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These Kids Deserve Better

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“So… today’s your big day, huh?” Mike says, helping Alison get her arm into her coat before she throws it across the room in frustration.

Finally getting her coat on, Alison buttons it and turns to face him. “Yeah. wish me luck?”

“You’re gonna do fine. I know you will.”

Alison smiles, pushing her fear to the back of her mind, and gives him a quick kiss. “Thanks. Okay, I really need to get going. Can you give me a lift?”

“Yep,” Mike says, picking up the car keys. “Your carriage awaits, My Lady.”

She rolls her eyes, following Mike to the car. In the passenger seat, Alison fiddles with the radio, her heart racing.

It’s really happening. She’s thought about this day since she was fifteen, and now it’s really here. She barely notices when Mike starts the car and starts humming to the radio, lost in thoughts.

Alison looks at the ID card hanging around her neck, part of the pack of stuff she got when she was up at the school last week, talking to the head teacher. All she really remembers about Mr White is that he was in a foul mood as the woman Alison was replacing left suddenly, meaning she is starting her new job several weeks earlier; the plan was for Alison to take over after Christmas, but it looks like she’s getting the job two months earlier.

She stares at her ID, at her awful photograph and the words written beside it.

Alison Cooper

Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO)

To be honest, the words ‘special needs’ make her feel sick, but the name can’t be helped. She wanted this job, so she gets the awful title.

She has hated the words ‘special needs’ ever since she was seven years old and got diagnosed with dyslexia. Alison soon found herself placed in the Special Needs Programme at her primary school, which basically involved being segregated from the other kids and being talked to like she was a toddler. This pattern continued into high school, continuing to piss Alison off.

So when she was fifteen, she decided what she wanted to be when she grew up. She couldn’t stand the SENCO at her high school (he treated them all like babies, banned the autistic and ADHD kids from stimming, and discouraged letting them take normal classes with the other kids, instead leaving them stuck in that room), and Alison was beginning to realise that lots of other schools were the same way. The disabled kids were seen as a burden, and the schools didn’t want to put up with them, leading to them all getting a substandard education. And she was too late to do anything about her own life, but Alison wanted to help other kids have a better time at school.

So she decided she wanted to be a SENCO. And she has done her teaching degree and done all the extra training a SENCO is expected to do, and shadowed other SENCOs at different schools, and it has all taken so painfully long. But the day has finally come.

She is going to be the new SENCO at this school, and she will make sure the disabled kids get the treatment they deserve. Depending on the state her predecessor left it in, it might be a lot of work. But she doesn’t care. Disabled kids deserve better than she got, and she’s always been good at doing things she puts her mind to.

The journey passes in silence, at least until they drive past Button House, an impressive manor house.

“So, that’s the place the school’s named after?” Mike says.

Alison nods. “Yeah. Button House Comp was apparently named after this place. Cool, huh?”

“Yeah. Must be nice to live there…”

Soon, Mike pulls onto the campus of Button House Comprehensive, and Mike stares.

“It’s… a bit run down, isn’t it?”

“Just a bit,” Alison says. She was shocked too when she was here the other week, but, really, what public high school doesn’t look a mess?

It’s 8:30am, so none of the kids have arrived yet. It should be hectic here in fifteen minutes, though.

“Okay,” Mike says, pulling into a parking space. “Good luck today, Ally.”

“Thanks,” Alison says, kissing him. “See you later.”

Waving at her husband, Alison hops out of the car and heads to the school. She reaches the office and lets herself in. Alison signs in at the office and hurries through the school until she reaches her new workplace.

On the ground floor, not too far from the gym, she locates the room called the Special Education Centre. Alison grimaces at the name and wanders inside. She remembers a brief trip around this room, but she didn’t get a proper look. So, whilst she’s alone, she investigates.

The room is large, about twice as big as the other classrooms in this school, with Alison’s office leading off of it towards the back. The room has its own disabled toilet, which seems good enough when Alison opens the door to check. At one end, she finds three old computers, and some beanbags in a corner. The centre of the room is full of desks, arranged into tables so the kids can sit in groups of four. Only one desk appears wheelchair accessible, and Alison rolls her eyes. There’s a whiteboard and an interactive whiteboard with projector side-by-side on the wall, but something else catches her eye.

On the wall is a poster that says ‘QUIET HANDS’. Alison grits her teeth and rips it from the wall, stuffing it into the bin. That’s an ABA term, and she’ll bloody well punch someone if the previous SENCO was making the kids stop stimming. That’s just… cruel.

