Warning: This poem contains intense and controversial topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features dysfunctional family dynamics, extreme stress, an attempt at family therapy that winds up with a therapist helping the abused teen report to the police and seek foster care, sex/gender issues, extreme gender abuse along with assorted other terrible parenting, Riley's mother is a habitual liar (and his father goes along with it), Riley's father is a terrible communicator (and his mother goes along with it), estrangement as a consequence of ruinous lies, broadcasting thoughts/feelings due to high stress and new-ish superpowers, venting, touch starvation, iffy handling of new superpowers, reproductive damage due to surgeries intended to correct intersex features now causing complications, difficulty with gender identity due to rampant deceit and gender abuse, pronoun issues, confusion, misery, trust issues, puberty challenges, revenge fantasies, fear of hurting people, talking about various kinds of abuse, fear of forced sterilization, indecision over orientation, superpowers require more complex sexual education, gaslighting, Riley considers running away from home, Dr. G has a mini-panic-attack over possibly losing someone else that way after Glyn ran off, exploring foster care options, reporting child abuse to the police, sibling issues, and other angst. Readers with sex/gender issues, dysfunctional families, and/or therapy issues may find this poem fraught reading. Please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"Disorientation and Reorientation"
Riley stormed into the Soup to Nuts office,
trying to stay far enough ahead of his parents
that their ugly thoughts didn't rain all over him.
Inside, it was slightly better, the cheerful decor
matched by upbeat thoughts and the orderly patter
of the receptionist sorting out some files.
There was something else, too, high and sweet,
like a motor going so fast that he couldn't hear
individual sounds, only a happy whir.
Riley's steps slowed as he tried
to take in all the new information.
It was beautiful but disorienting --
everything was disorienting now.
Of course, that gave his parents
time to catch up with him.
"Get away from me," he snapped.
"You lied to me. I hate you!
I never want to see you again."
"Riley, we just want what's
best for you," his mother protested.
He wasn't buying that. He wasn't
going to believe anything that
she said, not ever again.
"You must be my ten o'clock,"
said a blond man. "Since things
are tense between you, how about
we split up for a little while? Riley
and I can get to know each other,
while Herschel and Thelma talk
with another counselor."
"Yes," Riley said, stepping
toward him. "I'd like that."
"Well ... all right, dear, but we'll
be right here if you need us,"
his mother said hesitantly.
Riley tried to tune out
the nervous chatter of
her mind, but it was hard.
Inside the office, though,
it got a lot easier. There was
a sort of fuzzy hum that muffled
everything from outside of it.
Riley settled into a couch,
which was soft and comfortable.
"Wow, that was intense,"
the older man said. "Hi, you
can call me Dr. G or Graham.
Do you realize you're 'shouting'
your thoughts all over the building?
That might not be what you want."
"It's not," Riley said. "I try, but
my control's not great yet."
"Just damp it down a bit,"
said Dr. G. "I can shield myself
somewhat, and the privacy field
will keep everything in here."
Riley tried to wrestle his mind
back into shape, but it was hard.
"I'm trying, but I don't know if it's
working," Riley said. "It's like ...
I can turn it down but not off."
"That's typical for new telempaths.
You're making progress," Dr. G said.
"Do you need to vent, or would
you rather calm down first?"
"I hate feeling like this,"
Riley muttered. "I just
don't know how to stop."
"Okay, I can talk you through
a relaxation routine that helps
for most folks," Dr. G said.
"Yeah," Riley said. "That's worth
a try. My school counselor Miss Ingrams
taught me some good tricks, but those
aren't always enough anymore."
"Put both feet flat on the floor
and take a few deep breaths,"
Dr. G said. "Think of somewhere
nice and quiet, like a park."
Riley tried that, and soon
he felt a little less awful.
"That's good," said Dr. G.
"You can lean on me if you like."
"Yeah," said Riley. "Can we ...
could I get a hug or something?"
My parents don't really touch much."
"Of course," said Dr. G. "I'll sit
beside you, and then you can
snuggle up against me."
The older man was warm
and solid, a little soft around
the edges, and Riley felt better
just from touching him.
"You may touch my mind,
too, if you like -- just the surface,"
Dr. G invited. "Sometimes it helps
telempaths to be around people
who are calm and happy."
Riley hadn't been encouraged
to use his superpowers before.
He reached out, trying to be
gentle about it, and -- oh.
The other man's mind was
so soft and cozy, like a sweater.
He just wanted to roll around in it.
"You feel like cashmere," he whispered.
"I'll take that as a compliment," Dr. G said.
"Would you like a cup of tea? We have
quite a selection, if you let me know
some of your favorite flavors."
"I like tea, and I'm not picky,"
Riley said. "I like chamomile,
peppermint, lavender ..."
"How about a relaxing blend
of chamomile, oatstraw, catnip,
and holy basil?" Dr. G offered.
