My palms sweat and my thoughts race as I walk down the hall. While I've run numerous groups in my two years working at the Rainey Institute, this one is going to be something else entirely. They're going to eat me alive
, I think. This isn't like running Grief Group or Anger Management. Any group leader can identify with those issues. How am I supposed to find common ground with
these patients, though?
I enter the room to find my participants already there, awaiting my arrival. There are eleven of them - ten people and one robot - spread across four rows of mostly-empty seats. Here goes nothing
, I think, taking a deep breath.
"Hi, everyone. My name is Sarah and I'll be facilitating this group today. It's my first time leading this particular group, so please bear with me and hopefully we can all learn together."
A dark-haired woman in the back row snorts. "What could I possibly learn from you
? You're scared to death right now."
"This group will give you the opportunity to talk with others who have been in the same situation as you." I do my best to appear confident in the face of her scrutiny.
"Somehow, I doubt that." The woman shoots me a haughty glare, crossing her arms.
"Okay, then," I continue. "This is a support group for people suffering from Uncooperative Fictional Character Disorder. As I've never been a fictional character myself, I can't say I identify with what you all go through. But that's why we're here. In this session, you'll have the chance to talk about your feelings with other people who've experienced the same things you have."
Nine pairs of human eyes and one pair of electronic ones stare at me in stony silence. In one corner of the room, a man with shaggy white hair sits on the floor and picks at the torn knee of his jeans.This is going swimmingly so far
, I think.
"Um, let's all introduce ourselves. First names will suffice. Please also tell the group how you're feeling today and a little bit about why you're here."
More blank stares.
"Okay, I'll go first," I say, trying not to sound intimidated. "My name is Sarah and I'm feeling nervous right now. I'm not a fictional character, but we don't have any of those working here at the Rainey Institute. They picked me to run this group because sometimes I'm a writer."
With what I hope is an encouraging nod, I address the petite blonde girl sitting in the front row.
"Hi, my name is Sam?" It sounds like a question rather than a statement. She fidgets in her chair and falls silent. A young man of Asian descent with a long ponytail is seated beside her. He grabs her hand and gives it a supportive squeeze, and she speaks again. "Um, I'm feeling depressed and I'm here because I stared at my best friend's butt during an important plot point."
Sam's friend twitches and almost falls out of his chair.
"It... it was an accident," Sam mumbles. "I didn't know it was you." Her friend looks disappointed.
"Um, I'm Daisuke," Sam's friend jumps in before I can ask any more questions. "Right now, I'm feeling, well... kind of shocked. I'm here because I lived in a fantastical world for a year and a half and refuse to talk to anyone about what happened while I was there."
Sam keeps shooting Daisuke nervous looks when she thinks he isn't looking. Daisuke examines his fingernails.
Thanking him, I glance at the two young men seated in the second row. Both are well-dressed, one young and blonde and the other slightly older with dark hair and glasses. They are engaged in a furious make-out session and oblivious to anyone else in the room. I clear my throat, but they don't appear to notice. I'm about to move on to the next participant when a condescending female voice speaks up from the back of the room.
"The pretty yellow-haired one is Jazz and the perverted one is Savin. They're a couple of idiots." It's the dark-haired woman who called me out at the beginning of the session.
Jerking away from his partner, Jazz looks at the woman with alarm. Savin gives her a cursory glance, then resumes kissing Jazz with impressive fervor. Jazz continues to eye the woman for a moment, then shrugs and returns his attention to Savin.
Sighing, I move on. In the third row of seats, a group of four men in their teens or early twenties sit with a feminine-looking robot. I catch the eye of an olive-skinned boy with shocking blue eyes and blonde hair. He offers me a shy smile.
"I'm Kalen, and I am feeling... overwhelmed? I'm here because I committed an act of terrorism by sneezing, thereby turning what was supposed to be a serious story into a new genre called 'goofy dystopia'." Kalen nudges the robot, who is sitting to his left.
"I'm CallaBot. I have no idea why I'm here. Robots don't need therapy." She glares at me, eyes glowing as if lasers are about to emanate from them. Feeling a trickle of sweat roll down the small of my back, I do my best not to flinch. CallaBot turns to the large muscular young man to her left, who appears to be sleeping, and punches him hard in the arm.
"Wake up, numbnuts!"
"OW!" The brawny young man jerks awake with a shout. "Why'd you do that?"
"It's your turn, Shit-For-Brains." At least the fembot is glaring at him instead of me now.
"Um... hi? I'm Brendan."
"Name. How you're feeling. Why you're here. It's not rocket science, seriously." A young man with Mediterranean features and long dark hair stares at Brendan with a disdainful expression that rivals CallaBot's laser eyes.
"Whatever, you troglodyte."
"What?" Brendan looks puzzled.
"Exactly." Devin smirks.
"Can we get to the point already? This is getting boring." The dark-haired woman in the back row stands up. "I'm Jordine. I do what I want. Period."
Jordine points at Brendan. "This one doesn't follow orders."
Gesturing at Devin, she continues.
"This one cracks jokes at inappropriate times and loses his sense of humor at crucial moments. And the one next to him, Wes, thinks that real life is exactly like an episode of NebulaQuest
, a fictional 'neurovision' show." She punctuates the word "neurovision" with sarcastic air quotes.
"How did you know
all that? Are you some kind of mind-reader?" Wes is staring at Jordine with rapt adoration.
"Yes." Jordine doesn't even spare Wes a glance. She directs her piercing gaze to the white-haired man in the corner, who is still paying no attention to anyone else in the room.
one." Her words drip with disgust. "I don't even know where to begin. He has a perfectly good proper name, but insists on being called The Straw Man instead, making all references to him awkward and ungainly. When his Author wants to write him, he's nowhere to be found. At times when the Author has a million other projects, he begs to be written, promising to behave, only to run away at inopportune moments. Besides all of that, he has no concept of time and his thought processes look like something Salvador Dali vomited up once."
Jordine glares at the Straw Man, who looks up, startled. He stares at her for a moment, whimpers like a kicked dog, and shrinks away. Sam jumps out of her seat and runs over to comfort him as Daisuke eyes him with open hatred.
"This is ridiculous." Jordine snorts, rising and making for the door. "I'm leaving. Have fun exploring your feeeeeeeeeelings."
Sighing, I look at the clock. Only twenty minutes have passed. What am I supposed to do with the rest of the hour?Author's Note: Thank you so much to theun4givables, who allowed me to borrow her characters (Jordine, Jazz and Savin) for this story.