Well, there are certainly some things to change. Alison sighs and wanders into her desk, and plonks in front of the computer. She scrolls through the list of kids who have (in the school’s terms) special needs, noting there are only nine of them. Now, with only 400 students, Button House Comp isn’t the biggest high school, but that still seems a small amount. There must be a lot of undiagnosed kids at this school.

She’s about to read some more, but gets distracted by the bell.

Her first day of school has begun.

---

9am – Period 1

Not that long after the bell, four teachers enter her room. They introduce themselves as the Learning Support Assistants who work with the kids (again using that bloody term), and Alison fights back a laugh; how can there only be four? Jesus, this school is a mess.

“You have Robin and Mary this period, Mrs Cooper,” one of them, Miss Carter, tells Alison. “Miss Jenkins and I will be working with them, whilst Mrs Crane and Miss Baker will be assisting Katherine and Humphrey in their classes.”

“Watch out for Robin,” Miss Baker says, and the four women laugh.

Alison doesn’t get it, but gives an awkward laugh. Miss Baker and Mrs Crane leave, the others setting up for lessons with Robin and Mary.

She sighs, already finding the LSAs very irritating. Can anyone who works with disabled children be nice?

A couple of minutes later, heavy footsteps thunder outside the room and the door flings open. Two kids stumble into the room, holding hands and panting for breath. Alison finds herself looking at a very scruffy boy who appears to have not brushed his hair or tucked his shirt in, his tie loose and a tear in the knee of his trousers. The girl is a bit taller than him and looks a lot smarter, although her hair does seem close to slipping out of her loose ponytail. The students at Button Comp wear a colour-coded tie to show their year group, so Alison can tell the boy is in year seven, and the girl year eight.

“Sorry we’re late!” the boy says, not one for volume control.

“Yeah, we, we got dis-distracted,” the girl says, her mouth working hard to form her words, like speech is very difficult for her.

“No running!” Miss Carter says, raising her eyebrows.

“This is Robin and Mary,” Miss Jenkins says. “They’re always late.”

“Sorry,” Robin mumbles. Then he looks at Alison. “Who’s she?”

“Oh, I’m Mrs Cooper, the new SENCO,” Alison says, wandering over. “Did nobody tell you about the change?”

The kids shake their heads. Alison sighs.

“Okay, well, never mind. It’s nice to meet you two.”

“Y-You too,” Mary says, smiling awkwardly.

“If you’re wondering, Robin has autism and Mary has developmental verbal dyspraxia, a speech disorder,” Miss Jenkins says.

Resisting the urge to snap, Alison says, “I know what DVD is. And I was curious as to why these two come to this place, but I’d prefer the kids told me themselves.”

“Why?”

“Well, a disability is a very personal thing. You two told me something personal about Robin and Mary without their consent. I’m not impressed,” Alison says, putting on her best teacher voice.

The two LSAs look at each other and apologise, but they don’t seem very sorry.

Alison wants to scream. Seriously, if someone told the world about her dyslexia without her consent, she would be so angry. Does nobody consider the privacy of these kids?

“Okay, Robin, time for some English,” Miss Jenkins says, talking to him like he’s five not eleven.

Seriously, she wants to scream. These women are just like the staff when Alison was at school. She has to say something.

As the LSAs lead Robin and Mary to their desks and the kids take their exercise books out of their bags, Alison clears her throat.

“Um, I don’t mean to distract you, but I need to say something important,” she says, and they look up (except Robin, who is fiddling with his pencil sharpener). “Listen, I don’t want to hear anyone infantilising my students, okay?”

“Infan… infan…” Robin mumbles to himself, trying to get his mouth around the long word.

“What do you mean by that, Mrs Cooper?” Miss Carter says.

“You know what I mean,” Alison says. “Treat them like they’re their actual ages, not five years old. It’s bordering on offensive, actually.”

“May I ask what gives you the right to say that to me?”

Alison sighs. She might as well talk about it now. “Because when I was in school, my special ed teachers treated me like a baby just for being dyslexic. I know how it feels. So stop doing it, or I’ll report you to the head teacher.”

The two LSAs don’t look too impressed, but they’re not stupid enough to argue with their boss.

“Yes, Mrs Cooper,” they both say, and Alison grins the moment she turns her back.

If they actually do what she says, then she will have already made a massive difference.

