An Untitled Excerpt from an Untitled Novel by Bryanna Coulter and Carey Shook

Staff Work

I’ve never been to therapy. It’s not something I ever thought would be beneficial to me. Like, yeah, things sucked, and I know I’m messed up and all, but how exactly does therapy work? Especially group therapy? You can’t have that one-on-one relationship with somebody that’s so needed. I don’t imagine that everyone is going to be so open with all of the people there. If they’re like me—which, let’s be real, we’re all messed up, so a lot of them probably are like me—they won’t want to share with strangers. It’s a small school, after all. It won’t be anonymous. People will know my problems. They’ll know about my panic attacks. They’ll know why I only wear long-sleeve shirts and pants. They’ll know why I refuse to go home.

As I climb the last step and land onto the second floor of the student health center, I curse Mrs. Roland for making this a requirement for prescribing me antianxiety medicine.

I pull out the little sticky note that she gave me with the room number, and I try to remember everything that Mrs. Roland said. There’s one guy who leads it, and there’s usually, like, six other people there. All students. They’ve all gone through some time of abuse.

So, it’s a giant room of a bunch of fucked up, post-traumatic college kids.

I make it to the edge of the room and think, this is going to be so fucking bad.

The guy who must be the leader of the group sees me immediately. He welcomes me in, tells me to not be shy and to make myself at home. “Grab some food, take a seat. You’re the first one here, so you get your pick,” he smiles. He’s about as tall as Jeremy is, and he actually reminds me of him a little bit.

I awkwardly smile back. I would be the first person here on my first day. I glance over at the table of drinks and snacks. I’m too anxious to eat, so I just grab a bottle of water. Then I take the chair that’s directly across from the guy.

He stares at me with a semi-creepy smile. “This must be your first time,” he observes. “What’s your name?”

I cross my arms. “Andrea. Andi,” I say. “Whichever you prefer.”

“Which do you prefer?” he asks.

I’m not prepared for this question. Most people just roll with whatever they want to call me when I say that. This makes me a little less tense. “Andi,” I answer. “I guess you’re Adam.”

“I guess I am,” he says. “Since you already know my name, I’m guessing that you were sent over by Mrs. Roland.”

I nod. “I was.”

Adam nods as well. “I’m glad you took her up on the offer. She wouldn’t have recommended this group if she honestly didn’t think it would help you.”

I don’t know what else to say, so I just say, “Thanks.”

Adam checks his watch. “People usually show up about now or within the next five minutes. I promise more people than just one show up,” he laughs awkwardly.

I force a polite smile.

“Are you a freshman this year?” he asks.

            What’s with all of the questions? “Yeah.”

“Cool, cool.”

“Are you a student here?”

“Yeah. This is the last year of my master’s program,” Adam tells me. “I started this group therapy last year as part of my thesis. I’m in the social work program.”

“Oh, cool!” I say, actually genuinely excited. “That’s the program I hope to be in, too. Right now I’m just studying psychology since, you know, freshman and all.”

This makes Adam smile, too. “It’s so great! You’ll love it once you actually start the pro—” Adam looks behind me. “Hey, come on in!” And then he launches into his earlier spiel of grab some food, take a seat wherever, et. Cetera.

I turn around to see who he’s talking to. I’m wondering if this person is here for the first time, like me. I prepare an awkward smile for whoever it is joining me.

Obviously I didn’t know who to expect, but I definitely wasn’t expecting that cute girl from the draft house the other night.

The wind is taken out of my lungs. I hadn’t even been drinking that night, but it’s like I somehow forgot how beautiful she was. She’s wearing a white sundress with flowers at the bottom. Her eyes are shining. And she’s smiling, too. At me.

“So, you’re the only one who decided to show up for this thing?” she says. “Can’t blame you.”

I anxiously giggle. And then I hate myself for anxiously giggling. “Haha, yeah. I guess so.”

Oh, my god. What is wrong with me?

Another person files in behind her, so she makes her way over to the snack table. After she makes her choice, she turns around. I don’t bother hiding that I’m watching her. She continues to smile as she sits down. There’s a chair in between us. She looks everywhere but at me.

“So, welcome, everyone,” Adam says, since more people are filing in. Now, there are all of five people here, including myself. “We’ll start in about five minutes, okay?”

Two people mumble an ‘okay.’

I look down at my lap and anxiously mess with my hands. I want to look over at her, find out more about her—like, what the hell is her name? Why didn’t I talk to her at the draft house like Peyton Grace said I should’ve?

I hear another person come in. Whoever they are, they grab a bag of chips from the table and strike up a conversation with Adam. Adam actually gets out of his chair to greet this guy. They talk for a few more minutes while I try to not stalking-ly sneak looks at this girl.

A few minutes later, Adam clears his throat. “So, welcome,” he repeats himself. “Before we start, I want to introduce myself and this group. The only one who was here with me last year is Nick, so that means everyone else is new and probably know nothing about this group.” He tells everyone the same thing he told me—he’s in his last year of his master’s program, the group is a part of his thesis, et. Cetera. “Why don’t we real quick introduce ourselves?” he lifts his hand and raises it to me. “Why not you, Andi? Since you were here first?”

I bite my lip. The one time that my obsession with being early to everything is bad. I clear my throat. “What would you like me to say?”

Adam shrugs. “Your name, what year you are at Monroe, what brought you here….anything you feel comfortable with sharing with us. Oh, and how you’re feeling today.”

I try to hold back a laugh. I must not hide it well, because the girl looks over at me and actually laughs. Oh.

