Doctor Jasper Embry tapped his pen against his clipboard as he meandered down the hall of the clinic, half excited and half dreading what he was about to do. In his twenty years of practicing psychology, he had never participated in an experiment like this, and it frayed his nerves to think of everything that could go wrong. What ifs had been plaguing him since it was decided that he would “lead the charge,” as his superiors put it, and the past twenty-four hours had been the worst of it.
To put off entering the room and starting the “project,” as he called it—the term “experiment” made it sound like they weren’t actual people, just something to study, and he couldn’t abide by it—Dr. Embry stopped by the restroom. He splashed his face with cold water, shocking his system to help him focus on something besides the tension that sang through him. It’s just like the other groups, he thought, but he knew it wasn’t.
After dabbing his face dry with a paper towel, he took a good, long look at himself in the mirror. His brown eyes—“Just like your mother’s!” his family would say fondly—were set back into his face behind a pair of thin-rimmed glasses, and he gazed at them for a moment, trying to see his mother’s face, but he couldn’t picture it; it was hazy and it grew more so with every passing year. He missed her laugh, her joy that she brought with her wherever she went. She was the reason he’d gone into psychology; his mother had always wanted to help those who were misunderstood, unlike her husband, who insisted on perfection and normality in everything he did.
The rest of his features he had inherited from his father, from his rounded nose to his high forehead to the set of his thin lips. Even his hair had been like his father’s, black as the ink he used to write his notes with, though now it was more salt-and-pepper.
His gaze travelled down his face, taking in the coffee-with-cream tone of his skin, noting with a pang that though the color was still smooth, the skin itself was starting to show his age. He quickly looked down at himself, pushing back thoughts of his fading youth, and focused on his clothing. As per usual, he was dressed casually. He found it eased his patients to see him as just another person, and perhaps even a friend, and the more formal his clothes, the less at ease they were. Shaking his head, he dried his hands on his purple, long-sleeved shirt, a habit that people laughed at or scolded him for. He straightened his shirt over his khaki pants, knowing that he was procrastinating but feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of going out to get started.
When he could linger no longer, he blew out a breath, grabbed the clipboard he had set on the side of the sink, and strode out, resolving to face whatever was going to happen, be it good or bad. He was terrified it would be bad. There were so many variables to consider—age differences, various diagnoses, some of which were on the opposite end as others, and so much more. Unlike the other groups, where everybody had something in common, the participants in this group seemed to have nothing in common.
Pausing outside the door, Dr. Embry took a deep, steadying breath then, walked in. He scanned the room to see if anybody was there yet. The furniture was neat and untouched, and included a large couch and many cushioned chairs, as well as a table off to the side with two more chairs beside it.
The doctor wondered if there would be anybody there yet. There were still twenty minutes until their scheduled time, but it was possible that one or more of his patients had arrived. Reggie, the doorman, knew almost everybody who came into the clinic, including his patients, and it wasn’t too far-fetched that he would unlock the door for one of them.
The first glance told him there was nobody there, but when he looked closer, he noticed Zacharias Adams huddled in a corner, half hidden behind a bookshelf. He was watching the doctor with black eyes, deep and kind despite the hardship and pain their owner had gone through. Dr. Embry smiled and nodded at his patient, then began to write on his clipboard as he considered the dark fellow.
The large young man would have appeared menacing to anybody who wasn’t acquainted with him. He could have played football, had he been interested in it. His body was thick, but with muscle, not fat, which filled out his over-six-foot frame. His skin was dark, which was another reason he put off those who met him. People just didn’t like the broad, black man that towered over them. Racism was certainly alive and well.
“They just feel threatened by you,” Zacharias’s best friend had said once. “Screw them. You’re more than their opinions.”
