Everything about the office was standard, ordinary – banal even. It was picture perfect. No books left outside of tidy piles, no rings from coffee mugs hard marred the surface of the desk, no single speck of dust had been allowed to stay on the polished wooden floors. Scarlett had been here many times, had spent hours looking at the uninteresting paintings and talking to the impeccably dressed lady behind the desk.
Dr. Elizabeth Howard, 34, psychiatrist and a major bore in every way. She was so boring, Scarlett half expected her to suddenly flip out and strip naked to do a little dance on the desk. You couldn’t possibly stay that boring without suddenly having some sort of break-down.
Or maybe she’s just different. A nice person. Normal. Sane.
Scarlett pushed the voice to the back of her mind. She was perfectly sane and she had as good as convinced Eliza of that. The good thing about nice people was that they were willing to believe you were nice, too, to give you a shot when you didn’t deserve it.
“So, I think you’ve been doing really, really well lately,” Dr. Eliza said. “And I’m not the only one. At the hospital they told me you think that… She isn’t around as much anymore. Is that right?”
“Yes, that’s right,” Scarlett replied, forcing a smile onto her face.
That is the fakest smile I have ever seen. You’re a dreadful liar.
Quiet. She wasn’t there. Scarlett kept the smile on but dug her fingernails painfully into her thigh to make the voice go away, even if it would only be very temporary. She hoped Dr. Eliza didn’t notice.
“I think I’ve only heard Her voice, like, once this week or something. She’s hardly there.”
“That’s really, really good, Scarlett. You look healthy, too, and happy.”
Healthy and happy and sane. Scarlett’s facial muscles were starting to cramp. If only she could keep it up long enough to get out for good. Out to start her own life.
“So,” she said, trying to sound casual, like she didn’t think much of it. “Do you think I’m good to go?”
Dr. Eliza’s features suddenly turned grave and she shook her head gently.
No, no, no, why would she do this? She’d made good progress. She’d done well.
“Scarlett, I… you know this isn’t my decision to make. I have to consult Dr. Stern as well, before I can say anything. And there’s the legal system, too.”
“But I’ve done well!” Scarlett said. “I’ve made more progress than any other patient you’ve ever had and She- Well, I haven’t robbed any banks lately, now have I?”
Dr. Eliza looked uncomfortable.
“Scarlett, please, don’t raise your voice with me.”
So boring and so nice. How did you do that? Become so boring and next to perfect and at the same time a traitor. She’d said Scarlett was as good as out of there. No more loony bin, no more belts and locked doors and personnel who looked at her with shifty eyes.
“You…” she kept her voice down, down; don’t yell… “Promised.”
It was hideous to realise that Dr. Eliza cared enough to actually look heartbroken. “I know, but I spoke too hastily.”
People don’t actually say ‘hastily’ anymore, do they?
Quiet. Stop. Sanity, come back. Deal with this like a rational, mature human being who doesn’t hear voices.
“It just seems… well, heck, it’s not fair!” Scarlett said and her voice traitorously rose.
“Scarlett.” Dr. Eliza spoke gently, but the warning was clear in her voice. “You have convinced me that you have, indeed, done a great deal of progress. However, I’m not the only one you need to convince. I’ve been pulling strings to try and get you out, but Dr. Stern needs concrete proof that you can handle yourself on the outside without… um, stealing school buses and the like.”
That was a glorious day.
“I can get him proof!” Scarlett said.
“Indeed, you can,” Dr. Eliza said. “Because I didn’t manage to get you out entirely, but I did make Dr. Stern agree to a transfer.”
Scarlett’s back straightened. “Really?”
The door was opened, but Scarlett didn’t stop staring at the woman in front of her. Eliza’s pleasant smile had returned. The man who had entered asked the psychiatrist if Scarlett was ready now.
“Just a moment, if you will, Miles. There’s an institution in Hidden Springs, The Vandenburg Mental Institution. It’s a very nice place for people who are less… volatile, let’s say. In there you’d be allowed to go out every day to, potentially, get a job.”
“A job?” Scarlett couldn’t help herself from smiling. “You mean I could start actually doing something?”
“Yes, that’s what I mean. I have an agreement of sorts with Dr. Stern. Remember that job you’ve always wanted?”
“You mean… I’ve always wanted to be a sports star? You think that’s even possible?”
“We’ve managed to pull some strings so yes, I actually do believe it’s possible. We’ve agreed that if you prove you can reach your desired goal and hold down your job, you’re good to go. Free. What do you say?”
Scarlett just nodded.
Miles had moved around the desk and smiled at Dr. Eliza. “So, we’re good to go?”
“We are. If Scarlett agrees to the deal, of course.”
“Yes!” Scarlett replied quickly. “Yes, I’ll do anything. I’ll work day and night and on weekends. Anything.”
The psychiatrist chuckled. “In that case, I think you two should take a drive to Hidden Springs.”
Scarlett got up, feeling slightly lightheaded and followed Miles out of the pretty office. When she looked back, Dr. Eliza smiled at her and then said: “Good luck, Scarlett.”
And here she was. A light breeze played with her hair and Miles and the car was in the background. He had to wait for her to enter the gate into the Vanderburg Mental Institution and from there on, everything was automated. The gates opened automatically, and ditto for when they closed. She’d only be let out to go to work and be tracked by an ankle bracelet while she was away.
“Fine by me,” Scarlett muttered under her breath.
Looked like a nice enough place.
Vanderburg Mental Institution, Her voice laughed. More like Vanderburg Grave Institute. Never getting out of this one, Sunset.
Scarlett bit her tongue hard, the pain driving it away, at least for now. Quiet, stable, sane. She was perfectly fine and this was her chance to get out for good, to be someone productive and proper.
All she had to do was what she had always wanted to do and then freedom was hers.
Yeah, what could possibly go wrong.
Nothing, Scarlett decided, and then she reached out to push open the gate.