The receptionist led Iris into Dr. Moore’s office. Dr. Moore was running late. Iris settled against the sofa and practiced her question, in her head, the way she’d practiced it through the Romeo and Juliet test she’d bombed. Over and over until it was like a song. When Iris heard talking, she pulled her knees to her chest and picked at the string in her combat boot.
“Hello, Iris,” Dr. Moore said. “I like your hair.”
It was pink. Because why not. That’s what the girl on the box of dye said, a balloon coming out of her mouth. Pink hair? Why not?
Iris said: “Thank you.”
Dr. Moore sat down.
“The schedule working?” Dr. Moore asked.
Iris nodded. She’d never thought to go to sleep at the same time every night or to wake up an hour before school. Dr. Moore was correct: doing those things improved Iris’s concentration.
“What about your eating? Remembering?”
Once Iris said she had a problem with forgetting to eat. The truth was remembering to eat came second to remembering to lock the bathroom and bedroom doors at night.
Iris nodded again.
“How is your mother?” Dr. Moore asked.
“Fine,” Iris said. Her mother was probably scouring her boyfriend Victor’s tub, eyelashes caked in mascara. The dog wouldn’t be fed. Iris didn’t want to talk about herself anymore.
“How’s your daughter?” Iris asked. The doctor had a girl, Mallory, probably twelve years old like Iris. In the photo on Dr. Moore’s desk, Mallory stood beside a boat bobbing on clear water.
Dr. Moore repeated what she’d said at their first session: “Therapists are all different. Some talk about their lives. I don’t. I focus the hour on you.”
“Tell me one thing,” Iris said. “Please.” If she could get Dr. Moore to finally talk about herself, maybe she would feel more comfortable with Iris. This might increase the chances she’d say ‘yes’ to Iris’s request.
“I’ll tell you one thing if you tell me one thing,” Dr. Moore said.
For months Dr. Moore had asked Iris about her wrists and Iris had avoided the topic by telling how Davis let all the lizards out in Chemistry, how Cheryl acted fancy because her brother was in Hamilton. Iris knew Dr. Moore had no intention of telling Iris anything she really wanted to know, but maybe playing this dumb game would get Iris closer to working up the nerve to ask her question.
“My mom has never taken me to Disneyworld,” she said.
“I grew up in Florida. We went every summer,” Dr. Moore said.
“My dream vacation is the Bahamas.”
“I don’t like the beach,” Dr. Moore said.
But the photo? It was time to raise the stakes. Tell Dr. Moore something she really wanted to know.
“My mom left me out in the snow once. All night.” Iris shivered remembering.
Dr. Moore raised an eyebrow. “I met my husband at Rockefeller Center.”
Iris had imagined Dr. Moore as a single mom. She didn’t wear a ring. Men always fucked things up.
They were quiet. Iris considered whether she should tell a lie or the truth.
“I take care of my sister’s daughter, Alice,” Dr. Moore said.
Alice? OnceIris had heard Dr. Moore on a call: “Mallory, stop yelling. I’ll be there soon.”
Now that Iris knew this detail, she was hungry. She wished she could kick Dr. Moore out and ransack her purse, read the texts on her phone. At the third session, Dr. Moore told Iris she was special. Such a simple thing to say, Iris had heard kids called that on TV shows. But it had never happened to her. For a second Iris had forgotten how to breathe.
“Why does she live with you?” Iris asked.
“I have a sister, Mallory, who is like your mother.” Dr. Moore took off her glasses. Her eyes were bluer without them. Dr. Moore’s eyes said: She drinks, too. She can do caricatures of Roseanne, but then she’ll hit you for no reason.
“Where is your sister now?” Iris asked, sure there was bad news coming. Suicide. Car accident.
“My sister lives abroad now.”
Abroad? It sounded romantic. Iris’s mother was probably giving Victor a foot rub, preparing for their move to his hometown. Wichita. An inherited condo. Flowered wallpaper. A fresh start, her mother said, as if a move could stop what was happening to Iris if she didn’t remember to lock her door.
“Where are you moving?” Dr. Moore asked.
“Kansas,” Iris said.
“How do you feel about the move?” Dr. Moore asked.
Like bug guts squished on the pavement and left out for a billion years in the sun. This was Dr. Moore’s first dumb question in their six months together.
“I don’t want to go,” Iris said, feeling her chin quiver. Shit. Once she started crying, she wouldn’t stop. She’d cried after her mom’s last boyfriend left, and her mother laughed and said Iris needed a stronger backbone if she wanted to survive this cruel world.
Iris imagined the next morning: her mother smoking, Morrissey playing. Hours like that. Iris bit down hard on her lip. She looked down at the scar, the fear she’d felt all those nights—the memories pushed her toward Dr. Moore instead of away.
“I did it because of him. Because of what he does. Because she knows and she doesn’t care.” Iris’s heart thudded. Dr. Moore’s mouth closed. Then she came to sit beside Iris. Iris snuggled against her.
Iris had wanted to ask her question since Dr. Moore called her special. Maybe Dr. Moore saw something in Iris her mother never could. Maybe they were like Romeo and Juliet, star-crossed, not boyfriend and girlfriend, but mother and daughter.
“Will you let me live with you?” Iris whispered.
Dr. Moore rocked Iris in her arms. Iris held her breath and waited for the answer.
Jennifer Dickinson is a graduate of Hollins University. Her work has previously appeared in Blackbird, Causeway Lit, Cosmonauts Avenue, and Inlandia. The recipient of a Hedgebrook residency and a grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Jennifer works as a writing teacher for women and memoir book coach in Los Angeles. Get in touch with Jennifer through her website, jenniferdickinsoncoaching.com