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Sharps Hour

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Eliza, the day nurse, seemed nice. Not that it meant much. Everyone was nice to John when they saw the bandages and sling. He'd stopped trying to push it away. It took too much energy.

She consulted her clipboard. "You'll be in 7 with Alexander. Just past the water fountain. It's better not to call him Alex. Feel free to tell him if you need quiet, though. If he gets obnoxious, Dr. Washington can have a word with him. Dr. Washington will see you sometime tomorrow afternoon, depending on his schedule. Your first appointment with the psychotherapist, Dr. Angelica Schuyler, will be at 10 AM. If you have sharps - items that aren't inherently unsafe but could be used for self-harm - locked in the main office, you can access them from 5 to 6 PM every day, not including your first evening. Provided you have sharps privileges, of course."

"Got it," John said quietly, avoiding eye contact. He kept near the soft-hued blue walls on his way to the bedroom. Thankfully none of the patients doing some kind of worksheet around a big table in the common room looked at him.

The aforementioned Alexander was crouched on the floor between the two beds, frantically writing.

"I'm John Laurens. I prefer just John." Bam. Introduced. Like a real live human. John set his duffel bag on the bed that didn't look like a victim of aggressive, yet horizontal, interpretive dance.

"What?" Alexander's crayon went still. He looked up from his massive stack of paper, stared for a second, and then smiled at him. "Oh. Hi. Welcome to the Men's (Relatively) Nonviolent and (Relatively) Voluntary Ward. Suicide attempt, or medication recalibration? Or the rare and exciting court order?"

John blinked. "Excuse me?"

"Your answer will affect how hard I try not to be an asshole."

John toed off his shoes - loafers, as shoelaces were contraband - and curled on his side atop the covers. He'd promised Lafayette he'd stop trying to make people think he was fine.

"Why?" Lafayette asked after John got out of surgery, so overwhelmed that his side of the conversation wove in and out of English and French. "You survived your father's bigotry and disinheritance. You survived deployment to front lines. You're supposed to have won."

John was on a lot of painkillers at the time, and the best explanation his fuzzy mind could think of was: "Won the war, lost the peace."

If his friend hadn't tackled him in time, John would have successfully shot himself in the mouth. Lafayette's leap knocked his aim off, and the bullet hit John's shoulder instead. John had been unprepared for Lafayette bringing half a flower shop's worth of bouquets to the hospital, delivering a care basket from his wife Adrienne, and then getting in a shouting match over the phone with John's father. John felt bad for the patients on either side of the partitions until he learned they were in comas and didn't mind.

"I don't know what to do now," John said after Lafayette gave up on reasoning with Henry Laurens. "The Army doesn't have a great track record helping with this kind of thing. I don't actively want die this very second, but I know when you're not here, when I don't have a tether, I..."

Lafayette kissed his cheek like John's mother used to when she was alive. "I know a place. Vernon Psychiatric Crisis Center. Small. Good reputation. They have a program for temporary stays, only for a little help to find your way again. I can make a call. Don't you dare worry about the fees."

All he said to Alexander was: "Suicide attempt."

"Mm. Then I'll try not to be super asshole-ish. I might be here for the malfunctioning mania meds this time, but I know suicidal thoughts so well they're more like memories than ideas. My mood swings take a few months each. Not regularly enough to be a metronome. Like a wobbly pendulum. Pendulum and the pit." Alexander's rapid speech sounded casual, even cheerful, but he gave the impression of a struck tuning fork. You could almost hear the high-pitched whine of vibration.

"If I may ask: why are you surrounded by scrap paper covered in green crayon?" There was a pile of additional paper on the shared nightstand, threatening to swamp the lamp. All the sheets were printed on one side with outdated flyers, old calendars, anti-drug PSAs, crossword puzzles, and so on. Alexander was steadily filling up the blank sides.

Alexander gestured at the heaps on the floor around him. "I don't like wasting fresh paper on drafts. They won't let me have my laptop, even during Sharps Hour, until I've been observed sleeping more than three hours in one night."

