A mysterious girl joins Bernadette’s group therapy sessions
As Miss Hunt says it, her voice seems far away. I’m sitting on one of the cold, grey chairs in the small, stuffy room they put the kids in. I’ve been told that my loose, grey sweatshirt with the hood up—and my baggy jeans—give me a scary, mysterious vibe. And that’s the reason I wear them.
Miss Hunt’s shouting jolts me back to the present. “Bernadette! I know you may not like going to therapy, but it can help you. So please participate!”
I feel the stares of the other people in the room. They’re waiting to see what I will do next.
Guess I should give the people what they want. A little drama.
I sit up from my slouch and roll my eyes. “Fine. I’m feeling just swell. Really. I don’t even know why I’m at therapy. My parents died ten years ago. I’m over it. Really.”
Miss Hunt doesn’t seem happy with my answer.
Determined to leave it at that, I look away. Four seats away from me sits a girl. She looks about my age— fourteen. She has shoulder-length straight, blonde hair with a thin blue streak starting at her left temple. She has big hazel eyes and freckles. She’s wearing a Paddington-style navy blue coat, black tights, and chunky black combat boots. I don’t know why I didn’t notice her until now, though this is my first therapy session. It doesn’t matter.
We are finally released. My uncle texts me, letting me know he’s waiting outside. As I’m walking out the door, the Paddington-coat girl bumps into me, and I fall back a step. I catch a faceful of her hair.
I wish I had hair like that, I think, staring at my ugly, knotted ginger hair that my uncle won’t let me dye because “it’s so beautiful” and “it won’t grow back the same.”
I jolt back.
“I’m so sorry!” she says. “I didn’t mean to. I just wanted to catch you before you left.”
“Um, why?” I’m only partially effective at restraining my snarl.
“You, um, just seemed cool. I wanted to know your deal. I’m Sam.” She blushes.
The girl stares at me. I stare back at her.
Sam seems mysterious and cool, and potential friend material. Which means I have to stay as far away as possible from her.
* * *
The following week, I find myself back in that bleak therapy room, in that cold, uncomfortable chair, looking at that annoying Miss Hunt. She’s not a bad person, but she doesn’t get us. I’m in a black sweatshirt today, black leggings, and high-top white sneakers.
“So,” Miss Hunt turns to a boy a few seats away from me. “What’s going on, Charlie?”
The boy looks down at his feet. “Um, I guess I keep having these flashbacks and nightmares.”
“What are they about, if you don’t mind me asking?”
The boy shrinks further down. He looks at Miss Hunt but keeps his mouth shut.
I tune out the rest of the session until Miss Hunt questions Sam.
I shoot up from my slouching position.
“Nothing much. Just the usual,” Sam replies. Miss Hunt and Sam share a look, obviously hiding something.
I know I shouldn’t talk to Sam, but I want to know what’s happening.
I walk up to Sam after the session. “What’s your deal?” I ask.
“What do you mean?” she replies evenly.
“You know what I’m talking about. That look with Miss Hunt when she asked you a question. So, spill.”
“Now, why should I tell you?” Sam smiles and heads out the door.
* * *
I’m sitting on my bedroom floor on top of a colorful rug my uncle picked out for me when I first moved into his house after my parents died. Sitting in front of me is the notebook Miss Hunt gave me a few days ago. It’s silver with a rainbow hummingbird on the front. Do I have any intention of actually using it? Of course not. Journaling is for losers. But also, do I have emotions that I would like to express? Yes.
You know what? Screw it. I’ll write in this stupid notebook.
I don’t care if Sam and I aren’t friends. It might be better that way anyway.
I move across my room to grab a pen, my favorite one. It’s blue and cheap, and I got it when I was going into sixth grade. It somehow survived that long. I like it because it’s lasted through things, so it’s kinda like me. It’s nice to have someone cheering me on, even if that “someone” is only a pen.
I grab the notebook and plop onto my bed. My old grey blanket is rough to the touch but comforting nonetheless. I get to work.
Wait. I’m not a fifth-grader . . .
Hi. I’m Bernadette. If I had friends, I would be called Bernie. But I don’t. This, apparently, is my new notebook.
