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Author:Brie Spangler

“I’ll be okay, Mom.”

“All right then.” She sighs and then smiles. “Have to get back to work. I’ll pick you up as soon as you’re done. I’ll be waiting in the parking lot. Unless you want me to be here in the bay?”

“Mom, seriously, it’s fine. I’ll see you in ninety minutes.”

“I’m proud of you, you know,” she says, eyes filling with enough sap to fuel a greeting-card factory.

“Bye.” I leave her in the parking lot and push myself into the giant box of glass and shiny surfaces. I find Room 12, no problem, but all I want to know as I wheel through the door is how to seem untroubled enough to never have to come here again.

The room where we’re expected to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” is plain. Bleached linoleum floors in a gray-on-gray checkerboard pattern with beige walls to box us in. Opaque shower-curtain-type blinds on the reliably rectangular windows. Fire-retardant furniture in a sloppy circle. It’s the kind of room where you take one look and don’t bother breathing because what’s the point? Even the plants listing in their wicker baskets look like they’re begging to be composted.

A girl is already sitting pouty-style on one of the couches. She glares at me before going back to tearing fresh holes in her shredded fishnets. Black hair, black makeup, black clothes, black combat boots, black nails, and radiating a sullen aura as strong as the stench of her old cigarette smoke. I could chew the ennui.

Of course this girl is at Therapy for Self-Harmers 101. If I’m being honest, I’m guessing her parents only send her here because they got tired of their credit cards getting maxed out at the local hardware store for all those chains around her neck.

The girl in all black says nothing. I pull my baseball hat down, park in an empty space, and drum my fingers on the armrest.

“You’re in Dr. Burns’s spot,” the girl says.

“Oh.” I shuffle my wheelchair far over to the left and nudge aside a plywood armchair exploding with foam cushions. I check to see if this is a more appropriate spot, but she never stops picking at her nails, so I drop my bag on the floor and claim it.

In time more girls file in. Based on Little Miss Sunshine over there on the couch, I worry this is going to be a bottomless pit where they all [fill in the blank] just to see if they can feel. But they seem more normal than my welcome wagon. With any luck, these girls are like me and were sent here by doctors and mothers who mean well. We’re all fine and we can all go home and forget about the whole thing. Except their tugging at and fidgeting with their long sleeves is too obvious.

It doesn’t make any sense why they would hurt themselves, they’re all so pretty. And everyone—except for the Child of the Night—is friendly, nodding hello and saying hi. You’d never guess why they were here. They could be any girls from any school anywhere. T-shirts and jeans. Normal girls. The circle grows with lots of meandering small talk from everyone but me. I am the only guy here. This is not my scene. But whatever. I’m only here for a day, no point in butting in.

Instead I observe, bio-lab style.

This one girl, oh my god, when she enters the room I have to look down because there’s a part of me I keep locked up. Not the amiable furball joking in the halls at school, not that guy. The real beast. One look at this girl and the key is turned. The cage is open. I want to grab her hips and hold on for a long ride. Wavy blond hair rippling with every step she takes. What’s the word…“diaphanous”? Yeah, she’s like that too. She flows. Like a goddess on a throne, and I’d kill all the lions in the Colosseum if it meant she’d be underneath me.

I want to get her on my lap and roll with her right on out the door, and we’d catch the bus to my house because my mom is still at work, and we’d…oh yeah. In my version, she’d be excited to go with me. I’d finally have my first kiss. A real one, not that stupid one with Tara Jardin. This girl, this goddess, she’d want me—and oh, the things I would do to her.

Except once the goddess sits in her chair, her body screams she’s off-limits. She is not here. A part doesn’t fit right, and it shudders to the surface as she holds her knees and lightly rocks and rocks to try and knock it back into place.

I want to pull my skeleton out through my nostrils so I can punch myself in the face.

There is no hope. I need to learn how to slowly turn to coal from the inside out so I stop falling ass over teakettle for anyone who claims the pronouns “she” and “her.”

I can’t fall for another girl again. I can’t. I look at the Raven Queen and that does the trick. She’s like a living cold shower. The real beast goes back to his cage and I lock him in. I remind myself of what I’d rather be. A gentle man.

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