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About the Author
To Martin and Jeremy Hodkin for always betting on me
This book would not exist without the extraordinary effort of many people, but there are four in particular who rise to the top of the list:
Courtney Bongiolatti: I learned so much from you and your time, talent, and limitless patience are appreciated beyond words. You made this one great, and you are missed.
Alexandra Cooper: In such a short time, you have brought so much to this book. I can’t believe my good fortune in having won the editor lottery twice.
Barry Goldblatt: No matter how heavy things get, you never let me sink. Thank God you’re on my side.
And last but not at all least, to Kat Howard. Kat, you helped me find the words I needed to write and you pulled them out of me one by one. You were with me every day even though we were thousands of miles apart. Thank you will never be enough.
Thanks also to Ellen Hopkins for helping me hear Noah’s voice, and to Nova Ren Suma, for rescuing me again and again. You are both so gracious and wise, and I am lucky to call you friends.
To Justin Chanda, Paul Crichton, Siena Koncsol, Matt Pantoliano, Chrissy Noh, Amy Rosenbaum, Elka Villa, Michelle Fadlalla, Venessa Williams, and the entire team at Simon & Schuster, I am grateful for you all every day. And to Lucy Ruth Cummins for designing yet another stunning cover—you amaze me.
To Stephanie, Emily L., Sarah, Bridget, Ali, Anna, Christi, and Emily T., for everything Maggie and beyond, and to Rebecca Cantley, for taking care of my life when I can’t be there to do it myself.
And as always, thanks to my family for their infinite love and support: Janie and Grandpa Bob, Jeffrey, Melissa, Uncle Eddie, Aunt Viri and Uncle Paul, Barbara and Peter, Nanny and Zadie, Z”L, Tante and Uncle Jeff and all of my cousins. Bret, thank you for Dawson’s Creek, New Year’s Eve, and for tolerating so much abuse. Yardana, I love you and can’t remember what our family was like without you. Thank you for lending your professional expertise to this book; I could not have done my misfits justice without it. All of the psychological details that were accurate were accurate because of you, and any mistakes made were mine and mine alone.
Martin & Jeremy, you got the dedication. Don’t be greedy.
Finally, thanks to my mother, Ellen, for always believing me. Even when she shouldn’t have.
“Can we become other than what we are?”
—Marquis de Sade, Justine
YOU WILL LOVE HIM TO RUINS.
The words echoed in my mind as I ran through clots of laughing people. Blinking lights and delighted screams bled together in a riot of sound and color. I knew Noah was behind me. I knew he would catch up. But my feet tried to do what my heart couldn’t; they tried to leave him behind.
I finally ran out of breath beneath a leering clown that pointed to the entrance to the Hall of Mirrors. Noah caught up to me easily. He turned me to face him and I stood there, my wrist in his grasp, my cheeks wet with tears, my heart splintered by her words.
If I truly loved him, she said, I would let him go.
I wished I loved him enough.
LILLIAN AND ALFRED RICE
I WOKE UP ON THE MORNING OF SOME DAY IN SOME hospital to find a stranger sitting in my room.
I sat up gingerly—my shoulder was sore—and studied the stranger. She had dark brown hair that bled into gray at the roots, and hazel eyes with webs of crow’s feet at the corners. She smiled at me, and her whole face moved.
“Good morning, Mara,” she said.
“Good morning,” I said back. My voice was low and hoarse. It didn’t sound like my own.
“Do you know where you are?”
She obviously didn’t realize that the floor directory was positioned directly outside the window behind her, and that from the bed, I had a clear view. “I’m at the Lillian and Alfred Rice Psychiatric Unit.” Apparently.
“Do you know who I am?”
I had no idea, but I tried not to show it; she wouldn’t have asked me if we’d never met, and if we had met, I should remember her. “Yes,” I lied.
“What’s my name?”
Damn. My chest rose and fell quickly with my breath.
“I’m Dr. West,” she said evenly. Her voice was warm and friendly but not at all familiar. “We met yesterday, when you were brought in by your parents and a detective by the name of Vincent Gadsen.”
“Do you remember?”
I remembered seeing my father lying pale and wounded in a hospital bed after he was shot by the mother of a murdered girl.
I remembered that I was the one who made her do it.
I remembered going to the police station to confess to stealing my teacher’s EpiPen and releasing fire ants in her desk, which is why she died of anaphylactic shock.
I remembered that it wasn’t true—just a lie I would feed the police so they would keep me from hurting anyone I loved again. Because they wouldn’t believe I wished my teacher dead and that not long after, she died. Choked to death on a swollen tongue, exactly the way I imagined she would.
I remembered that before I could tell anyone any of this, I saw Jude at the Thirteenth Precinct of the Metro Dade Police Department. Looking very much alive.
But I did not remember coming here to the hospital. I didn’t remember being brought. After Jude appeared, I remembered nothing else.
“You were admitted yesterday afternoon,” the stranger—Dr. West—said. “The detective called your parents when they couldn’t get you to stop screaming.”
I closed my eyes and saw Jude’s face as he walked by me. Brushed past me. Smiled. The memory stained the backs of my eyelids, and I opened them quickly, just to see something else.
“You told them that your boyfriend, Jude Lowe, who you thought died in a building collapse in December, is alive.”
“Ex,” I said quietly, fighting to stay calm.
Dr. West tilted her head slightly and employed her carefully neutral psychologist expression, one I recognized well since I’d seen it often on my psychologist mother. Particularly in the past few months.
“You said that you caused the abandoned asylum in Rhode Island to collapse, crushing your best friend, Rachel, and Jude’s sister, Claire, inside. You said Jude sexually assaulted you, which is why you tried to kill him. And you said he survived. You said he’s here.”
