Rich + Radical

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Chapter 7

After dinner, we were given free time. Ronnie gave me the novel and went back to reading her own story. I absorbed myself into the Great Depression and southern Alabama, forgetting the real world around me.

However, it did not take long for a voice to call my name. It was Karen, who was still in the office. The other nurses, Amy and Jo, left earlier.

"Doctor Patel is here to see you!"

I marked my page with a makeshift bookmark Ronnie gave me; an elongated piece of notebook paper.

"I'll make a better one later, one with your name on it. I promise."

Karen walked me to a room that I thought was a storage closet; in reality, it was a small office with a computer and a telephone. A poster on the wall had a sneering horse. The text on the poster said 'tu blagues!' At the time, I had no understanding of the words. They were just a strange mix of letters.

In front of me was the desk where a dark-skinned Indian man was seated. I sat in the chair near his bureau.

"Good evening, Johnson!" Jude was absolutely right about his accent. It was hilarious and a little hard to take seriously. But if people there did, so could I.

"Good evening, Doctor."

"Fill out this paper for me, will you?"

"Yes, sir. "

It was a simple, twenty question quiz. I was given instruction by the paper to rate each idealization or feeling from one to ten. Even with it's simplicity, I had a hard time filling it out. It was tedious with it's ways of giving the answers. And I only remember a few questions and idealizations, some of which, for a psychiatric hospital, were completely absurd.

"Anger."

I pondered that a little bit before filling in the circle for number three.

"Happiness."

Two. I was growing stable. But sadly, even the mere thought of my father and Hawkins Motor Repair drove me mad.

"Exuberance."

I was never exuberant. I was never creative in any way shape or form; that was Ronnie, or my mother. I rated that one a zero.

"Depressed."

Eight. Even with a friend around and people who listen, the pit in your stomach still gapes wide open. The brain filters the positive out and leaves the negative out in front of your eyes. Until you can save yourself from it; there is no light.

When I was done, I handed my quiz back to Patel, who read it silently.

"I am prescribing you Zoloft. Just a small, twenty five milligram pill each morning. That is all I need from you for today, thank you for giving your time to me, Johnson. I will see you tomorrow afternoon to track your progress."

I nodded my head, 'yes' before walking to my bedroom to read. Out of the corner of my eye on the short walk there, I saw a girl in the confinement rooms.

Her hair was blonde and short; just long enough to wear in pigtails, which she was wearing. She held her hands on her head and screamed, but not a single person including myself could hear her. She must have also caught a glimpse of me, because a paper slid from underneath the door. When Karen, or the new technician, a college aged man, was not looking, I picked it up.

"Hello, Ludwig. My brother had trouble beating you. You were too strong for him. Is this place okay? I did what I thought was right for me and ended up here."

The signature on the bottom was as scrawled as the paper itself; almost completely. It was still readable. The name read 'Lory'.

I stuffed the paper in my pocket, retrieved Ronnie's book and wrote Lory back.

"Beat me? I'm very confused.... Me, strong? No! You're crazy. My name's Johnson and I dyed my hair blue. Everyone talks about Beethoven when it comes to my hair.. I don't get it. It's decent here. And maybe what you did was wrong. You might have to be here."

I slid another letter under the door when nobody gave me a single look.

Lory became angry in her room and screamed. Probably because I wrote that she might need the treatment she was about to receive. I knew I did; and Lory should have had the right too.

Afterwards, I went to rest in my room. A day in the hospital, not even a full, real one took a toll on me. I sat Mockingbird on my beside and covered myself in the blankets on my bed.

For the rest of the evening, I heard not a peep from anyone.

Later, in the middle of the night, at about one, I heard Ronnie's voice. She was speaking to a person whose identity I could not figure out.

"Yes, he said that. And yes, I think he could be right... What you did was... Strange. And pretty disturbing by my standards. You can be euphoric for an hour and then, you get worse when it's over. It's almost like self-harm... Look at me. Look at what I did to myself. I'm a monster and I'm a freak. At least you look pretty, I think...."

"You're a pretty girl, Pattie."

"Ronnie. My name's Ronnie."

"Oh, Ronnie! I'm sorry. What do you think?"

Ronnie didn't respond.

"What do you think?"

"Well, he can probably hear me thorough this wall.. Or Jude might be able to hear me and-"

"Checks!" The technician from earlier shouted straight into my room. I could no longer hear what Ronnie was saying. I lost the most important part of her conversation to that stupid man.

