Though the sound was muffled by the thick walnut of the armoire he’d been hiding in, the shouting downstairs was still audible. From where Finley was, it was easy to pretend that the noise was coming from the television. He could almost picture his older brother, Jonah, watching a crime drama or horror movie; Jay and their sister RJ loved those and watched them all the time, so the fantasy of it became tangible for a moment. That moment ended when he heard light and rapid stomps, like little feet attached to short legs running, outside his bedroom door. For a second he panicked, his mind coming up immediately with the worst case scenario. The panic melted away into confusion when Finley heard two hesitant knocks on the armoire’s doors. Puzzled, he let out into the stuffy air, “it’s open.”
His sister’s face swam into view - shadowed at first, before his eyes were able to focus on it in the faint light. She looked out of breath, and her face was red. He unconsciously shuffled back further into the armoire, and tried to get a hold of his own breathing. She didn’t say anything, but opened the doors wider and sat down next to him inside. “You ’kay?” he asked after a few seconds of silence.
“Yes. Fine,” she cut out. One of her hands went up to scratch her cheek, which is when Fin noticed that only half of her face was red. “Super-bitch,” was her only explanation. He didn’t need her to tell him that - he had all the evidence he needed for that being screamed downstairs.
After a few moments passed, she pulled her own legs in and shut the door, enclosing the two of them in the safe dark. He shifted around in the suddenly-cramped space. They eventually managed to maneuver their legs into a comfortable position. Jeri hummed under her breath. It wasn’t a lullaby, but it was almost calming enough to distract him from the shouting. He realized after a few minutes it wasn’t just the song that had distracted him, but that the shouting had stopped. Before he could even think of it, Jeri opened the door and climbed out of the armoire. After standing outside for a few seconds, she blinked in the unexpected lack of light. The sun had gone down while they’d hidden, and the house had grown quiet. She reached for his hand in the closet and pulled him out, and he realized that he felt remarkably better than he had earlier. His heart had stopped pounding achingly in his chest, even if his small body was cramped.
It was silently decided that they’d both sleep there, on her top bunk. It felt right and natural to curl around each other for comfort. Fin could almost relax enough to fall asleep.
As he began to drift off, a loud banging from somewhere close by had him sitting up with a yelp, and thwacking his head on the ceiling. He fell back with a pained cry while Jeri immediately slid off of the bed and climbed to the ground, on the alert. When she made no noise after a few seconds, he peeked over the edge of the bed and saw to his astonishment that his massive, almost two-hundred pound antique hiding space had fallen away from the wall and toppled over. He could probably have done it with his sister and brother’s help, and a bit of leverage, but no one had been there to do it. He saw his sister staring down at the thing, still, and quiet. Before he could open his mouth to ask a question, a sharp, angry staccato of footsteps outside his door almost had him crawling out of his own skin in fright.
With a bang almost as loud as the armoire’s topple, his bedroom door slammed open and hit the wall. When the lights flickered on, he saw Dana Rothschild from his perch, looking furious in a white night robe and standing in the door frame. “What the hell was that? . . . You knocked over your fucking closet? What the fuck is wrong with you!” She screamed.
While Fin shrank back, Jeri stepped forward, looking angry. “It fucking flew over! We didn’t knock it over! We were asleep and it got knocked over! We’re not strong enough—”
“Bull-the-fuck-shit!” Dana seethed.
“—not strong enough to—”
“This is some kind of gratitude! Is this to get back at me?” Dana roared. By now, the whole house had likely woken up. “It is, isn’t it!” She asserted, before Jeri could defend herself. Jeri fell backwards when Dana reached behind with one arm. When her back-handed strike fell, Fin’s eyes opened and he woke-up — just as his mind heard the sharp and painful slap and watched his thirteen-year-old sister soundlessly fall to the ground in a pile of defiant hurt.
Just as Finley blinked to settle his eyes in the sudden light, a loud blare from his phone that was sitting on the dashboard gave him a start. He quickly turned it off and leaned back in the driver’s seat, letting out a small, tired sigh.
RJ was getting out of the ward today. He had to be there. That was all that mattered now. Deal with your conscience later.
