01.4 - The Doctor Is In

Heavy knuckles rap on the door, reluctantly, almost softly. In part it’s to avoid causing damage. In part –

“Come in,” says a woman’s voice from inside.

Joe reaches for the door knob, then first taps the embiggen plate next to the door, causing the portal itself to widen to a size that fits his larger frame, even as the door opens.

How the hell does that work? he thinks for the twentieth time in the last three days. But it’s the least of his worries right now.

He pokes his head in. “Dr. Anton?”

“Yes, Mr. Moore, come in.” She’s old. Well, mabe in her 40s. Late 40s. Old enough to have gray in her hair, anyway, some lines in her face. Her expression is politely welcoming but professional. When he pauses in the doorway, she gestures him in with a minimum of motion. “You’re right on time, thanks. Please, come in, close the door, sit.”

She’s in a large, comfortable looking chair, leather, rubbed smooth and glossy in places from years of contact and use. Light from the window half-illuminates her. She has a tablet in one hand, the cover closed.

She has a desk off to one side of the room, and an veritable jungle of house plants in free-standing pots, draped around the windows, and on almost every horizontal surface. Jesus, it’s like a rain forest in here – and that triggers a series of memories flashing through his skull that, for a moment, has him considering backing away and running.

They’re plants, you idiot. Just … plants. Running away from the school shrink is really not a good idea.

She gestures once more to a very large chair facing hers, set about six feet away. It’s big enough that it will fit even his frame, which tells him it got wheeled in here just for him. Which is … comforting? Annoying? Scary?

He remembers to tap the embiggen plate on the office side of the doorway, so that everything returns to normal, the door closing automatically. Crossing the room, he sits, gingerly, but the chair is as strong as it looks.

She looks at him, as if expecting something. After a moment, he shifts his weight. “Um, nice chair.”

“Glad you like it. I’m Doctor Susan Anton. So, do you prefer Mr. Moore? Or Joey? Or …?”

“Uh, Joey’s fine, ma’am.”

She smiles. “Joey it is, though you can lose the 'ma’am. Call me Doctor or Doc.”

“Okay … Doc.” It sounds weird in his mouth, but this whole experience is weird. My whole life is weird, all right?

“So, Joey – why are you here?”

“At – Phoenix Academy?”

“No, here, at this appointment. With me.”

“Because … they told me to?”

She nods, smiles. “As a condition of your attendance here. Not unusual for someone in your situation.”

“Which --” He pauses. “-- um, I’m in a lotta situations.”

A polite laugh. “Most people are. In this case, a combination of emotional traumas and, speaking frankly, abilities that could be a danger to others if those traumas aren’t addressed.”

That sends a chill down the back of his furry spine. “I – I don’t wanna hurt anyone.”

“Most people don’t,” Dr. Anton says. “But sometimes they do. Does that worry you?”

Joey looks at her with his hazel eyes. It’s one of the only things about him that didn’t get changed, those eyes. His mom had always liked them. After a long moment, he nods. “Yeah.”

“Good!” She smiles at him. At his stare, she smiles more broadly. “The most dangerous person in the world, Joey, is the one who isn’t worried about how dangerous they are. But, then, you’ve given this a lot of thought, haven’t you?”

“I’m – really strong. I don’t know how strong yet. And I don’t know my body well enough, sometimes I break things.”

“And that worries you around people?”

“Course it does!”

She nods. “Have you hurt anyone so far?”

“I --” A pause. He swallows. It’s probably in her records or something, but even if not … “On the jet back from Africa, after the Quill Foundation found me, picked me up – I was kind of out of it for a while, so they had me on an exam table in their portable lab, strapped down for the flight. I – when I woke up, I didn’t know what was going on, I thought I was still – that the bad guys still had me, and I struggled and broke the straps and – I hit one of the medical technicians.”

After Joey is silent for a few moments, Dr. Anton goes on. “You were frightened, unaware of what was going on. You lashed out. Perfectly natural.”

“I broke his arm and three of his ribs. I – as soon as I figured out what was going on, kind of, I stopped – but I hurt him. I could have killed him.”

