Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Affective Needs--Chapter Ten

**New chapters posted here every Wednesday**

Karen, for almost my entire visit, sat staring blankly at an old box television showing reruns of Friends in the community room of Harmony House.
The director of the facility, Samantha, had greeted me when I first arrived. “Almost no one ever comes to see her anymore. She’ll be happy to have the company.”
“Does anyone visit her?”
Samantha hesitated. “Not really. There’s this lawyer from New York who comes once a month.” Her tone was suddenly sharp and annoyed. “Makes sure we’re treating her right, I suppose. But other than that, she’s a ward of the state . . . and she doesn’t have any family, at least not any who are allowed contact with her. The researchers who used to run her through a million tests when she was first discovered are barred from having any access to her now.”
My mother and Samantha were acquaintances, fellow alumni from graduate school, which was why I was allowed to come here in the first place. So I knew some of Karen’s history. When she was two years old, her father, who must have been completely insane, started keeping Karen locked in her room day and night and wouldn’t allow anyone else in the family to even speak to her. Ever. When she was fourteen, she was accidentally discovered when her father fell asleep in his bed smoking a cigarette and the house caught fire.
When the firefighters arrived at the home, Karen’s mother had managed to escape through her bedroom window and told them that her husband and son were still trapped inside. She didn’t even mention Karen. Inside the blazing house, the firefighters had no idea where any of the other family members might be. When they came to a door on the second floor that was padlocked on the outside, they broke it down and found Karen, cowering in her dirty rags, locked inside the chicken-wire cage where her father kept her day and night.
They broke her out and carried her to the waiting ambulance. Her father and older brother were already dead from smoke inhalation.
Karen was so malnourished and small, medical staff at first thought she was six or seven years old instead of fourteen. When the mother, free of her husband’s abusive control, finally started to speak and tell them what Karen’s living conditions had been like for the previous twelve years, the news story was an international scandal, and researchers from all over the world wanted the opportunity to study and test Karen. Many of them did, until she turned eighteen and it was determined that all of their interference was having a negative impact on Karen’s development and improvements.
Karen was in her early thirties now. It had been almost twelve years since anyone had been allowed to study her—and yet here I was, a stupid high school student, sitting, staring at Karen staring at the TV. A blank notebook in my lap and a pen squeezed between fingers that hadn’t written a word.
All those researchers would probably kill each other to have the chance I was wasting right this very minute.
Of course, the only reason I was allowed here was because I wasn’t a real researcher—not yet anyway. Also, I wasn’t exactly studying Karen specifically, just making observations, and nothing I would write would or could be linked directly back to Karen. A simple comparison between two people, both with cognitive disabilities, one who was raised in a caring and loving home and had access to professional education all her life—and one who had none of these things.
This was the heart of my senior honors thesis—nature versus nurture. How were Maggie and Karen fundamentally different because of the vastly different environments they had grown up in?
I glanced at my phone, only fifteen minutes until my first scheduled observation was over. The blank notebook seemed to glare up at me, so I forced myself to sit up straighter and concentrate, think of something to write—anything.
My eyes drifted to the television and the purple-walled apartment of the main characters, who were sitting on the couch exchanging snarky one-liners while the laugh track played along in the background.
I wrote, The subject spent the entire time staring at first one episode of Friends, and then another. Truly, this was groundbreaking stuff. The admissions board at Princeton was going to thank their lucky stars they had snatched me up with that early offer into their neuroscience department.
I sighed and closed the notebook.
Samantha was wrong: Karen didn’t look happy to have the company, she didn’t look like she knew anyone else was even in the room. Completely the opposite of Maggie, who would smile and jump and rush to get me to play a game with . . .
Of course. How could I have been so stupid? I opened my notebook back up. I had been waiting all this time for Karen to do something, show some sign of engagement, with me, with her surroundings. Some sort of behavior I could observe—anything. But the very fact that she didn’t, wasn’t that something? Some huge way that she and Maggie were different?
Even though Maggie had a cognitive disability, she talked, moved, played—interacted with her world. Maggie had the skills required to have relationships with other people.
I was beginning to think that Karen didn’t have any of these skills—because she had been so horribly deprived of ever learning how.
What would that be like—locked away, every day of your entire childhood? Did her father think that it simply didn’t matter because she was cognitively disabled? Was he ashamed of her? How could a person be that cruel?
The door behind me opened. Karen didn’t move a muscle, but when I turned I saw Samantha coming in: my signal that our time was up.
“Well, how was the visit?” Her tone was light, like before, but her expression looked strained. Something was worrying her.
“Fine,” I said, as I packed away my notebook and pen. “Not much happened.”
The director nodded as she glanced at Karen. “She doesn’t have many words, and the ones she does have are used as single words . . . like when she wants something. Food, a drink, her favorite doll. That was one thing the researchers did determine before they were forbidden to examine her anymore, that because she had missed out on hearing language during a key point in her early development, she missed out on the opportunity to ever really acquire any functional use of language.”
I looked at Karen, still staring at the TV. “She couldn’t learn, even after they found her?”
The director shook her head. “Apparently, there’s a window for language acquisition, when we are very young—she missed hers.”
It was awful. I imagined her initial cognitive difficulties also made it more difficult for Karen to learn language once she had been found. Maggie had learned many, many things in her life—but she was still nowhere near a typical seventeen-year-old. Karen had the delays, on top of never having been taught anything. Even twenty years in a supportive environment hadn’t been able to correct all that she had lost.
I pulled my keys from the side pocket and swung my bag over my shoulder. “Can I come back next week? Maybe during a different time of day when she’s a little more . . . active?” Surely Karen didn’t always just sit and stare at the television. “Maybe during her dinnertime?” I was hopeful that I could catch her doing something—anything.
The director was biting her lower lip and her worried expression had returned. “I’m not sure, Ruth.”
Something had happened. When my mother first contacted Samantha and asked for this favor, she had enthusiastically agreed. I didn’t understand where this sudden hesitation was coming from—I worried it was me. “Did I do something, something wrong?”
“No!” she shook her head. “No, not at all,” she sighed. “While you were here, that lawyer, the one from New York I told you about, called to check up on Karen. I happened to mention that she had a visitor—I thought it was a good thing . . . but she got pretty upset.”
“The lawyer?”
“Why? I mean, it’s not like I even did anything,” I said, thinking of my paltry notes. “All I did was watch her watch TV.”
Samantha shook her head, “I know, and to be honest with you, there isn’t anything wrong, legally, with you coming here under my direct supervision. So long as I have the final say on anything you write, remember. When I think about it, I’m not really sure why Ms. Atwater is so upset.” Her brow wrinkled as she stared at a spot somewhere in front of her field of vision, as if she were trying to figure it all out. “Or even if she has the right to be, for that matter . . . it’s not like she’s Karen’s legal guardian.”
She fell silent and a moment later shifted her gaze to me. “Don’t worry. This isn’t your problem; I’ll figure it out. When do you want to come next week?”
I thought about my schedule for half a second. “Monday?”
She nodded. “Okay, same time, same place.” She smiled, but I could tell she was still a little worried about the lawyer.
“Thanks again. I really appreciate this,” I said as I reached out to shake Samantha’s hand. I turned to Karen; basic social grace urged me to at least say good-bye to the someone I had been staring at for over an hour—but it felt weird since I doubted she’d even realized I was here in the first place. I decided to forget about it but when I started to turn around—Karen raised her hand.
I froze and watched. With her eyes still glued to the TV, the four fingers on her raised hand moved up and down, up and down, and then she lowered her hand.
This whole time, I didn’t think she was even aware I was in the room—but she just said “Good-bye” to me in sign language.
“Good-bye,” I said back.
But she didn’t move again.
Thank you for reading chapter ten 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!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Rebecca's Reading Now: 02/19/2017

