Being in the hospital was absolutely horrible for Lilly. She was bored stiff, even though Mrs. Stiles visited her each day, bringing her daily homework to her. That gave her a little respite from the tedium, but only a little.
“You know, if you keep your grades up, you have a very good chance to be valedictorian for your class,” Mrs. Stiles noted, on the third afternoon. Lilly began laughing uproariously, at Mrs. Stiles’ pronouncement, which hadn’t been meant to be funny. Mrs. Stiles wasn’t sure why Lilly found it funny, either, considering she’d said it to try and encourage the girl.
When Lilly finally began settling down, she managed to say, “That’d be hilarious! The class slut steals the valedictorian crown.” She was barely able to get that out, before she erupted in a fresh round of laughter. This time, even Mrs. Stiles saw the humor in it, with the image Lilly had painted.
Finally, Lilly recovered, although she still had a big smile, and the hint of giggles. “Man, everyone would really hate me then. The drug addled, gang member slut steals valedictorian right out from under their noses. They’d know something had been rigged,” Lilly told her, unable to contain the smile and some more giggles.
“You have a very pretty smile, Lilly. You should use it more often,” Mrs. Stiles said. With Mrs. Stiles’ observation, it was as if a switch had been flipped. Lilly’s smile disappeared, like it had never been there.
“That’s okay,” she said, which almost confused the principal.
“Why do you let me use your nickname, but you won’t let anyone else use it?” Mrs. Stiles asked.
“Because I gave it to you,” she replied, as if it was a simple fact that didn’t need explanation.
“So, once you give it, you don’t take it back?” she asked.
“Something like that,” Lilly said.
“You’re an unusual kid,” Mrs. Stiles said.
“You could say that again,” Lilly agreed, rather emphatically. There was a little more emphasis in Lilly’s response than made sense to Mrs. Stiles, but she decided to leave it be. She was just happy, and actually somewhat amazed, at the fact that Lilly was even talking to her. It showed that Lilly might not be as unapproachable as everyone thought she was. They just didn’t bother taking the time to try.
“There’s someone that wanted to visit you, but she’s scared to,” Mrs. Stiles said.
“Who?” Lilly asked, her guard instinctively and visibly coming up.
“I don’t think you need to worry, Lilly,” Mrs. Stiles said, after she looked at Lilly for a moment.
Before Mrs. Stiles answered, Lilly said, “Sarah,” but it wasn’t with a nice tone. “Why would she come to see me? She believes the same shit everyone else does,” she said.
“First off, watch your language. I’m still the principal, and an adult. Plus, you should behave more civilized, if you want to improve yourself,” she said, then after a momentary pause, said, “I don’t think she believes that. Not anymore, anyway.”
“She can rot in hell,” Lilly said, ignoring Mrs. Stiles’ reproach about her language. Mrs. Stiles was a little surprised to see moisture in Lilly’s eyes, the girl that had nerves of steel.
“I think she’s wanting to try and make up to you, although I don’t know what happened that she needs to,” Mrs. Stiles said.
“She abandoned me when I needed her most. That’s what she did,” Lilly said, and rolled over, hiding her face from Mrs. Stiles, as tears started pouring from her eyes.
“I’m sorry Lilly. I…,” she heard Sarah say, but there was nothing else. Turning back around, she saw that Sarah had left.
“Good. I don’t need her, anyway. She’ll betray me again, like everyone else,” Lilly mumbled.
“Is that what you think?” Mrs. Stiles asked.
“It’s what I know. Everyone eventually abandons me,” Lilly stated, clearly not leaving any room for debate. Unfortunately, Lilly knew she hadn’t deserved Sarah’s friendship. She’d been stealing money from Sarah’s parents for quite awhile when Sarah started distancing herself. Lilly knew it was happening, and knew why, but didn’t do anything to try and fix the problem. It was her fault, no matter how much she tried to blame Sarah. Why wouldn’t Sarah believe those horrible things people were saying, when she was lying to them and stealing? That was a symptom of a drug problem, and they all knew it.
“Who has abandoned you?” Mrs. Stiles asked, wanting to challenge Lilly. That stopped Lilly’s previous thoughts dead.
Wiping the tears from her face, Mrs. Stiles saw the anger erupt in them. Rising to the challenge, she looked at Mrs. Stiles, and replied with, “I’ll ask you a better question, Mrs. Stiles. Who hasn’t?”