I feel my face redden. “Um….well, like you said, my name is Andi. Or, well, I go by Andi. My real name is Andrea. My dad was the first person who called me Andi, and it just stuck, and—” I stop myself because now I’m just rambling. “I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s okay,” Adam says gently. “Keep going.”

“Um. Well, this is my first year here. I’m majoring in psychology and want to go into the social work program,” I rub my palms on my jeans. “I, um, well…things are rough. Which is why Mrs. Roland—” I stop myself. Why did I have to be the first person to go? I don’t have any idea on how much is too much to say. “Mrs. Roland told me I should go because it would help my panic attacks, well, not happen.”

Adam nods softly. “And, how are you feeling today?”

I look over at the girl. Man, I wish I knew her name so I could stop calling her just a girl. It’s obvious that she’s not just a girl. “Today?” I ask, then look back to Adam. “Today I am okay.”

Adam smiles. “Okay is good,” he says. There’s nobody in the chair in between me and the draft-house girl, so he looks to her next. “Do you want to go next?”

She shrugs. “Sure, why not?” She crosses her legs and leans forward with her chin resting on her hand.  “I’m Callie. It’s not short for anything,” she smirks sideways. It’s obvious she’s messing with me. “This is my second year at Monroe in the veterinary program. I’m here because my friends are worried about my sanity,” she laughs.

Damn, her laugh is so adorable.

Damn, I need to stop sounding like I’m stalking her.

“And I’m really feeling some wings today.”

The group awkwardly laughs, but I lose it. Like, I can’t stop laughing. I’m not sure what is wrong with me, but I just thought that was so funny. It’s exactly something that I would say if I weren’t too afraid to be funny.

Callie stares at me like I’m super weird. Because I am. Obviously. I just laughed at her joke for, like, two minutes straight. God, why am I so weird?

Some other people introduce themselves as Nick, Ximena, Kayden, Kelsie and River. Nick is also in the master’s program for social work. He’s the only one who actually went into detail about why he’s actually here. He has a pretty bad anger problem, and also a pretty bad self-harming problem. He seems to be really open about himself. Ximena is drop-dead gorgeous, but she was really soft-spoken and didn’t go into detail; she apparently has some anxiety programs. Everybody else didn’t say anything except what they’re studying and that they’re doing just okay.

The rest of the session was really awkward. Adam talked most of the time about how it’s okay to feel anxious or depressed or the need to drink a lot. He tried asking all of us questions about why we feel a certain way, or what we do when we feel a certain way. Callie doesn’t talk throughout the entire session. She really just bites the nail polish off of her thumb….or, at least I think that’s what she’s doing. I try not to look at her that much because I don’t want to be creepy or anything.

The session lasts for a good hour. It was a good hour of just Adam trying to ask us about what triggers us, and all of us just shrugging in response. Except for Nick. You could tell this wasn’t his first time at a group therapy because he was the only one responding to Adam. Eventually, Adam says that we’ll meet again next week, same time, same place. Oh, and to fill out the piece of paper that’s on the table with the drinks. He needs our emails and phone number in case we have to cancel a session, or blah, blah blah.

Callie is the first person to get to the table. Everyone else is still sitting and on their phones, so I decide to be bold for the first time in my life. I clutch onto my phone with what dignity I have and wait behind her to finish scribbling her name. When she turns around and hands me the pen, she smiles at me.

“Thanks,” I say. I can practically hear how nervous I am. “Um, hey, you were at the draft house the other night, right?”

Callie raises her eyebrows. “Yeah?”

Oh, god. Why did I even ask that? How do I even follow up with that?

“Cool! I love that place!”

I literally want to slam my head against a wall. Why am I being so weird right now? She’s only a girl. Just a girl. That’s literally all she is.

“I’m so—sorry,” I stammer. “I just—I’m really socially awkward?”

Seriously? God, damn it, Andi.

“Um….okay….”

As Callie turns to leave, I just look down at my shoes. I’ve never had problems talking to girls for the first time. It’s like there’s just something about her that makes me all…crazy. I glance quickly around the room. One of the other group members is behind me, so I hand her the pen and decide to do something I normally would never do: I go after Callie.

She’s only a little bit down the hallway when I call her name.

Callie stops and glances over her shoulder. “Why are you following me?”

Well, shit. I didn’t think this through.

“I, um…”

Callie faces me and crosses her arms impatiently.

“I’m so sorry,” I tell her. My voice actually does quiver a little bit this time. “I just, I don’t know anyone around here, and I was wondering if you possibly wanted to hang out sometime?” She doesn’t respond after point two seconds, so I add on, “I mean, obviously you don’t, because I’m super weird, and a freshman and…” I stop talking again. Callie continues to stare me down. Then I sigh deeply. “I’m so very deeply sorry. I—obviously—ramble when I’m nervous. I think I’m done now.”

She waits a minute before responding, like she’s thinking about how exactly to respond to how crazy I am. Which I don’t blame her. I mean…yeah. I’m apparently really weird. Finally, she says, “My roommate’s having a party tonight at our apartment. You should come.”

“Oh,” I stand up straight. I wasn’t expecting anything like that whatsoever. “Um, yeah. That would be cool.”

“Cool. We’re at Schuyler Village. Room 321. You can bring someone if you want.”

I’m not really sure how to respond, so I just smile.

Callie nods a couple of times before turning around and leaving again.

I continue to stand where I am as everyone else files down the hall around me. I check my phone for the time, wondering how the hell I got myself into this, and how the hell I’m going to get myself out.