Curses!

"I'm sorry... I shouldn't think of it that way. I'm just... A kid."

"I'm a kid too, and look. I did so much worse. And I'm still mad at Blue!"

"Everyone here's gotten mad at him. Except me. You'll like him if you get to know him."

"Pssh! Goodnight, Pattie!"

"It's Ronnie. R-O-N-N-I-E."

"Whatever. Night!"

"Goodnight."

I then drifted off to sleep and into the plethora of my thoughts; all in my sleeping brain. Normally, I did not dream. And when I did, like in this case, it was a long while after I fell asleep before I had it to begin with. But then, it just happened. And it really did for a reason.

I was riding a Ferris wheel. Like in East of Eden, as Ronnie told me about later, when she got her copy from her mother. In my dream, it was just a Ferris wheel to me. There was no coincidence about it.

I was sitting and watching the field below us become smaller and smaller until the wheel stopped spinning, right at the highest point.

I stared down at the fields, which we covered in tall wheat and grasses; nothing like a place where a actual Ferris wheel would belong. The ground below seemed to disappear.

I was inevitably stuck in the air.

"Thanks for bringing me here. I really appreciate it, really."

I turned to the left by instinct and saw none other than Ronnie Bachman. The only person I had really spent all day with earlier.

She wasn't wearing her normal attire in my dream; her leggings and simple, grey sweatshirt were alternated with a beautiful, red velveteen dress and a black scarf around her neck. Her hair was on the top of her head in a bun; her bangs still covered her forehead. On her legs were black knee high socks and on her feet were polished combat boots.

Her arms were pale as snow, with not a red slash on either of them.

"You're welcome. I thought you'd like it here." I said.

She blushed. "No, you knew that. You didn't have to guess."

I had no remembrance of bringing her to the field. It was something I probably did earlier before I could see I was dreaming. As I tried to piece it together, our surroundings suddenly turned all white.

It was the two of us all over again. And I could see nobody else; I don't think I wanted to at all.

A smile went across my face; I thought I was feeling that euphoria she was telling that other patient about before I drifted off.

"And I knew that you let me win the shooting game down there. You probably have a better aim than that. I'll ask you mother. She'll know."

"Maybe. Maybe not. I'll ask her when we get home."

Ronnie looked off the edge of the seat. "We're stuck. I think we might be for a while. They're trying to fix it."

She then glanced at me. She had an expression of anxiety on her face.

"Ronnie, don't worry. We can't fall down from here. As long as we stay still... We'll be fine."

"Maybe I'm scared. I might have to go down and yell at them."

"Don't do that! I love you!"

The words were coming out of my mouth almost unwillingly; however, it felt right to say them. It was something normal and something I refused to contradict.

"You say that all the time!" Ronnie replied as I told her before.

That was when I was beginning to realize it was a dream. It was either a fortune or a fantasy.

"I do, but because I do love you, I'm not going to lie to you."

Ronnie then moved closer to me. "I know that. And I wish I could do the same for myself. I really do."

I opened my arms for her, and she accepted them. She leaned her head on my shoulder and stared straight forward.

"If I could love myself like you love me, it'd make a world of difference for me. Really."

I sighed. "You do already. You refuse to believe it. You wouldn't be who you are if you didn't want to be. I think it's too hard for you to admit that. Being different is better than being the same... I'm crazy too. Look at my hair!"

Ronnie, or the pseudo Ronnie, smiled at me and looked into my eyes.

"You always know what to say, you really do. I love you, Johnson."

It was then she kissed my lips, and never, ever, did I feel such euphoria in my life.

It was then, right then, that I realized that I was completely, purely, and utterly in love with Ronnie Bachman.

Afterwards, I was awoken by a loud scream. Not from the new patient or Ronnie. Not from Vlad, Libby or Trisha. Not from Edna or Megan either.

Again, there was someone new. For the second time since my arrival.

The screams were words, but they were not words that were real or palpable. Ones that were not real in any way at all, to be honest.

When the male technician came in for checks, he saw me sitting up and awake.

"What time is it?" I asked him. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. It was still pitch black in my room.

"About five. And they just brought in breakfast if you want some. One of the other patients is already up."

"Thank you." I got up from my bed and trudged towards the door.

"You're welcome. When the sun rises, I'll wake up the others." He watched me walk into the group room, where Ronnie was sitting. She was reading A Separate Peace again.

