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In Need of Counselling

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Will sat in the chair, tapping his feet impatiently. Why do they always take so damn long? It's bad enough being sent to the counsellor on his first day of seventh grade and being made to sit and wait only made his face burn hotter as he felt every passerby judging him. (Whether the eyes on his back were real or imagined, he didn't know: his own were glued to the floor in shame.)

There was the soft click of a door. "Will Graham?"

He looked up, embarrassed to have his name called out but happy to at least retreat into a room and away from prying eyes—even if it meant confronting his behaviour. The man before him was not what Will expected in a school counsellor: he towered over him by at least a foot and a half, and was dressed in an immaculate suit, perfectly tailored. Will supposed that private schools must have higher standards. He nodded meekly at the man, not able to meet his eyes, and walked into his office.

It was a classy room, not as messy as most counsellors', and the walls were an oddly-calming crimson. Organized bookshelves towered, and degrees were stylishly displayed. There was a variety of artwork, the first one to meet Will's eyes being a simple statue of an elk. After closing and locking the door, the man gestured towards two chairs in the centre of the room. "Please, take a seat."  Will complied, awkwardly lowering himself into the left one like it was a too-hot bath. The man gracefully flowed into the other.  "My name is Doctor Hannibal Lecter," he said. Will noticed his accent, smooth and foreign. He silently rolled the name around on his tongue; it flowed like oil.

Will started to defend himself before an onslaught of accusations hit him first, but the half-formed words stuck in his throat. He mustered a shuddering breath in. His esophagus swelled and burned. Choking up already? God, I'm pathetic. His shame spiralled. The longer he waited to speak, the more awkward it became. The more awkward it was, the harder to start talking. The sentence he was forming boiled against his throat, begging to be silenced or released.

"Take a deep breath, Will. When you're ready, tell me what happened." His voice was calming.

The boy murmured, "Don't you already know what happened?"

"I know only what the teachers told me. I'm more interested in your telling of the events."

Will wasn't used to that. He sat for an uncomfortable amount of time—his thoughts were harder to parse when they weren't purely defensive. "I-It was in the first class of the day. We were supposed to introduce ourselves...." He paused and glanced up briefly, meeting Doctor Lecter's eyes for a brief moment. He seemed to be absorbing every word, even those unspoken. "When it was my turn," Will continued, "I stammered out my name." He scoffed out a breath. "I couldn't even say 'Will Graham' without screwing it up. I-I was already flustered, then the teacher told me to look at the class, and I couldn't—I'm not used to such small classes, it made it harder than usual. I started tearing up, and when I had to talk about myself I could only choke out a few syllables." His eyes blurred and his voice grew more harsh. "After a while, one of the other students started 'encouraging' me. I don't know if it was genuine or not but I yelled at him to shut up. I stormed out into the hall, and I ran into the nearest bathroom to cry.... Eventually Mr. Crawford found me, and took me into his office.... He told me he cared about me, but that it was unacceptable to behave that way. I was just trying not to cry in front of everyone..." Will trailed off, sniffing back tears. His voice was raw. "Sorry, do you have water?"

"Of course." Hannibal slid a box of tissues close to him, then got up to grab a water bottle from a mini-fridge (which was also stocked with delicious-looking food) under his desk. "Did you believe him, when he said he cares about you," Dr. Lecter asked as he set the water down in front of Will.

"I... I don't know. I don't really trust grown-ups."

"Adolescence usually brings with it more scrutiny of those in power."

"I never really have trusted adults. Every time I did, it bit me in the ass—sorry." Will was so caught up in talking to Doctor Lecter that he forgot to censor himself.

"No need to apologize. The school's policies on language do not reach this room." After a couple seconds of dead air, he continued. "It's my understanding that you've been in the foster system since you were six years old."

"Yeah.... Every time an adult has said they care about me and that they'd find me a place to stay, it fell through. Foster families never took to me: I was always the Problem Child." The term was spit out like poison. "I couldn't get along with any other kids. Never learned how; I only ever really talked to the dogs. Now, they stick me in a boarding school to get rid of me. They said they were impressed by my test scores, but this was a last resort. I just wish they were honest." Will grabbed a couple more tissues.

"Your lack of trust is well-founded. Foster care often fails our most vulnerable youth. Most would call you lucky for your opportunities at this school, yet to you it is nothing more than an extension of that system."

"I wouldn't call myself lucky. It's only a matter of time until my temper gets me expelled." Will sighed in resignation.

"As Headmaster, it is Mr. Crawford's job to keep you in school."

"He only cares about how his school looks. And isn't that your job too?"

"I am employed by Mr. Crawford, but my job is to help students. I would like you to remain at this school, but strict enforcement of the rules is not my field."

"How do you plan to keep me from being expelled?"

"My doctorate is in psychiatry. While I serve as a counsellor at this school, I see myself more as a therapist."

"And you think I need therapy?"

Doctor Lecter cocked his head curiously. "Do you?"

"...I don't know."

"Mr. Crawford certainly seems to."

"What does he want me to get out of it?"

"A better handle over your temper. He would also have you foster a healthy respect for the rules, and for your grades."

"...What's my punishment for breaking them?"

"The Headmaster trusts my judgment, and I see no need to punish you. But I would like to schedule further sessions." Doctor Lecter gracefully slid Will a sheet of paper. "Here is my availability." Will pointed towards a square on the chart, and Doctor Lecter wrote onto a simple card in perfect, controlled loops: 'Thursdays, 4:00pm to 5:30pm'. "I look forward to your next appointment," Hannibal said, baring the card with a soft smile.