---

10am – Period 2

When the bell rings for period two, Robin and Mary stay in the room, although they switch to working on different subjects with their LSAs. Alison gets startled from her reports by someone knocking on the door. And when neither of the LSAs bother to answer despite being much closer, Alison gets up, crosses the room and opens the door.

She finds a girl on the other side of the door, wearing a scowl on her face. The girl wears the year 11 tie and sits in an electric wheelchair, one hand on the joystick and the other still poised in the air from knocking. Her uniform is perfectly worn and her hair very neat; she must pride herself in looking smart.

The girl looks up at Alison, confused. “Who are you?”

“Oh, I’m Mrs Cooper, the new SENCO. What about you?” Alison says.

“I’m Fanny Button,” the girl says. “Could you hold the door for me, please? I can’t open it on my own.”

“Oh, of course,” Alison says, stepping to the side and holding the door open.

Fanny steers her wheelchair into the classroom and says, “Thank you. I wouldn’t be a bother, but in the five years I’ve been here, the school has refused to put in an automatic door.”

“You’re not a bother,” Alison says, watching Fanny settle her chair at the wheelchair-accessible desk and take a ring binder out of her bag. “And… that’s pretty bad. What’s the reason we don’t have an automatic door?”

“Oh, the budget, apparently,” Miss Jenkins says.

Alison rolls her eyes. It’s always the budget.

“So, do you need an LSA, or are you here for another reason?” Alison asks.

“I can’t participate in PE, so I come here to study for my GCSEs instead,” Fanny says.

“So are you fine on your own?”

Fanny nods, but says, “Thank you.”

Alison goes back to her desk, but gets distracted halfway through the period by Fanny gasping in pain. She dashes out into the room to find Fanny leaning forwards in her chair, rubbing her leg.

“What’s the matter, Fanny?” Alison asks (ignoring the way Robin tries not to laugh at her name).

“Just… nerve pain,” Fanny says, trying to catch her breath. “I may not be able to use my legs, but I still feel pain in them. Sitting down for so long can—” Another gasp. “Cause cramps.”

“Do you need to see the nurse?”

“No, no, I’ll be fine. But thanks for the concern.”

As she heads back to her office, Alison realises the other four people in the room barely reacted to Fanny’s pain. Is she in pain so often that the others just became… desensitised to it.

And it’s bloody disgraceful to force Fanny to rely on other people because the school won’t budget for the new door.

She really needs to talk to the head teacher about this.

---

11am – Break Time

As the bell from break time rings, everyone leaves the room, the two LSAs ignoring her, both Robin and Mary waving and Fanny offering a brief smile. But Alison isn’t alone for long. Only thirty seconds later, two students appear.

Leading the way is a boy from the sixth form, wearing the year 13 tie. He fiddles with his tie and he wanders into the room, staring at his own feet. He’s on the chubby side and appears to be trying to grow a moustache, although it just looks wispy right now. When he spots Alison, he smiles and says, his voice surprisingly northern, “Oh, hello, Miss.”

The boy behind him from year 8, but the older boy is so short that there really isn’t a big height difference. He looks a bit scruffy, his shoes scuffed like he trips a lot, and he bumps his elbow into the doorway when he follows the other boy. “Hello.”

“Hi there,” Alison says. “I’m Mrs Cooper, the new SENCO. What brings you here?”

“Oh, we, we come here at break and lunch every day,” the older boy says. “Both of us find the canteen way too busy and loud, don’t we, Humphrey?”

Humphrey, the younger one, nods. “Yeah. And… I fall a lot, so… I come here. Hi.”

“Oh, and I’m Pat,” the older one says, grinning.

“Nice to meet you,” Alison says.

The pair of them aren’t exactly a handful. They simply sit at different desks and eat their snacks in the quiet of Alison’s room whilst the other students cause chaos in the hallways. When he has finished eating, Pat starts reading a book, whilst Humphrey takes longer to eat, having noticeable difficulties picking up his crisps. Does he have dyspraxia?

When the bell rings, Pat jumps, grimacing, and he scrabbles to get his stuff. Humphrey doesn’t move, obviously having his next lesson in here.

“Goodbye!” Pat says, waving.

Only a minute or so after he leaves, the next batch of students arrive.

---

11:30am – Period 3

Miss Jenkins, still looking pissed off, returns first, and joins Humphrey at his desk. But as she talks to him, Alison notes that she doesn’t seem to infantilise him nearly as much as she did with Robin.

The other three LSAs appear soon after, and Alison widens her eyes. All four of them are here this period? But if there are more than four students in the room, then… how will that work?

