He knew from experience that Doctor Hurley would start by asking ‘how do you feel’.
Wesley imagined he accomplished the task much the same as any other boy his age and size. Feeling in the physical sense was often achieved by putting his hands where they shouldn’t go. Down burrows, into flames, around frogs and lizards. The other kind of feeling - the emotional type - was usually accompanied by casual torment from one of the larger or more confident boys at school, which in turn was often also accompanied by bad feelings of the physical kind. Or by questions from his mother that cause him to feel angry or embarrassed or sad.
His mother would often ask those kinds of questions. Or, at least, she’d often asked them until six months ago.
A cold looking woman, thin in her grey, business style suit, eased the swing door of the waiting room open. She pushed a girl through the door by the elbow, turned her forcibly and spoke to her quickly for a few seconds in a voice too quiet for Wesley to understand. The girl nodded, the woman left.
The girl had flat brown hair with what Wesley would have described as a straight fringe. Very straight. She was wearing a green skirt with a green top that didn’t quite match in colour. Wesley figured it was a near miss at a school uniform, though not one he was familiar with.
She walked slowly and casually through the narrow waiting room, apparently taking note of the furnishings and decorations as she moved. There was only so much to see. Wesley knew the contents of the room by heart. Seven chairs, two doors, a coffee table carrying a vase with a few cheap-looking fake flowers, and half a dozen magazines featuring horses, yachts and homes that no ordinary person would ever enter, let alone have a chance an purchasing.
Wesley just knew she would sit opposite him. He didn’t really want her to - it was bad enough to be there, let alone to be there with somebody else, let alone a stranger who was seated somewhere he couldn’t ignore.
She finished surveying the room, and headed for the chair opposite Wesley. Before she sat, she looked at him and made a flat line with her mouth. Not a smile, nor a grimace. Wesley caught her eye then looked at the floor while she flopped into the chair. Perhaps she wouldn’t try to talk to him, at least?
“My name is Polly. What’s yours?” she asked.
“Wesley,” he said.
“Pleased to meet you,” she said. She looked down at her feet. Brown and white shoes, hanging a centimetre above the floor. She swung those shoes gently, bumping her heels against the legs of the chair with a slightly offset rhythm. Parump, Parump, Parump.
Wesley felt like he should say something. He drew a blank. The only thing that came to mind was ‘how old are you’, but that’s a question you ask little kids, to make them feel important for knowing their age. Not something you say to somebody who is about your height, maybe a little taller.
He knew it would be inappropriate and potentially embarrassing to ask her what brought her there, so that was out.
“So,” she said, “what did you do? What are you in for?”
Wesley grinned, almost. He shook his head. “No, nothing. My mum died, and I … well, I have to come here.”
That came out easier than he’d expected. The first time he’d said it without turning into a stuttering freak-out.
“Oh. So are you acting out or whatever they call it?”
Wesley shrugged. “No.”
“Nope. I don’t think so.”
“Oh,” she said.
The girl sat there looking at Wesley until he got uncomfortable again and looked back at her feet. She started to kick them against the chair legs again.
“What about you?” Wesley asked, braving a look at her face.
“Polly,” she said, “still.”
“No, I know, I meant, what … You’re here, so …”
Polly smiled. “I know what you meant, I’m just kidding.”
Wesley figured she must think him awfully stupid.
“Disobedience, mainly. Authority Problem, apparently,” she said, capitalising the words Authority and Problem.
Murmuring voices close behind the broad, heavy consulting room door set Wesley slightly on edge and he looked towards it expectantly. It opened, and a young couple exited, hands and eyes locked, dew-eyed but smiling as they thanked Dr Hurley over their shoulders.
Wesley wondered if it was worth it, to have that kind of joy if it brought with it equal measures of misery and heartache. He sat forward on his chair, waiting as the couple left, floating around the coffee table and through the saloon doors that led back to reception where they would pay for their renewed, intangible, immeasurable happiness with real dollars.
“Wesley. Hello, you’re up next,” said Dr Hurley, standing at her office door. Wesley followed her through the door, and before she’d even closed it fully, she asked, “So, how do you feel …”
“I think the most important thing in the world is to be interesting,” Polly said.
“Really?” Wesley said. They’d switched seats compared to before his session. Wesley wasn’t sure why, but when he went back to the waiting room to wait for his inevitably late father, she was sitting in his seat.
“I think so. There’s nothing worse than being boring,” she said.
“Isn’t that a bit external looking,” Wesley asked, “and in my case, doomed? If I judge myself by the way other people see me, I’m going to be sad all the time.”
“No, not at all. The most important thing is to be interesting, so that you don’t bore yourself. The rest of the world can go jump. As long as you find yourself interesting , you’ll always have somebody interesting to hang around with, right?”
“I’m as interesting as heck, of course,” Polly said.
Polly smiled. “Oh yes! You don’t think they send me here because I’m boring, do they?”
The question didn’t seem to demand an answer.
“Who told you that?” Wesley asked. “About being interesting and not alone? Was it Doctor Hurley, and did she tell you to tell it to me?”
Polly frowned. She shook her head. “I should be offended that you think I can’t think for myself. But I’m not. I guess it’s because of my age. I just worked it out for myself.
“Are you an orphan, since your mother died?” she asked, the sudden change of subject catching Wesley off-guard.
“N-no,” he said, “why?”
“Because orphans are interesting by default, and according to books, much more likely to have adventures than ordinary people. So I suppose it’s sad that you’re not an orphan, although in another way it isn’t, of course.”
The door opened.
“Hi Alison,” Polly said. “Bye Wesley, hope your Dad remembers you. Else I guess I’ll see you in twenty minutes.
Doctor Hurly smiled thinly. “Hello Polly, please come on in,” she said, then as the door closed, “So, how are you feeling?”