Singin' In The Rain

Chapter 3

Tina requests permission to skip morning duty one day so that she can monitor Artie’s daily routine. He’s an early riser (according to him), but he only comes out of his room at ten in the morning to the canteen where he has his breakfast (he’s not picky, which is great). Tina sits in the corner sipping a cup of coffee and pretends to be more invested in her files, though she suspects he knows she’s there because he’s angled his chair away from her.

When he’s done, he goes back in the direction of the dorms. In one of the therapy rooms along the way, a thirty-two year-old man with low-functioning autism, Howard Bamboo, is switching channels obsessively. His handler is a haggard-looking man, a part-timer hired by the Center, and he’s sitting in a corner playing with his iPhone. It’s a scenario that replays every single day and every single hour until Howard’s caretaker comes to pick him up in the afternoon, according to Santana. Tina has seen it for herself a few times. Artie stops to survey the scene a little, then wheels past.

Tina, however, notices that Howard’s thumbs are getting red from pressing the remote buttons so frequently. The handler remains obliviously lost in his smartphone. Taking a quick glance at Artie, who is moving away, she takes a deep breath and knocks on the door lightly. Howard doesn’t flinch, but the handler looks up, whiskers twitching and irritation lacing his features.

“What do you want?” he calls out, not moving an inch himself.

“Could you step outside for a while?” Tina asks, politely.

Whiskers grunts, but complies anyway. Tina notes in the corner of her eye that Artie has halted.

“What do you want?” Whiskers repeats, gruffly. “I’ve got stuff to do.”

“If by stuff, you mean Angry Birds,” says Tina, pointing to the lit phone screen in his hands, which he quickly shoves back into his pocket, “I can help make sure you won’t be so bogged down by it in future.”

“Screw you,” snarled Whiskers. “What’s your problem? What business do you have bein’ all high-and-mighty here?”

Tina drops all pretense and glares at him. “Howard’s extremely good with organizing things. He’s been trained by Ken to help sort Finn’s repaired items into packages, he’s pretty good at helping us staff organize note piles and files, but lately, he’s just been sitting around surfing the T.V.! And you’re just sitting there letting him do it. Don’t you think you’re the one with a problem?”

Whiskers snorts, and his long whiskers flutter. “Excuse me? He likes it. Give him a break or somethin’, lady, not everybody has to be workaholics like you crazy people. I’m helpin’ him feel better.”

Tina stares at him incredulously. “You’re corrupting him! He’s supposed to be working on being independent and all, and you’re just letting him –stagnate!”

“Well, look who’s all prim and proper,” says Whiskers, cockily. “Well, isn’t the skills part mostly you psychos’ job anyway? I’m just here to make sure he doesn’t go all Godzilla on you.”

“That’s offensive!” Tina retorts. “Handlers are supposed to support our recommendations by making sure that the individuals actually work on their skills for most of the time and to help develop it! It’s like a tutor with a kid; the parental and familial support is so important – it takes two hands to clap!”

“Well before you go all Amazonian woman on me, maybe you should do some self-reflection,” says Whiskers, coldly. “I know you’re the new psycho, and you be takin’ care of that four-eyed son there,” he jerks his head in Artie’s direction, “but you ain’t no better. He’s pretty much stagnant himself, staring at the T.V. and yakking his head off!”

His words are so horrible and true and stinging – Tina’s ears are ringing with them and she can feel the heat in her face. But before she can say anything, suddenly Artie is next to her and looking up at Whiskers.

“That’s horrible of you. Tina was trying to help Howard. And I am not stagnant. I can think for myself,” he says. His voice is calm and collected, but his eyes seem to suggest otherwise.

“Artie, let’s go,” whispers Tina, now a little upset that he’s involved, but Artie doesn’t look at her. The man glares at him and snorts.

“So your fella can talk now, can he? Congratulations, lady. Some great psycho you are.”

“She’s a therapist, who deals with behavioral psychology,” says Artie, firmly. “You, on the other hand, sound like a psycho.”

Tina has barely registered what he said when he wheels off, and Whiskers gapes after him. She throws Whiskers a final glare, then jogs up to Artie. When they reach the entrance of the dorms, Tina rounds his chair and stops him.

“Thank you,” she says, awkwardly. Then she can’t help grinning slightly. She won’t tell him how she thought his answer was brilliant, because he really shouldn’t be saying such things. But she’s proud of him all the same.

Artie doesn’t look at her; he’s busy fiddling with his fingers. “It wasn’t right. You were trying to help Howard.”

“Let’s hope he understands,” says Tina, wryly.

“I could say it again,” Artie offers, and he sounds so serious that Tina has to giggle. What he says next wipes the grin off her face though.

“I didn’t like how he called me stagnant. I’m not a pot of water left out in the open.”

