Author notes: There is a prequel to this, Under the Influence: The prequel. Be sure to check that out as well if you find it interesting. As I actually wrote this story five years ago when I was only seventeen, the prequel is much more logical and skillfully written in my opinion, but I hope you enjoy this as well.
Chapter 1: Naomi
I finished arranging the plastic chairs in a circle around the small, plain room in which I held my patients' group therapy sessions, placing the thirteen chairs an even distance apart. Sitting down in one across from the doorway, in the center, I took out my notes from my valise along with my tape recorder. Sliding on my reading glasses, I began to read over the papers I had just been handed literally moments before- the papers regarding the girl who would soon be my newest patient.
As usual, it was not the greatest of timing. I had been walking down the hallway of my wing, my mind rather distracted, focused on my plans, the responses I would try to draw out of the kids in today's group session. I doubt I would have seen Ethan if he hadn't grabbed me by the shoulder, making me gasp and spin around quickly, tense and ready to defend myself. Working in a mental health clinic for troubled teenagers makes you well aware of the fact that there's no such thing as being too paranoid.
I was both relieved and annoyed to see that it was only Ethan Stafford, the other doctor of the wing I practice in, and my coworker- but more prominently, in my mind at least, my ex. Most of the time, anyway... but that's off subject.
Ethan held up his hands at the defensive, cornered look on my face, laughing shortly. "Whoa, relax, Naomi. I didn't know you were that nervous around me," he said teasingly.
That's Ethan for you- he can't be serious for more than a minute of his life, at least as far as his personal life is concerned. With patients he's different- calm, reassuring, stable. Watching him with them, it makes me wonder if it's a well-acted facade or if it's just me that brings out his other nature. He always has this edginess about him, this need to keep things light and facetious. You can almost sense him twitching, moving around restlessly, although in actuality he is quite still.
Then again, maybe it's just me who seems to think that- everyone else seems to think he's a very laid-back, easygoing guy. He's always telling me I'm too serious, I read too much into things- and maybe he's right. I am quieter than he is- but being a psychologist, I don't see how that is a character flaw, as he seems to think.
I fixed an indignant glower on him, still thrown by the shock he had given me. "Ethan, you don't just grab people like that- especially here," I said pointedly.
He waved me off dismissively, annoying me even more. He didn't even bother to answer, let alone apologize. Instead, he handed me a file folder with a few papers in it.
"Here, you'll want to look through this," he said casually. "They're adding another patient to our wing."
I almost dropped the folder at his words. Fumbling with it, I looked up at him, my wariness clearly displayed on my face.
"What? Another patient?" I sputtered. "We already have twelve on this wing- that's dangerously close to the maximum per wing, not to mention per group session!"
Ethan shrugged. "Close, but not over. There are seven rooms in this wing, we can hold 14 patients. More if we had to. This will make only 13."
"I'm not talking rooms, Ethan, I'm talking group therapy," I said, my words distinct. "Trying to watch 13 disturbed kids at once and make an impact on them is nearly impossible."
"I lead most of the group sessions with you too," Ethan shrugged. "With both of us it shouldn't be a problem. What difference will one more kid make?"
Depending on what the kid was like, the answer could be quite a lot. I shook my head, but already my mind was clicking, sorting out how we'd fit in another kid in our barely cohesive group.
"Who is it?" I asked. "When are they coming?"
Ethan shrugged again. "A sixteen-year-old girl, Nadia Majella. She's a cutter, quiet, depressed, maybe suicidal. You want much more than that, look at her papers."
He nodded at the folder I still held loosely. "As for when she's coming- less than two hours."
"Oh, great," I groaned, shaking my head. "Just great..."
That gave me almost no time at all to prepare the other kids in my wing, let alone myself, for someone new. I was supposed to be leading group therapy in ten minutes, and now this had come up. I needed to look over her papers, get an idea of who this girl was and familiarize myself with the reasons she was arriving. I needed to decide which room she'd be getting and who she'd room with, which meant deciding which of the seven girls on my wing would be moving as well. We have a policy in our clinic that for safety reasons, no patient can have a room to themselves- as a result, though there are two empty rooms, we have three guys and three girls who share rooms so one will not be put in a room alone. Now I'd have to decide which girl was going to share with the new girl...