She was perfectly calm as she spoke, which magnified my panic. Those words in her mouth sounded crazy, even though they were true. And if Dr. West knew, then so did—
“Your mother brought you here for an evaluation.”
My mother. My family. They would have heard the truth too, even though I hadn’t planned to tell it. Even though I didn’t remember telling it.
And this was where it got me.
“We didn’t begin yesterday because you were sedated.”
My fingers wandered up my arm, beneath the short sleeve of my white T-shirt. There was a Band-Aid on my skin, covering what must have been the injection site.
“Where is she?” I asked, picking at the Band-Aid.
“Where is who?”
“My mother.” My eyes scanned the hallway through the glass, but I didn’t see her. The hall looked empty. If I could just talk to her, maybe I could explain.
“She’s not here.”
That didn’t sound like my mother. She didn’t leave my side once when I was admitted to the hospital after the asylum collapsed. I told Dr. West as much.
“Would you like to see her?”
“Okay, we can see if we can work that out later.”
Her tone made it sound like that would be a treat for good behavior, and I didn’t like it. I swung my legs over the bed and stood up. I was wearing drawstring pants, not the jeans I last remembered myself in. My mother must have brought them from home. Someone must have changed me. I swallowed hard. “I think I want to see her now.”
Dr. West stood up as well. “Mara, she isn’t here.”
“Then I’ll go find her,” I said, and started looking for my Chucks. I crouched to look under the bed, but they weren’t there.
“Where are my shoes?” I asked, still crouched.
“We had to take them.”
I rose then, and faced her. “Why?”
“They had laces.”
My eyes narrowed. “So?”
“You were brought here because your mother thought you may be a danger to yourself and others.”
“I really need to talk to her,” I said then, struggling to keep my voice even. I bit down hard on my bottom lip.
“You’ll be able to.”
“Well, I’d like you to speak with someone first, and have a doctor come in, just to make sure you’re—”
“And if I don’t want to?”
Dr. West just looked at me. Her expression was sad.
My throat wanted to close. “You can’t keep me here unless I consent,” I managed to say. I knew that much, at least. I was a lawyer’s daughter and I was seventeen years old. They couldn’t keep me here unless I wanted to be kept. Unless—
“You were screaming and hysterical and you slipped. When one of our nurses tried to help you up, you punched her.”
“It became an emergency situation, so under the Baker Act, your parents were able to consent for you.”
I whispered so I wouldn’t scream. “What are you saying?”
“I’m sorry, but you’ve been involuntarily committed.”
WE HOPE THAT YOU’LL ALLOW A DOCTOR TO DO a physical examination,” she said kindly. “And that you’ll consent to our treatment plan.”
“What if I don’t?” I asked.
“Well, your parents still have time to file the appropriate papers with the court while you’re here—but it would be really wonderful for you, and for them, if you cooperated with us. We’re here to help you.”
I couldn’t quite remember ever feeling so lost.
“Mara,” Dr. West said, drawing my eyes to hers, “do you understand what this means?”
It means that Jude is alive and no one believes it but me.
It means that there is something wrong with me, but it isn’t what they think.
It means that I’m alone.
But then my racing thoughts trailed an image in their wake. A memory.
The beige walls of the psychiatric unit evaporated and became glass. I saw myself in the passenger seat of a car—Noah’s car—and saw my cheeks stained with tears. Noah was next to me, his hair messy and perfect and his eyes defiant as they held mine.
“There is something seriously wrong with me, and there’s nothing anyone can do to fix it,” I said to him then.
“Let me try,” he said back.
That was before he knew just how deeply screwed up I was, but even when the last piece of my armor cracked on marble courthouse steps, revealing the ugliness beneath it, Noah wasn’t the one who left.
Because I killed four people—five, if my dad’s client never woke up—with nothing more than a thought. And the number could have been higher—would have been higher, if Noah hadn’t saved my father’s life. I never meant to hurt the people I loved, but Rachel was still dead and my father was still shot. Less than forty-eight hours ago, I thought the best way to keep them safe was to keep myself away.
But things were different, now. Jude made them different.
No one knew the truth about me. No one but Noah. Which meant he was the only one who could possibly fix this. I had to talk to him.
I forced myself to focus on Dr. West.
“Will you let us help you?”
Help me? I wanted to ask. By giving me more drugs when I’m not sick, not with anything worse than PTSD? I’m not psychotic, I wanted to say.
But I didn’t appear to have much of a choice, so I forced myself to say yes. “But I want to talk to my mother first,” I added.
“I’ll give her a call after your physical—okay?”
It wasn’t. Not at all. But I nodded and Dr. West grinned, deepening the folds in her face, looking for all the world like a warm, kindly grandmother. Maybe she was.
When she left, it was all I could do not to fall apart; but I didn’t have time. She was immediately replaced by a penlight-wielding doctor who asked me questions about my appetite and other wildly mundane details, which I answered calmly with a careful tongue. And then he left, and I was offered some food, and one of the staff—a counselor? A nurse?—showed me the unit. It was quieter than I imagined a psych ward would be, and with fewer obvious psychos. A couple of kids were quietly reading. One watched TV. Another talked with a friend. They looked up at me when I passed by, but otherwise, I went unacknowledged.
When I was eventually led back to the bedroom, I was shocked to find my mother in it.
Anyone else wouldn’t have noticed what a mess she was. Her clothes were unwrinkled. Her skin was still flawless. Not a single hair was out of place. But hopelessness trampled her posture and fear dulled her eyes. She was holding it together, but just barely.
She was holding it together for me.
I wanted to hug her and shake her at the same time. But I just stood there, cemented to the floor.
