“Hi,” this woman’s lipstick is smudged. It is smudged, right on the side of her lip, and it is disgusting and uneven. “I’m Charlotte. These will be intimate, closed group therapy sessions,” she says that as if it were something to be remotely proud of. The exclusive club for freaks and losers. “Every week. Let’s start simple. Why don’t we have everyone go around the circle once, and share their age.”
He doesn’t know how she expects him to listen to their ages when her lipstick is disgusting and there is a small ball of spit at the corner of her mouth. He doesn’t know why she expects him to care regardless.
He is sixteen.
“And, now, your names.”
His name is Stanley Uris.
“I’m sorry, Stan.” his mother told him four days prior, “I can’t do this anymore.”
Stanley Uris was sixteen when he accidentally dropped his mother’s wedding ring down the sink.
He screamed at her earlier that night, because she cooked food while wearing it. He screamed at her until she took it off, and showed him how recently it had been cleaned. It was far from clean. It had small specks of grime in the cracks between the stones, and the band was smudged from long wear. It was disgusting, and now the germs in it were in his food and all over the entire goddamned kitchen and on his clothes and probably already in his mouth. He snuck into her room in the middle of the night and slipped it off her finger again and when he tried to scrub it off with a toothbrush it slipped and then it was down the sink and she was crying but all he could think about was washing his hands.
Stanley Uris took steps carefully, so his feet fall evenly between the tiles as he was paraded down sterile white halls until they come to a desk.
“Hi,” his mother said, “he’s here for group therapy.”
The woman behind the desk tried to shake his hand.
Stanley Uris stared at her.
He was told as he walked down the hall how good this will be for him, to have children his own age to relate to. The doors swung open on the most motley looking crew he had literally ever seen. The girl with short, scruffy red hair and scabs on her chin, and the boy who looked like he could snap in two at any given moment and the only one he recognized is the one he barely knew in middle school but his brother disappeared and his stutter got so bad no one could fucking understand him and they shipped him off to some boarding school for it.
"All of these children have ocd?” his mother asked tentatively
“Oh, no,” the nurse explained, “Derry is a small town. This is a collective group of children that need solace, for various reasons.”
Stanley Uris wouldn’t sit down until they let him wipe down the seat with wet wipes.
They sat in silence and waited because the last of them is late. A boy with enormous glasses and clear authority issues was all but shoved in exactly seven minutes and thirty six seconds after when they should have started and the first thing the boy said was “what time is this over?”
Stanley Uris is sixteen. He is sitting there in their circle of seven. He listens to each of their names, Ben Beverly Bill Mike Richie Eddie, and he can only think of one thing on a continuous loop:
This will never work.
Charlotte tells them, with her chipped nails and her wrinkled button up shirt, that they're going to play a game. Because games will keep Stan’s eyes from twitching at how crooked the boy across from him’s glasses are. He should have just broken out UNO years ago. Genius.
Stan settles his eyes where it doesn't bother him to look. One of them, a kid with dark skin whose name Stan has already forgotten, is wearing pale blue scrubs with a gray zip up hoodie over the top. He isn't wearing shoes. He must live at the hospital already. Stan wishes Charlotte would have him explain why, and not have them play a game.
Charlotte is reading from a paper and then boy with the dead brother is nodding solemnly as he listens to the instructions, brow furrowed in concentration
“Please answer these questions with either one word or a very short phrase. Speak only when your name is called. Answer quickly with whatever comes to your mind. Do not attempt to justify or explain your response. Try and listen to your peers and hear where you are similar. Do not react verbally, judge or laugh at your peer’s responses. Do not try to interact. This is a quiet activity. If you do not feel ready to answer, you may pass, and if you pass again the round will move on from the question. It is imperative to be honest as possible. If you are uncomfortable at any time, please raise your hand.” Stan waits for her to ask for questions because he has several. She doesn't offer the option. She begins.
“If you could live in one t.v. show, movie, or book, which would it be? Bill.”
He pauses. Brilliant game, lady. Really taking off here. Guardians of Ga’hoole he thinks as he says “pass.”
