We were put in a single file line, minus Vlad, who was with Karen to go to Jude's office, to go to the gym.
It was right by the cafeteria, except the turn wasn't so sharp. The adults had to use it also, so it had to be accessible it both wards somehow.
Jo, the woman who helped me to my room, took up to the gym.
She was unenthusiastic about it, like she was about her job in general. She unlocked the door with her badge, like she had three different times on other doors to get there. She the let us into the so called 'gym.'
The gym was carpeted, but not with your everyday carpet. It was the kind you'd see in the practices of psychiatrists or dentists. The walls were also covered in strips of it. There were two basketball hoops on each wall, and on the left end of the room, mats were stacked in a row, making it barely possible to use that particular hoop.
Jo opened the one and only storage closet in the gym. She got out basketballs, hula hoops, and dodgeballs. She placed them in the right corner by the door to the outside of the gym.
"Do whatever you want with this stuff. I'll be watching you for about... An hour. If you need something else, I'll get it for you later." She got out a stick of wintergreen gum and chewed it. Then, she sat on the chair placed next to the door.
Then, Libby and Trisha ran to get a basketball. Edna and Megan got a dodgeball and started tossing it to each other.
Ronnie lifted an orange hula hoop off the floor and another black one for me. They were the Northrop colors. And really, I wasn't fazed by it.
"Ronnie, are you serious?"
"We're Bruins, after all. We have to show our claws somehow, don't we?"
"No. I want to move on. And go somewhere else."
"Not everyone has a choice. That's why we ended up here. We were trapped."
"Northrop, Fort Wayne, Hawkins Motor Repair, and the Bachman family tree. Too many places to count, really."
She was right. Really.
"What was your problem subject at school? What bothered you there?" I wondered.
"Math. I was lucky to 'pass' geometry this year.. I didn't make it to the final. I have to take it when I get out of here. English is better. I love English. I got a perfect hundred on that final."
"Well, that's obvious. I hated math. I'm quitting. Senior year is going to be free of it. Hopefully."
Ronnie ceased spinning her hula hoop. "I forgot you were that old. I thought you were a junior like me.."
"Oh yeah... I kind of forgot.. I'm a senior now?"
"As of Thursday. Yeah. You're a senior now. I'm a junior. Maybe. They might hold me back. I only took four of my finals.."
"That shouldn't disqualify you. You were there every day I was, just about."
Ronnie readjusted her hoop and started it up again. I dropped mine at that moment. I wasn't the best at it. Let's face it, I was just dreadful at it. I was an embarrassment compared to Ronnie.
"How do you know that?"
"I saw you in the hallway. You stood out. Like a tack. And I hated you for it. And now, I regret it."
Right then, I saw that not only was she good at the hula hoop, she also had the hips for it.
What are you doing? Stop thinking that way! Stop!
"I regret hating you a little bit too. Really. You were kind of an oaf. And I knew that deep down, somewhere, you didn't want to be. You're not now. You let it go. Because you hated being that way too."
I was about to say something, but I was drowned out by Libby's voice.
"Let it go! Let it go! I can't hold it back anymore! Let it go!"
I heard this quite often for a long, long, time. People sang that song constantly. Whenever the mere phrase "let it go" was mentioned, the song deviated out of nowhere. And poor Ronnie just feel victim to it.
"You should have said it differently..." I told her, before Libby and Trisha rushed over to join us.
Why, you ask? That Disney song, that's why.
"Ronnie, we didn't know you liked that kind of stuff! That's so cool!" Libby declared.
Being cool in a hospital, one more time, meant nothing in the real world.
Ronnie just rolled her eyes.
"Well, no. I don't. I like musicals if they're not overdone. Well, that's songs gotten a bit old. The rest of it's okay."
"Okay? Well, I'll bet you that at a game of basketball!"
Ronnie hesitated. "I don't play sports."
"I don't either. But the winner's right. You're with Blue and I'm with Trisha. We're gonna be teams!"
"Do we really have to? I think it's a waste of time, really. I just want to forget this happened. All right?"