“Artie, you’re not –”

Tina gets frustrated as he wheels off once again before she can continue. People really need to let her finish her sentences.

During therapy session, Artie’s mind seems somewhere else. Tina is trying to get him to listen to her make statements for a conversation about opinions, but his eyes keep wandering and it’s clear he’s zoning out. Annoyed, she places the clipboard in front of him and directs his eyes back with a pen.

“I don’t have to do this,” she says, testily. “You’re just not trying.”

Artie flashes her an annoyed look. “I am.”

Tina folds her arms. “Okay, you know what, I really don’t care that you have autism. You’re behaving like a seven-year-old kid who wants to be belligerent.” She pauses. “Yes, belligerent, I’m sure you know that word because I’m told you have a vast vocabulary. I’m not going to treat you like a child and you shouldn’t want to be.” She taps the pen loudly on the table. “A young man respects people around him and listens to them.”

Artie scowls deeply as he takes in all that Tina has said. She has purposely made her diction extra crisp so that it sinks in perfectly. Then finally, he mutters, “Okay.”

“Good,” says Tina, as she pushes the clipboard nearer to him. “Let’s look at this together then.”

Artie stares hard at the clipboard. Then he flips a few pages.

“Hey, I only need you to focus on the first page,” protests Tina, the annoyance in her rising again.

He stops flipping at a page and keeps staring.


“It’s a hundred and forty-seven dollars, eighty cents.”


He turns the clipboard to face her. He has flipped to a page where she had been calculating her expenditure for the month and had been doing so halfway. Then he jabs a finger at the bottom of the sum. “A hundred and forty-seven dollars, eighty cents.”

Tina stares at him. Then she writes the number down slowly, flips to a new page and scribbles a long list of numbers before showing it to Artie. Five seconds later, he says,

“Three hundred and eighty-two.”

Tina takes at least eight times longer to make sure she’s got the right sum. Then she looks up at Artie in wonder. “Artie, you’re a math genius.”

He stares at her blankly. “I am?”

The previous plan of practicing conversations is shelved immediately as Tina gives him various sums to calculate. She finds out that he knows addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and manages decimals, but doesn’t comprehend percentages, fractions and anything higher level. But he’s a quick learner, and over the week, Tina teaches him those things which he picks up as fast as he solves questions. When they progress to using bills from the finance department to practice, Tina manages to teach him profit-and-loss as well, and he is extremely attentive when she speaks. She cannot help smiling when she sees how earnest he looks absorbing everything she is saying.

Finally. Finally she has found something else he can be good in and interested in.

When he is working on the sums, he seems a lot more calm and collected; for a moment, he looks like any other hardworking young man trying to adding up his home bills. Tina wishes he can be like that all the time, quiet and diligent.

But there is a slight problem: he won’t take up math on his own accord. Most days, she’ll still find him in front of the television screen watching West Side Story and making loud, obnoxious (yes, they are) comments; when she asks him to do calculations before she comes, he refuses. Eventually, he shoves the papers aside on the table and folds his arms, saying,

“That’s enough. I’m tired.”

Still, his progress is enough for Tina to wax lyrical about it in the office, at lunch, after work –

“...been absolutely amazing. The way he just scans through the numbers and comes out with a sum at the end; it’s even better than Excel, I swear, and he –”

“Do those oversized, dated specs he wears have some kinda voodoo spell that’s charmin’ your skirt off you, lady?” Santana shoots her a deadpan look as she swivels around from her computer.

What?” Tina gasps.

“Because he’s like the bee that’s buzzin’ around your booty, that’s what it is.”

“The correct term is a bonnet, and no, that’s not what’s happening!” Tina is affronted. “Fine, if you’re so bored about Artie, tell me how Brittany’s doing.”

“The usual,” says Santana, lazily.

Then she sits up straight in her chair. “No, wait. Did I tell you that she’s actually started drawing people? I mean, all this while she’s been focused on unicorns and birds – storks, to be specific – and cats, but she’s actually being drawing girls of late. And they’re really good... hold on.”

Santana bends under her desk to rummage through some files. As she rummages, she continues to gush, “And her dancing! Oh my God, Zach was telling me how she’s picked up this new dance style and is getting the postures perfectly. I mean, have you ever seen – oh wait, yeah! Look! Here it is!”

She triumphantly holds open a file with Brittany’s drawing of a girl with black hair and brown skin, with a bright red smile.

Tina snorts. “Pot calling the kettle black.”

And she bursts out laughing as Santana’s face grows red.

Tina gives Artie a break with regards to his mathematical skills, so he’s glued to the television screen once again. She does notice he’s saying less things, however. Maybe he does get tired of repeating himself.

When she bumps into Mike outside the staff room, he is staring at her amusedly.

