**New chapters posted here every Wednesday**
On day one hundred and forty-four, Bella Blake emerged from winter break with freshly dyed atomic-pink hair. Everyone in our first period homeroom was stunned, but impressed, and proceeded to make asinine comments like “You’re so brave” and “I wish I had your nerve.” So Bella preened and swelled and basically acted like she was so Rebel Without a Cause.
This was exactly why I hated high school.
Like everyone else, I stared and watched the circus act as it played out. Unlike everyone else, I didn’t say a word about Bella’s stunning display of obvious attention-seeking behavior. After all, these people were not my friends. But bravo Bella, because your effort has clearly worked on the befuddled masses you seek to impress with your—what did Ashley call it, bravery? Very unique. Very individual. Very LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME. Well done.
In my mind, I slow-clapped for her. But then, like she could hear my silent critique, Bella’s eyes connected with mine from across the room, and I buried my face in my book. It was easier to pretend we had never been friends, never really known each other at all.
I recalculated my countdown and decided to only count the actual school days—ninety-two. That was all that was left of high school, I consoled myself. I couldn’t count holidays, weekends, and spring break because if you included all those days—one hundred and forty-four was a number too depressing to contemplate.
In ninety-two days high school would be over. Forever. And I would stand up on the graduation stage in front of them all as the best of the best. Valedictorian, with my early admission to Princeton burning a hole in my pocket. Final and conclusive proof that, despite immediate appearances, I win.
Maybe when I finished my valedictory speech I would even raise my arms in a triumphant V over my head.
So while the Bellas of Roosevelt High were busy having followers, having boyfriends, having “times” on couches in basements while parents were out of town—busy having barely passing grades—I was busy realizing that high school didn’t matter unless you came out on top of it. And I didn’t mean socially.
Because, as I had suspected, Princeton didn’t care who the hell was homecoming queen, not even if they were “brave” enough to dye their hair atomic pink. Turns out Princeton cared much more about who was on track to graduate at the top of the class. And that someone was me.
When the bell rang signaling the end of first-hour homeroom, I was the first person out the door.
All around me, the slams and clatter of Roosevelt High’s collective student body swelled into a chorus of disruption. I pressed and squeezed past jostling bodies until I reached my locker like it was a safe base. Let me get to second hour, please. Advanced Calculus was the only place in this entire building where I truly belonged.
Halfway through my combination, someone body slammed me from behind, knocking the dial off its correct course.
“What the—?” I turned and saw Eli’s evil smiling face.
“And good morning to you, sunshine,” he said and held out my phone—I’d left it at his house last night.
I snatched it from his hand and rolled my eyes before starting my combination all over again.
“You’re welcome, of course,” he said.
Eli Tanner, my best friend since the fifth grade. Although if someone is your only friend I think the emphasis on best becomes pretty meaningless. Anyway he doesn’t actually count as a technical friend because he’s more like a brother, or maybe a sister. Either way, in this world called high school, we were pretty much all we had. We clung to each other like Kate and Leo as the ship went down.
But this morning, I was feeling less than friendly. I pulled my calculus book from my locker and slammed the door before shoving past him.
“Hey!” I heard him yell after me. A second later, he caught up with me and fell in step beside me. “My, we are in a foul temper this morning. Why so happy, Grumpy?”
“Not today Eli, I’m not in the mood.”
“Clearly. Also this was mostly my point. So are you going to kill me if I ask you to drive me to youth group after school?”
I shook my head at him. “The only reason you want to go is to see Jordan.”
“And!” Eli raised his fingers in air quotes around his head, “To bask in God’s love for today’s gay youth.”
Eli’s father was an Episcopal minister. When Eli had opened his gay closet door to his family last summer, the formation of the Holy Comforter Episcopal Church’s first gay youth ministry group had been his father’s answer. Eli and I had had many discussions about whether or not this constituted a full acceptance of Eli’s gayness, or was simply a place to occupy Eli while the whole family figured out how to adjust to the idea. Either way, Jordan was the twenty-something gay youth leader, and Eli had some explicitly unholy feelings about him.
“Can’t today,” I sighed. “It’s Therapy Thursday.”