That particular friend, Joshua Wallace, was a writer, and he enjoyed vivid descriptions and minute details. One day, Zacharias had timidly asked to be described, needing to hear something good about himself, and the wordsmith in him had exploded with joy. The three pages, part physical description and part character analysis, had pleased the large man so much that he’d brought them in to show Dr. Embry. The whole thing was full of the brotherly love that the two of them shared, despite the fact that Joshua was several years younger than Zacharias. At twenty-two, Joshua protected his friend mentally and emotionally, just as much as Zacharias, twenty-six, protected him physically.
The words that Joshua had used in his project came to the doctor’s mind as he looked at Zacharias. Skin as dark as hickory wood, which indicated how sturdy he was. Short hair, springy and black as the sticky pitch that Joshua claimed held the two friends together as they went through life. Black eyes, inky pools of emotion, from sparkling joy to bright anger. Broad shoulders that were perfect to cry on in moments of desperation they sometimes pretended never happened. Joshua’s description fit Zacharias exactly, even to the doctor, who didn’t know everything firsthand.
Dr. Embry grinned at the dark-skinned man, who smiled back, though it was clear he wasn’t sure why. Before the psychologist turned back to his writing, a tall, thin man strode into the room, his gaze sharp and slightly hostile. He didn’t grace Zacharias with a glance; instead, he skipped over him. It didn’t help that the large man shrank back behind the bookcase, making himself as small and unnoticeable as possible. The doctor didn’t say anything about it. Instead, he turned to smile at the man.
“Dr. Embry,” the new arrival greeted, his slight British accent clipped and neat around the edges. His clean-shaven face, pale, flawless skin, and short, chestnut hair made Christopher handsome to the point that women would swoon over and dream about him. Unfortunately for them, Christopher had no interest whatsoever in a relationship, be it romantic or platonic. That was part of the reason he had been sent to counseling in the first place, and though he had fought it, he had agreed to stick with Dr. Embry. He was one of the doctor’s first patients.
Looking around again, Christopher added, “I hope I’m not too early.”
Dr. Embry shook his head. “Not at all, Christopher. Settle wherever you like. There are a few books for you to look over. You mentioned you would like to read one or two of them. They’re on that table.” He gestured with the pen.
With long, casual strides, Christopher made his way over to the books, perusing his options, then picked up one that required a PhD in psychology to understand. He settled in a plush, green chair and flipped through the pages. His brown eyes took in the information; they never lost that hostility, though. Dr. Embry watched for a moment, then turned back to his clipboard.
Meanwhile, Zacharias watched Christopher. The accent matched the Brit well, what with his clean, unwrinkled clothes and almost clinical way of walking and talking. He looked every inch what Zacharias thought a British man should look like.
As Christopher read his selection, Zacharias’s thoughts went back and recalled him looking over the same book a few minutes earlier. The words had scrunched together, stringing letters around in unpredictable patterns, all the while in neat little rows that scolded him, “You should be able to read! You’re old enough to read, stupid!” The pain and shame of dyslexia burned through him, and he had slammed the book closed, glaring at it before calming himself with a deep breath. He put the book where he’d found it and retreated to his corner, reluctant to meet anybody he didn’t know.
“Study the situation first, Zach. See if you can figure out where you stand before going forward and saying hi,” Joshua had told him during one of their combined sessions with Dr. Embry. Zacharias intended to follow that advice, especially since his friend wasn’t there yet. Dr. Embry studied him, and his face warmed; his emotions were often easy to read on his face, and he never had perfected the art of hardening his expression, like his father had. Just the thought of that man, and Zacharias shuddered and grimaced. Glancing over at the psychologist, Zacharias received a nod of acknowledgement before the doctor greeted the girl who had just walked into the room.
She was a teenager, about seventeen, her body unnaturally slender and bony, which made her five-and-a-half-foot height seem even smaller. Her fiery hair had a natural curl, and it was locked in a ponytail to keep it out of her face. Her features were gaunt, and even the makeup she’d used to hide her freckles couldn’t make her look healthier. When she scanned the room, her shocking green eyes skipped right over Zacharias, as Christopher’s had; again, he shrank back behind the bookcase, and Dr. Embry couldn’t help thinking, At least it gives him a chance to see who he’s going to meet.