Here are my current reads:

The Club Dumas
Remember that movie The Ninth Gate with Jonny Depp? That movie is based on this book--which so far, is wonderful!

From the publisher:
Lucas Corso is a book detective, a middle-aged mercenary hired to hunt down rare editions for wealthy and unscrupulous clients. When a well-known bibliophile is found dead, leaving behind part of the original manuscript of Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers, Corso is brought in to authenticate the fragment. He is soon drawn into a swirling plot involving devil worship, occult practices, and swashbuckling derring-do among a cast of characters bearing a suspicious resemblance to those of Dumas's masterpiece. Aided by a mysterious beauty named for a Conan Doyle heroine, Corso travels from Madrid to Toledo to Paris on the killer's trail in this twisty intellectual romp through the book world.

And my book club read:
The Goldfinch 
This one has been on my list for awhile, happy that it's finally at the top!
From the publisher:
It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don't know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

The Goldfinch combines vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and suspense, while plumbing with a philosopher's calm the deepest mysteries of love, identity, and art. It is an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.

And finally:
The Bone Witch  
I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher--release date is 3/7/17
From the publisher:
When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.

In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha — one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles…and make a powerful choice.

Memoirs of a Geisha meets The Name of the Wind in this brilliant new fantasy series by Rin Chupeco!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Glass of Wine and Five Colorado Authors--Tonight Bookbar Denver


If you were interested in having a glass of wine and seeing five Colorado authors in one location at the same time...

Tonight, at 7:00pm Bookbar 4280 Tennyson Street Denver, CO 80212

I've linked each book cover to its Amazon page and the author name to their websites if you'd like to learn more.