That day, my second and her third, she was wearing a pink sweatshirt and navy blue, polka dot leggings. She was much more bright than the day before; probably because her mother was visiting.

I concluded I wanted to leave her be. My feelings for her were confusing me. And Jo, who just walked in the door chuckled when she saw me; she could probably see my cheeks go red from embarrassment.

And she was reading anyhow.

I went to retrieve my breakfast, which was sitting in a box on a moving shelf. All of the meals were the same. None was any different than the other. There was no picking and choosing.

I opened my box and found pancakes, bacon, orange juice, milk, and a small serving of Honey Nut Cheerios.

I was just beginning to eat when Ronnie sat across from me, and also had a box.

"I was waiting for someone to wake up to eat with me. If you don't mind."

I smiled at her. "I don't mind. And good morning!"

"Good morning. How was your nap? You never came back out for the movie. We watched Flubber. Well, the rest of us old patients finished it. We get to vote for a new movie tonight. And since my mom's coming.... I've asked for a few."

"Great." I tried to act as subtle and normal as possible.

"Yeah. I'm having her bring Mockingbird. The movie. I'll see if we can watch it."

"I haven't even finished the book yet! Slow down!"

Ronnie giggled. "I need something good to watch. It's the only movie I own! But then, I don't know what else I really want to watch right now. A Separate Peace is bringing me down.."

"It's a sad story, I know.. But just..." I was at a loss. I was too busy looking at her face.

"Just what? You've been acting weird today, Johnson."

"I lost track of my thoughts. I was going to say that Phineas lives in your heart; in your mind. That's what I thought. It actually devastated me, even though I hated that class."

"Yeah. He does live within me. And so does Tom, and Piggy, and Aron.." She cut her pancakes and took a bite; she sipped on her orange juice.

I heard more footsteps from the hall. The sun was just rising; I could see it from the window.

The way the sunlight complimented Ronnie made me feel even deeper in love and made me crush over her even more.

She was one of those kids who never dated anyone at all. Like me. She hadn't had a boyfriend even though all of her so called "friends" had them. People questioned her about being lesbian because she never dated anyone, well, at least I heard that.

Nobody who asked that got an answer. Maybe that's because they knew the truth about her already.

"And did you notice my shirt?" She asked, bringing me out of my concentration. I was eating my breakfast; trying to divert my eyes away from her.

"No. I didn't. Why?"

She stood up and revealed the front of her shirt to me. In the center of the bright pink was a blocky font, which she most likely stitched on the shirt herself.

The words read, "This is my Phineas shirt."

I chuckled, remembering the story of the pink silk shirt. It was something I had remembered, out of the few things in the book. It was a major theme in the novel and just stuck.

"It's not that funny, is it?"

I brought myself back to reality again.

"It's clever."

I almost added on more commentary, but the cons weighted out the pros of that situation.

"Yeah. I think so too." She continued to eat and every once in a while, glanced up at me as I did the same.

Maybe she was figuring me out. And if so, she did the job of detecting my emotions. But I concluded that she was not and could not be anything like Jude. The seeing people never possessed that power. Neither did the hearing people, and especially people who possessed both senses. People who had a power like that lost something. Something major; and I did not think she had.

Losing things and people are valid reasons to be depressed. But having things can be also.

An example would be that you don't have to be a orphan to not have parents. I didn't have any my entire life and they were right in front of my eyes the whole time. It was because they had no reason to care for me; a maid did that for them.

After I ate my last bite, her breakfast had been long gone.

"Thanks for sitting with me, Johnson. I really appreciate it. I've never had a friend before. Well, one who understood things like that, and was my age. You know?"

"I know. I really know. And it's correct because I don't think I have either."

I saw the sunrise behind her again. She still looked gorgeous in front of the pink and orange hues. Her brown eyes and blonde hair made her look like she belonged in the sun; she belonged out with people just like her, as did I. But sadly, for weirdos like us, we never would be. We had to make do with what we had. Each other. That, for me, was perfectly fine.

So I just let myself stare into her eyes when she spoke, as long as I didn't get too deep into them, I thought I would be fine.

"I thought I'd never hear a person say that before.."

"I didn't think so either.."

The, moment was getting awkward. I couldn't think of anything to continue the conversation.

"I'll get dressed in new clothes and take a shower. I'll see you later, Ronnie."

"That's all right. I'll just finish my book! Thanks for talking with me!"

"You're welcome. I'll see you in a few minutes."

She did not speak to see me go, but laughed.