A minute later, Robin and Mary return, once again running late and out of breath. And, once again, they hold hands. Are they best friends?

“Sorry!” Robin says.

“No, it’s okay,” Alison says.

The two of them settle at their desks with an LSA each (although Alison notices that each kid is with a different LSA this time; that must get confusing), and start to work. Alison spots Robin rocking in his seat; he must be bored.

Five minutes into the lesson, two sixth form boys enter the room. the shorter one, a year 12 student, is prim and proper, all polished shoes and perfectly trimmed hair. The taller one, a year 13 student, is far scruffier and wears a scowl.

“Apologies,” the shorter boy says. “All the sixth formers were called to a break time detention. It overran.”

“Why did you have detention?” Alison asks.

“It was a group thing,” the taller boy says. “They punished us all because some old cow saw—”

“Julian!” the other boy says, scandalised.

Ignoring how Robin and Mary giggle in the background, Julian continues, “This woman said she saw sixth formers arseing around on their bikes on the main road, so we all got in trouble even though most of us take the bus.”

“I… see,” Alison says.

“Ignroe his language,” the shorter boy says. “Who are you?”

“Oh, Mrs Cooper. The new SENCO. What are your names?”

“I’m Julian, but this goody-goody already said that,” Julian says. “And this is Captain. Yes, that’s his real name.” He snorts.

“I go by Cap,” Cap says, his cheeks going red. “My parents got too into the military theme with my name.”

“Ah, there you two are,” Miss Baker says, standing up. “Come on, we don’t have all day.”

“Yes, Miss,” Cap says, and Julian rolls his eyes.

To Alison’s surprise, the two boys sit with Miss Baker, and she works with them both at once.

“You two are doing A-Levels, right?” Alison asks.

“Yeah. Both doing English to get into uni,” Julian says. “Fact we’re shit at it hasn’t stopped us.”

“Julian!” Cap says.

“Well, we are. You can’t read and I can’t write. We shouldn’t even be trying.”

“Now, I think you’re downplaying our disabilities a tad, Julian.”

“Anway,” Alison says, clearying her throat. “You two… share?”

“If we don’t have enough staff for everyone, some students double up,” Miss Baker says. “Is that a problem?”

“Just a bit,” Alison says. This is ridiculous. From Julian’s explanation, they probably have dyslexia and dysgraphia, and A-Level English is so difficult that the pair should definitely have separate LSAs. Seriously, this school is a joke.

Alison glances across the room, and spots Robin sat slumped in his chair, arms dangling at his sides. But the hand furthest from his LSA flaps – at least until he spots Alison looking at him and stops dead.

She smiles at him, and wanders over. “Robin, why did you stop flapping when you saw me?”

“You were flapping,” Mrs Crane says. “Robin, you know the rules!”

“Sorry, Miss,” Robin mutters, sighing.

“Mrs Cooper, did you read Robin’s notes?”

“Yes, I did,” she says, trying to stay calm.

“Then you must know that Robin isn’t allowed to flap in class. Oh, where did the poster go?”

“If you’re talking about the quiet hands poster, I threw it away. I don’t care how the old system works. In my class, there will be no ABA stuff. Robin, stim all you want. It helps a kid learn if they can stim. And if you keep this up, you know I’ll talk to the head teacher.”

This time, Mrs Crane seems to take Alison a bit more seriously, and she smiles.

Across the room, she spots Julian looking in her direction. And the expression on his face has changed from one of contempt to one of admiration.

Well, at least the students like her.

---

12:30pm – Period 4

For period four, the classroom becomes much less crowded. All five students and three of the LSAs leave, and only one student pokes her head into the room.

This girl is bright and bubbly, and wears a slightly wonky year 9 tie. She wears her hair in a long braid, and carries an adorable cat-shaped school bag. She smiles at Alison despite looking a bit confused, and rushes over to say hi.

“Hello, I’m Kitty,” she says, holding out her hand.

“Oh, I’m Mrs Cooper,” Alison says, taking Kitty’s hand. This must be Katherine, one of the students who got mentioned earlier, although she obviously goes by a nickname. “I’m the new SENCO. What brings you here?”

“Oh, I’m here to do maths! I’m really bad at it, so I come here to have help. Sometimes my teachers send me here when they say I’m being annoying. But I don’t mean to be annoying. Sometimes I just need to talk and fidget,” Kitty babbles.

Not impressed that her disruptive behaviour was described as annoying, Alison smiles at Kitty. “Well, you can stim as much as you need in here.”

