Robin wasn’t an aficionado of music. She heard what she wanted and analyzed it with a shrink’s mind. Music wasn’t the same for everyone and just because she got depressed by a certain song, didn’t mean that everyone did. Moonlight Sonata was peaceful to me. It was what I thought about on the nights I couldn’t sleep. I could imagine myself in a moonlit garden, surrounded by night-blooming plants and the sounds of trickling water. I could imagine the moon shining down, illuminating all of the most beautiful things in the garden as the stars twinkled like tiny diamonds reflecting a beam of light.
But all Robin would connect it with was morbidity and death.
“How was your session with Ms. Rice today, Elliott?”
“F-fine,” I answered casually. There was no need to go into the depth of my failure.
“David mentioned that you ran into Sophie Young.” I stopped playing the lighthearted Mozart piece and I swung around to look at Robin and shrugged.
“Did you speak with her?” she asked in a hopeful voice. I shook my head. I didn’t think one poorly-executed word of apology constituted the type of “speaking” Robin was talking about. I turned back around and changed songs. I began the very first song of my own that I’d ever played for her. “Do you have any classes with her?”
She was going to continue to ask me about Sophie Young until she was satisfied. I nodded. “H-H-HHHortic-c-culture.”
“That’s great!” I sighed, trying to conceal it. “She’ll have a friendly face in at least one of her classes. It’ll be good for her to have a friend like you.”
I wanted to slam my hands down on the keys and yell at her. Sophie Young wasn’t my friend, and even if Robin had some weird ideas about how we could help each other through therapy, she
wouldn’t be my friend. Sophie was too good, too pretty, and too smart to be my friend. There wasn’t one person in that school besides my siblings and their significant others who was willing to be a friend to a retard like me.
“She w-won’t have m-much trouble finding f-friends, R-R-Robin. She’s nnnot liiike me.”
I ignored her breathy sigh and continued to play. “You know, Elliott, you’re able to speak more fluently when you play. Have you noticed that?” I ignored her, instead directing my attention to the song, hoping to just get through it and be able to go upstairs, away from her; away from everyone.
But Robin wasn’t having that. “Stephen says you had a panic attack on Monday.” My eyes closed. Now I knew what this whole thing was about. She’d gotten me to play the piano, talk about something else, and now she was going in for the therapist’s kill. Although my breathing sped up slightly, I kept my fingers moving along the keys, producing the same perfect sounds as always. “What happened at the mall, Elliott?”
“I d-di-didn’t want to gggo.” Jane had asked me to and of course, Stephen said she couldn’t go alone. Even though I needed nothing from the mall, Jane had guilted me into going.
“But you did and what happened?” she coached.
I exhaled, completing the song before I turned to her, knowing that she would make me look at her at some point. My eyes were still closed. “I c-c-c-cccouldn’t breathe.”
“T-t-t-t-too maaaany p-people.” Slowly, I let my eyes drift open. “The mmmmedicine d-doesn’t w-w-work.”
“Even though you don’t like the medication, you’re able to go to school now, usually without incident, but I guess it’s because that’s a closed community, so to speak. You know everybody there. Perhaps the mall triggered it because the only person you knew was Jane.”
It didn’t matter why; it only mattered that I couldn’t do it without my body tensing up like it was in a vise while my brain shut down. But Robin wouldn’t give up…ever. So it came as no surprise when she said, “You should try it again.”
I gritted my teeth.
Yes, trying it again was such a logical thing for me to do. I definitely wanted to go and freak out amongst strangers and have the mall security come pick me up like a rag doll and be ushered to the hospital in an ambulance while the EMTs tried to ascertain whether I was having a heart attack or a seizure. Yes. That made perfect sense.
I stood up. “Where are you going?” Robin asked.
What business was it of hers? I forced myself to ignore my need to obey an authority figure. This was
house, not hers. “T-t-tired.”
I started walking toward the steps, but stopped when I heard her voice.
“Elliott, I know it’s hard, but you have to push past it.”
Great advice. That’s like telling a depressed person to just smile, it’s not that bad. It should be a rule that all therapeutic professionals must have some kind of firsthand knowledge of the disorders they sought to treat so that they wouldn’t say brainless things like that. Why didn’t I think of that?
Just push past it.
Great idea. I would have to give it a try. I forced my feet to move and finally I was in the sanctuary of my room.