“Good day?” he asks, with a chuckle.

“Any day that doesn’t involve a tantrum is always good, don’t you think?” Tina smiles brightly.

“So...” Mike stuffs his hands into his pockets. “I was wondering if... you were free for dinner?”

It has happened a few times since their first outing to Breadstix. Tina can’t help feeling heat in her cheeks as she flashes Mike an agreeable smile, and his genuinely delighted expression adds to the happiness of the day. When Blaine hints at it with a ‘So, Mike’s a nice dude eh? Real friendly’ and Santana just drops the bomb by going, ‘Okay, so which base is he at now? Spill the beans!’ (and Tina splutters), she can’t help feeling a fluttery feeling in her tummy.

Maybe this is the moment. The moment where past all the silly, flirting high school and college romances, she is ready for her first proper relationship.

Just maybe.

I’ll wait and see.

Blaine accompanies Tina to her session with Artie the next day, because he wants to see for himself Artie’s capabilities for the proposed musical. Artie gets a bit edgy seeing Blaine, and starts to wheel back and forth to express his displeasure at another person being in the room. Eventually, he does calm down when Blaine and Tina start to do a soft harmonized duet of “Tonight”.

“Have I done something wrong?” asks Artie, warily, once they finish singing.

Blaine smiles as he takes a seat alongside Tina. “No. In fact, you’re doing something right. Tina tells me you’ve had a lot of ideas for West Side Story. We thought you might like to help contribute some ideas for another musical.”

“Don’t change the video,” says Artie, automatically.

“A live one, Artie,” says Tina, brightly. “One where you can have the central perspective and direct the action.”

When Artie stares at her blankly, she realizes she’s not being direct enough. “We want you to direct a live musical.”

Artie’s eyes widen. “You want me to direct a musical?”

Blaine nods. “For the script, I can handle it along with Nessie, who teaches the kids English. I’m getting the girl who’s really good at music composition – her name’s Zoe – to come back and help out. Then Emma was telling me there’s another guy at our center who’s very good at poetry – Matt – and he can help with lyrics. As for acting, we can hold open auditions for anybody with special needs, not just people with autism, in Lima. Or even if people from Cincinnati, Cleveland and Westerville want to come down, I think we’ll be happy to have them.”

That seems a lot for Artie to digest. Tina watches in fascination as he takes it all in.

“An original musical?” he says, clutching at the remote control.

“Yes,” says Blaine.

“Not West Side Story?” Artie frowns a little.

“To be a good director, you have to show people you can do something different,” says Tina, intently.

When Artie looks thoughtful instead of offended, Tina moves closer and takes his hand to say, “But you must promise me, Artie, that you will work hard at your lessons for manners and conversation. If you want to be a good director, it’s very important to say appropriate things so that people understand what you want and won’t get upset with you.”

Artie sticks out his lower lip as his gaze diverts. Tina draws him back by squeezing his hand again. “Artie, are you okay?”

“I’m not a good director.” he asks, quietly.

Tina and Blaine exchange surprised looks.

“Why do you say that?” asks Tina.

“Every time I talk about what is good and what is bad, it’s a bad thing,” says Artie. “You all always try to make me do something else. I have to go for lessons on manners. Nobody likes when I’m directing.”

Tina looks at Blaine, who nods and takes his leave. Then she looks back at Artie.

“That’s why you have to practice,” says Tina, kindly. “You give excellent comments – you really have a good eye for detail and style, it’s a hallmark of a great director. It’s not a degrading thing to learn about manners. You just need to know when it is appropriate to say something and how to present it appropriately too.”

“That’s so much work.” He switches to grumbling.

“Now,” Tina’s voice turns a little stern, “I know you don’t like doing things that you are uncomfortable with. You’re always running away from it.”

Artie avoids looking at her once again.

“The musical may not sound as interesting as West Side Story to you. But that will be your job – to make it interesting and exciting. To make it what you think is the best musical ever. Whatever you don’t like, you will have to communicate with the person in charge and give proper feedback. Blaine and I will help you through this.”

Tina tries to say everything slowly and with emphasis, so that he doesn’t get too lost in the sea of words. She waits patiently until his attention is back on her, before she says softly,

“Tell me you can do it, Artie. Tell me you will work hard to be a good director.”

Artie’s gaze on her is intense. Then he finally murmurs, “I will.”

Tina clasps his hand and beams brightly. Then he pulls away to wheel himself to the table, sitting up ramrod straight.

“So where’s the crew?” he says, a little stiffly. “We should get started.”

