Sticks/Stones

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic
Ella copes with the fallout of the beginning of her senior year in a series of sessions with the kindly Dr. White.

Submitted: February 15, 2012

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Submitted: February 15, 2012

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“Do you know what this means?” 

An aging woman in a black pinstriped pantsuit leaned forward in her chair, her wrinkled old hands still folded tightly in her lap.  Her blue eyes were almost owlish in appearance behind her thick spectacles, giving her the appearance of extreme curiosity.   She never bothered with her flyaway white hair, which seemed to have a will of its own.  She squinted behind her glasses in an effort to read the expression on the face of the girl across from her through the dim lighting of her office. 

“Ella,” she said sharply, losing her patience momentarily.  Seeing the girl flinch, she immediately regretted her lack of control.  “I’m sorry.  I should not have snapped at you.  I apologize.” 

No response. 

Biting back a heavy, frustrated sigh, the woman repeated, her voice gentle this time, “Ella, do you know what this means?” 

Ella Montgomery kept her silence, choosing to fidget uncomfortably in the chair rather than respond to the question.  Her long black hair hung like a curtain in front of her face, shielding her dark green eyes from view, despite the fact that her tears had run out long ago.  She gnawed absentmindedly on her thumbnail, giving her mouth something to do besides talk.  

She feared that if she answered the question, if she allowed herself to start talking about... about him, that she wouldn’t be able to stop herself.  And somehow, talking about it, telling this Dr. White about him, about what had happened, would make it all real.  And she wouldn’t be able to pretend anymore. 

And Ella needed to pretend.  Because if she accepted reality, she didn’t know how she would deal with it.  And if she couldn’t deal with it, she might just go the same way as- 

No.  No.

Talking about it was not an option. 

“Ella,” Dr. White sighed, disentangling her hands and spreading them out on her lap, palms upward, “if you want to get anything out of these sessions, you need to talk to me.  I can’t help you if you refuse to talk to me.” 

“They do help,” Ella mumbled, her voice barely audible.  

“How so?” 

“I like just sitting here,” she replied a little more firmly.  She lifted her head and looked round at the darkened room.  “It’s comforting.  It’s like... never mind.” 

“Like what, Ella?” Dr. White prodded gently.  When she didn’t respond, Dr. White backed off, saying, “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want.  That’s okay.  We’ll keep up with the sessions then, since you say they’re helpful.  Would you like me to bring something next time?  A baked good or drink perhaps?  Something that makes you feel comfortable?” 

“White chocolate chips,” Ella replied, a spark of interest flashing in her green eyes, a sign that bolstered Dr. White’s spirits.  “Not cookies, just white chocolate chips.” 

“All right.  White chocolate chips it is then.  Take care, Ella.  Until next time.” 

 

 

 

“Do you know what it means?” 

To save herself the trouble of having to reply, Ella shoved an entire handful of white chocolate chips into her mouth.  Instead of chewing, she simply allowed them to melt, all the while willing her heart to stop beating at its ridiculous pace.  

Dr. White looked at her passively, putting all her focus on not pressuring Ella to answer in any way, shape or form. 

Finally, Ella swallowed and, despite the turning of her stomach, asked, “What does what mean?” 

Asking was merely another delaying tactic.  She knew perfectly well what Dr. White meant. 

Dr. White pulled a crisp piece of white paper from her clipboard and held it up to eye-level, reading aloud, “‘Complete and utter bullshit.’”  

Hearing a woman of Dr. White’s age say “bullshit” in such a nonchalant tone of voice would have been enough to crack Ella up two months prior.  But as it was... things had changed, and Ella doubted she’d ever find anything funny again. 

“No idea.” 

Her voice sounded untruthful, even to her own ears.  

Dr. White fixed her with an all-knowing stare of which even Ella’s mother would be jealous.  “Ella, you don’t have to talk to me until you’re ready, but I don’t appreciate you lying to me.  I will not tolerate dishonesty in this room, understand?”  

Meekly, she nodded. 

“Now, you may not know what those words mean for sure, but you must have some idea.  You two were friends for years, since infancy, practically.  You were Max’s be-” 

No!” Ella screeched, her cheeks flushing and her hands clenching into fists involuntarily.  “No!” 