Now I sat in my seat at the empty circle, soon to be occupied by my 12 patients. I was looking over Nadia Majella's brief information quickly before the session, and before I would have to meet with her and check her into the hospital.
I have worked as a young adult psychologist at Shadyside Mental Health Facility for four years now; I began as a student trainee and worked my way up. I enjoy my work, although it is challenging, exhausting, infuriating, and sometimes heartbreaking. I get this thrill from working with disturbed teenagers, from knowing I am trying to make a difference in their lives. For the most part I find it very rewarding, but sometimes, especially with certain patients, I'll get a little depressed about it, have this hopeless feeling that I can't really help, nothing I do will change anything for them. And sometimes this is true- there will always be cases you can't help, and I am learning to accept this. It's the cases where I can that keep me going.
The new girl's papers didn't tell me much more than Ethan had. She was supposed to be quiet, depressed, described by parents and school officials as an average student of average intelligence who had few friends. She was a cutter and had been referred to our clinic when her parents discovered her scars. Both her parents were well-off, dentists, and could obviously afford to treat her. There were her progress reports from school, but other than that, nothing helpful. She had no previous experiences with therapy or any medical diagnoses beyond ordinary childhood diseases.
I had only looked at her few papers for a few minutes before the kids in my group began to shuffle in gradually in small groups of two or three, with the occasional person coming in alone. Their attitudes varied as they slunk into the room, but it was safe to say none of them looked enthusiastic.
I smiled at each of them, my expression open, although I had not yet kicked out of my slightly annoyed and stressed mode Ethan and his news had put me into. Only Lane Linden smiled back- well, as much as her twisted, disfigured mouth would allow her to smile. Most of the rest of them gave me contemptuous looks, if not outright glaring. Vanessa, Julianna, and Reverie didn't even look at me, just walked in with their heads down, eyes shadowed as usual, and Bailey Shatner, an obsessive compulsive, had to stop and turn around three times before he felt he could enter.
Anya Dardanos, on the other hand, smirked at me with a cocked eyebrow, giving me a sarcastic little wave.
"Hello, Naomi, how are you today?" she said in exaggerated tones. "You look pissed. I take it Dr. Ethan wasn't in the mood to play doctor with you today..."
That is typical Anya- cocky, contemptuous, and knowing just where to strike to get under a person's skin. She has this way of knowing more than she should, usually exactly what the person in question would most want to hide from her. I don't know if she sneaks around eavesdropping or if she's just unusually perceptive- I suspect some of both. She- and the rest of our patients- should have no clue as to Ethan's and my relationship, as we never behave in less than civil, perfectly professional manners in front of them toward each other, but somehow Anya had always seemed to know the truth. Sometimes I thought she saw what we were to each other more clearly than I myself did.
Though Anya always seemed to know everything about everyone, we couldn't say the same about her. Very little about her or her past could be established as a fact, and I think she had a strong hand in making sure of it. She could change her persona with each person she was around, becoming exactly what they wanted her to be- or what they didn't, as the mood struck her. She was a chameleon, blending in when she wanted to be unnoticed, and then abruptly doing something to draw attention to herself. She often managed to sneak under our radar, more times than I like to admit- she rarely behaves disturbingly enough to attract our attention, as some of our severe patients do, nor does she pose a self-harm risk. Anya would never hurt herself, that is one thing we can all be sure of about her. That is, unless in doing so she would gain something she wanted enough. Anya is a sociopath, completely lacking in normal human emotions such as guilt or empathy. As far as I can see, that is the sole thing wrong with her, the sole reason she is here- there's certainly nothing wrong with her mind. I sometimes think she is sharper and saner than I myself am...
I've often wondered what incident triggered Anya to be placed by her parents in Shadyside, what she must have done as a last straw. All they would say in response to our questioning was she was "seriously disturbed" and "a danger to others." They said they would not allow her back with them regardless of whether we accepted her, and although at 17 she was still a minor. We've had Anya nearly three months now, and she has shown no signs of "serious disturbance"- only a deft hand in manipulative behaviors. She is one patient I never have really known how to treat- she's just here, watching with her narrowed, sharp blue eyes, observing us all and leaving biting comments...
