He tapped his pen along the edge of the note pad in a slow melodic beat. It was a habit he had acquired quite recently. Whenever he found himself deep in thought or pouring over notes he would start tapping. The pen in his hand following the rhythm of his index finger and thumb. It was like listening to the musings of a conductor about to bring his orchestra to life in beautiful harmony. Except the music never came. Just the slow dull sound. Tap, tap-tap. Tap, tap-tap.
Usually this habit didn’t effect his concentration but tonight there was something off about the beat. Subtle at first then louder, and louder still. He paused gazing up from his notes, pen now motionless in his hand and yet the tapping grew louder. The man was sitting in his office behind a plane mahogany desk. An organized clutter of papers, folders, and forums scattered in front of him. As he took in his surroundings, as if noticing them for the first time that evening, he realized the sound of the off beat tapping was coming from his door. He wasn’t expecting anyone tonight and that alone peeked his curiosity. “Come in.” He said with an air of confidence.
The door swung away from the threshold leaving a pale young man in it’s place. He stepped into the office unsure of him self, questioning if he should even be there. “Ah, Mr. Knowles correct?” The older man addressed his visitor warmly. “I was wondering when you’d come to see me.” Daniel stood there awkwardly only a foot from the open door. “You were?” “Well yes. It’s my job as head counselor to keep an eye out for any students that might seek my assistance.” The older man slowly began the task of putting away his notes and folders slipping them back into his desk drawer for later use. “It’s a little late, and I was just about to leave, but I’m pleased to see you. Please close the door and make your self comfortable.”
The boy looked at the open door as if contemplating his escape route. For a moment he considered just walking out and forgetting any of this happened. However the moment was fleeting. Daniel reluctantly closed the door behind him and took a seat. The older man smiled approvingly at this folding his hands in front of him. “Pleasure to finally meet you Mr. Knowles. I’m Mr. Marquez. How may I help you this evening?” The boy slouched in the chair across from the counselor’ quietly fidgeting with the hem of his sleeve. His eyes focused on the grain of the mahogany desk in an effort to avoid eye contact.
A few stray words muttered from his mouth. “I don’t know.” Marquez was not deterred by this. The warm expression on his features did not waver for even a moment. “That’s ok, you don’t have to know. At least you’re taking a first step and that’s more then most can say.” Marquez took a moment to study Daniel as he noted the time. “I can’t help but notice you’re in your casual clothes. The Winter Formal is tonight. Were you planning to attend?” The boy shook his head. His gaze still focused on the mahogany. “Hm, how are things here at school? Enjoying your classes, made any friends?”
Daniel took in a slow breath. His eyes finally shifting away from the desk. “Uh.. Kind of. I like science, but I hate math..” “Mrs. Harcourt is a great teacher. We’re lucky to have her. Are there any other classes you enjoy? I think I saw your name posted for the Theater Club.” Marquez’s questions were starting to feel more like an interrogation to Daniel. He stroked at the length of his sleeve pinching the fabric between his index and thumb. Marquez took special note of the nervous habit subtly jotting it down on a pad of sticky notes. “Kuzkin is nice…” The boy managed to force the words out in time to avoid the awkward silence.
Switching gears Marquez turned the conversation back to friends. “And what about the other students Mr. Knowles? Have you made any friends?” He thought that over for a moment because he genuinely didn’t know the answer. “Victor I guess.” “Mr. Baleful?” Daniel nodded. “Interesting how do you two know each other?” Something about this didn’t feel natural to Daniel. He didn’t like to talk about himself that often. “He’s my roommate.” The counselor’s expression turned from warm to concerned. “Any trouble with any students?” Daniels body visibly tensed at that. He found it was getting harder to form words. “Brian…” This caught the head counselor off guard. “Mr. Warner? I thought he was a very nice young man. Did something happen between you two?”
“He didn’t like the way I dress. He said I should join Elysian if I want to dress like a… A villain.” Marquez listened intently before offering some words of wisdom. “You’re both still young and you’re going through a lot at this time in your life. More then most young people are at your age. People make mistakes Mr. Knowles but they must learn from them not dwell on them. He’s not the first person to judge a book by it’s cover and he will likely not be the last. Just be patient and If that doesn’t work then ignore him and his opinions. Don’t let anyone tell you who you’re meant to be.” After hearing this the boy seemed to deflate. His body language grew more relaxed and he even stopped fidgeting. Marquez was exceedingly good at his job.