With that, she stomped out of Dr. White’s office. 

The elderly woman took of her glasses and shook her head, sighing heavily.  

Maybe next time, she thought. 

 

 

 

“So what do those words mean, Ella?” 

Ella carefully examined the chipping black nail polish on her thumb for several long moments.  Finally, she replied, “I don’t want to talk about it.” 

“That’s fine,” Dr. White said, trying to sound as reassuring as possible.  “Can you tell me about Max?” 

She was fully prepared for Ella to throw another tantrum, to bolt from the room and never return to her office again.  To her surprise, the teenaged girl did nothing more than flinch.  

She swallowed audibly before answering.  “Max i- was my best friend.”  Ella briefly made eye contact with the psychiatrist, expecting her to interject.  When Dr. White said nothing, Ella forced herself to continue, saying, “Our moms were best friends, so they always had play-dates for us when we were little.  We did everything together, even in high school.  I can probably count the number of days my entire life I’e gone without seeing him at all on one hand.” 

“You two were very close then,” Dr. White observed aloud.  “You were each other’s best friends.” 

“And only friends,” Ella corrected.  “Not that we settled for each other... no.  Max was a fantastic best friend, and I tried my best to do the same for him.” 

“Only friends?  Why were you each other’s only friends?” 

Ella smiled wryly, but there was no joy in it.  “We weren’t exactly popular in school.  I was too smart and too nerdy.  And to some extent, so was he.  But people really avoided him because he was-” 

She cut off abruptly, cursing herself mentally for almost letting it slip, almost saying the one thing about Max that she would never be able to dissociate from his death. 

Dr. White opened her mouth to speak, and Ella braced herself for the inevitable question.  However, Dr. White asked instead, “You said, ‘I was too smart and nerdy.’  Why was, Ella?  Why are you speaking about yourself in the past tense?  You’re still here, aren’t you?  You’re still alive.” 

“Yeah,” she agreed.  “I’m not really sure why I said that.  I guess... maybe... no, I don’t know, it’s stupid.”  She shook her head furiously, sending strands of black hair flying around her head. 

“Nothing you’re feeling is stupid,” Dr. White told her firmly, leaning forward in her seat.  “And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” 

Ella managed to flash her a small, grateful smile, and for the first time during their sessions, Dr. White managed to see the spunky girl that Mrs. Montgomery had sworn her daughter once was.  “I don’t know, and I still think this sounds stupid,” Ella said, “but I almost feel like everything stopped the day that Max... you know, that day.  Nothing after that has felt real, you know?  I almost feel like... like I stopped that day.  I haven’t done anything with myself since.” 

“Your grades have been dropping,” Dr. White observed, her eyes scanning the clipboard in front of her.  Seeing the hurt look on Ella’s face, she added quickly, “Not that I’m criticizing, of course.  Your grades prior were outstanding, and all of your teachers have noted that you seem despondent.  They believe that’s the source of your rapidly dropping grades, and they’ve all stated that they’re more than willing to give you as much extra credit and extra help as you need to salvage your GPA, whenever you’re ready.” 

Ella nodded.  “I should probably work on that.  I’ll talk to them.” 

Glancing at her watch, Dr. White noted, “Well.  That’s our time up for this session.  I’ll see you next week, okay, Ella?” 

A strange look crossed Ella’s face.  “Um,” she said, her voice shaky, “d’you... d’you mind if I just stay here for a while?  We don’t have to talk, I just want to sit here.  Oh, unless you have another patient coming in, in which case I should-” 

“No, my next patient isn’t for another twenty minutes,” Dr. White told her, smiling.  “You’re free to sit in my chair there until then.” 

 

 

 

“How do you feel about gay rights, Dr. White?” 

Dr. White was slightly taken aback by Ella’s question; after all, she was always the one asking the questions.  However, she simply took it in her stride, replying, “I’m in full support of them.  Always have been, always will be.  This nation was founded on the idea that its citizens should be free to do whatever they want, so long as they don’t infringe on the civil liberties of another.  Allowing gay marriage would have no effect on American society or heterosexual marriages.  In fact, banning gay marriage is unconstitutional, in my opinion.  Then again, I’m a psychiatrist, not a lawyer, so I could be wrong.” 

