"Are you kidding?" I asked, my voice gaining volume again. "Do you really need to ask why it's depressing to be a werepanda? It's ridiculous. How many weres do you know?" When he just looked at me, I insisted, "No, really, I want to know. How many do you know? You're one of ASH's top psychologists," I continued, referring to the Alliance for Shapeshifting Humans, "You must work with loads of us. How many weres do you know?"
Ignoring my strident tone with professional, yet sympathetic, detachment--he was like a poster-child for How To Be A Good Shrink, he really was--he answered openly. "I probably know in excess of a thousand shapeshifters."
I could see he was trying to let me talk. It was what he was there for, but I wanted an answer. "Over a thousand, right? And how many of those are pandas? Or even herbivores, in their animal form?"
He smiled slightly. "I don't know the exact number, but probably less than 20-25% of my patients are herbivorous. I believe you are the first werepanda I have ever met."
Ignoring a tiny spark of pleasure at being so unique, I finished my thought. "Well? Don't you see how lonely it is to be so unusual? I mean, everyone wants to be special, but there's a point at which it becomes a nuisance, right?" I almost didn't see his nod as I continued, "I'm not depressed, though. And my doctor can't put me on Zoloft, that's not what I need. Although I do like the commercial, have you seen it?"
When he shook his head, I attempted to jog his memory; I may have been a bit over-enthusiastic. "Oh, you must have. It's this little bouncing egg thing, well it's like an egg if eggs were made of Play-Doh, or really soft clay, it's a cartoon and it bounces along, and its sides are kind of squidgy and they go in when it lands, and then the Zoloft egg becomes depressed, and he stops bouncing quite so high, and then he gets put on Zoloft and he goes back to being his bouncy self. You've seen that, right?" As I chattered away, I could tell that just the sound of my own voice was simultaneously calming me down, and lifting my mood.
He could tell, too. For the first time in the hour I'd been there, the shrink was blatantly scrutinizing me. When he spoke, I began to smile.
"I believe I have seen it, actually; and I think you're right," he said consideringly, "You don't seem particularly depressed to me. I think you need someone to talk to, so I'm going to ask you to start regular sessions with myself, as well as looking into one of the support groups for were-animals." Passing me a little pamphlet, he continued, "There are several excellent groups outlined there, including one specifically for individuals whose were-forms are quite rare. It's run by 2 or 3 members with therapy credentials and relevant personal experiences, one of whom I know very well in a professional capacity. I think you would find the group useful. As for your therapy with me, shall we meet at half-past-four next Thursday?"
Nodding, I glanced at the pamphlet while sliding my shoes on. As I stood to leave, I looked at him. "Can I ask you a question?"
"I doubt if I could stop you," he said smilingly, correctly reading me as the type of person who would be amused, as opposed to offended, by his perceptive comment. I asked it quickly, because I wondered if he would answer.
"Why are you so interested in helping shapeshifters?"
I should have seen it coming, but I didn't. As I stared at him questioningly, he displayed just a touch of theatrics by slowly relaxing, and letting a gentle flow of power trickle out into the room. Realisation dawned almost instantly, but he cut off any further questions with, "Next week, we can set aside a few minutes to discuss any questions you might have for me. I'll see you then?"
Clever, clever man. Out of admiration, I decided to show him that I actually had taken notice of his name, and didn't intend on referring to him as 'shrink' for the rest of our sessions. I smiled, my eyes bright with amusement at his little trick, and agreed. "Yeah. I'll see you then, Dr. Douglas." He responded to my courtesy with an answering smile.
Pocketing my pamphlet with apparent nonchalance, I strolled out the door.