“A lockup,” she said, cracking her knuckles.
I stared at her blankly.
“A secure residential treatment center?”
She sighed. “You know how this place is a feeder for the Horizons inpatient program?”
“We’re assessed here, in the day program, and then they tell our parents whether they think we’re sane enough to hack it out here or whether they think our issues are serious enough to need inpatient treatment.” She twined a strand of curly hair around her finger. “The Horizons RTC is inpatient, but you get to move around, to come and go from your room and stuff—the retreat’s coming up, you’ll see. Anyway, that’s a normal RTC. At the secure RTCs, you’re basically locked in your room unless they come get you. You’re followed everywhere. Lakewood’s in the middle of nowhere—practically all RTCs are—but without the good food and counselors who actually care. It’s pretty much the last stop before state institutionalization.” She cocked her head to the side. “You’re new to this troubled teen thing, aren’t you?”
I looked over at Adam with new eyes. “Apparently.”
“Veteran,” Stella said, and shrugged.
I was curious what she was in for, but she didn’t volunteer and this wasn’t exactly prison.
“Well, Adam,” Brooke said loudly. “If you don’t want to participate, I’m going to have to let Dr. Kells know and you’ll have to do it with her.”
“He doesn’t belong here,” Stella said quietly as Adam and Brooke walked back into our circle. I wanted to ask her more, but Brooke was ready to move on.
Back to me.
I successfully avoided mentioning any of my real (and valid) fears of the Jude and supernatural varieties by rattling off a bunch of benign, normal ones like bugs and needles. Jamie attempted to ruffle Brooke’s patience with answers like “intellectual bankruptcy,” and “sea monkeys,” while Megan earnestly volunteered every phobia I’d ever heard of and several I never knew existed (“Doraphobia” is the fear of fur).
This earned an obnoxious comment from Adam, who Jamie then accused of having a fear of “physical inadequacies” of a very private nature, which resulted in what I thought was an unjust scolding from Brooke and also caused another Jamie-Adam confrontation. I was rooting for Jamie to land a well-deserved punch to Adam’s brutish head but the face-off ended before it got too exciting. Stella managed to get by without participating at all. Lucky girl. I unintentionally caught a glance at her fear journal but saw only one word (“voices”) before I quickly looked away.
When we were finished, we all handed our notebooks back to Brooke and she then asked for volunteers for a “flooding session.” Megan’s hand went up, bless her, and I had the non-pleasure of watching the poor girl’s big, brown eyes go wide with terror as Brooke talked her through scenario after scenario in which she would encounter and then be confined in small spaces. Brooke talked her through it; first Megan sat there and imagined approaching a closet. Then she imagined walking next to it. Then in it. Then Brooke guided her closer and closer to one in real life. When the fear threatened to overcome her, she said a word that told Brooke she couldn’t take it anymore, and then they backed up. Megan was committed, though; a True Believer. She really did seem to want to improve. Admirable.
When the session ended, we all applauded and offered our encouragement: “Way to go!” “Great job!” “You’re so strong!” Exclamation points included.
We broke for snack time then—just like kindergarten!—and I pulled out my sketchbook to work on an asinine project I’d been assigned: pick an emotion and draw it. I wanted to draw a raised middle finger, but I would draw a kitten instead. Normal people love kittens.
But when I reached inside my bag for my sketchbook, my hand closed over that stray piece of paper.
I withdrew it. Unfolded it. I read what it said as the hair rose on the back of my neck:
I see you.
JUDE, MY MIND WHISPERED, AS MY VEINS COURSED with fear.
I whipped around; my eyes searched for him of their own volition.
He wasn’t here.
He couldn’t be. And he couldn’t have been in my house last night—not with John watching it.
Then I remembered my first day at Horizons. Phoebe stealing the picture from my bag. Blacking out my eyes.
She’d sat next to me in Group today.
Jude didn’t write the note. It was her.
Scratch that. She was insane. That’s why.
I took the note and shoved it angrily in my back pocket, and waited for Group Part II to resume, leaning back in my chair and pressing the heels of my palms into my eyes. My life was screwed up enough without adding Phoebe’s bullshit to the pile. Wayne came around with meds for some of us—myself included—and I downed them in the little paper shot glass. The aftertaste was bitter but I didn’t bother washing it away. I just watched the clock and counted down the seconds until I’d get the chance to confront her.
Brooke breezed back in with a mug full of what was probably organic, fair trade coffee and a stack of worksheets. She began handing them out as we all found our chairs, Phoebe included. She eyed the room and pointedly sat as far away from me as she could.
I took the paper from Brooke just a tad too fiercely. It had rows of ridiculous cartoon faces on them, contorted into various exaggerated expressions and, I supposed, their corresponding “feelings.” A squinty kid sticking his tongue out of one corner of his mouth as he smirked, with an unruly spike of hair to connote “sneaky”; a placid-faced, blond-pig-tailed girl with closed eyes and folded arms above the word “safe.” There was a preponderance of stuck-out tongues and googly eyes. Brooke began handing out markers.
“I want you all to circle the face and feeling that best describes your mood today.” She looked at me. “It’s called a feelings check-in. We do this twice a week.”
I whipped the cap off of the marker and started circling: mad, suspicious, furious, enraged. I handed her back the sheet.
My feelings must have been evident on my face because I was the focus of over a dozen stares. Not Phoebe’s, though. She was staring at the ceiling.
“It seems like you have a lot of interesting feelings right now, Mara,” Brooke said encouragingly. “Do you want to share first?”
“I’d love to.” I lifted my hips and pulled the note out of my back pocket. I handed it to Brooke. “Someone put this in my bag this morning,” I said, speaking to Brooke but staring Phoebe down.