"Sounds good," Riley said.
He hadn't tried anything
quite like that, but at least
some of the ingredients
were things he liked.
Dr. G stepped out for
just a couple of minutes,
then came back with
a steaming mug.
The mug was white
with black letters that read,
Relax. It's going to be okay.
Riley really hoped so.
"Here, wrap your hands
around the cup and feel
how warm it is," Dr. G said.
"Smell the tea. What does
it remind you of now?"
"Mowing the lawn," Riley said.
"I like the way the cut grass
smells, and it's a job I do well."
"Take a sip, and let the taste
remind you of how accomplished
you feel when you finish mowing
the lawn," Dr. G suggested.
So Riley drank the tea, and
thought about the satisfaction
of finishing their yard. It helped.
The contact comfort did too.
Just being able to lean on someone
made him feel less shaky inside.
His muscles began to relax.
Eventually he quit clutching the cup
like a teddy bear, and set it on his knee.
"Thanks," he said. "I feel a little better."
"That's good," said Dr. G. "You're
not buzzing around my head like
a bee in a bonnet anymore."
Riley giggled. "How can you
joke about something like this?"
"Because it helps diffuse the tension,"
Dr. G said. "I have training that helps me
choose silly things that will make people
laugh without hurting anyone's feelings."
"That's an awesome skill," Riley said.
"All I've had is a weekend workshop
on the use of humor in healing for
an EFA program in Sankofa Club."
"You know, mental care is very open
to telempaths in some areas," Dr. G said.
"You're getting old enough to start thinking
about your career interests. So if you like
emotional first aid, definitely explore more."
"I'll think about it, but ... my whole life just
blew up in my face," Riley said. "School
isn't really on the top of my mind right now."
"That's understandable," Dr. G said.
"The intake paperwork says you have
gender issues as well as the telempathy
springing up. Where do you want to start?"
A stab of misery pierced the fuzzy calm
that Riley had been enjoying. "I guess ...
I better start at the beginning," he said.
"I'm listening," Dr. G assured him.
That made it slightly less awful.
Riley's dad never listened to anyone,
and it made their home life difficult.
"I was born intersex, but I didn't know that
until just recently," said Riley. "I started
having these cramps." He waved a hand
at his lower belly. "So Mom took me to
the doctor. He said it's because I have
ovotestes that are trying to descend,
only they can't because of scar tissue."
Riley had to stop then, because his voice
was shaking and he could hardly breathe.
"It's okay. Take your time," Dr. G said.
"Think of this as climbing a mountain.
You need to pay attention to the path
and take rest breaks to stay safe."
Riley remembered the bench trick
that Miss Ingrams had taught him,
so he imagined himself stepping off
a trail to sit on a bench and relax.
"That's great, you're really good
at this," Dr. G encouraged.
"How do you know?" Riley asked.
"I'm getting a little spillover from
your mind, and I can see how
your body language changes,"
Dr. G said. "That helps me
to understand what you need."
Riley realized that Dr. G was
really good at this stuff too.
That made it easier to go on.
"Anyway, I didn't remember having
injuries down there, so I asked, and it
turns out my parents had them do
some kind of surgery to make me
look like a boy," Riley said. Then
the anger boiled up. "I'm not a boy!
I never was! They just lied to me."
"That's a horrible situation," Dr. G said.
"You don't feel like a boy. Do you have
another sense of your gender identity?
Perhaps you feel more like a girl, or
like something else altogether?"
"I don't know!" Riley wailed. "How
could I know when everything that
they told me was wrong? I always felt
kind of different, but I never knew why.
Now I know why, and it still doesn't
help anything. I'm just lost."
"It sounds like you could use
a road map," Dr. said. "There are
specialists for intersex issues, including
doctors and gender counselors. I will
make a note to look up some options
for you. I have plenty, because one of
my children is gender-variant too."
"Really?" Riley said, then frowned.
"You're just saying that to make
me feel better. It's not real."
"Quite real, and you can meet
Halley later if you like," Dr. G said.
"Meanwhile, see for yourself."
It was like when the window
of a food truck opened to put out
your order. His mind pushed forward
a little packet of memories for Riley.
There was an image of a child
just a few years younger than Riley,
dressed in a burgundy bear sweater
over wild purple-and-yellow leggings.
Snippets of conversation flittered past,
mostly blurred for privacy but giving Riley
a general sense of love and support.
"As soon as Halley could talk, thon
explained that we'd gotten the gender
wrong, so we switched," Dr. G said.
"Thon?" Riley said, pouncing on
the new word. It sounded interesting.
"Halley doesn't feel like a boy or a girl,"
Dr. G explained. "So we say 'thon'
because it's a gender-neutral pronoun."
"I like it," Riley said. "My parents
call me 'he' but ... it doesn't fit."
"Then you should definitely try on
some other words," Dr. G said. "It may
take a while to find one that feels right
for you, but that's okay. There are
plenty of them to choose from."