“Ahhh, this explains so much. Isn’t therapy supposed to help with mood problems, not create them?”
“Funny,” I said as I ducked into Advanced Calculus. “See you at lunch.”
“I’ll call ahead and reserve our regular table,” he said and blew me a kiss before backing down the hall.
I smirked at him in spite of feeling shitty. I really, really hated the monthly Therapy Thursday. When my mother had reminded me about my appointment the night before, my highly irritated mood had moved in like a swift electrical storm.
“Mom, she hates me,” I had complained. “Not even secretly. She dreads our sessions as much as I do and she’s relieved when they’re finished. Why pay a hundred bucks an hour simply to torture us both?”
“Dr. Weber does not hate you.” My mother had leaned in close to her computer and run her finger down her screen. “She’s the best clinical psychologist in Trenton.”
“Which means what exactly? Who uses ‘best in Trenton’ as a selling point?”
My mother sighed—her nonverbal tell that I was wearing her down.
“She doesn’t use it, I did, based solely on my own professional opinion. Would you prefer best clinical psychologist in New Jersey? Best clinical psychologist up and down the Eastern Seaboard? East of the Mississippi?”
“If I were a guy, you wouldn’t make me see a psych.”
“Interesting theory,” my mother said but didn’t bother to look away from the report she was writing. “Although, unfortunately, impossible to test.” Her fingers clicked the computer keys while her eyes scanned the papers propped up in front of her. “Seeing as how you are not, nor will you ever be, a boy. Unless you are about to enter into a new gender identity crisis phase. In which case, we should probably find you the best clinical psychologist in Trenton who specializes in that.” She leaned forward to get a better look at the numbers on the page, then typed them into her report.
My mother is also a psychologist. The Roosevelt High School school psychologist, to be exact.
So actually, I could probably be the most average, well-liked, athletic, popular kid at my school and she would still have me in therapy for some reason. She might say something like, “She’s overcompensating for not having a positive male relationship. She feels the need to be perfect all the time.” I simply make it easier for her by actually having a few problems. I am female, smart and, according to my rarely present father, suffer from a terminal case of “crap attitude.”
Needless to say, Therapy Thursday was still a go, and my last chance to try and negotiate my way out of it was during third hour—independent study.
Most days during third hour, I would take the stairs to Roosevelt High’s second floor, room 233, significant support needs—or the SSN room. Third period was the time of day my mother covered for the SSN teacher’s lunch hour and worked with kids who were on the exact opposite end of the intelligence bell curve from me. The kids who weren’t ever going to be valedictorian or receive any kind of college admission letters, Princeton or otherwise.
Interestingly enough, even when I wasn’t trying to nag my mother into an early therapy release, I usually chose to come here instead of studying in the library. I wasn’t entirely sure why, especially since I still had my senior honors thesis hanging over my head, and I could have used the time in the library to get it done.
Or even started.
But almost every day I went into the SSN room at the exact same time, and every time I did, Jacob jumped up from whatever he was doing, ran to the door, and threw his arms around me. “Ruth!”
I hugged him back. “Hi, Jacob.”
“Ruth,” my mother sighed. “You need to stop reinforcing that. We’re trying to get him to stop rushing up and hugging everyone.”
This time she was annoyed because Jacob was working with her when I walked in. I slung my arm around his shoulders. “You hear that, Jacob? Ms. Carrie Ann is trying to extinguish your attention seeking behavior.”
He looked blankly from me to my mom.
“No more hugs,” I said.
“No,” Jacob declared.
“No, is right,” I said.
“Knock it off, Ruth. If you’re going to be in here, at least set a good example.”
“Yes, Ms. Carrie Ann.”
“Yes, Ms. Carrie Ann,” Jacob repeats.
My mother sighed. “Jacob, come here, you need to get back to work. Ruth, quit being a pain and go work with Maggie.”
On the far side of the room, Maggie clapped her hands and ran to the game shelf to grab Candy Land. Maggie loved Candy Land. I am fairly sure I could play Candy Land with every single one of my neurons completely shut off and tied behind my back.
“Maggie, how about we play something a little more challenging today, maybe Chutes and Ladders for once?”