Finley’s phone bleeped at him again, notifying him about a text message. How are things? What does he expect? He sent a brief, affirmative fine. Fin could picture his best friend perfectly - Aidan had likely just awoken, and was gorging himself in the breakfast nook, half-awake and starving. The guy wasn’t fully alive until he’d eaten, like Fin without coffee, or RJ without alcohol (or whatever her latest drug of choice was). Aidan was a worrier by nature, constantly fretting, and Finley was used to it. There was a level of implicit trust between the two that went unsaid; it was Aidan’s car that he was borrowing for his trip upstate, given that his was in the shop and Aidan didn’t actually need it to get to class. Still, Fin didn’t know how to answer him - after all, he hadn’t gone on vacation. Visiting any family at all, even his sister, wasn’t usually a happy trip. Family was about duty, not love.
He waited a few minutes in the Jeep, pulling down the overhead mirror to fix his hair which had been mussed by his power nap. Running his fingers through his dark hair still felt strange to him, after going from long to short so drastically. It had been a cut for maintenance, more than anything. It was too much trouble to keep long. Having his neck bare was still strange, though - given that it was approaching winter, he’d taken to wearing scarves. After getting fed up with fixing it, he abandoned his efforts and stepped out of the Jeep.
After an incident almost a year ago, instead of throwing his sister in a state prison she’d gotten off on the excuse of self-defense, mental instability, and celebrity, and was admitted into a behavioral and drug rehabilitation program at Oregon State Hospital for a minimum of six months. After nine long months, she was deemed fit for release, and Fin was doing his duty as her only ‘living’ family member by picking her up and taking her home. He was at once excited and scared, as he didn’t know what her reaction when she saw him would be. Whenever he’d been allowed to visit her, she had been tense and guarded. He hadn’t been able to read her; she had blocked him out completely. He didn’t know if that was intentional on her part, or a side effect of the mood stabilizing medication they’d put her on. Then again, she’d always been tough to read - if he didn’t know better, he would say that it seemed like he could only read her when she wanted him to. Either way, he had no idea of what to expect when she got out, but just in case they didn’t return all of her personal effects, he’d loaded all of the personal items of hers that he had in the car before taking off. It wasn’t a lot, but he hoped it would make her feel better until he got her back to her house.
Nine months ago, he would have known his older sister better than the back of his hand. She’d always known him best, and he her - for most of his life, they were all the other one had. Jay had been there too, until he’d gone overseas. Fin felt uncertain. He hadn’t felt uncertain since he was a child; thinking about it this way, his memory-nightmare that he’d had during his nap in the car made more sense to him.
Finley stepped out of the car and breathed in deeply, to clear his thoughts. As he walked away, he reached back with the car’s remote and locked it, making the Jeep beep, barely glancing down to check where he was going. This isn’t going to be pretty.
OSH in Salem was pretty on the surface. The grounds of the psychiatric institution were well-maintained. The old-fashioned design and red brick front gave it a quaint feeling, when you saw it in a picture. Walking on the grounds and amongst its staff and patients, Fin felt cold and hollow. It clearly wasn’t a place of healing; not really surprising, given its infamous history. The original from the movie, Fin knew, had since been turned into a museum. Still, the hospital had a bad name for a reason. Violent patients, forced isolation, excessive restraint. You’d think, given her lawyer and renown, they’d have managed to get her sent to a better place, but he wasn’t privy to that decision. He’d seen a patient outburst during visiting hours the last time he’d made a trip up. All his sister had done was chuckle wryly at the display and demand he fork over smokes.
He hated that she was there. He hated that he was responsible for her being there—
— whatifshesees, whatifsheknows, ohgodnexttimeisthereevenanexttime?— A barrage of questions spliced into Finley’s consciousness with such ferocity that it physically staggered him. He’d barely set one foot in the hospital. Blinking, he focused on his feet and on putting one in front of the other, hiding the internal struggle by focusing with necessary intent on getting to the front desk. Out of the corner of his eye, there was a shuffling noise, and he turned to look. He caught the gaze of of an EMT, or judging by the attire, an ambulance driver. The man was moving nervously from foot to foot, clearly waiting on a clerk or a nurse. In the brief eye contact, Fin felt a momentary panic. The image of a happy blonde woman with vivid grey eyes popped into his mind’s eye. Fin looked away, shoving the invading thoughts into a neat file in his head, placed it into a filing cabinet in a mental library, shut the library’s doors, locked the doors, and took a deep breath to remember that it wasn’t his circus and those weren’t his monkeys.