"I think I'll start with thon," Riley said.
So Dr. G described how it worked,
and how to tell people about it, and
gave thon a sticker to write in name
and pronouns for everyone to see.
It didn't feel comfortable yet, because
it was new and unfamiliar, but at least it
felt less wrong than being called "he."
"I'm just so confused," Riley said.
"I feel like everything is falling apart
around me, and it's horrible." Thon
started crying, and poured out all of
the awful feelings and events.
"That's natural, but it won't last
forever," Dr. G said. "Most teens feel
bewildered and isolated when their bodies
change. It's confusing even for people with
a common gender, let alone uncommon."
"But it's got to be easier for people
who really feel like boys," Riley said.
"A little bit," said Dr. G. "They do have lots
of social input. But they still have to decide
what it means to be a man, just like the girls
have to decide what it means to be a woman.
That's hard. If you feel like something else,
you do have to look farther for examples and
think deeper about meaning. But you don't
have the same kind of preconceptions."
He turned his hand over and back.
"It's not so much about harder or easier,
as it is a different set of pros and cons."
Riley had learned about pros and cons
in debate club. "That makes sense,"
thon said. "Maybe I could make a grid."
"Oh, if you're into worksheets, I have
all kinds," Dr. G said. He showed Riley
some pages for analyzing one choice
at a time, evaluating them, and then
comparing three different options.
"Can I get copies of these?" Riley said.
They were more detailed than what
thon had from the debate club.
"Sure, just give me a vddress,"
Dr. G said, and when Riley did so,
he sent the worksheet files. "You can
keep your answers private, but if you
want to talk about them later, I'll listen."
"Yes," Riley said. "I like it when people
listen. Well, probably. Some might come out
too embarrassing to share. But mostly yes."
"It's good to think about your boundaries,"
Dr. G said. "The telempathy gives us both
an edge, because you can read directly
how trustworthy I am. But it doesn't give us
experience working together -- we have
to get that the old-fashioned way."
"Sometimes I think it ruined my life,
but then I have to remember that, no,
my parents did that first," Riley said.
"The telempathy just revealed it."
"Puberty is always confusing, and
medical challenges are hard on anyone,"
Dr. G said. "When you add superpowers,
it just gets worse, because it's less familiar
so there are fewer guidelines about it."
"Yeah," Riley said, ruffling a hand through
thon's hair. It used to be brown, but now it was
pale blue on the right, frosty white in the middle,
and pale pink on the left. "I like my hair this way, but
my parents hate it, and then I have to hear that.
It's hard to keep them out of my head."
"Would you like to tell me more about that?"
Dr. G said. "Many telempaths struggle at first,
trying to figure out how to tune in or tune out
when they want to, so they're not at the mercy
of random fluctuations in their superpower."
"At first it was just ... hunches, flutters
of feeling, hearing a word here and there
that wasn't spoken out loud," Riley said.
"I thought I was imagining it. Then when
the telempathy came online for real,
it was like ..." He shuddered.
"What was it like?" Dr. G prompted.
"When I was little, we visited my uncle
on his farm. He told me to stay off of
this wooden platform, but it was fun to
jump on so I kept doing it," Riley said.
"I fell through into the septic tank."
"Oh, yuck!" Dr. G said, wrinkling
his nose. "That must have been awful."
"The smell just wouldn't come out,"
Riley said. "Finally my aunt tried
treating it like skunk spray, and
washed me in tomato juice. That
was gross, but kind of cool too,
and it took off most of the stink."
"It's a good solution," Dr. G said.
"The acids in tomato juice can help
break down smelly organic compounds,
and the tomato smell itself covers up
most of whatever's left. Have you
found anything similar for telempathy?"
"Not yet," Riley said. "My parents keep
giving me advice, but I just ignore them.
They lied about everything, and it caused
huge problems for me. They're awful.
How can I ever trust them again?"
"Well, it would take a lot of work
to repair this much damage to
a relationship, even if both sides
were willing," Dr. G said. "You
don't seem interested, and while
your parents probably are, they
may not accept that much work."
"Probably not," Riley said. "Dad
is great with things -- he manages
the city's fleet of vehicles -- but not
with people. He never listens, and
don't say it's a teen thing, because
he doesn't listen to anyone."
"That kind of problem often causes
trouble throughout someone's life,
not just in parent-teen relationships,"
Dr. G said. "You may be right.
He and I can discuss it later."
"Mom is different, she can talk with
people just fine, but it's all lies," Riley said.
"Not just me, but her job too -- she does
public relations, spin-job stuff for people
caught in a scandal. It's like once she
started, she couldn't stop. Her whole life
is a pack of lies. It feels like a house of cards
waiting to come down. I hate that feeling."
"It sounds very uncomfortable," Dr. G said.
"It probably makes your mother uneasy too."