My parents died when I was four. We lived in France, and from what I can remember, we really liked it there.
But then my parents died. I only remember one thing from that night. The pounding rain. And the thunder. So much thunder. I try to remember as much as I can, but it’s hard, you know? I mean, I was four.
Anyway, my uncle enrolled me in a therapy group a few weeks ago. It’s terrible. The only thing that makes it somewhat bearable is this girl. Her name is Sam. She seems interesting. Honestly, I just wanna know her deal. She must have something going on, IDK.
I think that’s all for now.
I just got home from therapy. I feel like I tune out everything. Does that happen to everyone? Miss Hunt asked me if I was using my notebook today. I told her no. I’m not gonna give her the satisfaction of thinking she is helping me, even if this notebook thing is actually kinda soothing. Sam wasn’t there today. Maybe that’s why I zoned out completely. When she’s there, I try to get clues as to why she is there.
For the rest of April, I wrote in the notebook, and I found it to be the only relief from my crazy world.
* * *
I get to therapy early but don’t take a seat yet. I walk around the room instead. I actually find some interesting things. There are awards with Miss Hunt’s name on them, and there are posters in different fonts and colors. Just then, Sam walks in and takes the seat closest to the door. I slowly creep to the chair next to hers and sit down, not as gracefully as I could have. She turns her head toward me with a teasing look.
“Nice. As graceful as a ballerina,” she says.
I can feel my cheeks burning as I pull my knotted hair around my face. “Yeah.”
“Chill out! It was a joke!” She reaches for my shoulder in a comforting manner, but I instinctively swat it away.
“Gosh, chill out. You don’t have to be mean about it.” She turns away from me, her lavender-scented hair flowing close to my face.
What was that, Bernadette?
I get up and run to the doorway, heading toward the bathroom. When I get there, I run to the closest stall.
Well, that was embarrassing. I need to write that in my notebook.
After a minute of thinking, I decide it’s better just to go back and get the notebook than to stay here in the bathroom. I don’t care if Sam and I aren’t friends. It might be better that way anyway.
I open the stall, go to the sink, and splash water on my face. Then I head back to the room. A few more people came in while I was in the bathroom, but my bag is still on the chair next to Sam, so no one took that seat. As I walk back to where my bag is, I see Sam. In. My. Bag.
“What are you doing?!” I yell at Sam.
She fumbles with something, and throws it into her grey satchel. “Nothing! The bag fell to the ground, so I just picked it up.”
I narrow my eyes. “Whatever.”
* * *
At the end of the session, I pick up my bag and run out the door. I want to get home so I can update my journal.
When I get home, I sprint into my room, almost tripping up the carpeted stairs in the process. My shoes are still on, and I know my uncle won’t be happy with me for that, but I don’t care.
I spin around, and there, in my doorway, is Sam.
I enter my room and toss my bag onto my unmade bed. I look inside the bag, but I don’t see the notebook. I dump out the contents of the bag and finger through the hairbands and pieces of paper, still not seeing the rainbow hummingbird. Maybe I didn’t bring it to therapy? I run to my desk, sifting through all of the binders and pens and pencils. I still don’t see it. I empty the contents of my desk drawers. Nothing. I don’t really care if I lose it. It can be replaced. But if it isn’t here, where is it?
Sam had stuffed something into her bag after I came back from the bathroom. What if she took it?! This is bad. This is really, really bad.
* * *
“Bernie!” My uncle yells up to my room. “Time to go to therapy!”
“I don’t feel good! Can I stay home today?” I reply. I’m not actually sick, but I can’t imagine sitting in the same room as Sam right now.
My uncle comes up to my room and feels my forehead. He’s impressed with my “fever” and lets me skip therapy. (Blow-dryer to the forehead works every time.)
I spend the next forty-five minutes with a piece of paper and a pencil, trying to come up with ways to deal with Sam. All I end up with is this:
- Ignore her for the rest of my life
- Somehow get out of therapy
- Sit across the room every time to avoid confrontation
- Say the notebook wasn’t mine (who would it belong to tho??)
