“Where is he?” I asked. “It’s visiting hours and he was supposed to be here.”
“Dr. Clarkson got him,” Miranda said. “He pulled him into his office.”
I strode out of my room and down the hallway. Miranda chased after me, making feeble overtures as if to stop me. I reached Dr. Clarkson’s ever-locked office and pounded on the door. I knocked five, six times before he answered. “Annie,” he said. “You shouldn’t be here. You know that.”
“I’m not sure whom you mean,” he told me. “I have a patient inside, filling out an intake form.”
“I know he’s in there,” I said. “I know it’s him.”
“You know I don’t entertain visitors,” Dr. Clarkson said, his irritation palpable. “If you’re expecting a visitor, I suggest you go to the recreation area.” He shut the door in my face, and I heard it lock behind him with a click.
“Miranda,” I said carefully, “Are you sure it was Owen?”
“Positive,” she replied. “I saw him the last time he visited. I wouldn’t mistake anyone for him.”
“Why not, Miranda?” I looked at her shrewdly and she blushed in response.
My senses were on high alert. I hadn’t gotten a good look into Dr. Clarkson’s office, so I couldn’t know for sure whether he was telling the truth. I jogged the last few steps to the recreation area. There was Owen. Waiting for me, like he’d promised.
“Miranda, go away,” I yelled. “Just go away. You’re no help. You’re making me insane. You made my heart stop just now.” Miranda looked confused—even wounded—but she turned and left the room.
“Owen,” I breathed. “I’m so thankful. I thought you wouldn’t make it.”
“Of course I’m here,” he told me. “Now stay strong, Annie. I’m going to tell you what I found out very quickly, because it’s awful. I need you to commit it to memory no matter what. I need you to focus very carefully on everything I’m about to say.”
I struggled to do as he said, to center my mind. I looked into his blue orbs and let them hold me steady. “I’m listening,” I told him.
“Nanny, I’d like to see you in my office.” Dr. Clarkson’s authoritative voice rang out across group therapy. Nine heads turned toward me, their eyes appraising me with curiosity. It was rare that Dr. Clarkson wanted to see patients outside of scheduled appointments. He disappeared before I had a chance to stand. My heart thudded with expectation; when I’d told him Owen’s theory, he’d promised to check it out. That was three days ago. Three days had passed with no word, until now.
“Sit down.” He gestured to the leather-backed chair, an unexpected luxury in the hospital, and waited until I got settled. I still felt nervous around Dr. Clarkson, even after dozens of sessions. He had never put me at ease. “I had a private investigator look into your theory,” he began, “and I have to admit I was skeptical.” He crossed and uncrossed his legs and gritted his jaw as though he didn’t like what he was about to say. “However, even I can be a poor judge of character at times.”
“So you found something.” I leaned forward in my chair, eager.
“Yes.” The admission seemed distasteful to Dr. Cohen.
“How will this affect me?” I asked.
“I reviewed your case and because you were accompanied by a possible felon, your registration here is considered null and void. If you would like to re-register, you may remain here under my care. Frankly, Annie, I believe you must.”
“No,” I said, trying to prevent the smile from spreading across my face too quickly. The thought of freedom was dazzling. And terrifying. “No, I would like to leave.”
“I thought as much. Your friend Owen has arranged to pick you up tomorrow at noon unless you inform him otherwise. You and I will meet tomorrow morning at nine o’clock as usual to discuss your medication and outpatient options. For now, you are free to take advantage of group therapy and say your goodbyes as you see fit.”
“Thank you, Dr. Clarkson,” I said, standing up. “Thank you for giving me my future back.”
“I’m not the one you should thank,” he said. “I don’t believe you should be going anywhere.”
I tried not to let his voice haunt me all the way back to my room, where I unearthed from my cubby the outfit I’d worn on the day of my arrival. I tried not to let the memory of the way he’d sounded mirror the tiny seed of doubt in my own heart, the one that questioned whether I was ready for the real world.
“Why are you pulling that out?” Aurora asked timidly. She was lying on her back reading from her Kindle. Books and ebooks were the only form of entertainment allowed from the outside. Aurora let me borrow her Kindle sometimes. She was eager to please.
“I’m leaving tomorrow,” I told her, trying to keep my voice even and quiet. “Don’t tell anyone, okay?” I didn’t want the others to know, in case they got angry.
“Okay,” she said dreamily. “I can’t believe you’re getting out of here. No one ever gets out of here. That’s what they all say. You don’t get out unless you see yourself out the window or off the roof.”
“Or in the shower,” I muttered.
“Never mind. Listen, Aurora. I’m not meant to be in here. I was never meant to be here in the first place.”
“I know,” she responded, her voice grave. “Neither was I! Bring me McVittie’s from the outside, okay? If we’re not playing pretend, I mean.”
“We’re not playing anything,” I snapped. “This is my life. I get to leave here. I get to go have a whole future while the rest of you are sitting around here slowly dying.”
“You’ll always be one of us,” she said. “We’ll never forget you, you know.”
I sighed, taking her hand in mine. It was frail and crisscrossed with scars. “I know,” I told her. “I’m sorry I snapped. I’ll bring you cartons and cartons of McVittie’s, okay?” Aurora leaned over and gave me a kiss on the cheek, so light it could have been the brush of a feather.
It was eight fifty-four. Just over three hours until I could leave. I only had to get through my appointment with Dr. Clarkson and bide my time until Owen arrived.
I walked into Dr. Clarkson’s office with a smile. I hadn’t bothered to take my medication the night before. I wanted to be alert to leave. But now I felt strange, like the whole world shifted when I moved my head too much. Like my brain was sloshing around in there and trying hard to keep up. But it was also like a sheet had been lifted from my eyes, erasing some of the fog.