Figures, he thought. Of course the guy by the door is having an anxiety attack. With enough focus, he managed to block it out. My own memories are enough. I don’t need this shit today.
When he approached the main desk, a perfectly coiffed woman in business-casual talking quietly on a black phone smiled gently at him and asked him to wait for a few more seconds. He stared at a spot between her eyes to avoid eye contact, not wanting to have to block another person out. It always seemed to come in more strongly from the eyes - and three times as strongly from touch.
“I’m so sorry about that,” she spoke up after putting the phone back in its cradle. “How can I help you today?” Fin smiled and turned back to face her - she smiled up at him, and found his blue eyes naturally reaching her brown. Before he could control it, he had a rather vivid visual of bending the woman over the desk and fucking her until she was a screaming, senseless pile of flesh.
God, what is wrong with these people? As if my own thoughts weren’t enough of a problem, now I’ve got nervous-breakdown-guy and screw-me-senseless to deal with. It didn’t help that he was already nervous from having to pick up his sister, which meant it was especially hard to focus on keeping those things out of his head. He cleared his throat and did his best to shove his sudden urges aside into the therapeutic mental filing system. He knew that they didn’t stem from him, really - he was a red-blooded human being, but the receptionist wasn’t his type. Not only was she wearing an engagement ring, but her mascara and foundation were too thick for him to tell if she was human underneath. He supposed on some level, her attention was flattering.
“My sister’s being released today. I’m here to pick her up,” Finley explained.
“Of course,” she said, the picture of professionalism. You would never guess the pervert hiding in her head, oh, but Fin knew. Inwardly, he smiled. Maybe having some fun with this would lift his mood a little. Oh, no, he wouldn’t give into her fantasy, but after basically forcing her fantasy onto him, he felt a little justified in teasing her. “Can I have the last name, please?”
He leaned in close and smirked down at her over the desk. The more innocent blonde behind all the makeup shifted in her seat and clenched her legs together, now dry-mouthed and visibly flustered. “Rothschild. I’m Fin. What’s your name?”
Making the receptionist uncomfortable was the only fun part about getting his sister released. About fifty signatures, two annoying (and one redundant) conversations with doctors, getting bumped into by two distracted orderlies, and thirty minutes of waiting in the world’s most uncomfortably chaired waiting room later, RJ appeared looking worse, and somehow better, than he’d seen her in years.
RJ was short for Rose of Jericho; Jeri, Jericho, whatever she chose to go by now - it was still her, alive and well, and Finley felt a swell of relief. Sure, there were dark circles under her eyes, but her enormous white grin practically split her face in half with glee. Dark blue eyes, identical to his own searched him out when she came through the door. Jericho’s hair, once cobalt blue, had grown out its black roots and was longer than his now was, brushing past her shoulders with tips of faded slate gray-blue. The thought of it was odd; it’d always been the other way around. Even his skin now seemed a shade darker than her own, when he had used to be the whitest one out of the three of them. Despite the dark circles and paler-than-usual skin, she didn’t look malnourished, only tired, and the slight glaze over her eyes clued him into her mental state. They’d been giving her Lithium like candy after an incident with the previous drugs that they’d had her on. He hadn’t been privy to that, only heard about it when he’d visited after.
Despite the few changes in her appearance, Jeri still looked the same to him. The same brows, if bushier - the same sharp nose and chin they both shared, somehow more masculine on her than it even was on him. She’d always seemed sharp, rather than beautiful, to Fin. Colorful patterns, skeletal systems, multitudinous small tattoos and gothic symbols covered her arms, chest, half her neck, and most of her upper back and legs - though it was odd, not seeing her with a few of the facial piercings he’d become accustomed to. Most of them had healed over after seven or so months of disuse. Not that he didn’t think his sister was beautiful, but he’d always felt that classically beautiful things always had an element of fragility that his sister entirely lacked. In her was the same kind of beauty you’d find in a state-of-the-art flamethrower.
His older sister rushed at him and gave Fin a rib-crushing hug. “You got chubby,” she whispered into his ear.
“Mmmmrrooougah,” he grunted back.
