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Pen Your Pride

Chapter 24

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Saturday, October 11th

I recovered from my bout with the flu well enough, with lots of credit to the nuttella and crackers, and a 3 hour duet practice with Joshua, who is sick, by the way. He couldn't say I didn't warn him, because as we all know, I did. Perhaps I'll grab him something from the store and bring him some tea. It's the least I can possibly do, under the circumstances. I can't catch the flu twice in a week, so I'll visit for a while too. 
Dr Frank's assistant opens the door into his office, smiling at mom and I where we sit, alone, in the small waiting room. "Dr Frank will see you now."
We rise from the lumpy, uncomfortable seats and walk into the familiar room that is his office. It hasn't changed hardly at all through the years, only the picture on his desk, of his son, I suppose, changes, and only once a year at that.
He smiles warmly at us. "Leah! What's the smile for?" 
I roll my eyes, not able to wipe the sappy grin from my face. "Nothing, Dr Frank."
He gives me a hug, and then repeats the process my mom, but I notice a strange delay for them to release each other. My back goes as stiff as a rod. Oh my fish. Awkward!
He clears his throat awkwardly, and I raise my eyebrow at both of them, narrowing my eyes suspiciously. They don't notice. Too busy staring at each other, once again. Ick. 
"Dr Frank?" I glance from one face to the other, trying to keep the disgust out of my expression. Easier said than done, might I add. Don't get me wrong, I love both of these people, but this is just awkward. My counselor and my mother? Nu-uh. Just no.
"Oh, yes, Leah..." He blinks several times. "Tell me about your week." He offers me a chair, and after I sit down, he does too, directly across from me. 
"Well, I had a concert in the cafeteria and was asked to star in an event next Saturday on Monday, I practiced the songs with Joshua on Tuesdayand Wednesday, got sick on Thursday and still practiced, recovered and went to school yesterday, and came here today. I plan on visiting Josh later today, as well."
He nods. "Sounds like you had a good week. So your a singer, huh?"
"I guess so." I say happily. It has become my love in the past five days. Joshua has made it my favorite thing to do.
"I might have to come to this event."
I give him my biggest salesman grin I can possibly muster. "Please do, and invite friends! It starts at 6 pm and the entry fee is ten dollars per adult."
He chuckles. "What are the profits going toward?"
"Better cafeteria food, I hope."
There's a little gap of silence before he asks me another question. "So have you had any breakdowns lately?"
"No, actually I've been very surprisingly and unreasonably happy." 
"Good, good." He glances briefly down at his clipboard. "Have you been making any new friends?"
"No."
"Okay..." his eyes dart away again, and truthfully, I have no idea what he's looking at. "Well, everything seems fine, you aren't having any issues, no one has been verbally abusive-" he scribbles his signature onto the bottom of the my mental assessment paper and hands it to his assistant. "You're free to go!" He smiles, stands up, shakes my hand, mom's hand, and we leave without further communication. Or I leave, anyway, to avoid any possible creepy Dr Frank and my mother moments. Maybe I only thought I saw it. But wait, no, my psychic senses are tingling (the same ones that knew Josh would get sick.)
Mom walks out, looking suspiciously happy, and my first thought is to avoid any and all eye contact. We walk out go the parking lot, get into the van, and drive away. Even with the strangeness of that meeting still lingering, my mind wanders and brings to my remembrance how much better things are this time than last time, how lucky I am to have Joshua, and Bailey, and especially Hunter. 
I am just about to go on a mental ramble when Mom speaks.
"So what do you think of Dr Frank?"
I try my best not to change the subject, or make some disrespectful noise. "He's like a friend, but we've known him a long time, Mom. Why is this coming up now?"
"No reason."
"Is there something going on I should know about?" 
"No."
I give her a look that speaks glum disbelief. 
"Well-"
"I knew it!"
"I was afraid to tell you, Leah, because I knew this would happen!"
"Why, Mom?" I ask. "This is going to kill Cora, you know."
She clenches her jaw. "She'll be okay."
"Mom, she has told me so many times that if you got remarried she'd run away!" Can't she understand how serious this is? Cora was very close to Dad. Aside from me, she was his best buddy. But there was just one difference in the way we saw him. I was mad and distraught. She was just distraught. I saw his adultery and rejection, she didn't. In her mind, he did nothing wrong, and it was all Mom's fault. She still had hope, somehow, that they would get back together, even though we haven't heard from him in almost a year.