I usually find it easy to like my patients, to grow fond of them, despite their problems and off-putting behaviors, but with Anya, it's different for me. I try to like her, but she makes it hard. Not because of her remarks- plenty of patients test me like that- but something about her that unsettles me, something I can't quite explain. Something about Anya makes me wary of what I say...
Now I made myself look at Anya levelly, smiling at her, though it felt stiff. She probably saw that, I thought, and indeed, her grin widened.
"I'm very well, Anya, but thank you for your concern," I said evenly. "Go sit down, please."
A smirk flickering around the corner of her lips, she sashayed over to a chair and flung herself carelessly into it, beside Joel Roen, a 16-year-old boy with agoraphobia. She smiled a slow, dangerous smile.
"Hey, Joel," she purred.
He blushed, looked down in his lap. Joel was a shy, unconfident boy anyway, but around Anya and her overpowering persona, he stuttered and flushed constantly. I think he had a crush on her- which of course only served to increase his awkwardness, upping her amusement.
"H-hey Anya," he mumbled.
"Joel, you're a really cool guy, you know," she continued, her voice low and husky. "I'd like to talk with you sometime."
Joel flushed even more furiously, but there was pleasure on his face at her words.
"Really?" he stammered. "S-sure, Anya."
"Maybe after lunch today," Anya continued silkily. "We can go for a walk- out in the garden. You know, outside." She laughed nastily as Joel's face fell, as he realized she had set him up.
"Anya," I said sternly. Anya flashed me a grin.
"What?" she asked innocently. "I'm serious."
"Shut the fuck up," snapped Zara Abner, glowering at her ominously. "Leave him alone."
Zara and Anya have never had love lost between them- I think they hated each other the moment they saw each other. Zara gets infuriated easily by Anya's behaviors, I think because Zara herself doesn't set out elaborate traps for people but instead puts them down bluntly to their face. She isn't one to beat around the bush.
Zara is one of those people that despite her standoffish attitude and troubling behaviors, I can't help but like. Her real name is Sara, but call her that and she'll instantly make you wish you hadn't. She's Gothic, complete with the dyed auburn-purple hair, black nails and clothes, and don't-mess-with-me attitude that goes along with it. We did make her hand in her chains and studded jewelry when she was admitted, however- they could be used as weapons.
Zara was admitted because of her drug use and self-destructive behaviors, particularly her problems with controlling her anger. She's tough, but I think she'll be one of our successes- I've learned to develop an instinct for knowing which patients will be, and usually I'm fairly accurate.
"Zara," I said to her now quietly. "We don't speak like that to each other here."
"Yeah, we're not supposed to say fuck, but we can lead people on and screw with them for kicks?" Zara said indignantly, now focusing her glare on me. She crossed her arms and slumped in her chair, muttering something under her breath.
"No," I replied. Turning to Anya, I fixed her with a death stare. "Anya. We do not use people's problems against them in this room- or anywhere else. If I have to speak to you again you will have privileges taken from you."
"Oooh, you mean I might not get to eat shitty food in the cafeteria with all other psychos," Anya muttered, but she slumped back in her chair and went silent, scowling in a good imitation of Zara. I wasn't sure if that was intended to antagonize her or not, but I chose to ignore it.
There was only one chair left empty now, and as I scanned the room, I realized it was Xander Blaise who was missing. Xander was like Zara in many ways- even down to his fury at being called his actual name, Alexander. He was also semi-Goth, with tattoos and bright red dyed hair. He was also free with his opinions and insults, also placed here for destructive behaviors and anger problems. Xander, however, also had a fascination for fire that had led him to commit arson several times. Despite all their similarities, Zara and Xander were constantly sniping at each other. I think they were too much alike to really get along.
"Has anyone seen Xander?" I asked.
I had barely spoken before Diego Vasquez, one of our aids who was also used as an orderly when needed, appeared in the doorway, one hand clamped on the bony shoulder of Xander, who although taller than him by five inches, weighed a good 20-30 pounds less. Xander's expression was menacing, daring anyone to say anything about it.
"He's here now, Dr. Rendell," Diego said, prodding him forward slightly. Xander scowled at him, and for a moment I thought he was going to shove him, but instead he snarled something foul and slumped into the last chair, the one between Zara and Miguel Delgada.