"Leper, what are you getting yourself into? The Ski Troops? That's not a good idea, now, is it?"

I walked back into my room and picked up my mother's grocery bag.

I could see the slight points of the letters beneath the sharpie she tried to use to scratch it out.

With those, I was able to figure out the word.

Bitch.

A few days earlier, I might have agreed with that statement. After actually seeing my mother as who she really was, I could say anything but profanity about her.

She was a strong woman and she went through a lot. She deserved not to be called that name. She really did. And people who said so, including myself at one point, were all a bunch of 'bitches' themselves.

I dug through my clothes. My weekend sweatpants were all compiled into one bag for weekdays. So, I had six different outfits and six different pairs of underwear. My toothbrush and toothpaste were in one bag. My acne wash and cream were in another small package. My deodorant and shampoo as well.

Finally, at the bottom of my bag, were things I used to own from my childhood. And things she told me nothing about.

A picture in a blue frame of my mother and I when I was about four years old; shortly before or after she filed for divorce from my father. I still had the same hairstyle then, in the same color as my mother's. I was holding a plush, green dinosaur. I was laughing and she was smiling at me with bright, proud eyes.

Along with it was the little, plush green dinosaur and paper which was folded multiple times. I sat the framed photo on my bedside near Ronnie's copy of Mockingbird. My green dinosaur sat on my unmade bed. I read the paper; it was a letter.

"Dear Johnson,

Assuming you would read this after our reunion, I decided not to write about my side of the story again. But nonetheless, I am so proud to be your mother, even with the circumstances. I know I can help you get through this. You were always strong; deep within you, the truth will unfold someday. And it will come out in such a beautiful way, because of course, you are my only child. The one only person in the world who will have those qualities my mother said I had before; ones that took a long time to see as true.

"Being the mother I am, I have you the cutest picture of us I could find. And you stole the show from me on that one, that's for sure.

"I also hope you saw the dinosaur. He was your favorite toy when you were little; your father took him away after I lost custody and sent him back to me, because I gave him to you, not your father. And then, when he cared about you just enough, he bought you a different one. Which I heard you detested to no end. The dinosaur's name was Roger, for your information. And you named him all on your own.

"I miss you, and I hope to see you tomorrow, on Sunday.

Onward and upward,

Your Mother."

I put the letter down on my nightstand with the picture. I moved my toiletries to the bathroom along with the clothes I chose to wear that day; sweats, as I had worn the day before, despite the heat of the summer and the formality of the last day of school; which only correlated with the first.

I took a long, lukewarm shower, due to the weak water pressure. I spent at least fifteen minutes scrubbing all of the soap out of my hair.

I used my body wash and as I was about to turn off the water, I heard a loud bang in the bathroom door.

And then another, and another.

And then there were those inaudible screams again. But this time, I heard that voice, both feminine yet deep, screech real words.

"Who are you?"

I then heard footsteps come and literally, from the sound I heard, drag that patient, who I knew was female, away to solitary confinement again.

I then put on my clean clothes and washed my face. I looked at myself in the mirror and noticed that the blue actually complimented me.

Believe it or not, I never saw the blue version of myself to a real, full extent. I hadn't had the desire to look at myself in the mirror; or really couldn't have anyway since I dyed it.

I heard unfamiliar loud, high heeled shoes walk past my door as I brushed my teeth.

My mother walked much lighter on her feet. There was no way that was her.

After I rinsed the toothpaste away, I got curious and walked out my bedroom door to find the source of the sound.

The woman hadn't made much progress and still walked in the halls, and then turned into the last room on the right, the girl's side.

She had red hair with blonde roots. With the heels, she stood at about six feet tall. She wore what looked like a white top coat and black leggings.

After a few seconds, she turned and walked back down the hallway. Her eyes were unrealistically bright purple; she wore contacts. She gave me an angered glare before walking into the rec room, group room, or as it felt like, the living room, where we spent most of our time.

I peeked around the corner of the wall to see where she went. She went up to Ronnie, who almost shivered upon seeing her face.

"You said you weren't coming this early... At about eight. Well, Jude told me that.."

"They called me into work this morning. I had to come here early. Family therapy was pushed back to tomorrow... And dear, your hospital bill is outrageous! You just had to act up again, didn't you? Why do you have to be so worried about everything all of the time?"

I felt the need to defend Ronnie, but neither her or her mother noticed I was there. The only people they did see were Lory, who was eating her breakfast, and Vlad, who was at his table coloring.