The counselor was glad to see this change in Daniel so he pressed the advantage. “I also seem to recall there was a :Love rehabilitation club formed quite recently. This club helped many students deal with their addiction to the game including Noah Garcia. Whatever mastermind came up with that club has the faculties’ gratitude.” He smiled knowingly at the student. Daniel glanced at the door feeling embarrassed by the praise. “Of course I’ve also been made aware of the efforts made to stop Otaku. It was no easy task and many student’s risked their lives. In the end the city was saved. Not by the Freedom League but by students like you. That’s something to be proud of. You should be celebrating at the winter formal.”
For the first time in a long time Daniel felt good about himself but the moment was fleeting. As soon as the counselor mentioned the winter formal his heart sunk like a rock. “Mr. Knowles why aren’t you going?” His hand moved back to his sleeve instinctively. “No one asked me.” Marquez gave a quiet sigh. “You don’t have to go with anyone, you could meet someone there.” The boy shook his head defiantly this time. “No. I’ve seen Stranger Things. I’m not going to end up like Dustin at the end of season two.” Marquez was slightly taken back by this. “I’m sorry you’ve lost me..” “Dustin got all dressed up. He was full of confidence after helping save the world. He changed his look and he went to the school dance. And he was rejected by everyone. He ended up on the bleachers alone crying his eyes out.” Again the counselor made an audible sigh. “And you think that’s what’s going to happen to you?”
Daniel kicked his feet forward causing the chair to slide back a few inches. He pushed off the arm rests with his palms and stood up. A quiet anger was growing inside of him and he knew it was time for this therapy session to end. “I know it’s not going to happen to me. Because I’m not going!” Marquez remained cool and collective with his hands folded on the desk in front of him. “I understand. You don’t have to go if you don’t want to. No one is saying you have to. But indulge my curiosity if you could Mr. Knowles. If someone did ask you to the formal would you go?” He said nothing. The anger growing inside of him was diminished, replaced by sadness. Marquez saw this and chose his next words carefully. “It’s ok you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to but it might make you feel better to talk about it.” He waited as Daniel stood awkwardly in the middle of his office slowly losing the will to storm out.
The head counselor took another deep breath and asked in as gentle a tone he could muster. “Is there someone you wanted to take?” “Yes.” the boy said quietly. “Could you tell me who?” A tiny spark of anger flickered in the corner of his eye. “It doesn’t matter. She took someone else. She barely knows that I exist.” “Well I’m sure she knows but Mr. Knowles sometimes you have to put in a little effort to be noticed.” With that Daniels fists clinched. He marched to the door and swung it open. His body paused at the threshold as if blocked by some invisible force. Looking back at the counselor he spoke bitterly. “Why aren’t YOU at the winter formal Marquez?” The counselor turned from his desk tapping at his side. For the first time Daniel saw that Mr. Marquez was sitting in a wheel chair. A plaid blanket tucked around his lap. “As you can clearly see I’m not much for dancing these days.” He replied calmly.
Daniel was immediately filled with regret. He swallowed his pride and bowed his head in shame. “I- I’m sorry I didn’t-” “It’s alright Daniel.” Marquez interrupted. It was the first time he had refereed to the student by his first name. “Like I said before we all make mistakes. That’s part of life I’m afraid. I’m sorry for upsetting you, but I’d really like to see you again. There’s more we can talk about. And maybe someday you’ll trust me enough to tell me who she is.” Daniel offered a small nod of agreement. “Good night Mr. Marquez.” “Good night Mr. Knowles.” He watched as the student closed the door behind him. Marquez turned to his desk grabbing the stack of sticky notes. He jotted down the students name and a few quick words. Self loathing, mood swings, lacks confidence, depressed. He thought for a moment rewinding the conversation in his mind. Pen tapping slowly along the edge of the sticky note. Tap, tap-tap. Finally he made one last memo, just two words. Possible trauma. The counselor put away his notes and locked up the office for the night. As he headed home he contemplated Knowles hoping he could help the young man. His finger tip settled at the arm rest of his wheel chair. As he thought on the young student his finger began a slow melodic beat. Tap tap-tap. Tap tap-tap.