She rushed up to hug me. I let her, but my arms were chained to my sides and I couldn’t hug her back.
She pulled back and smoothed the hair from my face. Studied my eyes. “I am so sorry, Mara.”
“Really.” My voice was flat.
I couldn’t have hurt her more if I had smacked her. “How could you say that?” she asked.
“Because I woke up in a psychiatric unit today.” The words were bitter in my mouth.
She backed up and sat on the bed, which had been freshly made since I was last in it. She shook her head, and her lacquer-black hair swung with the movement. “When you left the hospital yesterday, I thought you were tired and going home. So when the police called?” Her voice cracked, and she held her hand up to her throat. “Your father was shot, and then to pick up the phone and hear the police say, ‘Mrs. Dyer, we’re calling about your daughter?’” A tear fell from one of her eyes and she quickly wiped it away. “I thought you’d been in a car accident. I thought you were dead.”
My mother wrapped her arms around her waist and hunched forward. “I was so terrified I dropped the phone. Daniel picked it up. He explained what was happening—that you were at the police station, hysterical. He stayed with your father and I rushed there to get you but you were wild, Mara,” she said, and looked at me. “Wild. I never thought . . .” Her voice trailed off and she seemed to be staring right through me. “You were screaming that Jude is alive.”
I did something brave, then. Or stupid. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.
I decided to trust her. I looked my mother in the eye and said, without any trace of doubt in my expression or voice, “He is.”
“How would that be possible, Mara?” My mother’s voice was toneless.
“I don’t know,” I admitted, because I didn’t have a clue. “But I saw him.” I sat down next to her on the bed, but not close.
My mom pushed her hair away from her face. “Could it have been a hallucination?” She avoided my eyes. “Like the other times? Like the earrings?”
I had asked myself that same question. I’d seen things before—my grandmother’s earrings at the bottom of my bathtub, even though they were still in my ears. Classroom walls collapsing around me, maggots squirming in my food.
And I had seen Claire. I saw her in mirrors. I heard her voice.
“You two kids have fun.”
I saw Jude in mirrors. I heard his voice, too.
“You need to take your mind off this place.”
But now I knew that I had heard them say those same words twice. Not just in mirrors at home. In the asylum.
I didn’t imagine those words. I remembered them. From the night of the collapse.
But at the precinct it was different. Jude spoke to an officer. I strained to remember what he said.
“Can you tell me where I can report a missing person? I think I’m lost.”
I never heard him say those words before. They were new. And he said them before he touched me.
He touched me. I felt him.
That was not a hallucination. He was real. He was alive, and he was here.
MY MOTHER WAS STILL WAITING FOR AN answer to her question, so I gave her one. I shook my head fiercely. “No.” Jude was alive. He wasn’t a hallucination. I was sure.
She sat there immobile for just a beat too long. Then, finally, she smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “Daniel’s here to see you,” she said and stood. She bent to kiss the crown of my head just as the door opened, revealing my older brother. The two of them shared a glance, but as Daniel entered the room he expertly masked his concern.
His thick black hair was uncharacteristically messy and dark circles ringed his dark eyes. He smiled at me—it was too easy, too quick—and leaned down to wrap me in a hug. “I’m so glad you’re okay,” he said as he squeezed. I couldn’t quite hug him back either.
Then he let go and added too lightly, “And I can’t believe you took my keys. Where’s my house key, by the way?”
My forehead creased. “What?”
“My house key. It’s missing from my key ring. Which you took before driving my car to the police station.”
“Oh.” I had no memory of taking it, and no memory of what I did with it. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay. Not like you were getting into any trouble or anything,” he said, squinting at me.
“What are you doing?”
“Giving you the side-eye.”
“Well, it looks like you’re having a stroke,” I said, unable to help my smile. Daniel flashed one of his own—a real one, this time.
“I almost had a heart attack when Mom almost had a heart attack,” he said, his voice quiet. Serious. “I’m—I’m happy you’re okay.”
I looked around the room. “Okay is a relative term, I think.”
“I’m surprised they’re letting you see me,” I said. “The way the psychiatrist was acting, I was starting to think I was on lockdown or something.”
Daniel shrugged his shoulders and shifted his weight, obviously uncomfortable.
Which made me cautious. “What?”
He sucked in his lips.
“Out with it, Daniel.”
“I’m supposed to try to convince you to stay.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “For how long?”
He didn’t say.
My face grew hot. “Mom didn’t have the guts to tell me herself?”
“That’s not it,” he said, sitting down in the chair beside the bed. “She thinks you don’t trust her.”
“She’s the one who doesn’t trust me. She hasn’t since . . .” Since the collapse, I almost said. I didn’t finish my sentence, but judging by Daniel’s expression, I didn’t need to. “She doesn’t believe anything I say,” I finished. I hadn’t meant to sound like such a child, but I couldn’t help it. I half-expected Daniel to call me out but he just gave me the same look he always gave me. He was my brother. My best friend. I hadn’t changed to him.
And that made me want to tell him everything. About the asylum, Rachel, Mabel, my teacher. All of it.
If I told him calmly—not panicked, in a police station, but rationally, after a full night’s sleep—if I explained everything, maybe he would understand.
I needed to be understood.
So I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, like I was preparing to launch myself off a cliff. In a way, I guess, I was. “Jude is here.”
Daniel swallowed and then asked carefully, “In the room?”
I shot him a glare. “No, you ass. In Florida. In Miami.”
His expression didn’t change.
“He was in the police station, Daniel. I saw him. He was there.”