After a second, she pulled back to look at him, eyes gleaming with either Lithium or mischief. Instead, she surprised him by gently touching the textured ends of his shorter, spikier hair by his ears with watery smile. “You chopped your hair,” she said, sounding wistful.
“Yeah, it was a pain in the ass,” he told her, and batted her hand out of the way. “It’s just hair. You cut yours all the time.”
She suddenly grinned. “I like it. It makes you look like a classier brand of douchebag.”
Fin sighed, and mentally prepared himself for all the sighing he’d have to do in the future, and half-heartedly slapped her on the arm. She mockingly winced, laughed, then hit him back twice as hard, sending him stumbling into a chair. “Ow, damn it!” He growled, rubbing his shoulder. RJ smirked.
Getting his sister out of the facility seemed to require an abominable amount of paperwork. The last and final thing, before she could be free (with court-mandated drug tests and court-ordered counseling down the road, of course) was to collect the few things she’d first entered Oregon State Hospital with. While the staff went about their business, Fin did his best to clear his mind.
“Can you count how many are in the pack for me?”
Jeri rolled her eyes to the ceiling harder than necessary. She looked down at her half-empty pack of off-white, stale cigarettes. “Seriously? Shit.” She lifted the lid and looked inside. “Five. Same fucking number as it was before.”
“Sorry, th-they like to be precise.”
“Jesus shitting Christ, who even gives a fuck about five stale cigarettes? I’m just going to buy a pack when I get out of here. You know what, nevermind, just do your job. I don’t care.”
“O-okay. S-swiss army knife?”
“Yeah. Look, I got everything, everything’s the fucking way I remember it, I hereby absolve your dick bosses from any complicity regarding my missing underwear, which was probably sold by an orderly to some creep in a trench coat who spanks it to all our tour photos, blah, blahedy, blah blah. I’m tired. Can I go? Wait, where’s my sunglasses?”
“Um, ri-i-ight here,” the nurse assistant held up a pair of blue pilots, which Jeri greedily took away from her hands and immediately put on. While the nervous assistant ticked off another item on her clipboard, RJ muttered about the unflattering headache-inducing qualities of fluorescent lights.
Before the young assistant (probably new, if Fin was guessing) could finish the list, Jeri grabbed his arm and snaked for the exit, shouting: “Let’s-go-I-don’t-give-a-fuuuck!” He pried his arm out of her vice grip, but followed her at a more sedate pace. He gave the assistant behind them an unapologetic wave on the way out.
They’d already signed the release forms, and had collected what few earthly possessions she’d had on her when she was admitted, conspicuously minus a pair of underwear, which Finley tried not to think about too much. He’d brought her a change of clothes and her favorite lighter that she’d left at his place, since he doubted that the institution had laundered the pair she’d come in with and she most definitely needed something to smoke. She’d run out in his college hoodie and fresh jeans with flip-flops, tripping only once in them. When he caught up with his sister, he stood back and watched as she stood outside with her arms outstretched, sunglasses perched on her head, eyes closed and face to the sun. She breathed in and out deeply for a few seconds, basking in the freedom of the moment. “Feels so fucking good! Mmm, this is better than sex!” she announced after a few minutes of silence. Fin offered her a grin. “Hey, you got any lighter fluid?”
He shook his head. “There a lighter in the car. Try not to ash in it, I’m borrowing Aidan’s Jeep.”
RJ pulled her sunglasses back down over her eyes and frowned. “Why, d’you wreck yours? Like an idiot?”
He narrowed his eyes at her assumption. “No, it’s just in the shop. I’m a good driver, okay?”
“You drive like an old woman on PCP. Ooooh, can I drive?”
“No. You’re not covered on insurance.”
She groaned and threw her hands up. “COME ON I juuuuust got out of prison! I want to drive. Don’t make me pull rank on you!”
Finley was firm, however. “There is no rank, no, and shut up.”
“Why are you always so mean to me?”
His eyebrows traveled up his forehead. “I’m mean to you? Really? I’m the mean one?” He started walking to Aidan’s Jeep before she could retort, since the only way to win an argument with his sister was to not have one.
She pouted the whole way to the car. She probably thought it was cute and that he’d give in eventually. The thought of her disappointment kept him amused for a good while, and even improved his mood for most of the drive down to Portland.