People laugh at her leaflets, Emma knows, but they are useful. They’re something the students can take away to look at when they’re not so embarrassed about being seen in the counsellor’s office and they set out the facts plainly and clearly. Emma likes facts. They’re neat and tidy and clean.
Also, they’re handy to give to the kids who are just there because they want to skip class, or because they’re bored, or because they’ve been dared by their friends to come in and ask what they should do if they’re sexually attracted to the 60 year old lunch lady. (Yes, that has happened. She has a leaflet for it now, in case it happens again)
But it’s not all leaflets and the easy, stock answers like ‘don’t worry; we’ll arrange a tutor and you’ll be able to catch up’ or ‘yes, those dreams are completely normal’, or trying to gently point out that belief in God isn’t know to be a particularly effective form of protection and maybe they should put their faith in a nice layer of latex between them and… whatever it is they’re trying not to get infected by. That’s always worked for Emma.
No; sometimes there are real problems to deal with and then she has to offer more than bits of paper and tidy facts.
Sometimes the facts aren’t tidy. Sometimes they’re messy and ruined and painful and then Emma has to use the other skills of her job. Then she has to listen; not just to what people are saying but to what they’re not saying out loud, even though their body language may be screaming it.
Then she has to reach out, even when she knows she can’t touch.
* * *
Mercedes talks loudly and she talks fast and she uses her hands a lot while she does.
Her tone is angry, shaking with it sometimes, even when she’s just talking about shopping, and the sales, and how ‘some stupid, skinny white girl thought she could cut in front of me’
Mercedes talks loud and fast and angry about everything and anything except what they’re there to discuss.
She can’t say his name. She tried once, talking about a scarf she’d seen that would be just perfect for… and her voice had cracked and slammed to a halt, leaving her gasping.
She can’t say his name, and she leaves if Emma tries to, so Emma lets her talk and sits and learns about the cut-throat business of blue tag sales.
* * *
Tina doesn’t say anything at all. She cries instead.
She sits and cries; softly, silently, looking out of the window over Emma’s shoulder, and she never says a word.
Emma will push forward the box of Kleenex with the tip of her finger at the end and Tina will look at her and nod her thanks – the one bit of eye contact she gives Emma the whole session – before cleaning herself up and leaving, still silent.
Tina comes in every day.
* * *
Artie came in just the once and spoke haltingly and circumstantially about his feelings. He used a lot of irony, and his tone stayed dry even when his eyes were wet.
Near the end he’d looked down at his own knees and said, “You know, it’s not fair. I used to think this chair was the worst thing that would happen to me in my life. I got a lot of good cripple guilt out of it”
He gave her a twisted smirk “Trust him to be a diva and have to go and top it, right?”
* * *
It’s Rachel that Emma always thinks of when she hears the word ‘diva’, though she tells herself guiltily that she should feel bad for it when she does.
And it’s easy to feel bad for it now with Rachel in front of her; shrill and upset, mentioning her dads over and over as she talks, her speech circling round them with nervous, protective worry.
She talks in a strident tirade about prejudice and human rights and the law, and she cries.
Emma knows that Rachel can cry like a professional when she wants to – beautifully – but these tears are ugly and real. They make her face blotch up and her nose red.
Rachel complains automatically of the damage that crying like this will do to her throat and digs a tissue out of her bag and mentions her dads again.
* * *
Karofsky comes to see her twice.
Both times he is angry and bewildered and shameful, and he rants confusingly about ‘stupid geeks’ and ‘stupid, faggy clothes’ and ‘cry babies’ and twice he starts to say ‘it’s his..’ and then he physically flinches back from his own words before he finishes.
At the end of the last session he looks at her and he says, voice shaking with a frantic edge “I don’t get it, I don’t. We don’t – we don’t go that far, we don’t. I don’t understand why he… I don’t get it!”
Karofsky wasn’t in school the day that Azimio brought in the knife. He’d had flu and been off all week, coming back the next Monday to have all his usual blustering certainties knocked out from under him. He wasn’t part of it, but Azimio was his friend and the other students shrink away from him now.
Emma sees him from time to time in the corridors. He’s quieter now and the way he hunches his shoulders in makes him look smaller.
* * *
Quinn looks fragile these days.
She’s lost all the extra weight from the baby and more besides. She’s too thin and too pale and she holds herself like she’s in pain.
She smiles blankly at Emma and talks of loss and healing and coping, and all the time she’s there she holds one hand tight against her flat, empty stomach.
Emma doesn’t think she even knows she’s doing it.
* * *
Brittany doesn’t make formal appointments but she pops in several times and talks. Emma doesn’t always understand the leaps of connection Brittany’s brain makes and struggles to follow her at times, but she thinks that in between the talk of rainbows and cats and dolphins and the chatter about how badly the Cheerio’s have been doing recently Brittany’s simple, honestly expressed grief may be the healthiest reaction of any of the students who’ve come to her.
“I miss him” she says, voice small, cheeks wet with tears “He was nice, and he was kind to me and he had lovely hands and he was the best boyfriend I ever had, even when he wasn’t any more”
“I miss him” she says. “He was my friend and I loved him and I miss him so much”
Santana doesn’t come in to see Emma. She walks Brittany to the office when she comes, and then Santana leans against the wall opposite, mouth a thin, tight line and she crosses her arms and waits and watches through the glass of the office wall until Brittany’s finished.
