Spring had just brought the trees to a delicate pink as I sat in the garden

Spring had just brought the trees to a delicate pink as I sat in the garden. Kim lay before me on the grass, inhaling and exhaling as Daffy taught her. He said she needed to learn to control her anxiety, which is complete crap. Kimmy was manic-depressive, anxiety had nothing to do with it. I guess Daffy thought that if he gave her something to do she wouldn't concentrate on the lesser things. Didn't always work, but what ever did?

Silence is golden at the Clinic, and it was one of the reasons I loved the gardens. In the distance you could hear shouting and laughter, but people mainly kept their distance. So, in the late afternoon, Kim and I would take our drawing materials and lounge across the fragrant grasses.

That day, however, would change everything. As I sat there on the swing, studying the rough sketch in my hands, I heard footsteps behind me. First thing that struck my mind was that it was Rachel, trying to sneak up on us. I kept quiet. I wasn't expecting the strong grasp on my shoulder, burning so fiercely that it hurt. I fell backwards with a Boof!

Staring down at me were the strangely familiar blue eyes I had grown to know almost as well as my own. "Mick?" I whispered, as his callused hand reached down to swung me up effortlessly. Behind me, I heard Kim's breathing stop, and I could picture her eyes widening. "What're you doing here?" I asked, drawing backwards. Already, three months had drifted by and this was the first I had heard from him since I left the courtroom, and only then had it been a whispered good-bye. No "I love you", no "I'll come see you", just a muttered, "Bye".

What you must understand is that I, as a person, had thought that I never wanted to see Mick again. But, as I stood there, staring at him in the garden of the place I called home, I wanted nothing more then to be with him. Neither of us spoke for a long moment, and it wasn't until Kim started her breathing again that I tore my eyes from his.

"Connor told me that you missed the outside world, so I thought I'd take you out," Mick replied, smiling down at me.

My eyes narrowed and I remember thinking, Connor told you, huh? You couldn't just come on your own? But it was gone in a second. Suddenly, I missed him more then I thought possible. The past months crowded over me, and I felt my knees shake. "Where have you been?" I whispered, unable to speak any louder.

"Europe," he replied, "come on." Mick is in the military, so he's often away. I hadn't even thought of that when he didn't come to see me. But, then again, I didn't think much of him either.

~

Mick was never a loving man, he couldn't really be sweet, or romantic. He just said it like it was, and expected you to take it. After months of listening to Connor's eloquence it hurt my ears to hear Mick's vulgar language. But when you have someone like Mick, you learn to grin and bear it, because the arguments are ugly and not worth it. Don't get me wrong, I love Mick, but I didn't want to be with him until I knew I was better.

He took me out to eat at this diner in the city. Nice little place, reasonably clean, more so then most diners. It was nice… Who am I kidding? I hated it. I was sitting in a dirty little booth, shrouded in smoke and god knows what else, eating a too well done hamburger with month old ketchup and pickles that should have gone down with the Titanic. All I was thinking was…

~

"Get me out of here!" came the frantic screams in the midst of the darkness. I bolted straight up in bed and clutched my blankets to my form. Kim lay in the twin bed next to me, her eyes wide in the slant of moonlight, she wasn't moving.

I don't recall when she leapt from the bed, but within seconds she was next to me, her body warmth comforting. "It's Becca," Kimmy whispered as I pulled her head onto the pillow. "Her parents don't think she's ready to come home. They put her in the Box about twenty minutes ago. I thought this one would be better."

Becca Johnson was one of the quiet nuts, she suffered from a depression, and instead of dealing with it, her parents locked her up. Real compassionate, huh? Sometimes Becca would fall to pieces, and sometimes she'd just give up. Daffy confided in me later on that if her parents would show support and understanding then her recovery would have been much more progressive.

~

Warm as I was, I had to shiver. My parents had yet to come see me inside. Sure, I'd talked to them plenty of times, but they never took the time to come. Mom was a wedding coordinator, and Dad was this big shot suit in his ritzy New York office. Between the two of them, I think they were home all of four hours in the first eighteen years of my life. Then, I get into UCLA, and what do they do. "Elizabeth! You're going to Yale, and that's it! Your father went to Yale, I went to Yale, your ancestors went to Yale! You cannot embarrass our family by not going to Yale!"

So, I went to Yale. And I embarrassed my family more then they could imagine. I tried to kill myself in the girl's room. When my mother begged me to explain why I'd done it, I gave her my sweetest smile and replied, "So I could forever haunt the showers, of course!"

