The Broken Line, 3: Open Jaws

The Broken Line Chapter 3(Missed the last chapter? Go to 2: Catch the Prey. Just starting? Go to Prologue: This Is My Knife)

 

February 7, 2014

I THOUGHT I glimpsed a grin on Thad’s face, but at second glance I decided maybe it was just the grimace of a man trying to control a berserk, 115-pound teenaged girl.

“Don’t just stand there, Keyes, do your job,” Thad snapped.

As I approached them, Thad pushed Daphne to the floor, face down, pinning her arms beneath her. I laid across Daphne’s legs to keep her from kicking, as I’d been trained to do in a two-person physical restraint.

Daphne screamed, “He tried to rape me! Motherfucker! How ‘bout I take a stick and shove it up your ass? See how you like it! Wait until my Daddy hears about this, he’s going to kill you! I’m a virgin and God knows it. Ms. Keyes, get him off me! Get him off me, Ms. Keyes. Ya’ll are evil here. God, Jesus, get me out of this place.”

I said nothing. I had been taught that only the counselor restraining the upper portion of the child’s body should speak, but Daphne’s accusations shocked me.

I stared at Thad and he shook his head. “Daphne, you know that’s not true. You stole a laser pointer. When I confronted you about it, you lost control.”

“He’s lying Ms. Keyes.” She began to sob. “It ain’t right. I’m a virgin.”

I felt sick, and not just from the migraine. Daphne sounded thoroughly miserable. But despite my personal dislike of Thad Morton, I found it hard to believe he would try to rape a resident. I found it even harder to believe Dr. Grey would tolerate any kind of abuse—she seemed to be such a stickler for the rules.

In my three weeks at Warrick, I’d been involved in at least half a dozen physical restraints. It always upset me, even when I didn’t have a migraine. I felt bad for these kids, but sometimes their behavior tested the limits of my compassion. I’d seen one girl run up and kick another resident in the face while she was on the floor being restrained.

During my training, Dr. Grey had said, “We restrain them not only to keep them from hurting other people, but from hurting themselves. We help them learn to manage their emotions by restraining their bodies. Though it may seem harsh at times, it’s the kindest thing we can do.”

I’d tried to buy into that philosophy, but at the moment I wasn’t succeeding. The migraine had left me so weak that it was only the weight of my body holding Daphne’s legs down.

Thad looked at me strangely and I mouthed the word, “Migraine.” He nodded, and I closed my eyes. We stayed like that for ten or fifteen minutes: Thad and I silent and still, as Daphne alternately screamed obscenities at him and begged me for help.

I felt tears trickle down my cheeks. I didn’t know if I could take Warrick much longer, but if I left so soon, my odds of getting another job in my field were slim to none. Don’t think about it now, I told myself. Just get through this.

I tried to distract myself by looking around the half of the science classroom I could see from my position on the floor. The last of the milky winter sun washed in through the high windows, illuminating thousands of dust motes.

There was human skeleton in one corner, donated by some medical college back in the 1930s. Beside it, a timeline of evolution and a schematic of the human body hung on the wall. On the shelves were jars full of liquid, with reptiles and mammal embryos. In one, I thought I saw a two-headed snake.

I looked at Thad’s wrist, his blond arm hair gleaming, his expensive white button-down shirt cut perfectly at the wrist, his ivory cufflinks twinkling softly under the classroom light. Carved owls, like Marcy the receptionist’s necklace. Irrationally, this made me want to cry again. I closed my eyes.

Every time Daphne’s screams wound down, Thad said, “Daphne, are you ready to calm down?” And each time, her response would be screamed accusations, curses and attempts to get free of the restraint.

Finally, Daphne’s response to Thad’s stock question, “Are you ready to calm down now?” became a hostile, “Yes,” to which Thad replied, “I don’t think you’re ready.”

I suppressed the urge to laugh. There was nothing funny, but I was at the end of my rope. If Thad didn’t let her up soon, I was going to start cursing myself.

Breaking the rules again, I asked the question myself. “Daphne, honey, are you ready to calm down and get up?”

“Take me back to the cottage, Ms. Keyes,” she said tearfully. “Please.”

I looked at Thad. He hesitated a moment, then nodded.

“Daphne, I’m releasing your feet now,” I said. Head pounding, I sat up as slowly as I could.

“I’m going to let go of your arms,” Thad said. He let go of one wrist at a time, then gently eased off Daphne’s back.

