"I don't understand this." Aspen throws her stubby pencil down on the simple algebra worksheet. Even though I'm majoring in neuropsychology at this point, I guess that it's sort of an unspoken role that I have to deal with Aspen. Simply because no one else wants to.

"Quit throwing." I take her hands and wrap it, finger by finger, back around the pencil. "Plug in the numbers." Every patient is expected to learn ASL here, so I've been instructed to only use it for communication. But I often use signed English because I feel bad for these kids. Especially when they're trying to learn anything whatsoever from me.

She completes the current problem, obviously annoyed with me and ready to snap. For some reason Aspen and I have this silent pact to not discuss...her. And I'm thankful for it every single day.

"Did you do your reading?" I ask.

She sneers, "Who do you think I am? I'm not reading a stupid novel!"

"Fine. Be ignorant then." I cross my arms over my chest. Pointing out that she'll be eternally stupid usually helps.

"Okay. So, the chick taught the kid and married the guy who was hiding the insane woman in his attic. Then that redheaded girl died." I just tap her hand to remind her to sign and pretend that was a good explanation of Jane Eyre. For Aspen, it was.

"See? And do you understand why I wanted you to read it?" I even allowed her to read the most simplified kid version targeted toward eight-year-olds.

She shrugs and retorts, "I just watched the movie." Aspen likes to test me, to see how mad I'll get. I'd have to actually have emotions to do that though. "They had it in the library."

The "library" is a room full of damaged books and scratched DVDs that the real library doesn't want. Most of the movies are way too mature for kids because they were banned for being inappropriate or controversial. Maybe they mentioned a blank person. Heaven forbid.

"Okay. Please go back to your room. Don't forget to grab your meds." I send her off with a slight shove that makes her laugh.

Nancy approaches me with an overly stuffed basket of freshly washed scrubs as soon as Aspen skips off. She exhales, "Oh good. You're free. Did you get my text? Come with me." She says this without giving me an opportunity to answer, nodding with her head toward the laundry room. I really should be grateful--they pay me a lot more than minimum wage. Granted, I work like a dog, but still. Ever since the inspection, they've given a chance. We received adequate kitchen appliances, repaired bathrooms, and a much larger budget. But with that comes passing many more required examinations.

I'm a bit surprised, but we do steadily have more patients coming in; some with actual paying families, and some miscreants found wailing on the streets. We never turn away anyone.

"Here's what I want to use you for, and it's not laundry." I warn myself against sighing in relief, but of course, my body chooses to anyway. Nancy just laughs at me.

"We have a new patient," she continues, "that I want you to work with. She's deaf and I believe had a very similar home life to you, if you know what I mean." I do.

Nancy keeps speaking, generously using her hands. "She does know sign language but doesn't use it to her full potential. I picked you to do this over our other interns." She pauses. They do pay me because I'm under different circumstances, but they call me an intern because it's easier. I'm not a certified doctor by any means, but they're not afraid to call me at three in the morning to sedate an unruly patient. There's the difference.

"I picked you because I want you to experience a patient who can't function on her own, who truly has psychological problems that are much, much more severe than you've experienced outside of accidental incidents growing up. And you also have worked with understand a deaf speaking."

Skin Deep (Featured - Completed)Read this story for FREE!