“Hi, Mara,” Dr. West said, leaning over to see my picture.
“Hi, Dr. West,” I said. I smiled big and put down my crayon, just for her.
“How are you feeling?”
“Kind of nervous,” I said sheepishly. “I really miss being home.” I nudged the picture I was drawing just slightly—a flowering tree. She would read something into it—therapists read something into everything—and normal people love trees.
She nodded. “I understand.”
I widened my eyes. “Do you think I’ll get to go home?”
“Of course, Mara.”
“Today, I mean.”
“Oh. Well.” Her brow furrowed. “I don’t know yet, to be honest.”
“Is it even possible?” My innocent-kid voice was driving me insane. I’d used it more in the past day than I had in the past five years.
“Well, there are a few possibilities,” she said. “You could stay here for further treatment, or possibly transfer to another inpatient facility. Or your parents could decide that a residential treatment center would be the best place for you, since you’re a teenager—most of them have secondary educational programs that would allow you to spend some time on coursework as you’re working in group and experiential therapies.”
Residential. Not ideal.
“Or an outpatient program could be the best thing—”
“Outpatient?” Tell me more.
“There are day programs for teens who are going through difficult things, just like you.”
“You work mostly with counselors and your peers in group therapy and in experiential therapies like art and music—with a bit of time devoted to schoolwork, but the focus is definitely on therapy. And at the end of the day, you go home.”
Not so terrible. At least now I knew what to hope for.
“Or, your parents might decide not to do anything but therapy. We’ll make our recommendation, but ultimately, it’s up to them. Your mother should be stopping by soon, actually,” she said, glancing at the elevators. “Why don’t you keep drawing—what a lovely picture!—and then we’ll speak again after I talk with her?”
I nodded and smiled. Smiling was important.
Dr. West left, then, and I was still attempting to make the falsely cheerful picture even more falsely cheerful when I was startled by a tap on my shoulder.
I half-turned in the plastic chair. A young girl, maybe ten or eleven, with long, unbrushed dirty blond hair stood shyly with her thumb in her mouth. She wore a white T-shirt that was too big for her over a blue skirt with ruffles to match her blue socks. She passed me a folded piece of paper with her free hand.
Sketchbook paper. My fingers identified the texture immediately, and my heartbeat quickened as I unfolded it, revealing the picture I gave Noah, of Noah, weeks ago at Croyden. And on the back were just three words, but they were the most beautiful words in the English language:
I believe you.
They were written in Noah’s handwriting, and my heart turned over as I looked behind me, hoping by some miracle to see his face.
But there was no one here that didn’t belong.
“Where did you get this?” I asked the girl.
She looked down at the linoleum floor and blushed. “The pretty boy gave it to me.”
A smile formed on my lips. “Where is he?”
She pointed down the hallway. I stood, leaving the bullshit tree and my sketch on the table, and looked around calmly even though I wanted to run. One of the therapists sat at a table talking to a boy that kept scratching himself, and one of the staff members manned the front desk. Nothing out of the ordinary, but obviously, something was. I casually walked toward the restrooms—they were close to the hallway, which was close to the elevators. If Noah was here, he couldn’t be far.
And just before I turned the corner, I felt a hand gently grab my wrist and pull me into the girls’ bathroom. I knew it was him even before I saw that face.
I lingered on the blue-gray eyes that studied mine, on the small crease between them above the line of his elegant nose. My eyes wandered over the shape of his mouth, following its curve and pout, as if he was just about to speak. And that hair—I wanted to jump into his arms and run my fingers through that hair. I wanted to crush my mouth against those lips.
But Noah placed a long finger on mine before I could say a word. “We don’t have much time.”
His nearness filled me with warmth. I couldn’t believe he was really here. I wanted to feel him more, just to make sure he really was.
I raised a tentative hand to his narrow waist then. His lean muscles were taut, tense beneath the thin, soft cotton of his vintage T-shirt.
But he didn’t stop me.
I couldn’t stop my smile. “What is it with you and girls’ bathrooms?” I asked, watching his eyes.
The corner of his mouth lifted. “That is a fair question. In my defense, they’re much cleaner than boys’ bathrooms, and they do seem to be everywhere.”
He sounded amused. Arrogant. That was the voice I needed to hear. Maybe I shouldn’t have worried. Maybe we were okay.
“Daniel told me what happened,” Noah said then. His tone had changed.
I met his eyes and saw that he knew. He knew what happened to me, why I was here. He knew what my family thought.
I felt a rush of heat beneath my skin—from his gaze or from shame, I didn’t know. “Did he tell you what I—what I said?”
Noah stared down at me through the long dark lashes that framed his eyes. “Yes.”
“Jude’s here,” I said.
Noah’s voice wasn’t loud but it was strong when he spoke. “I believe you.”
I didn’t know how badly I needed to hear those words until he said them out loud. “I can’t stay here while he’s out there—”
“I’m working on that.” Noah glanced at the door.
I knew he couldn’t stay, but I didn’t want him to leave. “Me too. I think—I think there’s a chance my parents might let me come home,” I said, trying not to sound as nervous as I felt. “But what if they make me stay? To keep me safe?”
“I wouldn’t, if I were them.”
“What do you mean?”
“Any minute now . . .”
Two seconds later, the sound of an alarm filled my ears.
“What did you do?” I said over the noise as he backed up toward the bathroom door.
“The girl who gave you the note?”