Other students going down the corridor give Santana a wide berth as they pass; the tension around her almost solid and visible in the air. She watches the back of Brittany’s shoulders as they shake with her sobs and when Emma glances up and sees the pain in the dark girl’s eyes she can’t stand it and she has to look away.
* * *
Mike doesn’t visit her either.
She catches him in the corridors once or twice and quietly suggests that he make an appointment.
“Sure, Ms P. I’ll try and do that” he lies to her. His smile doesn’t even attempt to reach his eyes.
He used to walk like he was dancing, Emma remembers. Now he moves like he has to convince his body to take each individual step. Like his limbs are weighed down.
* * *
Matt has appointments three times a week, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Matt was the one who stayed late that day, speaking to Ken about training and maybe rejoining the team if he could fit it around Glee. He’s the one who went into the changing room to check if a book he was missing might be in his old locker. Matt’s the one who found him.
Matt’s visits are mandatory.
Matt spends his every half hour appointment robotically listing each and every violent thing he wants to do to Azimio and swearing; a seamless stream of brutal profanity and aggression spilling from his lips in a dark monotone. He’s amazingly creative with both his threats and his insults.
At his last visit he’d broken off suddenly in the middle of a description involving baling wire and metal cutters and the loss of Azimio’s fingers and he’d laughed – a harsh bark of sound that had made her jump.
He’d smile- no. He’d shown Emma his teeth and said “Sorry, I just realised. I never thought the bastard son of a bitch had the fucking intelligence to tie his own shoes, but he managed to spell ‘faggot’ right when he cut it into his chest, the cunt”
Matt’s visits leave Emma shaking.
* * *
Finn’s visits were sporadic and unpredictable. He’d go all week without seeing Emma once and then come in four times in one day.
Finn spoke about his mother, and her worry over Mr Hummel, and how she cried at night when she thought Finn couldn’t hear – soft and muffled on the sofa in the dark of the living room.
He talked about how empty the Hummel house was, how he tried to spend as little time as possible there. How he still hadn’t gone down to the basement room since it happened. About how Mr Hummel had barely left it.
“All his things are still down there” he explained “Burt won’t even talk about sorting them out”
Finn talked about how wrecked Mr Hummel looked when he saw him now. “Like he’s a zombie. Like he’s the one who died”
Emma makes a note to send the details of groups and helplines and other counsellors to the Hummel household again, though she knows they’ll be ignored.
Finn talks about going to the graveyard a lot, but to Emma’s knowledge he still hasn’t been.
* * *
Noah doesn’t make formal appointments, but he’s always there once a week last thing on a Friday. Emma’s fairly sure it’s the period he’s meant to be in math class.
Noah’s been getting into trouble more and more. Frequent fights and math isn’t the only class he’s skipping, but he doesn’t seem to care.
She thinks he’s been fighting outside of school as well. He’s always got some injury when he walks into her office – black eye, bruises. A split lip more than once. Sometimes he will sit down carefully, awkwardly, like his ribs hurt. His knuckles are always cut up and damaged.
Noah will sit down and smile a sweet smile at Emma, and he will open his mouth and talk about Kurt.
He talks about Kurt for the full hour he’s there, every time.
Not about what happened. Not about Kurt dying. Not about him being attacked and him bleeding out on the cold tiles of the locker room floor. Not about him being murdered and mutilated.
No. Noah talks about Kurt like he’s still there, and he’d never struck Emma as a particularly eloquent boy before but when Noah talks about Kurt he builds up such a vivid, powerful picture that sometimes Emma thinks if she turned her head she would see the dead boy standing there at her elbow, called up by the pull of the love song that is Noah’s speech.
Because it is love that warms and colours Noah’s voice, even when he’s laughing and calling Kurt a ‘prissy little madam’.
It’s love that makes his eyes shine and sparkle when he talks about how great Kurt is. How kind beneath the layer of sarcasm, how sweet and gentle he is with his friends and his father and with Noah. How strong he is and how brave. How he never gives up and how he’ll fight his corner or for those he loves with a fury and with no thought for himself.
“Like a damned wildcat” Noah says affectionately. And it’s love that’s in his tone and in his smile as he talks gently about how pretty Kurt is; how lovely his eyes are, how handsome his face. How sweetly he kisses. How soft his skin is and how warm he is when he’s sleepy and wrapped around Noah. How Noah thinks that Kurt’s face in the morning is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen.
Noah never, ever refers to Kurt in the past tense. He has never acknowledged his death and he completely blanks Emma if she tries to bring it up. Kurt is always alive and present and there when Noah talks about him and Emma has never heard him slip, not once.
She’s very afraid that when he does, it’ll destroy him.
Noah’s visit is always the last of Emma’s week. One last, sweet smile and a horribly cheerful “See you next week, Ms Pill!”
Noah’s visits are always the ones that finally break her.
They’re the ones that send her fleeing from her own office, trembling with the need to hold herself together, out through the school and down to the music room where Will is always sitting and waiting; the misery of his own thoughts clear on his face as he turns to her and opens his arms.
And it’s here she’s always ended up this past two months. Crying in Will’s careful embrace, his own hitching breath against her hair. Trying to gather some of the pieces the children have broken off her throughout the days, chipping away at her with their grief over and over.
Mending herself just enough so that she can do it all again, next week.