"I think it'll be fun. Vlad's not here. He can't tell us what to do. I mean, he's cute and I love him and everything, but maybe it's nice I get an awake hour alone. Huh?"
Ronnie was being piled weights on her shoulders. She had no choice. Not one whatsoever.
"Fine. Just today. Never again."
Ronnie! What the hell were you thinking? Playing a game with them? This is going to be terrible! I suck at sports and you said you do too. We're set up for failure!
Instead of saying what I thought completely, I conveyed my message in three words.
"Are you serious?"
"It's either that or they pester us all day, Every day for the rest of our time here. So, we're going to have to suck it up for the rest of our gym time. Maybe going outside tomorrow will be better. They're letting the little kids, the two of them here, go play today. So we're stuck here. We'll make do."
Libby and I had to do a little poll, according to her, to decide who got the ball first. Sadly, it was not the typical ball tossing game I thought we'd be playing to determine that.
"One of us, including me, has to answer a question given to get the ball first. So you, go first!"
I had no good questions to ask her. I said I had nothing. I couldn't ask her anything because I didn't know her. I had no idea what would make her mad enough to give up the ball.
"Fine. I'll go."
"Okay. Ask me something."
"Well... Let me see what I can ask you... Umm..."
She faked dwelling in deep thought before coming up with an idea.
"Are you in love with Ronnie?"
"No!" I rushed myself into an answer.
"Okay! It's our ball! Team Libby gets the ball. Tom Johnson has to wait for the next turn."
I was unsatisfied. "I answered your question! It's our ball!"
"Well, you lied to me so it's my team's ball."
"I told the exact truth to you. Really. I would've had said yes if it was true."
"Guys like you only lie. They really do. Now, let's start the game!"
Ronnie stood still behind me. She was hit with a bullet again, it seemed. Like I was. We were both held down by our anchors, when it should have only been me.
"We only have one real hoop. So Trisha and I are going to stand on the left. You and Ronnie and go on the right. I'll say go when we're ready. Each team gets an intervention. A little talk."
She turned to Trisha to create a strategy; I went to Ronnie to do the same.
She was covering her face with her hands. She must have really been hurt by something. I knew she was.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing." She shielded herself even more. "Nothing at all."
"Was it something I said?"
"I don't know. I just got really sad again. I'm sorry. I need to get myself together. Right?"'
She wiped her eyes and revealed her face.
"Do you think we can handle this? It's never too late to back out. I'm not very good at basketball."
"Johnson. Look at me."
I lifted my eyes from the floor to her face. I hated looking into her eyes because I knew I did something to make them water. It was probably my fault she cried and I didn't really get it.
"Think realistically. We're not going up against any of the star players. It's not gym class. It's not Northrop. It's a pyromaniac and an attempted murderer we're taking about. Well, I can't really say that Libby really tried to kill her mom. She would have really injured her. But they point is they probably suck as much as we do. They're just as skimpy as us and just as weak as us. That's why I said yes to them. There no way either of our teams are going to win anything. Three of us, the girls, are too short to even throw to that basket. Let alone dunk it or get a point. We're all terrible. Absolutely terrible!"
She was still in tears, over something else, but gave that speech. It was like she was Atticus Finch at the stand, on trial to save the life of Tom Robinson. Possibly me in that case. It was like she was George Milton, trying to keep me, maybe Lennie Small, from getting lynched. Those girls over on the left were wearing red, velveteen dresses.
"If we all suck, let's at least pretend what we know what we're doing. Right?"
"Johnson, I just told you that it's not a big deal. We'll be fine. If we lose, who cares? What do they have to be right about anyway? I forget what they even wanted anymore."
I had the perfect response. I finally agreed with her. I really did. And I never got to tell her that.
Team Libby was already on the field. Team Johnson was still in its dawdling stages. So that wasn't much of a good start.
We rushed over to the game; the big time. We had no idea what we were getting into or what we were getting out of it.
Libby gave Trisha the ball. I made a lunge to take it from her. In a swift motion, she somehow jumped over me and aimed for the basket.