"It's not my fault I'm the way I am. They call it an illness because it's something we just can't fix. It's not just a fever that can just be driven away. I think it's a process.. Thank you for coming and bringing my things, mom."

"You're welcome." Her mother, the woman, sneered. "You should be more grateful for the things you have and the people who surround you. Stop being arrogant and worrying over the littlest damn things!"

"I wish I could stop myself.... I wish I could! Being like this is never easy. I'd rather have broken my leg and worn crutches than having depression and anxiety with a teacher as my mental, emotional crutch! I'd rather have friends my age who actually care about what I've done for them and their drama department! But no, it's not like that because I'm different and I'm crazy!"

I knew then to back away, because this visitation was not going to end well.

"I wish you were like your brother! He has a wife and children and a job! And you, at sixteen, should be spending your summer out with friends! But no, of course not! Not ever! You had to end up in this goddamn loony bin with all of these goddamn freaks! Drug addicts, sex addicts, pyromaniacs, and attempted murderers! My innocent daughter should never have been put here once, let alone three times! I am done with you, Ronnie! I am tired of your attitude and your ungratefulness for everything I've ever given you. Don't ask me for your books, because I'm not giving them to you!"

The technician got up from his chair at the end of the room.

"Ma'am, I'm going to have to ask you to leave.. You're riling the poor girl up!"

"I don't care if I rile her up. She deserves every bit of this!"

"If you don't leave, we're going to have to revoke your visitation rights.. I hope you know this is for the best..."

"I don't care. I don't ever want to see her again. If you excuse me, I'll have to go have people who are actually dying. Thank you very much!"

The woman who was Ronnie's mother walked out no final words.

Ronnie just walked to her room, the last on the right without giving me a single glance.

She was heartbroken; undeniably and absolutely, there was no other way she felt after hearing those words.

I followed the distraught Ronnie down the room to see her writing on her tablet, which her mother did bring along with her charger.

"Are you okay?"

She didn't look up from her tablet, which was playing a song by her favorite band as she rapidly tapped on it's screen.

"Yesterday, love was such an easy game to play..."

"Johnson, I don't want to talk. Maybe later. I need to think first."

"I know that was a lot... I could hear her from my room.."

"You were watching. I could feel your eyes. I'm not stupid. I'll see you later, when we go outside. I'll talk to you then. About The Beatles, okay?"

"Fine. I'll see you then. I'm sorry about what happened.."

"She does it all the time. It's nothing. Goodbye, Ludwig."

"Bye, Ronnie."

I then went to my own room and flopped down on my bed, crying my own tears.

"Look into these eyes, now. Tell me what you see. It's no surprise now, what you see is me."

My love for her was harming me. My sudden, ecstatic love for her was breaking me as what her mother said was breaking her. I wanted to go back and console her. And kiss her lips. But there was no way in hell that would happen; I was a mere note and she was a whole song. I would be long forgotten in the time, and she would be remembered until the end.

I thought she was just that beautiful. I loved the way her bangs fell right above her eyebrows, even if it was the most awkward way for those bangs to cover her face. I loved the way her eyes would glow when she talked about Mockingbird or The Beatles. I loved the way she would talk in those big, loud, vocabulary words and how she felt about wearing pink and giving it a new perspective; the perspective of Phineas.

I just loved her. And that Ferris wheel wouldn't let me forget it, not once.

I still couldn't fathom that I hated her the day before; or that I hated my mother the day before; and that my hair was white once.

I realized then that life changed fast. So fast that you wouldn't have the time to think it through.

And maybe it was okay.

While I was still crying on my pillow, someone knocked on my door.

It was Jude.

"I've been here for a while if you want to talk with me. I have to keep an eye on Cat for a while. My wife doesn't mind. She just planned to leave me alone at home anyway."

I saw the blind man as he could never see me, as I had many times before and after that day.

"Cat? Who's Cat?”

"I'll explain in my office, after we solve your little problem."

We took a short walk to his office. When we arrived, he had to guide me in the right direction.

Never once have I heard of a blind man leading a seeing man anywhere..

Telling that story some other day would make me laugh; it really would. But then, it didn't phase me. I was too emotional for that. Definitely.

"Welcome to my office! Once you end up in here, you know you're probably messed up. Huh?"

I frowned. "Yeah. I've got a lot of crap going on, don't I?"

"Don't we all? So... What were you crying over? I knew you were depressed, but never, ever, did I think that you would expose yourself like that! In front of Vlad, especially! He was the one who found you crying and told me."