Daphne pushed into a seated position, hunched in on herself like a snail.

“Come on, honey.” I stood and held my hand out to help her up. She stood and hiked up her too-large, baggy jeans, which had fallen down below her hips. She wouldn’t look either of us in the face, just huddled against me, shivering.

 

AS DAPHNE AND I left the plantation house, the sun sank below the horizon, casting a silhouette behind the black trees outside the drive. “What happened before I came in?”

Daphne shook her head.

“You can tell me.”

“Not now, Ms. Keyes. It’ll make me go off again.” Daphne’s head jerked up and she glared into the distance, tightening her fingers into fists.

“That’s okay,” I said, gently. “You ready to go to group?”

Daphne shrugged and let her head drop again, staring at her feet, swaying as she walked. I put my arm lightly around her shoulders to guide her. I thought she might shrug it off, but she leaned into me.

As we approached Jemison cottage, I noticed the swatch green shutters hanging crooked and the white painted clapboards starting to peel. When I had my first tour before my interview, I’d thought it all looked so charming. But maybe I hadn’t wanted to really see the place as it was.

It seemed strange that the main house was kept pristine, while the residential buildings were allowed to fall into disrepair—especially with Dr. Grey’s obsession for all things sleek and clean. Some of the staff jokingly called the cottages slave quarters, and supposedly a couple of them had originally been just that.

I’d asked Zora Clark, the team leader, if was true. She’d only been working here two weeks longer than me, but she was Dr. Clark’s niece, so I figured she’d know.

“I doubt it,” Zora had said. My supervisor was in her early thirties with the same regal-looking high forehead and dark, plummy skin as her uncle. “The kind of housing our people got in those days wasn’t built to last two hundred years. It’s possible some of the buildings survived, though.” She shook her head, and the wooden beads on the ends of her tiny braids clicked together musically.

Most of the so-called cottages were just ramshackle wooden boxes, with tiny, high windows through which the residents could never sneak out—as if the alarm system wasn’t enough.

Each cottage had three small bedrooms that housed two sets of bunk beds for four kids—twelve in all, an office and tiny bedroom for the staff doing overnight shifts, and a large living room with a kitchenette.

As Daphne and I entered, I was hit by the distinctive smell of hairspray mixed with fake vanilla from plug-in air fresheners. The staff supervisor, Summer Skye, insisted on having one in every room to cover up the personal odors of the twelve teenagers forced to live together in a 1,500 square-foot building with minimal ventilation.

I looked through the window of the industrial metal door from the entrance hall into the living room. Eleven girls ranging from age fourteen to seventeen sat in a circle on the blue plastic chairs and boxy pine couches, all looking bored.

This was the daily group session where the residents confronted each other with their “issues” as per the Positive Peer Culture model. It was supposed to be therapeutic, but from what I’d seen so far, it was a chance for the bossy to berate the weak. Only Zora’s presence kept it from turning into an all out feeding frenzy.

Everyone stopped talking when they saw me come in with Daphne. The other residents gawked, with expressions ranging from concerned to gleeful. Too late, I realized I should have asked Daphne if she wanted to clean up before we went in. Her mauve eye shadow and thick eyeliner had smudged, ringing her red eyes with a bruised color; her limp hair had tangled into knots at the back of her head.

Zora frowned. “Everything okay, Daphne?”

Daphne shrugged and slid into a chair. For once her spine was straight. She stared at an empty space on the wall¾at nothing.

Zora nodded to me that I could go.

I closed the door and went into the staff office, which was empty. I knew Kim was probably running the loop. I could have used some fresh air myself, but I was so exhausted and nauseated that all I could do was fall into one of the single beds in the tiny staff bedroom.

 

WHEN I WOKE up, Zora stood over me. Even in the dark I could see the v-shaped furrow of worry between her brows. “Lacy, are you okay?”

I looked at the digital clock on the nightstand. It read 7:15 p.m. “Sorry,” I mumbled, rubbing my hands over my face. “Migraine.”

“Daphne said you were sick, so I let you sleep through dinner.” Zora sat down on the other twin bed.

I clicked on the small, plastic lamp on the nightstand and squinted at her. “Really? But I didn’t tell her.”

“Hyper-alert, these kids. Comes from living with their abusive parents.” As Zora crossed her legs, her black track suit pants with white piping made a nylon swishing sound.

I swung my feet onto the floor, testing the waters. My head felt like a rock—heavy, but no pain. It was progress.

