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Three weeks later
“O’Connor, you have a visitor,” The nurse announced, trying to draw my attention.
My eyes stayed on the television that was playing re-runs of The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air.
Nurse Caitlyn — who was labeled the nicest Nurse here by the other patients — stepped in my line of sight and lowered herself to her knees in front of me. Her vivid orange hair was twirled into a messy bun and her glittering blue eyes gleamed under the harsh UV lights.
She had been assigned to me as my primary Nurse.
“Honey, your family are here to see you,” She told me in a soft and comforting voice.
For the past few weeks, I had been drifting in and out of my body. At least, that was what it felt like. I felt detached from myself. I had lost who I was. My morals were gone.
Three weeks ago, after I had...killed Bates and the police found me, I was brought straight to the local hospital my mom worked at. There they deemed that I wasn’t mentally stable. I was transferred to an adolescent psychiatric facility where I would be treated.
Detective Ridley had told me when I was in the hospital that they had found the place Bates was. He claimed I wouldn’t be arrested for shooting him.
So far, my time here had flown by. I had several therapy sessions every day — some were with the other patients here and some were private. I spent the rest of the time in the common room — or as they called it, the activity room.
Every day, my mom and Lazarus visited. My other friends would take it in turns every week, I noticed.
I barely spoke to anyone. Despite it being summer, I would wrap myself in a woolly jumper and curl into a ball on the seat. I wanted the illusion that I could curl up in a ball and disappear.
Today would not be different. I was going nowhere in therapy. I didn’t want to talk about the horrors I faced and what it had meant to me.
I was a shell of who I used to be.
“Come on, Celeste. They want to see you,” She coaxed me.
Reluctantly, I rose to my feet and folded my arms over my chest. The corners of her lips quirked upwards and she led me towards the visiting rooms with a spring to her step. Her joyous attitude could sometimes be overbearing.
I caught my reflection in one of the windows. There were large, purple bags under my lifeless eyes. My cheeks were hollow and my skin was sickly pale. I looked like a dead man walking.
It was down to me barely eating anything. Every time I tried to, the memory of Bate’s blood splattered on my body would flash before my eyes and cause bile to rise in my throat.
Nurse Caitlyn swung the door open and stepped to the side, allowing me to enter the calm and welcoming visitors room.
Lazarus was stood by the window, his hands in his pockets. My mom was sat on the sofa and was fiddling with her phone nervously. She didn’t look any better than me.
At the sound of my arrival, she leaped to her feet and embraced me tightly. My arms remained limp at my side and my face was shoved into her hair.
She breathed in my scent, no doubt savoring the smell.
“How are you today?” She asked as she pulled away. She tucked a strand of my loose and dull hair behind my ear.
“Okay,” I replied, flatly.
I lowered myself into a chair and lifted my legs up and rested my chin on my knees.
Lazarus came to sit opposite me and leaned closer. His eyes held turmoil. He hated seeing me this way. He wanted to do something — anything to help me.
“What did you do today?” Mom questioned, attempting to get a normal conversation going. She would be disappointed, once again.
“Therapy,” I answered, simply. My eyes drifted to the plain walls.
I could feel Lazarus’s scorching gaze on me. they were burning holes into my body. He wanted to get into my head and find out what I was thinking.
Mom sighed; upset I wasn’t going to open up today. They all wanted to help me but they didn’t know how to. Everyone knew what I had done and they claimed they didn’t think any differently of me but they didn’t get that I did.
Bates had ruined me.
“Sweetheart, please open up. Please show us that you are still in there,” She pleaded with me, her voice thick with emotion.
My throat felt dry.
“Celeste, please. I want my daughter back.” She begged. I had a feeling she was crying now. “You look like my daughter but you’re not her! You are like a zombie.”
A sob racked her body. The sound of her cries echoed in the silent room.
My heart broke hearing her anguished cries.
Slowly, I stood up and hesitantly wrapped my arms around her shuddering body. She held onto me tightly, using me as an anchor.
I pulled away first and shuffled back to my chair. Lazarus watched our interaction with a glint in his eyes. He saw hope.
“Thank you,” Mom whispered, dabbing her eyes gently.
I pinched my lips together and averted my eyes. I still cared about the people around me, nothing would change that. I just couldn’t be close to them anymore.
They would soon understand.
“Will you try therapy, Celeste?” She asked me, delicately. My eyes floated back to her. “All you have to do is try. That’s all I’m asking for.”
I knew she wouldn’t let it go until I said yes. She was persistent.
“Okay,” I murmured, lying through my teeth.
She believed my answer, showing her satisfaction on her lips. Lazarus, on the other hand, could see right through me. He always knew when I was lying. His forest green eyes that I loved so much narrowed.
Thankfully, he didn’t call me out in front of my mom. He didn’t want to cause an argument, especially when we were both fragile.