"She won't. Do you know how many times I said that when I was a kid?"
"She's not kidding!"
She shakes her head, tuning me out. 
I look out the window, watch the trees and houses fly by in a blur, and try not to cry.
*-*-*
"She's involved with the doctor?" Josh asks, running his hands through his already chaotic mess of brown hair.
"Yeah, but it's not just 'the doctor'. He's my depression counselor too! He knows my secrets!" Perhaps ranting to my poor diseased boyfriend isn't nice, but I'm almost positive that it's helping somehow. "And then we have the problems that we'll have to deal with involving Cora when she finds out, and ugh!" I flop backwards onto the couch next to him. "I am not having a good day."
"I don't think it's the day, I think it's the stuff you've learned today, and mostly just the way you're looking at it. It doesn't have to be a problem." And there goes my man with his completely positive outlook. Sometimes it gets on my pessimist nerves so bad, I want to smack him.
"But it is a problem, Gandhi." I scoff, and throw my hands up in the air, then let them fall limply into my lap. "Where is the light? What perspective makes it less problematic?"
He entwines his fingers with mine. "Stop wanting to be dramatic, for one thing. Your theatrical performance is good, but only on stage."
I raise my eyebrows. "Wanting to be dramatic?" I repeat slowly. Did he really just say that?
"You have a hunger for drama, dandelion. I know you well enough go know that."
I shrug. "Be that as it may."
"You just need to stop worrying. It won't help you, and it won't help anyone else."
Point taken. "Okay, what else?" I turn my head to look at him. Why does he have to be so cute? It makes serious conversations so dang hard...
He leans forward and sets his forehead against mine. "Don't get sick."
"Right!" I laugh. "Meaning, no kisses."
"I never agreed to that."
I stand up, untangling my fingers from his. "I'm going to go see Hunter."
He stands up too, slower than I did. "I'm going too-" he flinches suddenly, and I freeze.
"What's wrong?"
He relaxes and smiles convincingly. "I got a stitch in my side."
"That would make sense. You have been laying around all day, after all."
"Yeah." He scowls briefly, but brightens quickly and takes my hand. "Let's go. We've got practicing to do."
"Yep." I say absently, swinging our hands as we walk out to the pasture. Hunter comes galloping to the fence, whinnying like his life depends on it. 
"Hey boy! You miss me?" I slip into the pen and pat his neck. He nickers, and instead of paying attention to me, noses Josh instead. "That answers my question." I whine, faking glumness.
Josh shoots me a playful smile and looks Hunter in the eye solemnly. "Hey, buddy. She's your person. Go search her for treats."
I laugh. "Yeah. You won't find any, but search away." Hunter ignores his advice and continues to nuzzle him, lipping at his front jean pockets, coating the blue denim with green drool.
Joshua spoils the horses when he thinks no one's looking, but he isn't that good at keeping it secret if you hang out at his house a lot. He's such a big softy, and it's adorable.
Hunter eventually loses interest in us and walks away to graze, disappointed that we didn't bring treats.
"You ready to sing?" Josh asks, removing his arms on the top rail of the fence panel.
"Are you? Doesn't your throat hurt?" Our shoulders brush together as we walk slowly toward metal-roof building.
He shrugs. "I had some cough medicine. It's not too bad."
"You sure?"
"I'm sure."
He opens the door for me and we invade the silence of the straw filled spare stall. Sitting down on a bale off hay, Josh pulls our music out of his pocket.
Suddenly, I find myself in a very detailed mental conversation with myself about turtles. 
"Which one first?" He looks up at me, and I jump.
"Huh?"
"Song. Which song?"
I stare at him blankly, then shake my head to clear it of turtle vapors. Turtles. "Sorry." I whisper.
"Are you okay?" He frowns in concern.
"I don't know." 
He tilts his head to one side and reaches out to feel my forehead. "You haven't got a fever. Are you dizzy?"
"No."
The corners of his mouth tip just slightly upward. "You're just a little scatterbrained. You'll be fine."
"I wasn't worried." 
He nods, looking down at the paper tiredly, and coughs into his elbow.
"You look tired." I say observantly.
He rubs the nape of his neck. "I feel tired."
"Did you sleep last night?"
"Yeah, I slept fine. I'm just tired."
"Huh. Weird."
He nods, and tucks the papers underneath the hay bale. "Rain check for tomorrow? I want a nap."
"Sure." As much as I want to avoid everyone right now, I know that I should go home, but knowing you should do something and doing it are two very different things. "If you're going to sleep, can I go on a ride?"
"Where to?"
"I guess the trail back to the treehouse."
"Yeah, but take your phone, and don't go off the trail."
"I won't!" I call over my shoulder as I run toward Hunter's pen.

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