“I haven’t,” she replied.
“Okay, maybe you haven’t abandoned me. You were smart and never stuck by me so you could,” she said. Mrs. Stiles wasn’t prepared for that particular assault.
“I,” Mrs. Stiles started, but Lilly cut her off.
“Before you say you did, in what way have you stuck by me? Where were you when I was being abused, when that bastard was putting his hands on me, or his religious nutjob parents tried to brainwash me, or when they tried to make me get married to him so he could do what he wanted with me, without having to worry about what people thought? Where were you when I needed someone to give me a home...a real home?” Lilly asked, her tone even and calm, even though her emotions were about to overwhelm her.
Seeing the principal reeling from the assault, Lilly sat up, peering at the woman with the anger and malice getting stronger and stronger inside her. “Don’t bother answering. You’ll just lie like all the rest do. You’re all the same. You give me sweet words about how you care and want the best for me, but like all the others, you leave when it comes time to do something about it, when it becomes even a little inconvenient. You can all go straight to hell, just like Momma!” Lilly yelled, got up and ran out. She didn’t stop in the corridor, or the waiting area, instead running down the stairs, heading for the the door. Near the entrance, she passed Sarah, who had tears streaming down her face. Seeing Lilly running, with tears also on her face, Sarah called out, but Lilly didn’t care to hear what she had to say.
“Gotcha,” a voice said., as strong arms enveloped her. An odd thick cloth was placed over her mouth and nose, as she began to struggle. In that initial moment of disorientation, she felt a needle enter her arm. Panic shot through her, and her mind instantly shouted out, broadcasting a desperate plea for help. It was a purely reflexive action, like so many times before.
When she woke up, she carefully opened her eyes. There were several large dogs sitting around her like a personal guard, as well as a large number of other dogs, of every size, milling around like military sentries. She then became aware that there was an incredible number of birds perched in every tree for as far as her mind could sense. There were other animals, as well, covering the ground. She was stunned at the number of animal minds she felt. The ‘others’ were everywhere.
As she sat up, she was very thankful the straight jacket hadn’t been fastened. At least, she believed it was a straight jacket, from what little she knew of them. She shrugged it off, but then thought better of getting rid of it. She had no idea what had happened, and had read enough books to know that simple things like that jacket could prove invaluable later.
Oddly, she could sense each and every one of the animals. It was a little disorienting, but not horribly so. It was more like using muscles she hadn’t used in a while, although she’d been working with her animal mind control since going into foster care. The problem for her had always been that she was scared of it, and only did little things. Maybe, she needed to work with it more, and harder. She had more pressing concerns, though.
Standing up, she started trying to figure out where she was. It only took a moment, seeing those familiar walls nearby. How had she gotten there, where her and Horace always met? Her homeless friend had disappeared lately, but he did that sometimes.
He’d been a bedrock for her after her momma died, and she went to her first foster home. Since then, she’d been meeting him in the park all the time, other than when she was in rehab, or not allowed out by the nutso foster monsters. He also gave her support when she came out, as well, because she was always messed up after rehab. She’d cried on him more times than she could count. She was his princess, and with him, she felt like a princess.
Lilly wished he could adopt her, but being homeless, she knew DFCS would never allow that. It was just that he was the closest thing to a father she’d ever had, other than Leonard, but he left her, so he didn’t really count anymore.
Oh well, where he’d disappeared to would have to be a mystery for another day. What she did know was that she was hungry, and a little cold. The cold made her smile, realizing the brilliance of keeping the straight jacket, and the fact that all she was wearing was the hospital gown and underwear. She wrapped it back around her body, which helped, and also made her feel a little more decent.
She needed food, though, and Horace wasn’t there. She began walking through the trees, toward her foster home. Just before she stepped out, and in a moment of insight, she sent her mind into one of the many birds that were still watching over her.
Repeating what she’d done once before, she had the bird fly. Although she wasn’t physically doing it, she still experienced it, and she loved it. It was difficult not to get lost in the pure exhilaration of flying through the sky. She had a task to perform, though, which could save her life, for all she knew.