My brother just sat there, mirroring our mother’s neutral expression from just a few minutes before. Then he reached for his backpack and pulled something out of it. “It’s the security footage from the precinct,” he explained before I had a chance to ask. “Dr. West thought it would be good for Mom to show you.”
“So why are you showing me?”
“Because clearly you don’t trust Mom, but she knows you trust me.”
I gave him a narrow look. “What’s on it?”
He stood and popped the disc into the DVD player beneath the ceiling-mounted television, then switched it on. “Tell me when you see him, okay?”
I nodded, and then both of our heads turned toward the screen. Daniel fast-forwarded it and tiny people scurried in and out of the police station. The counter sped forward and I watched myself walk into the frame.
“Stop,” I said to Daniel. He pressed a button and the footage slowed to a normal speed. There was no audio, but I watched myself speak to the officer at the front desk—I must have been asking where I could find Detective Gadsen.
And then I watched Jude appear in the frame. My heart began to race as my eyes lingered on the image of him, on his baseball cap, on his long sleeves. Something on his wrist caught the light. A watch.
There was a shiver in my mind. I pointed at Jude’s figure on the screen. “There,” I said. My hand trembled annoyingly. “That’s him.”
We watched as Jude spoke to the officer. As he brushed right by me. Touched me. I started to feel sick.
Daniel paused the image before Jude left the frame. He said nothing for a long while.
“What,” I said quietly.
“That could be anyone, Mara.”
My throat tightened. “Please tell me you’re kidding.”
“Mara, it’s a guy in a Patriots cap.”
I studied the screen again. The camera angle only captured the top of Jude’s head. Which was covered by the Patriots cap he always wore. Which was pulled down low, shading his eyes.
You couldn’t see his face at all.
“But I heard his voice,” I said. Pleaded, really. My brother opened his mouth to say something, but I cut him off. “No, listen.” I took a deep breath. Tried to calm down, to be less shrill. “I heard him—he asked that officer something and the officer answered him back. It was his voice. And I saw his face.” I stared at the screen, squinting as I continued to speak. “You can’t see it so well on the tape, maybe, but it’s him. It’s him.”
Daniel looked at me for a few silent seconds before he finally spoke. When he did, his voice was distressingly soft. “Mara, it can’t be him.”
My mind rushed through the facts, the ones I knew, the ones I was sure of. “Why not? They couldn’t get to his body to bury it, right?” The building was too unstable, I remembered, and it was too dangerous. “They couldn’t get to him,” I said again.
Daniel pointed at the screen, at Jude’s hands. My eyes followed his finger. “See his hands?”
“Jude wouldn’t have any. His hands were all they found.”
HIS WORDS DRAINED THE BLOOD FROM MY FACE.
“They didn’t find complete remains for any of the—for Rachel, Claire, or Jude. But they did find—they found his hands, Mara. They buried them.” He swallowed like it was painful for him, then pointed at the video screen. “This guy? Two hands.” Daniel’s voice was gentle and sad and desperate but his words refused to make sense. “I know you’re freaked out about what’s been happening. I know. And Dad—we’re all worried about Dad. But that isn’t Jude, Mara. It’s not him.”
It would have been a relief to believe that I was that crazy, to swallow that lie and their pills and shake off the guilt that had hounded me since I finally remembered what I was capable of.
But I tried that before. It didn’t work.
I took a deep, shuddering breath. “I’m not crazy.”
Daniel closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, his expression was . . . decided. “I’m not supposed to tell you this—”
“Tell me what?”
“The psychologists are calling it a perceptual distortion,” my older brother said. “A delusion, basically. That—that Jude’s alive, that you have the power to collapse buildings and kill people—they’re saying you’re losing the ability to rationally evaluate reality.”
“They’re throwing around words like ‘psychotic’ and ‘schizotypal,’ Mara.”
I ordered myself not to cry.
“Mom is hoping that, worst case scenario, this is maybe something called Brief Psychotic Disorder brought on by the PTSD and the shooting and all of the trauma—but from what I think I’m hearing, the main differences between that, schizophrenia, and a bunch of other disorders in between is basically duration.” He swallowed hard. “Meaning, the longer the delusions last, the worse the prognosis.”
I clenched my teeth and forced myself to stay quiet while my brother continued to speak.
“That’s why Mom thinks you should stay here for a while so they can adjust your meds. Then they can move you to a place, a residential treatment facility—”
“No,” I said. As badly as I had wanted to leave my family to keep them safe before, I knew now I needed to stay with them. I could not be locked up while Jude was free.
“It’s like a boarding school,” he went on, “except there’s a gourmet chef and Zen gardens and art therapy—just to take a break.”
“We’re not talking about Fiji, Daniel. She wants to send me to a mental hospital. A mental hospital!”
“It isn’t a mental hospital, it’s a residential—”
“Treatment facility, yeah,” I said, just as the tears began to well. I blinked them back furiously. “So you’re on their side?”
“I’m on your side. And it’s just for a little while, so they can teach you to cope. You’ve been through—there’s no way I could deal with school and what you’ve been through.”
I tried to swallow back the sourness in my throat. “What does Dad say?” I managed to ask.
“He feels like part of this is his fault,” he said.
The wrongness of that idea sliced me open.
“That he shouldn’t have taken on the case,” my brother went on. “He trusts Mom.”
“Daniel,” I pleaded. “I swear, I swear I’m telling the truth.”
“That’s part of it,” he said, and his voice nearly cracked. “That you believe it. Hallucinations—that fits with the PTSD. But you knew when you had them that it was all in your head. Now that you believe it’s real,” Daniel said, his voice tight, “everything you told them yesterday is consistent with—psychosis.” He blinked fiercely and swiped one of his eyes with the back of his hand.