Ella nodded, plopping down heavily in her seat across from the doctor.  She sat there for a while, apparently waging a massive internal debate, judging from her facial expressions.  Dr. White thought it best to wait it out and let Ella voice her thoughts when she saw fit. 

After a good ten minutes of solid silence, Ella finally spat out, “Maxie was gay.”  Her chest heaved as she panted, almost as though she had been running.  It was like she had finally gotten a large weight of her chest.  

“I see that in my file here,” Dr. White told her, trying not to let the joy she felt at this breakthrough bleed into her voice.  “There were some hate crimes at your high school?” 

Ella felt the bile rise in her throat as anger churned her stomach.  “Yes,” she replied through gritted teeth, the rage she had felt filling her once more.  “There were.” 

“Did Max come out willingly?” Dr. White queried, trying to steer the conversation away from the hate crimes as she saw the unadulterated fury on Ella’s face.  

Sucking in a deep, calming breath, Ella shook her head.  “No.  Maxie told me soon after we started freshman year.  He had known since the end of eighth grade, and he had tried to hide it from me, debating whether or not he would tell me.  I’m glad he told me willingly, but I already knew.  I knew him better than he gave me credit for, really.  He managed to keep it a secret until the start of junior year, but only because he didn’t like anyone at school.  All his crushes were on celebrities or random people at his church that he didn’t really know.  So he was fine.  But then... then he started liking Gavin.  Gavin was this huge jock, really oblivious.  He never would’ve figured out that Maxie liked him if it hadn’t been for... for Anne.” 

“Anne,” Dr. White mused, choosing her next words carefully, completely aware that she was approaching a very tender topic.  “She was the girl who-” 

“Yeah,” Ella said, not a hint of remorse.  “Anne is the girl I put in the ICU.” 

Dr. White stared her down for several long moments, hoping to wring a confession of guilt or regret out of her, but Ella wasn’t having it.  Finally, Dr. White sighed, “Continue.” 

“Anne figured it out.  She’s not completely stupid, it would seem.  And she outed him.  She told Gavin, and the entire student body in the process, that Maxie was gay.  It’s a small school, so word spread fast.  By the end of the school day, everyone knew.  Every student, every teacher, every administrator.  I think even the janitor knew.  And... well, it’s an overly-zealous Catholic school.  And you know what the Pope says about gay people.  It wasn’t very... accepting.  And it definitely didn’t help that he and I were already social rejects.” 

Ella seemed to be on a roll, so Dr. White merely nodded, not wanting to interrupt. 

“Junior year went by okay.  There were whispers and rumors, and they really bothered him.  But it was nothing we couldn’t get through, together.  But the start of senior year... that’s when the hate crimes started.  It turns out, they were willing to let their hate channel into just rumors so long as Maxie acted mostly straight.  But at the start of senior year, he thought things were better.  He thought that he could, you know, openly reference being gay every once in a while and not have people throw things at him or something.  But... he was wrong.  It was super awkward when he mentioned it during class, and people said some nasty things about gay people, but nothing, you know, explicit.  But when we walked out to his car that afternoon, the lights were smashed, and the tires were slashed.  And someone had carved ‘fag’ into the backseat.  Similar things happened throughout the first semester- a shit-ton of rubber penises in his locker, condoms thrown at him in the hallways, actual beatings in the locker rooms...”  

She paused here, swallowing back all the emotions she had been holding in for months.  “He just couldn’t catch a break.  Some of the teachers were even failing him, even though I know for a fact that he should’ve been getting about the same grades as me.  And then, two months ago, he... he...” 

She looked up at Dr. White, hoping she’d finish her sentence, say the words that she wanted desperately never to say.  But Dr. White remained silent. 

“He killed himself,” she said finally, her voice cracking.  “He went and fucking killed himself.” 

“I know,” was all Dr. White said.  “I know.” 

“He left me all alone!” Ella shrieked, her tone frantic.  “He left me by myself... I didn’t even know he was going to... He didn’t tell me.  I was his best friend, and he didn’t tell me that he was going to... going to fucking hang himself!  I- oh, God... Max is gone.  He’s fucking dead!  How am I... what am I...?” 