I stare at the page for a minute, realizing that none of these things will work.
“Ugh,” I say under my breath.
Maybe a good night’s rest will give me some ideas.
When did I turn into an old lady thinking everything is fixed with sleep? Whatever.
I put the paper and pencil on my blue nightstand, grab my soft, purple pajamas, and head into my bathroom to shower and change. After a scalding shower, I brush my teeth and fall into bed, getting under the familiar gray fabric. Almost immediately after I close my eyes, I fall asleep.
* * *
The next morning, I change into a grey sweatshirt and leggings. I run downstairs to pack my backpack and get breakfast before school. I check the clock on the microwave, and it says 7:30. Great. We’re supposed to leave by 7:20 every day to get to school on time. I shove a piece of bread into the toaster. I grab the peanut butter out of the cupboard and my favorite grape jelly out of the fridge. I pull the toast out early because I don’t have time to let it fully toast. I smear the peanut butter and jelly onto the bread and grab my backpack from the floor where I had thrown it the day before. The smell of the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich makes me smile despite the whole situation with Sam. I hear my uncle honk at me from our silver sedan, so I throw on the first pair of shoes I can find and run out the door.
The next six days are torture, thinking about what to do about Sam and thinking about what was in my notebook that I didn’t want anyone else to see.
Eventually, Wednesday rolls around, and despite all my attempts to get out of it, I still end up in that stupid, cold chair. I sit at the chair farthest from the door, hoping that Sam won’t notice me when she walks in.
After a few minutes, Sam walks in. She is wearing her navy blue Paddington-style coat and black leggings. She sits a few seats away from me, but it’s obvious she saw me. She looks at me, and I look away. After a few moments, I risk a peek at her, and in her hand is my notebook. Before I can look away, Sam gets up and walks over to me. She shyly hands me my notebook.
“This seemed . . . personal.”
“Then why did you take it in the first place?” I say.
Sam looks down at her feet. “I don’t know.”
I sneer at her, look away, and put the notebook back into my bag. When I turn back around, Sam is walking back to her seat, her head drooping.
After therapy that day, I run out of the room as quickly as possible, trying to avoid confrontation.
The next few days of school were pretty terrible, but finally it was the weekend. I get out my geography homework and start labeling the map when my uncle walks in.
“Hey,” he says.
“Hey,” I reply, still doing my work at my desk.
“There is someone here for you.” He says.
I spin around, and there, in my doorway, is Sam.
“What are you doing here?” I say, a little too loudly. My uncle gives me a look. I roll my eyes, and he leaves the room.
“What are you doing here?” I ask again, a little quieter than before.
“I wanted to apologize for stealing your notebook. I didn’t have any right to take it.”
“That’s right. You didn’t have any right to take it.” I turn away and face my homework.
I can tell Sam sits on the bed because of the squeaking sound my bed makes.
“Look. That isn’t the only reason I came here. I wanted to tell you ‘my deal.’” Sam says quietly.
I turn to face her, partly irritated but partly intrigued.
Sam takes a steadying breath, and she begins to speak. “My parents divorced two years ago. My family was torn apart. I mean, I have three siblings! My mom started dating a guy two months after she got divorced, and it seemed like she had just tossed my dad off like a piece of trash. Then, three months after that, my mother got married to that guy. Nine months later, my other little sister, Posie, was born. My dad got really depressed after the divorce and started drinking again. One night, he was driving drunk and got into a car crash. He’s still alive, but he hit his head really badly, and he can’t do almost anything without someone’s help.”
“Oh my gosh. I’m so sorry” is all I could come up with.
Sam looks down.
“I guess one reason I wanted to read your notebook was to see that I wasn’t alone, you know? Everyone is always telling me that there are people struggling like me out there, but I have never met anyone like that. And I’m pretty sure that therapy isn’t going to help.”
“Well, think about this. If you didn’t want to tell me your deal, do you think that someone who is struggling like you will just come right out and say it?” I ask her.
Sam looks down. “No, I guess not.”
“Right.” I give her a smile.
Sam cracks a small smile. “Thank you, Bernie.”