“You’re looking well today,” he said dryly as I entered.
“I feel well,” I said. He squinted at my eyes.
“Are you taking your proper dosage of medicine?” he wanted to know.
“I cut back a little,” I admitted, glossing over the fact that I hadn’t taken any the night before. “I figured I’d need to taper off.”
“Is that so?” Dr. Clarkson looked amused. “And why is that?”
“Because I’ll need to be more alert when Owen comes. I’ll need to go back to school.”
“Tell me about Owen,” Dr. Clarkson prompted.
“Well,” I began, “I trust him. I really do, and I don’t think I’ve ever said that about anybody. I think he genuinely cares about me and wants to help me get my life together.”
“Does Owen resemble anyone you know? Your father, maybe? Try to remember back.”
“No,” I said, shifting around in my chair impatiently. “Why would he remind me of my father? I barely remember my father.”
“I’m just suggesting that maybe Owen serves an important place in your life. Maybe he’s your way of filling some sort of male void. You’ve only been betrayed by men, after all; maybe Owen is your mind’s way of giving you something you crave.”
“Or the universe’s, I guess,” I said skeptically. “Anyway, I’m excited to see him. He’ll be here in just a few hours.”
“Overall I’m pleased with your positive outlook. I think it bodes well for your recovery. But I’m going to have to let Libby know that you’ve stopped taking your medicine properly. This will set you back quite a bit in terms of your schedule for release.” My heart stopped. I looked at Dr. Clarkson’s face. It was open, unguarded. His eyes met mine with ease.
“But why would Libby need to know that?” I asked carefully. “Libby is gone.”
“Annie, this is all becoming a little elaborate,” he said. “I indulged it at first, but I’m beginning to worry about the extent of your delusions.”
“I’m leaving today,” I repeated. “Owen’s coming to get me.”
“No, Annie. He isn’t coming. You’ll be staying here today. And tomorrow. And all the other days until you get well.”
“No!” I said, standing up. “No, that isn’t true! Zoe is in danger. Someone has to help her. Owen and I are going to help her!”
“Listen to me, Nanny. You need to calm down, or I’ll have to hit the panic button. Libby is your benefactor. And she has not signed off on your release. You aren’t going anywhere.”
“She paid you off, didn’t she? Or did she have an affair with you? What did she do to make you feed me these lies? You need to listen to me, Dr. Clarkson. How will you be able to live with yourself knowing you’ve locked up an innocent girl?” I was standing now, leaning over his desk with my palms facedown. His hand inched slowly toward the right underbelly of the desk’s surface.
“Calm down, Nanny, or I’m going to have to call security. Just stay calm.”
“How can I stay calm when I’m being held prisoner?” I shouted. I could feel myself spinning out of control, could feel my only hope giving way beneath my feet. I shook all over. I lurched across the desk toward Dr. Clarkson, just as he pressed the button. The door burst open and two male orderlies grabbed me.
“No, please,” I sobbed. “Please. Just get Owen, he’ll explain everything. Please help me, Dr. Clarkson. Don’t let her fool you. Please!” I was shouting it as they led me kicking down the hallway. I kicked and screamed more but they tightened their grips on my wrists. They forced me onto a stretcher and clamped hard pieces of metal and leather over my wrists and ankles. I thrashed around, gnashing my teeth, screaming for help. I saw Aurora peeking—terrified—out of the room I’d shared with her. I pled for help with my eyes, but the other patients just stared or looked away. Some of them laughed. Then I felt a prick in my wrist, and everything went black.
It is Sunday morning. On Sunday mornings, we have pancakes. They are my favorite. We also get to watch a movie at night. Tonight it is going to be National Lampoon’s Spring Break. Aurora already saw it on the Outside and she said it was really funny. Aurora and I are friends now. I’ve made a lot of friends. Some of them have been here for years but every now and then there’s someone new who comes along and spices things up.
Dr. Clarkson gave me a Kindle for my birthday and now I can read all kinds of books. I’m starting to like it here. The only thing they don’t have here is boys. I miss boys, especially Owen, even though he never came. But it’s not his fault, I know that now. There’s a little window in the door to the corridor and a window on the door on the opposite end of the corridor that leads to the boys’ ward. Sometimes if we stand by the window we can see the boys passing by. But if the nurses see us, they make us go back to our rooms.
That window is how I figured out what happened. I was standing there with some girls a few days after I was supposed to leave the hospital for good. And there were some boys we could see across the hallway if we squinted hard. We were about to go back to our rooms to wash up before bed when there was a flash of red: a t-shirt that looked familiar. And then there was a baseball cap with a 49ers emblem. And some curly brown hair poking out underneath and a familiar chiseled jaw.
At first I thought, Owen’s come to get me after all! But then I saw him walk up to the window and his eyes were blank. He was right in the window but he didn’t even see me across the hall in my window. And I realized: they got him. So that’s why he never came to get me that day. Somehow they trapped him, too. It wasn’t his fault at all. He couldn’t help himself. But it was pretty funny that he was right here all along, when I thought he’d forgotten. I got a laugh out of that. And it was just like him to get them to keep his t-shirt and hat. He was stubborn. I guess he got them good, however he managed it. Only Owen could win the little battles from the inside.
I heard a rumor from Miranda that they’re working on making some social events—some mixers and dances and maybe even putt-putt outings—for the women’s and men’s wards. Because they think it’ll help us get better. Miranda called it the ‘normalizing process.’ I’m so excited about a dance. I keep thinking I’ll see Owen, and we’ll dance to a slow song, maybe an oldie like Lady in Red. That was always my mom’s favorite when we were little, and she’d dance with Lissa and me. Before Dean came and ruined everything.
We’ll dance to Lady in Red and maybe kiss a little and maybe also we’ll plan our escape.