The Light of Paris

The Octopus Game

Affective Needs

Rust: The Longest War


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Affective Needs--Chapter Nine

**New chapters posted here every Wednesday**

Whatever my mother was able to say to Porter’s dad on Thursday must have had some effect, because Friday Porter walked into calc. Maybe because I had overheard the phone conversation, I had been expecting him to show up. Or maybe I only hoped he would. Either way, right before he walked into class, my entire nervous system jumped into overdrive. If I didn’t know better, I might have suggested that I could feel that Porter was close. Absurd, but still, when he walked past my desk, my hand trembled so hard I had to stop writing.
With my eyes glued to the paper in front of me, I could only hope that the outside of my body gave zero indication what was happening on the inside of it. My heart beat so hard against my chest, I swear I could feel my rib cage expand with each rapid pulse. Stop it, Ruth, right now. You have to stop this. But it was like my body didn’t care at all what my brain was ordering it to do. Deep breaths, three big ones. I closed my eyes and sat up straight in my seat.
My mind raced obsessively. Was Porter, right now, sitting behind me and watching my every move? Did he know what was happening? Could he somehow feel this, sense it? Was my body radiating some kind of electric current that shot out in every direction, announcing my seemingly rampant attraction to Porter? Was it obvious, not just to him, but to everyone in the room?
I put my pencil down and dug my fingernails deep into each of my palms. Control. I needed to regain control, because what I had to do next would require me to have a fully functioning body, capable of both coordinated physical movement and intelligible speech.
I needed to go talk to Porter before Mr. T came in and started class.
I opened my eyes and stood up, my legs watery and unreliable, but I turned around anyway, half expecting to see Porter staring back at me with a look of complete understanding. He knew what I felt—maybe that look would tell me that he felt it too.
When my eyes landed on Porter, I instantly understood that not only was I a complete idiot, but there was no way in hell my body was sending covert energy signals anywhere. Slumped in his seat, with his giant legs sprawled out far past the desk in front of him, Porter’s chin rested on his chest as it rose and fell in a steady rhythm.
He was fast asleep.
I dared to look around the room, to check and see if maybe anyone else had detected the emotion hurricane that had just been happening over my desk.
Every single person either had their head buried in their work or was copying the equations from the white board.
I sighed quietly and walked slowly over to Porter, trying to ignore the thundering sound of my racing heart rushing in my ears. But the closer I got to him, the more I wondered if this was a mistake. Maybe I should have waited till after class started? Mr. T would probably have given us time to collaborate on our projects. Now, I would just look like a fool standing here in front of him when Mr. T would probably be walking in the door at any moment.
Only a few steps from his desk, I stopped, Porter wasn’t waking up. His arms were folded over his chest that continued to rise and fall, rise and fall. His face looked soft, relaxed, and his messy hair hung over his—
His eye.
It was swollen, an ugly yellow-and-purple bruise circled his left eye and ran down the side of his cheek bone. His bottom lip had been split open. Had he been in a fight?
“Porter?” my voice caught in my throat and came out too soft to wake him up. “Porter,” I tried again, louder this time. His head jerked slightly and his good eye, his right eye, opened all the way while the left one peered through swollen, discolored skin.
He shifted his gaze to me and seemed to take a second to register where he was before he let out a deep sigh and tried to sit up a little more. “Yep. What’s up?”
“What’s up?” I snapped. I hadn’t anticipated my nervousness being replaced so quickly by annoyance. “How about our project, for one. And second, you just take off for almost an entire week with zero communication. . . . Look, I offered to do this on my own, you’re the one who—”
“Ruth.” Porter sat all the way up now, put his hands in the air like he was surrendering, and shook his head. “Things have changed.” He looked at me. “I was wrong. You are just going to have to do the project yourself.” Porter shook his head and slumped back in his chair as if he couldn’t wait to get back to sleep.
“What? Now you expect me to do all the work while you sit by and take credit—”
“No,” he sat up fast and looked around to see who was listening. In my anger, my voice had gotten loud and some of the others were taking furtive glances in our direction. He lowered his voice so they couldn’t hear. “I don’t expect to take credit for anything Ruth. It’s your project, alone.” He leaned back and let his shoulders fall. “My name won’t even be on it—happy?”
No, I wasn’t happy. Maybe last week I would have been happy with all of this. Last week I probably would have been thrilled to just work on the project all by myself and take credit for all my amazing hard work.
But last week, I had never watched Porter run his hands through his hair.
“Why?” I hissed.
“Why do you care? It’s what you wanted, and now you get it. Things have changed, that’s all.”
“So what . . . you’re just not going to do it?”
I didn’t know what to say to this. “But . . . you’ll fail the class.”
Porter actually smiled, and a short burst of laughter erupted out of him. “Probably.”
“Doesn’t that bother you?”
“It’s not like it would be the first time. Look Ruth, you don’t need to worry about this. Just do the project yourself; you’re more than capable. I’m not even going to be around long enough to worry about failing . . . again.”
“What does that—”
The door to the class opened and Mr. T walked in. “Ladies, gentlemen, good afternoon.” I turned just in time to see Mr. T’s gaze land on me standing over Porter’s desk. “If we could all take our seats,”—he nodded at me as he placed his coffee on his desk—“we will get this circus started.”