They didn’t stay for too long. They limited visitor time at the hospital, to my relief. Mom hugged me first, stroking the back of my head affectionately. Letting go of me was always tough for her. She sniffled and reluctantly stepped away, keeping her head down.
Lazarus’s hug was different. It was filled with a promise. I could sense something was brewing in his mind. Whatever it was, it wouldn’t work.
His lips hovered over my ear, lingering. “I’ll be back.”
I jerked away, furrowing my eyebrows together in confusion.
He planted a chaste kiss on my temple and walked away with my mother. I watched them go, feeling my heart get heavy with each step they took away from me.
Nurse Caitlyn returned, a clipboard in her hand.
“It’s time for your medication.” She informed me, leading me towards the medication station. Nurse Lane had already prepared the dose and was waiting for me on the other side of the glass. She handed me the two pills along with a glass of water. Both of them kept their eyes on me as I took it, making sure I swallowed them. “This afternoon, Dr. Ferrell suggested you interact with another patient.”
“Why?” I tilted my head.
Her thin lips stretched into a small smile, “You’ve been here nearly three weeks and you’ve barely spoken to anybody else. He wants you to feel safe and open here.”
So, Nurse Caitlyn told Dr. Ferrell I was keeping to myself.
One of the rules here was that you couldn’t make friends with the other patients. However, they encouraged us to communicate and act like friends. They wanted us to feel like we were at home—whilst also claiming this place wasn’t our home—so that we wouldn’t feel uncomfortable talking about our problems.
Friends helped us feel more relaxed.
I couldn’t be bothered to argue. In fact, I couldn’t be bothered to do a lot of things nowadays. It all felt pointless.
The activity room wasn’t that busy. Most of the patients were either in a visit or were having therapy.
There was one patient sat at a small table, glaring at a chessboard. Her name was Elaine and she was somebody who would cause trouble often. At night, I could hear her terrified screams bounce down the quiet hall. She suffered from nightmares.
“Why don’t you ask Elaine if she wants to play with you?” Nurse Caitlyn suggested, kindly.
I sighed and forced myself to move over to her.
Elaine didn’t react to my presence at first. Her pale eyes remained trained on the board in front of her. Strands of her brown hair fell into her eyes, obscuring her view.
“Do you want to play?” I asked her, slowly settling into the seat opposite her.
“I am playing,” She retorted, peering up at me.
I didn’t give up. “What I’m trying to say is do you want to start a new game, together?” I clarified, biting my lip.
Elaine wasn’t somebody who liked being around people, I gathered. But I knew she was struggling to play chess by herself.
“Do you know how to play?” She quizzed.
I nodded my head, “Yeah, my grandfather taught me.”
That was enough for her to accept my proposal. Whilst she set up the board, I glanced over at Nurse Caitlyn who was at the Nurse’s desk, watching me. She put her thumbs up and smiled brightly.
Elaine and I played chess for a while. It turned out I recalled more than I thought I could. She was good at the game, very good. Every once in a while, she would sneak a peek at me when she thought I wasn’t paying attention. I knew I had impressed her.
“Checkmate,” She declared, hours later, victoriously.
I congratulated her, sincerely. “That was a good game.”
“It was,” She agreed with me, to my surprise. “I wouldn’t mind playing with you again.”
At tea, I sat next to Elaine and chewed on the boring hospital food they provided. I managed to eat more than what I usually did, without any encouragement from Nurse Caitlyn.
Surprisingly, Elaine spoke to me whilst we were eating. It was about chess, which I didn’t mind. She said she would teach me a few moves.
That night, before I retired from the activity room, Elaine approached me, with her arms behind her back. I placed the gossip magazine I had been reading down, giving her my full attention.
“I have something for you,” She announced, shoving a book into my hands.
I flipped the cover over and read the title aloud. “Batsford’s Modern Chess Openings.”
“My dad gave it to me when I was five. It helped me understand the game better and taught me important moves. I thought you might like to read it.” She explained, clearing her throat to make her voice deeper.
I was touched that she would give me something so precious to her. I barely knew her.
“Are you sure, Elaine? This—I don’t think I can take something this valuable from you,” I stammered, uncertainly.
“I’ve memorized the entire book, I don’t need it anymore,” She countered, once again shocking me.
I exhaled loudly, “Thank you for this.”
She shrugged her shoulders and spun around on the balls of her heels, sauntering back to her room. She was definitely an odd character. From what I had seen, she was extremely close to her dad.
Nurse Caitlyn escorted me to my room. Despite being exhausted, she managed to keep up her happy attitude.
“Have a good night, Celeste. I’ll see you tomorrow,” She said, patting me on the shoulder.
I entered the room, under her supervision.