Clutching her precious Candy Land to her chest, Maggie stopped and stared at me like I’d suggested we take a trip to the moon.
“Ruth,” my mother warned.
I smiled big at Maggie. “I’m only kidding. I love Candy Land!”
Maggie was thrilled.
And as I moved my green gingerbread man and strategically reshuffled the cards midgame to make sure Maggie won, I realized that this might be the only thing I would miss when the ninety-two remaining days of high school were finally over.
“Carrie Ann?” The walkie talkie on my mother’s hip suddenly erupted with a woman’s voice.
My mother pulled it from its clip and raised it to her mouth. “This is Carrie Ann.”
“Hey, we have a problem with the new kid in AN.” In the background, the sounds of someone yelling came over the speaker and in a flash, my mom was up from her chair and walking out the door. “I’m on my way,” she radioed back.
As she clipped the radio back onto her pants pocket, my mother directed her attention to Angel, the paraprofessional working with Alexander and his reading book near the back of the room. “Call Jessie to come help you cover in here.” Then her head snapped toward me. “You, back to the library.”
“Now, Ruth!” she commanded, and walked out the door.
When the door closed behind her, Angel and I looked at each other for half a second before she got up, picked up the phone on the far wall, and called for Jessie.
“What’s wrong?” Maggie asked me.
I didn’t know. “Nothing,” I smiled at her. “They just need Ms. Carrie Ann to help out in the affective needs classroom.”
Maggie picked up her plastic gingerbread man and moved him two blue squares. “That’s the bad kids’ class.”
She wasn’t really wrong. Affective needs was filled with all the kids who had their anger issues dialed up to volcanic. Every chair thrower and desk kicker spent most of their days in that classroom. One big concentrated box of rage—all of whom were on my mother’s caseload and had probably been on some psych’s caseload since kindergarten.
Actually, with all that potential for violence, I sometimes worried about my mother—like now.
She didn’t look up from the board, she was too busy positioning her man onto the Princess Frostine square.
“I have to go back to class now, okay?”
Maggie looked up and smiled. “I win then!”
I stood up and swung my backpack over my shoulder. “I’ll get you next time,” I threatened.
“No way.” She smiled and started to pack up all the cards.
As I walked out the door, Jessie walked in to help cover the class with Angel. With the door open, I could hear the sounds of someone shouting, the voice echoing down the hall.
“That new kid’s a total mess.” Jessie said.
I pushed past him and headed down the hall in the opposite direction from the library—straight toward the sounds that I knew my mother would be in the middle of. Along with the yelling and shouts coming from “the new kid” I could hear the voices of the other staff and then my mother. I walked faster, then ran. Several teachers opened their doors and looked out into the hall as I rushed past.
A gray-haired teacher I didn’t know called after me as I shot past his door. “What’s going on?”
I ignored him.
When I reached the end of the hall and turned the corner, two police officers suddenly appeared on the stairwell and lunged down the hall ahead of me.
I stared after them and froze.
My mother and another teacher had a guy corralled in a corner between a row of lockers and the far wall. When the guy saw the cops, he shoved my mom out of his way and tried to run.
In a flash, the cops rushed in and grabbed the guy. They had him facedown on the linoleum floor within a second.
“Fuck you!” the guy screamed as tears ran down his face. “Let me go!” he sobbed.
One cop held him while the other pulled cuffs from his belt and got them on the guy’s wrists. Once they had him cuffed, the guy stopped struggling. The cop that had held him down got up and joined the other adults, who immediately started talking about what to do next.
I didn’t hear any of it; the sound of my own heart thundered in my ears and kept their words from making any sense. All I could do was stare at the guy, handcuffed on the floor, his face the very image of pain. He didn’t look like a raging psycho; he looked like a boy nailed down by despair.
I couldn’t stop staring.
For a fraction of a moment, the guy’s eyes met mine, and I witnessed his raw, wide open desperation—right before he turned his head the other way and shut me out.
Thank you for reading chapter one of Affective Needs. A new chapter is posted every Wednesday. If you don't feel like waiting for updates, here is the link to my book page and all the vendors that carry my books. Happy reading!