I got stuck in the waiting room.

Getting one appointment so quickly in the aftermath of a traumatic experience was lucky enough. Figures that trying to go back on the same day wasn’t going to work.

But since there was always a chance of a no-show, I was allowed to sit around and see if they found an opening. I pulled one of the little tables closer to the chair I was using and started in on some homework as people filtered in and out of the offices.

Did I have something better to do with my afternoon? Maybe. Maybe not.

Glancing up from the mathematics worksheet that was quickly losing my interest, I noted three other people in the lobby. There was a man who kept moving his jaw from one side to the other, and there was a girl around my age with a woman who held some family resemblance to her — the same light-brown hair that almost crossed the line to blonde, the same green eyes. They were dressed very differently, though. The woman wouldn’t look out of place at a funeral, but the girl’s dress was pastel blue and flared out in layers that I would definitely trip over if I wore something similar.

The side door opened and Dr. Meiri called out a name. “Milada?”

The girl in the fluffy dress hopped out of her seat and was ushered into the offices. Her guardian slumped forward in relief, checked her watch, stood, and stepped out of the lobby.

I set my worksheet aside and pulled out my history textbook.

The door opened again. “Jared?” a different staff member, someone I didn’t know, called the other guy out of the lobby.

Much less than an hour passed. I startled a bit when the girl in the blue dress practically jumped into the chair next to me.

“Good afternoon,” she said.

“Huh?”

“My name is Milada. How do you do?”

I turned to see her grinning and leaning toward me. I leaned away.

“Um. I’m fine,” I said, feeling my eyebrows scrunch a bit.

“Excellent. Are you here waiting for anyone, then?” Milada asked.

“Wh- I guess. I was waiting for Dr. Meiri.”

“Why are you waiting for a psychologist if you feel fine?” She took on an almost exaggerated expression of confusion, complete with furrowed brow, tilted head, and a bit of a pout.

“Sorry, what do you want?”

“You have yet to introduce yourself.”

“Uh-huh.”

In my peripheral vision, Milada folded her hands neatly on the armrest of her chair, staring and pressing her lips together in a flat line. When she blinked, it seemed to be twice in a row. I had pretty good peripheral vision.

I sighed. “Erela.”

“It is nice to meet you, Erela,” she said, back to smiling. She reached out to shake my hand. I pretended not to see it.

“Did you walk out of your appointment or something?” I asked.

“The psychologist stated that I was free to use the time as I saw fit, so I decided to come say hello to you.”

“Um. Why?”

“Pardon?”

“Pardon?” Really? I couldn’t make heads or tails of this interaction, aside from that I wanted it to be over.

No such luck, though.

“So, why did you want to see the psychologist?” Milada asked.

I shook my head.

“No? No reason? If you were sent here without requesting it, then we have one thing in common, I suppose. I am unsure of the intended purpose of this whole visit, to be quite honest.”

“Nope,” I said, “I was- I’m here for something. I just… don’t really want to talk about it, alright?”

“That’s strange,” Milada mumbled. “It seems as though the entire function of these offices is to talk about things. What did you want to do instead?”

“Milada, can-” I stopped myself from asking if she could shut up. I couldn’t be sure exactly what issues she’d been brought here for, and I didn’t want to set one off.

“Yes?”

“Nevermind,” I sighed.

“In any case, I would like to know what you are reading,” Milada said, leaning even further over in her chair.

“It’s a textbook,” I said. “Um. Personal space.”

“Apologies,” she said, standing abruptly. She picked another chair, across from me, and folded her hands in her lap. “What sort of textbook is it?”

“History.”

“Is it interesting?”

“Not really, no.”

“Oh.”

I made eye contact with the desk person. I raised one eyebrow and jerked my head in the direction of the side door. He shrugged, then got up from his chair and walked out of my sight.

I took a look over my shoulder, through the window to the parking area. Milada’s guardian was standing outside with her back to us, smoking.

“You said you didn’t want to be here, right?” I asked.

“I did not request this, no,” Milada said.

“Is it really alright for you to skip out on your appointment, then?”

“Well… I suppose it could upset my parents. They feel like this is the last resort, so I am unsure what exactly they would do if talking to the psychologist proves ineffective against the curse.”

“In that case, you might want to head back in,” I suggested. Then I spun in my seat to look for any hint that Milada was joking. Finding none, I asked, “What curse?”

“That is a family matter,” she said, with an air of finality in her tone. As if it somehow answered my question at all.

“Erela?” Dr. Meiri’s voice cut in. She was standing in the doorway.

“One sec,” I called back. “Milada, are you going back?”

“I suppose I ought to,” she said.

“Right, but are you?”

“Hm.”

“Do you want an out?”

“Out? What does that mean?”

I leaned forward to give myself the momentum to stand and start walking in nearly the same motion, making my way to the side door of the lobby.

“Out means just say that they gave away your appointment while you were in the lobby,” I said.

“Oh. Alright.”

I couldn’t really tell if that reaction was positive or neutral, if not negative, but she wasn’t stopping me. I let Dr. Meiri close the door behind us.


LOOK BACKMOVE ON

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