Through all this, Dr. White said nothing, letting Ella’s coping take its course.

It was a good twenty minutes before Ella calmed down enough to breathe without hyperventilating.  When she finally could, she said, “I know what it means.” 

“What?” Honestly, Dr. White was taken aback.  She had been so focused on the grief wracking her patient that she had forgotten all about the suicide note.

“‘Complete and utter bullshit,’” Ella quoted easily; the four words were forever burned into her memory.  “I know what he meant by that.”  She sucked in a shaky breath.  “His mom used to tell him all the time: ‘Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.’  All the time.  Left and right and... well, when things started getting rough earlier this school year, he started complaining about it.  He always said that it was not true, that it was complete and utter bullshit.  In the end... I guess he was right.” 

Several long, pensive moments passed before Dr. White said, “You once said that you enjoyed coming to my office, and just sitting here.  Why is that?” 

“Oh,” Ella said, the corner of her mouth twisted upward slightly.  “That.  I don’t know.  I’m not entirely sure I can put a finger on it.  But I guess... it makes me feel like I’m not so alone.” 

“You’re not alone, Ella,” Dr. White told her assuringly.  “You’re never alone.  Even after our sessions stop, you can feel free to call my number any time you want.  I will never turn you away.” 

“Thanks.” 

“So, Ella.  I think we need one more session together, just as a follow-up, but that should be it.  I’m going to go ahead and write the letter to the policeman assigned to your case, letting him know that I believe you don’t require time in a juvenile detention facility.  I don’t believe you’re a further danger to yourself or anyone else,” Dr. White said, scribbling furiously on a piece of paper.  “But I’m not going to give it to you until after next session, providing it goes well.  Just to be sure.” 

“What?” Ella gaped at her.  “But... but... I’m not sorry for what I did to Anne.  I feel no regret, no remorse.  If I could turn back time, I’d choose to do it all over again.” 

“Oh, I know,” Dr. White assured her.  “But tell me, Ella- why did you do it?  What in God’s name possessed you to beat that girl so badly that she needed intensive care?” 

“I wasn’t quite thinking straight,” Ella admitted.  “It was my first day back at school since Max had... well, you know.  Since then.  And everyone was talking about him, and not all of it was nice, not all of it was sad.  And the way I saw it, it was all her fault- if she hadn’t outed him, none of this ever would have happened.  And after she outed him, she  seemed to take point on humiliating him publicly.  Most of the hate crimes were her ideas, actually.  I was beyond pissed at her.  I wanted her dead.  But I wasn’t going to do anything, I wasn’t going to touch her.  I didn’t trust myself.  But then I heard her hiss something as I walked by.  I heard her say... ‘I’m glad that faggot is dead.’  And I just lost it.” 

“And would you ever do that again?” 

“Yes, I would,” she answered without hesitation.  “I will do whatever it takes to protect the ones I love, even after they’re dead.” 

“Exactly,” Dr. White said, smiling.  “That’s it.  You’d do it to protect your loved ones.  You wouldn’t do it unprovoked.  Your emotions were in turmoil, and you weren’t coping with Max’s death.  Not that there’s a great way to cope with it.  But you’re not excessively violent, and I don’t believe you’re liable to go attacking people left and right for no reason.  I see no need for you to go to juvie, for any period of time.” 

Ella looked simply stunned.  “Th- thank you, Dr. White.  Really, this is great.  Maybe I’ll actually have time to pull my shit together and actually get into a college this spring.” 

“I hope so,” Dr. White replied, nodding, her smile growing.  “I want to give you a second chance at life.” 

Ella smiled gratefully and stood to go; their time was up.  “By the way, Ella,” Dr. White said, addressing her, causing her to stop in her tracks, “Max was right.  That saying is complete and utter bullshit.  Keep that in mind, as you live out there, okay?  Never forget that words hurt, sometimes more than anything.  So long as you remember that, I can’t imagine that you’ll be anything less than extraordinary.” 


© Copyright 2020 Miss Nomer. All rights reserved.

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