Yeah, she didn't like that joke at all. Neither had many other people, come to think of it. Kim loved it though. She said it showed real strength, to be able to laugh after something like that. Apparently my mother isn't very strong, she just frowned and shook her head.

So, that was my life in a nutshell. Need I say more? Okay, here's more. Mick came to visit me all of four times in the year I was there. All four times he spent more time talking to my roommate, Kyle, about the service. Kyle was on a full scholarship from the army, and Mick would stay up talking to him until dawn. Now, I'm not saying that I expected him to be there every weekend, I mean, Mick travels a good deal. But shouldn't he call, or write, or something?

Somewhere between psychology, British literature and chemistry I lost sight of the things important to me. I was an artist, not a theologist. I wanted to draw, sketch and paint, not read Freud's hypothesis on dreaming. About halfway through the year I passed the point of dreaming. I started ditching classes, I stopped sleeping. I spent my nights and days wrapped up in canvas and paints of blue, violet and gray. Kyle said I was beginning to paint like Picasso during the Blue Period. He hid all my Renaissance books, then my blue paints… Bad idea.

Then, one day, I was sitting in the shower, watching the red paint flow from my skin. I'd gotten in a fight with my easel. The easel won. I'd been holding a razor blade, since I'd long since run out of the girlie ones, and hadn't had the time to run to the store. Next thing I know, not only was there paint flowing down the drain, but blood as well. I slumped against the wall, and slid far faster then I thought I should. The rest is history.

~

"Samantha Blake," Ally was saying to us as Kim and I watched the foxy young witch walk across the room like Queen Elizabeth herself. Her poorly dyed red hair hung rather limply on her shoulders, though she tried to keep it up with a bit of curl. Skinny as death, and pale as it as well, Samantha strolled as if there were no one more important in all the world. "Daughter to Charles Blake, Wall Street tycoon," Ally finished, handing Kim her Perkiset, and me my aspirin. "She'll be a bitch, best stay away…"

A cruel smile crossed Kim's face as she muttered, "On the contrary, dearest Alison. She will learn to stay clear of me…"

I frowned, then placed a calming hand on Kim's wrist. "Leave her be, Kimmy. She most likely has her own problems if she's in here…" Ally nodded and rose to her feet.

"Probably too skinny for her own good, or some shit, and Daddy and all his money put her in here to save face," Kim grumbled as Ally faded from sight.

It wasn't until that night that things got interesting. Samantha had been bossing people around all day, like she was the queen of Sheba. Fortunately for her, she hadn't tried to tap me or Kim just yet. Until it came time for the younger girls to go to bed. Suddenly, we three were the youngest ones out. That's when the trouble mounted.

"You, Bandage girl," Samantha barked, looking at my wrists. "Get me water!"

I've never seen Kim leap up so quickly. She grabbed the pitcher of water and dumped it directly over Samantha's head, drenching her. Samantha sputtered and then moved to leap up. But Kim's hand stopped her, shoved her back down. "Listen up, carrot stick. Better not fuck with me or my friends. I'll string you up and play with you like a doll!" Kim snapped, glaring down at her. That wasn't what I was expecting. I don't know what happened after that day, but every time Samantha asked something of one of the patients, she'd slip Kim a look, almost as if to check.

Later, that night, I watched as Kim brushed her long honey blonde hair at the bathroom mirror. "Where're your parents?" I asked, out of nowhere.

Kim's eyes flickered to my reflection, leaned gracefully against the door frame behind her. At first she didn't seem to see me, quiet as a kitten, she began brushing her hair again, somewhat detached. Finally her amber lips opened and she replied, with a distant voice, "New Jersey." My eyes widened. The other side of the country. Apparently, Kim had developed the ability to read my mind, which to this day, I have never doubted. Her next words were, "We used to live in Malibu, but after I got put in here, my parents moved."

I could tell that I was treading on dangerous ground, and I knew I'd better stop it, or I'd set her off. I glanced at my reflection in the mirror, and muttered, "Damn it, I've got a zit!" It did the trick. Kim started laughing. "Shut up!" I snapped, a hint of a smile on my face. "Just 'cause you have perfect skin…"

"Thanks Lizzie," Kim whispered, kissing my cheek softly. I smiled at her, and grabbed my toothbrush. Something was going on in my perfect little world. And I would be the last to know.

