(Missed the last chapter? Go to 4: They Steal Your Mind. Just starting? Go to Prologue: This Is My Knife.)
February 8, 2014
THE AIR IN Dr. Grey’s office felt frigid compared to the rest of the building. So cold, in fact, that I turned to see if her window was open. It wasn’t, but outside the day had turned nasty. A howling wind pushed a looming bank of snow clouds in from the west. I wondered if I dared mention that I needed to get on the road to beat the storm.
Dr. Grey gestured for me to sit, and I sank into a chair.
“I read your … report.” Dr. Grey hissed and dropped the papers on her desk as if they burned her fingers. Taut fury rearranged her face into something downright disturbing, like a super-model’s corpse.
Behind her, Dr. Clark appeared. Had he been there when I walked in? Perhaps I was so absorbed in the weather, so taken with the idea of getting the hell out of here and actually sitting in a warm car by myself and listening to some real music, the Misfits, the Marvin’s, some vintage Pretenders—that I didn’t see him.
“Did … did I do something wrong?” I stammered.
“You tell me, Lacy. Did you?” Dr. Grey walked around from her desk and stood next to my seat. Dr. Clark followed her and stood on the other side. I had to crunch my neck to look up and see their faces, which loomed above me like the Easter Island giants—implacable and eerie.
“How can you think, even for one minute, Thad would do a thing like that?” Summer screeched, abruptly lurching forward. Her gaudy modern silver sunburst necklace swung like a pendulum. I noticed that, at the center, it featured an inlay of tiny white rabbits whose faces wore scared, sad expressions.
Summer’s lips were drawn back in fury. She placed her hands on either armrest of my chair and bent so close that I could smell her breath—thick with the odor of decay.
“Stephanie Ann Skye!” Dr. Grey snapped. Summer jumped back and collapsed into the chair behind her as abruptly as if she’d been shoved.
Dr. Grey walked to her desk and picked up her silver paperweight with the white flakes swirling in it, turning it over in her hands as she stared down at me. “What Summer means is that we’re a family here at Warrick. So you can imagine how those of us who’ve been part of the family for a long time feel, hearing these accusations.”
“But what about the residents?” I blurted. “Aren’t they part of the family, too?” I expected Dr. Grey to snap at me, the way she had at Summer. Instead, she gave me a pitying smile.
“Bless your heart, Lacy. Of course, there’s nothing we desire more than to have every child in our care, and every staff member, become part of this family. We welcome them with open arms. Whether or not they accept the invitation is entirely up to them. Isn’t that right, Dr. Clark?”
Dr. Clark nodded, so blandly self-effacing he was like a hologram. My stomach lurched and I wondered if that was a veiled threat. Was my job on the line?
“Look, I don’t know what happened before I got there,” I began. Summer gasped with outrage, then stifled herself by clamping her hands over her mouth like a child. It struck me as a bizarre action for a forty-something year-old woman. I continued, “Zora told me that the Department of Social Services will be the ones to investigate and decide the truth.”
Dr. Clark’s face brightened at the mention of his niece. “Zora knows all the procedures and protocols.”
“Of course, Zee is very learned.” Dr. Grey’s face had frozen again into a rigid grimace. “An investigation must be conducted, Lacy. Dr. Clark can assure you that we follow the law to a T.” She fixed her glare on Dr. Clark for a moment and he reverted to his default bland expression and nodding.
Dr. Grey continued, “But things aren’t always as cut and dried as inexperienced staff might think. For example, you left a lot out of your report.”
She flicked the top page of the report back with one manicured nail and the paper skidded a few inches across the high gloss finish of the desk. She read aloud. “‘Daphne screamed obscenities and threats at Mr. Morton.’” Dr. Grey gave a dramatic pause and then eyed me. “But here, you offer no concrete detail. This is the kind of information that is crucial. Can you enlighten us now, Lacy?”
I looked away from Dr. Grey to Summer, still crouched in her chair like something feral, with her hands pressed to her mouth. Summer shook her head at me as if I should know better when, in fact, it was she who had taught me not to quote random cursing during physical restraints.
“Um, she said f-you to Mr. Morton several times.” I looked at the magnificently buffed oak floor. “She said he’d tried to rape her, and she should shove something up his… rectum to see how he would like it. She said her father was going to kick his ass.”
“Really?” Dr. Grey said. “Are you aware that Daphne was sexually abused by her father, Lacy?”
“Well, don’t you think it’s strange that Daphne claimed her father would defend her?”
I eyed Dr. Grey uncertainly. Everyone who works with this population knows that often children continue to trust and protect their parents, even when they’ve been horribly abused—a survival instinct gone wrong.
Dr. Grey put down her paperweight, paced over to the window and stared out at the heavy, gray sky. I heaved a sigh of relief to have her stop looming over me like an avenging angel in a white Dior suit.
Summer leaned forward in her chair, and said in her usual breathy, soothing voice, “I’m sorry for losing my temper, Lacy. I’m sure once you know all the facts, you’ll understand why we’re so upset. Daphne was kicked out of her first foster home after she made allegations against her foster father for sexual abuse. The charges were later dropped due to insufficient evidence.