My room was nothing special. It had white walls and a slightly uncomfortable single bed. There were cabinets attached to the walls for my things and a desk that was filled with school stuff and fictional books. I also had an attached en-suite with a small shower cubicle, toilet, and sink.
Dazed, I placed the book Elaine gave me onto my bedside table and headed into the bathroom to shower.
I switched the light on and shrieked when I saw a figure standing in the shower cubicle.
Lazarus raced forwards and covered my mouth with his large hand.
Fortunately for him, none of the staff heard him. He slowly moved his hand away and placed a finger over his mouth, telling me to be quiet.
“What are you doing here?” I hissed. My heart was still hammering inside my chest.
“I came to see you,” He answered as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“You saw me earlier today,” I retorted, furrowing my eyebrows together.
He sighed, loudly. “I told you I would be back.” He did, I hadn’t forgotten that. “I just want to talk to you, alone. That’s all. We haven’t had some alone time in a long time.”
He was right. I had been carted off to the hospital and then I was sent straight here. I haven’t even been home in weeks.
“You want to talk about it, don’t you?” I said, flatly.
He didn’t bother denying it. “I’ll admit, I want to know the full story. But most importantly, I want to know how to help you.”
I pinched my lips together and put some space between us. My body still called to his.
“Celeste, I know you are hurting. I can see that this has changed you. But you don’t have to do this alone. I’m here and I always will be. Let me help you. Talk to me.” He implored, his hands twitching.
I shook my head, “You can’t help me.”
He looked visibly pained. “I can.” He insisted, relentlessly. “I’m not going to give up on you, not when I’ve waited so long.”
“You can’t help me!” I exclaimed, jerking away from his reaching hands.
His face broke and if it were possible, I would also be hearing his heartbreaking.
Lazarus put his hands up in a surrender motion, showing he would do as I said.
I was breathing rapidly. My head was aching and thousands of emotions swarmed inside of me. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
“Why won’t you let me help you?” He asked, calmly.
I shoved my hands into my hair and started pacing. His piercing green eyes stayed glued to me, waiting patiently for my answer.
“I--” The words were lodged in my throat. Saying them proved to be a difficult task.
Frustration seeped into me. I was struggling with forming the right words.
Every time I tried to tell him, my fears would pounce and cause me to withdraw into myself.
“Can I tell you what I think?” He asked me, unsure if he was making the right move here.
I didn’t reply. A part of me was worried about what he was going to say. Was he going to psychoanalyze me; expose my deepest fear?
“During your time in that awful place, you were encountered by that man who had been tormenting you for a decade. He tried to kill you and you reacted—killing him instead. All of those years of repressed feelings and the blood on your hands made you withdraw into yourself.” He started. I couldn’t look at him, I had to avert my eyes to the ground.
“The act of killing somebody affects people in different ways. Some people learn to live with it, some people don’t care but most are tortured by it. The guilt they carry eats away at them, chewing on anything good. It feeds them false thoughts.” He continued, seeming to have a hard time saying this. I knew he was speaking from experience. “You feel like you don’t deserve the company of others. You are disgusted with yourself.”
“Stop talking, Lazarus,” I beseeched, slapping my hands over my ears. He was hitting the nail on the head.
He shook his head, solemnly. “You need to hear this, mi amore. I think you are scared of me finding out who this new Celeste is. In fact, I think you are scared of finding out who you are now.” He took a moment to gather his thoughts, letting his last two sentences sink in. It hit me hard. So hard. “What you did was out of defense. You were not in the wrong.”
My hands fell from my ears as I listened to his words. He managed to captivate me somehow.
“I know you can live with what happened. I know you can move forward. And do you want to know why?” I nodded my head, entranced. “Because you survived having him after you for ten years. You are a survivor. A trooper.”
I broke down into tears.
He was instantly embracing me and whispering soothing words into my ear. I let him hold me and bring me comfort.
“I don’t think I can live with this,” I admitted.
He shushed me, gently. “How do you know when you haven’t tried? All you’ve been doing is beating yourself up.”
Why was he always right?
“I’m scared you’re not going to view me the same anymore. I’m scared no one is.” I revealed. Telling him my inner feelings lightened the tension on my chest. “I’m not innocent anymore.”
“I don’t think anybody is innocent,” He said. “Everyone has done something wrong; we are all flawed. So, nobody can judge you without judging themself.”
I felt better hearing this.
“You are your biggest critic. You are not evil. You are not a murderer. You are a victim.” He finished, firmly.
His words gave me hope that I could find a way to live with this. He found a way to live with all of his demons. Why couldn’t I?
I didn’t have to let Bates win. I could still come out on top.
We are getting close to the end. I can't believe we have nearly finished this journey. On Patreon, I am going to be posting a poll where readers can decide who the bonus chapter is about. It will only be posted on Patreon. I have also posted the first chapter of Saving Amber on there.
My next update will be on Thursday!