You wouldn’t think life in a crazy house could become boring routine, but that’s what happened. Get up in the morning, go to work, work, go home, work out, fight to get a bed, sleep. It was probably the closest thing to normal Scarlett had experienced in her life. She felt like that spoke volumes about her existence up until now.
She wasn’t well-liked anywhere but her workplace, of course. The other inmates quickly caught on to her Stay Away from Me and I’ll Stay Away from You-policy and stuck with it, and around town there were all kinds of rumours about the crazy, aspiring athlete. The woman who picked her up in the morning had never even said a word to her.
Not that she minded. She was making progress and she wasn’t here to win popularity contests. She spent all her spare time working out and getting better. Eventually, Carly pulled her aside and asked if selling snacks wasn’t a bit below her skill level.
“I was thinking you could help out with the toddler sports team. They really just roll around balls and drool a lot, but it’s a step up. Noe will be there, too. What do you say?”
When it came to the asylum, several of the weird things had become part of this daily routine. People sleeping on the couch at odd times of day in weird outfits didn’t faze her anymore. So long as she didn’t have to spend the night on the couch, she was happy.
She covertly kept an eye on who was arguing and who got along. There was Miles who didn’t get along so well with Janice.
Janice, on the other hand, got along very well with Salvatore.
And Salvatore probably got on a bit too well with Letitia as well. It was a huge mess, but on a good day it was like living in the middle of a live soap opera. So long as she didn’t have to get involved herself, she was happy.
Scarlett was happy to stay out of all kinds of drama. Same could be said for the drama at work. After she started coaching toddlers – a task she didn’t particularly care for but did in the hopes that Carly would realise that she could do more – she also started meeting the team and doing them favours. The coaching was only part of her duties, so when she wasn’t coaching she watched the team and their trainer, that was Carly, of course, bicker over strategies and training.
“Oh, wow, they’re so serious,” Noemi said one day, while they stood watching another heated discussion. This wasn’t a very well put together team at all.
“Look at them. Oh, did you know they lost really bad last season and that’s probably why they’re so down right now. Look at poor Carly, it’s really hard on her because she’s a woman and this is a man’s world if there ever was one. Their old trainer was a man but he quit and then Car came and everyone was really sceptical of her, but then she came along and they won really big…”
“Wow, easy there, Noemi,” Scarlett said. “We should listen to them.”
As usual, Noemi had spoken so quickly she was out of breath now. Normally, Scarlett didn’t mind, but today she was listening to the team’s talking. Especially one certain member.
“Ooh, you’re looking at Ian. He’s nice,” Noemi said, following Scarlett’s line of sight. “And he’s been so attentive to you lately, have you noticed, oh you probably have. The other day he really looked at your hair.”
“Um, he did?” She tried to sound disinterested because this was beginning to sound too much like high schoolers gossiping about boys. However, she had noticed that Ian had been particularly attentive. The dark-skinned man had all but declared her his protégé for some reason.
Yeah, go figure. He’s a sports star – how obtuse can you be?
“… I think it’s because your hair has a really nice colour, and it smells really good, too. Like lavender, though I’d thought it would smell like strawberries, but that’s probably just because it’s so red, which is why it’s so pretty. I wish I had hair like that…”
“Noemi, please,” Scarlett said, exasperated.
“… so we should probably go with the strategy we used last-“
“We lost half our games last season! I say we go with the old strategy – the old-old strategy. Remember, from when Brad was here?”
Pierce Shakti, angry and purple, stood with his back to Carly and didn’t notice that Carly tensed up. Scarlett shook her head. She was a crazy person and even she knew when to be quiet and not insult her boss – he was absolutely clueless.
“I don’t know, Pierce-“
“Come on, guys. Everything used to work so well…”
“Quiet!” Carly yelled and everyone stopped talking. Carly’s voice had that effect. “We’ll continue this tomorrow but I’m telling you one thing: We’re not going back to the old tactics. I’m not Brad. Deal with it. Now, go get changed.”
She turned to Scarlett and Noemi. “You two, care to tidy up in here?”
It wasn’t really necessary to ask – they would have done it even if she hadn’t said anything.
“You bet, ma’am!” Noemi said, cheerfully saluting.
“Good, thank you very much.”
The team and Carly started leaving the room; except Ian, who lingered. While Noemi and Scarlett swept the floor and put away training equipment, he sort of hovered with his phone. Noemi, ever the smooth operator, elbowed Scarlett in the ribs and did very obvious head gestures towards him.
“Oh, Noemi, please…”
Then her face suddenly lit up and Scarlett’s heart sank. Noemi, no…
Oh, this is going to suck.
“Say, Scar, could you just put away this last ball. I really have to hurry. My nephew is having a birthday party.”
Then she shoved a basketball in Scarlett’s arms and dashed out of there.
I’m so glad that wasn’t awkward or anything, Her voice sounded.
Scarlett shot Ian a quick smile and then put the basketball back in its spot. She thought Ian was going to just leave her to it so she made to leave.
“Hey, wait, did you see our last game?”
Scarlett spun on her way out, her heart flying into her throat.
Yikes, Sunset, you’re turning into a teenage girl.
“What? No. No, I didn’t.”
“Aw, man, that’s too bad. I’d hoped you’d seen the game so you could tell Pierce what a jerk he’s being. Carly’s tactic was great but we botched a lot of shots and it would be great if someone’d seen and could tell him.”
“Hey, don’t get me wrong, Pierce is great, our best player. But he and Brad were great friends and he can’t get over the fact that he left.”
“That’s… too bad.”