“Harry Potter.” She answers clearly. Beverly sits confidently. She has mud crusted on the toe of her boots and ink smudged on her arms.
Richie looks perfectly content to live on the world he does, “pass.”
Eddie waits a long moment. Eddie is wearing a polo shirt and looks like he's composed purely of nervous energy and bandaids. “Pass.” He says finally.
“Marvel Universe.” He answers. Eddie looks almost affronted, as if he just told himself he couldn't say that.
“Guardians of Ga’hoole.”
There's no follow up. There's no discussion. There's just the next question. “If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be? Richie.”
Richie almost outright laughs, “space.”
“Home.” Something about the scrubs makes that worse.
“I-I d-d-don’t know.” Not here, Stan thinks.
“Not here,” he says before he even realizes it was on his tongue.
It flies by. They rotate around the circle like a spinning top. Stan feels his head twisting with it. His mouth forms words he’s barely considered. He answers like he should, quickly and without thought. He feels docile and lost as he listens to it rotate. Stan’s mind can't keep up with the overload of information. He feels like the only answer he really hears is the first person to answer for that round.
“What is the color of love? Ben.”
“Red. Soft red. Like sunset after it's rained. Or...fire.”
“If you could smash one object in the world and face no repercussions, what would be? Beverly.”
“An enormous mirror.”
“What is your biggest worry? Bill.”
“N-never f-fuh-fuh-fully rec-covering.”
“Who is the most influential person of our lifetime? Richie.”
“Mickey Mouse.” Eddie looks somewhat annoyed with Richie’s apparent inability to take this seriously. Richie meets his eye and laughs softly. They've broken a rule. It goes unacknowledged by Charlotte. The game spins on anyway. Stan can't focus on anyone else's answers that round. He can barely zero in on one a round.
“Who is your biggest role model? Eddie.”
“Pass.” He later passes again. Eddie often takes a long time, and passes even more so.
“What is a skill you wish you had? Mike.”
He looks distant. “So many,” he says after a pause.
“What is the biggest waste you know?”
Stan takes a deep breath and when he expands his hands his fingers crack. He exhales and inhales again right after. “My time,” he answers, happy he doesn't have to explain whether he meant in there or in general because he doesn't know.
The game keeps going. Stan doesn't listen until after the next two rounds.
“What is the ugliest thing you know? Bev.”
“Him.” She says almost instantaneously. Stan would like to know what that means. Stan hates this game.
Everything he thinks as he says “pass.”
Eddie takes the longest this round that he's taken. After a moment so long Stan starts to count the number of times Richie’s leg has bounced, he says “fear.”
“Stan.” It seems so honest, that Stan consciously says what he thinks, too.
Or he comes close to it.
“Ben.” Ben waits a long moment, too. Not as long as Eddie, but the moment stretches.
“Me.” He answers finally.
Charlotte doesn't blink. Beverly takes a small, sharp inhale of breath. Stan examines his shoes. They're still tied. Charlotte doesn't wait a beat, “what will always bring you joy?”
Stan doesn't like that the game keeps going. He can barely keep track of the answers. How is he supposed to listen if he's stressed about what to say himself? How is he supposed to use this information to understand any of these people? The game tumbles forward but he can barely pay attention to it. Ben has a stain on the chest of his shirt. Eddie’s legs are so thin his knees protrude. Whatever comes to his mind spills out when his name is called.
“Who would you follow to the end of the earth? Stan.”
“No one,” he spits out before he can even think about it, it just tumbles out.
Ben is breaking a rule. Ben is looking at him.
“No one,” he answers with a soft nod.
It's a very long pause, but it ends with a sigh and a small utterance of “no one.”
“Beverly.” Beverly looks up at them. She seems to take a sweeping gaze across the circle. For a moment, Stan’s stress settles. He's hit with a thought again. He thinks it never left. He thinks it was there in the back of his mind the entire time. The dumb game just distracted him from it.
This is never going to work.
“Anyone,” Beverly answers crisply. “As long as it's an adventure.”