Authors: Lisa M. Basso
His lips parted and his brows knotted. He stepped forward, then stopped, as if he was rooted to the sidewalk. And then he turned. Walked away. As if he hadn’t heard me. Hadn’t seen me at all.
. Fire churned in my stomach, and the last of my hope dripped off my skin and seeped into the cracks of the sidewalk.
Dad handed the man I’d kicked a small suitcase and had the nerve to wave goodbye to me from the curb. Of course he wouldn’t come with us. We’d been through this dozens of times before. We all knew the drill.
The men shoved me into the van and forced a happy little injection into my arm. The world spun, and my eyes grew heavy. Cam floated away, along with the rest of the world.
When I regained consciousness, I was in that old, familiar place. The colorless peeling paint, the windows bolted closed, and the stale scent of despair. I waded over to the window, pressing both palms to the cold glass. The Sunflower Serenity Mental Health Clinic sat low on the Sierra Nevada Mountains, looking down on the small Northern California town of Sonora. In the quiet hours, I watched the sun rise over the mountain range, completely numb.
All the months I’d spent on the outside—honing my self-esteem, learning who I truly was, finding ways to open myself up to Lee, Cam, and, to some extent, even Kade—they were all lost. That knowledge was completely pointless here.
People dressed all in white escorted me to therapy, where I played their little game, denying the existence of angels. They gave me six pills a day. They watched me in the shower, at meal time, and during free time. But they didn’t let me outside to tend the garden, the one thing that might have helped. They were in control of everything I did, but they couldn’t control what was inside me. I knew Cam and Kade were real, no matter what Dr. G said.
I marked the days by watching the sun, drawing lines on my cell walls, a trick I’d learned from too many movies. Sixteen days after I arrived, I had my first visitor. I thought it might be Cam, finally coming to help, but the delusion faded in the tick of a second. He wouldn’t break the rules. After the way he’d left me, I wouldn’t want to see him, anyway.
With the weight of this place on my shoulders, I stumbled my way down the long, celery-green corridor that led to the visiting area, dragging my fingers along the tightly woven links of iron soldered over the windows, masking off and distorting the outside world.
The man behind the glass at the end of the hallway asked me my name. I slurred it on my first try, but eventually got it out. I chipped at the loose paint on the door while I waited, revealing layer after layer of the same, muted tone. Colors were bland in this place. They wouldn’t want to counteract their precious drugs by using a vivid color to stimulate us.
A buzzer chimed in three erratic tones, and the door slid back. The movement happened too fast for my drugged eyes, and I leaned through the doorway to steady myself. Stupid antipsychotics.
Dad rushed to my side and helped me to an empty table. “Are you okay, Ray?”
“No. No thanks to you.” I couldn’t help the bitterness that laced my tone. He had no clue what was going on out there, and now, neither did I.
If I’d had more time, I might have gotten Cam and Kade to work together. They could have stopped Az. Had there been more deaths? What had happened to Luke?
But it didn’t make a glimmer of difference because I was stuck in here and couldn’t do a damn thing behind the foot-thick walls and reinforced glass.
“I don’t deserve that.” Dad shook his head and spoke in whispered tones, half to himself, half to his crazy daughter, as if that was the only way us crazies could hear. “You needed help, and you lied to us.”
It was the same crap he’d spewed the first time he left me to these wolves. I recognized the rhetoric as Dr. G’s and wondered if Dad had prepared to visit me by first talking to him. I narrowed my eyes, the anger in me spreading like so much poison.
He sighed. “You need more time. Maybe this was a bad idea.”
“Maybe it was,” I agreed, the words running into one. “Where’s Laylah?” As mad as I was at Dad, I couldn’t blame her, even though she’d thrown me into this barrage of pills and needles. I could only imagine what this was doing to her.
“She’s in the car.”
“Then tell her to get her butt moving.” My voice sounded loopy, even to me.
“She doesn’t want to see you, Ray.”
My heart fractured.
“I tried to talk her into coming up. …” Dad reached for my hands. I slid them off the table, and they flopped lifelessly beside me. “But she’s devastated.”