“You know what stimming means?” Kitty says, and she beams. “I like you a lot, Mrs Cooper.”

Alison smiles and gestures for Kitty to sit with Miss Jenkins. She seems like such a sweet kid. Why must people call disabled kids annoying when they’re just trying to be themselves?

---

1:30pm – Lunchtime

Just like at break time, Pat and Humphrey return. Well, to be more specific, Humphrey returns and Pat turns up five minutes later, and Alison knows something is wrong.

Pat stumbles into the room, scrubbing at his face with a tissue. His eyes are red, obviously from crying.

“Pat, did someone upset you?” she asks, hurrying over.

“Oh, no, I’ve just got hay fever,” Pat says.

“It’s October,” Alison says.

For a second, Pat’s smile wobbles, but he gets it back. “Well, uh, I might as well say. Some of the boys in my class don’t… like me. And… it gets to me sometimes.”

“You’re being bullied?!”

“No, nothing like that,” Pat says, but she doesn’t believe him. “I just… cry easily, you know? It’s fine, really.”

“If you say so. But, Pat… just so you know, you can always come and talk to me, okay?”

Pat sniffs. “Okay. Thank you.”

Distracted by her worries about Pat, Alison doesn’t manage to each her lunch very quickly. It takes her half an hour to finish her meal, and she’s left feeling a bit sick.

The moment she shoves her wrappers in the bin, a yelp and a thumb make her jump. She hurtles into the room and finds Humphrey sprawled on the floor, Pat crouched beside him.

“What happened?” she asks, panicked. “Humphrey, are you okay?”

Alison crouches on his other side, hoping he isn’t unconscious.

“He tripped and banged his head on the table,” Pat says. “Humph? Are you okay?”

Humphrey groans and sits up, pressing his hand to his forehead. He doesn’t look quite with it, grimacing in pain.

“Humphrey, let me see,” Alison says.

He moves his head, showing a small red patch that should form a bruise.

“Sorry. I… I fall a lot,” he says.

“Don’t be sorry. I’m just glad you’re okay. Still, I think you should see the nurse.”

“Oh, I can take him,” Pat says. “This has happened before.”

“Thanks,” Alison says.

She and Pat help Humphrey to his feet, and Pat holds onto his upper arm as he steers Humphrey out of the room.

After fifteen minutes of worrying about him, Alison jumps to her feet when they return. Humphrey smiles, the bump on his head a bit bigger but his grimace of pain gone.

“He’s okay,” Pat says. “But we need to watch for signs of concussion over next two days, don’t we?”

Alison smiles. “I’m glad you’re okay.”

The relief that rushes through her is like nothing she has ever experienced before. Is… Is she already becoming attached to these kids? When she has worked at schools before, she always ends up feeling like her students are her own children. For some of the kids, her classroom felt like home, and she ended up feeling like some kind of mother.

But it’s never happened this quickly before. Still, she’s not complaining. She and Mike will probably never have any kids of their own, so she always ends up feeling like she’s adopted every student she works with. That might seem weird, but she doesn’t care. you don’t have to be related to be a family.

---

2: 30pm – Period 5

At the end of lunchtime, Pat and Humphrey leave and are replaced by Robin, Mary and Fanny – and a student Alison hasn’t met before.

This boy has carefully styled brown hair and carries a small notebook under his arm, a year 10 tie around his neck. The moment he spots Alison, he stops dead and stares at her, mouth slightly open. When his cheeks go red, Alison realises this boy might be getting a crush on her. Oh dear.

“Hello, I’m Thomas Thorne, year ten,” Thomas says, nodding his head in some sort of bow. “Who might you be, madam?”

Alison tries not to react to his antiquated way of speech, simply saying, “Oh, I’m Mrs Cooper, the new SENCO. Nice to meet you, Thomas. What are you here for?”

“I adore the subject of history, but I can’t write fast enough to do my timed essays,” he says. “And as this school has no laptops, they send me here to use the computers and work with an LSA if I need to.”

“Oh,” Alison says. “Does this place seriously not have any laptops?”

“Nope,” Robin says as he dashes past her, flapping his arms.

Wow. This school is a dump.

“Okay, well, get to work, Thomas,” she says.

“Of course, Mrs Cooper,” Thomas says, bowing his head again before scuttling off.

Yeah, a student having a crush on you is really awkward.

As Thomas settles at a computer, Alison spots Fanny pulling a large notebook out of her bag, obviously full of revision notes.

“What subject is this for, Fanny?” she asks.