“At Daphne’s last foster placement, she was expelled from school for having sex in the bathroom with another student. Even though a teacher caught her in the act, she claimed to be a virgin. Shortly afterwards, she tried to commit suicide.”
“That’s why we took her,” Dr. Clark’s voice floated across the room to me. The baritone timber sounded hollow. “We take those children who have the hardest lives and try to turn it around for them.”
The emptiness in his voice made me feel disoriented. “But I don’t see what that—”
“A pattern, Lacy!” Dr. Grey turned away from the window and stared at me so coldly that I had to remind myself to breathe. “Since Daphne’s father abused her, she’s fallen into a cycle of sexual acting out and lying. It’s a common problem. I’m sure you’re well aware.”
What she said was true, but I still felt uncomfortable. If it was all so cut and dried, why were they strong-arming me?”
Seeming to read my mind, Dr. Grey glided over and stood above me again, her hand resting lightly on my left shoulder. “If you were in Thad’s shoes, wouldn’t you like to think that your team, the people who knew you best, would be there for you? That they knew you to be above reproach?”
I found myself nodding, though by that time I wasn’t sure of anything. Maybe I’m weak, but there are people who, when they turn their powers of persuasion on you, seem to blot out the sun and sky. Suddenly, your own feelings and opinions seem ill-considered, if not ridiculous.
My uncle John could have that effect on me. I didn’t know if it was my guilt over what my mother did to him, or the strength of his personality, but sometimes when I was with him, I seemed to lose my grip on my own feelings and thoughts. Standing in his shadow, I became pliable.
Now, like a reoccurring nightmare—familiar, horrifying and impossible to stop—I felt my will evaporating under Dr. Grey’s scrutiny.
“When you’ve been here as long as we have, you’ll see,” Summer’s smile slid sideways, like it didn’t fit her face. “What they’ve been through can make them do horrible things to themselves and to others.” She looked to Dr. Grey for confirmation.
Dr. Grey nodded and removed her hand from its perch on my shoulder. “It’s not Daphne’s fault she’s damaged, but we must help her. That’s our job. And do you know how we help her?”
I shook my head. I couldn’t stop looking at the window, as if the gathering storm could offer some escape, as if I could fling myself through the window and fly.
“The truth?” It sounded more like a question than an answer. Dr. Clark frowned into the distance, as if trying to remember something.
“That’s right,” Dr. Grey said. “The truth is how we help Daphne. Painful as it can be, if we allow the residents to continue believing their own lies, their lives will continue to spin out of control, doing untold damage to themselves and others in the process.”
I nodded. I felt sick and heavy, as if I had swallowed that damned paperweight.
“I will make it my business to set things right, Lacy.” Dr. Grey said. “Will you trust me?”
As Dr. Grey laid her hand my shoulder again I felt all resistance drain out of me. It came with a physical feeling of relief, as if I’d been straining to hold back a boulder that I knew was going to roll down the hill eventually, with or without my permission. I hesitated a fraction of a second, then nodded again.
Dr. Grey smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “You can go now, Lacy.”
I stood scraping my knee on the corner of the desk in my haste. “Thank you, Dr. Grey,” I said, and then wondered what I was thanking her for. Letting me out of here? Allowing me to have my job here when I was so clearly ill-equipped for the task?
I WENT BACK to the cottage and collected my bag. The girls were in school, so the cottage was empty. I felt grateful not to have to see anyone, and vaguely ashamed, though I wasn’t sure what I could have done differently. All of my supervisors had told me the situation would be investigated. So why did I feel so shitty?
As I threw my overnight bag in the backseat of my beat-up Jetta, the first snowflakes swirled down in the grey sky. I jumped in the car and made my way out of there as fast as I legally could. I didn’t turn on my music after all, just sped in silence down the two-lane road through farmland and barren woods.
As I drove, I tried to work up enthusiasm for the night ahead: Vicktergarten’s big debut at UrgePool. I’d read that since the eclectic, high-tech club opened three weeks ago, people had started lining up down the block as early as five. And tonight I was on the guest list, courtesy of Branson, the lead singer.
Normally, I would have been counting down the hours, but it was going to take more than a few vodka shots to scour my brain free of the image of poor Daphne, struggling against Thad. His grimace. Her raccoon eyes streaked with tears. Dr. Grey’s disdain.
Well, if at first you don’t succeed, drink, drink again, I thought grimly. As if in synchronicity, I glimpsed a dark haired, haggard woman clutching a bottle outside the ramshackle trailers at the turn onto Route 5. I shook off the paranoid impression that she was some future version of me. On the contrary, I’d become too responsible, too serious lately. Time to change that, I decided. Branson might get more than he bargained for tonight.
Little did I know that I was the one who would find herself in over her head, floundering in the murky depths of the VIP room at UrgePool, where the beautiful people went to lose their inhibitions—for a price.