Mr. Robins pointed out several walled-off areas and named them as we passed: the common room, the art studio, the music studio, the dining room, et cetera. He seemed proud of the fact that it mirrored the structure of their inpatient place, complete with a little meditative Zen garden in the center. Something about “familiarity” and “consistency” but I didn’t pay much attention because I didn’t care. I was already counting down the seconds until I could see Noah, until I could tell him what happened. What I found.
What Jude had left.
But the adults looked at me expectantly, waiting for me to say something. So I said the first thing that came to mind.
“Where is everyone?” I hadn’t seen any other teenagers since we walked in.
“They’re in Group,” Mr. Robins said. “You probably didn’t get much of a chance to read over our materials, did you?”
Between my involuntary commitment and finding the mutilated cat? “No.”
“Well, it’s not a problem, not a problem at all. We’ll get you up to speed in no time. Just follow me, and I’ll get you all set up.” He glanced over his shoulder. “You’re a psychologist, Dr. Dyer?”
“Yes,” she said as we followed him down the strangely claustrophobic hall. The ceiling yawned over us, but the spaces we walked through felt tight.
“What’s your specialty?”
“I work with couples, mostly.”
“That’s wonderful!” He skipped right over asking my father the same question. I imagined he already knew—anyone who watched the news probably did.
Mr. Robins finally ushered my parents into an office in the back, which clearly wasn’t his. A stack of papers towered precariously on the glass desk.
He indicated a bench just outside the door. “All right, Mara, you can have a seat out here while I talk some things over with your parents, okay?” He winked.
If I hadn’t been freaked out, I would have rolled my eyes at the condescension. Maybe I wouldn’t have to deal with him much, after today. A girl could hope.
The door to the office closed with my parents inside then, and I sat on the horribly uncomfortable plank of wood across from it. There wasn’t much to see, and I found myself idly staring at the ductwork in the exposed ceiling when something soft hit me in the shoulder, then bounced to the floor.
I flinched—it was that sort of morning—but it was just a crumbled piece of paper. I opened it to find a crudely drawn picture of an owl, with a speech bubble that said:
I whipped around.
“Well, schmear my bagel, if it isn’t Mara Dyer.”
Minus the dreadlocks and taller, but definitely, unmistakably Jamie. I smiled so widely my face hurt; I jumped up to hug him but he raised his hands defensively before I could.
“Can’t touch this.”
“Don’t be an ass,” I said, still beaming.
Jamie’s expression mimicked mine, though he appeared to be trying not to show it. “I’m serious. They’re strict about that,” he said, giving me a once-over.
I did the same. Without his long hair, Jamie’s cheekbones seemed higher, his face more angular. Older. His jeans were uncharacteristically well-fitted and his T-shirt clung to his frame. On his shirt was an image of what appeared to be ancient Greek men linking arms in a row and kicking their legs like Rockettes. He was so strange.
At the exact same time we both asked: “What are you doing here?”
“Ladies first,” Jamie said with a little bow.
I looked up at the ceiling as I thought about what to say. “PTSD,” I decided finally. “A few hallucinations here and there. Nothing to write home about. You?”
“Oh, my parents were persuaded that it would be a wise preemptive measure to send me here before I shot up a school.” He dropped onto the bench.
My mouth fell open. “You’re not serious.”
“Unfortunately, I am. Our best Croydian friends made sure that’s what the all-knowing adults would think when they planted that knife in my backpack.”
Anna and Aiden, those assholes. At least I’d no longer have to see them on a daily basis. Lucky me.
I sat back down on the bench and Jamie went on. “Unable to comprehend the idea that my earlier threat to give Aiden Ebola was made in jest,” he said, “I was considered a two-time offender and was therefore labeled ‘at risk’ by the guidance department, those ultimate arbiters of wisdom. They in turn scrawled that all over my record.” His mocking tone changed, then. “Words have power. And I may be privileged and have a higher IQ than any of our former teachers, but when people look at me? They see a black, male teenager. And there is nothing quite as frightening to some folks as an angry young black man.” He popped a piece of gum into his mouth. “So. Here I am.”
I offered a small smile. “At least we’re together?”
He grinned. “So it seems.”
My eyes rested on his shorn head. “What happened to your hair?”
“Ah.” He ran a hand over it. “Once overanxious parents are told that their child is ‘at-risk’, they decide that all ‘at-risk’ attributes have to go. Good-bye, long hair. Good-bye, rebellious music. Good-bye, delightfully violent video games.” He exaggerated a lip quiver. “Basically, I’m allowed to play chess and listen to smooth jazz. That is my life now.”
I shook my head. “I hate people.”
He nudged me with his elbow. “That’s why we’re friends.” Jamie blew a small turquoise bubble and then sucked it back into his mouth. “I actually saw Anna last week when my mom dragged me to Whole Foods. She didn’t even recognize me.”
“Did you say anything to her?”
“I politely suggested she drive off a cliff.”
I grinned. I felt lighter just being with him, and I was so glad to not have to endure this ridiculousness alone. I was about to tell him so when the office door opened in front of us and Mr. Robins peered out.
He looked back and forth between Jamie and me. “We’re ready for you, Mara.”
Jamie stood. “And I’m going to be late for electroshock therapy!” Then he faced me and said with a wink, “See you ’round, Mara Dyer.” He saluted Mr. Robins, turned on his heel, and left.
I bit my lip to keep from smiling and entered the office appropriately somber.
“Have a seat,” Mr. Robins said, closing the door behind me.