Authors: Lisa M. Basso
I yanked my arms from Laylah’s grip. How could she think I would do that? And yet, I wanted to crawl into a corner for being responsible for putting that look on her face again.
“My mother’s dead,” she said in a flat voice. I winced. “Dad!” She shouted through the dining room and into the kitchen behind it, then spun around and returned to the living room, where I could hear her friends whispering. Her weird, Musketeer clones dressed alike, even on the weekends, and never seemed to have an original thought or homes of their own, since they were always here.
Dad emerged from his office behind the kitchen. When he wasn’t at work, he spent most of his time there, studying, working on side projects, and escaping. His tired-as-a-zombie look changed the moment he saw the blood on my clothes and the detective by my side.
Dad moved faster than I’d seen in a long time. He wrapped his arms around me so tight, even my pancreas hurt.
I hadn’t been fond of hugs since Mom’s death. It’s Dad’s form of group therapy. When one of us was caught crying—grieving—it was group-hug time. It didn’t matter where we were: living room, hallways, kitchen, even the middle of the mall. Hugs don’t make me feel any better, and they wouldn’t bring her back, so what’s the point? Hugs are torture.
Maybe torture was the wrong word, but Mom used to say, “Go with your gut.” And my gut was telling me to run the other direction.
“Are you okay?” He released me. I could breathe again. “What happened?”
“I’m fine, Dad.” I hedged the truth, hoping the detective’s presence would distract Dad enough not to notice.
“Detective Carl Rhodes.” He tucked a bag he’d grabbed from the car under his arm and removed his Stetson with one hand, offering his other to my dad. They shook. “We tried both of your contact numbers, but couldn’t get through,” Detective Rhodes filled in.
I would have rather crawled into a hole than be here for this conversation.
Dad stuttered for a moment. “My youngest was on the house line, and I was on a business call.” His voice was racked with guilt. “What the hell happened?”
“Can we speak privately, Mr. Evans?” Detective Rhodes asked.
“Of course.” Dad gestured toward his office.
“Rayna.” The detective handed me the plastic zip bag tucked under his arm. It looked large enough to hold a Cocker Spaniel. “I’ll need your clothes for evidence.”
Dad spun his wedding ring around on his finger and cast an uneasy glance at me. Worry wrinkled his brow. And I knew Dad was seeing me the same as he always had: as a victim, as poor, crazy Rayna.
I accepted the bag.
It’s just standard procedure
, I told myself.
It was a suicide, and you discovered the body. They can’t think you had anything to do with it
. I jiggled the bag in my hand nervously, trying hard to believe my inner self’s logic. My shaking knees called me a liar.
I blew through the living room as fast as I could, passing Laylah and her two friends dominating the couch. Their eyes were glazed, their mouths wide, as they took in MTV’s newest pop-princess.
I fumbled up the stairs and burst into the bathroom. Instead of being alone with my thoughts, I riffled through my backpack for my iPod and jammed it into the small speaker Laylah and I argued over every morning, cranking up the most upbeat album I could find. I turned the shower knobs, letting a few drops from the showerhead wet the soil of my favorite orchid before I moved the purple phalaenopsis back onto the windowsill.
My jeans stuck to me in the places where Allison’s blood had dried. I sat on the brown, fuzzy toilet seat cover and peeled them off, then shoved them into the evidence bag. He didn’t expect me to include my backpack, did he? He’d said “clothes.” Nothing about my backpack, though it, too, was bloodstained. I didn’t want to have to ask Dad for another backpack. I’d cost him enough already.
The stain was small enough for me to wipe the spot of red off with a towel. No one would notice. The black and red plaid jacket Aunt Nora had made special for me as a release day present, however, wouldn’t be so lucky. Into the bag it went.
Once everything was shoved into the bag, I set it down in the hallway so I didn’t have to look at it again. Then I stepped into the shower, eager to scrub the stains off my skin. The hot water stung my eyes. I welcomed it—anything to keep from looking at the pink pooling at the bottom of the tub. Eventually the water ran clear and my shaking eased, small shivers returning only in short bursts.
“Rayna, can I talk to you when you’re out?” Dad’s voice carried over the music.