“Oh, these are my English notes. My class are actually in Cookery right now, but I had to drop my GCSE after my… accident,” Fanny says. “The labs are inaccessible, you see.”

Alison doesn’t pry (people prying into your disability can be seriously annoying), simply nodding and saying, “You must revise very thoroughly.”

“Yes, well, I take pride in my note taking skills,” she says, smiling.

Alison glances across the room, getting distracted when she sees Thomas. He has pushed his keyboard back and is daydreaming, tapping his pen against his open notebook. Great, he’s a daydreamer.

“Sorry, Fanny, I need to go get Thomas back on track,” Alison says, wandering over.

On the computer screen, Thomas has both a Microsoft Word page open (empty) and a Powerpoint clearly sent to him by his history teacher.

“Thomas?” she says.

He jumps. “Yes?”

“I think you need to get back to you essay.”

“Oh, of course,” Thomas says, but she catches him scribbling in his notebook for the rest of the period.

Five minutes before the end of the lesson, Robin runs over to Thomas and lunges at him.

“Hey!” Thomas yelps.

Robin runs across the room, laughing and holding Thomas’ notebook above his head.

“Give that back!”

Robin ignores him, looking at what Thomas has written and laughing harder.

“Robin, hand it over,” Alison says as Thomas burns with embarrassment.

With reluctance, Robin gives her the notebook, and Alison glances at the page. And then stares.

Oh, Mrs Cooper,
You are like a

Those two, short lines are all that appear there, written in Thomas’ rather clumsy handwriting. Was he trying to write a poem for her, only to get stuck?

She hands the notebook back to a very grateful Thomas, pretending she didn’t see his poem.

And when he leaves the room at the end of the period, she muffles laughter into her hands embarrassed and cringing at Thomas’ poetry skills. But… wow, having someone (try to) write a love poem for you is incredibly awkward.

---

3:30pm – Period 6

After Thomas, Fanny leaves, leaving Mary and Robin as the only students in the room. the two get on with their work with Miss Jenkins and Miss Carter, and Alison sits in her office, deciding to file paperwork for an application for an automatic door for her room.

But she gets distracted by a phase that makes her stomach clench.

“Robin, quiet hands!”

Alison runs out into the room and finds Robin squirming in his seat, pressing his hands against the table. He bites his bottom lip, expression someone between fear and discomfort.

“Miss Carter, did you really just do that?” Alison says, folding her arms across her chest.

“Do what? Quiet hands is part of our teaching methods.”

“Not since I took over, it isn’t. Robin you can keep stimming. And Miss Carter, don’t you ever say something like that to him or anyone else ever again. Banning kids from stimming is abusive. This is your last warning.”

To her satisfaction, Miss Carter looks very comfortable, and apologises. Beside her, Robin starts flapping again, smiling.

Later in the period, Miss Carter and Miss Jenkins step out to do some photocopying for Mary and Robin, leaving the kids alone. The moment they leave, Robin leans across his desk so he’s closer to Mary, and starts moving his hands.

It takes Alison only a second to recognise sign language. Mary smiles and signs back, and Alison wanders over.

She signs ‘hello’, but then smiles awkwardly and adds, “Sorry, that’s all I know.”

“You’re not… angry?” Mary says.

“Why would I be?”

“We’ve… always been told t’speak with o-our mouths, not hands,” Robin says.

Alison looks at them and sighs.

“We’ve been fr-friends since… since we were l-little,” Mary says. “We… like learning signs in-instead.”

“Yeah, much easier than speaking,” Robin says, nodding.

“Well, I encourage you to use whatever language is best for you,” Alison says, smiling. “This is my room, and you can do what you want. Okay?”

The two of them nod, smiling. “Okay.”

---

After a long day at school, Alison slumps on the sofa beside Mike, scrolling through messages on her phone.

“So, how was your first day?” Mike asks.

“It went okay. The kids are great, but they deserve so much better than what they can get at Button Comp. but I’m gonna try my best to get everything sorted so they can have a better time than I did.”

“I’m sure you’ll make things much better for them, Ally.”

“Thanks,” she says, and something occurs to her. Alison googles British Sign Language and clicks on a Youtube video that teaches some basic signs.

“What’re you doing?” Mike says, peering over her shoulder. “Sign language?”

“Yeah, some of the kids know it, and I wanna learn it too.”

“You know, I might join you. Might come in handy next time I go nonverbal,” Mike says, smiling.

Alison gives him a kiss, smiling back. Yeah, things are going to get better from now on.