“What are you going to do to me?” That’s the first thing I asked him after I’d handed him the scalpel. He was assessing it curiously, like he hadn’t seen a blade in his life before. “Jackson, I asked you something.”
“Relax, Nurse Riley. I ain’t gonna touch a single hair off your pretty little head, well, unless you want me too,” he grinned, quickly hiding the scalpel underneath the hospital bed. “Now, there’s one other thing I need from you.”
He wrote down a number for me and gave me instructions on what I was supposed to do.
“Are you nuts?” I almost shrieked at him. It was hard to keep my voice down. “If someone finds out about it, it’s going to be a criminal offense. I could go to jail for this.”
“I assure you that if you follow my instructions, nothing will happen to you but if you want to refuse, that’s fine because one way or the other I will find my way out of here and when that’s done, baby brother will be home waiting for you.” He said.
And then added, “In the freezer.”
He barked out a laugh. This wasn’t funny anymore. I bit my lip hard. “Dr. Paul suspects there’s something going on between us.”
“Well that cocky bastard ain’t got nothing else to do. He’s just teasing you, I bet.” Jackson said. “He’s the type of a guy who pretends to know everything, but doesn’t.”
Frustrated, I asked “Why me?! Why are you doing this to me?”
Jackson’s expressions turned serious, “I warned you enough times to give up on me, didn’t I?”
“It’s my job! I never asked for this!” I said.
“Well neither did I, but we are stuck with each other, Cotton-Candy.” He said. “The smarter ones took off, but Dr. Aaron thought you could make a difference because you’re kind and forgiving, but then again, this isn’t some fucking cliché novel where the Nurse slowly treats and cures the patient with their love.”
When I didn’t say anything, he muttered. “You should have left when you had a chance like everyone else.”
Instead of answering to that, I said, “at five-thirty I’ll be ready with whatever you need but you have to keep your word and no one gets hurt.”
He made a cross on his heart with his finger.
“See you in the evening, Nurse Riley.”
I placed all the things that Jackson asked me to in a bag and placed it under the bushes where it wasn’t visible to anyone. I had to be very very sneaky, considering the fact that Paul Bennet had a close eye on me.
After that I went along with the rest of the plan. That evening, Jackson was on a wheelchair, faking a migraine and how after almost slicing his wrists he still had weakness in his body. It was mandatory to take patients out in a wheelchair, mental or not and this was a good opportunity for whatever he had planned.
When we reached the ground floor, he eyed the corridor, waiting for a doctor to appear. Because Jackson was in luck, Dr. Deena was doing her usual rounds. Sweet, understanding, nerdy Dr. Deena who was a little too scared of Jackson for obvious reasons.
“If it isn’t Dr. Deena Love, it’s so nice to see you after a long time.” Jackson said.
Dr. Deena smiled politely looking for an answer that did not piss off the lunatic. “Likewise.”
Jackson laughed. “Never thought anyone would say that back to me.”
“Doc, I’m still waiting for your answer for our coffee date.” He called after her with a wink as she passed us.
“Well, Dr. Love isn’t insane, so you should find someone of your caliber.” I retorted.
“Someone like you?” He asked.
I snorted, wheeling the chair towards the hospital courtyard. At the hospital entrance, Jackson leaped to his feet and pulled out the scalpel from his pocket. It was too fast for anyone to react. He took me in a death grip, his arm coiling around my neck, the surgical blade just shy of my jawline, almost digging into my skin.
“If anyone so much as tries to call the police, Nurse Riley dies a slow painful death.”
I was in hysteria, I screamed. “Jackson don’t!”
He pointed the surgical knife at the audience, “Take your cellphones out and put it down on the ground where I can see it.” Someone yelled ‘Don’t hurt her’. Horror was quite evident on everyone’s faces.
“Slow and easy.” He took a few steps back and I had to follow his steps. “No one calls anyone.”
When we reached the hospital gates, he asked the security to hand him the gun and open the gates. The guard knew better than to talk Jackson out of it unless he really wanted to see my throat sliced clean because either way there was no stopping him. The hospital gates opened and Jackson dragged me outside which is when Royal blue Jaguar pulled up at the curb and the door swung open.
I stared at him. “What are you doing?”
“Well, I didn’t escape the asylum so I could play Candy Crush.” He said. I was surprised that even in situation as these he was still having his humor intact.
“Where are you going, Jackson?”
“Home.” He said.
Something passed between us as we stared at each other, like he knew it was a good-bye.
“Thank you for all your help, Cotton-Candy.” He said and climbed into the car.
“No! No, wait! Jackson!” I jogged behind the car but it disappeared onto the road with a loud screech.
I was panting when I sat down at the side of the road. The sun was already going down. I covered my face with my hands, thinking what I had done. By helping Jackson roam free, I’d put the lives of innocent people in jeopardy. But I had been so helpless, if I hadn’t done what he had asked me to, he would have hurt my brother.
I walked back towards the hospital, not knowing how I was going to explain any of this to Aaron. I knew Paul would be breathing down my throat by the end of this day. He wouldn’t let me live peacefully. Tears began flooding and blurring my vision.
As soon as I stepped inside the gates, my friend Nurse Madeline, popularly known as Massi wrapped me in a tight hug. “Oh my god. Riley, what happened?”
I stared at her. “He escaped, Maddy.” I cried. “Because of me, because I let him out and now...” I sobbed some more. “He’s going to kill more people.”
Maddy shook her head, patting my arm, “it’s not your fault. He threatened you.”
It was part of his plan. I’d helped him do that.
