“It fell out of your bag,” she whispered.
I stared blankly at the picture until I heard my name called. I shoved it in my pocket and asked to use the bathroom. Brooke nodded. I grabbed my bag and fled.
Once inside, I hid in a stall and rifled through it. I took out an old paperback I’d found in the garage and decided to read—one of my father’s, I think, from college—along with the sketchbook I hadn’t been in the mood to draw in and a few charcoal sticks and pens.
And my digital camera. The one my parents gave me for my birthday. I didn’t remember putting that in my bag at all.
My pulse raced as I withdrew the picture from my back pocket and stared at it. I turned on the camera, pressed the menu button, and waited.
The last picture taken appeared on the screen. It was the same photo in my hand.
The picture before that was also of me asleep, in the same clothes I wore last night, my body in a different position. And the picture before that. And the picture before that.
There were four of them altogether.
Horror weakened my knees but I braced myself against the stall. I had to keep standing. I had to see if there was something, anything, any way I could prove that Jude took the pictures, that he was alive and in my room and watching me sleep. I thumbed through the camera’s features as I forced myself to breathe.
The camera had a timer.
My bag had been searched; whoever checked it would have seen the printed picture, but to them, that’s all it would look like. Just a picture of me asleep. They might think I scratched my eyes out myself.
And if I showed the digital camera to them, or to my parents, they might think that I took all of the pictures myself; that I used the camera’s timer to set up the shots. The why didn’t matter; I just came back from an involuntary stay at a psych unit. Why would never matter again.
I stifled the screams I wanted to yell but couldn’t. I put the camera and the picture back in my bag. I went back to the common room and it was all I could do to sit still. Phoebe the psycho stared at me the whole time.
I ignored her. I detached. I was being tested, Mr. Robins said, evaluated to see if I could hack it in the outpatient world, and I needed to prove that I could.
So when the session finally ended, I seized on Jamie—I needed the distraction.
“Do you miss Croyden?” I asked, my voice falsely light.
“Sure. Particularly when they make us do positive self-talk with Chariots of Fire blasting in the background.”
Thank you, Jamie. “Tell me you’re kidding?”
“I wish. At least the food’s good,” he said, as we lined up for lunch.
I was about to ask what we were having when a piercing scream sounded from the front of the line. I was already on edge and that nearly sent me over. I watched, frozen, as a blond girl with a delicate doll face separated herself from the group.
“Megan,” Jamie said in my ear. “The poor kid’s afraid of everything. This happens a lot.”
Megan was now backed up against the opposite wall, pointing at something.
A large, cartoonishly handsome “student” was walking in the direction of her extended forefinger. He crouched down low, just as I rose up on my toes to try and see.
“It’s a ring snake,” he called out. He lifted it with both hands.
I exhaled. No big—
Megan screamed again as the boy ripped the snake apart.
I was paralyzed for a second, not quite believing what I’d seen. The cat last night, and now this—anger rushed in and I seized it. It was better than fear. I couldn’t do anything about the cat, but I could do something about this.
I pushed past the people in line as the boy, who more accurately resembled a Cro-Magnon man, dropped the mangled pieces on the white carpet with a satisfied look.
He towered over me but I looked him in the eye. “What is wrong with you?”
“You seem upset,” he said evenly. “It’s just a snake.”
“And you’re just a douchebag.”
Jamie appeared by my side and looked down at the mess. “I see you’ve met Adam, our resident sadist.”
Adam pushed Jamie into the wall with one arm. “At least I’m not the resident fag.”
There was cheering and chanting of the “Fight! Fight! Fight!” variety, which mingled with a counselor’s high, hoarse voice shouting, “Break it up!”
But Jamie wasn’t remotely fazed. He was smiling, actually, and stared directly at Adam, who had pinned him against the wall. “Hit me,” he said. His voice was low. Compelling.
And Adam looked all too happy to oblige. He pulled back his fist, but a heavyset counselor in a wrinkled, too-tight dress shirt reached him first and wrestled his arms back. The veins in Adam’s arms and neck bulged, making the tattoos on his forearms appear to twitch. He had a short, military buzz cut and his scalp was completely red beneath it. It was kind of comical, honestly.
“Wayne,” Brooke said, waving to the counselor, “help Adam calm down. Jamie, you and I are going to discuss this later.”
“Discuss what?” Jamie asked innocently. “I wasn’t doing anything.”
Another adult, a guy with a ponytail, said to Brooke, “He instigated it.”
Jamie turned to him. “I did not instigate anything, dear Patrick. I was calmly but indignantly standing here as Adam needlessly ended a reptilian life.”
“Two o’clock,” Brooke said sharply. “You’ll miss drama therapy.”
I snorted. People whispered around us, stealing looks. Jamie seemed to enjoy it.
“That was ballsy,” I said to him as we moved up in line.
“The part where you acted like you wanted him to hit you.”
Jamie looked thoughtful. “I think I actually did. Funny thing: It’s like coming here has made me more combative.”
“Hmm,” I murmured.
“You just made me think of something my dad sometimes says.”
He raised his eyebrows in question.
“Put a petty criminal in maximum security prison and he’ll come out knowing how to rape and pillage.”
“Precisely,” Jamie said, nodding. “My urge to hit things is directly proportional to the cheeriness of the staff. And I find everything ultra-annoying lately. And everyone.” As we neared the end of the line, I watched Wayne hand little paper cups to each of our peers in front of us. I glanced at Jamie.
“Meds first, then food,” he explained.