"Yeah, but at least she chose to live
like that," Riley said bitterly. "I didn't."
Thon realized that one hand was tracing
the colored lines in Dr. G's sweater,
feeling the changes in texture, and
guiltily pulled the straying hand back.
"It's okay, you can touch," Dr. G said.
"Mom says it's bad to grope people,"
Riley said, shaking thon's head.
"It's rude if you don't have permission,"
Dr. G said. "However, I offered you
contact comfort, and you seem to like it,
so that makes it okay to touch. I'm
wondering if you get enough of that."
"Not often," Riley said. "My family
isn't very touchy-feely. Mom says
that I'm too old to cling like a baby."
"People need touch, some more than
others -- one of my kids is very standoffish,
and another is very huggy -- all quite normal,"
Dr. G said. "Adults need contact too, we
just tend to get it in different ways. Have
you found anything that works for you?"
"We used to have a Healthy Touch program
at school, but then they had to move on,"
Riley said. "I miss going to that."
"I'll put it on the list of resources
to look up for you," Dr. G said.
"There are lots of programs for
that, and contact comfort helps
with a great many mental issues."
"That would be good," Riley said.
"I'm so stressed out ... it's hard to stay
in control. I hate my parents for what
they did to me, are doing to me. I'm
starting to worry that I might hurt them,
if lose my grip. My superpowers are
psychic and ... sometimes I fantasize
about bad things happening."
"Do you think that's just because
your parents betrayed you, and
you'd be okay with someone else?
Or do you need to be away from
people for a while?" Dr. G asked.
"Away how?" Riley said nervously.
Thon's fingers stroked the sweater for
comfort. It helped thon stay focused.
"There are isolated retreats for soups
who need plenty of privacy in order
to learn control," Dr. G said. "It could
be just you and your soup mentor."
Riley shook his head. "I think I'd
hate that," he said. "I like being around
other people ... just not my parents."
"Okay, there are options for that too,"
Dr. G said. "If you don't feel safe at home,
you can ask Family Services to give you
some space, and live elsewhere for a while.
If you feel like your parents committed
a crime, you'd need to talk to the police."
"I think it's abuse," Riley said quietly.
"My parents don't care how I feel or
who I am, not really. They tell me to be
a good boy, but I'm not a boy. They lie
about my body. It hurts and it scares me."
"That sounds pretty rough," said Dr. G.
"Can you give me some examples?"
"There are these checklists that I got
from the school counselor," Riley said,
looking down. "I had to check off ...
an awful lot of boxes on them."
"I know this is a difficult topic,"
Dr. G said. "Would you rather tell me
what signs you marked, or show me
a copy of the checklists that you did?
The second is easier, but it also means
giving up a lot more information. Think
about how much trust you want to put
in me this early in our relationship."
Riley didn't have to think about it,
thon could just look. Dr. G's mind
was quiet and earnest on the top, but
underneath that lay a simmering pool of
worry a lot stronger that what Riley
had sensed from thon's parents.
"Be careful," Dr. G warned.
"Yes, I'm worried about you, but
I can keep that contained as long as
you let me. If you go digging, then
you might fall in. That would be
very uncomfortable for both of us."
"Sorry." Riley pulled away.
"You don't have to let go,"
Dr. G said. "Just stick to
the surface of my mind."
"I don't need to look deeper,"
Riley said softly. "You're doing
things to keep me safe and teach me
how to use my powers. That shows
me that you're trustworthy."
"That's a good rule of thumb,"
Dr. G said. "I'm glad I live up to it."
He was living up to it a lot more
than most of the people Riley had met.
They tended to be okay, but not great.
There was just something solid about
Dr. G, like even if Riley dug deeper, he'd
be the same person all the way down,
not fake on the outside and creepy
on the inside like a few were.
"I'll show you the checklists,"
Riley said. He used the eddress
that sent the worksheets to send
the new files. "I hope they help."
Dr. G looked at them, then said,
"Oh, this is perfect. Your counselor
cosigned these. That makes them
much more useful in showing that
your parents have mistreated you."
"Yeah, Miss Ingrams warned me that
it's a lot harder to prove psychological abuse
than physical abuse, so we'd need to build
a really strong case," Riley said. "Otherwise
my parents could wiggle out of it, and I
might be worse off than I was before."
"Unfortunately, that can happen,"
Dr. G said. "However, your parents
can't escape the fact of your biology or
their pervasive pattern of lying about it --
if they kept the truth from you, the lies
must be all over your records. Since
it's causing serious trouble for you,
that makes this actionable now."
"There's more if you need it," Riley said.
"You can ask Miss Ingrams for the records
from her office. I'll have to write you a note."
"She takes client confidentiality seriously?"
Dr. G said with a smile. "That's good."
"Yeah, because some people jerked with her
when she was younger," Riley said, typing
a message to Miss Ingrams on thon's vidwatch.