That day passed with people enquiring me how I was coping. It didn’t come as a shock to everyone that I was a victim to Jackson’s never ending ways to mentally torture people, when I’d signed up as his nurse I had no idea it was so hard to deal with him.
My phone buzzed in my pocket, I reached for it. A text from Aaron.
Riley, come see me in my office.
I sighed. I was already dreading what was about to follow. How was I going to face Aaron? What would I say to him when he comforts me saying that it was alright; that I was just another one of Jackson’s victims. I couldn’t lie to his face when all he had done was support me.
I walked into Aaron’s office expecting him to hug me, or give me some words of reassurance. But his expressions were grim, he frowned at me and told me to have a seat.
It was quite unusual for Aaron to appear this way. I assumed it was because of Jackson’s escape, followed by more of his concerns regarding other patients. He was pissed, so pissed that I had hardly seen him like this.
“You’ve got a lot of explaining to do, Riley.” He said, without making eye-contact.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
For a few seconds he didn’t utter a single word, just clicking away on his laptop and then he turned the screen of the laptop towards me. “Care to explain what’s going on here?”
I watched in horror as he played the clip. It was me, wearing a latex glove, stealing a scalpel from an operational theatre and hiding it in my pocket. Then another clip of me wheeling Jackson towards the entrance of the hospital and then him suddenly catching me as a bait for escape. Aaron played the clip of me stealing the scalpel again and again.
Again and again until I said. “Stop it, Aaron!”
“I don’t know what to say to you, Riley. I’m not even disappointed. I’m just surprised.” He said, his expressions were hurt.
“I’m so sorry, Aaron.” I apologized. I couldn’t even take the look on his face. I didn’t want Aaron to look at me like that.
Like I was some kind of a criminal.
“I’m still waiting for you to cook up an excuse, because it better be fucking good.” He said, turning his full attention towards me.
“Jackson threatened me. He said he would hurt Ken if I didn’t do what he asked me to. I was helpless.” I explained.
“And you didn’t think it was a good idea to come and talk to me first?” He asked. “I could have helped you, instead you decided to help a criminally insane go through with his plan of fleeing this place which to you seemed like a best option.”
“I didn’t have a choice!” I said.
He slammed his hand on the table in frustration, making me flinch. “Of course you did. This is exactly what he is good at, Riley. Manipulating people into thinking he’s innocent and then forcing them to do a criminal act.”
“So I’m a criminal now?”
“You stole a surgical knife from an operational theater, the same knife that Jackson used to hold you hostage while he escaped, so yeah.. technically, you helped him go through with his diabolical plan.” He said, “On second thought, he didn’t even hurt you. It seems too convenient to me.”
“What are you implying?!” My voice went a notch up. “That he and I planned this together?”
“I don’t know what to make of this footage. It seemed like you were too comfortable doing this for him. What’s gonna be next? Jackson forcing you to kill someone for him?”
“I’m really sorry, Aaron. I didn’t know what else to do. He told me he was being framed.”
“Do you really believe that?” Aaron gave out a laugh, his hard stare unwavering. “Slitting his wrists was also Jackson’s plan to get out of the Mental ward, because things are really easier down here. Patients are not always locked. He’s the kind of a psychopath who could slit his own throat to get out of a situation and still be fucking alright.”
I remained silent, my mind going over everything.
Jackson tricked us into thinking he was trying to commit suicide, and Aaron knew. I was too naive.
I closed my eyes and let the reality sink in.
“Dr. Liu is back from Malaysia. If this footage gets in his hands, you wouldn’t be able to work as a nurse anywhere in this country, let alone this hospital.” He said. “They won’t trust your allegations of being threatened by Jackson, it would seem like you were his ally.”
“You can’t be serious.”
Aaron shook his head. “I’m not joking. There have been cases of Jackson getting people especially women to do exactly what he wants and you played right into his palm.” He regarded me with what I assumed was suspicion. “Tell me, Riley. You haven’t developed any feelings for him, have you?”
“Of course not.”
His gaze softened. “I’ve always been supportive of you. I never ever wanted anyone to treat me like I’m in a higher position, but it seems like people have taken that for granted.”
I knew when he said “people” he specifically meant me.
I didn’t know words could hurt this much, and I never realized I would see the day when Aaron would be the one to say it to me.
“I’m going to make sure it doesn’t happen again.” Aaron continued. He handed me a paper.
My hands shook as I took the letter from him.
Dear Ms Riley Frazier,
This is to inform you that you are hereby suspended temporarily from your job without pay for 21 working days. This disciplinary action has been taken based on the following policy breach.
1. Stealing a surgical knife from the operational theatre without having written consent from the authority in charge.
Should you have any concerns, kindly contact the undersigned.
Dr. Aaron Shaw
Head Of The Department
Woodville Psychiatric Hospital.
“But Aaron, I swear, helping him escape wasn’t my intention. He forced me to do it...I...”
Aaron put his hand up to stop me. “Don’t!” He refuses to make eye- contact. “Don’t manipulate me with your emotions, Riley. I have to be strict right now. We are friends but I don’t want anyone to think I’m letting you off the hook because of that. I want you to understand. This has to be fair.”
I nodded. “I understand.”
“This will stay between us so don’t worry. If questions arise regarding your suspension, I’ll tell them you took a break from work.”
I nodded and turned to leave when he called out to me again. “Hey.”
Aaron sighed. “If you need the money to pay for the rent or anything at all, you can ask me.”
“Thanks.” I said and walked out with the suspension letter in my hand.
I rounded the corner and made a run for the bathroom. I closed myself inside a cubical and broke into a loud sob.