I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. “So that’s it, then.” My voice sounded dead. “Do I even get to go home first?”
“Well, once they admit you they have to keep you for seventy-two hours, and then they reevaluate you before they make a final recommendation to Mom and Dad. So I guess that’ll happen tomorrow?”
“Wait—just seventy-two hours?” And another evaluation . . .
“Well, yeah, but they’re pushing for longer.”
But right now, it was temporary. Not permanent. Not yet.
If I could persuade them that I didn’t believe Jude was alive—that I didn’t believe I killed Rachel and Claire and the others—that none of this was real, that it was all in my head—if I could lie, and convincingly, then they might think my episode at the police station was temporary. That was what my mother wanted to believe. She just needed a push.
If I played this right, I might get to go home again.
I might get to see Noah again.
An image of him flickered in my mind, his face hard and determined at the courthouse, certain that I wouldn’t do what I did. We hadn’t spoken since.
What if I had changed to him, like he said I would?
What if he didn’t want to see me?
The thought tightened my throat, but I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t lose it. From here on out, I had to be the poster child for mental health. I couldn’t afford to be sent away anymore. I had to figure out what the hell was going on.
Even if I had to figure it out by myself.
A knock on the door startled me, but it was just Mom. She looked like she’d been crying. Daniel stood up, smoothing his wrinkled blue dress shirt.
“Where’s Dad?” I asked her.
“Still in the hospital. He gets discharged tomorrow.”
Maybe, if I could put on a good enough performance, I might get discharged with him. “Joseph’s there?”
Mom nodded. So my twelve-year-old brother now had a father with a gunshot wound and a sister in the psychiatric ward. I clenched my teeth even harder. Do not cry.
My mom looked at Daniel then, and he cleared his throat. “Love you, sister,” he said to me. “I’ll see you soon, okay?”
I nodded, dry-eyed. My mother sat down.
“It’s going to be okay, Mara. I know that sounds stupid right now, but it’s true. It will get better.”
I wasn’t sure what to say yet, except, “I want to go home.”
My mother looked pained—and why shouldn’t she? Her family was falling apart. “I want you home so badly, sweetheart. I just—there’s no schedule for you at home if you’re not in school, and I think that might be too much pressure right now. I love you, Mara. So much. I couldn’t stand it if you—I was throwing up when I first heard about the asylum. . . . I was sick over it. I couldn’t leave you, not for a second. You’re my baby. I know you’re not a baby but you’re my baby and I want you to be okay. More than anything I want you to be okay.” She wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand and smiled at me. “This isn’t your fault. No one blames you, and you’re not being punished.”
“I know,” I said gravely, doing my best impression of a calm, sane adult.
She went on. “You’ve been through so much, and I know we don’t understand. And I want you to know that this”—she indicated the room—“isn’t you. It might be chemical or behavioral or even genetic—”
An image rose up out of the dark water of my mind. A picture. Black. White. Blurry. “What?” I asked quickly.
“The way you’re feeling. Everything that’s been going on with you. It isn’t your fault. With the PTSD and everything that’s happened—”
“No, I know,” I said, stopping her. “But you said—”
“What do you mean, genetic?” I asked.
My mother looked at the floor and her voice turned professional. “What you’re going through,” she said, clearly avoiding the words mental illness, “can be caused by biological and genetic factors.”
“But who in our family has had any kind of—”
“My mother,” she said quietly. “Your grandmother.”
Her words hung in the air. The picture in my mind sharpened into a portrait of a young woman with a mysterious smile, sitting with hennaed hands folded above her lap. Her dark hair was parted in the center and her bindi sparkled between her eyebrows. It was the picture of my grandmother on her wedding day.
And then my mind replaced her face with mine.
I blinked the image away and shook my head. “I don’t understand.”
“She killed herself, Mara.”
I sat there, momentarily stunned. Not only had I never known, but . . . “I thought—I thought she died in a car accident?”
“No. That’s just what we said.”
“But I thought you grew up with her?”
“I did. She died when I was an adult.”
My throat was suddenly dry. “How old were you?”
My mother’s voice was suddenly thin. “Twenty-six.”
The next few seconds felt like forever. “You had me when you were twenty-six.”
“She killed herself when you were three days old.”
WHY DIDN’T I KNOW THIS?
Why wasn’t I told?
Why would she do it?
I must have looked as shocked as I felt, because my mother rushed to apologize. “I never meant to tell you like this.”
She never meant to tell me at all.
“Dr. West and Dr. Kells thought it was the right thing, since your grandmother had so many of the same preoccupations,” my mother said. “She was paranoid. Suspicious—”
“I’m not—” I was about to say that I wasn’t suspicious or paranoid, but I was. With good reason, though.
“She didn’t have any friends,” she went on.
“I have friends,” I said. Then I realized that the more appropriate words were “had” and “friend,” singular. Rachel was my best friend and, really, my only friend until we moved.
Then there was Jamie Roth, my first (and only) friend at Croyden—but I hadn’t seen or heard from him since he was expelled for something he didn’t do. My mother probably didn’t even know he existed, and since I wasn’t going back to school anytime soon, she probably never would.
Then there was Noah. Did he count?
My mom interrupted my thoughts. “When I was little, my mother would sometimes ask me if I could do magic.” A sad smile appeared on her lips. “I thought she was just playing. But as I grew older, she would ask every now and then if I could do anything ‘special.’ Especially once I was a teenager. I had no idea what she meant, of course, and when I asked her, she would tell me that I would know, and to tell her if anything changed.” My mother clenched her jaw and looked up at the ceiling.
She was trying not to cry.
“I wrote it off, telling myself that my mother was just ‘different.’ But all of the signs were there.” Her voice shifted back from wistful to professional. “The magical thinking—”
“What do you mean?”