"It's why she went into counseling, and now she
tells everyone that story so we know she's legit."
"Everyone has a reason, and that can tell you
a lot about a person," Dr. G observed.
"I've noticed that,' Riley said, and sent
the message. "Okay, now Miss Ingrams
knows that it's all right to share with you."
"Thank you for that," Dr. G said. "I'm glad
that you have someone to talk with, even
if you're unhappy at home. If you move
elsewhere for a while, do you think that
you can find a new support network?"
"I'd have to anyway, because Miss Ingrams
is the junior high counselor, and I'm supposed
to start high school in the fall," Riley said. "We're
only allowed to go back to her for emergencies
that we don't feel safe telling anyone else."
"That doesn't tell me about your level
of confidence, though," Dr. G said.
"I don't know, probably?" said Riley.
"I did okay meeting new people before,
but it's getting harder now that I can 'hear'
what they're really thinking or feeling."
"Telempathy has its ups and downs,"
Dr. G agreed. "You'll get used to it,
though, and learn how to make it
an asset instead of a liability."
"Like how?" Riley said. "That's why
I was supposed to come here, so I
better have something to show for it."
"First, your gift will be extra-sensitive
while it's growing in," Dr. G said. "If
you feel a need for company or privacy,
then go with that. Don't force anything."
"I can try," Riley said. "People don't always
let me move around like I need to, though."
"Don't worry, I'll mark that in your files,"
Dr. G said. "It's a need for telempaths,
not a whim that people can ignore. Try
to spend more time around folks who feel
good to your superpower, and less with
those who make you uncomfortable."
"Like my family," Riley said. "I don't know
if anyone else will feel better, though."
"Can you tell a difference in how individuals
feel, or is it all the same?" Dr. G asked.
"Way different," Riley said. "My parents,
Dad's like one of his trucks. It runs fine, but
there's no sympathy. Mom is just ... sticky,
like when you spill soda and can't get it off of
your hands." Thon giggled. "You feel like
a thump room with feet, really safe."
"I'm flattered," Dr. G said with a smile.
"As long as you can differentiate between
people, I think you'll do fine in making
new friends and finding adults who
can help with your challenges."
"What else can I do to learn
about telempathy?" Riley said.
"SPOON offers some classes in
mental awareness and control, which
is how I learned my skills," Dr. G said.
"You can take those, or do the exercises
on your own. They teach basic shielding --
keeping your thoughts and feelings to
yourself -- as well as framing messages."
"That sounds cool," Riley said. Anything
which might give thon the kind of calm that
Dr. G had was well worth pursuing.
"I certainly thought so," Dr. G said.
"It was a lot of work, but it really paid off."
Riley took a drink of the cooling tea.
There wasn't much left now, but it was
definitely helping soothe thon's nerves.
"I don't mind the work," Riley said,
following a blue line in Dr. G's sweater.
"I'm a good student. I like school.
I don't know if I'll be able to go back,
though -- my body's a mess, and
my parents made terrible choices,
and I'm afraid they'll do it again
so things get even worse."
"That's a concern," Dr. G said,
instead of ignoring it the way
that most people did. "Right now,
your parents have a right to make
the medical decisions for you."
"I don't want them to!" Riley said.
"Look at what they already did to me.
They had a doctor put fake balls
in my crotch, and now there's
nowhere for the real ones to go."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Dr. G said.
"One problem with early surgery is that
it can cause a lot of problems later
as the body grows and changes."
"That's not all," Riley said. "They want
to cut out all the parts they don't like!
If they do that, then I'll never be able
to have children. I'm thirteen. I don't
even know if I want to have children.
I do know that I want it to be my choice."
"You're old enough to make that argument,
even though you're not a legal adult yet,"
Dr. G said. "If your parents object, then
you may have a fight on your hands,
but you'll probably win anyway."
"I better," Riley said. "It's my body.
I can do what I want with it." Thon
fidgeted. "I'm not sure if I want
a boyfriend or a girlfriend, though."
"That's something you can explore
on your own, with a gender counselor,
or with me," Dr. G said. "However, I
strongly recommend that you take
the advanced sex education class
that SPOON offers. You need it."
"Why?" Riley said. "We've covered
that stuff in school already. A lot."
"The standard classes don't include
some of what you may need to know,"
Dr. G said. "You've told me about
your ovotestes, so you might produce
produce eggs, sperm, both, or neither.
Those might or might not work in
the usual way, and could interact
with your superpowers. It's tricky."
Riley shivered. "That sounds
awful complicated, and also
"It can be," Dr. G said. "Now
think about how you feel when
your body does weird things,
and then you have no idea why.
Is it better to know, or not know?"
"Better to know," Riley admitted,
rubbing Dr. G's sweater again.
"Then I'll check the schedule at
SPOON for you, and we'll figure out
when you want to take those classes,"
Dr. G said. "You really like my sweater,
don't you? You keep petting it."
