I slid into an uncomfortable plastic chair next to my parents and waited to hear the proclamation of my sentence.
“I just want to explain a few things and then we’ll have you sign some paperwork.”
“Okay . . .”
“The Horizons Outpatient Program, or HOP, as I like to call it, is part of an overall behavioral evaluation that your parents are enrolling you in. You will be expected to be here five days a week, from nine a.m. until three p.m. without fail, barring an excused absence accompanied by a doctor’s note. Your success here will depend entirely on your participation in your activities and in group therapy, and—”
“And academics?” I wasn’t a Daniel-level student, no, but there had never been a future for me that didn’t include college. I didn’t like thinking about how my adventures in psychotherapy would affect it.
“You’ll be completing coursework under the guidance of tutors, but the emphasis at Horizons, Mara, is not on academic achievement but on personal achievement.”
“As I was saying, your participation is integral to your success. After a period of two weeks, there will be a reassessment to determine whether this is the right place for you, or whether it would be prudent to move you to our residential treatment facility.”
So this was a test, then. To see whether I could make it here in the real world without any . . . problems. I looked up at my parents’ hopeful faces as the word residential echoed in my mind.
It was a test I needed to pass.
WHEN MR. ROBINS FINISHED HIS LECTURE, he held out a pen.
My parents had explained this part to me—the “informed consent.” I had to agree; Horizons required it. And I didn’t mind the idea in the abstract, but sitting here in this weird place on this hard little chair staring at that pen, I hesitated. After a few uncomfortable seconds, I forced myself to take it and signed my name.
“Well!” Mr. Robins said, clapping his hands together. “Now that that’s settled, I’ve set you up for a tour with Phoebe Reynard, another student at Horizons. Yes,” he said, nodding meaningfully, “everyone is a student here. A student of life.”
“Each of you is assigned to a buddy, and Phoebe will be yours. That means she’ll be your partner for most of your exercises. Not so different from a normal school, right?”
“She should be along any minute. In the meantime, did you bring a bag with you today?”
I had, in fact. I toted my school bag along with me out of habit, even though this definitely wasn’t school. I nodded at Mr. Robins.
“Can I see it?”
I handed it over.
“It will have to be thoroughly checked every time you enter the front door. Everything you bring in has to be cataloged, and contraband removed.”
“Contraband like . . .”
“Drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, cell phones, laptops. We do allow portable music players, as long as they don’t have Internet access. So your iPod,” he said, nodding at the earbuds dangling out of the kangaroo pocket of my hoodie, “should be fine. I’ll get your bag checked and make sure it gets back to you ASAP,” he said with a toothy grin. “Got anything else in your pockets, Mara?”
I blinked. “Um, string or nothing?”
I raised my eyebrows. “The Hobbit?”
He looked concerned. “A what?”
“It’s a book,” my father piped up. He met my gaze and winked.
Mr. Robins looked from my father to me. “You have a book in your pocket?”
I tried very hard not to sigh. “There’s nothing in my pockets, is what I meant.”
“Oh,” he said. “Well then, you won’t mind emptying them.”
It wasn’t a request. That would take some getting used to. I emptied my pockets to find some change, a packet of sugar, a receipt, and of course, my iPod. “That’s it,” I said with a shrug.
“Great!” He indicated that I could take everything back.
Just as I finished, a tall girl with lank, dyed black hair peeked in through the doorway. “Mr. Robins?”
“Ah, Phoebe. Phoebe Reynard, meet Mara Dyer, your new buddy.”
I extended my hand. The girl eyed me warily, her eyes deep set in her wide moon face. She had a perfect ski slope nose that didn’t quite match the rest of her features; it seemed lost, like it had wandered onto the wrong face.
After inspecting me for what felt like an hour, Phoebe took my hand and gave it a limp, sweaty shake, then dropped it like I was on fire.
Awkward. Phoebe’s eyes darted back to Mr. Robins.
“All right, I’m going to send you two off,” he said, “while I speak to your parents for a bit, Mara, and introduce them to some of the staff. Phoebe—you know what to do.”
Phoebe nodded, then walked out without a word. I gave my parents a low thumbs-up and then followed Phoebe out.
She led me down a different hallway that was sparsely decorated with unironic motivational posters. I kept waiting for her to say something as we passed different partitions within the space, but she never did. Awesome tour.
“So . . .” I started. How to break the ice? “Um, how are you?”
She stopped short and faced me. “What did they tell you?”
Oh, boy. “Nothing,” I said slowly. “I was just making conversation.”
Phoebe glared at me. Continued to glare at me. But just as I was about to scurry back to my parents, Jamie reappeared. He stood at attention.
“I’ve come to rescue you,” he announced.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” Phoebe mumbled.
“Now, now, don’t be testy, Phoebe.” His eyes never left her, but his next words were for me. “Has Sam come back for you yet?”
“Nope,” I said.
“Then you have the next ten minutes free. Want to make them count?”
I looked over at Phoebe; she was ignoring both of us. Her lips moved, but no sound came out.
“Is that a rhetorical question?” I asked him.
Jamie grinned. “Would you like to join us, Phoebe?”
His brows drew together. “With what, pray tell?”
Phoebe didn’t answer. Instead, she sank down to the floor and stretched out like a plank. I found this to be highly alarming, but Jamie just shrugged.
“There’s no point,” he said to me. Then, “Don’t forget Group, Phoebe,” before we headed out.