Did everyone here have an inability to shut up? Scarlett hadn’t really extended her No Involvement policy to work – after all, these were normal people (well, sort of) – but now she seriously considered if she should shut him down.
“Maybe I could show you the game,” Ian suddenly said. “Yeah, that’s an amazing idea. Come over to my place and-“
“I can’t leave the… Institution,” Scarlett quickly said. “So eh, sorry.”
“Oh, hey, I have a better idea then. I’ll call you tonight, tell you all about it. Okay?”
“Deal, I’ll call later. See you, Scar!”
“Hey don’t call-“
He’d already left.
Yes, everyone here is normal and sane. You fit right in, Sunset.
Ian Nali stayed true to his word. That same night he called as soon as Scarlett had done her work-out. He practically sounded to be bursting with excitement.
“I was just looking at our last game and I’m telling you – Pierce missed more shots than anyone.”
“Oh, I see.”
She couldn’t really come up with anything to say. Ian didn’t seem to mind – he kept talking and talking and talking.
“Yeah, so I passed the ball to him and he moved to make a goal but-“
Scarlett suddenly spun. She was stood in the hallway, her back to the kitchen, and normally she could totally ignore that it and all the inmates were there but now a gentle smell starting wafting towards her… The smell of smoke. And now screams.
“… just keep saying that it’s Car’s fault but real-“
“Ian, I have to go, the house is on fire.”
Scarlett’s phone fell to the floor with a clang of plastic as she stood facing the inferno. Her mind went blank, faced with the fire that engulfed the stove in front of her. All the others were there. Doing panicked dances, futilely shouting and crying and please do something.
Get out of there, Sunset! Get out! Out! OUT!
But it was like she was suddenly, acutely brain dead. She couldn’t move. All she could make her limbs do was join the others in their samba of horror while her eyes were glued to the glowing flames that were licking at the ceiling…
She hardly noticed it when suddenly Janice sprang out with a fire extinguisher and put out the fire. Her mouth was moving but with the crackling of fire and the shouts of desperation it was impossible to hear. All that would really register was Janice’s determined eyes that looked at her and shouted unheard words.
Just like that, it was over.
Janice wiped her brow and exhaled, looking at the stove. It was barely singed, though it was still insanely dirty as it had been for days now.
“I told you idiots to get the heck out of here,” she said. Then she looked directly at Scarlett, whose mind still refused to think: “I thought you were supposed to be more sane than the rest of us – what the heck were you standing there dancing for?”
“I- I couldn’t hear you.”
Janice rolled her eyes. “Whatever. Take more care next time, all of you.”
Why that little-! She knows nothing-
Scarlett violently pinched herself and quietened her voice, then she went after Janice.
“Janice, wait, can we talk?”
The other woman smirked. “Since when do you want to talk to the crazies?”
Scarlett sighed. “Look, I don’t really want to talk to you, I just want to say thanks – what you did was really impressive. I couldn’t have done it. Have you been trained or something?”
“Nah, not really. But I look after my own.”
Scarlett was sure her face looked rather odd at hearing that.
Janice smirked. “Look, Scarlett, I know you don’t think much of us and I know we argue and do stupid crap and cheat on each other, but we stick together. We have to look out for each other because nobody else cares. Everybody else is like you. They think we’re insane and therefore, we don’t have feelings or don’t care if we’re hurt.”
“I don’t think-“
“Spare me. I know your type. But just listen: I’ll watch out for you. We live together, we stick together. Whether you like it or not.”
Then she sauntered off, calling for Salvatore: “Make-out session!” she shouted. “I need to make out with someone. Oh, and by the way,” she turned to Scarlett once more. “Say hi from me to the hunky black guy who’s waiting for you by the gate.”
“What do you- Ian?”
“What on Earth are you doing here?” Scarlett asked as she pushed through the gate – it was unlocked even though it was supposed to only open for work – and saw Ian standing there.
“You’re kidding, right? You just said your house was on fire and then you hung up on me!”
“Oh, I- well, yeah, that happened.”
“What exactly happened?”
Scarlett took a deep breath and looked him over. He looked so sincere.
Sincere, my bottom! He looks like his mind is all ‘CRAZY CRAZY RUN AWAY’.
“Yes, sorry, eh, the stove caught on fire, but it’s okay now. Janice took care of it.”
“Not you?” he smirked. “I thought you were a proper heroine.”
Giggling! Jeepers creepers on a stick. From grown woman to high school girl. The transformation is complete.
For once, Scarlett found it in her to ignore Her voice. She smiled appreciatively at Ian. “Thank you for your concern, but it’s okay.”
“Good, dang, I got worried when you said that. ‘The house is on fire’ – just like that.”
“Yeah, I panicked. I have a slight… fear of fire.”
He nodded and put a hand on her shoulder, his eyes burning into her. Her breath caught in her throat – when was the last time she’d been touched by another person? Touched because someone cared and not because she needed to be forcefully dragged from a school bus?
“No shame in that,” Ian said. “Everyone’s afraid of something. You want a hug?”
He had already pulled her into a bear hug. He gently stroked her shoulder, and after a while she started to think it wasn’t so bad.
Finally, he let go of her and gave her shoulder a little squeeze. She couldn’t help but smile at him.
“I have to go, Scar. See you at work, eh?”
Scarlett nodded. As she saw him walk down the road and get into his car, she couldn’t wipe the smile off her face. Her voice was in her head, humming some song.
Crazy little thing called love…
“Oh shut up,” Scarlett muttered under her breath, and then she went back inside.
Janice really did autonomously put out the fire, but I swear she’s not Brave or anything like that. I don’t know why she just went for it like that. I don’t know why she’s such a pro at putting out fires but, well, she is.