"I do," Riley said. "I don't
have anything like it. All of
my clothes are regular boy stuff."
"You don't sound happy about that,"
Dr. G said. "Want to tell me what's up?"
"They're okay," Riley said, then sighed.
"They just don't feel right on me. They
never did, and I didn't know why. Mom
would ask if something fit, and I always
wanted to say no, even if it went on fine.
All this time, she knew what was wrong,
but she kept lying about it! I started
to think that I was going crazy."
"That's gaslighting, and yes, it's
a form of abuse," Dr. G said. "You
don't sound crazy to me, just upset,
which you have every right to be. If
someone lied about my body, I'd be
upset too. Feeling confused and hurt
is a natural reaction to betrayal. You
can learn to cope with those feelings."
"I guess," Riley said. Dr. G's sweater was
just so soft and so beautiful. Best of all,
it wasn't only pink or blue, and it didn't
look like a boy sweater or a girl one.
"I still wish I had nice clothes like yours."
"Why thank you," Dr. G said, running
his hands down the front. "That's
a nice change from people asking
me whether I dressed in the dark."
"They don't really?" Riley said,
shocked. That would be so rude.
"At least once a week," Dr. G said.
"I just love bright colors and bold patterns.
They make me feel alive. I also enjoy
supporting crafters -- some of my sweaters
are gifts from friends, but most of the rest are
things I bought directly from the knitters."
"It must be nice to pick your own clothes,"
Riley said wistfully. "I wish I could."
"You're thirteen, and most people
choose at least some of their clothes
by then," Dr. G said. "You don't?"
"My parents don't like what I pick,
so they pick for me," Riley said.
"What kind of things do you choose?"
Dr. G said. "Are they inappropriate
for school or play, or just a style
that your parents don't like?"
Riley slouched in the seat,
chin against chest. "I think
the clothes I want are fine, but
my parents say they don't look like
anything. They want me to wear
stuff that screams BOY. They even
buy shirts that read Dude and Bro."
"Okay, that's what your parents want
you to wear," Dr. G said. "And you?"
"I like things I can mix and match,
so mostly plain tops and bottoms,
and quieter colors," Riley said.
"But you love my sweater," Dr. G said.
"Yeah, I really do," Riley said. "I've
never seen anything quite like it.
Look at your pants, though -- they're
that soft sand color. You could wear
those with anything. It's the same
with my jeans. These are decent
because navy matches most stuff."
"So left to your own devices, you'd
pick a lot of basics in neutral colors, plus
a few really loud accents, but without
strong gender markers," Dr. G said.
"If you wind up in foster care, you're
entitled to a capsule wardrobe."
"What's that?" Riley wondered
as thon leaned toward Dr. G.
"It's a set of basic clothes, because
some kids come with nothing," said Dr. G.
He fiddled with his tablet computer, then
offered it to Riley. "Well, I couldn't find
any unisex capsules, but here's one for
boys in blue and black, or one for girls
in shades of brown. What do you think?"
"They're both kind of boring," Riley said.
"Well, they're basics," Dr. G said. "They're
not meant to be worn alone -- you mix and
match them with other things. Imagine adding
a few printed t-shirts and a sweater like mine."
Riley smiled. "Yeah, I can see it now,"
thon said. "I think I'd go with the blue set.
It's not too different from my current clothes,
it just leaves out the parts that I hate."
"That's a good start," Dr. G said. "You'll
need to account for your hair color, and you
might think about your gender expression,
but those get more complicated. It's easier
if you just start with something simple."
"I wish I could start over with
my whole life, not just my clothes,"
Riley said, then took a sip of tea.
"Then let's talk about that next,"
Dr. G said. "Your parents lied to you
about your body, and mistreated you in
other ways that fit psychological abuse.
As it stands, they have a lot more power
over your life than you want, right?"
"Yeah," Riley said, licking thon's lips.
It was terrifying and overwhelming.
Only the cozy feel of Dr. G's mind
kept thon from panicking over it.
"Normally, today would just be for
talking and getting to know each other,
like I told your parents," Dr. G said.
"Nothing about this is normal,"
Riley said, throwing up thon's hands
and going into another long rant on
what a mess thon's life was.
"I know that now," Dr. G said. "You
don't want to go home with your parents
like they're expecting to happen,
so we need another plan."
"I won't stay with them anymore,"
Riley said. "I'd rather run away!"
The soft sense of Dr. G's presence
abruptly blinked out, leaving Riley
feeling cold and alone as he stood up.
"Give me a minute, please," Dr. G said.
Riley's fingers dug into the cushion,
worried, but thon waited as requested.
Soon Dr. G came back and said,
"I'm sorry that my composure slipped
a little. We lost a family friend that way
this spring. Eventually they reached safety,
but they're no longer part of our everyday life,
and that still hurts. Please go on now."
"I'm sorry too," Riley said. "I didn't
mean to bring up bad memories."
