At least Jamie would be here to launch me into my mandatory sentence before he got to go home. That was something.
My parents went off to sign paperwork and I was ushered into a room by a woman who wore a neutral expression beneath a thick, short mop of dark hair.
The woman nodded curtly. “I need to check for anything dangerous.”
“Are you wearing any jewelry?”
I shook my head.
“I need you to take off your clothes.”
I blinked stupidly.
“Okay?” she asked me.
I just stood there.
“I need you to take off your clothes,” she repeated.
My chin trembled. “Okay.”
She stared at me, waiting. I unzipped my hoodie and shrugged it off of my shoulders. I handed it to her. She put her arms through it and placed it on a table. I looked down at the floor and lifted my tank over my head. It landed softly on the tile.
I stood there, breathing hard in just my bra and my jeans. My spine was bent and my arms had unconsciously wandered over my chest.
“Your pants, too,” the woman said.
I nodded but didn’t move for one minute. Two.
“Do you need help?” she asked.
“Do you need me to help you?”
I shook my head. I pressed the heels of my palms into my eyes and inhaled. Just clothes. They were just clothes.
I unzipped my jeans and they fell around my ankles. I stood still, exposed to the air as the room began to slowly spin. She inspected my clothes with her hands and my body with her eyes and asked if I had any piercings she couldn’t see. I didn’t. Finally, she placed my clothes back into my hands. I clutched them against me and then almost tripped as I rushed to put them back on.
When we were done, my parents had signed the paperwork and then I had to sign more paperwork, acknowledging the rules and regulations that hemmed me into my new life. Three months with no outside contact. Phone calls to family were allowed, but only after thirty days. I signed, and felt like I was bleeding on the page.
Then it was time to say good-bye. My mother squeezed me so tightly. “It’s temporary,” she said, trying to reassure me. Or reassure herself.
“I know,” I whispered as she pulled me even closer. I wanted to hold on to her and push her away.
She smoothed my hair down my back. “I love you.”
My throat burned with the tears I wanted to cry but wouldn’t. I knew she loved me. She just didn’t believe me. I understood why, but it hurt like hell just the same.
AFTER MY PARENTS LEFT, I WAS GIVEN A TOUR of the compound; four buildings that connected with a Zen garden in the center. I wandered through the rooms without paying much attention; the layout didn’t matter, and I didn’t really care. I was here. Noah and my family were out there. Jude was out there. He could do whatever he wanted.
I prayed he already had.
Because my family was at his mercy. I had no idea what happened to John; how Jude was able to take me without him knowing. But I had to believe that somehow, Noah would make sure my family was safe. The alternative—
I couldn’t think it.
I was scheduled for intensive therapy immediately, and answered all of the new counselor’s questions by rote. Between my cognitive behavioral therapy sessions and a meeting with the Horizons nutritionist, I thumbed through the small self-help library in the common room while the rest of the Horizons “students”—the permanents, with sentences of three months or longer, like me—and the temporaries, like Jamie, Stella, and Phoebe, unfortunately—went about their indoor team-building activities or whatever. I was excused from most of them, thanks to my “suicide attempt.” Sweat and stitches don’t mix. Lucky me.
Barney, one of the residential staff counselors, watched me from a short distance away. He was big, like most of the male staff—easier to restrain us, perhaps?—but seemed friendly when he tried to engage me in conversation. He wasn’t condescending, like Robins, or inappropriately enthusiastic like Brooke. He was nice; I just didn’t want to talk.
I idly turned the pages of a bizarre book entitled What’s Normal? when my compatriots filtered in. They had come from some sort of game, it looked like, because they were split into three groups wearing differently colored T-shirts: white, black, and red. Megan was in red. Her pale cheeks were flushed, and wisps of blond hair curled up around her face, creating a messy halo. She begged for the bathroom and was sent with a buddy. Adam entered next and he was also wearing red. His bulging forearms were crossed over his puffed-out chest, looking like he’d just lost whatever game it was, and sorely.
Then Jamie waltzed in, dressed in black. He saw me and made a beeline.
“This is your fault.”
I closed the book. “Hi, Jamie. Nice to see you too.”
He shot me a glare. “It’s not nice to see you, actually, considering why you’re here.”
“Thanks for not sugarcoating anything. I’ve been really sick of everyone treating me with kid gloves.”
“The sarcasm, it burns!”
I rolled my eyes.
Jamie shrugged and said, “Look.” He leaned forward. “I refuse to acknowledge your suicide attempt because it screws with all of my preconceived notions about you, okay? Though I am happy to see that you still have your sense of humor, at least.”
I grinned—couldn’t help it. “There is that. So,” I said, glad to not have to talk about my fraudulent reason for being here, “what did I do this time?”
“Interesting choice of words,” Jamie said, and looked over his shoulder at the doorway. I followed the line of his gaze, and saw—
He stood about twelve feet away, his gray T-shirt damp and clinging to his lean, muscular frame, droplets of rain falling from his guitar case onto the pristine tile floor.
When Noah met my eyes, I was without words.
He turned away. “Where should I put this?” he asked Barney, lifting the case slightly.
“This way,” Barney said. “I’ll show you your room.”
And then Noah walked right past me. Like I wasn’t even there.
I sat catatonically in the lounge. Seats filled up and good old Brooke sat down opposite me, her bangles jingling with every gesture. She straightened her head wrap and said, “We’ll be starting in five minutes, guys. If you want to get a drink of water or make a quick bathroom run, now’s the time.” Then she leaned forward to say a gentle hello to me and patted my arm with a pitying look before leaving to fetch some water herself.