A Danger to Herself and Others(7)

The girl hugs a bundle to her chest. It takes me a second to realize it’s a set of the same paper clothes that I’m wearing. Dr. Lightfoot and Stephen must be waiting for her to change. She shivers like she’s cold, but I can see that her upper lip is coated in sweat.

“You guys don’t exactly put a premium on privacy, do you?” I mutter finally.

“What was that?” Dr. Lightfoot asks.

“Nothing,” I say, but the girl must have heard me and understood because she walks over to the bed on the other side of the room and turns her back to me. She seems to realize Dr. Lightfoot and Stephen can see her profile that way, and she shifts slightly, so we all have more of a diagonal view. She takes off her shirt first and lifts the paper one from the bed. Stephen clears his throat before she can put it on.

Slowly, the girl reaches back and unhooks her black, cotton bra. Even from here, I can see that this place’s no-underwire policy is going to be a bigger problem for this new girl than it is for me. She’s fit, but her soft parts—her chest, her belly, her bottom—are softer than mine.

I look back at the ceiling. Agnes was shy the first time she changed in front of me too. We giggled about it later, after it became clear that being shy in front of your roommate was more trouble than it was worth.

“You’re awfully quiet today,” Dr. Lightfoot says.

“I’m not a big fan of change,” I answer, and Dr. Lightfoot shrugs as if to say: Don’t tell me you thought you’d have this room to yourself forever. What did you think the second bed was for?

I shake my head. I’m not going to be here forever.

I can’t be that much of a danger to myself and others if they’re giving me a roommate. Unless she’s part of my therapy. Or my punishment. Whichever is the real reason I’m here.

“We’ll check on you later,” Dr. Lightfoot promises, the way a parent promises to check on a little kid after lights-out. Does she think I miss her when she’s gone? The door locks automatically behind them with the magnetic click that I’ve almost gotten used to. No Stephen planted in the doorway in case I try something. Maybe they think I’m safe now. Or maybe this girl isn’t as valuable to them as Dr. Lightfoot is.

Maybe they just want to see if I’ll do better with her than I did with Agnes.

In fact, this girl could be a test. She might not be a patient at all. She could be an intern, a doctor-in-training. Going undercover could be one of her requirements. They could be watching us secretly right now to see how I’ll react.

I sit up and look around the room. Since I’ve been here, I’ve checked for signs of surveillance: cameras, microphones, a recording device stuck under the bed like the “bugs” in spy movies. I’ve had plenty of time to make multiple searches, and I’ve never found anything. You’d think a place like this would be wired with cameras everywhere, so they could keep an eye on us at all times, but then again, maybe they don’t want to risk someone else getting a hold of the tapes and seeing how they run things here.

They have other ways to watch us: Multiple times a day some attendant/orderly/nurse pops in for a “room check.” (That’s what they say as they open the door, in an insufferable, high-pitched, singsongy voice: Room check.) The girl perches delicately on the second bed, her back stick straight, her posture perfect. If you were standing in the doorway, her bed would be on the right side of the room, directly in front of the door. The bed on which I sleep (I’ve refused to think of it as my bed) is on the left side. Though, if you were standing beneath the window, her bed would be on the left side of the room, and the bed where I sleep would be on the right.

Let me put it this way: If I’m right about where the ocean is relative to this building, then her bed is on the south side of the room. That doesn’t change, no matter which direction you’re facing.

“I’m Hannah,” I offer finally. I swing my legs over the side of the bed. I roll my shoulders down my back so that I’m sitting up straight too. If she’s a test, I’ll be so polite they’ll have to give me an A. (I’ve literally never gotten a grade below a B+.)


Lucy sounds even sweeter than Hannah.

“What’s your last name?” I ask.

“Quintana,” she answers.

“Gold,” I offer, even though she didn’t ask. “Welcome to my room,” I say, calling it mine for the first time.

The day we moved into the dorm back in June, Agnes got to our room before I did. She was sitting on one of the desk chairs when I arrived.

I can still hear her voice saying the first words she ever spoke to me: You must be Hannah.

She stood and held her hand out in front of her for me to shake, but I leaned in for a hug instead. Her hair fell perfectly straight down her back, and when I put my arm around her, my fingers brushed against the soft strands. It was the kind of hair that dozens of girls at my school in the city paid thousands of dollars for, between colorists and straightening treatments and flat irons and special brushes. Later, I found out that Agnes used Johnson’s Baby Shampoo and nothing else—no conditioner, no product. She didn’t even have to use a blow-dryer. Her hair was naturally perfect.

I haven’t picked a bed yet. Agnes gestured to the two bare, narrow beds on either side of the room. Each bed sat beneath an enormous window, and sunlight streamed in, so bright that Agnes hadn’t bothered to turn on the overhead lights. The windows were open wide because the dorm wasn’t air-conditioned, and the sounds and scents of the campus drifted inside: shouts from our future classmates, eucalyptus leaves, sunscreen.

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