She nods. “Yes.” She purses her lips for a moment. “Joey, I can’t talk with you in any detail about other students under my care, and I don’t want you to feel I’m minimizing your concerns at all, but your reaction to your new – abilities – is not at all unusual amongst people your age. What if I overreact? What if I lose control? What if I go too far? What if I get too angry --” She pauses. “What?”

“I didn’t say anything.” He feels himself trying to shrink down in his seat.

“I mentioned anger. You reacted. Nostrils flared. A faint growl.”

Joey shrugs, his shoulders tense.

“Do you get angry?”

He shrugs again. It’s painful.

“Are you angry about getting angry?”

What does that even mean? “C’mon, everybody gets angry.”

“Do you worry a lot about your anger?”

"Why would I worry about that?" Joey shouts, lunging forward to lean just on the front of the chair, gripping the arm rests tightly. Dr. Anton doesn’t flinch at the movement. "I mean, it’s not like I have anything to get angry about, right? Like being trapped in a stupid gorilla body, like being ten feet tall. like being a dangerous wild animal, like I could kill someone, if I’m not careful all the time, like – like my parents got killed, and I have to live with that, and Aunt Edie, and people looking at me like I’m some sort of freak, or like I’m some cutesy big monkey man, like – why should I be angry, Doc? WHY?!" he roars at her.

He sits, poised, fight-or-flight hormones rushing through his body, fists clenching, the chair creaking under him. Dr. Anton looks at him, quietly, with apparent serenity even, her only movement to shift her gaze upwards as he puts on a foot or two.

After a few moments, she nods. “You have every reason to be angry, Joey. And I understand why you’re worried about your anger. I appreciate your honesty – and your restraint.”

He stares at her for a few long moments, then slides backwards into the chair, realizing as he does that he’s managed to mangle the steel at the front ends of the arm rests, which just adds to his mortification. Oh, jeez – “I – I’m sorry, Doc. I didn’t – see what I --”

“I was completely truthful with you, Joey. I want you to be honest about you’re thinking and feeling when you’re with me. In general, I’d advise that for you when you’re with most people, but especially when with me. And for all your agitation, all you did was shout. That’s not at all uncommon in sessions like this. The point is, you controlled your anger. You didn’t let it control you.”

“I – kinda wrecked your chair.”

“True. But you might have done much more. And Ms. Brinkley down in the metal shop used to go by the sobriquet ‘Fatale Attraction.’ Her magnetic abilities will fix that up without any difficulty.”

Joey shakes his head. “I could have --” He looks away. “Could’ve hurt you.”

“But you didn’t. And that’s what’s important, not the all mighta-couldas you might catastrophize about. Think on that.”

The tablet next to her chimes softly. “Ah. The famous fifty-minute hour. Our session has to end so I can scribble down notes before I forget them, take a bio break, all that good stuff. Are you good to get to your next class?”

Joey slowly climbs to his feet. His height, still significant, has dropped down to normal. “Yeah, sure, I’ve got the campus figured out, I think.”

“Good. Hmm. We’re currently scheduled for meeting once a week, but I think I’d like to make it twice weekly, if that’s all right with you.”

Jesus, she thinks I really need a shrink. I don’t know she’s wrong, either. “Uh, okay.”

“You have a lot going on with you, and it’s going to take a while to pull some of the threads enough to see what they’re connected to. Phyllis will text you when I have a time set that fits in both our schedules. And here --” He doesn’t see where she’s picked it up from, but he takes the business card carefully out of her fingers. “If you should seriously need to talk with me before our next meeting, call my number. Twenty-four by seven, though please be sure it’s important if it’s after midnight”

Yup, she really thinks I’m crazy. “Okay.”

She gets to her feet, holds out a hand to shake; he does so without mangling it. “Until next time, Joey.”

“Yeah. Uh, thanks, Doc.”

He is almost to the door when she says, “Oh, I saw in your file, your medical condition is being monitored and dealt with by Byron Quill?”

“Yeah. My parents, they worked for the Quill Foundation.”

She nods, slowly. “Right. I --” For the first time, she hesitates. Finally she says, “Good to know, thanks.”

He nods back. “Okay – um, thanks again, Doc.”

“Thank you, Joey. See you soon.”