“Did you give him his jacket back?” Eli asked me at lunch.
“I didn’t have a chance to. When class was over he was out the door before I even had my stuff in my bag.” We were both ignoring the overcooked raviolis swimming in their watery tomato sauce in front of us while Porter inhaled his a few tables away.
Eli picked up an apple wedge and toyed with the idea of actually eating it. “Well, so go get it and give it back to him.” He shrugged. “Then you’re done, right? You get to do your project, your way. Which is always your preference anyway.”
I nodded absently. All afternoon I had been thinking about what Porter had said, about not being around long enough to worry about failing. I needed to know if he actually meant what I was worried he meant. And if so, should I go tell my mother?
“Well, go get it.” Eli shoved me gently.
Porter was getting up from his table and dumping his trash in the large cans near the entrance.
“Look,” Eli said. “He’s probably going to take off again, and who knows when he’ll be back . . . if he’ll be back.”
I was only half listening, but I shook my head, “I can’t . . . not today anyway.”
Eli stirred his soggy raviolis, made a face, and pushed the whole tray away, “Why not? Look, and there he goes again.”
Porter pushed the double doors and headed out into the courtyard. We both knew he wouldn’t be coming back.
I turned back to Eli as if I couldn’t care less what Porter Creed or his jacket where doing for the rest of the day. “I’m leaving early today. Appointment.” I stood up and grabbed my bag. “I’m visiting Caged Karen today up at Harmony House.”
“Right now? They’re letting you leave school to go up there?”
“Research trip.” I grinned.
“You never said . . . I would have—”
“Hey,” I shrugged and smirked at him. “I offered. You could have totally come with me as my assistant but, as I recall, you seemed to object to traveling in my . . . what did you call Vader, ‘bucket of bolts’?”
Eli made a face that told me to go screw myself. “I believe it was ‘death trap.’”
“Yes, that’s it! Death trap!” I leaned forward and kissed Eli on his forehead. “I’ll see you later, dear.”
“Hmm, if you survive the trip. Call me later.”
“Of course, my love.”
“And next time, if you’re missing school . . . I may be willing to risk it. Remember that!”
I waved at him from over my shoulder and headed, quickly, for the front doors of the school. If I hurried, I could probably time it just right, but I didn’t want Eli to know.
In the parking lot, I opened Vader’s door, tossed my bag onto the passenger seat next to me, and slid onto the driver’s seat. The worn and split leather was ice cold beneath me and a thin dusting of snow had settled onto the windshield. “Crap,” I said, and watched the steam from my breath float up in front of me. I really wished I had found a good way to get Porter’s jacket back to him—or at least had thought to bring it with me now.
He must be freezing.
Out of gear, I turned the ignition and pumped the gas a few times while Vader made choking noises before finally turning all the way over. I pushed the clutch, switched on the wipers to clear the windshield, shifted into first, and hoped I wasn’t too late to still catch sight of Porter.
He was halfway to the library before I saw him.
Leaning into the wind, in a short-sleeved black T-shirt, his hands shoved down into the pockets of his jeans while his shoulders rose up high against the cold. Light flakes of snow landed in his hair and on his shoulders.
A wave of guilt rolled over me.
I had half a thought to drive back to the school, get his jacket, and drive it back to the library. Didn’t he have anything else—a sweatshirt at least? When I got close to him, just outside the public library, I pulled over on the side of the street like I was parking but turned on my blinker so I could flip around to get his coat, but when he reached the steps to the library’s entrance, instead of turning left and rushing the steps two at a time like he had the day I was with him, he kept walking on past.
Where was he going? If I turned back now, I would have no idea where to find him anyway—jacket or no jacket. At the next corner, Porter took a left and disappeared behind the Walgreens.
I pulled my phone from my pocket and checked the time. I hadn’t lied to Eli; I really did have an appointment to observe Caged Karen up at Harmony House this afternoon. If I spent much more time stalking Porter—because let’s face it, this was legit, full-on stalking I was engaged in here—I would be late.
I pushed the clutch and shifted Vader into first gear—just a few more minutes.
Porter continued, looking very cold, up the street for several more blocks before turning right. I wove Vader in and out of parking spaces, careful to let Porter stay ahead of me but not so far ahead that I lost sight of him. After a few more blocks on the main street, Porter turned into a residential neighborhood—was this where he lived?