"That's not your fault; you couldn't
have known," Dr. G said. "As for
running away, let's call that Plan Z."
"I won't go back," Riley insisted.
"I'm not asking you to go back,"
Dr. G said. "I'm asking you to tell me
before you take drastic measures
like running away from home."
"So you can set the cops on me
and keep me there?" Riley snorted.
"I may like you, but I'm not that stupid."
"No, because if we get to Plan Z,
the cops won't be able to help, since
we'll have passed them several times
in earlier plans," Dr. G said.
"What other plans?" Riley said.
"You mean like make a whole list?"
"At least we can make the first few steps,"
Dr. G said. "We might pencil in later ones.
Let's start with Plan A, getting you away
from your parents temporarily while you
figure out what you want to do later."
"Is there a Plan B?" Riley asked.
"It's a variation of Plan A, just requires
me to pull some strings and route you
in a different direction," Dr. G said.
He had relaxed enough that his mind
wasn't blocked off anymore. Hesitantly,
Riley reached out again, seeking comfort
in the physical and mental contact.
"It's okay, I'm calm again," Dr. G said.
"I do want you to promise me that you
won't run away without talking to me first."
Riley prodded the fuzzy sense of Dr. G,
wanting confirmation that he really had
other ways of keeping thon safe. He did,
although thon couldn't get the details.
"I didn't like it when you ... disappeared
like that," Riley said. "Okay, I'll --"
"Ah, wait," Dr. G said. "I forgot
to warn you: if you tell me while we're
in close contact, I'll probably know
whether you're being honest or not.
Is that something you want?"
"I don't lie," Riley said, biting off
the words. "I hate it when people do."
"I didn't say that, I just wanted you
to understand how mental contact
works," Dr. G said. "Some people
prefer to keep their options open.
Lies can be uncomfortable, but
the truth can be awkward too."
"The truth is still better than a lie,"
Riley said, lifting thon's chin and
looking the older man in the eye.
"I promise to tell you if I'm thinking
about running away from home."
Dr. G twitched, and Riley wondered
if maybe thon had pushed too hard.
"Understood, and thank you," Dr. G said.
"Don't worry too much about your finesse.
You're still new at this, and it takes time
to reorient yourself after manifesting
a superpower. You didn't hurt me,
just shouted in my ear a bit. It's okay."
"Oh, good," Riley said. "I don't want
to hurt anyone. I worry about that."
"Then you have a good conscience,"
Dr. G said. "We'll find you a soup mentor
and you'll learn better control skills."
"That's a relief," Riley said. "What
happens now? I'm still ... kind of scared."
"Now I need to ask you some questions
about what you want to do next," said Dr. G.
"This is the formal part, so think very carefully.
Do you want me to call the police so that you
can accuse your parents of child abuse?"
"It is abuse," Riley insisted.
"I agree," said Dr. G. "I'm not
arguing with you, I'm just going
down a list to make sure that we
don't miss anything, okay?"
"Okay," Riley said. "Yes.
I want you to call the cops."
"I'll do that," Dr. G said, making
a note on his tablet computer. "You'll
need to tell a Special Victims officer about
what happened, so they know your parents
pose a threat to you. You can ask me or
another adult you trust to sit with you
through that, because it'll be hard."
"You," Riley said quickly. "I don't
want to drag in my other relatives, or
risk getting Miss Ingrams in trouble."
"I'll do my best for you," Dr. G said.
"Would you like for me to call
Family Services and find you
a temporary placement?"
"Yes," Riley said. It was
still tempting to run away, but
scary too, so if there really was
another option, that was better.
"All right, that goes on the list,"
Dr. G said. "Just like with the police,
you'll have to explain to a social worker
why you're not safe at home. They can't
break up a family for no good reason."
"I know," Riley said. "Miss Ingrams
and I talked about that. She told me that
what happened wasn't the kind of thing
which would guarantee removal, so we
worked on collecting evidence."
"The more of that we can get now,
the easier it will be to make your case,"
Dr. G said. "If you put me in touch with
Miss Ingrams, I'll handle the details."
"Yes, please," Riley said, relieved at
getting out of one embarrassing talk. Thon
gave Miss Ingram's number to Dr. G.
"I'm afraid that I can't promise you
a same-sex foster parent, because
intersex folks are rare and they tend
to stay cricketed, but do you want
me to try for that?" Dr. G asked.
"Yeah," Riley said softly.
"That would help a lot."
"All right, I'll do what I can,"
Dr. G said. "It might be easier
to match a foster sibling, because
intersex children have higher risk for
family problems. I'll look for that too."
"Thanks," said Riley. "I do like
the idea of having someone --
anyone -- who's kind of like me."
"Here's a challenge to consider:
very few placements accept
superkids," Dr. G said. "Are
you willing to wait a few days, if
necessary, or would you rather
go home with your parents?"