He does pay a lot more attention and even asks questions when Tina is guiding him through conversation. The truth is, it really is hard work trying to help him memorize social cues. Tina was shocked to realize how much effort the individual with autism had to put in when she was undertaking her special educator course; they were spending more time trying to analyze people’s body languages, expressions and words to the T so that they could respond appropriately, and it seemed so stressful. Worse still, some of them had to contend with all kinds of disturbances in a noisy setting, like a bar or in school, and it would just be like alarm bells literally ringing in their heads.

So she really appreciates that Artie is trying hard. That he is repeating after her with his eyebrows furrowed and jaw set. Once again, he does get bored, but Tina whips out math sheets to divert his attention for a bit. To her surprise, he ignores the long list of numbers and goes straight to the problem sums where he has to read and analyze. He churns out a profit-and-loss table for her by hand, and Tina secretly thinks Artie can outdo Microsoft Excel.

At the end of the week, she gets a brainwave just by staring at the hand-drawn table.

“So,” she says, as she lays out a template for profit-and-loss in front of Artie. “Profits are benefits, and losses are problems. Businesses want to maximize profits, so they will try to keep the good work up, but –”

“ – they will try to minimize losses by fixing the problems,” finishes Artie.

Tina grins. “Yes, that’s absolutely right.”

She swears he’s smirking and wonders if he picked that up from her.

“It’s like musical theatre, isn’t it?” she asks.

“What?” Artie stares at her like she’s crazy. She’s been getting that stare pretty often; she’s used to it already.

“Well, in a musical, you want to make sure that the good things are repeated, and the bad ones are improved on. You’re always talking about the good and bad things in West Side Story, right?”

“Like how Tony needs to work his baritone more and Anita needs to lift her head higher?”

“Exactly. Except those are mostly losses, so you need to find something good too. There must be something good.” Tina pauses. “Like how you like the emotion of the performances. But be specific about it. What is it that it’s good, and what is it that’s bad. Then when you’re done...”

She flips the template to reveal another table. “You’re going to write down what you think can be done for the losses. What can be improved.”

“That’s a lot of writing,” says Artie, sullenly.

“Yes, Artie, but let’s just try it,” says Tina. “I think you will like it.”

“I won’t,” he says, automatically, but Tina ignores him and wheels him to the front of the T.V. screen. He reaches for the remote, but then Tina stops him.

“What?” he demands.

“Wait...” Tina feels another idea growing in her. “You’ve watched the show so many times. You can write down the good and bad points of it without having to watch it again.”

“But I want to,” Artie says, firmly.

“You know it,” repeats Tina. “Show me that you know West Side Story.”

This conversation goes back-and-forth for a while before Artie finally relents with a huff and begins to write. As predicted, he is overloading the ‘losses’ side of the table far too quickly. Tina points to the ‘profit’ column as often as possible, and occasionally, he pushes the pen against his lip and then begins to write in that column.

When he moves on to Act Two, Tina no longer has to prompt him. He’s thinking hard, with his eyebrows furrowed and lips pursed up again. He really looks like a director hard at work trying to organize his thoughts, thinks Tina, and she can’t help smiling.

Finally, when he’s done, Tina asks him to present the table to her. To her utmost amazement, he starts to demonstrate the little gestures and details that she’s taught him in conversational skills. He leans forward a little, like how she had suggested to him to convey a connection to his listening audience. Then he launches into a very detailed, step-by-step rendering of the good points, followed by the bad ones that he has picked out from watching West Side Story. He moves on swiftly to the next page on points for improvement. Tina had written the words ‘I FEEL THAT IT’S GOOD IF...’ and ‘I THINK THAT IT MIGHT BE BETTER IF...’

“I had written that there was not enough tension between Officer Krupke and the boys. There needed to be a push-and-pull feel, so you should...,” he frowns, steals a quick glance at Tina, then continues, “I think that it might be better if... it could have been accentuated with a wider camera lens to capture the literal back-and-forth motion, so you can see the effects of how –”

Tina feels like she’s sitting in a business presentation on the pros and cons of a product – and an interesting pitch to boot. This completely floors her, because Artie has always been so sharp with his words that he often comes across as condescending. But when he’s looking at what he has written down, his tone of voice has transformed considerably. He sounds just as confident, but more mellow and firm rather than rude and arrogant. To hear him speak like that is so overwhelming that she has to clutch at the edge of her seat.

At the end of his presentation, she gets out of her chair and claps frantically.

Artie blinks rapidly, then adjusts his spectacles. “It was good?”

“Artie,” says Tina, breathlessly. “That was – amazing. As an actress or a stage manager, or just any crew member, I would listen to all your points of improvement and try to work from there. You make it sound so convincing because you truly believe it can do good.”

His eyes crinkle at the edges.

She pauses. “How do you feel? Reading out your words? Does it feel different from just speaking?”

Artie blinks again, then he looks back at the table. “It makes sense. And I want you to see that it makes sense.”