“Flora, how are you?” The psychologist smiled at her.
The girl shrugged, and the doctor scanned her too-thin frame. Had she lost any more weight? Her expression was guarded as he wrote his observations and thoughts out on his clipboard. Pursing her full lips, she studied Christopher, who was almost as old as Dr. Embry but uninterested in her arrival. Her small, upturned nose wrinkled in distaste as she looked at the doctor.
When nothing else was said and he gestured for her to have a seat, she examined the room. All the seats faced inward to encourage conversation. She shook her head, dissatisfied with the seating options, then stomped over to the far side of the room, which had little furniture. She took some martial arts stances, her katas flowing together, one after the other.
Dr. Embry wondered if she’d eaten, how much she’d eaten, and how much she’d exercised that day. He wasn’t sure whether to stop her, so he went back to his notes, debating his options. While the doctor argued with himself inside his head, Zacharias watched the girl’s movements, fascinated by her confidence and the ferocity in her eyes. With more footsteps in the hall, he returned his gaze to the door, hoping for Joshua.
Instead of his friend, a wiry man with wild, black hair walked in. Zacharias wilted in disappointment. The man was twitchy and his skin, though the color of caramel, looked paler than it should have been. His silver eyes regarded the room suspiciously, and he muttered to himself as his gaze darted around, as if he were looking for something. Dr. Embry touched him, his face contorted, and a short, surprised noise escaped him.
“Shh, easy, Phin. Easy. It’s only me,” Dr. Embry said. “How are you feeling today?”
Phineas spoke in a low, frantic voice, leaning close, as if afraid somebody might overhear. “Ting says he’s going to kill me, Zee Zee thinks I should kill you, Marti’s mediating, and you look like you’re going to hurt me.” He wrung his hands together and narrowed his eyes.
“You know you’re hallucinating?” The doctor kept his voice low and soothing. “You know I won’t hurt you? That nobody here will hurt you?”
The man shrugged his shoulders, worrying his bottom lip. “Somewhere in my mind. It’s hard to tell what’s real, but I’m trying to be calm.”
Dr. Embry nodded. “I can tell, and you’re doing well. Why don’t you sit down and listen to your music? Do your breathing exercises. We’re waiting for a few more people, then we’ll get to introductions.”
While the two of them talked, two more teenagers walked in, a male and a female. The pudgy, almond-eyed girl yelped as she almost tripped over her own feet, catching herself on the doorframe, while her equally pudgy twin laughed. They both had black hair, hers to her shoulders, his around his ears. Their skin was golden yellow. They both hovered around five feet tall, and Zacharias towered over them in an almost comical way. Still, they looked friendly enough, and the doctor greeted them as he sent Phineas over to a chair.
“Lyle! Lilly!” Dr. Embry exclaimed. “Good to see that you’ve made it.”
“Mother said to tell you that we can’t run late today,” Lilly said. She refused to meet Dr. Embry’s eyes, but he wasn’t offended; most people with an ASD diagnosis had trouble looking others in the eye, especially while they talked.
The girl flapped her hands to relieve her discomfort. “She’s taking us to the horse ranch tomorrow and we have to get enough sleep. I get to see Shadow and Starlight and Frenchie again! Frenchie was so little the last time I saw her, but Mr. Marvin says she’s grown a lot! I’ll get to feed her and ride her around the yard! She’s a blue roan with a pretty coat, and I’m bringing a carrot just for her!”
“Sounds like fun.” Dr. Embry nodded, and then turned to her brother. “And you, Lyle? Learn anything new?”
Lyle kept his eyes on the floor, just as his sister had. “I saw an old Pontiac Firebird today.”