"Okay. Why the green crayon?"

"Because I supposedly 'brandished a pen at James in a threatening manner'. I maintain that I was just gesturing emphatically. Now I'm back on the lowest privilege rung - well, the one above time in the soft room. And poor little Jemmy is rooming with Thomas. Vacancy opened up after John-Paranoid-Adams moved to outpatient. Adams kept accusing me of conspiring against him with George, which is ridiculous because I hate George. It's not George's fault he's schizophrenic, but it's totally his fault that he's a creep. I mean, I flirt with all the staff because for some reason they're all super attractive, and also I'm manic, but fellow patients are dealing with shit and don't need that kind of complication. You know?"

"I know." John steered his mind away from thoughts of General Lee, who thankfully got court-martialed, for unrelated reasons. Filing sexual harassment claims would have been as risky for John's reputation as Lee's. Because society is appalling.

Alexander nodded and pointed at him an affirming manner. "Anyway, it's two more days on crayons without incident before I get my hands on a goddam ballpoint again during Sharps Hour. One blameless day after that to get my own pen full-time that I don't have to sign out like a library book. I bet James and Thomas are in cahoots. They don't want me to be able to write. They want me to die from frustrated hypergraphia. I'd be the first case ever. Hypergraphia is when you write so much that doctors get concerned, by the way. I'm no longer allowed felt tip markers since they caught me writing on the walls in the shower." He gripped the crayon so hard that John worried it would snap.

"Any reason it's a green crayon? Is that all they gave you?" John considered shifting so he wasn't putting any weight on his injury. He decided he felt too heavy to move without someone ordering him to.

"Eliza was best of women, as usual, and gave me a whole box. Even though she wasn't suppose to. Finite resources, blah blah blah blah blah. I might be taking a semester off from grad school but I'm not gonna sit around and spin my wheels. My essay about economic reform is in green for reasons I hope are obvious. The other work is tucked under the bed right now. My essay about police brutality is in RED, THE BLOOD OF ANGRY MEN." Alexander burst into song, and then switched back like nothing happened. "My list of things about Thomas that piss me off is in purple because all his shirts are purple, like, all of them. Somehow. My dirty poetry is in blue. Usually I just mark different work with little stars on the upper right corner, but hey."

John found himself smiling for the first time in...well, he must have smiled at some point while in Afghanistan, but he wasn't sure when. "You're writing dirty poetry?"

"Intermittently. I have a lot on my mind. Oh, oh, maybe you can help me. What rhymes with 'slut' other than 'shut'?"

"Uh...maybe 'glut'? But that's not a sexy word."

That's when a guy in scrubs stuck his head in the doorway. "Time for group, gentlemen."

Alexander went back to writing. "I'm busy. Thomas can whine about side-effect migraines without me there to listen."

"You don't need to write every second you're alive, Alexander."

"I beg to differ, Aaron Burr, sir. Also you're not a real medical professional with authority to tell me what's best. You're just a tech. You're just for if I need someone to hand me pills in a paper cup, or scold me for making faces at Sam during one of his rants about the government, or annoy me by letting important questions slide off you as if you're coated in teflon..."

John sat up and extended his left hand. "I'd like you sit to next to me for moral support. Sounds like a jungle out there."

Alexander stared at John for a moment before taking John's hand and getting to his feet. "Fine. Yeah, someone needs to give you the lowdown. Like, Friedrich - big guy, late 30s at minimum - and Pierre - pretty kid, 18 or 19 or something - both have Tourette's, but they rarely curse randomly like in movies. Friedrich says plenty of random stuff, but when he curses it's rarely a tic. He's a big fan of intentional profanity."

Aaron managed to roll his eyes and sigh with relief at the same time. He stage-whispered to John, "Alex was nice to me his first day here until I refused to discuss the national debt with him."

"It's Alexander." The offended party "gestured emphatically" at Aaron with his green crayon and flapped the single sheet of paper he'd brought along. But he also winked. John remembered Alexander mentioning that he flirted with all of the staff.