“And when you speak without reading?” Tina proceeds to ask him about a particular scene in West Side Story without referring to the table, and his sharp retort about the movement in that scene cuts through once again.

“How do you feel about that?” asks Tina.

Artie frowns. “It makes sense. But you know it makes sense, right?”

Tina realizes then, that Artie can empathize more with people having to read for themselves than when they watch for themselves. When he sees words, he feels like he has to explain it for other people. But when they can see what he sees in terms of visual movement and objects, he doesn’t see why they don’t get it, and hence he gets frustrated. This significant finding makes her so relieved because any corner of Artie’s brain that is illuminated to her is always a small victory.

“You’re happy for me,” says Artie, suddenly.

Tina immediately sits up straight. “Eh? Oh. Yes, of course I am!”


“Artie, I’m your mentor and therapist. The fact that you’re doing something different from watching West Side Story all day and that you can be so confident and eloquent while presenting your views... you’ve improved so much, do you know that?” Tina feels something wet prick at her eyes as she speaks and she has to blink a few times. Good Lord, I need to stop turning on the waterworks so easily.

“I... I think so.”

“You have.”

The bell rings, and Artie pulls away to slot the tape back into its position and rolls away. He doesn’t say goodbye because he seems to be deep in thought. Tina follows him to his dorm, but he doesn’t look back and shuts himself in before she can say anything.

That night, she dreams of Artie rolling out to thunderous applause from the cast and crew on stage, and the audience below. He’s dressed in his spiffiest suit and bowtie, and he arranges his spectacles on his nose properly before he smiles and dips his head to both sides. She’s standing in the front row, clapping her hands raw, and he meets her gaze. Then his smile widens into a grin.

“Amazing! That was such a beautiful musical, I loved it so, so much!” A woman next to her whispers with great fondness, holding up her hanky for effect.

And then Tina is reaching for her own, but wakes up instead with sticky trails down her cheeks.

Tina’s car breaks down on the way to work one day, so she spends a good part of the day calling the tow truck, sending it for repairs and having to run errands from her mom who thinks it’s a convenient moment for her to do so. She calls the center and gets Emma to help her take over her sessions for the day until she’s done. By the time she drives back to work, it’s almost four o’clock.

Emma opens the door of Room No. 3 and her startled expression surprises Tina.

“Is everything okay?” Tina asks.

“It’s...” Emma gestures to Artie before the T.V. screen. “I mean, it just seems really odd to me. He did say ‘Good afternoon’ and all, but... I’ve really never seen him like – like this.”

By this, she means he’s sitting in front of the T.V. as usual, except for the fact that he is holding a clipboard with Tina’s profit-and-loss table template on it, scribbling on it as he looks up and down from the screen, and being absolutely quiet.

Tina raises her eyebrows, and Emma matches her expression.

“Oh,” says Tina, as nonchalantly as possible, “he’s just... hard at work.”

Emma stares at her for a moment, then fishes out a pamphlet from her bag. It says, WHEN SOMEONE IS A RUN OFF THE MILL, and a person flailing on a treadmill below.

“Really?” Tina eyes Emma skeptically.

“It’s for people who display very different attitudes and behaviors from usual,” says Emma, seriously. “Just don’t show him that picture, I think it’s sensitive for his legs.”

Tina stares at her, then puts on a weak smile. “Thanks! I’ll take it from here then.”

When Emma leaves, Tina grins to herself, then walks over to observe Artie’s template. He has scribbled so much (and pretty viciously too, but thankfully it’s just paper and not people’s egos) that he has used up at least five pieces of templates.

Tina edges towards the T.V. so that his attention is diverted to her. He scowls, blinks, then adjusts his expression to a more neutral one. “Good afternoon.”

“Good afternoon, Artie. That’s a lot that you’ve written down.”

“I never noticed that the props were a little ill-positioned at some parts. Today it just takes attention away from the characters.”

“That’s a really good point,” says Tina, and Artie almost smiles. “I have an idea, Artie. You’re getting really good at grading the show with that template. I want to see if you can help me grade another show with it.”

Artie, of course, rejects that proposition immediately. Tina doesn’t push the matter till the next day, when she brings it up again.

Artie fixes her an annoyed glare. “I told you –”

“You only want to watch West Side Story,” says Tina, as she fishes out the Singin’ In The Rain tape. “But a good director can comment on any show, whether he likes it or not.”

Artie doesn’t quite know how to respond, so Tina continues,

“You’re not watching it. You’re grading it.”

It’s a little bit sly playing around with words like this, but somehow Artie seems to accept it a little better. After all, Rachel played with the fact that he enjoys different perspectives in order to get him to watch another show, so she figured this might work too. And it does, because when she removes theWest Side Story tape and inserts the Singin’ In The Rain one in, he only makes a few grumbles.