"I never want to see them again,"
Riley said. "Where would I be waiting?"
"Well, there are several options,"
Dr. G said. "You're a little young
to put in a hotel room on your own,
so you'll need adult supervision.
The least appealing location is
the juvenile part of the jail, but --"
"I don't want to go to jail!" Riley yelped,
scared all over again. "That'd be
even worse than my parents."
"Possibly so," Dr. G said.
"We'll cross out that option, then.
As your therapist, I have to sign off
on appropriate placements for you,
which means I can refuse that one."
"Oh, good." Riley heaved a sigh
of relief. "What else is there?"
"A hospital, which I do not
recommend locally, a group home --"
"Sankofa!" Riley exclaimed. "What
about a Sankofa Home? One of
my classmates lives in one, and
we go over there for pizza night
sometimes. It's really nice."
"I think that would be a great fit
for you," Dr. G said. "I actually know
a Sankofa Home that takes superkids,
but I'm not sure if they have openings
right now. I'll ask around and see
what I can find for you, though."
"Thanks," Riley said. "I don't
mind waiting for a good spot,
as long as it's an okay place
to wait and not the jail."
"That's good," said Dr. G.
"Now, my records show that you
have a sister, Minnie. Do you think
she's safe with your parents, or
might she need a break too?"
"Oh, she's fine at home,"
Riley said, rolling thon's eyes.
"Little Miss Perfect. Minnie gets on
great with our parents, always has."
"Then there's probably no need
for more than a quick visit from
Family Services," Dr. G said.
"That's good," Riley said.
"She's kind of a priss, but
I still don't want to get her
in trouble just because my life
is a mess. It's not her problem."
"All right," Dr. G said soothingly.
"Do you want me to call SPOON
and my other contacts to find you
a soup mentor? That may help you
learn to control your telempathy sooner."
"Yeah, that would be nice," Riley said.
"I sort of have a handle on it, but I don't
really know what I'm doing. I think I'd
do better with lessons or something.
I'm a good student, really I am!"
"Then I'll get some descriptions of
possible mentors for you to consider,"
Dr. G said. "Good academic skills
may help, but this is different enough
that they might not. Don't feel bad
if it takes a while -- the average for
learning a new ability is about a year."
Riley nodded. "I took up flute last fall,
and I'm just getting to where I can play
without squeaking or skipping notes."
"Pretty sure I know the answer to this one,
but do you want to tell your parents what
you've decided to do next, or do you want
me to do that for you?" Dr. G said. "They're
not going to like it, and they can fight it, but
their options are limited. Given your claim
of abuse, we can almost certainly get you
away from them at least temporarily."
"You do it," Riley said shortly.
"I don't want to deal with them."
Then he sighed. "Nobody should
have to, but I'm just ... really sick
and tired of doing that myself."
"I get paid to deal with difficult people
and unpleasant conversations," Dr. G said.
"I'll need to talk with them and get their side
of events, confirm what I can of yours, and
talk to other people in your lives. That
will help me decide how to proceed."
Well, better him than Riley. Thon
picked up the mug and mouthed
the rim, but it was empty.
"Would you like a refill
on that?" Dr. G offered.
"Yes, please," Riley said,
holding out the mug.
"I'll be right back," Dr. G said,
and slipped out of the room,
closing the door behind him.
Riley bounced a little against
the soft back of the couch, but it
wasn't as comforting as Dr. G, and
thon couldn't follow his thoughts
outside of the room now.
Soon he came back holding
not only a fresh cup of tea, but
also a platter of croissants.
"It's almost lunch time," said Dr. G.
"I thought you might feel hungry.
There are chicken, cheese, apple,
and dark chocolate croissants."
The mouthwatering smell made
Riley's stomach gurgle to life.
"Excuse me," thon said, taking
one of the chicken. "Yes, I'd
love some croissants."
It was delicious, full of
tender meat mixed with
some kind of sharp cheese.
"Excellent," said Dr. G. "I'll
get started on the phone calls."
"Can I get one last hug before
you go?" Riley asked wistfully.
"I'm not leaving, because I might
need you to answer questions or
identify yourself to people," Dr. G said.
"You can certainly have a hug, though."
Riley hugged him, careful not to get
crumbs on the gorgeous sweater.
"Thank you so much," thon whispered.
"Everything has been awful since I
found out, and this is the first time
I really feel like it might work out."
"You're welcome," Dr. G said,
hugging thon back. "Reorientation
can be challenging, but you can do it.
I will do whatever I can to see you safe
and happy at the end of this. Meanwhile,
I need to get started on those calls."
"All right," Riley said, and
let go of the older man.
Dr. G took out his smartphone
and called the first number,
pacing casually as he did so.
Riley leaned back and relaxed.
It was going to be okay.
* * *
Because this poem is so long, the notes will appear elsewhere. Meet the characters here. Read the topical footnotes.