I stepped out from the shower. Steam clouded the mirror and dripped a foggy veil over the sky-blue walls. Dad would have a thousand questions. If I couldn’t keep it together, if Dad found out about the hallucinations returning, I’d probably never taste freedom again.
Things felt like they had before, when the wing sightings were at their worst. For the better part of the year after Mom’s death, I’d seen at least one a month. Dad had reached his wits’ end. When I began to notice how much it bothered him, I’d tried hiding it. The lying had killed me a little inside every time, and in the end, I couldn’t keep it up. I never could.
The last thing I wanted was for life to go back to that, to ruin everything the three of us had worked toward since Mom’s death, and my first hospitalization.
I wrapped a towel around my hair and threw on my fluffy lavender bathrobe, the one with a monkey embroidered on the back. I took longer than I needed, pulling on all the reserves of strength I had left. The walk back to my room was a long one, the hardwood floor in the hallway cold beneath my feet. I rolled my shoulders, preparing for a fight I knew I couldn’t win.
Dad paced the flower-shaped rug beside my bed. With my eyes down, I shooed him out so I could get dressed, buying myself more time. Time I needed desperately. Even with the door closed, I could hear him in the hallway. His heavy footsteps, working back and forth.
I sank against the door.
Get a hold of yourself. Your freedom depends on it.
After a few false starts, I stood and pulled on a pair of heather-gray sweatpants and a white, long-sleeved top, spinning around to check that everything in my room was in order before letting Dad back in. Of course everything was in order. My room was spotless. When I was inside, the first thing they drilled into me—besides that I was nuts—was neatness. They made daily inspections. Handed out minor punishments to those who didn’t pass. In the beginning, I’d lost a lot of gardening time this way.
Even now, if something here was out of place, it was because I’d done it purposely, to allow myself that little sliver of rebellion. To truly taste freedom. I still couldn’t stand it, but I was teaching myself to live with one book being askew or one pencil not quite lining up with the others.
I took a deep breath, wiped my palms on the sides of my sweats, and opened the door. Dad whooshed in like a tornado, hands behind his back, still in pacing mode.
“Before you say anything, Dad, I’m fine.”
He canceled pacing mode and shoved his hands into his outdated jean pockets. Uh oh, Stern Dad mode. I swallowed.
“Are you?” he asked.
I forced myself to meet his gaze. I’d learned the hard way that eye contact was important when someone questioned my sanity; crazy people either avoid it altogether or stare too long. So I looked him in the eye as I said, “Yes, Dad. I’m good.” Waited a moment. Two. And then I looked away. Before he saw the lie in my eyes. That was another thing the SS Crazy had taught me: it’s hard to convince someone you’re not crazy when you wear a lie as openly as I do.
“What happened? Detective Rhodes wasn’t very forthcoming.”
“Allison Woodward. I …” I swallowed. “I found her. I saw cuts on her wrists when they took her away. Deep ones.” The sight of all that red flooded back to me, and I had to swallow again.
“Oh, sweetie.” His fingers slid up his forehead, covering one of his eyes. More grief. I swallowed back a grimace, hating the sympathetic sheen of his uncovered eye. “Do you remember seeing anything else … or any
I darted a glance at him again, wondering for the first time what he and the detective had talked about downstairs. “No.” The inflection in my voice was too high. “Why?”
“The detective asked me to contact him if you start to recall anything else.” He dropped his hand from his face. “This is all so awful. I’m so sorry you had to see that, sweetheart. Are you really okay?”
Hysteria bubbled up my throat. “I told them everything already. I don’t know anything else. You believe me, don’t you, Dad?”
A long silence followed. The muscles in my face tensed, holding me together.
Finally, he said, “Sometimes the mind plays tricks on us, and we can see things more clearly when we’ve had some rest, some time to think rationally. Tomorrow, I think we should take a drive up to see Dr. Graham.”
He must have seen the horrified look on my face. I knew it was there, but I couldn’t control or stop it. I knew speaking to Dr. G was probably the best thing for me, but seeing him, at that place, going back there …
I can’t go back. I can’t. I
call for a session. I never said you had to stay. You don’t—have to stay, I mean.” His hands wiggled in his pockets, like he’d rather be fixing computer chips. He’d probably rather be anywhere other than where he was now.
