Addergoole
Bonus Story
Lending a Shoulder 2

Year Five of the Addergoole School, at the time of Book Seven

Of course, it was rare that Addergoole’s students’ problems were that little, especially by the time they came to her. It was lunchtime when Finnegan popped his head in, radiating jittery nerves. “Can I, could I come in?”

“Certainly, come sit down,” she urged, and he did, shutting the door behind him. He sat down on the edge of the couch, his whole posture stiff and anxious and still, his skin slowly taking on the color of the olive upholstery.

Maria waited. He’d done this before, generally once or twice a week since Hell Night. Sometimes he wouldn’t say anything at all, sometimes he would; if she said anything at all, however, he’d fold up on himself and stay couch-colored until he slunk out. So she waited.

“I hate it,” he whispered, after maybe ten minutes had passed and he no longer matched his background. “I hate it when she goes out fighting stuff and makes me stay home. I feel useless. I don’t know what’s going on or when or if she’s coming home, and I can’t protect her.”

He slumped against the couch. “Doug won’t even talk about maybe training me. He says ‘next year.’ Next year she’ll be gone and this…” he yanked on his collar, hard enough to make Maria wince, “this won’t be here anymore, making me care. And I still won’t be able to protect her.”

Maria nodded. She had spent a little time under the collar herself, in very controlled circumstances, to have some understanding of what her patients were going through. Knowing that a collared emotion was externally imposed didn’t make it feel any less real.

“It’s almost better when she puts me to sleep before she leaves,” he whispered. “Then I’m not waiting up for her. But then I feel…” He shook his head, but she didn’t need Idu Intinn to know what he was thinking. like a toy. Like something she puts away on a shelf when she doesn’t need it. It would be interesting to see what he became when he was out from under her collar next year, and Maria hoped he would continue to visit her. With care, she could keep him from lashing back at all women, from becoming a domineering bully the way it looked as if Rand would.

She risked prompting him when he stayed silent. “And the rest of the time?”

She’d gauged him right. He sighed, flopping his elbows down on his knees. “I like her. I can’t tell if it’s just the stupid collar. But when we’re alone, things are…” his blush tinged even his earlobes red. “They’re good. And, I mean, mostly she talks to me like a person. Alone, I mean. When it’s everyone… you know. I’m the junior member. Get the coffee and answer the goddamned door.” He punched his leg, then looked guilty.

“I mean.” He sighed. “You know what I mean?”

She nodded again. “You want her to notice you outside of the bedroom. You want to surprise her.”

“Yeah.” He sounded a bit surprised by that himself. “Yeah. I mean, nothing I do catches her off-guard, whether it’s good or bad. It would be nice to be looked at as something other than... I dunno, the latest boy.” His shoulders lost a bit of their tension. “You know, I’ve never failed to surprise anyone else. Maybe I’m not trying enough.” He barked out a short laugh. “I’ve met the others. I mean, hard not to, right? And Carter looks at me like I got a life sentence in maximum security, and Aviv is kinda scared to talk to me, and Rand, he can’t get near me without bitching about what a bitch Cay is.” He shook his head, looking amused. “Damned if I’m not smarter than any of them.” He stretched, grinning, and stood. “Thanks, doc.”

Maria smiled back at him, and stood to shake his hand. “My pleasure, Finnegan. Come back any time.”

Feeling better about the world, and about herself, Maria ate lunch in her office and wondered at the faint something-is-coming feeling that was plaguing her. It wasn’t a bad one, not one of those moments where she thought she’d likely need every bit of Working she knew to put a situation back together, more like a small storm brewing.

The knock didn’t come until nearly the end of the day, after classes were over. She opened the door to the most hangdog expression she’d ever seen on Adrian cy’Solomon’s handsome face.

“Come on in, Adrian, what’s wrong?” Maria closed the door behind him as he flopped onto the couch, braids clattering.

“I was talking with Rozen over lunch,” he admitted. “Just kind of shooting the shit. And it hit me, I mean, really hit me, this is my last year here.”

“Ah.” Maria nodded, beginning to understand. Adrian had not often visited her; he had enjoyed, as far as she could tell, a fairly cheerful and laid-back three years at Addergoole, inasmuch as you could say that of any of their students. For all of its flaws, it offered a protected environment in which to explore the whole complicated issue of being Ellehemaei, and, like any school, let the upperclassmen feel like big fish for a while.

“I had a couple words with Ivette, I mean, alone, and she’s willing to let me have Oliver. I’m not surprised or anything; I’m not sure she’s seen him since she dropped him at Mo’s, but it’s nice she’s not making me bargain or anything. So when I leave, I’ll be walking out of here with a two-year-old son and a two-year degree.” He shook his head. “That’s kind of intimidating. I’m half tempted to strike up a romance with, I don’t know, some other Second Cohort, just so when we leave, we can handle this whole thing together, but that seems a little bit cold, ‘hey, want to hook up so we can raise our kids by other people together?’”

Maria nodded again. “Or rational, if you went into it with that understanding. I can’t imagine you’re the only Second Cohort who’s worried about such things.”

“You think maybe?” He looked thoughtful. “Of course, there aren’t all that many girls in my Cohort that aren’t complete bitches, pardon me, ma’am, um…”

“‘Bitches’ is fine,” she smiled. “I have met the young women in question.”

“Ah, yeah.” He looked down at his toes uncomfortably. “I mean… Magnolia sh’Maria is the only one I wouldn’t accuse of eating her own young… ma’am.”

Oh! “Oh.” She nodded slowly. “That would certainly be interesting. And Magnolia does like children.” She smiled thoughtfully. “She can be a pragmatic girl, but if you were considering it, I might bring her flowers anyway.”

He smiled slowly. “Thanks, Doctor Mendosa. I’ll let you know how it works out.”

“Please do, dear. I’d like to know whether to set an extra place at Christmas dinner.”

He smiled even wider, and shook her hand rather enthusiastically. “Thanks again, Doctor.”

Maria saw him out, and spent a moment looking thoughtfully at her phone before picking it up and dialing.

“Hello, Lyell? It’s Maria. How have you been?”

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