“So, how’s your scheduled?” Mrs. Jane asks. Reclined behind her desk, she looks every bit the shrink. She’s even wearing her concerned look: head tilted slightly to the right, trimmed eyebrows bent upward, lips in a slight frown. It’s an expression patented in graduate school, one designed to draw out confessions as a plunder draws out clogs. “Do you like your classes?”
“They’re alright.” Between us, a stick of sandalwood incense smolders on a tray featuring a small statue of the serene Buddha. The Buddha isn’t the plump Chinese version, smiling and promising good fortune in return for a belly rub, but the Indian kind with hollow cheeks and a hollow belly, the look of acceptance in his eyes. The tray is stamped Keep out of the reach of children. I breathe through my mouth, careful not to inhale the thick, scented air.
“Even Ag Mechanics?” She asks, twirling a pencil between her fingers, playing air drums for The Who or Cream or some other hippy band. On her desk are photos of students and friends. Hanging from her walls are state-approved motivational posters. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity! says Albert Einstein. I know I should agree with him. He was a genius after all.
“Yeah, it sounds like a good time.” I lie, smiling, throwing a rehashed expression back to the master. Will she notice? School counselors, like anyone else, can be intuitive or dense, it’s always coin toss, one dependent on the phase of the moon, hormones, and level of interest.
“June is in that class isn’t she?” Her eyebrows drop and lips level. “I know you two are becoming close.”
“She’s alright.” We’ve had this conversation before (thanks Mom!) and I wonder if it’ll end the same way, like two people driving different cars, one headed for Disneyland, the other for Six Flags. “She’s teaching me Spanish. Un árbol, una roca, una nube. That’s ‘a tree, a rock, a cloud.’”
Mrs. Jane smiles. Her leather chair creaks as she begins rocking back and forth. This is her thinking mode. I shift in my plastic bucket seat, waiting for whatever is next. I’m good like that, never eager I can idle with the best of them. Too bad Mom doesn’t realize it. She’d appreciate me more if she did.
“So…” Mrs. Jane says. She taps her index fingers together that seems straight out of a Bond movie. All she’s missing is an eye patch, lap kitten, and a Russian satellite ready to destroy London. I giver her time.
If you want to know, West Greenville hasn’t always had a real consular, not a qualified one with a fancy degree on the wall anyways. In the past, counseling was someone’s added chore, like making posters for the annual canned food drive. It was only after Columbine that the school began an honest search for a dye in the wool kid shrink. Mrs. Jane, being the only applicant with a Masters degree in counseling, was welcomed with opened arms. So in the fall of 04,’ a janitor’s closet was emptied and a standard issue teachers desk hauled in. They even went as far as to paint it’s four windowless walls happy yellows and oranges.
“Where does June live?” Mrs. Jane moves a slow hand to the incense holder. She removes the spent stick and replaces it with another, this one green though still smelling of sandalwood. She carefully lights it with the last match from a matchbook labeled El Cheapo’s Wine and Liquor. I observe her, loving the subtle flicks of the wrist and quick, confident motions. One day I’ll be the adult and be forever composed. The smell of sulfur is intoxicating.
“Hunter Estates,” I say, leaving off the trailer park part.
“Is that within the school limits?”
“Barely,” I say, worrying that maybe she’ll try to banish my June Bug to Booker or Carver High School with the blacks and poor whites. Perhaps Mrs. Jane isn’t what I hoped she’d be.
“Tell me about her?” She asks. A tattooed tiger peeks out from under her shirt cuff. “How would you characterize June?”
“She’s smart,” I say, struggling a bit, a little defensive. It’s like being asked what is a dog? A dog’s, a dog. A dog that’s more bark than bit, but who’ll bite if need be. Like anyone else.
“What else?” She prods slightly deeper, a prospector sensing easy pickings.
“That’s important to you?.” A slight, self-satisfied curl of the lip. Her heavy bead necklace rattles on the desktop as she leans forward. “Is you family honest? Or should I say open?”
“I don’t know. We don’t talk that much. You know that.”
“I know you don’t talk much.” It’s like playing catch with an All-Star, they’re not psychic but know what to expect and can anticipate.
“Well, they don’t,” I say, fighting down something, I’m not sure what.
“Sucks doesn’t it?” She relaxes into her big sister mode, using language that seems as natural to her as having bat wings or a mermaid tail. “I don’t mean to slam your family, but they do seem a little too quiet.”
I look at her.
It’s hard to think that the childless, divorced, forty-something Mrs. Jane Peterson was once top of her field. The awards on her walls, the most recent from twelve years ago, speak of a woman who loved and was loved: Prescott High Schools beloved Daughter, For Achievements in Community Building, etc. Now there is only her upper-middle-class purgatory and a kid whose main problem is having an introverted family.
“And I know they don’t see their problems.” She pulls a pack Oreos from a drawer, meaning our twenty minutes are up. She offers me one. “Your Mom thinks our little sessions will get you out of your rabbit hole. But we both know that isn’t true. How’s the blog?”
“I haven’t started it yet,” I say, eyeing my Oreo, wondering about that coin toss.
“It could be a lot of fun. You should try it. And you should get June involved. I think she’s good for you. For the most part.”
“You’re one of the few.” I walk to the door, anticipating my mother on the other side, rereading an In Touch, anxious to leave.
“And try to talk to Oliver.” She calls after me. “Buenas tardes hasta la próxima semana!”
I look at her, and she gives me a quick wink.
“Buenas tardes señora Jane,” I say, my smile, I’m sure, showing black Oreo teeth.