"Vlad can go die in a hole, Doctor Floyd."

"Call me Jude, please. And... What were you crying about? Really?"

I didn't speak. I wasn't exposing my feelings. Not if Vlad LeBron was right in front of that door. No. Way.

"He's not out there. I would have heard him by now... Vlad's quite the rascal. Anyway, please tell me what's troubling you. Before I start interrogating you!"

Nothing came out of my mouth.

"Is it about someone else?"

He wasn't joking. I had to fess up. Quick.

"Yeah. I don't think I'm having any real problems here. Honestly."

"Well, not since your incident with Vlad.."

It's felt like ages since that happened. Like years. But the time I spent with Ronnie felt like a minute. Because then, I was having some fun. And watching Vlad tip over a table was anything but fun.

"No. But still. It's about someone else."

"Are they a person in this hospital? Or are they outside?"

"Well, I can say both. I don't know if you witnessed it."

"No, I don't think so. Explain to me what happened."

"I took my shower and I heard someone... Someone new, bng on my door. And I don't think anyone's allowed in my room. I thought that was kind of strange. And then, that patient got taken away from my room. I heard someone unfamiliar walking down the hall and I went to take a look."

Jude tapped a pen on the table. Not to write with, obviously. But just to keep himself occupied while I spoke.

"Interesting. And before you continue, that was Cat who banged on your door. Those kids call her Crazy Cat Brown. Don't be too concerned about yourself coming here unless you start nearing her record. Twenty three times in the past three years. I'm not kidding. So every time she comes, she has to be monitored. And when she leaves, monitored, and when she comes back, monitored again. I wish I knew what her issue was. It's too jumbled to even conclude anything. Well, you’re the problem right now. Not Cat, so, forgive me and keep talking. "

I continued reluctantly. "It was a woman who I hadn't seen before. She dropped off a bag in the girl's side of the hall. Then, she walked into the group room. And started speaking with Ronnie and got angry at her.. All I could really do is watch because she saw me walking that way before.."

"Oh. That's her mother. She's got her hair dyed red, right?"

"Yeah. And how would you know that?"

"Celine told me. She knows I like to hear about how people look. Because… You know. And her name is Faye."

"Thank you.. And then Ronnie got upset and went to her room. I tried to talk to her and she told me to leave.. And after that, I started crying. About the whole thing. And I wasn't even involved."

"So, Ronnie and her mother. I think that's kind of odd.."

I know that. What do you expect? I think it's crazy too...

"Because patients here, like Vlad, are normally almost apathetic towards their companions. You being with Ronnie was a rare exception. And the way you cried, and it wasn't even over yourself, is something you would have never thought of doing before, is it?"

"No, Jude. I came here because I hated myself so much, I was all I could ever think of. Myself, I mean."

"I know. I read your file. Even if it was subtle, and even if it wasn't much to the doctors, you really needed the help. You needed to come here. And only you could have ever figured that out."

"I think you're right. Really. I hated my life before... And I still want to change it. I don't want to go back to live with my father and my stepmother again."

"And I'll talk with you and them both about it. They're coming for family therapy in a few hours. I think they might have to bring your brother along with them.. Well, he actually wanted to see you. Can you believe that?"

"No. And thank you for that. I don't want to speak with them, but you'll keep them under control." I sighed and stared out the window.

"I will. I promise. And I want to ask you more about being upset about what happened today."

I nodded my head. I needed to confess. Jude knew that too.

"So... How do you feel about Ronnie?"

"What do you mean by feel?"

"Is she a friend to you? Or is she something else?"

This is it. Fess up, Johnson. Fess. Up. Before he goes crazy and before you get kicked out of here.

"She's more than a friend. Well, to me. It's one-sided. She thinks of me no more than she thinks of every other boy she's ever met in her life."

"Oh... You're in love with her, aren't you?"

"Yeah... I am. And I hated her yesterday. Isn't that crazy or what?"

"Not necessarily. I think that it's just part of life. Feelings change faster than the hands on a clock; faster than a second. It's normal. It really is. You should see how fast she chapnges her mind."

I had no way to reply. No way to contradict him at all. What he said was completely true.

"Well.. What made you come to that conclusion?"

"What conclusion?"

"About Ronnie... What about Ronnie?" While he spoke, he smiled. Maybe nobody loved Ronnie before; maybe, she was desperate. There were a lot of maybes. And I didn't know why in the world Jude was smiling.