The doctor nodded, his attention focused on the door even as he tried to seem interested. He was too anxious about making sure his patients felt welcome in this new group environment to focus on the rambling of the boy. The doctor’s gaze fell upon the door just as a young man appeared. The arrival was of average height and overweight, but his honeyed skin had a healthy glow to it. Cheeks pink, the man was reluctant to interrupt the conversation, and he ducked his head when he was looked at. He slunk by the doctor and the twins, hiding his face behind a book when Christopher glanced up at him. The British man ignored him again.
Dr. Embry, wanting to greet the man, interrupted the eager description of another old car that Lyle had seen two days prior. He diverted Lyle’s attention, then sent the twins to the table. After moving the books to one side, they pulled out paper and pencils, then lost themselves in their own worlds. Now that he was free, the doctor went over and patted the quiet man on the shoulders, leaning down to whisper to him for a moment.
“Thanks for coming, Alex. You okay?”
The green eyes that met his gaze were shy, and all he got in return was a nervous smile. Somebody else strode in, distracting Dr. Embry. The man was older than most of the others, besides Christopher and the doctor himself. He covered his lean frame with a shirt as black as his short hair, and he wore a pair of khakis. Dark rings surrounded his startling blue eyes, which were magnified by the stylish glasses he wore.
“Devon!” Dr. Embry exclaimed. “I’m so glad you made it. Did you work last night?”
“Got about four hours of sleep between the end of my shift and when I needed to leave.” The man yawned. “I’m here, though.”
“Excellent! Go lie on the couch, rest. We’re only waiting for one more person.”
Five minutes later, as the session was supposed to begin, the doctor discussed the contents of Christopher’s book with its reader. On occasion, Dr. Embry glanced over at Zacharias. Nobody had seen him, or if they had, they hadn’t acknowledged him. The psychologist considered whether to coax the large man out to socialize when more footsteps rang out, signaling the last patient’s arrival.
Zacharias announced himself loudly to the small, skinny man that walked in. Everything from his long hair to his glowing skin to his soulful eyes looked as if it was dipped in honey, just so it would have the color of gold. The rest of the patients looked over at the corner, surprised to see Zacharias.
“Josh! You made it here!” The dark man dashed out of his hiding spot to embrace his best friend.
Joshua smiled as Zacharias released him, his golden-brown eyes glittering as he patted the taller man’s arm. “Yeah, Zach, I made it. Finished my shift at the restaurant then, ran home to change. You make it all right? Take the bus?”
Zacharias nodded as he struggled to convey his jumbled thoughts.
“Seventy-two was late because of the tire, but three-seventeen came and took us off to Poppin’s. God cried like I said He would, but I’m dry now and… and…”
Zacharias faltered when he realized that he had the room’s attention. Eight pairs of eyes judged every word that came out of his mouth. His dark face darkened further in embarrassment, and he looked away, anger etching into his features as his defenses rose.
Joshua pursed his lips as he looked over the room, his expression morphing into a glare before he spoke. “So, your bus was late because of a flat tire, so another picked you up?”
“Yeah.” Zacharias glanced at his friend. Dr. Embry observed the group as they shifted and listened to Joshua. The doctor reached for his clipboard.
“The bus dropped you off at Popinjay Park, where you got rained on, but not too badly?”
“I’m dry now. Short walk here and the red man made me sign something. I couldn’t… you know.” Zacharias gestured in front of him in a vague manner, but Joshua understood.
“Red man?” Alexander set aside the book he’d pretended to read.
“That would be the secretary, wouldn’t it?” Lyle asked.
“Reggie? He is wearing red today,” Lilly agreed, then she described what she had catalogued. “Red hat with a stiff brim, long red coat to keep out the wind with two sets of buttons, one column fake. Dark slacks with a stain on the left knee, probably from coffee, and dress shoes buffed to perfection. He opened the door for us.”
“He was in a rush this morning, and he forgot to send in that pair of pants for dry cleaning, so he made do.” Dr. Embry took notes, barely glancing up.