“She would think she was responsible for things she couldn’t possibly be responsible for,” my mother said. “And she was superstitious—she was wary of certain numbers, I remember; sometimes she’d take care to point them out. And when I was around your age, she became very paranoid. Once, when we were on the way to move me into my first dorm room, we stopped to get gas. She’d been staring in the rearview mirror and looking over her shoulder for the past hour, and then when she went inside to pay, a man asked me for directions. I took out our map and told him how to get where he wanted to go. And just as he got back in his car and drove away, your grandmother ran out. She wanted to know everything—what he wanted, what he said—she was wild.” My mom paused, lost in the memory. Then she said, “Sometimes I would catch her sleepwalking. She had nightmares.”
I couldn’t speak. I didn’t know what to say.
“It was . . . hard growing up with her, sometimes. I think it’s what made me want to be a psychologist. I wanted to help . . .” My mother’s voice trailed off, and then she seemed to remember me sitting there. Why I was sitting there. Her face flushed with color.
“Oh, sweetheart—I didn’t mean to—to make her sound that way.” She was flustered. “She was a wonderful mother and an incredible person; she was artistic and creative and so much fun. And she always made sure I was happy. She cared so much. If they knew when she was younger what they know now, I think . . . it would have turned out differently.” She swallowed hard, then looked straight at me. “But she isn’t you. You’re not the same. I only said something because—because things like that can run in families, and I just want you to know that it’s nothing you did, and everything that happened—the asylum, all of it—it is not your fault. The best therapists are here, and you’re going to get the best help.”
“What if I get better?” I asked quietly.
Her eyes brimmed with tears. “You will get better. You will. And you’ll have a normal life. I swear to God,” she said, quietly, seriously, “you’ll have a normal life.”
I saw my opening. “Do you have to send me away?”
She bit her lower lip and inhaled. “It’s the last thing I want to do, baby. But I think, if you’re in a different environment for a little while, with people who really know about this stuff, I think it’ll be better for you.”
But I could tell by the tone of her voice, and the way it wavered, that she wasn’t decided. She wasn’t sure. Which meant that I still might be able to manipulate her into letting me come home.
But it wouldn’t happen during this conversation. I had work to do. And I couldn’t do it with her here.
I yawned, and blinked slowly.
“You’re exhausted,” she said, studying my face.
“You’ve had the week from hell. The year from hell.” She took my face in her hands. “We’re going to get through this. I promise.”
I smiled beatifically at her. “I know.”
She smoothed my hair back and then turned to leave.
“Mom?” I called out. “Will you tell Dr. West that I want to talk with her?”
She beamed. “Of course, honey. Take a nap, and I’ll let her know to stop by and check on you in a bit, okay?”
She paused between the chair and the door. She looked conflicted.
“What’s wrong?” I asked her.
“I just—” she started, then closed her eyes. She ran her hand over her mouth. “The police told us yesterday that you said Jude assaulted you before the building collapsed. I just wanted—” She took a deep breath. “Mara, is that true?”
It was true, of course. When we were alone together in the asylum, Jude kissed me. Then he kept kissing me, even though I told him to stop. He pressed me into the wall. Pushed me. Trapped me. Then I hit him, and he hit me back.
“Oh, Mara,” my mother whispered.
The truth must have been evident on my face because before I decided how to answer her, she rushed back to me. “No wonder this has been even harder—the dual trauma, you must have felt so—I can’t even—”
“It’s okay, Mom,” I said, looking up at her with glassy, full eyes.
“No, it isn’t. But it will be.” She leaned down to kiss me again and then left the room, flashing a sad smile before she disappeared.
I sat up straight. Dr. West would be back soon, and I needed to get it together.
I needed to convince her—them—that I only had PTSD, and not that I was dangerously close to having schizophrenia or something equally scary and permanent. Because with PTSD, I could stay with my family and figure out what was going on. Figure out what to do about Jude.
But with anything else—this was it for me. A lifetime of psych wards and medication. No college. No life.
I tried to remember what my mother had said about my grandmother’s symptoms:
And then thought about what I knew about PTSD:
There were similarities and there was overlap, but the main difference seemed to be that with PTSD, you know, rationally, that what you’re seeing isn’t real. Anything with a schizo prefix meant, however, that when you hallucinate, you believe it—even after the hallucination passes. Which makes it a delusion.
I did legitimately have PTSD; I experienced more than my share of trauma and now sometimes saw things that weren’t real. But I knew those things weren’t happening, no matter how much it felt like they were.
So now, I just had to be clear—very clear—that I didn’t believe Jude was alive either.
Even though he was.
THE CLOCKS IN THE PSYCHIATRIC UNIT TICKED away, counting down the hours that remained of my required seventy-two. It was going well, I thought on Day Three. I was calm. Friendly. Painfully normal. And when another psychiatrist named Dr. Kells introduced herself as the head of some program somewhere in Florida—I answered her questions the way she expected me to:
“Have you been having trouble sleeping?”
“Have you been having nightmares?”
“Do you have a hard time concentrating?”
“Do you find yourself losing your temper?”
Every now and then. I’m a normal teenager, after all.
“Have you been experiencing obsessive thoughts about your traumatic experience?”
“Do you have any phobias?”
“Do you ever see or hear people that aren’t there?”
Sometimes I see my friends—but I know they aren’t real.
“Do you ever think about harming yourself or others?
Once. But I would never do anything like that.
Then she left and I was offered lunch. I wasn’t particularly hungry but thought it would be a good idea to eat anyway. All part of the show.