"I thought about it. And then I was leading myself in that direction.. I ended up dreaming about it... That I was in love with her and she was in love with me... And that by some chance, I'd be able to have someone care about me."

"She cares about you. Don't say she doesn't now, because she already does. Now, I expect you to not act on it in the hospital.. Because they go mad if people start caring about each other. I'm serious. They don't want you to make contact with anyone here after you leave. But you're bound to see her again anyhow. It makes no difference. I might rephrase that. Be careful. Patel has his eye on you... And you need to get your pill.. Because he said he prescribed you with something."

"I don't remember what it was but I'll go. I know I have to see you later, this isn't goodbye."

"No, it isn't. But I'll see you in a few hours."

"You too, kid. You too."

I shut the door and left Jude in his office. I walked back to the unit to see a disaster.

It did not involve Lory, or Crazy Cat Brown.

Neither did it involve Ronnie, Edna, or Megan.

It was our classic mess maker, Vlad.

A woman who looked similar to my mother, who must have been his, was in the room.

He was screaming and throwing his crayons at her.

"You can't touch me anymore! You can't look at me, you can't hear me, you can't touch me!"

We were enemies, I thought. His area was uncharted territory. I could not go there, it wasn't tangible. Going to save him wasn't possible.

"You're my son... Now come along and hug your mother!"

"You don't want to hug me! You want much more than a hug! And that's why I ended up in this dump in the first place! Now scram!"

I ran off; there was nothing I could do. There was no saving Vlad LeBron. And he had to apologize to me still anyway. That wasn't going to help anything.

"You're not my mother! You're a monster! I don't love you that way. No logical child should. You treat me terribly and I want nothing to do with you!"

There were words being inaudibly spoken by his mother. Then, he went on with his speech.

"You're ashamed because you're from Leo and you like black men! And you use me to bring yourself from guilt. Because I'm not black. I'm half black! But I'm your son, not anyone else. And maybe, you can find someone who looks like this! You don't have to use me! I hate what you do! I hate it and it's scarred me!"

I couldn't hear anything more. Either it was too quiet or too loud for me to hear. And then, I knew it stopped completely when I heard the unit door slam.

I walked back to the group room to see Vlad writhing on the floor. It was like he was punched pretty hard, but yet, he sustained no visible wounds.

The nurses were already at his aid; he couldn't lift himself off of the ground. Ronnie was behind me. I could hear the Beatles music coming from down the hall.

The sound was turned off and she walked by the wall where I was, with her tablet in hand.

"What happened to Le-"

"Vlad. You mean. Keep him satisfied for now.." I explained. "And I don't know what happened. He was fighting with his mom when I got back from Jude's office and he just... Fell over, I guess."

Ronnie looked over at him with concern. Even if he was such a jerk to her, and me, and everyone else.

"Is Doctor Floyd still here?"

"I assume so.. Yes. What do you want him to do about it?"

"Tell him the kid wasn't a liar. He was right the whole time.. I'll carry him to his room. You all just get back to… Whatever you were doing." It was Karen, who must have arrived back to work.

Jo crossed her arms and countered Karen's response.

"You're too frail to carry him. He's light, but I think I'll do it. Thank you for your consideration. I know you care about these kids.."

"Okay... Thanks, Jo."

Edna and Megan were up and they kept silent. Noise coming from Lory's room and Trisha and Libby's room indicated that they were awake due to the noise from the fight. Their breakfasts were still warm, and waiting for them.

"What happened out here?" Lory asked, still in slippers and short pajamas.

"Don't ask. It's better that way." Ronnie replied. "Go eat and just let it go. We'll get an explanation later."

"Great. Thanks, Miss Congeniality!"

Lory left her alone. Her blonde hair, lighter than Ronnie's, was covering her ears, neck, and face.

Trisha and Libby only retrieved their meals and sat down to eat. No word was said to us or Lory, or Edna and Megan.

They only watched as Jo carried a half asleep Vlad to his room.

Ronnie checked the time in her tablet.

"It's about seven... I'll go back to my room." She looked up at me. "I'll talk when we go outside, okay?"

"That's fine." I almost whispered to her. "I'm staying here."

She sighed and walked back to her room like she said she would. I waited until she was gone before walking down to Vlad's room, the one next door, to see him.

He was in a fetal position as he was when I first saw him. He was draped with a blanket, but was still shivering.