She looked at the house that was her most recent home, and saw a white van parked a short distance away. Inside were two men, both wearing white, medical looking uniforms. They looked so much like the mental hospital workers in a movie, or TV, it made her laugh. She had no idea if it was restricted to her mind, or if she was laughing back in her body.
With those guys parked there, waiting, it was obvious that her foster home wasn’t the place to go. The next place to try was the high school. Maybe Mrs. Stiles would be true to her word, at least long enough to help her, if she’d even made it back from the hospital yet.
Very carefully, she made her way through the trees as long as she could, before emerging onto a sidewalk and walking the rest of the way to Lakeside High School. Again, there were people watching. This time, there were a couple of the white vans with the white dressed men inside.
She went into the trees beside a small drainage pond, which she knew was filled with water moccasins. She had no worries from them, though. However, just to be safe, she sent a thought to them not to harm her, that she was no threat to them.
Lilly had no idea what to do, and she was beginning to feel desperate. As much as she acted like a badass, she knew she wasn’t. She was just a weak little girl. Dropping down, she put her face into her hands and began crying. She was scared, and had no idea what to do.
Thinking back, she wished she had accepted Sarah’s attempt to apologize. Then it hit her. Whoever these people were, they probably didn’t know anything about Sarah. When she finally removed her hands, there were a number of animals around, looking as if they were standing guard. It was the weirdest thing, but it wasn’t the first time, either.
Wiping her face, she stood back up and started walking, having a purpose again. It didn’t take too long to make it to Sarah’s house. As with her house, and the high school, she used a bird to see if there was anyone watching. She wasn’t very surprised to see that it wasn’t, at least as far as she could tell.
Still, she was very careful as she made her way to the house. She was almost like a wild animal herself, watching everywhere, as if something would jump out and grab her. Of course, that was exactly what had happened back at the hospital.
After ringing the doorbell, it was only a moment before the door opened. Sarah’s mom was a little older looking than when Lilly had last seen her, which only made sense. Several years had passed since Lilly had last been to Sarah’s house.
“Lilly,” Mrs. Sanders said, not bothering to hide the surprise on her face.
“Mrs. Sanders, I think I’m in trouble. I need a little help, please,” Lilly said.
“What do you need, Lilly?” Mrs. Sanders asked, but didn’t open the door for her to come in. As much as it still hurt, she knew why. She didn’t bother to mention that Lilly was in a hospital gown and had a straight jacket.
“I know what you think about me,” Lilly began, but Sarah’s mom cut her off.
“What exactly do I think about you, Lilly?” she asked.
“You think I’m into drugs, and probably a slut, and probably part of some gang,” Lilly said.
“I’ve heard those things, but I’m not sure I believe any of them,” Mrs. Sanders said. Although that made Lilly a little happy, there was still a definite hesitance from Sarah’s mom. Although it probably didn’t matter, this long afterward, she decided to apologize for what she’d done, so many times. It had always bothered her.
“I’m sorry I took money from you. I did it to buy clothes and food, because,” she began, but was unable to get anything else out, as Sarah’s mom wrapped Lilly into her arms.
“That’s all I wanted to hear, sweetheart,” she said, holding Lilly tightly, and leading her inside.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Sanders. I never should’ve stolen from you,” Lilly said.
“Put it out of your mind. I know why you did it, but you should’ve just asked. You know we would’ve helped you,” she said. “Now, what trouble are you in?” she asked.
“I was in the hospital, and I got mad at Mrs. Stiles and ran away. When I got outside, someone grabbed me, and put some kind of drug in me. I woke up a little while ago in the woods, but I don’t know how I got there,” Lilly began. Of course, she had some ideas, but really didn’t know
“Is that where you’ve been for the last two days?” Mrs. Sanders asked. Lilly was speechless. She’d been out for two days?
“You don’t know, do you,” she asked.
“Know what?” Lilly asked.
“You’ve been missing for two days, every since you ran out of the hospital. Everyone’s looking for you. The police have put out all kinds of alerts about you, and there are even amber alerts posted,” she said, but Lilly could tell there was something she was leaving out.
“What aren’t you telling me?” Lilly asked.
“You always were sharp,” Mrs. Sanders said, with a smile. “They claim you’re trying to escape the Dunwoody Fangs, and they’re trying to keep you safe, but you’re scared and don’t trust anyone,” she said.
“Why would they try and drug me, and put a straight jacket on me, right outside of a hospital?” Lilly asked.