A minute after he turned, I inched Vader onto the same street. There were cars parked on the street outside the small, square, one-story brick houses evenly spaced up and down the street, but mine was the only car actually moving. All Porter would need to do is glance over his shoulder to see me—I didn’t think I could come up with a believable excuse to be driving two miles an hour on the exact street he was walking down in the middle of the school day.
I pulled over and planned to let Porter get really far out in front of me—but then he stopped walking.
The snow was falling faster. Landing in heavy wet flakes on my windshield, I had to leave the wipers on to clear away the white screen that kept obscuring my view of Porter. He wasn’t moving, just standing on the corner, arms folded over his chest against the cold. If one of these houses was his, why didn’t he go inside?
Between my breath and Vader’s struggling heater, the windows kept fogging up. Leaning forward in my seat, I rubbed some of the condensation off the windshield, peered through the hole I’d created, and waited for Porter to make a move.
He just stood there, in the cold, in the snow—he was probably getting wet.
What the hell was he doing?
Squinting, I leaned forward again. The corner he was standing on was not the edge of someone’s yard. Past Porter I could see the outline of a building much larger than the rest of the houses in this neighborhood. At the peak of the building’s entrance, an electric sign with red letters scrolled through a series of announcements:
No School February 16—President’s Day
PTA Meeting—Tonight 6PM
Spring Photos—February 12
I leaned back in my seat and considered what I was seeing. Porter, standing on a corner—no, loitering on a corner, outside an elementary school.
But why?
An uneasy dread crawled up my legs, through my stomach, and up my spine.
I thought of Porter’s giant mental health file sitting on my mother’s bed.
I thought of Porter spending part of his days in the affective needs classroom.
I thought of Porter kicking and bucking while two armed police officers restrained him in the middle of the school hallway.
I thought, honestly, about all the problems Porter Creed for sure had and all the ones he could possibly have. My hand tightened on the gear shift next to me.
Was Porter Creed a predator?
My palm was starting to sweat. I ran it down the leg of my jeans before reaching into my bag for my phone: 1:12. If Porter Creed was standing outside this school, in the snow, with no jacket, waiting for kids to get off school so he could try and groom them like the villain in an after-school special, he was going to have to stand there waiting for almost two more hours.
The front doors to the school building opened just below the electric sign reminding everyone about the Bake Sale—February 5 after school. Through the crack in the door, a little girl, maybe seven years old, with long brown hair came running out. A small blue backpack bounced with her every step. I watched her cross the parking lot, squeeze between two parked cars, and continue running across the snowy grass before she hit the sidewalk bordering the school’s edge.
Porter uncrossed his arms.
And the girl came running into them.
He lifted her up into a big hug before placing her feet back on the sidewalk. With his hand holding hers, they started walking up the street.
Straight for me.
My heart thumped, thick and heavy, urging my body to do something by sending a hot shot of adrenaline to the tips of my fingers and feet. In less than half a block, Porter would be walking right past my parked car—a casual glance to his right is all it would take for him to see me skulking, like the crazy stalker I clearly was, behind the wheel of my car.
“Crap,” I said. I pulled my feet up on my seat and turned so I could crawl into the back and hide like a lunatic. For my seventeenth birthday, I had asked my mom for darker tinting on Vader’s windows—and that’s exactly what she gave me. The next week is when my brakes went out driving Eli home from his church youth group, “Asking for the tinting was the wise choice I think,” Eli had snarked.
But right now, I was relieved to have it. I pulled my knees to my chest and watched while Porter and . . . his sister? . . . walked past me. The windows weren’t completely black, but it must have been enough, because Porter didn’t even peek in my direction.
Once they had passed, I let out a sigh and my shoulders dropped—Idiot, Ruth. I crawled back into my front seat, shaking my head at myself. Maybe I should totally let go of the whole neuroscientist thing and focus on private investigation—it was clearly such an untapped gift of mine.
Shifting into reverse, I slowly backed out of my hiding spot and continued up the street in the opposite direction Porter and the little girl had gone and thought about what I’d just seen.
He had a sister?
Who also left school two hours before she should? It seemed impossible that someone who couldn’t be older than first grade would be ditching without some kind of fire alarm going off. Why was she allowed to leave so early? And why was Porter the one to pick her up?
I didn’t know, but by the time I had reached the highway heading north to Harmony House, I had decided that I was absolutely going to find out.