“He made me sign something, too.” Phineas focused on a spot in the middle of the room. His expression was half crazed, and his fingers drummed on his thigh. “I couldn’t concentrate over the voices, so I didn’t read it.”
“It was a statement saying that you consent to this study.” Christopher raked his gaze over all of them with distaste clear in his dark brown eyes. “It was a release of information to the group stating that you don’t mind sharing personal information, and it listed the days that we’re to come in and interact, the days we’re to have our brains scanned, and the days where we come in one on one and talk about our group experiences.”
“I still don’t see why I have to have my brain scanned,” Flora muttered.
Dr. Embry nodded. “The scans will show us images of your brain, Flora,” he said. “We’ll see how it’s different from the typical human brain.”
“But I have a normal brain,” she growled, crossing her arms.
“Then why are you here?” Christopher asked, his expression cold.
“Stop!” the doctor exclaimed, sensing the danger. He gestured toward the ring of seats. “Introductions first. Sit, and we’ll talk. This is our first session, so let’s keep it simple.”
Everyone sat. Zacharias scooted his chair closer to Joshua, his expression defensive. He didn’t like all these new people. Dr. Embry took note: the group had stared at him funny when he spoke, and they had given Joshua an even stranger look when his friend translated his speech. Naturally, Zacharias would be defensive of his best friend.
The psychologist finished writing and tapped his pen against his clipboard. “I’m Dr. Embry. I’m in charge of this study, and I will make careful notes about all your interactions. There are cameras in here so that I can look back on everything, and the microphones could pick up a fly sneezing.”
“Flies don’t sneeze, they vomit,” Lyle interrupted.
“That was a metaphor, Lyle,” the doctor replied patiently. “I meant that the microphones can pick up almost any noise, so if you mutter, as Christopher does, I’ll know what you say.”
Placated for the moment, Lyle settled back and nodded. “Oh. Okay.”
“Now, for the purposes of the project, I have a PhD in psychology, and I have studied mental illness and neurological disorders for the past twenty years. The powers that be have selected me to conduct these sessions because of the vast array of diagnoses and patients under my belt. I counsel those with various mental illnesses, from schizophrenia to Asperger’s to bulimia.”
The doctor paused and glanced around at his patients. Satisfied they were listening, he said, “I’ve brought you all here for a little, shall we say, experiment that my superiors are conducting. Those in charge want to know if group sessions could be beneficial for you. Those with similar backgrounds and diagnoses have succeeded with such sessions, and they are now curious about groups with different diagnoses and what sort of help they have to offer to each other. Do you understand?”
Everybody nodded, so Dr. Embry continued. “Now, for introductions. Please list your name and diagnosis, a special skill or two, something that interests you, and, let’s say, your favorite song. Pay close attention. Some questions are welcome, but we won’t delve deep yet. Who will go first?”
Nobody moved as everyone threw suspicious glances around. The wild-haired man stood after a moment, twitching and wringing his hands.
“I’m Phineas, but everybody calls me Phin.” His eyes stared at an empty spot; he looked ready to bolt. “I’m schizophrenic and—”
“Do you hear things that aren’t said?” Lilly cut him off midsentence. “Do you see things that aren’t there?”
Dr. Embry flinched, watching Phineas in case he needed help.
“Are you seeing them now?”
“I-I think so…”
“What do they look like?”
“Lilly!” Dr. Embry gasped as Phineas swallowed and shrank in on himself. “You will wait for your turn, and you will not ask those kinds of questions right now.”
The girl flinched, scolded. Lyle patted her hand, and she jerked away, hugging herself and rocking. Dr. Embry grimaced; he hadn’t meant to send her into a self-stimulating session. Everything was so tense that he’d forgotten himself.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you, Lilly, but it isn’t your turn,” the doctor explained. “You must wait your turn.”
“Yes, sir,” she muttered, still stimming.
