Dysmorphia

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His Favourite Place

Whatever Chase had written in his report, she figured she owed him one. She was still escorted everywhere by Macie, but it seemed the reins had been loosened.

Bathroom visits now included locked-door privacy, albeit time restricted, and she was allowed to eat her meals with the ‘general community’.

Unfortunately her hopes of finding a kindred soul in this ‘general community’ – someone who would give her the inside gossip, show her the secret tunnels, and sneak her into Dr. Levi’s office to search through and destroy her files – were short-lived.

Florence’s table of lunch companions included an elderly woman, Penelope, with lollipop-pink lipstick – which wasn’t just on her lips.

Her lunch was entirely liquid and her only words were to tell Florence there was a butterfly hatching out of her ear.

Next to her was a guy with bleached blonde hair who looked promising they’d passed each other in the halls, so she knew he was from her floor.

But all hopes of them being friends immediately disappeared when he tried to hit on her with possibly the worst pick-up line in the existence of pick-up lines.

Her final lunch buddy was a slender girl, Vera, who was younger than her, fifteen at most. She found it hardest to look at her because for some reason she felt like she was looking into Chase’s mirror again.

Something or someone had yanked out all of the hair from one side of her scalp, leaving weeping flesh exposed. When she took a few, very measured mouthfuls of food, Florence could see similar wounds up and down her arms, as if the skin had literally been scraped off. She had an awful feeling Vera’s injuries were self-inflicted. No wonder Chase had been so angry to see her cuts, he must have to deal with Vera on other days.

The thought made her want to weep.

Chase’s arrival was nerve-wracking. It was hard to make sense of everything that had happened in the early-morning hours with him. She didn’t know if he would be happy to see her tonight or not.

Mostly she just wanted to see his face.

When he finally opened her door, she’d been waiting so long she’d almost accepted he wasn’t coming. But then her eyes met his and something inside her relaxed. She couldn’t be sure, but she thought maybe something in him did too.

He held out a coat draped over his arm. “So you don’t get cold.”

She beamed. “Where are we going?”

“To the park.”

“At night?” she took the coat and slipped it on. She could tell it was his.

It had his wintergreen fragrance and she had to stop herself from nestling her face into the fabric.

“It’s my favourite place, day or night.”

Her heart leapt at the thought of Chase taking her somewhere that was special to him. As if he wanted to share it with her.

Just like he had in the early hours of that morning, Chase unlocked the window and they slipped outside. She was now grateful for her ground-floor room – and the easy access to the parking lot. Chase walked straight up to a car, an old-model silver Jeep covered in dried leaves, and opened the passenger door.

“Don’t drive much?” Florence asked, looking at the state of the Jeep. He shrugged. “I live nearby, so I hardly use it. Levi lets me park it here.”

She jumped in and before she knew it they were driving. The relief was so immense, she actually groaned.

“What is it?” he asked, glancing between the road and her

“Oh, nothing. I just love driving – the freedom. I like the idea that you could put all of your stuff in a car one day and drive until you wanted to stop.”

He nodded like he totally understood.

Florence wasn’t sure where they were going until he parked on Arlington Street. “The Public Gardens?”

He smiled, jumped out of the car and came round to open her door. The gardens were part of the central city parklands.

Florence never went there; they were visited mostly by tourists or inner-city workers during their lunch break. But she followed Chase as he led the way over the waist-high gate and into the park. He stopped near a large weeping willow by the lagoon and started to shake out a blanket.

“Aren’t we prepared?” she teased, noticing he had a whole bag of supplies.

“I come here a lot.”

She looked around. “Is it safe here?”

He kept unloading things, a bottle of water, popcorn and... a tub of strawberries

“There are some homeless people around, but I give them some money or food now and then and they never bother me. We’re safe.”

It certainly seemed as if they had the park to themselves. It was amazing – the lights of the city bouncing off the lagoon and highlighting the vibrant green foliage of the willow, its leaves just grazing the water’s edge.

The famous swan boats that drew in all the tourists were tied up for the night, their craning white necks turned towards us, while the glowing white lamps above the suspended footbridge completed the fairytale effect. And there she was, With Chase.

She felt the oddest sensation then; this scene didn’t belong in her life. And yet, it felt ... right.

He motioned for her to sit and when she did he draped another blanket over her shoulders. “Just in case.”

But then he sat down and she noticed that he was the one who looked as if he needed a blanket. His eyes were dark and he looked tired.“Are you not well?” she asked.

“Fine. I just get bad migraines. It’s annoying, everyone’s always telling me to rest.”

He looked out over the lagoon as a family of ducks paddled by.

“Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”

He smiled and her breath caught as the light hit the perfect angle on his face. It was getting harder to ignore the fact that he was utterly gorgeous.

“You think I’d be better off staring into the clinic’s fluorescent lights with a headache?′ he said, looking amused as he noticed the way she was staring at him.

“I guess not” she averted her eyes and leaned back on her elbows. “Aren’t you going to get into trouble if someone catches us?”

“Probably.”

“Doesn’t that worry you?”

“I guess I think some things are more important than simply following the rules.” He glanced at her with a raised eyebrow. “And you don’t seem to fit into any guidelines anyway.”

Florence blushed, pleased he didn’t just view her as one of the patients. “What do you do in the daytime?” she continued as she wriggled to make herself more comfortable.

He lay back beside me, putting his arms under his head. “This and that.”

“That’s kind of vague. Family? Friends?” she prompted, eager to know more about him.

“Just the one brother, we’re not close and I spend all of my time at the clinic, so I guess most of my friends are there. I keep in touch with some college friends, but not as much as I’d like to.”

She was surprised he seemed so isolated, but somehow it only made her feel closer to him. Still, she couldn’t help thinking Chase had his own fair share of secrets. ‘Parents?’ she asked.

She saw the pain cloud his eyes before he quickly turned his attention back to the lagoon. “House fire three years ago. I was away on a camping trip with my girlfriend at the time.” He cleared his throat. “No one could even contact me. I didn’t find out they were gone until four days after.”

Her heart clenched for him. It also explained a lot. She wanted to tell him how sorry she was, but it seemed such a useless and empty thing to say. “That’s why you’re so ... Why you care about ...”

He raised an eyebrow again. “Whether you live or die?”

Florence grimaced but nodded.

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