. I twisted around and waved at the man behind the glass, the motion sending blurry aftershocks into my vision. The man in charge of the door sent a woman in bland blue scrubs out. “I need a pen and paper,” I told her, clenching my teeth to keep my jaw from flopping around. The nurse eyed me suspiciously, probably wondering if I’d jab it into Dad’s neck. Or my own. I turned back to Dad. “If I write her a letter, will you take it to her?”
“Of course I will.” He looked like he was holding back tears.
The nurse nodded and retreated back to the other side of the glass. She returned with a single piece of paper and a blunt-tipped pencil. I should have been offended that she didn’t trust me with the stronger tip of a pen. Instead, I touched the pencil tip to the paper and wrote:
I’m sorry things happened this way. I’m sorry you sold me out. You have no idea what was going on, and now you never will. Remember, no matter what you think of me right now, I’m still your big sister. I’m the one who took care of you when Dad couldn’t, after Mom died. Don’t forget those cold nights when I used to let you crawl into my bed, when you used to be a real sister to me.
I folded the note and handed it to Dad. “Have her read this before you go.”
He nodded solemnly. We said nothing else to each other before he left.
I waited for Laylah, watching the quivering clock in the room, surrounded by its own, cozy little wire fence. I knew my sister couldn’t pass up a fight. Ten minutes passed. I told myself what I wrote wasn’t enough.
wasn’t enough. She wasn’t coming.
My sister was so done with me she couldn’t even be bothered to fight with me anymore. We hadn’t had much of a chance to get close after this last release, but we were family. The one constant in my life, and I’d let it all slip away.
I stood up, bracing against the table, waiting for the colored spots that circled when I moved too fast to pass.
Another buzzer sounded, and Laylah’s voice rang out. “What the hell was that letter about?” She stood by the door. “Don’t blame me because you’re crazy!”
The pencil nurse slid in again, speed walking over to chastise Laylah. “Young lady, if you’re going to be here, you can’t yell. And we don’t use the
“That’s fine. I’m done.” She turned back to the door. “Let me out!”
Crap on a stale cracker. “Laylah, don’t go.” I swallowed the numbness the pills created in my throat. “I needed you to get over yourself and come up here.” I blinked twice to make sure she was really there. “So I wrote something I knew would piss you off. Lately, yelling at me is the only way you’ll …” I almost lost the thought, but lassoed it back just in time. “… talk to me.” She stood there with her back to me, her blonde hair somehow shining in this dark, awful place. But she hadn’t left yet. I still had a chance. “Yes, I screwed everything up. I made life hell for you again. And I’m so, so sorry.”
She turned around and looked at me. She moved fast, plunking down across from me.
I gave into the vertigo and giddiness and lowered myself down onto the bench at the table. “I’m so sorry,” I said again, feeling the pain of every syllable.
“Me, too.” She rolled her eyes. “I guess.” Her throat bobbed as she swallowed. “I shouldn’t have read your diary, and I shouldn’t have given it to Dad. I was just so mad at you for seeing things again.” Wetness welled in the inner corners of her eyes. At twelve, she seemed so grown up. If you wore earplugs.
I took a deep breath, trying to concentrate through the haze of drugs. “Laylah, I have to tell you something. The men I see, they’re angels, and they’re real. I can touch them, talk to them.”
I swallowed and gauged her reaction.
She frowned the way some of the inmates here did when pills stuck in their throats. Understandable. I’d just asked her to swallow a rather large pill. “Yeah,” she dragged the word across the floor and back again like she didn’t believe me. “Let them help you this time. It would be nice to have a normal sister.” She stood and flipped her hair in a way that reminded me of her little Musketeer friends. “I’m so out of here.” She turned to leave.
Desperate, I reached for her, but with the nurse staring at me, I didn’t dare grab her. “Laylah.”
She sighed and turned back to me. “What?”
Cam wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize his damn code of not being able to interfere in a life he’s not charged to protect, but Kade had no code. “I need you to get a message to someone.” She didn’t move. “Please, Laylah.”
Thankfully, Laylah didn’t head for the door. She leveled a curious glare at me. “Is it a boy?”
“What? Yeah, it’s a boy.” The meds were doing a number on me, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why that mattered.
