It’s unusual to choose to move school so late in the year. Did you feel pressured in your old school? Were you bullied at all, either emotionally or physically? Your brother’s grades are consistently below average. Do you feel as though you have to lower yourself to his standard?
“Christopher, are you listening to me? I need you to listen to me.”
My gaze returns to the desk in front of me, and the man seated on the other side. “Yes, sir. I’m listening.” There are no creases in his dull grey suit, but many on his face. The wine-red tie fastened tightly around his collar brings out what little colour is in his cheeks. He looks like a well-dressed corpse. Or badly-dressed, depending on how you look at it.
He clasps his hands and leans forward, giving me what I think is meant to be an encouraging smile. “No need for formalities, Chris. Can I call you Chris?”
“I’d rather you didn’t.” I shift in my seat. The plastic chair is clearly a temporary feature of the office. It’s a faded shade of red that matches his tie better than it does the rest of the beige and grey colour scheme.
“Well, Chris, I need you to answer my questions. Can you do that for me?”
I answer with silence.
He clears his throat and crosses his other leg as though he’s as uncomfortable as I am. “Your mother is very worried about you, Chris. Your grades have been slipping since just before you changed schools. Do you find the work here too difficult?”
I shake my head.
“Too easy, then? Do you feel as though you need to put in less effort here?”
He sighs and rests his hand on the folder to the left of the desk. “There’s only so much that I can do if you won’t talk. I need you to help me to help you.” I blink at him, wondering for a second whether he’s aware of how contrived he sounds. Does anybody actually respond to that line? “What do you suggest we do to help you, Chris?”
Several moments of silence lapse between us, during which he fidgets with a pen on his desk. I can’t say he’s exactly what I expected. When a school counsellor was advised, I thought it would be a young, blonde woman. Naïve, but sweet. Easy to convince that I was a normal, healthy kid. It’s a lot harder to sway a middle-aged man with just the flash of a smile. Not that I’m doing much smiling anyway.
He looks up at me, frowning. “Pardon?”
I shrug and stare at the floor. “Y’know. Those ink blot things. You hold up a three-year old’s painting, I tell you I see a womb or something and you ‘get help’ for me. Right?”
The counsellor stares at me, his mouth hanging open briefly before he regains composure. He loosens his tie and clears his throat again. “Do you…get on with your mother?” Clearly he’s reading too much into this.
“We get on okay.”
“But you used to live with your father up until very recently, is that correct?” He has the folder open on his desk, and is looking at that rather than me. I guess it’s my file or something.
He glances up at me over the top of his glasses. “Why did you choose to live with your mother again after all this time?”
“I only lived with my dad for six years.”
“Six years is a long time, Chris.”
I shrug again. “Not really.” I can tell from his expression that he hasn’t given up on getting an answer. “She moved back to England, and I was bored of living with my dad.” Another shrug. “Okay?”
He flicks through the paperwork in the folder. “She was in…France, yes? With your brother?”
“Why didn’t you choose to live with her when your parents first…decided to live apart?”
“I didn’t want to move to another country.”
“But your brother did.” He says this slowly, as though it has some underlying meaning.
He rubs the side of his finger against his lip. “Do you get on well with your brother?”
“He’s my brother. We’re not meant to.”
“But do you?”
“We get on okay, yeah. We haven’t seen each other much.” I shoot him a withering look. Either he’s dumb, or he thinks I am.
The counsellor adjusts his position in his chair. “Do you feel that your brother is your rival, either for your parents’ affection, or in terms of ability?”
Hasn’t he already asked that question? “Not in terms of ability, no.”
“What about with regards to your parents’ affection? Do you feel that they spend more time with him, that they love him more?”
He glances at his watch and begins filing all the paper back into the folder. “Well, Chris, our time’s up for today. I think it’s been a very productive first session, and I look forward to seeing you next week.” He smiles at me. It seems more genuine this time, though he’s probably just glad to be rid of me. “Take care now.” He gestures to the door.
I don’t need an invitation. I’m already stood up and halfway out as he waves goodbye.