The day dragged on, and near the end of it Dr. West returned. I sat at a table in the common area, as plain and impersonal as any hospital waiting room but with the addition of small round tables peppered with chairs. Two kids who looked to be around Joseph’s age were playing checkers. I was drawing on construction paper with crayons. It wasn’t my proudest moment.
“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?”
“Yes . . .”
“I caught her staring at my lighter.”
I blinked. “You gave a child, in a psych ward, a lighter.”
His eyes crinkled at the corners. “She seemed trustworthy.”
“You’re sick,” I said, but smiled.
“Nobody’s perfect.” Noah smiled back.
NOAH’S PLAN WORKED. THE GIRL WAS CAUGHT setting fire to my drawing, actually, but not before the alarm went off. They managed to override a full-scale evacuation and in the midst of the chaos, Noah slipped out. Just before my mother arrived. And she wasn’t happy.
“I can’t believe someone on staff would bring a lighter in here.” Her voice was acid.
“I know,” I said, sounding worried. “And I was working really hard on that picture.” I shuddered for effect.
My mother rubbed her forehead. “Dr. West thought you should stay here for another week, to get your medications stabilized. She also thought you’d be a good candidate for an inpatient program, it’s called Horizons—”
My stomach dropped.
“It’s off of No Name Key, and I’ve seen the pictures—it’s really beautiful and has an excellent reputation, even though they’ve only been operating for about a year. Dr. Kells, the woman who runs it, said she met you and that you’d fit in really well—but I just . . .” She sucked in her lower lip, then sighed. “I want you home.”
I could have cried, I was so relieved. Instead I said, “I want to come home, Mom.”
She hugged me. “Your father’s been discharged and he’s waiting downstairs—he can’t wait to see you.”
My heart leapt. I couldn’t wait to see him.
“Should we get your stuff?”
I nodded, my eyes appropriately misty. I didn’t have much with me, so I mostly milled around while my mother filled out a bunch of paperwork. One of the psychiatrists—Dr. Kells—clicked toward me in expensive-looking heels. She was dressed like my mother—silk blouse, pencil skirt, perfectly applied makeup and perfectly coiffed hair.
Her wide red lips pulled back to reveal a flawless smile. “I hear you’re going home,” she said.
“Looks that way,” I said back, careful not to sound too smug.
“Good luck to you, Mara.”
But then she didn’t leave. She just stood there, watching me.
“Ready?” Mom called out.
Just in time. I left Dr. Kells with a wave and met my mother by the elevator. As the doors closed, it took everything I had not to cheer.
“What do you think of her?” Mom asked me, once we were alone.
I wondered where she was going with this. “She’s all right.”
“There’s an outpatient program that Dr. West recommended—it’s actually run by her as part of Horizons. They do a lot of group therapy work—teens only—and art and music therapies, that type of thing.”
“Okay . . .”
“I think it would be good for you.”
I wasn’t sure what to say. Outpatient was better than inpatient, certainly—and I had to act like I wanted that brand of help. But dropping out of school was a big deal. I needed a minute to think.
Luckily, I got it. Because the elevator doors opened and there was my father standing in the lobby, looking healthy and invincible. I knew better than anyone that he wasn’t.
“Dad,” I said, with a smile so wide it hurt my cheeks. “You look good.” He really did; the pale skin we shared had some color to it, and he didn’t seem tired or haggard or thin, despite what he’d been through. In fact, standing there in khakis and a white polo shirt, he looked like he was heading out to play golf.
He flexed one of his arms and pointed at his biceps. “Man of steel.”
My mother shot him a withering look, and then the three of us walked out into the sub-Saharan humidity and into the car.
I was happy. So happy that I almost forgot what landed me in the hospital in the first place. What landed my father in the hospital in the first place.
“So what do you think?” my mother asked me.
“About the Horizons Outpatient Program?”
Had she been talking? Had I not noticed?
Either way, I was out of time. “I think—I think it sounds okay,” I finally said.
My mother let out a breath I hadn’t noticed she’d been holding. “Then we’ll make sure you start ASAP. We’re so happy you’re coming home, but there are going to be adjustments. . . .”
There’s always another shoe.
“I don’t want you home alone. And I don’t want you driving, either.”
I bit my tongue.
“You can leave the house as long as Daniel’s with you. And if you come back without him, he’ll have to answer for it.”
Which wasn’t fair to him. Which they knew.
“Someone will take you to and from the program every day—”
“How many days a week is it?”
“Five,” my mother said.
At least it wasn’t seven. “Who’s going to take me?” I asked, peering at her. “Don’t you have work?”
“I’ll take you, sweetheart,” my dad said.
“Don’t you have work?”
“I’m taking some time off,” he said lightly, and ruffled my hair.
When we pulled up onto our street, I was surprised to find myself annoyed. It was the picture of suburban perfection; each lawn meticulously edged, each hedge carefully trimmed. There wasn’t a single flower out of place, or even a stray branch on the ground, and our house was just the same. Maybe that was what bothered me. My family had been through hell and I was the one who put them there, but from the outside looking in, you’d never know.
When my mother opened the front door, my little brother rushed into the foyer wearing a suit, pocket square and all.
He smiled with his whole face, threw his arms wide open and seemed like he was just about to launch himself at me, but then stopped. He teetered on his toes. “Are you staying?” he asked cautiously.
I looked to my mother for an answer.
“For now,” she said.
“Yes!” He wrapped both arms around me, but when I tried to do the same he jumped away. “Watch the suit,” he said, glaring.
Oh, boy. “Have you taken over the operation of some Fortune 500 company while I was gone?”
“Not yet. We’re supposed to dress up as the person we most admire and write a speech from their point of view for school.”
“And you are . . .”