“Boyfriend? No. No boy—”
She crossed her arms and quirked a brow.
“Yeah, okay, I guess you can call him that.”
But please don’t.
“Seriously?” She took a step closer to the table I sat at. “How did you pull that one off?”
“Just, can you go talk to him? Tomorrow if possible?”
“I guess. Where do I find him?”
“Roxy’s Diner, the place I worked. Look for a guy with dark”—
—“hair and eyes. Handsome, tan, tall. He looks maybe twenty, sits at the counter, and only drinks coffee. His name is Kade. I need you to tell him where I am. Tell him …” I paused. What did you tell a Fallen angel when you needed him to break you out of a mental hospital? “Tell him I’m going to owe him another favor.”
“How am I supposed to know who he is? Dark hair tells me nothing.”
Mom. She looked so much like Mom. “One look at you and he’ll know exactly who you are.” It was getting harder and harder to string words together. My tongue swelled, as if there was cotton in my mouth.
“Fine. Creepy, but fine. And for the record, I’m only doing this ‘cause I have to see the loser who would date you.” She swallowed then, pushing her thumbs together. “Just get better this time. And don’t do anything stupid.”
She did care. Tears flooded my eyes again, and relief settled in my chest as I watched her leave. “Don’t worry. I’ll be safe. No matter what you hear.”
My sister rolled her eyes and shook her head as the bars closed behind her.
I had no idea if Kade would come. The more I thought about it, the sillier it sounded. I mean, how could he? He was a Fallen angel, not a magician. Not even wings would help him breach these walls.
Still, that evening at dinner, when the nurses handed me my pills, I spilled them out into my hand and pretended to swallow them. My chances of escape might have been slim, but I had to hold onto that hope. And if it
happen, I had to be ready. I couldn’t let the drugs slow me down any longer. Nurse Tina checked my mouth, nodded, and marked me off the list. I hid the pills in my bra and flushed them when I had the chance.
Withdrawals gave me an earsplitting headache that night, and I had trouble getting to sleep. When I did, I dreamt of a black-winged angel flying toward me, the bluish light behind him mirroring Allison’s painting. He’d called my name again and again, in the same, deep voice I remembered from my previous nightmare. At first I thought maybe it was Kade, but that voice was nothing like anything I’d heard in real life before.
I woke in a cold sweat. At first, I thought it was the nightmare that had pulled me from my sleep, but then I heard the noise outside my door. I slipped out of bed, pausing to grab the nightstand when the throbbing in my head protested the movement. I managed to creep across the room to peer out the door’s window, smaller than a sheet of notebook paper. Nurses surrounded the doorway across the hall. I waited, and soon enough they cleared to allow a gurney to be rolled from the cell. A lump the size of a small body lay on top, covered by a sheet.
I stared at that gurney as it was wheeled down the hall, followed by a mournful parade of nurses. My head pounded behind my eyes. I started to turn back to bed, but a swirl of color caught my eye. I looked past the few remaining nurses. Inside that room, blue and black swirls swept across the wall. The tips of the black reminded me of something. Something familiar, and frightening, though I couldn’t remember why. The pounding in my head was too thick. Too consuming.
I forced my hand to turn the doorknob and open the door. “What happened?” My voice rasped like it belonged to an old woman who had smoked for half her life.
One of the nurses broke from the pack and rushed toward me. “Get back to bed, Rayna.”
“What happened?” I tried to peak at the gurney one last time before it turned the shadowed corner.
She hustled me into my room.
“Tell me what happened!”
She sat me down on the bed and readied the blankets so she could tuck me in, like that would ensure I’d stay there. At least she didn’t threaten to strap me down again. That was the worst part about this place: the restraints.
But I needed to know. It was important. Those black swirls … “Tell me or I’ll scream. It’ll wake everyone up. Then you’ll have to tell us all.”
Her lips puckered together in disdain, but the fight had left her eyes, and I knew I’d won. The victory was short-lived. “It’s Caroline. She somehow got a hold of some cleaning supplies. No one heard her.”
For a long moment, the words didn’t make any sense, lost to the thickness inside my head. But then they broke through, and I pieced it together. She’d poisoned herself.