"Thank you, Diego," I told him. Diego nodded, turning to leave.
"Call me if you need me, Dr. Rendell," he told me.
Zara had perked up considerably when she had seen Xander escorted into the room obviously against his will. She sat up straighter, a pleased, mocking leer on her face. She always loved to find an opportunity to needle him.
"Wow, really desperate for Diego's touch, are you?" she said slyly. "Subtle, Xander."
"Shut the fuck up," Xander snapped, echoing her earlier words to Anya.
I saw Julianna and Lane flinch, Lane looking annoyed, Julianna nervous. Juliana's eyes darted from Xander to Zara, and her hands gripped the edge of her chair as though prepared to spring up if violence ensued- and the fear in her eyes showed she fully expected it would. Julianna was initiated into a satanic cult when she was six years old and forced to take part in horrific, abusive rituals until she escaped their attempted murder of her at the age of 13. Discovered by a car in the middle of nowhere, nearly unconscious, she was hospitalized, then placed with us. She has come a long way from the silent, completely terrified girl who once would scream if someone moved suddenly, let alone touched her, but needless to say she will never be able to be the kind of girl she should have been. Two years late she still has nightmares several times a week that are so traumatic she wakes up screaming.
Now as she glanced at Xander and Zara anxiously, I began to speak to her, but her roommate, Ariadne Veleska, beat me to it. Making sure she saw what she was doing so she wouldn't get afraid, Ariadne reached out a slow hand and put it on Julianna's tensed arm.
"It's ok, Juli," she said. Looking at Xander and Zara pointedly, "You're scaring Juli. Cool your egotistical tempers."
Ariadne was like that- quiet and nonflashy, but very direct and levelheaded. She was mature for her age, especially compared to the other kids in my group, and very in control of her emotions- too in control, I sometimes thought. Even better, she was empathetic and got along well with others, especially Julianna, who as her roommate, she felt especially protective of. It was because of all these positive, well-adjusted things about her that made the fact she had given birth secretly to a child, then left it to die so puzzling and bizarre to me.
"Ok, now that we're all here, let's get started," I said loudly, before Xander or Zara could start in on Ariadne. But then I noticed Slater Rockwell- or more specifically, where he was sitting in between Reverie Lowell and Vanessa Cavilleri. Definitely not okay.
Slater was, at 17, showing every sign of becoming a compulsive pedophile, and he had to be watched carefully when around any females. Reverie and Vanessa were the two quietest patients, least likely to put him in his place if he tried to touch or say something inappropriate to them. Vanessa was extremely depressed and suicidal, to the point that we had to watch her constantly to make sure she wasn't hurting herself with her own teeth or fists. Reverie was an elective mute- at the age of 15, for reasons none of us are yet sure on, she just stopped talking. Her actual name is Reva, but because of her silent, trancelike behavior, Zara nicknamed her Reverie. I think it started as sarcasm, but now it seems as though the other kids call her that without thinking, almost with affection.
Neither girl would dare stand up to Slater- I doubted it was a coincidence that he had ended up sitting next to them.
"Slater," I said quietly, just in time to catch him eyeing Reverie's breasts, his hand beginning to creep off his lap to rest on her chair, dangerously close to her thigh. "Slater, I'm going to have to ask you to move. I want you to sit between Miguel and Bailey."
Slater's hand froze, and he shot it back onto his own lap, as if I hadn't seen him. As people turned to stare at him accusingly, Anya smirking, arms still crossed across her chest, he said defensively, "I didn't do anything! What are you so uptight about?"
"It's not what you did, Slater, but what you might do," I said. "Please do as I have asked you."
Scowling darkly, muttering something about how there was no trust in this place, and how were they supposed to be "better" if no one could do the simplest thing, he stomped over to where I had indicated. Everyone had to move down a seat to make room for him, which put Zara and Anya sitting together- something I wouldn't have wanted, but I was going to have to proceed anyway. They looked at each other hostilely, Zara's eyes overt, Anya still smiling, but her narrowed eyes lent clues to her hatred. Zara pointedly moved in her seat so she was as far from her as possible.
"Thank you, Slater," I said instead. "How are all of you today?"