I tried to answer her, to repeat what my mother had told me, but had trouble with the words. They were buried in my throat, just beyond my reach. The silence grew more and more awkward as I struggled to pull them out.
Dr. Maillard leaned in. “It’s okay, Mara,” she said. “You don’t have to tell me.”
I took a deep breath. “I don’t remember how they died, honestly.”
She nodded her head. A strand of dark blond hair fell over her forehead. “Okay.”
“Okay?” I shot her a skeptical look. “Just like that?”
Dr. Maillard smiled softly, her brown eyes kind. “Just like that. We don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to talk about in this room.”
I bristled a bit. “I don’t mind talking about it. I just don’t remember.”
“And that’s okay. Sometimes, the mind has a way of protecting us from things until we’re ready to deal with them.”
Her assumption bothered me, more than it should have. “I feel ready to deal with it.”
She tucked her hair behind her ear. “That’s fine too. When did all of this happen?”
I thought for a minute—it was so hard to keep track of time. “A few months ago? December?”
For the first time, Dr. Maillard’s demeanor changed. She seemed surprised. “That’s pretty recent.”
I shrugged and looked away. My eyes fell on a plastic-looking plant in the corner of the room that had caught the sunlight. I wondered if it was real.
“So how have you been doing since the move?”
A slight smile twitched at the corner of my mouth. “Aside from the burn, you mean?”
Dr. Maillard grinned back. “Aside from that.”
The conversation could play out a hundred different ways. Dr. Maillard was being paid to listen to me—it was her job. Just a job. When she went home to her family, she wouldn’t be Dr. Maillard. She’d be Mom. Becca, maybe. Someone else, just like my mother. And she wouldn’t think about me until I saw her next.
But I was there for a reason. The flashbacks—the dreams—I could handle. The hallucinations, I could deal with. But the burn upped the ante. I thought of Joseph, looking so scared and small and lost in the hospital. I never wanted to see him look that way again.
I swallowed hard and went for it. “I think something’s happening to me.” My grand declaration.
Her expression didn’t change. “What do you think is happening to you?”
“I don’t know.” I felt the urge to sigh and rake my hands through my hair, but resisted. I didn’t know what kind of signal it would send, and didn’t want to send the wrong one.
“All right, let’s back up for a minute. Why do you think something is happening to you? What makes you think that?”
I struggled to maintain eye contact with her. “Sometimes I see things that aren’t there.”
“What kinds of things?”
Where to begin? I decided to go in reverse chronological order. “Well, like I told you, I thought the earrings my mother lent me fell in the bathtub, but they were in my ears.”
Dr. Maillard nodded. “Go on.”
“And before I went to the party last night, I saw one of my dead friends in the mirror.” Zing.
“What kind of party was it?”
If Dr. Maillard was shocked by my revelation, she didn’t show it.
“A—a costume party?” I didn’t mean for it to sound like a question.
“Did you go with anyone?”
I nodded. “My brother, but he was meeting someone else.” The room started to feel warm.
“So you were alone?”
An image of Noah whispering to the fairy girl flashed before my eyes. Alone, indeed. “Yes.”
“Have you gone out much since you’ve moved?”
I shook my head. “Last night was the first time.”
Dr. Maillard smiled slightly. “Sounds like it could be stressful.”
At that, I snorted. Couldn’t help it. “Compared to what?”
Her eyebrows lifted. “You tell me.”
“Compared to having your best friend die? Or moving away from everyone you’ve ever known? Or starting at a new school so late in the year?”
Or finding out your father is representing an alleged murderer of a teenage girl? The thought appeared in my mind without warning. Without precedent. I pushed it away. Dad’s work was not going to be a problem for me. I couldn’t let myself be that damaged—if my mother noticed me stressing about it, she might make him drop the case, his first one since we moved. And with three kids in private school now, they probably needed the money. I’d screwed up their lives enough already. I decided not to mention it to Dr. Maillard. What we said was confidential, but still.
Her face was serious when she spoke. “You’re right,” she said, shifting back in her chair. “Let me ask you this: Was last night the first time you saw something, or someone, that wasn’t there?”
I shook my head, somewhat relieved that the focus of the conversation had shifted.
“Do you feel comfortable telling me about other things you’ve seen?”
Not particularly. I picked idly at the thread in my worn jeans, knowing how crazy I would sound. How crazy I already sounded. I said it anyway.
“I saw my old boyfriend, Jude, at school, once.”
“My first day.” After I saw my Algebra classroom collapse. After Claire first appeared in the mirror. I bit my lip.
“So, you were already pretty stressed out.”
“Do you miss him?”
Her question caught me off guard. How did I answer that? When I was awake, I barely thought about Jude. And when I dreamed—it wasn’t exactly pleasant. I lowered my eyes, hoping Dr. Maillard wouldn’t notice my burning face, the only evidence of my shame. I was a bad person.
“Sometimes these things are complicated, Mara,” she said. Guess she noticed after all. “When we lose people who were important to us, there’s a whole range of emotions we might experience.”
I shifted in my seat. “Can we talk about something else?”
“We can, but I’d really like to stay with this for a little while. Can you tell me a little bit about your relationship?”
I closed my eyes. “It wasn’t much of one. We were only together for a couple of months.”
“Was it a good couple of months?”