From the minute the musical starts, his pencil is poised. He begins scribbling the moment the camera moves, and Tina can’t help being amused.

The thing is, he does watch while grading, of course, and he’s watching just as intently as he did with West Side Story. Tina is supposed to fill in her own report while watching him, but her own hand is frozen as she notes his gaze, the way he twists his mouth to the side as he writes, the way he holds his pencil like he’s holding a paintbrush...

Then Gene Kelly sends the woman into the house as he walks onto the street in the rain with his umbrella. Artie doesn’t really react much until the song begins, and his eyes widen.

“I’m singin’ in the rain... just singin’ in the rain... what a glorious feeling, I’m happy again...”

Artie blinks rapidly, then turns his gaze to Tina. “The umbrella,” he says, then stops short. He looks back at the screen and then drops his pencil. “The umbrella!”

Tina just shoots him a knowing look and pretends to pay more attention to her report. When the show is over, she gets him to present his table once again. Halfway through, he rubs his eyes and yawns, but continues speaking nonetheless. At the end of it, Tina applauds again and tells him how he can improve on his manner of speech. But secretly, she knows he has improved tremendously and frankly, she couldn’t be happier.

Or at least, she thought she couldn’t be, until he puts back the tape and is on his way out, humming “Singin’ In The Rain” as he does.

“Artie?” whispers Tina.

He stops humming and wheeling immediately, spins around and looks at her. “Yes?”

“You’re singing ‘Singin’ In The Rain’,” says Tina, unable to hide the awe in her voice. “You’re singing something else other than a West Side Story song.”

Artie arches his eyebrows. “I am? No.”

“Yes, you were!”

“No, I wasn’t,” he says, but he isn’t annoyed, just mildly surprised.

And perhaps he really doesn’t think he’s singing it. A kid back in her old workplace didn’t really talk and only expressed himself through humming. He would hum everything – from commercial jingles to pop tunes to classical music – even when his thumb got caught in the edge of a cupboard and he couldn’t scream so all he did was to hum scales. Sometimes they know nothing about what they are doing because it comes so spontaneously, but quite often, it betrays what they really think and feel deep inside.

Tina can’t help but lean forward to hug Artie.

“I’m so glad,” she whispers. “You’re doing so well, Artie. Keep it up.”

She squeezes his back, then attempts to pull back when she feels his hands touch her back – first tentatively, then she feels all ten appendages splayed out.

“This is nice,” he says.

Tina pulls back, and he immediately places his hands back on the wheels. But he is still looking at her, a little curiously. “The person who hugged me before you was my mother.”

Tina blinks.

“She smells very nice. Like... like a big bouquet of flowers,” says Artie, although Tina is pretty sure that analogy was used by somebody else before and he picked it up. “You do too, but it’s a different smell. I like it anyway.” Then he looks down at his fingers. “I like hugs. It feels warm and nice and I haven’t felt that in a long time.”

“You miss your mother,” says Tina, quietly.

He nods. “Yeah.”

Something just blooms within Tina – she can’t quite figure what – but she’s hugging him once again. “No matter what, Artie,” she says, “you can talk to me. You can tell me what makes you happy and sad, and I’ll listen to you. You don’t have to feel alone anymore.”

She feels his fingers on her back more certainly now, and is suddenly very aware that today, he’s not wearing a sweater, just a long-sleeved white shirt with brown suspenders – and she can feel that his whole body is tensed up. She rubs her fingers along his muscles to soothe the tension, and slowly, he relaxes in her arms. The next thing she’s aware of, is that he’s also doing the same, and damn, it feels good, this just –

She pulls back, straightening herself up and smoothening her blouse down. Artie stares at her with those big blue eyes and she can’t look at him anymore. She turns back to the table and hastily gathers her things.

When Artie leaves, she lets out the breath she didn’t know she had been holding.

When she walks out of the room, she sees many of the center participants heading towards the entrance to meet the crowd of parents and guardians. Sugar blows a goodbye kiss to all the staff as usual, before bouncing off to meet a huge Mercedes-Benz in the lot. Jacob lumbers off with his handler while Howard’s caretaker comes to take him from Whiskers. Tina did file a report against Whiskers, but nothing had been done. According to Santana, the Bamboo family really couldn’t care less about Howard’s progress (or regress, for that matter) and Whiskers had eloquently argued his way through. Santana promised that if she had the time to pass by and see that same scenario for herself, she would go ‘all Lima Heights Adjacent’ on that man, whatever that meant.

Speaking of Santana, Tina watches as she gives Brittany a tight hug in front of Brittany’s mother. But just as Santana pulls away, Brittany leans forward to give an excited kiss on Santana’s cheek before leaping off to join her mother. Brittany’s mother shoots Santana a surprised, albeit wary look, before ushering her daughter away.