~

After that night, Connor didn't come see me for two weeks. Kim and I spent our Saturdays in the garden, I sketched her when she wasn't looking, and she was working on something I wasn't allowed to see. I didn't mind the secrecy, it kept us both quiet, and that's what I wanted. Kyle had written me a letter, saying that school just wasn't the same without me. He complained that psychology was getting longer by the day, and asked my advice on his homework. It was almost like we were still in the same dorm room. Although he did say he liked one thing better. He actually got some sleep on the weekends, since Mick wasn't there to keep him up all night, talking about his assignments in the Middle East.

Kimmy's birthday was coming up, and since I knew her parents wouldn't be coming, I was preparing something for her with Ally and a few other nurses. Ally had arranged for me to spend an hour in the art room every morning and night, under the pretense that I was visiting Dr. Jeffery in the infirmary. She even invented a reason. A cyst of the abdomen… Kinky…

Anyway, with Kimmy's birthday only days after mine, I neglected to notice that Kim was also disappearing without a trace…

~

"It's beautiful," the words drifted to me against my will. Connor's voice haunted me even now that I didn't have him here. So much of me wanted to run to the phones, call him, scream at him as the silence screamed in my ears. But I knew it would all go the same way. His secretary would tell me the same old lies, in a meeting, out to lunch, visiting clients. Lies! All lies! So I sat quietly, as I had been taught in my boarding school, painting.

Have you ever just sat and listened to silence? The way the quiet rings in your ears is enough to drive you mad. Sitting there, listening to nothing and everything at once makes you want to rip your hair from your scalp and scream mercilessly. But you mustn't scream in a nut house, they'll lock you up and throw away the key.

That's about the time the nervous ticks started. I would sit in the silence, either at night in my bed, or in the common room, or in the garden, and I would rub my thumb on the knuckle of my forefinger. For hours I would sit there, staring straight ahead, rubbing those two fingers together.

Finally, only a day before Kim's twenty first birthday, we were sitting in the common room, our heads bent, each working on our pictures. My birthday had come and gone in a silent moment, and for all of four seconds, I wondered if Connor had forgotten. Then it kind of hit me like a ton of bricks. Connor isn't Mick, he won't forget. Suddenly, I felt disloyal, Mick loved me… Didn't he?

The day before Kim's birthday wasn't filled with much, just a lot of silence, and waiting. My new past time was that thumb and forefinger thing, and I couldn't stop all of a sudden. If Kim noticed, she didn't say a word, but Kim notices everything.

I watched that day fade into darkness, and I knew deep down that something was changing in the air around us. It wasn't until mail call the following morning that it hit me.

"Bronze!" the young orderly called out, tossing the envelope into the air. "Caldwell!" I caught mine, anxious to know who it was from. Connor, or course. He was on the East Coast, unable to get away. Suddenly, I felt terrible for being mad at him. The letter was post dated two days before my birthday, obviously he thought I would get it on my birthday, but it had been delayed. He promised he'd be to see me in a week, when his meetings were over and done. I knew why he did this, he was always a bastard during his meetings. They made him overly tired and stressed, so he avoided those he loved during those short weeks.

I turned to Kimmy to share my letter with her, only to find her staring at the unopened letter before her. Glancing at it, I recognized the return address. New Jersey. Kim's parents. "I can't," she whispered. "You open it."

I did so, and instantly wished I hadn't. It was scrawled in feminine handwriting, and I knew at that moment that I shouldn't be reading this letter.

Kimberly,

Due to pressing engagements here, we cannot come to California for your birthday. We regret to inform you that your request to return to our custody has failed once more. We do not agree with Doctor Whalen when he says that you have recovered from your disease. Please, do not attempt to contact us again this year, you will not be ready to return home anytime soon.

Sincerely,

Rebecca Morgan Bronze

I watched Kimmy's face echo my disbelief. Never before had I witnessed such a deflation in anyone I loved so much. Her entire body shook with convulsions as she grabbed the table savagely to keep from falling. I went numb, I couldn't move. Suddenly, I saw her eyes widen, and her skin go taunt and blue all at the same time. For a second, I saw a skeleton peering at me, from the face of my best friend.

"We don't need them, Kimmy," I whispered, slipping my arm around her shoulders. "You'll have a smashing birthday with me around! I even made you something!"

Her eyes darted to mine, and she smiled a forlorn type of smile. "I made you something too. I was waiting for Connor to come, but I guess he won't be here for awhile… So, I might as well give it to you now."

