Niad For the most part nobody asks her questions; the man in white never says anything to her, She's heard his voice, but he’s different from everybody else. He’s the only one who wears white, unlike the Grey Suits and the Blue Jumpers. He also doesn’t talk. The Grey Suits rarely talk, but when they do they usually just mutter-mutter to themselves or snap at each other. “Mutter-mutter...Hold the wrist!” “Insert!” “Checking pulse! Mutter-mutter...” “All clear!” They don’t come often but when they do they fly in like forces of nature, swirling and snapping while they poke and measure. Then, just as suddenly as they come, they go. The Blue Jumpers are different. They come every day with food or equipment, breathing under little paper masks. They talk more than the Grey Suits, and they sometimes talk to her with their soft voices. “Hello.” “Good morning.” “Hi there.” “Hold still a bit.” “Does it hurt?” She gets nervous when they ask questions, especially ‘Does it hurt?’ All of the sessions hurt, but in different ways and some more than others. If she says she doesn't hurt, they leaves her and she has to hold onto whatever pain there is and hope she can outlast it. If she say she does they give her the numb needle and she gets sluggish and heavy, which she hates. She counts the bees on the wall when she gets sluggish. It took her a long time to find out they were bees and even longer to understand why they didn’t look like the bees in the Encyclopedia. She learned from the Blue Jumpers because they’re the only ones that answer questions. She picks up their anxiety when they do it; they are scared to answer but too scared not to. Sometimes she can see out a needling curiosity when she asks them questions, excitement even, but when she ask about the feelings their fear comes in waves and they try to leave as quickly as they can. There are forty-seven cartoon bees with fat oval bodies and stick legs with dotted swirly-trails coming out like tails behind them. The number never changes, but she counts them anyway. Thirteen on the left wall, seven on the door wall, eleven on the right wall, nine on the back wall and one lonely bee on the ceiling. She is a lonely bee. She's seen family in the Encyclopedia and the Dictionary but her 'family' is so big and strange. They don't talk much, and when she asks about if the man in white is her father the answer is a firm, solid no. Maybe one of the Jumpers or the Suits is her mother or father, or maybe they ll are, and the thought makes her smile. She has such a big, always changing family. But she is still lonely because they never ask her questions. They never talk to her for long. They just come and go. She wants to see the one they call Xie. It was an accident that she heard the name, but she still repeats the words to herself on some nights when she wishes so hard for someone. "Xie's quite similar to Niad in that way." She never found out what way, or who Xie was and why they got quiet and angry when she asked about them. But someone 'quite similar' meant someone who maybe wanted to talk too? That asked questions too? That was a little lonely bee like her too? She wished she knew. She lays on her bed and when the Jumper comes in for a check she sits up. "Can I...have pudding?" The Jumper looks up, startled, and then pushes her nose back into her clipboard. "Yes of course, we'll send for it after this." There is silence. "Can I...have two?" The Jumper stops scribbling again. Then sighs. "You can." There is more silence and scribbling until the Jumper leaves. It is exactly four minutes and thirty-two seconds when the puddings arrive. She takes the puddings quietly and sets them on her bed, sitting on one side and propping up her bear on the other end. The bear is worn and dingy, but it is soft, and big enough for her to squeeze when she hurts so bad she can't do anything but crush it to herself. It also makes a nice person. She calls them Xie Bear. "Do you like vanilla pudding? It was the kind they brought. I like it lots!" She smiled and Xie Bear stared back at her, smiling silently. In her mind Xie Bear speaks in a soft, musical voice and says 'Vanilla is fine.' "Yay!" She spoons the pudding into her mouth, still talking. "You know I have a test tomorrow. One with needles. I'm scared." 'Don't be.' "But what if it hurts?" 'It might.' "I don't like it to hurt!" 'Hurt stops.' Naiad nodded. Xie Bear was right. No matter how much it hurt, it stopped. And maybe that was true for being lonely too. Maybe that hurt stopped sometime as well. "Xie Bear! You should eat more pudding! You're going to get skinny if you don't eat!"