“So where are we going?” I asked him.
“Does it matter?”
I followed him into an open area with sleek white leather couches. He swept his hand in front of him. “The common room. Where we share our feelings.”
I sank onto a couch. I remembered meeting Jamie on my first day at Croyden; it wasn’t that long ago but it might as well have been a million years. He decoded the social hierarchy, he showed me around. I was lucky he was here.
“What’s with the face?” he asked.
“Was I making one?”
“You were looking all wistful-like.”
“Just a touch of déjà vu.”
Jamie nodded slowly. “I know. It’s like we just did this.”
I smiled, and looked at his bizarre T-shirt again. I tilted my head at the image of the ancient Greek Rockettes. “What is it?”
He looked down and stretched the picture out. “Oh. A Greek chorus.”
He leaned back against the leather couch and flashed a grin. “Don’t worry, nobody gets it.”
“Mmm.” I cocked my head to the side, considering him. “It’s weird that we’re both here, right?”
A noncommittal shrug.
“Well, of all the behavioral modification programs in all of Florida, I’m glad I walked into yours,” I said with a smile. Then flashed a knowing look. “Must be fate.”
Jamie stroked his chin. “A nice thought, but there aren’t that many. Not as swank as this, anyway.” He gestured to the sleekly blank room. “This is where the privileged send their screwed-up progeny; no gluing macaroni to construction paper for us.” He paused meaningfully. “They only let us create with ricciolini here.”
“I don’t even know what that is.”
“It’s very fancy, I assure you.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” I said as teenagers began to file into the room. Jamie added a comment under his breath with each one. “Phoebe’s the psycho,” he said, when she walked in. “Tara’s the klepto, Adam’s the sadist, and Megan’s the ’phobe.”
I raised an eyebrow. “And you?”
He pretended to ponder my question. “The wise fool,” he finally said.
“That’s not a diagnosis.”
“So you say.”
“And me?” I asked.
Jamie tilted his head, considering me. “I haven’t figured out your fatal flaw yet.”
“Let me know when you do,” I said, not entirely kidding. “What about everyone else?”
He shrugged. “Depression, anxiety, eating disorders. Nothing fancy. Like Stella,” he added, nodding in the direction of a girl with strong features and curly black hair. “She could almost pass for normal.”
“Almost?” I asked as I heard my name called behind me.
“There you are!” Mr. Robins said. He approached with my parents and Dr. Kells in tow, who was as expensively and impeccably dressed as ever. “Mara, you’ve met Dr. Kells,” he said. “She’s the director of clinical psychology here.”
She smiled. Her matte makeup made the lines around her mouth seem deeper. “It’s good to see you again.”
Not exactly. “Nice to see you, too.”
Mr. Robins handed me back my messenger bag. “All clear,” he said as I slung it over my shoulder. His gaze circled the room. “So, did Phoebe show you around?”
Before or after she spread out on the floor? “Yeah,” I lied. “Very helpful.”
“And you’ve met Jamie,” Mr. Robins said, his eyes resting on my friend. Who had promptly abandoned our couch for an armchair on the far side of the room.
“We knew each other at Croyden,” I said.
“Ah. What a coincidence!”
My mother leaned down to brush a strand of hair from my face. “I have to get to work, sweetheart.”
“And you have to get to Group,” Dr. Kells said to me with a smile. “I’m looking forward to getting the chance to know you better.”
That made one of us.
My parents hugged me good-bye, Mr. Robins made his excuses, and Dr. Kells said, “I’m really happy to have you here,” once more before she left. I forced a smile in answer, and then faced my peers alone.
There were fourteen of us, some draped on couches, some settled in armchairs, some seated on the floor. I settled into a chair and dropped my bag at my feet. A freckled, grinning woman bedecked in a bronze headscarf with horn-rimmed glasses and a multilayered long skirt was perched on the arm of one of the sofas. She clapped her hands with authority and the bangles on her wrist clinked.
“Are we ready to get started?” the New Agey counselor asked.
“Yes,” everyone mumbled back.
“Great! Today we have someone very special with us,” she said, beaming in my direction. “Would you introduce yourself to the group?”
I raised my arm in an awkward half-wave thing. “I’m Mara Dyer.”
“Hi, Mara,” the chorus replied. Just like in the movies.
“We’re so glad you’re here, Mara. I’m Brooke. Now, just to get to know you a little better, I’d love for you to tell us where you’re from, how old you are, and one special, secret wish of yours. We’ll all go around the room and share after you. Sound good?”
Phenomenal. “I’m from a city outside Providence.” I was met with thirteen glazed stares. “Rhode Island,” I clarified. “I’m seventeen,” I added, “And I wish I didn’t have to be here,” I finished. I couldn’t resist.
My secret wish earned a chuckle from Jamie but he was the only one who shared my sense of humor, it seemed. No one else even cracked a smile. Oh well.
“We understand how you feel, Mara,” Brooke said. “It’s a big adjustment. Now then, let’s move clockwise.” She pointed to a boy sitting in an armchair to my left. He began to speak but I didn’t hear what he said, because Phoebe slid into the seat next to me and I was distracted by the smell of her breath in my face. She slipped a folded piece of paper into my lap.
A love letter, perhaps? Could I be so lucky? I opened it.
Not a love letter. Not a letter at all. The piece of paper was a picture of me, lying in my bed. In the pajamas I wore last night. I faced the camera, but you couldn’t see my eyes.
They’d been scratched out.
I WENT SLACK WITH FEAR, AS IF I WERE A PUPPET AND Phoebe had cut my strings.