 Thank you for reading chapter nine 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!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Book Review--The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova

Stunning in its reach, depth, and breadth, weaving history, travel, and a quest for Dracula into a tale that won't be rushed--an academic's literary delight.

Highly recommend for the serious and committed reader.

From the publisher:

To you, perceptive reader, I bequeath my history…

Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters addressed ominously to ‘My dear and unfortunate successor’. Her discovery plunges her into a world she never dreamed of – a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an evil hidden in the depths of history.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Affective Needs--Chapter Eight

**New chapters posted here every Wednesday**

Not until five o’clock on the Thursday I was supposed to be meeting him for dinner did my father finally get around to texting me with the reservation time.
See you at 7:00!
Seriously? How was it possible for a grown human being to be that inconsiderate? Mostly I was just pissed because I had been holding out a huge hope that he had forgotten he’d asked me to dinner altogether. No such luck.
For about ten minutes, I considered texting him back. So sorry. Since I NEVER heard from you, I made other plans.
But I soon realized it would only postpone the inevitable and give my mother that disappointed look she gets when she doesn’t like a “choice” I have made.
Grudgingly, and with my brow furrowed so deep it was actually bringing on a headache, I texted him back.

At 7:17, I was sitting in Tony’s, at a table for two—alone.
No surprise. He hadn’t even booked the reservation right; the hostess had us down as a party of three before I corrected her.
I reached, again, into the bread basket, took out another one of the long, hard, flavorless breadsticks and began at one end breaking it into half-inch segments, adding more crumbs to the growing pile on the small white plate in front of me.
Five minutes. I glanced at my phone sitting face up on the table next to my water glass and noted the time. He had five more minutes, and if he wasn’t here by then, I was out.
I sighed, popped the last piece of breadstick into my mouth, and glanced at the door.
There he was, in one of his stupid patterned shirts with the weird pointy collars that only looked even halfway decent on guys that were both fifteen years younger and pounds lighter than my father. His round, protruding belly made the shirt hang lower in the back than the front. He thought they were cool because they were made by a designer. He thought he was cool because he knew who the designer was and could afford them—once they moved onto the clearance rack.
I hoped that sometime during our meal, he spilled marinara sauce all down the front of it.
The hostess grabbed some menus and began heading my way. When my father saw me, he ducked his head, shielded his eyes and waved with his other hand like I was a castaway on a far off island.
Crap. I picked up the last breadstick and broke it in half. I really, really, really wished I could just go home.
“Ruth!” he said too loud when he reached the table, but then a confused expression came over his face and he turned to the hostess. “There’s a mistake. We need a table for three.” At this, he reached behind him and put his arm around a woman I had assumed was just trying to make her way through the restaurant behind him.
While the hostess explained that she was sorry, that I had told her it was only two, and she would move us right away, I stared at my father and the woman he had his arm around.
The woman who had a belly just as big as his but who had clearly acquired it in a very different way than he had.
“Well,” he smiled while the hostess did her best to encourage me to stand. “I was hoping this would be a little more smooth.” He chuckled. “But . . . Ruth, this is Derry. Derry, meet my daughter, Ruth.”
My mouth felt like it was filled with the entire plate of crumbs piled in front of me. I completely ignored Derry’s outstretched hand and stared long and hard at her enormous belly before lasering my focus back on my dad.
“Is it yours?” I blurted.
Derry retracted her hand and placed it protectively over her stomach just as my father’s expression lost all of its forced good cheer. He pulled Derry a little closer and shook his head at me. “Please, Ruth.”
Please, Ruth? Please, Ruth! What the hell was he thinking?
Completely pissed, I grabbed my phone and shoved the plate of crumbs so hard it clattered against my water glass. Without a word, I stood up and motioned to the hostess to lead the way. My tone and behavior were clearly making her nervous because she started to look around for some help as soon as she saw that there was a “situation” unraveling at table six. But when she saw that I was coming, peaceably, to the larger table, a table that sat more than two, a table that could accommodate three people and an unborn child, she ducked her head and led us away while she clutched the laminated menus to her chest.
My brain throbbed against my skull. My father had a girlfriend, and his girlfriend was pregnant. Every fiber of my body felt like flipping over all the tables in the restaurant. This was going to be the most painful meal I had ever endured.