Tina leaves before Santana can see her. She hands in her report at the receptionist’s desk and is about to head towards the carpark when she stops. Then turns. And then walks back into the building.

She heads towards the rooms and peeks into every single one of them. Room No. 9, empty. Oh, there’s Finn again, in no. 8, now working on what seems to be a radio. Ken’s in the next room tidying up. Empty. Empty. Empty. A couple of girls in there working on crafts. Will’s still working with a stuttering girl called Pepper – maybe he got special permission to continue after-hours –

Then there’s Artie, surprisingly back in Room No. 3. Sue doesn’t really want the therapists to hang around their mentees after-hours because she thinks it limits the space that the mentees can get on their own. Then again, he seems to be doing the exact same thing he had been doing while Tina was there – watching Singin’ In The Rain with a pencil and clipboard. For a moment, Tina fears she has started a new obsession.

From the window, she can see that on the table there is a stack of templates he completed while she’s been busy doing up her report. It looks about the same as the previous one, but then there’s an extra line below in the ‘LOSS/CONS’ column of the table.

‘Tina is not the one singing and dancing.’

Tina steps away slowly from the window and leans against the wall, staring out into the garden.

She has indeed started a problem.

Everything goes on as usual, but everything changes.

She’s not quite sure how things are different, but they feel different. Now when she steps into Room No. 3, she feels like she needs to sit a little straighter, speak a little firmer with that professional twang in her voice, and most of all, maintain a little distance. Artie doesn’t seem to notice, so it’s really all the same.

But it isn’t.

She takes out her frustration on the keyboard after her session with Artie one day, earning herself a suspicious glare from Santana.

“Did Changster stop banging you or something, so you feel the need to transfer those skills to an inanimate object?”

Tina narrows her eyes. “I’d appreciate if you didn’t try your psychologist tricks on me.”

“Well, given that I’m a behavioral therapist, that would mean conditioning you to fancy chicks, but I don’t think you’d appreciate that either.”

Maybe I would, thinks Tina, sarcastically. Then she thinks of Santana and Brittany, hesitates, then asks,

“Do you think it’ll be a good idea if we swapped mentees occasionally? I mean, getting an in-depth analysis into another routine might be good for our learning too.”

“That’s stupid,” says Santana, automatically. “You know it’s devastating to some people to disrupt routines, and even if Stubbles doesn’t flip his chair, Brittany will bawl. Furthermore, I really have no interest in watching him watch people shove each other around while belting corny, lovesick lyrics on a grainy screen.”

“Well, neither do I,” says another voice, and both of them look up to see Sue approaching their desks. “But I think it’s a breath of fresh air compared to you watching Brittany line her Barbies and unicorns up in rows all day long.”

“But...” Santana protests.

“Lady Chang, you’ve got your wish,” says Sue. “But whenever you wanna switch, you better tell your mentees at least two days in advance and remind them the following day. Do all the necessary preparations. If I see so much as a dent in a wheelchair or a messy braid with mismatched flowers, you’re having a special brew of Sue’s Healthy Herbs.” And with that, she walks off.

“Sue’s Healthy Herbs?” Tina raises an eyebrow.

“Trust me,” says Santana. “The last time I screwed up and had it, the sand bits got stuck in my throat and I couldn’t talk for days. It’s like Hangman, she’ll select the body parts to mangle each time with a new ingredient.”

“Is that even legal?” Tina gasps.

“I’m not sure the law has any bounds around that woman.”

Tina finds it pretty hard to have her lunch that day.


“Artie, it’s just for Thursday.”

No.” Artie glares at her. “I don’t want anybody else.”

Well, at least I can be sure he’s definitely moved on from Rachel. “Santana’s a really good singer too.” Or at least, the humming that she hears sometimes from the neighboring desk seems to suggest. “It’s good for you to get to talk to more people.”

“I know it’s good for directing,” says Artie, folding his arms. “But I don’t like it.”

He pauses. “Are you unhappy with me? That’s why you want to change to Brittany?”

Tina barks out a harsh laugh. “Artie, it’s just for one day! No, I’m not unhappy with you. In fact, I’m so proud of you.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” he says, and wheels away from the table.


“I’ve been trying!” He turns around to face her again, his eyes desperate. “I’ve been trying hard to be a good director! I hate it when I have to watch something else, but I know it will make me a good director so I will watch it!”

“Yes, you have been trying,” says Tina, evenly. “But you don’t hate it. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be singing the songs from Singin’ In The Rain.”

“I don’t sing them!” He glares at her. Then he huffs. “I get so angry all the time. I can’t be a good director if I get angry all the time and don’t want to meet other people. I’m not doing this.”

