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09 | neuromodulator

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( — any substance that modifies or modulates the activities of the postsynaptic neuron. )

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          BY THE TIME JUDE IS DONE WITH HIS INTERVIEW, RHIANNON IS SEEING A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL. Even though they're all swamped with work and Isla has decided she doesn't need to sign up for that interview and potentially participate in the experiment, everything is slowly falling into place.

          She didn't want to accept the Sargents' help once more, already feeling like she has asked for too much of them, but they insisted on taking care of everything just this once; the problem is that 'just this once', for them, means repeating it systematically and make her grow used to their kindness. Luckily, they won't use it against her, as her own parents probably would, but she still feels a bit . . . uneasy.

          They insisted on helping her pay for her apartment's rent, even though she barely spends any time there, and, after plenty of convincing, they won. They let her spend the holidays with them just so she shouldn't be alone, and shrugged off her inability to offer everyone an expensive gift, arguing she was being pretty helpful by helping them prepare the meals and decorate the house. They gave her a home and a family.

          They are helping her pay for her education now, replacing her parents. She couldn't accept it—they had already done too much for her, sacrificing their own comfort just to grant her half of what they were used to, and that's not something she'll ever be able to repay them for. Feeling welcome in their house is worth so much more than any apartment or her tuition.

          "Mrs. Sargent," she blabbers, rubbing her cheek with her free hand, "you know I can't accept that. It makes me feel like a leech."

          "Nonsense," Mrs. Sargent scolds, flicking her tongue against the back of her teeth. Jude, spinning around on the chair by Rhiannon's desk, throws her a curious look as she paces around the room. "There's absolutely no shame in admitting you need help, you hear me? No shame whatsoever. We want to help you—all of us."

          "I—look, I'm really thankful for all you've done for me during the past couple of years, but I've been trying to regain control of my life." She inhales and it feels as though her ribs have started to shatter, the shards of bone spreading through her bloodstream. Mrs. Sargent huffs. "It's my penultimate semester and I've signed up for an interview for the Social Psychology experiment, which means I—"

          "You did what?" Her voice turns so strident Rhiannon has to move her phone away from her ear and Jude sighs, lips pursed together in a thin line as he discreetly shakes his head. Everything about their reaction tells her Mrs. Sargent didn't know they had given their interviews and she wasn't supposed to know about it either, so everything is quickly being flushed down the drain as if it had never had any consistency. "Rhiannon, darling, what were you thinking? You don't even like Psychology. Is Jude a part of it too?"

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