“Why, indeed,” Mrs. Sanders said, staring at Lilly. “Maybe they’re doing it to protect you from yourself,” she said, after a very short pause, looking to see Lilly’s reaction. Lilly’s reaction wasn’t what she expected. Lilly stood up slowly, as if she was going to stretch, but she bolted for the door instead. As Mrs. Sanders stood up, their dog got under her feet, and she sprawled on the floor.
“I’m not going to turn you in,” she called out, but Lilly was gone, not seeming to hear her. With having to pick herself up off the floor, Sarah’s mother was much too slow, and only got to see Lilly’s back as she was heading into the trees across the road. Even with her delay, Emma Sanders couldn’t believe how fast that girl was.
Lilly made her way back to the park, where she’d spent so much time. It was a refuge for her. As she thought about that, she wondered if these people that were after her might know that. For that matter, who were they, and how much did they know? They knew where she lived, and where she went to school.
She didn’t know where else to go, or what else to do, though. On top of that, she was hungry, and knew she needed food, and especially water...and clothes.
“I was wondering if you might come back here,” a familiar female voice said. She’d allowed her mind to wander, and not paid close enough attention to what was around her. That was a slip she couldn’t afford to make. It remained to be seen if she was going to pay this time, or be given another chance.
“What are you doing here?” Lilly asked, backing away.
“I was told you’d probably come here. It’s kind of a sanctuary for you,” she said.
“Who told you that?” Lilly asked, although there were very few that knew she went there.
“When they issued the amber alert, your friend Horace called me and told me you might come here,” she said. So Horace had given her to them, but she figured he probably didn’t know what was going on.
“Are you going to give me to the police, or whoever’s after me?” she asked, plopping onto the ground. Even if Horace had ratted her out, and Mrs. Gomer was going to give her to the police, or whoever, she was too tired to give much resistance, and too hungry to boot, not to mention thirsty. She was so incredibly thirsty.
“No, at least not right now, but that honestly depends on you,” she said.
“Why does it depend on me? What can I do to make a difference?” Lilly asked.
“Well, you can tell me why the FBI wants you,” she said.
“Why’s the FBI after me?” she replied, shocked at that bit of information.
“I guess you don’t know, which brings me to my next question. What are your plans?” she asked. “Surely you have some,” she continued, before Lilly could even think to answer.
“I don’t know what to do. I’m scared,” she admitted.
“So, you are human, after all,” Mrs. Gomer said. Lilly looked at her curiously.
“With the things you’ve done so far, I was beginning to wonder if you were some kind of comic book superhero, or something,” she said, with a smile.
“What have I done, that wasn’t absolutely stupid?” Lilly asked.
“Stupid is debatable, but heroic, there are a number. First, you beat the hell out of a boy that was probably more than twice your size, literally, and was a very in shape athlete. You did it so soundly that no one would even consider touching you anymore, and not only that, you were smart enough to record things he did, which gave you evidence that has made it so his parents are scared of pressing charges against you. The next thing you did was take out a member of the Fangs, also rather dramatically. They’re scared of you, claiming there’s some kind of evil spirit protecting you, or something silly like that, and you did it so publicly, no one in their right mind would believe you’re part of the Fangs anymore,” she said. Lilly simply stared at her caseworker, unable to come up with anything to say.
“I think this might be the first time I’ve ever seen you speechless, not that I’ve known you that long,” Mrs. Gomer said.
Unable to stop herself, Lilly burst into tears. In that same instant, Mrs. Gomer took the girl in her arms and held her.
“I’m scared,” Lilly said.
“I know, sweetheart,” Mrs. Gomer said, but didn’t offer any assurances, knowing Lilly would see through them, since they’d be nothing more than words.
When Lilly finally settled down, Mrs. Gomer walked her into the corner of the two walls, and sat her on a small stool, sitting on another one. Lilly hadn’t even noticed they were there until that moment.
“Where’d these stools come from?” she asked.
“You’re quick, but you seem to be a bit slow right now. I had Horace bring them, so we could talk. Like I told you, he said you’d probably come here, eventually,” she said.
“So he abandoned me too?” Lilly asked, unable to stop that thought any longer.
“Not at all. As a matter of fact, he’s been working to make your life better since he first met you. It’s actually amazing what he’s accomplished, and almost scary,” she said, a look of concern replacing the look of compassion that had been directed at Lilly.
