Author: Tangerrine

Contact: tangerrinefic (at) yahoo.com

New Frontier series, rated PG.

Spoilers: “Being Human”

Summary: During a visit to the doctor, Shelia McHenry reflects on her son’s future.


Mark McHenry was different.

That was what the psychiatrist told his mother, when at age nine, Mark tested negative for all the disorders and mental illnesses the psychiatrist could come up with. When the only conclusion the doctors could draw from his test results was that he was an extremely bright, if somewhat shy, child. Mark was just a little different, said the psychiatrist. Nothing to worry about.

But for Shelia McHenry, it’s never been enough to account for the unexplainable, the just plain strange that occurs whenever Mark is around.

She has written down a list, and she reads it to the doctor, who watches her in perplexed interest. Her list reads as follows: Inability to concentrate. Lack of interest in social activities with children his own age. Imaginary friends. Sits for hours, rocking back and forth and staring into space.

Some of this is tolerable. Mark has, for instance, the uncanny ability to know exactly where he at any given moment. He never gets lost, and can give her directions to department meetings, even though he has never set foot on the Academy campus. It’s like he has a map of the world stored in his head, ready to be accessed at all times. She doesn’t mind that part. It’s just his imaginary friend who is causing problems.

Missy, as Mark calls her, has become a permanent fixture in their household. He talks to her, constantly, even in front of company, frequently ignoring whoever is trying to get his attention. Mark is nine, nearly ten, and she’s at at a loss, trying to figure out what to do. He needs to have real friends.

He’s always been a bright child, she tells the psychiatrist. Very smart. She has never worried about his schoolwork, or whether or not he will be accepted into the top schools. Only that his apathy, his reluctance to socialize with his other children will make it difficult for him in other areas of his life. With his intelligence, his potential, Mark has no excuses.

The psychiatrist told his mother that invisible friends were normal for young children, even for someone Mark’s age.

He assured her that Mark’s lack of interest in socializing with his peers was just shyness that he would eventually grow out of.

And a good sense of direction, too, he smiled. Well, it looks like your boy will be popular on hiking trips.

The psychiatrist sends her away with some pamphlets on shy children and a whispered reminder to relax. He smile and waves goodbye at Mark, who smiles back cheerily. Shy, indeed. As she tugs Mark along to the transporter station, Shelia feels a burning anger towards the doctor (who does not and cannot understand), towards her son (who is destroying his future), and towards herself (she hasn’t told everything).

Because in the back of her mind, she remembers the day George left, the day she ran up the stairs to find her trembling son in a room that smelled like singed fabric, that crackled with quiet energy. Something had happened up there, something she couldn’t figure out from Mark’s shaky one-word answers. But she can’t bring herself to ask about it, because she suspects she doesn’t want to hear the answer.

So Shelia still persists in hoping that it’s just a disease– a social disorder of some sort that has gone undiagnosed. Something explainable, something treatable with drugs or therapy.

She researches late at night on the computer, searching through lists of illnesses and symptoms. Looking for the one disorder that can explain Mark’s behavior. She even finds herself hoping that it is her fault, somehow. That she has failed to motivate him, to impress upon him the importance of his studies and of his goals. That with sufficient encouragement from her, Mark will grow out of his shyness and make friends.

She gets second opinions from other doctors, who tell her the same thing: don’t worry. It’s just a phase.

She wants to believe them. She wants to believe that it’s something Mark will grow out of. But she can’t. She was there that day last year, and saw what happened. Deep down, Shelia knows that it’s more than just a little shyness, more than just a harmless imaginary friend. And she fears that whatever she does, it won’t be enough.