Everyone sat around the table, eyeing each other nervously. It was obvious that no one wanted to be here, yet here everyone was, stuck sitting in uncomfortable chairs while trying to seem as if they had nothing to say. If someone were to be acting the least bit odd – such as nail-biting, skin-picking or fidgeting – Ms. Konishi would be down their throat in an instant, asking if they had something to contribute to the group.
Neku had noticed this all in the first two sessions, and had made it perfectly clear that he, out of all the teenagers in the group, had nothing to say.
Of course, Ms. Konishi had taken note of this, and was determined to get Neku to crack.
"So, now that everyone's here… Neku, would you care to start?"
"Uh... I'm okay. I'm still getting used to this place."
"Anything else you'd like to add?"
Neku quickly shook his head.
Ms. Konishi pursed her lips, staring firmly at Neku before speaking. "Okay, let's continue clockwise."
Each group member had to state how they were doing, and were occasionally integrated by Ms. Konishi if they didn't seem sincere. Neku preferred to space out during this state of group – he couldn't care less about how others were doing; it was none of his business anyways.
"Well, now that our check-in was over, I thought I might introduce our topic for today."
Neku looked around the room, catching Beat's eye in the process. Beat smirked and rolled his eyes, subtly shaking his head. If anyone could compete with Neku for hating group, it would definitely be Beat.
"What I wanted to you about today is a topic most of you have already skimmed past."
This time Beat showed his distaste audibly by letting out a groan, and saying, "Can't we do somethin' different fo' once?"
Adjusting her glasses, Ms. Konishi icily replied, "I understand your dislike for repetitive topics, Beat, but I believe this topic would be beneficial for several of your fellow group members. You wouldn't want to take away a possible benefit for them, would you?"
"No, ma'am..." Beat mumbled. Neku swore he saw Beat mouth the word "bitch".
"Now, we can continue. What I was planning on talking about anxiety – its causes, symptoms and ways to help reduce it. Is everyone comfortable with that?"
No one interjected, so Ms. Konishi continued.
"I guess that's an agreement. Does anyone want to tell the rest of the group why anxiety happens?"
Shiki raised her hand nervously. "I think I know, Ms. Konishi."
"Go ahead, Shiki."
"Anxiety is caused by a range of things, such as traumatic events, a family history of anxiety, substance abuse and a person's personality."
"Very good, Shiki. As Shiki said, anxiety happens because of many different reasons, and can be an underlying factor of other medical problems, such as depression. Other medical problems can lead to anxiety, or cause symptoms, such as thyroid. Having anxiety is a normal, humane thing to have and deal with – but in small doses, to protect us from potentially harmful situations. The anxiety we're going to talk about isn't what you would call "normal" or "helpful" – this kind of anxiety can lead to panic attacks and hysteria. Would anyone like to name some symptoms?"
Neku shifted in his seat, staring at the table, his arms folded. He could already hear a list of symptoms running through his head – nausea, heart pounding, hyperventilating, dizziness, feeling weak...
"Beat, how about you?"
Neku jerked his head up, just in time to catch Beat's mouth open and close several times, a look of pure horror crossing his face.
Evidentially he hadn't been paying attention.
Even as much Neku thought Beat deserved to be called out on – the guy never paid attention – Neku couldn't help but feel bad for him. So, instead of watching the poor idiot suffer, Neku cleared his throat, catching Ms. Konishi's attention.
"Would you like to say something, Neku?"
"Yeah... I know a few symptoms." God, beat better be grateful for this – Neku was breaking his own vow to speak as little as possible in this useless group.
"Uh... It really depends on the person, but possible symptoms are nausea, difficulty breathing, trembling, rapid heartbeat, bodily pain, flushed face... The list goes on."
"Very good. Does anyone else have something to add to Neku's list?"
Just before anyone could speak up, there was a loud pounding at the door, causingMs. Konishir to hurry quickly to the door, in order to silence the banging.
The patients craned their necks to see who it was, Neku included. He saw Kariya standing there, looking worried and speaking fast. Ms. Konishi uttered a few intelligible words before turning to the group.
"There has been an incident, and I must go attend to it. You will stay here with Kariya until myself or another official states otherwise."
She hurried off, leaving the group of teenagers in absolute confusion.
"What happened?" asked one of the teens – Naoki, Neku thought his name was.
"It's nothing you should be worried about," replied Kariya, giving the group a tired smile. "It has nothing to do with any of you, don't worry."
"Did someone die?"
"No, no! Don't get yourselves into a fit."
"But wha' da hell happened?" Beat snapped, standing up angrily, knocking his chair to the ground.
"I'm not allowed to say, but I'll let you know that it wasn't anything major."
"Beat, please sit down," Kariya said, his voice hinting more authority than usual. "I understand that you all must be confused and worried, but right now is not the time to get flustered. Everything is under control, and you'll learn about it later on. Ms. Konishi was asked to leave because she works directly with the situation, not because it was disastrous. Just relax for now, okay everyone?"
The group of teenagers nodded to themselves, quietly whispering and glancing at one another, debating what had happened.
Neku looked at Shiki, who was staring at him in worry.
"What do you think happened?"
Neku shrugged. "Not my business."
"You heard Kariya. Let's just wait until we're given an official answer, instead of giving ourselves headaches. Kariya said it isn't anything to worry about, right?"
"Yeah... Still..." Shiki broke off, turning to stare out the window, her face a mixture of worry and confusion.
Neku resumed fiddling with the hem of his sweater. He played it cool all the time – acting as if he wasn't interested, affected, worried – but right now, he wanted to know what had happened just as bad as anyone else.