When I got home, I made sure to slam the garage door behind me. I stood there in the dark, waiting for my mother to come and see what all the noise was about.
But she didn’t.
She knew, I just knew she knew. She knew my dad had knocked up some hippie, earth-hugging deadbeat, and my own mother hadn’t bothered to warn me. Not even a Hey, I think your dad might have something to tell you tonight. NOTHING.
“MOM!” I shouted from the bottom of the stairs.
“You’re home,” she called. I could tell from the direction of her voice that she was in her room.
“Yes, I’m home.” I thundered up the stairs and headed straight for her door, ready to start a tirade of epic proportions, but when I pushed her door open, I stopped.
She was standing in the middle of her room, her hands turned backward on her hips in that way that made her look so much older than she really was, already wearing her I’m-sorry expression.
Just looking at her, already prepared for my anger, took some of the wind out of my storm.
She shook her head and whispered, “It wasn’t my place to tell you. Even though I desperately wanted to, your father wanted to tell you himself . . . in his own way.”
“Pretty crappy way. He ambushes me and waits until his love child’s about ready to burst . . . that’s his way?!”
My mom stared at me, not saying whatever was really on her mind, which I highly suspected was exactly what I had just said out loud.
“Why are you so fair to him? He doesn’t deserve it! He’s never deserved it and you’re always, always letting him slide.”
“Because I love you.” She closed her eyes and let out a deep sigh. “If I’m fair to him, it’s because I love you, Ruth.”
I shook my head. It was so hard trying to fight with a psychologist. Her words completely deflated my anger, and my slumped shoulders gave me up as defeated. She was a master, literally, at emotional disarmament.
If my therapist had tried this shit on me, I never would have let her get away with it.
But my mom? It always worked because she always meant it.
Then she came in for the finish. With her eyes on mine, she moved closer until she pulled me, half-grudging, into her arms. I only held stiff for a few seconds before, with limp arms, I hugged her back. It was the scent of my mom that I was mostly powerless against. When she hugged me, the security of being eight replaced the insanity of being eighteen.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered into my ear.
I huffed, “He’s the one who should be sorry.”
She pulled me away and kissed my forehead. “You’d sooner see Santa Claus in the flesh then get an apology out of your father.” She twisted her mouth into an evil smirk.
This was the closest thing to an insult I had ever heard her fling at my dad, and I loved it. I knew she couldn’t possibly be that perfect. “You are human!” I exclaimed.
“Yeah, well,”—she turned back to her bed—“that’s all you’re going to get out of me. Divorce is hard enough without succumbing to my every petty whim.”
“So there’s more?” I clutched my chest in mock horror.
She climbed back up into the middle of her giant king-size bed and sat in the middle of a wide spread of manila files and papers. Before I got home, she had been working.
In her comfy pants and ratty college sweatshirt, my mother would look like a young woman sitting there cross-legged, with her thick brown hair piled on top of her head in a messy bun—if you didn’t look at the bags and dark circles under her eyes. Every one of the files spread around her, some of them practically exploding with paper, was an actual kid. Documentation of their life, their problems, the plans in place for them.
I moved closer to the bed and watched my mother’s face as she turned pages and read, then turned some more. Every few seconds she would type on her district-issued dinosaur-size laptop. My mother spent her whole life helping people. Every hard case that came across her path—even me.
But never herself.
I leaned forward until my elbows rested on the bed. “Did you eat?” I asked, even though I knew she absolutely had not.
She raised her eyes and looked at me with a confused expression, as if I had asked a strange question or pulled her from a deep dream. “Dinner?”
“Yes, Mom.” I fingered the edge of the file near my hands. “Dinner, food, sustenance? Everyone does it now.” I flipped the folder’s cover open and closed, open and closed. “Food is pretty popular these days.”
She gave me her look.
I smiled.
She sighed. “No.” She reached over and closed the file I was messing with and held her hand on it so I wouldn’t start annoying her again. “I haven’t eaten yet.”
“I brought home leftovers. After the big reveal I didn’t have much of an appetite.”
This got her attention. “From Tony’s?”
I nodded. My mother was a fiend for the lasagna there—exactly what I had ordered.
Her shoulders actually wilted with joy. “Would you heat some up for me?”
“Sure.” I glanced again at all the work. “But don’t you want to take a break?”
She sighed again. “I would love to. Unfortunately I think if I did, I’d never come back.” She rubbed her hands over her eyes, pressing the bags and purple circles in a way that made me wish it were already summer break and my mother could actually get some sleep. “I still have two reports to write before tomorrow, and an entire case file to catch up on for a new student.”
I stood up, fairly certain I knew exactly who she was talking about. My eyes scanned the files around her more closely now. “Okay,” I said trying to sound as casual as before. My eyes finally found it, the file right in front of me, the file I had been fiddling with. “I’ll bring it up here.” On the small tab, his name was scrawled in blurry blue ink.
Porter Creed
My heart thundered so hard inside my chest, you might have thought he was actually in the room with us.
I stared at the file—it was huge. Three times as thick as any of the others.
“Can you grab me a coffee too?” she asked, not bothering to look away from her report.
Normally I would get on her case about drinking caffeine this late, but I nodded instead. “Okay,” I said, and kept staring at Porter’s file. What on earth could be in there? Why was it so huge?
I looked at my mother, completely engrossed in work, then back to Porter’s file. There was no way, not in a million years, not under any circumstances she would let me read that file.
And would I even want to?
I stepped away. “I’ll be right back.”
She nodded, but I could tell she hardly registered that I was still in the room.
In the kitchen, I pulled a plate from the cupboard and opened the small cardboard box I’d brought back from Tony’s.
I hadn’t seen Porter since that day in the library. His jacket was still hanging in my locker at school. Every day I had waited in calculus for him to show, scanned the cafeteria for him at lunch, but he never came.
I grabbed a fork from the drawer and shoveled the heavy brick of lasagna onto the plate.
He had been absent for three days straight.
I opened the microwave and put the plate inside, remembering at the last second to cover the food with a paper towel so my mother didn’t have an aneurism the next time she used the microwave and there was sauce and cheese exploded all over the inside. I keyed in the time and hit Start.
Was Porter sick?
While the lasagna rotated around and around, I took a mug from the cupboard and put it under the coffee machine, inserted the single-serve coffee pod, and hit Start.