“Good. Now, you were saying, Phin?”
“I don’t know. I forgot.”
His gray eyes lit up. “Oh! I’m good at drawing!” He dove into his backpack and pulled out a sketchpad. After flipping through a few pages, he held up a picture of a black dog with red eyes. “See? This Sam. Sometimes he stares at me when I’m in bed, but only when I’m having an episode.”
Lilly looked up and reached out to take hold of the pad, but Phineas drew back. “Um, I don’t let people touch my book.”
“I’ll let you see mine.” She pulled out a piece of paper and held it out.
There were a few seconds of hesitation before Phineas handed it over and took her drawing. It was a horse, and it was well done.
“This is pretty.” He handed it back as he reached out to take his drawing pad.
“Some of these are scary.” Her excitement was subdued as she turned the pages. “You see them?”
“Yes…” His fingers twitched, and he looked distressed, so Dr. Embry spoke.
“Give Phineas his book back, Lilly. He wants it back.”
Lilly’s gaze jumped to Phineas, and she gave him the sketchpad. He checked it for damage, then stashed it back in his bag.
“What else am I supposed to say?” he asked.
“What interests you, and your favorite song.” Christopher crossed his arms and looked at the ceiling, his irritation almost palpable.
“I like musicals all right,” Phineas replied. “My favorite song is from a musical. It’s called ‘Quiet.’ It makes me feel like I’m not so different.”
“I like that song. What’s your favorite part?” Zacharias queried.
“It’s all right, Phineas. We’re all safe,” Dr. Embry encouraged.
“O-okay, I guess.” He thought for a moment. After stuttering out a line about something seeming right in a way, Phineas went quiet and closed his eyes. He shook his head, hands twitching toward his ears as his face reddened. “I can’t remember right now. The voices are screaming at me.”
Zacharias shifted, then continued where Phineas had left off, singing in a clear, perfect voice about answers coming unbidden and stories fully written, about how everybody shouts and how loud the noises in his head were. Then his voice became soft as he sang about quiet and how he couldn’t hear the voices anymore, even though their mouths moved.
He stopped singing at a gesture from his doctor, who nodded at Phineas.
“Is that it, Phineas?”
“Yes.” Phineas glanced at the large man. “I can’t believe you know the song.”
Dr. Embry smiled. “Zacharias knows lots of songs. Why don’t you go next, Zach?”
The dark-skinned man shook his head, his eyes darting away from everybody’s faces. Joshua patted his arm and gave an encouraging smile, so he stood.
“Zach Adams.” He paused, looking desperate.
“Your diagnosis?” Joshua asked.
“Mozart’s Concerto No. 5.”
“And you’re done,” Joshua said, and Zacharias dropped back onto the chair, glowering at nothing. He was so obviously embarrassed, and the rest of the group stared at him, which he loathed.
“All right, Josh, what about you?” Dr. Embry asked, rapping his pen on the clipboard.
Joshua stood up. “I am Joshua Wallace, and I have bipolar disorder. I am an avid reader, a skilled writer, and, at the moment, I’m interested in completing my newest novel. My favorite song changes with my mood, but right now it is ‘Bird with a Broken Wing’ by Owl City.”
He sat beside Zacharias, who smiled reverently at him. Dr. Embry knew that he wished he was more like Joshua when it came to articulating his thoughts. The younger man gave him that smile that told him he was accepted, and he relaxed a little.
“Who’s next?” Dr. Embry queried, flipping to a new page to take even more notes.
Lilly and Lyle glanced at each other then got to their feet. They were agitated by the eyes, and Dr. Embry noticed their stimming behaviors: Lilly was flapping her hands as she spoke, and Lyle was pinching and rubbing his earlobe. No doubt the others saw it, too, but they said nothing about it.
The girl spoke first. “My name is Lilly Thompson, and this is Lyle, my twin.”
“We have Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a form of high-functioning autism,” Lyle continued. “I am interested in science and math, and my sister likes art.”