The rest of the night passed without incident. Robin, Trent, and Rebecca all went home and no one bothered me until I woke to the sounds of David beating on the bathroom door again. I wished Stephen would’ve had enough sense years ago to give Jane the bedroom with the private bathroom, but I understood why he didn’t. Jane had a tendency to cut herself, and having her own bathroom seemed like a bad idea. She could cut herself too deep and bleed out without anyone knowing about it.
But she hadn’t been doing that much anymore, at least not that I knew of. Trent was good for her like that; however, the fear and threat were still there, so I would continue to be awakened by David’s fists on the bathroom door while he’d shout at her to hurry up.
I tried to ignore it when David turned his fists loose on my door, yelling at me to get out of bed. “It’s Friday, Elliott. Just think; it’s almost the weekend and that’s two whole days that you can spend alone in your room doing whatever it is that you do!” I was successfully ignoring him up until the point when the doorknob twisted.
I jumped out of bed and grabbed at the doorknob. I tried yanking it open, but I realized that I had locked it last night, like I did every night. I let out a shaky breath, trying to control my body’s response. I wasn’t going to have an attack. I wasn’t going to freak out. This was my house. This was my room. It was only David, and the door was locked.
When I had mastered my emotions and bodily reactions enough, I unlocked the door and pulled it open. David was standing there with a smug look.
“D-d-don’t d-d-do thaaat again.” His smirk widened. I was sure I didn’t sound the least bit intimidating, especially since I couldn’t even get out four words without sounding like a loser.
He gave me a mischievous look. “Got you out of bed, didn’t it?”
I huffed, moving out into the hall and closing the door behind me. I sulked down to the free bathroom, listening to David resume his pounding.
When we got to school, just like every other day, David told me not to let Anderson bother me, but of course I did. I was happy to see that this time he wasn’t accompanied by Sophie Young, but the rest of his followers were tagging along and thought his stuttering jokes were just the funniest thing they’d ever heard. When Chris knocked the books out of my hands, in what he said was “payback” for accidentally knocking into Sophie yesterday, they just roared with laughter. Then he did his signature move of shoving me into the locker with his shoulder as he pushed past me.
I bent down to retrieve my books before David could come around the corner and see his loser of a brother picking up his things.
“Hey,” I heard above me. I looked up and there was Sophie Young, giving me a smile that clearly said she was high. I could feel my face contort as I tried to force a greeting from my mouth, but I couldn’t say hello for anything. My mind and body refused to work in unison, making me feel like a complete idiot in front of her…again.
To my horror, she crouched down next to me and started pulling papers and books toward her and stacking them on her knee. “I’ll kick his ass,” she said with a smile. My eyes closed as I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me again. She had seen the entire thing.
When I opened my eyes she was staring at me. I needed to say something. I needed to prove to her that I wasn’t a complete idiot-freak-loser, but my tongue seemed to stick to the roof of my mouth. She smiled at me again, pushing the papers into my arms before standing up.
My body finally did something my mind told it to, which was to stand up. She looked up at me with her big, intensely blue eyes and I realized she was much shorter than I was. She should’ve been taller with all that confidence. “See you in the greenhouse,” she said before brushing past me, her shoulder making contact with my bicep.
Letting out an unconsciously-held breath, I looked up at the ceiling. I was an idiot!
I didn’t see her again until study hall. She did very little studying while Anderson and his friends gathered around her as if she were the second coming. The bored look on her face made me entirely too happy. Then, when there was fifteen minutes left until lunch, she got up and walked out. It wasn’t hard to notice that Jason Fox had left just five minutes before she did.
She was ten minutes late to Horticulture when she smiled at Mr. Reese and said “I got a little lost.”
The school wasn’t that big. It would have been hard to get lost, but when she sat down next to me, I could smell that she’d been smoking again. As she stared glassily up to where the soil samples were, I could see a small red-purplish bruise forming on the side of her neck.
Why it bothered me so much that Sophie had a hickey, I didn’t know, but it did.
Mr. Reese passed out a stack of papers, samples of dirty earth in small circular glass containers, and a microscope, completing my negative mood by reinforcing that today was in fact the day I would
to work with Sophie. I was hoping I’d be given at least a couple of hours of reprieve, but Mr. Reese had other ideas. After making one pass with the scientific portion of our assignment, Reese dropped off flowers and other supplies, telling us we had to make an arrangement when we were finished identifying soil types. I tried to let the music play in my head in anticipation of speaking to her, hoping that Ms. Rice was right and all I needed to do was relax and I would be able to have a conversation like a normal person.