“I didn’t know he was partial to pocket squares.”
“He isn’t.” Daniel appeared from the kitchen, his fingers wrapped around a very thick book, the title of which I couldn’t read. “That was Joseph’s special touch.”
“Wait, isn’t it Sunday?” I asked.
Daniel nodded. “It is. But even with the entirety of spring break to practice, our little brother doesn’t appear to want to wear anything else.”
Joseph lifted his chin. “I like it.”
“I like it too,” I said, and ruffled his hair before he ducked away.
Daniel grinned at me. “Glad to have you back, little sister.” His eyes were warm, and I’d never felt happier to be home. He ran a hand through his thick hair, creating a gravity-defying mess. I cocked my head—the gesture was unusual for him. It was more reminiscent of—
Noah glided out of the kitchen before I could finish my thought, holding his own massive book. “You’re completely wrong about Bakhtin—” he started, then looked from my parents, to me, to Daniel, and then back to me.
Scratch that. I’d never felt happier to be home until now.
“Mara,” Noah said casually. “Good to see you.”
Good did not do my feelings justice. All I wanted was to pull Noah into my room and pour out my heart. But we were under observation, so all I could say was, “You too.”
“Mr. Dyer,” he said to my father, “you’re looking quite well.”
“Thank you, Noah,” my Dad said. “That gift basket you brought kept me from starving. The hospital food nearly killed me.”
Noah’s eyes met mine before he answered, “Then I’m thrilled to have saved your life.”
NOAH SPOKE TO MY FATHER, BUT HIS WORDS were meant for me.
An unsubtle reminder of what he did for me after what I did to my father, and it stung. Everyone kept talking but I stopped listening, until my mother pulled me aside.
“Mara, can I speak to you for a second?”
I cleared my throat. “Sure.”
“You guys figure out what you want for dinner,” she called out, then led me down the long hallway into my room.
We walked by our own smiling faces on the wall, past the gallery of family pictures. When I passed my grandmother’s portrait, I couldn’t help but look at it with new eyes.
“I want to talk to you about Noah,” my mother said once we were in my room.
Stay cool. “What’s up?” I asked, and slid onto my bed until my back leaned against the navy wall. Despite everything, I felt oddly relaxed in my room. More like myself in the dark.
“He’s been spending a lot of time here, which I know you know, but also after you were—gone.”
Gone. So that’s how we were going to refer to it.
“Noah’s become one of Daniel’s close friends, and he’s great with Joseph, too, actually, but I also know you’re . . . together . . . and I have some concerns.”
She wasn’t the only one. Noah came to the hospital today because he knew about Jude. He knew I was in trouble. He came because I needed him.
But was he there because he wanted to be? I didn’t know yet, and part of me was afraid to find out.
“I’m nervous,” my mother continued. “With all of the pressure you’re already under—I’d like to speak to Noah about your . . . situation.”
My face flushed with color. Couldn’t be helped.
“I wanted to ask your permission.”
A conundrum. If I said no, she might not let me see him. He was the only person on the planet who knew the truth, so being cut off from that—from him—was not an uplifting prospect. And if she didn’t let me see him, and he still wanted to see me after we had the chance to actually talk, sneaking around would be tough.
But my mother talking to Noah? About my precarious mental health? I could almost feel myself shrinking.
My fingers curled into my fluffy white quilt but I don’t think she noticed. “I guess,” I finally said.
My mother nodded. “We all like him, Mara. I just want to set some parameters for you both.”
“Sure . . .” My voice trailed off as my mother left and I waited in near-agony. Words like “schizotypal disorder” and “antipsychotics” would surely come up. Any sane boy would surely run.
But after a few minutes, I realized that I could still hear my mother’s voice—were they talking in Joseph’s room? It was only two rooms away. . . .
I stood, and leaned out of my doorway and into the hall to listen.
“Are you sure about this?”
Not my mother’s voice. My father’s.
“I’d rather them both be here where we can watch them; his parents are in and out all next week, and there’s no supervision there anyway—”
My mother wasn’t talking to Noah—she was talking to my father, about Noah. I edged out farther into the hall and slipped into my brothers’ bathroom—right next door to Joseph’s room—so I could eavesdrop properly.
“What if they break up, Indi?”
“We have bigger problems,” my mother said bitterly.
“I just don’t like thinking about what something like that would do to her. Mara’s really—she scares me sometimes,” Dad finished.
“You think she doesn’t scare me?”
Maybe I didn’t want to hear this conversation after all. In fact, I was becoming rather certain that I didn’t, but I appeared to be rooted to the spot.
My mother raised her voice. “After watching what my mother went through? This scares the hell out of me. I am terrified for her. My mother was mostly functional, thank God, but if we knew then what we know about mental illness now? Maybe I would’ve realized it was more serious before it was too late—”
“Maybe I could have gotten her the help she needed and she could have had a more fulfilling life—she was so alone, Marcus. I mostly thought she was eccentric, not delusional.”
“You couldn’t know,” my father said softly. “You were just a kid.”
“Not always. I wasn’t always a kid. I—” My mother’s voice cracked. “I was too close to see it—that there was something really wrong. And the one time I said something to her about talking to someone? She just—she just shifted. She was so much more careful around me after that; I wanted to think—I wanted to think she was getting better but I was too preoccupied with my own—in college, sometimes I went months without hearing from her, and I didn’t—”
A long pause. My mom was crying. My insides curled up.
After a minute, she spoke again. “Anyway,” she said, quieter now, “this is about Mara. And it’s scary, yes, but we can’t act like she’s an ordinary teenager anymore. The same rules don’t apply. I didn’t—I didn’t see the Jude thing coming.”