The ball hit the rim and spun around it a few times. It was the ultimate cliffhanger in basketball; the ultimate teeth chattering moment.
The ball then landed on the ground; it went off of the rim and out of the basket.
"Darn!" Libby picked up the ball shoved it at my chest.
"It's your ball now. You go."
The other girls got into defense mode in front of the rim.
They rushed across the sides of our hoop and went to grip at the basketball.
I panicked and tossed it to Ronnie. She turned and got past Trisha and I.
Libby waved her arms above Ronnie and tried to get the ball from her. Luckily for Ronnie, she was just tall enough to hurl the ball right above Libby's fingertips.
It landed in the basket within a single second; it not once touched the rim or the net.
Trisha gawked; Libby did the same.
"One point for Team Johnson! Since you scored, you get the ball again! And now, it's time for a team intervention. Again!"
We split up in our groups. The girls looked frustrated from my angle; raising their hands up and making stiffer movements.
It sucks to be them, doesn't it?
"Johnson, do you realize what this means?" Ronnie questioned.
"If we score goals over and over, we'll keep getting the ball over and over. If we keep scoring goals they'll leave us alone!"
I realized they called an intervention so they could complain about us getting a goal. And I wasn't the one who made that goal. I had no part in it. It was Ronnie. And I still couldn't believe it.
"Ronnie, you scored that goal!"
"You did something I couldn't do. I couldn't try. Just do that three more times. It'll shock them enough."
We were about to make a deal. Only to be interrupted by the other team's call.
I got the ball and tossed it to Ronnie again. I knew we could get that miracle goal. I had faith in her I didn't have in myself.
Yes, you can score! There's nothing to it! Just toss it another three times and we're out of here!
Ronnie hurled the ball as she had before and scored another goal.
"Good job!" I shouted to her.
Trisha took the ball from me, knowing I was going to try and give to Ronnie again. She gave to Libby and as a reality scored her team a point.
"You're not so tough, now, are you, Ludwig?"
I frowned at her and snatched the ball from her hands when the next turn was taken. I tossed it at the wooden surround of the net, not making it even moderately close to the rim, but to the head of a poor bystander.
I watched the ball fly in the air. It bounced off the wood and onto the back of Edna's head.
Jo saw Edna fall and our game stopped at a moment's notice.
"Two points for Team Johnson. You win! And you lose too." Libby made a final snarky remark before walking away, leaving the basketball net behind.
She made a show of giving Edna faux concern along with her cohort, before proceeding to take the zombies back to the unit with Jo's extra key.
"Clean up the mess, will you? I'll meet you two back at the unit! I'll tell them you're coming. I told them those girls were too. So they don't think they're escaping, all right?"
Just when I thought I'd hear an alarm, the nurse gave me reassurance. And also a mess, which Ronnie helped me clean up.
She took the hula hoops back to the door while I held the dodgeballs and picked them up.
"Let me take some. You can't have too much pride, it'll kill you!"
"How do you know that?" The fact that I had no pride before and yet was completely conceited was my reason for being there. I was confused and I hated myself. I wasn't the one who had that problem.
"Well.. Look at Vlad. He's got so much pride because he's the cool one in this place. That's what."
"Has he always had pride like that? And is it even pride at all?"
Ronnie hesitated. "A nurse told me when he first came here, he was blubbering like a baby. Don't ask me questions I don't know."
I sighed. "Okay.. I'll ask you another. Maybe you know it."
I remembered during my sophomore year when we read Oedipus The King and we had to solve the Sphinx's riddle. In the end, I had solved it before the others. And now that I look back, my mother had the biggest amount of pride in her eyes. She was proud I had completed her task. And another thing, due to changes in the English Department unbeknownst to my knowledge, they stopped requiring that the students read the story of Oedipus and they skipped right over to his daughter, Antigone.
Instead of replying, she waited for me to keep going.
"It's a riddle. I want you to solve it."
"Okay. That doesn't sound too bad."
"What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three in the evening?"