“What can he do for me?” Lilly asked, her curiosity overriding her fear.
“Well, it seems you aren’t a natural born American, and he’s been working to naturalize you, making sure there’s no one back in Scotland that’ll claim you,” she began.
“What if I wanted to go back there?” she asked, but before Mrs. Gomer could respond, Lilly said, “There’s probably not anyone that’d want me, anyway.”
“Actually, there are several people there that’d like to take you in. What he’s been working on is some kind of deal to allow them to have access to you, but you’d be adopted here and become a U.S. citizen,” she said.
“Why?” was all she could come up with to ask.
“You’re a very bright girl, but sometimes, you miss the obvious,” she said, which made Lilly stop. Was he wanting to adopt her, after all? How would he take care of her? He was homeless, not that she was much better off. She was staring at Mrs. Gomer open mouthed, unable to speak, but also going through a thousand thoughts at once.
“Since I know you’ll want to know, there was a family that made an effort to adopt you before they moved. Their petition was denied by my office. They may have told you that, but they wouldn’t have known why. It appears that your first caseworker hid the fact that you weren’t a legal US resident, we assume to protect you from further trauma after your mother died, but we really don’t know. Regardless, that made it impossible for you to be adopted without digging into your past and that being discovered. As a result,” she was saying.
“They couldn’t adopt me,” Lilly realized.
“Exactly,” Mrs. Gomer confirmed.
“They really did want me,” Lilly whispered.
“Very much, and I think they still do. They’ve been working on this since they left, and have spent a great deal of money and time on it. You’d almost say they’re obsessed,” Mrs. Gomer told her.
“But why?” Lilly asked.
“Because they love you and they see something special in you, which you apparently don’t see,” Mrs. Gomer said. “I see it, too,” she added, almost as an afterthought.
“But I’m trouble. I’m messed up. I’m not the girl they knew,” Lilly said.
“You’re definitely trouble, but I think it’s a good kind of trouble, when you want it to be,” Mrs. Gomer said, not even attempting to hide the irony. “I also know about the conversation you had with Mrs. Stiles before you ran out of the hospital. She also cares greatly for you, regardless of what you might think. Your words, although true from your perspective, have no bearing in reality. There are a lot of people that have been trying to improve your situation, even though there have been enough that definitely have not, but you make it difficult for those that do, because you won’t let anyone in,” she said, somewhat wryly.
“Where’s Horace?” Lilly asked, changing the subject so quickly, Mrs. Gomer had to shake her head to get her thoughts in order.
“That I can’t tell you, because to be honest, I don’t know. I think he’s in some kind of court hearing, or something, but I’m not certain,” she said.
“What about the people that are after me?” Lilly then asked.
“Now that’s a different problem, and to be honest, I’m not sure. They’re claiming custody of you, and their documentation appears legal, if unusual. Of course, we’re challenging it, and so is Horace,” she replied.
“Won’t they be watching you? They had people at my house and at the school,” Lilly said, which made Mrs. Gomer curious.
“How so?” she asked.
Lilly realized she couldn’t tell her how she found out, but that didn’t necessarily need to be told. “There was a white van with large men in them wearing white medical looking uniforms, or something,” Lilly told her.
“Although they might not have been there for you, I agree that is very odd, and you were probably right to stay hidden from them. You’re a paranoid little girl, you know that?” she said.
“Small people have to be,” Lilly said, and although it was meant to be humorous, she couldn’t bring a smile forth. “You still didn’t say anything about them watching you,” Lilly said, returning to that concern.
“You also have a memory like a trap,” she said and paused. “Let’s just say Horace has some friends keeping this private,” she then said.
“What should I do?” Lilly asked.
“That’s up to you, to be honest. I can’t offer any advice in this,” she replied.
“Can I stay here, until I figure out what’s going on, or someone else can? I don’t know what to do,” Lilly said.
“For now, that might be a good idea. We’ll make sure you get food and supplies. Some of those ‘friends’ will come and help you,” she said. “Keep in mind, my boss will not like me going along with this, so I’ll deny any involvement, if asked, and if I discover that the people after you have a legitimate reason to be, I’ll help them. Until then, I’m on your side,” Mrs. Gomer told her.