I smiled back at her, hoping to rouse some kind of the Kim I knew from the ashes. "I'll go get mine, you go get yours," I stated simply, jumping up from my seat and rushing to the door.

When I saw what she carried into the common room, my heart leapt from its rightful place, and tears settled in my eyes. In her capable hands sat a velvet jewelry case, with "Liz Caldwell" scrawled across in golden etching. My gift sat wrapped on our table, a large, fluid looking structure, shaped suspiciously like a painting. I could see that Kim had guessed it immediately, and I knew by her face that she was equally surprised, and thrilled.

We both opened our gifts at the same time. She had begged Ally to get her the proper tools, and equipment for her job. Doctor Jeffery himself sat watch as she slowly sculpted the necklace for me. It was silver, I don't wear gold, with sapphires interlaced with aquamarine. Perfectly measured for my neck, so it hung just above all my scoop necked shirts, it took my breath away.

But Kim was spouting praises to me for my handiwork. The painting that I had poured my heart and soul into for months was suddenly finished. I had sketched it in the garden one day, when Kim had fallen asleep leaned against the tree that my swing was attached to. She had a book in her lap, and the pages were fluttering in the breeze. Her blonde hair was blowing softly across her face, and her lips were pursed. I had captured the moment so brightly, that I even blew myself away. Of all the sketches I made in that garden, that was the one that rocked me.

The painting went above her bed in our room, and my necklace went into the hospital safe. I wouldn't need it unless Connor took me out again, and then Ally would fetch it for me. The rest of the day was spent laughing and joking with Nell and Rachel, who had returned from the infirmary, and was still under observation. Throughout that day, I watched Kim like a hawk. I knew she was upset about not spending her birthday with her parents, but I never expected the sudden turn of events that would rock my security and throw me into the depths of hell.

~

Imagine hell. What would it be like? Would there be fire? A snarling creature with long fangs and red horns? Or perhaps a tiny room with a single light and a bed that they strapped you to? That was our hell. The Box. Never would I want to be in there. The night was tormented by girls thrown in there, screams issuing from the very depths of the hospital, and you never wanted to hear the screams of a girl in the Box.

~

When I woke up on the morning of Kim's birthday, it wasn't from sunlight streaming in my window, or the sound of footsteps in the hall. On the contrary, it was only two in the morning, and the only ones in the hall were orderlies, and a girl. Screams and hurried footsteps woke me, and I rolled over to seek Kim. But the slant of moonlight that usually cascaded across my best friend's features was empty. Even on a night like this, cold as it was, Kim could always be seen in that slant of moonlight. Something wasn't right.

The moment I crawled from the bed, I noticed that the heater had yet to be fixed, my toes were frozen by the time I slipped them into my slippers. Outside, there was nothing, except the screaming. My first thought was to fling my hands over my ears and run screaming down the hall to force the orderly to tell me who was in the Box. But I knew who it was, and I knew why.

I don't know how I got there, but I found myself leaned up against the door of the Box, my forehead to the cold metal. Kim's screaming echoed from there, aching my heart. I couldn't see into the little window, it was just above my head. But that was fine, I was there to be close to her. I didn't call out, I didn't speak, I didn't move. I just stood there, waiting for Ally to come and sweep me off to my bed.

Some time in the minutes, or hours, that I stood there, the screaming stopped. I found myself in silence, listening to her whimpering from the other side of the door. After what seemed like centuries, the whimpers even stopped, leaving me in silence. Now, you know what the silence does in there. It makes you go crazy. It does! I swear!

Now, I waited there until my eardrums were ready to explode through my eye sockets. Then, when I thought I had truly gone nuts, I lifted myself up on my tip toes and peered through the glass window.

There was Kim, her eyes open, her mouth wide, hanging from the light by the straps used to hold her down. Blue in the face, and the fingers, and the toes and every other place I could see. I don't know whose screams were echoing through the hallways, and Ally still swears they were mine. But I watched orderlies coming flying from doors and hallways, and offices faster then I could've imagined.

Falling to the floor, I grabbed my head with my hands and scooted as far from the door as I could manage without getting trampled. That would be the opposite wall, and nearly died trying. I couldn't catch my breath, I couldn't see straight.

Somehow I got to my bed, whether I carried myself, whether Ally carried me, or whether she had one of the male orderlies carry me. I didn't care, I just wanted to die. Nothing anyone said could have kept me from crying myself to sleep. Dreams tormented me, seeing her face gawking at me from the window, the dead eyes of my best friend.