Ronnie looked puzzled and began to think. She has always done this, ever since then. When she thought long and hard about something, she looked up at the ceiling and tapped her foot.
It took her barely any time; even with her looks of lingering.
"It's simple. When you're a baby, you crawl on your hands and knees. When you're older you walk on your feet. And when you're even older than that, you use a cane to support yourself. And right now, even though we have all the time in the world, we have ourselves each a cane. If we lose the cane, we slip and fall and have to call for help. That's why we're here right now; we dropped our canes and lost our grip. It's like walking on a broken leg. It needs fixed so you can live again."
She took it all into huge account. She got the riddle just by my voice. And she made it to something else; a speech.
"Well.. Now that's said and done, let's get back to the unit!" She placed the last ball in the designated barrel and slammed the metal door behind her.
By the time Ronnie and I left the gym, our fellow patients were on their way to dinner and just walking to the door.
Jo was taking them along with Amy. Jo carried her car keys, indicating that she had finished her shift for the day.
"Amy, now, don't trust those two alone! You hear me! They never came back!"
Ronnie lifted her hands in the air on instinct. "Ma'am, we were just cleaning up! You left quite the mess. And Johnson gave me a riddle to solve... I'll share it with you. I think you can solve it too!"
"Whatever you say! I expect someone to report that room clean when the adults go! And I bet you were just leaving. Well, have a good night, all of you. I'll see you at noon."
Jo headed out the door into the real world. Amy let us into the cafeteria.
I let Ronnie go ahead of me in the line. The food for dinner was a choice of breaded chicken or grilled salmon; I chose the first. Due to the loss of the soda machine, I had to get orange juice instead. I also had a bread roll, some macaroni and cheese, and another side of mandarin oranges.
"I think dinner follows lunch too soon. Personally. But the truth is that the cooks can't stay all day. They tell us if we want we can just take the food with us to the unit if we want to eat it later during our appointment times. Normally, everyone goes to see Patel or another psychiatrist." Ronnie frowned. "I'm tired of it."
I knew she had a point it seemed our session with Jude and our basketball game were both cut short.
"Would there be a reason for this? Is it normally this way?"
"Sometimes, I've heard it's because we get new patients and they might go mad because they end up in this… Place."
"Well, okay." I picked at my chicken, like I had at my beef before. "The food here's terrible!"
"We get junk for a snack later. Like popcorn and ice cream. Only small portions. They don't want us to be crazy and obese. Two wrongs really don't make a right."
The door creaked open and Jude walked in. Along with a woman none of us had seen; someone from the real world.
"I was just getting home! And now you say there's a new one I have to work with?" He was talking to Amy.
"Yes. A borderline. You're going to have to go check that out.. I'm afraid. Patel hasn't gotten here from his practice. I'd go with you if I hadn't had to watch over them... You know. I don't think they'd make it back if I let them go. They'd escape!"
"Well.. I think I'll watch them for you. If you can't restrain the patient or anything... Please, come right back, when you have control... You're better at that part than I am."
"Fine! I know it's just because you can't make your way down the hallway.. Or so you think."
Amy walked up and left.
"Due to what seems to be dire circumstances, I am now one of your lunch ladies! I expect nothing less of you other than to be well behaved and to use good manners. My wife, Celine, will also be on guard. And she can see with her eyes, so your tricks won't work on me."
The room was silent under the influence of Jude and his wife. He had chosen to sit at our table while Celine, an attractive brunette woman with short, cropped hair, watched over the others. She was his caregiver; a girl he met during his time in college who helped him study. They were the same major; psychology. And both entered the university from high school and graduated the same year. With honors too.
Jude didn't have to see to find us. It was if he could fell the heat emitting from the bodies of others, or he could read our minds.
"I see, notw literally, that you're still together. I guess nothing drastic had happened in the past two hours, has it?"
"It hasn't been two hours." I told him. "At most, maybe half an hour. I ruined gym time for everyone."
"But you still made it to dinner right on time, didn't you, Johnson?"
"Well.. Barely. And it was my fault too. I told Ronnie the Riddle of the Sphinx."