Feeling rather angry herself, Tina goes forward and stills his chair, bending over to look intensely at him.

“Artie, if you get angry all the time, I can help you work through your anger. As for meeting other people, we’re just trying one day. One day with Santana. If you have a problem with it while being with her, you can let us know later. But Santana has worked with you before and you didn’t have huge anger issues with it. You can do this, Artie, you’re just scared to try.”

Artie is still eyeing her warily, but then his bottom lip trembles and his spectacles slip down his nose.

“Yeah,” he mutters. “I am scared.”

Instinctively, she reaches out to hug him once again. There goes the whole idea of maintaining distance. He relaxes in her embrace and she can feel the edges of his spectacles against her shoulder.

“Don’t leave,” he whispers.

Tina feels a tingle run down her spine. “Artie, I’m not leaving you. We’re helping you by exposing you to changes.”

He grips her back tightly in response. She lets him soak in the hug for a while more.

“Shall we continue with our conversational skills session?” she finally whispers.

“Yeah,” he mumbles. “Yeah.”

So they do, and Tina is ready to repeat this whole routine the next day. But repeating the routine also means a repeated response of annoyance and disapproval from Artie, who clearly states that he doesn’t want Santana in the room during what ought to be his session with Tina.

“It’s just not right,” he emphasizes petulantly.

“And then you’re going to hurt Santana by saying that you want me here,” says Tina. “Like how you hurt me by saying you wanted Rachel.”

Really, Tina? Really? That’s a low blow and you know it.

Tina bites her lip the moment she says that out and Artie stares at her confusedly.

“You were hurt when I talked about Rachel?”

“Well, she sings like Maria, doesn’t she?” Tina puts her hands on her hips. “And... and she gets your opinions about West Side Story. I don’t sound anything like her, I don’t share the sheer, unadulterated joy of watching a musical like her, I don’t –”

“You can dance,” offers Artie. “She can’t.”

Tina stares at him.

Is he trying to make me feel better?

All she can manage is, “What?”

“I said, you can dance.” He points at her umbrella by the side of the room. Then he looks back at her. “You sing and dance just like I like to. I like you because you share the ‘sheer, unadulterated joy’ of singing and dancing too.” And then he smiles.

Tina blinks. “You like to dance?”

His expression droops a little. “Yes. But I can’t anymore.”

“Artie, just because you are on wheels doesn’t mean you can’t dance. They move, too.”

“They don’t move like legs,” argues Artie. “They don’t move the way you want them to. I want to be able to side-step. I want to be able to do a quick twirl. I can’t do that on this.” His voice gets louder. “I used to be able to do it. People asked me what my ambition was when I was young and I told them I was good at all these, I could become somebody amazing. But now I can’t become a singer and dancer like I wanted to be. I can only sit here and direct a show and I can’t be on that stage!”

“Artie,” says Tina, and she kneels down next to his chair as he thumps his fists on his thighs. “Hey.” She presses his fists down. “Listen to me. You can still be a singer. And people dance in wheelchairs too. They may not sing and dance the same way that the ones you see on stage can, but they are special and shine in their own way. Your directing skills are a talent, and you shouldn’t see them as something secondary to your singing and dancing.”

He doesn’t look like he’s listening; he’s just clenching his fists, looking really angry and muttering under his breath. It is then that she realizes when he had become what he thought was a ‘useless cripple’ (as Quinn Fabray put it) after his accident, it wasn’t just because he wouldn’t be able to walk again.

He would never dance again either.

He doesn’t talk for the rest of the session and refuses to scribble on the template too. All he does is turn the tape in his hands over and over again. Tina doesn’t try to coax him out of it; she’s writing down on her report sheets, but at the same time, she’s thinking hard.

When she’s home, she powers up her laptop and begins to type ‘wheelchair dancing’ on Google. As she’s browsing through some of the links, her phone rings. It’s Mike, and she relaxes a little hearing his cheerful voice.

“Do open the door,” he says, after they exchange stories of their days.

Tina is confused. “For what?”

“Just open it,” says Mike. “I promise it’s not a bomb or an overexcited puppy. Although, would you like the latter?”

Tina chokes back a laugh as she opens her front door. She gasps as she picks up a large bouquet of beautiful red and pink roses. “Mike, they’re beautiful. Thank you.”

“Have a good night, Tina,” he says, sincerely, and hangs up.

She walks past the sitting room with the gigantic bouquet, trying hard not to meet her mother’s knowing gaze or listen to her father’s chuckle. When she puts the bouquet into a vase and sits on her bed to stare at it, her gaze drifts to the lit screen of her computer. Sighing, she gets off the bed, slips back into the chair and begins to scroll the webpages once more.

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