Chapter 4

I never saw anything in the ink blots.

Dr. Aaron showed me one after another, each one looking as shapeless as the last. No matter how long he let me stare, no matter which way he held it, I saw nothing. How could I when I was so blinded by fear? I tried to act as if nothing was wrong, but there was no telling how much he could really see.

After a dozen or so, he finally caught on and scribbled the "results" down on his clipboard. "I expected you to be a little bit more responsive to the pictures," he said. "But it's good that you weren't. It shows that your judgement is unclouded." He finished writing and looked up at me, smiling. "That's all I had planned for today. If you don't have any questions for me, I think we're all done here."

I nodded and tried to smile back. "I'm good," I managed to say. I had no idea how I must have sounded. All I knew is that I had to get out of there.

I stood up and Dr. Aaron followed, walking me to the door and holding it open. "It was nice to meet you, Molly. I'll see you in a couple of days. Let me know if you need anything."

"Thanks, I will," I said quickly, ducking out of the room.

I forced my legs to move, to carry me down the hall just long enough to slip into a small single bathroom. I closed the door behind me and braced myself against the wall, trying to wrap my head around what had just happened. Surely this wasn't what Paula intended for me. I didn't need therapy, I needed an analysis. I needed someone to test me and prove that I was normal.

No, Paula must not know what Dr. Aaron planned for me. She assured me that I would be able to graduate with Sarah. I just had to trust in her. Be patient, like she told me. She said she'd come to see me after I got settled in, which probably meant tomorrow at the latest. She would set things right. Well, if things weren't "right" already. After all, didn't that test prove that I didn't think creatively? Maybe this was all just part of the process and I was just being paranoid. The thought relaxed me a little. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath to steady my nerves. I pushed off the wall and went over to the sink.

My heart sank immediately again as I caught my reflection in the mirror. If I looked like this in front of Dr. Aaron, I was screwed.

I looked a hundred times worse than I did in my room earlier. My face was flushed, my eyes were bright, and my body was tense. "Scared" might have well have been written on my forehead. There was no way Dr. Aaron didn't see it. My cover was blown, and I knew he didn't believe a word I said.

Surely he thought I was lying about the ink blots.

I shook my head furiously and turned on the faucet, splashing myself with water as if I could scrub off the face I saw in the mirror. Still, I avoided my reflection's eyes as I turned to dry myself with a paper towel.

There was a short, light knock on the door. "Hey, you still in there?" a girl's voice asked.

I straightened up. "Yeah, one sec," I replied automatically. I pulled myself together, smoothing my hair and straightening my shirt. I checked myself in the mirror one last time, taking another deep breath before opening the door. "Sorry about that," I said, stepping around the girl without looking at her.

"Hey, wait up," she said. At first I didn't think she was talking to me, but then I heard her footsteps as she started to follow after me.

I stopped, hesitating for a moment before turning and looking over my shoulder at her. She had layered brown hair and thick-rimmed glasses, a friendly smile on her face. Her dark jeans and blue cropped jacket clearly violated the dress code, but something made me think that any warning she received was like water off of a duck's back to her.

I didn't try to relax my tense posture. I was having a bit of a moment here, and the last thing I wanted was to socialize with an artist.

She stepped up to me. "You're the new girl, right?"

I nodded a little, facing her. "Uh, yeah. Molly." I hoped my body language would register with her.

"Kayla," she said, putting her hands in her pockets. "You uh... just came from your first appointment, huh? I saw you right before you went into the bathroom."

"Was it that obvious?" I mumbled, looking away. I'd really have to work on my pokerface.

"Nah, not at all. I've just come to know what it looks like," she said, her tone a bit rueful. Her eyebrows pulled together and she looked at me with sympathy. "I know how shitty it is, Molly. We've all been there, and the first appointment is always the scariest. I tried to run away after my first session," she said, frowning a little at the memory. "But I didn't come up to you to start a pity party, I just wanted you to know that you're not alone." She offered me a small smile. "My friends and I are good listeners. We all stick together in here."

I felt the corners of my mouth twitch into a smile. Her attitude surprised me because, honestly, I didn't expect to like any of the patients here. In my head, I pictured them all as neurotic artists that were indifferent about society and the world around them; that was all I'd ever thought of those who fell victim to art. Yet this girl seemed friendly and caring. Perhaps she was like me, and was only in here due to a misunderstanding.

But it didn't make me feel any better.

"I appreciate that Kayla, but I don't know... I don't think I'd fit in with you and your friends, and I'm not going to be here that long anyway. I'd just like to be alone." Though this was true, I actually kind of liked her. She had a great spirit. But there was no point in making friends in here.

I started to turn away, but she stopped me.

"Wait, Molly," she said quickly. "You shouldn't be alone in here. We don't have to be friends, but trust me. Being alone is suicide."

A small shudder ran up my back. The urgency in her voice was vaguely... haunting. I didn't see how being alone would make much of a difference in this institution, but I couldn't ignore a warning like that.

I nodded at her. "Yeah, okay," I mumbled. I offered a smile to her, grateful for the warning. "Thank you."

She relaxed, seeming relived as she returned my smile. "Your welcome. Anyway," she said, taking a step back. "I was just heading off to lunch. If you haven't eaten already, you should come with me."

I hesitated, but decided that it was better to go along with my new friend than to risk being "alone".

"You're pretty brave," I said, joking half-heartedly. "I'm a criminal, you know."

She chuckled, standing next to me loyally. "We're all criminals in here. It isn't often we get someone our age in here though. Like I said, we look out for each other."

"We?"

"Our group. I'll introduce you when we get to the cafeteria, if you want," she said, starting off down the hall.

Our group. She already considered me to be one of them. Although the idea of the artistic group bothered me, another part of me was strangely flattered by the invitation. I had been alone in this institution, but I now felt a sense of welcome by this girl and her group that I couldn't help but be greatful for. I followed Kayla to the cafeteria, glad that I had someone looking out for me in the institution.

I thought briefly about Paula, and wondered how she planned to help me. Surely it was in her power to do anything, being a member of the council. But then I tried not to think about that anymore, because I realized that not even Paula would be above the law.