Jude grinned. "Did she solve it?"
"Yes." She answered. "The answer is that the creature is a man!"
"And how long did that take?"
"Not very long. It's simple. I won't explain... But you get it."'
"Well, for now, you need to eat. There's no time for your explanations. You could go on all day about your Radley theory. And wait until you after you eat your chicken!"
I watched but did not lift a finger. I started on my macaroni and cheese. The chicken was unappetizing and sadly, so was the bread roll.
They should know that us kids don't eat whole wheat.. They must be out of their minds!
"Ronnie, Johnson, you can just listen to me talk. How about that?"
"That's fine." I explained. I knew he wouldn't see one of us nod our heads. Those moves never worked with him.
"So, I heard that you haven't been writing lately, Ronnie. And being you... Here... It must be terrible. This place doesn't permit your resources to do so. So I sent in an explanation. First thing tomorrow morning, at eight, your mother will bring your tablet. The only way to do so was to have some restrictions... They won't affect you much anyway. There's no internet here; you'll be all right."
"Really?" She dropped her fork on her tray and looked at Jude in shock.
"Patel said yes. Somehow. You mother was a bit reluctant, but she is willing to bring it simply because I said she had to."
"Great. I can finish my book then. And ask her if she can send me my copy of Night over."
"You already finished your other two books?"
"This place is kind of decrepit. Yes, just about. I'm letting Johnson borrow Mockingbird. If that's okay with her, I'd like to keep it here for a while."
"Well, you don't just let anyone borrow that book. What's up with that?"
"I offered him to. He really liked the closing argument. And he read it before. So, he can borrow it. And in here, if I want it back, it'll be on his bedside and I can just take it back from him."
"Good. You trust someone enough to take that book.. I'm proud of you! And Johnson, you have an appointment with Patel tonight. I expect you to not complain about him until after you leave. You won't be able to get out if you do. And please, take the pills he gives you. They check under your tongue. Tomorrow, if I'm here, or on Monday, we'll have a talk. Just the two of us. And I hope I can get your father in soon. If he ever answers the calls we leave him. Which he hasn't. He’s one of those fathers, isn't he?"
"What do you mean by that?" I wondered.
"He's a bit of a narcissist, I suppose. Because he makes a lot of money on his car repair. And I think he expects you to be in every single way. He gets angry with you when you fail; even something simple that he falters at on a daily basis. Because you have to inherit his fortune and car repair business. Also, he might be the one to not spend time with you. Because of all of his other attributes."
"Yeah. And my stepmother is one of those too. But she just goes around and does rich lady things because she has the money and doesn't need to work. She loves my brother, BJ, to death. And my dad does too. So why don't they just give up the fortune to him?"
"Great question, Johnson! We'll try and get the answer for that tomorrow, huh?"
Amy came running back to the cafeteria; I could hear her rushed footsteps.
"She fell asleep., If you want, you can go back home, Doctor Floyd. We're sorry about that."
Jude picked himself up from the chair and turned to the direction of Amy's voice.
"Great. Promise not to call me back, okay?"
"Sure thing! I'll see you on Tuesday. Luckily for me, I get two days off this week."
"Use them wisely, Amelia. Have fun and take care."
Celine heard the conversation and bid farewell to Vlad and his group.
"Like I said before, tomorrow or Monday. Goodbye, you two!"
"Goodbye, Doctor!" Ronnie called after him; he responded with a wave. He knew she could see that, even if he couldn't see himself.
Then, Ronnie looked at me.
"I expect you to take good care of that book."
"Of course! I, going to do anything to it."
"That's what Zwigy said when she borrowed The Giving Tree. It came back to me tattered and torn."
"I promise. There's no way for it to be harmed here. I promise."
I chuckled. "Pinky promise."'
I held out my pale finger as she had and then, they both linked.
"We have a deal then. A solid, tangible deal. I'll give you the book when we get back to the unit."
Those words alone made me really think about what was happening.
I trusted Ronnie and she trusted me. And trust, is one of the most valuable gifts you can give to a person. And normally, it takes years to earn it.