While I waited, I leaned back against the island in the center of the kitchen. Porter’s file was upstairs. In my house.
So what? You can’t read it.
The microwave beeped so I moved to take the lasagna out.
No, I absolutely couldn’t read his file. That was wrong, on so many levels. Possibly even illegal. Not that anyone would know, of course. But if my mother found out?
I placed the plate with the now-steaming lasagna on the counter and waited for the coffee to finish brewing.
And really, did I want to know what was in that file anyway? Was that file really who Porter was? Could a pile of paper, a series of reports, reports made by other people, really explain Porter Creed to me?
Granted, it was a huge pile of paper.
The smell of fresh-brewed coffee filled the kitchen as the last of the boiling-hot liquid dribbled into my mother’s cup. I ripped a piece of paper towel off the roll for a napkin and headed back up the stairs to my mother, and Porter’s file.
A file I had almost 100 percent concluded I would not be reading. Besides, did any of those reports explain why when I watched him working the math problem my insides turned upside down? Maybe what I needed was not so much an explanation on Porter Creed, but an explanation about myself.
With the boiling black coffee in one hand and the plate of steaming, gooey lasagna in the other, I used the toe of my shoe to push the door open. When it swung inward, I could see my mother still sitting cross-legged in the middle of the bed, but now she had her cell phone pressed between her shoulder and ear while she typed on the computer in front of her.
I took a deep breath and sighed. The food would probably go cold before she got around to eating it. Carefully, I placed the coffee on her bedside table and the plate of food on the bed with all her files. Maybe if it was close, the aroma of spicy Italian sausage, melting mozzarella, and tomato sauce would remind her to eat.
She looked at the food, then up at me. Thank you, she mouthed before turning her eyes back to the screen in front of her. “Yes, three days and we’re concer . . . I see,” she said into the phone. She reached over, began flipping through the open file next to her, and pulled a sheet from somewhere near the middle.
I glanced down at where Porter’s file had been, but it was gone. The one she was using, the open file with all the pages—his name was on that file.
“Mr. Creed, I assure you . . . well, will he be at school Monday?”
She was on the phone with Porter’s father. I should leave, turn around, walk away—instead, I stood transfixed while my mother’s forehead wrinkled and her mouth set into that flat line that showed how angry she really was even if her words didn’t.
“Hello?” she asked and pulled the phone from her ear for a second before checking again. “Hello? Mr. Creed?” She sucked air through her nose and let out a giant sigh while she put the phone down. “He hung up on me,” she shook her head. When she turned her head to me, she smiled with her mouth but I could tell from her eyes that she was completely irritated with Porter’s dad. “Thank you,” she picked up the plate but didn’t take the fork. She just held the plate in front of her like she was trying to figure out what to do next.
“Everything okay?” I asked.
She nodded, but her mind was somewhere else. I considered asking her a question, directly, about Porter. Did she know he was in my class? Yes, he is, also . . . he’s my partner for our year end calculus project. I would skip over the whole ditching school, taking a pass off her desk, and forging her name so I didn’t have to sit in detention the next day thing, but she might like to know that I knew Porter Creed.
“He’s in my class,” I blurted.
My mother turned her head to face me. “I’m sorry?”
“Porter Creed,” I pointed at the open file lying next to her. “He’s in my Advanced Calculus class.”
Her brow furrowed again and she narrowed her eyes. “Really?” Her hand moved and closed Porter’s file. I could tell she was thinking about what she had said in front of me, how much confidential information had I heard.
“He seems nice.” I shrugged.
“You know him?”
“Well there’s only six of us in the whole class; it’s kind of hard for us to not know each other.”
She nodded at this, but I could tell her brain was still trying to wrap around several things at once. She picked up her fork, paused, then put it and the plate back down on the bed. She pursed her lips the way she did when she was preparing to say something but still working out exactly how she should say it.
I jumped in before she had the chance to shut the topic down. “He’s really smart.” I shrugged again, hoping she would think that Porter was nothing more than a curiosity to me. “Super smart . . . you don’t really expect kids like Porter to be in special education.”
My mother stared at me. She looked like she was both processing what I had said and trying to be really careful about how she responded.
She took a breath. “It’s difficult.” Her words came out as a whisper. “Doing what I do, at the same school you go to . . .” She shook her head. “There were a lot of people in the district who said I shouldn’t.”
“Why?” I asked.
“And maybe they were right. I thought I wouldn’t have any problems, at least not any I couldn’t handle by being professional, and open with you. In your four years at the school, you haven’t had any friends who have needed to see me.”
Because I don’t have any friends besides Eli, I thought to remind her—but didn’t.
“And you’ve turned out to be a huge help in the severe needs room,” she added, but then went silent again.
I could guess what she would say next.
“Is Porter Creed your friend?”
I did my best to look incredulous—friend, was she kidding? “I hardly know him.”
My mother watched me. It felt like an examination, a lie-detection review. She pulled Porter’s file onto her lap and glanced at her screen. “I don’t like to tell kids who to be friends with . . . especially when one of those kids could really use some friends.”
I realized she could have just as easily been talking about me even though I knew she meant Porter.
She returned her eyes to mine. “But my gut tells me I need to address this as a mother, not the school psych. I’m asking you to keep your distance from Porter.”
“There’s only six—”
“I’m not saying you have to ignore him completely. But don’t . . . get close to him either, okay? I have a feeling this one is going to get a lot more difficult before it gets any better—if it gets any better. And I can’t risk dealing with the ethical entanglements of a dual relationship.”
Meaning, she couldn’t ethically be the psychologist for someone who was also my friend. “I told you, I hardly even know him.”
She nodded. “Okay, that’s good then. Just make sure it stays that way—okay?”
“Fine.” I raised my eyebrows like I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was in the first place. “No problem,” I added for emphasis, and turned to leave as if this conversation meant nothing to me. “Make sure you eat that.”
“I will, and thank you.”
I nodded as I left her room. It wasn’t until I was across the hall, sitting at my desk with my piles of homework spread all around me that I stopped and considered the huge lie I’d just told.

I didn’t want to stay away from Porter Creed. 

Thank you for reading chapter eight 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!