“Daphne said Thad tried to rape her,” Zora said in a low voice.

“She talk about it in group?”

Zora nodded. “Half the girls started yelling that she should get him arrested, and the other half saying that Daphne probably asked for it, and Daphne screaming that she’s a virgin and right with God. I can’t believe you didn’t hear them.”

“Sorry.” I shook my head.

“I tried to tell Daphne’s crew that there’d definitely be an investigation, while assuring Thad’s fan club, lead by Tanesha, that he’s innocent until proven guilty, which only pissed off Daphne and her friends, since they thought that meant I didn’t believe her. Shasta and Kerri nearly got into a fight, and Elizabeth and Nessa were itching to jump in, too.”

I sighed. “Thad said he confronted Daphne about stealing a laser pointer and she lost it.”

Zora absently fiddled with her pen, and I knew she was craving a cigarette.

“She was really out of control when I got there, but….” I hesitated to ask the question on my mind, because the staff at Warrick Home operated in tight, overlapping factions that I hadn’t fully mapped out. On the other hand, Zora had only been there two weeks longer than I had, and I hadn’t seen her dripping sweetness around Thad Morton like some of the other women counselors.

“But, what?” Zora prompted.

“Well,” I hedged, “does Daphne strike you as the kind of kid who’d attack a counselor?”

“Hard to say. No history of violence but under the wrong circumstances….”

“Come on. She’s been in about a hundred wrong circumstances, just like all the kids here. Warrick is a wrong circumstance.”

Zora looked thoughtful. “You’re not happy here.”

“That’s not what I meant.” Though it was true. “The residents. We’re confronting them with their issues all the time, supposedly trying to flush out the toxic crap.”

“Not exactly the clinical term for it.” Zora gave me a wry smile. “But isn’t it possible that some of Daphne’s toxic crap came out today?”

“Maybe,” I conceded. “So you think she’s lying about Thad?”

Zora’s eyes widened. “I didn’t say that! Department of Social Services will have to investigate and make the call. People on the inside tend to be biased.”

I thought about my dislike of Thad Morton and grimaced, acknowledging her point.

Zora smiled and rose from the bed. “Go back to sleep. You can do your report in the morning.”

I groaned and shook my head. “I’ll do it tonight.” I wasn’t about to cut into my precious days off catching up on paperwork.

 

I DRAGGED MYSELF into the staff bathroom to try to wake up before facing what remained of study hour. I knew the girls’ usual resistance would be at epic levels—loud claims that they couldn’t understand the homework (though usually it turned out they hadn’t read it yet) against a backdrop of threatening looks and whispered rumors about Daphne and Thad Morton. I felt sorry for Kim, by herself with them for the past half hour.

I peered at my face in the mirror. My normally olive skin looked waxy yellow. My hair was dry and starting to frizz around my face. I tried to remember the last time I’d washed and blow dried it. The days had a way of running together at Warrick.

I thought I heard voices again, Poor Daphne… not listening… trying… sleeping light. These were the kindly voices, but I’d had enough weirdness for one day. I ducked my head under the faucet and let the shock of cold and the sound of running water erase everything from my head.

Feeling more alert, I straightened up. “I am not my mother,” I told my dripping reflection. It was mantra I’d picked up from a therapist after my mother was convicted of aggravated assault and sent to prison.

My reflection had the nerve to look skeptical.

“I know what’s real,” I said, firmly.

Some people think talking to yourself is a sign there’s a screw loose. I don’t happen to be one of them. My mother was a schizophrenic who believed a demon was out to get us. Believed it so much she was willing to kill. If talking to yourself in the mirror every now and then is your worst symptom, you can rest easy, believe me.

I towel-dried my face, combed my wet hair and slicked it back into a ponytail again—another Warrick regulation—to avoid getting it tangled in grasping fingers during physical restraints. I pinched my cheeks until the color returned. I took a deep breath and assessed my reflection again.

Better.

Calm gaze and confident posture, if not exactly glowing with health. I flung open the bathroom door, ready to face the rigors of study hour and bedtime. Resistant? No problem. Manipulative? Bring it on.

I wasn’t crazy; I took care of crazy. Nothing like my mother, at all.

That’s what I told myself, and it was easy to believe as long as I was surrounded by the bustle and noise of twelve girls in brightly lighted rooms.

But after lights out, Warrick had a different feel, and the voices weren’t done with me yet.

Read Chapter 4: They Steal Your Mind

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