My Soul to Lose Page 14

And the pills…

I decided early on not to ask what they were. I didn’t want to know. But I couldn’t ignore the side effects. I was groggy all the time, and spent half of the first two days sleeping.

The next time my aunt and uncle came, they brought two pairs of my own jeans and Brave New World, and I spent the next day reading it between naps. That night, Paul gave me a ballpoint pen and a legal pad, and I started writing my paper longhand, desperately missing the laptop my father had sent for my last birthday.

On my fifth night in La La Land, my aunt, uncle, and I sat on a couch in the common area. Aunt Val prattled endlessly about Sophie’s dance-team routine, and the many rounds of debate with the team’s faculty sponsor over the new uniforms: unitards or separate tops with hot pants.

I personally didn’t care if Sophie danced in the nude. In fact, the life experience might open up some interesting career opportunities for her some day. But I listened because as dull as Aunt Val’s story was, it had happened out in the real world, and I missed the real world more than I’d ever missed anything in my life.

Then, in the middle of a detailed description of the unitard in question, several simultaneous bursts of static caught my attention from the nurses’ station. I couldn’t make out the actual words coming over the two-way radios, but something unusual was obviously going down.

Moments later, shouting shattered the overmedicated hush from somewhere beyond the nurses’ station, and the main entrance buzzed. Then the door to the unit flew open, and two large men in scrubs came in carrying a guy about my age, with a firm grip on each of his arms. He refused to walk, so his bare feet trailed on the floor behind him.

The new boy was thin and lanky, and yelling his head off, though I couldn’t understand a word he said. He was also completely nude, and trying to toss off the blanket someone had draped over his shoulders.

Aunt Val leaped to her high-heeled feet, predictably shocked. Her mouth hung open, her arms limp at her sides. Uncle Brendon’s scowl could have paralyzed anyone who saw it. And all over the unit, patients poured from their rooms to investigate the commotion.

I stayed on the couch, paralyzed with horror not only for what I saw, but for what I remembered. Had I looked like that when the aides had buckled me to the restraint bed? Had my eyes been so bright and distant-looking? My limbs so out of control?

I’d been dressed, of course, but I wouldn’t be if my next panic attack struck while I was in the shower. Would they haul me out naked and dripping to strap me to another bed?

While I watched, spellbound and horrified as the aides half pulled the newcomer through the unit, Uncle Brendon tugged Aunt Val to one corner of the now nearly empty common room. He glanced at me once, but I pretended not to notice, knowing he wouldn’t want me to hear whatever he was about to say.

“We’re handling this all wrong, Val. She shouldn’t be here,” he whispered fiercely, and insideI cheered. Schizophrenic or not—and no diagnosis had been confirmed yet—I didn’t belong at Lakeside. I had no doubt of that.

On the edge of my vision, my aunt crossed her arms over her narrow chest. “Dr. Nelson won’t let her out until…”

“I can change his mind.”

If anyone could, it would be Uncle Brendon. He could sell water to a fish.

One of the aides let go of his charge’s arm to reposition the blanket, and the new guy shoved him backward, then tried to pull free of the other aide, now shouting a random stream of curses.

“He’s not on call tonight,” Aunt Val whispered, still staring nervously at the scuffle. “You won’t be able to reach him until tomorrow.”

My uncle’s scowl deepened. “I’ll call first thing in the morning. This will be her last night here, if I have to break her out myself.”

If I weren’t afraid of drawing attention to my eavesdropping, I would have jumped up and cheered.

“Assuming she doesn’t have another…episode between now and then,” Aunt Val said, effectively raining all over my parade.

And that’s when I noticed Lydia curled up in a chair at the back of the room, face scrunched up in pain, watching all three of us rather than the scuffle up front. She made no effort to hide her eavesdropping, and even gave me a thin, sad little smile when she saw that I’d noticed her.

When the staff had the new guy under control and safely sedated in the closed restraint room, my aunt and uncle said a quick goodbye. And this time, when the unit door closed behind them, my usual bitter wash of loneliness and despair was flavored with a thin, sweet ribbon of hope.

Freedom was eight hours and a phone call away. I would celebrate with a designer jogging suit bonfire.

The next morning marked my seventh day at Lakeside, and my first waking thought was that I’d officially missed the homecoming dance. But it was hard to be too upset about that, because my second thought was that I would sleep in my own bed that night. Just knowing I was getting out made everything else look a little brighter.

Maybe I wasn’t crazy, after all. Maybe I was just prone to anxiety attacks, and the pills the doc prescribed could keep that under control. Maybe I could have a normal life—once I’d put Lakeside behind me.

I woke up before dawn and had half finished a five-hundred-piece jigsaw puzzle by the time Nurse Nancy came into the common room to ask about my gastrointestinal health and my suicidal impulses. I even smiled while I bit back a suggestion about where she could shove her clipboard.

The rest of the staff seemed to find my sudden good cheer alarming, and I swear they checked on me more often than usual. Which was pointless, because all I did was work on puzzles and stare out the window, aching for fresh air. And a doughnut. I had the worst craving for doughnuts, just because I couldn’t get one.

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