I snuck in and covered him with another blanket. I could tell he was still awake when he curled even closer to himself.

He was trying to reject my offer to help him.

"What do you want? Why are you helping me?"

"I really don't know what I want. I just came."

"Sure, sure. You just want my table because I can't go out there anymore. You can have my damn table now, you freak!"

After the incident occurred, I tried my hardest to forget it. Sure, LeBron was being idiotic and maybe I was being idiotic too. It was my first twenty minutes in a psychiatric hospital. I thought in that time, that was how you were supposed to act and do things, because LeBron did things that way, and it seemed at the time, so did everyone else.

"I don't want your table. There's really only one thing I want from here."

"And what would that be?"

I knew I wanted two things. Revealing one would prevent the other from happening. And revealing it would also ruin the chances of ever talking to anyone there again.

"I want to leave this place. That's it."

"I do too. And I'm not. Ever. Not after I got mad at my mother."

"Well, what did she do? It could be valid..."

"It's not valid because that's normal, isn't it? For your mother to love you that way?"

"What way?"

I really had no clue what he was talking about. I hadn't had much of a mother in a long time. Maybe, I thought, it was just being loved by a mother. Well... I kept that to myself.

"Romantically.... She's uh..."

I waited for him to speak again.

"You won't tell anyone anymore, will you?"

"No. Maybe they already saw out there."

A still writhing Vlad sighed. "As I tried to tell my therapist and the nurses before, she abuses me... She touches me. I guess. I don't talk about it. I don't like to."

Despite his lack of worldliness, the truth was clear to me.

He refused to threaten his masculinity by being vague and quiet. He had to be tougher than me in all aspects, and really, after he flipped that table over, he proved it.

"I wouldn't either... I think she's... Well, Ican't describe it."

As if she was listening the whole time, Ronnie peeked into the door.

"Your mother's a bit of a Jocasta, LeBron. Don't keep the door open at times like this... I can hear you."

Within a mere second, she was gone.

"Maybe you meant it like that. Like she said. Get out of here, you scum! Tell nobody about this!"

I then rushed out of Vlad LeBron's room. I was to never speak of my conversation with him again. Due to the fact that he had the audacity to trust me for even a minute

I walked back to my own room to pass the time, there was nothing else I could do. Nobody really wanted to hear me, away or near those walls.

Later, I took my first prescription of Zoloft. I didn't really want to, but I knew better than to resist. They've dealt with enough that day and even if the medicine tasted terrible, I still had to try and give myself the courage to swallow it.

Luckily, only a few minutes after I took my medicine, we were all told we had to spend our time outside. Which meant Ronnie would have to talk to me.

She promised. And she promised again. I expected her to keep that promise, even as I walked outside alone.

Ronnie arrived a little later than Libby, who was the one of the last ones out. LeBron was not going to go. He was still aching. Crazy Cat Brown never went outside, even if demanded. She was somewhere else.

Ronnie held her tablet in her arms again and say next to me in my corner, which was the edge of the fence between us and the real word.

"It's so nice out today!" Ronnie sat next to me, taking in the warmth of the sun with almost real, complete happiness.

She was still wearing her long sleeves, however.

"Aren't you a bit warm.. With your sleeves?"

She started at me, still smiling, for more than a solid second. Maybe for a minute, even. All with that smile.

"No. I'm fine. And now, I'm acting weird, aren't I?"

"No! Not at all!" I answered immediately.

"I want to go on the swings... Even without him, LeBron's group are commandeering them again. First, it's the coloring table, and now, they're taking the swings!"

"You're kidding, right?"

"No. I'll give one of the nurses my tablet... And then, I'll take back what not rightfully mine, but what's rightfully everyone's. Because it's not just his dumb group who gets the coloring table and the swings."

She handed one of the nurses, Karen, the tablet before seeing that the two girls left their spots at the swings. Instead, they were commandeering a bench right by Vlad's window. He was staying in the room behind mine.

We sat on the swings, going back and forth, staring at the sun and the sky. As we saw different views of the world outside of us, we felt a bit of euphoria.

I don't know if it was fresh air that made us so happy. I don't know if it was seeing the small silhouettes of other people, or if it was being able to look up at the sky.

Her smile was something I'd never forget, because if see it in it's true glory, it was one of the rarest, most subtle things in the world.

I remember looking at her again one last time. Right as she was skidding her feet on the ground.

I wondered how things would ever be bad again; I thought they never would be.

Sadly, things were about to change.

-

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