“Hi yourself.” Will doesn’t bother to turn around. He can see Alana’s reflection in the window. Her hair is a shade lighter than when she visited last week. He wants to assume it’s from the summer sun but he knows that she’s working with Jack almost exclusively at the moment to atone for her imagined sins. Her royal purple dress contrasts with her pale skin and with the pastel colours of the institution. Other patients stare at her. Even they can tell that Alana Bloom does not belong here.
She looks only at Will. “Anything interesting out there?” Like always, her tone is light and conversational, like they’re just catching up over coffee between lectures. She’d mastered the art of appearing in control years ago.
“You tell me.” He attempts a joking tone but it’s bitter even to his own ears. The grass bordering the institution is the slightly yellow-green colour of brittle grass dried by summer. He knows how it feels: sapped of strength and vibrancy.
“Do you want to see for yourself?” There’s an odd hesitance to her voice that tells Will to choose his words carefully.
“That would involve leaving. And I’m not allowed to leave. Doctor Lecter’s orders.”
Alana steps towards him. “Hannibal and I often have a difference of opinion.”
“Jack will be angry.” He doesn’t understand why he’s hesitating, delaying the taste of freedom Alana’s offering. He’s been institutionalised for 34 days now. He got excited hearing the jingle of a commercial he used to hate this morning. He should be running out the door. Maybe it’s because freedom is a drug more potent than heroin and he doesn’t think he could survive the withdrawal.
“I can handle Jack Crawford.” She shrugs.
For a second it’s like Before. She’s protecting him from Jack’s false belief in his infallibility and he’s asking her on a date to collect animal parts. He closes his eyes. He breathes in. He holds it. He lets go. “I can’t go with you dressed like this.” He tugs at his pyjama pants. “You have a reputation to uphold.”
She holds out an arm and he sees the image of a shopping bag reflected in the window pane. “I had to guess your size but I have a good eye.”
He turns to face her; a quip about her having beautiful eyes is on the tip of his tongue. He swallows it as he sees the flicker of an emotion he can’t identify in her eyes. It’s gone so soon he wonders if it was a hallucination. “Thank you.”
An hour later, he’s sitting next to Alana on the bonnet of her car eating a steak burger he would swear was made by the gods. Alana is so close that his ear was getting whipped as her hair is tousled by the wind. He doesn’t complain. He does, however, have questions.
He wipes his hands on napkin, rolls it into a ball and lobs it into the bin a few yards away. They’re parked in an empty parking lot bordering a children’s playground. It’s silent except for the birds’ chirping and the whirring of the wind. After a month of hospital beeps and constant footsteps echoing down corridors, the quiet is a luxury.
Alana compliments his shot. Her wide smile fades as he turns to face her. If he leans in three more inches, he could kiss her again. He doesn’t. “Ask me.”
“Why the jailbreak?” For as long as he’s known her, Alana Bloom was a vocal advocate for treatment adhering to protocol and for clinical environments. Taking Will out of hospital for burgers against Hannibal’s advice was the opposite of what he expects from her.
“Because,” She pauses, pressing her lips together as she tries to find the words she needs. “Being locked up can make you feel crazier than you actually are. At times of course.”
“Are you talking from experience there, Doctor Bloom?”
There’s so much raw honesty in that word that all thoughts fade from his mind. He can’t explain how he knows that she’s not talking from experience observing a patient. But he does. Maybe it’s her inflection. Maybe it’s the way her hand is curled into a fist so tightly it must be painful. He looks her in the eyes. The flicker of emotion he thought he saw before is back. He recognises it.
He’s never seen Alana afraid before. He’s seen her angry, happy, scarred and distraught. Alana’s never been afraid. She was the one who chases fear away.
“Alana.” One part of his brain catalogues how many emotions – shock, sympathy, pity, love- his mouth fits into that word. The rest of his brain is silent.
“Jaye.” She breaks eye contact, staring at the long grass dancing in the wind.
“My name was Jaye then. I changed it after. I – I was a pretty famous case study.” Her lips curve into a mockery of a smile. “Patient J. Campbell thought he was being clever when he published.”
The names moves cogs in his brain. He remembers the book. It was popular in both psychological and mainstream circles. J of Arc. He remembers being fascinated by the case study of the girl who talked with inanimate animals and used their advice to successfully help people. He remembers the diagnosis: schizophrenia. “Does Jack know?”
She snorts derisively. “What do you think?”
He takes that for a yes. “Hannibal?”
She nods, still not looking at him.
Will is silent for a long moment, processing the information. It fills in some gaps but causes so many more questions. “Are you telling me this so I have someone to relate to or to give me an example of newfound stability?”
“Both, I guess.” She kicks her feet, letting them swing in the air. She’s too short to reach the ground from their position. Her feet barely reach the mid-point of his calf. He’s never really noticed how small she was. She was always just there. “And maybe just to tell you the truth.”
“Thank you.” She startles at his words, looking at him for the first time since her confession. “For the truth,” He elaborates. “I know it’s not easy.”
Her laugh is humourless. “Understatement of the century.” Her laugh fades quickly and they return to silence.
“I never guessed.”
“That was kind of the point.”
“I know, but what I’m trying and failing to say is that I didn’t guess. I see almost everything and I completely missed this. You seem perfectly normal to me. I wouldn’t have guessed you were schizophrenic.”
“Misdiagnosis. They changed it after I was institutionalised. Brief Psychotic Disorder.” She says the name like he says encephalitis, like it’s a curse. “Or at least that’s what they called it. It fits most of the symptoms. All I really know is that nothing that isn’t supposed to talk talks anymore. And most days it’s enough.”
“And the other days?” He knows that he’s pressing her. He knows that she knows and he knows that she expects him to respect boundaries when she puts them up. And he will. He won’t push her, just like she won’t push him beyond his boundaries.
She smiles sadly. “You live through them. Answers don’t exist yet. Science hasn’t caught up to nature yet.”
He agrees with her. He’s proof of that. They both are. “Is that why you became a psychiatrist?”
Alana nods. “When I got out, I went back to college, overloaded all my courses and finished my psych degree in two years. Mahandra said the reason I went wacko was because I like Matilda but instead of getting fun powers, I got crazy.”
“My best friend. She married my brother, which everyone found more surprising than my instability, which is both oddly comforting and insulting.” She catches his expression and shakes her head. “Falling in love with your best friend’s sibling is a horrible cliché for a reason.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” Will’s never understood sibling relationships and he thinks that Alana’s or Jaye’s would be more confusing than most. He turns his face to the sun, feeling the warmth on his face. He breathes out. Something heavy hits his shoulder and he can tell by the flowery scent of her shampoo that it’s Alana’s head. He slides his arm out from between them and wraps it around her shoulder. He feels her heavy exhalation as she relaxes. “I won’t tell anyone.”
It’s not until she’s sitting on her bed at one in the morning the next day that she feels the enormity of what she’d done.
She’d told someone of her own volition that she was clinically insane. She’d never done that before.
“Tell him. Tell him more.” The voice sings to the tune of Summer Nights from Grease. She hates that movie with a passion.
Jaye reaches over, picks up the squashed face lion sitting on her bedside table and throws it at the wall. “Haven’t I done enough for you already?”
“Tell him more. Tell him more.”