“We do schoolwork, and we are good at what we are interested in,” the girl added. “My favorite song is ‘All About That Bass.’”
“Why?” Flora asked, her face blank.
“I like the song,” she replied.
“It’s inappropriate,” Christopher argued. “It’s all about rear ends.”
“I like the song,” she insisted, getting more agitated.
“And what is your favorite song, Lyle?” Dr. Embry asked over Christopher’s muttered curse, trying to keep the room calm.
“‘Long Black Train.’ It has trains in it.”
“And that’s a reason to like a song?” Christopher demanded.
“Enough!” Dr. Embry barked, silencing everybody. “Now, Christopher, it’s your turn.”
Christopher stood up, glaring at the corner. “I am Christopher Tyler Jennings, and if you call me Chris, I will personally kill you.”
“Christopher,” the doctor warned.
After rolling his eyes, the man continued. “I enjoy psychology, and I have a degree in it. I love my pets, and they are better than you humans in every way. My favorite song is none of your concern.”
“Christopher, please, socialize,” Dr. Embry begged, frustrated by his long-time patient.
With that, the man took his seat and continued to glare at nothing.
“What are you diagnosed with?” Devon asked, adjusting his glasses.
“I’m a schizoid.”
“You have schizophrenia, too?” Phineas asked, nearly standing in his excitement.
“No! I am not crazy!” Christopher asserted, eyes blazing. “I don’t see and hear things that aren’t there. I have a personality disorder.”
“That explains a lot,” Joshua muttered, and Christopher turned his steely gaze on him.
“What does that mean?” he demanded. “You don’t like my attitude? Well, you can—”
“I’m not crazy,” Phineas interrupted, tears in his eyes.
Dr. Embry stood and tried to mediate the chaos. The twins covered their ears and squeezed their eyes shut, rocking back and forth. The green-eyed, slightly overweight man pulled out what looked to be a bottle of water and opened it. Joshua gagged.
“Is that vodka?” he demanded, and the room froze. The man blushed, hiding the bottle behind his back as Dr. Embry frowned at him.
“Give it here, Alex.”
“Just one drink?”
“No. Give it up.”
The doctor took the bottle away and went to pour it down the sink. Alexander watched with a pained expression on his face. When Dr. Embry threw away the bottle and walked back from the kitchenette, the alcoholic stood.
“I’m Alexander Evans, and I have an alcohol dependence. I’m not good at anything, I don’t like anything, and I don’t have a favorite song.”
He sat down and hugged himself as everybody stared at him.
“I’m sorry you feel like you need to drink, Alexander,” Devon said. “Why is that?”
“I’m shy when I’m not drinking.”
“Being shy isn’t the worst thing in the world. I think anybody would prefer a shy person to a drunk.”
Alexander glanced over, and a small smile appeared. “What are you in for?”
“Depression. I’m Dr. Devon Brown, but you can call me Dev. I’ve got a PhD in medical practices with an emphasis in emergency room care. I’m interested in helping people feel better, and my favorite song is Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’ simply because it represents reality in a way that most songs don’t.”
Dr. Embry nodded. “Thank you, Devon. Flora? Your turn.”
The girl stood up. “I am Flora Rose. I don’t belong here.”
“Flora,” the doctor huffed.
“Fine, I’m bulimic.”
“What’s that?” Alexander asked.
“She overeats, then purges,” Christopher answered, his tone dismissive.
“Only recently!” Flora growled. “I usually exercise. I’ve got several black belts.”
“Favorite song?” Zacharias asked in a low voice.
“‘Reflection’ from Mulan.”
Zacharias began humming it, fingers twitching as he played an invisible instrument. Joshua patted his arm, smiling again. Zacharias nodded at him, but continued to “play” the song.
“We’ll have to get some instruments in here for you, Zach,” Dr. Embry said thoughtfully. “Now, what do we want to talk about next?”