Sunday, May 27, 2012
"Daire Meets Ever" by Alyson Noel
When she’s not crossing and uncrossing her legs, fussing with her cuticles, and/or riffling through her bag, Jennika tries to engage me in a conversation I’d rather not have. A wad of gum smacking between her back teeth when she says, “Reminds me of Vegas.”
I survey the place. Taking in walls glossed with pale green paint—the color of cucumber meat—the color of calm—along with worn linoleum grey tiled floors left to bubble in the places where they’re not already torn. Her assessment so far off the mark, so opposite the seedy glitz and glam of Vegas, I don’t even respond.
I just close my eyes and slide toward the edge of the curved plastic seat that’s attached to both the floor and the wall. Everything in this place is bolted to something. It’s an attempt to keep the crazies from hurling the furniture at the white-coated doctors prowling the halls.
This is the house of crazy.
A place to contain the insane.
“Doesn’t it remind you of Vegas?” Jennika’s tone grows louder, more insistent. More than anything, my mom hates to be ignored, especially by me. So I throw her a bone, decide to play along.
“You mean because of all the slot machines? Or is it the ridiculously long line for the all-you-can-eat prime rib buffet?” I prop an eye open, watching as her eyes roll in their sockets, her brow shooting well past her platinum blond bangs with the chunky pink stripe. Then I close my eyes again, try to focus on something more pleasant, try to conjure the beautiful boy from my dreams. But the drugs they’ve been feeding me, only serve to keep him at bay.
“I meant the absence of windows. And, if you’ll notice, there’s not one single clock—not anywhere!” She shakes her head and scowls, annoyed with the decor as much as the predicament I’ve sunk us both into.
“What’d you expect? Ocean views and whirlpools? It’s a mental ward, Jennika.” My voice sounds listless and bored—as though I can barely drum up the energy to participate. “Best not to keep track of how many days they lock you away.”
Jennika sighs, and leans toward me. Her fingers fussing at my long dark hair, arranging it around my shoulders as though it’ll make some kind of difference to anyone other than her. “It’s not a mental ward, Daire—it’s . . .”
I slant my gaze toward hers, waiting to see where her hunt for the perfect euphemism will end.
“It’s a hospital.” She huffs. “A renowned research center. Nothing more, nothing less. Besides, it’s not like you haven’t been here before.”
When she starts to dig through the contents of her purse, searching for some blush to brighten my cheeks, I know it’s time to flee.
In “The World According to Jennika” there’s nothing a good make-over can’t cure. As one of Hollywood’s most sought-after make-up artists, she’s seen first hand the kind of magick a little spackle and glitter can work. But no amount of fluffing and shading is going to change the fact that this place is, indeed, a mental ward—and that we’re here because of my recent diagnosis as crazy.
I push off, eager to leave Jennika in her happy place of denial. Eager to get as far from her and these “mental health experts” as I possibly can.
“Where you going?” she asks, her voice rising and anxious. Calling after my retreating back when she adds, “Don’t go to far—the doctor will call for you soon . . .”
I flee down the hall in search of an exit. Needing to fill my lungs with fresh air.
Needing to remember a time when my life consisted of something more than a never-ending series of mind-altering drugs and mental evaluations.
Needing to get far away from here.
I pick up the pace. Following the lighted signs with green arrows, I round the next corner, and plow smack into a girl so beautiful, so radiant and luminous, I can’t help but wonder if she’s one of the glowing people who stalk me.
If so, it’s just a matter of time before the place floods with crows. And once that happens, they’ll be shoving me into a straight jacket and a padded white room where I’ll live out my life.
“You okay?” The girl places a hand on each of my shoulders in an attempt to steady me. “I’m so sorry—I wasn’t even looking, and . . .”
She tilts her head in a way that allows a stream of golden blond hair to spill down her side as her bright blue eyes narrow on mine. And though I try to pull away, try to tell her I’m perfectly fine, I’m far too startled by the jolt of her touch to do either one of those things.
It’s like her fingers are streaming with electricity that wraps all around me.
She grips my shoulders tighter and lowers her voice to a whisper. “Don’t let them tell you you’re crazy,” she says, glancing all around, as though afraid of being overheard. “Don’t let them tell you the glowing people don’t exist, because they do. The crows too. It’s all real, you’re not imagining any of it.”
I jerk back as though I’ve been shocked. Yanking free of her grip as my mind reels with questions.
Who the heck is she? And how could she possibly know about the visions? Has she read my case file? Is she some crazy escapee impersonating a staff member?
She smiles, standing steadily before me as she says, “I’m none of those things. My name’s Ever. Ever Bloom. I’m psychic, telepathic, but as far as I know I’m not crazy. Nor am I a patient impersonating a staff member. And though I’m probably the only person willing to believe you—trust me when I say, you won’t always feel so alone. There are plenty of us who realize the world isn’t anything like we’ve been trained to believe.”
“What are you doing here?” I ask, well aware how I just skipped over her more outrageous claims, only to focus on the benign.
“I’m taking part in a study on NDEs.” Fielding my blank look when she adds, “People who have had a near death experience.”
“You died?” My gaze flies down the length of her, thinking she is surely the strangest girl I’ve ever met, and yet there’s something about her that’s so calming, I have no desire to flee.
“More than once.” She lifts her shoulders, her eyes glinting with mischief when she says, “As will you.”
I shift from foot to foot, not really knowing how to respond.
“Listen,” she says, checking her watch and glancing toward the door just behind her. “All you need to know is that you’re not crazy. Not by a long shot. So please don’t believe them. Listen to your heart, it’ll never steer you wrong.”
I nod, sensing the truth behind her words.
“I wish we had more time to talk but—” She turns, smiling as the absolute personification of Tall, Dark, and Handsome pushes through the door and stands right beside her. “We’re late,” she says.
“That’s what happens when you won’t let me manifest a parking space.” He hands her an unopened bottle of water, grinning in a way so heart-melting, I have to force myself to look away.
Remembering too late how she claims to read minds, and the knowing smile she gives me, pretty much proves she just caught me mentally ogling her boyfriend.
“This is Damen. Damen Auguste,” she says, leaning against him and fitting into his side so easily, they’re like puzzle pieces—book ends—made to be together.
“I’m Daire,” I say, realizing I hadn’t gotten around to introducing myself earlier.
“Looks like your mom’s looking for you.” Damen gestures at a point just beyond my shoulder, where, sure enough, Jennika waits with a scowl on her face and a hand on each hip.
“Here.” Ever places her bottle of water into my hand. “Tell her you went to get something to drink. Don’t let her know you were about to run away. It’ll only make her mad, and that’s the last thing you need. Besides, you’re ready to face them now, right?”
I start to return the water, but it’s only a second later when a new one just appears in her hand. And I’m so busy blinking and gaping, I almost miss it when she says, “Remember what I told you: Believe what you see—what you know in your heart to be true—and discard everything else they try to tell you.”
I nod, taking one last look at Ever and Damen, hoping I can carry some of their optimism and magick with me wherever I go. About to make for Jennika now calling to me from her end of the hall, when Ever says, “You’re headed for great things, Daire Santos. You just have to believe in yourself.”
I stop, shoot her a quizzical look. About to tell her that my last name is Lyons, not Santos, when she smiles and nods and urges me on.
I hurry toward Jennika, allowing her to wrap an arm around me and lead me away as I cling to Ever’s assurance that the glowing people are real. The crows too. And the fact that I’m the only one who can see them doesn’t mean I’m insane, but rather that I’m headed for something extraordinary.
I can only hope that it’s true.