My Soul to Lose Page 7

Wounds? My right hand flew to my neck, and I flinched at how tender the skin there was. And how…rough. My heart thumping, I rushed into the bathroom. The small, reflective aluminum mirror over the sink showed that what little mascara I’d worn the day before was now smeared beneath both of my eyes. My skin was pale, my long hair hopelessly knotted.

I tilted my chin up and angled my body toward the overhead light. My gasp echoed in the small room. My neck was a tangle of blood-crusted scratches.

And suddenly I remembered pain at my neck. Wet, sticky fingers.

My right hand shook as I held it up to the light. Dark crust still clung to my cuticles. Blood. I’d done this to myself, trying to make the screaming stop.

No wonder they thought I was crazy.

Maybe they were right.

The nurse had said I wasn’t allowed to close my door, but I closed it while I showered, and again when I got out of the bathroom, because she’d left it open after one of the fifteen-minute checkups.

Were they afraid I was going to kill myself? If so, it’d have to be a pretty creative suicide. The only things not nailed to the floor or the wall were the towel on a shelf over the toilet and the tiny bar of hand soap on the sink. In the end, my pride won out over vanity and I washed both my body and hair with hand soap, rather than go begging for basic hygiene supplies from people I’d never met.

After my shower, I found a clean set of purple scrubs folded on the bed, but I’d have to go without underwear until someone brought me some clean clothes. Nurse Nancy had said Aunt Val was supposed to bring them, but when and if my aunt showed up, she was not leaving without me.

Clean and dressed—if not exactly to my satisfaction—I stared at the door for a solid three minutes before working up the nerve to open it. I’d missed both dinner and breakfast, so I was starving, but less than eager to mingle. Finally, after two false starts, I shoved still-wet hair back from my face and pulled the door open.

My laceless sneakers squeaked in the empty hallway, and I walked slowly toward the clinking of silverware, acutely aware that while I did hear a couple of soft voices, there was no actual conversation. Most of the doors I passed were open, revealing room after identical room. The only differences between those and the room I’d been assigned to were the personal possessions. Clothes stacked on open shelves and pictures taped to walls.

Halfway down the hall, a girl a couple of years younger than me sat alone on a bed in a room almost as bare as mine, talking to herself. Not whispering under her breath, or reminding herself not to forget something important. Actually talking to herself, at full volume.

When I turned the corner, I found the source of the other voice, as well as what passed for the cafeteria. Five round tables were set up in a large room occupied with normal-looking people in jeans and T-shirts. Mounted on the far wall above their heads was a small television tuned to SpongeBob.

“The trays are on thecart.”

I jumped, then whirled around to see another woman—this one in cranberry-colored scrubs—sitting in a hospital waiting-room-type chair near the doorway. Her name tag read: Judy Sullivan, Mental Health Technician. “Find the one with your name on it and take a seat.”

I took a covered tray labeled Kaylee Cavanaugh from the second shelf of the cart, then glanced around for somewhere to sit. There were no empty tables—most had two or three occupants—yet everyone ate in silence, but for the sounds of chewing and silverware scraping plastic trays.

The edges of the room were lined in more stiff-looking waiting-room chairs and small couches with pale green vinyl cushions, and one girl sat alone on one of these with her tray on her lap. She picked at the edge of a slice of meat loaf with her fork, but seemed more interested in whatever patterns she was creating than in actually eating.

I found a table and ate in silence, suffering through half of the dry meat loaf and a stale roll before I looked up from my tray—and directly into the eyes of the girl sitting alone on the edge of the room. She watched me with a creepy sort of detached curiosity, as if I were a bug crawling across the sidewalk in front of her. I wondered briefly if she was the ant-stomper type. Then I wondered why she was at Lakeside.

But I purged that thought quickly—I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to know why any of them were there. As far as I was concerned, they were all locked up for the same reason: they were crazy.

Oh, and you’re the shining exception, right? some traitorous voice asked from deep inside my head. The girl who sees things that aren’t there and can’t stop screaming. Who tries to rip her own throat out in the middle of the mall. Yeah, you’re sane.

And suddenly my appetite was gone. But Meat Loaf Girl—Lydia Trainer, according to her tray cover—was still staring at me, limp black hair falling over half of her face, revealing only one pale green eye. My return stare didn’t faze her, nor did it force her to acknowledge me. She just watched me, as if the moment she looked away I might jump up and dance the cha-cha.

But then someone else walked between us and caught her attention like a ball of yarn rolled in front of a cat. Lydia’s gaze followed a tall, heavyset girl as she carried an empty tray toward the cart.

“Mandy, where’s your fork?” Judy the mental health tech asked, standing so she could see the girl’s tray. The tense way she held herself made me nervous. Like she expected Mandy to lean forward and take a bite out of her.

Mandy dropped her tray on the cart with a clatter of silverware, then stuck one hand into the waistband of her jeans and pulled out a fork. If I’d had any appetite left, that would have killed it. Mandy tossed the fork onto her tray, spared a contemptuous glance at the aide, then shuffled in sock feet into another large common area across the hall.

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