“No.” My voice was steel; it had to be, so he’d know I meant business. “I won’t go back there. I’m fine. I swear. You put me in there, so … many … times. I lost three years there. Three years of my life.” I avoided his eyes, my legs shaking. “I won’t be a prisoner again. I haven’t seen any wings in a long time.”
Please, don’t make me go back there.
I locked my knees so I didn’t sink to them.
Dad’s never been very observant. If I could just keep calm, he might never know I was lying. The man knew technology, not people. Before Dad sent me inside the first time, Laylah and I had hidden a pregnant cat, soon followed by a mewing litter of kittens, from him for four months. Laylah had him convinced the noises coming from her room were her latest TV obsession, Animal Planet.
think it’s a good idea, something preemptive. You’re supposed to be avoiding stressful situations, remember?” A frustrated noise rumbled in his throat, and he turned to look out my window. “I knew sending you back to school was a mistake. I never should have let you talk me into it. We’ll find you a tutor so you can finish your junior and senior years here, at home, away from all the stress.”
He meant away from real life, anything that could awaken the hallucinations. Working at the diner would most definitely fit into that category.
A steady breath, hot with frustration, flared my nostrils.
Keep it together.
“Dad,” I said as calmly as I could, “I told you when I left last time that I would never go back there. I meant it.”
He turned to me. “Everything’s back to normal.
normal, and will
need to go back there.” I clenched my teeth again, using that tension to keep me from breaking apart. “I’m not seeing things that aren’t there like before. If you send me back there for something that’s beyond my control, my trust in you will be broken. And this time I will
He squeezed his eyes shut, a grimace pulling the corners of his lips down. Transparent regret. “Rayna, the last thing I want is for you to have to go back there again. But if Dr. Graham can help you face this and work through it, wouldn’t it be worth it? Why would you want to put yourself at risk for a relapse? Seeing a friend, a classmate, hurt in that way. I don’t know if
could get through it without some kind of help.”
My stomach clenched, feeling tight and hollow. “How about I promise to talk to Ms. Morehouse tomorrow?”
I was begging. It made me hate myself a little more.
“You can’t seriously be thinking about going back to school.”
“I’m okay, really. School will be better for me than sitting around here all day.” I gestured to my perfectly clean desk, to my bed made so well you could bounce a quarter off of it—or a dime, which is what the nurses at the SS Crazy had used. “It’ll keep me busy. Plus, I can talk to Ms. Morehouse.”
The two dark caterpillars above his hydrangea-blue eyes crawled back into resting position, which let me relax a little too. He sat on my bed, wrinkling my floral bedspread.
My fingers twitched to pull him up so I could straighten it. Instead, I tugged at the ends of his hair, which brushed the striped collar peeking out beneath his navy sweater-vest. It was so thin at the temples.
“I haven’t been taking very good care of you. You’re in desperate need of a haircut.” The tip of one of my fingers accidentally brushed his cheek. “And a shave,” I added to lighten the mood, pretending to examine my finger for blood.
“I’ll go to the barber tomorrow if you promise me something. If this … incident interferes with your recovery, you’ll let me know right away.” He didn’t add
so we can see the doctor
, but he didn’t need to.
I took a deep breath and raised my hand, pinky and thumb tucked in, the three remaining digits standing at attention. “Scout’s honor.” Good thing I’d never been a scout.
“Deal.” Dad leaned forward and placed a kiss on my forehead; his chin stubble was even rougher than his cheek had been. On his way out, he said, “Oh, I almost forgot. Lee called while you were in the shower. But in light of recent events, I think it would be better for you to speak with him tomorrow.”
I didn’t have many friends, so I was usually grateful that I didn’t have a cell phone. Today, for the first time, I wished I did. I could explain the afternoon’s events to Lee, hear his voice, and laugh with him. Any voice that wouldn’t talk to me in that slow, deliberate, I-won’t-push-her-off-the-deep-edge tone. “I’ve got homework to do, anyway,” I said, shrugging. I was too tired, and my mind was too full, to think about anything else.