White cloudy sky, frozen washed-out grass, gray buildings on the other side of the road; the outside world was as bleak as most of the psychiatric yard. There was one room, though, where colors bloomed, as the flowers sent by well-meaning strangers flooded the table in front of the bed. On it there was a girl, sitting cross-legged, wavy blonde hair framing her fair face and rosy cheeks.
Jessica was looking absently at the gifts. A small part of her was contented by this sight, saw it as proof people cared about her, but mostly she was just wondering why those people thought fitting to send her flowers and nothing else.
Most of them never came to visit.
She turned her head towards the nightstand, looked at the sunflower in a blue glass vase – a present left behind by Sam and Ash when they came by – and the framed pictures all around, brought back from her homeroom by her parents. She smiled weakly. The only one she had buried deep into a drawer was a portrait of her and Mike.
He had tried to come, twice. They had already split up, as soon as when they were in that first hospital actually, just after the mountain, because his touch was enough to scare her. Seeing his brow eyes, her mind flashed back to those two times when she really thought it would be the last times they would ever look at each other; when the monster forced her through the cabin window, and then seconds before the elevator fell down the mines. It was only logical that she couldn't pretend to love him anymore.
It was impossible to maintain any mask now.
And maybe she should have tried that long ago. When she had broken down crying about the twins, admitting how wrong the prank had been and how she had played a major role in it – another thing that drove her away from Mike –, she saw empathy in Sam's eyes for what felt like the first time. And it turned out Ashley was really sweet when she didn't look down on her for being quiet and demure, Chris pretty funny when she didn't overlook him as being a weirdo, Matt nice when she wasn't focusing on trying to seduce him.
Matt. He- he had visited quite often, and at one point she half-joked he didn't have to feel responsible for her after saving her in the mines. He smiled awkwardly, said it wasn't that, and she didn't enquire further.
At the end of his last visit, he asked if she would be okay with Emily visiting. She said yes.
And so, today was the day, Emily was coming. They had barely seen each other since their fight in the lodge – god, it felt like a lifetime ago –, and certainly not one-on-one. Jess couldn't really say she was nervous; when she thought about it, she realized she was just genuinely happy to see the girl that once was her best friend.
When the brunette passed the door, barely thanking the nurse that guided her to the room, Jess felt herself smile.
"Hey, Em," she called back.
Emily marched straight to the bottom of the bed, her heels clacking against the grey linoleum. She put her hands on the railing, leaned forward a bit, not in an intrusive way, only… she didn't shy away from taking up place. She had make-up on, liner that elongated her eye shape and dark lipstick that made her look slightly intimidating, had probably gone to the hairdresser recently because her hair was shorter, black locks framing her face expertly.
"You looked… normal."
The words escaped Jess's lips before she could think them through, and Em smiled sharply.
"I guess," she said. "It's what I'm aiming for, at least."
"So that's not the truth?"
"Jeez, girl, what do you think? You end up in a fucking yard yourself, and you think the rest of us could be okay?"
"Yes. As you said, I had to be admitted, but you – you and the others, you didn't. And as far as I know, you are all going back to college or getting jobs, so… It's easy to think that."
"Josh didn't, Chris is on the verge of dropping off. And that's not all – Sam is avoiding her parents' house like the plague, Ashley barely comes out of hers and never without Chris, Matt is doing the bare minimum at pretending to be normal, and… Yeah. As you can see, so far it all has been rainbows and unicorns."
Jess couldn't help but noticed she left two people out; one guy both didn't want to hear about right now, and one girl who didn't like being vulnerable.
"Really?" she said, sounding like she didn't quite believe it. "They… they didn't say that when they came by."
"They must have thought it would do you good, or something like that. Maybe it was Ash's idea, you know, she acts like she knows everything about psychology since she started on with her degree," she spat out. "Like she always has the best ideas…"
"You won't forgive her for the whole bite thing, uh?"
Em threw her hands in the air:
"No! Why should I? You, would you forgive someone that holds their own little person so high up that they are ready to freaking murder someone without the tiniest trace of evidence?"
Jess sighed internally, wishing she hadn't flipped the switch to "angry Em". That wasn't what she wanted, needed, right now.
"Why don't you sit down?" she asked instead, lightly tapping the spot next to her on her bed.
"What about we walked a bit instead? Hospitals kinda bumped me out, eh… You're still allowed to leave your room, right?"
"Of course, I'm not a prisoner. Though it's a bit chilly for an outside walk…" (The thought alone made her shudder.) "What about the cafeteria?"
"I bet they have horrible coffee, but whatever floats your boat. Let's go."
It wasn't until the elevator came to a sudden halt, making Jess squeak and grabbed Em's arm instinctively, that the girls realized coffee might have to wait.
For exactly one hour and twelve minutes, as the nice and very sorry lady on the interphone told them. She explained there wasn't anything to worry about, it only was a power surge and, though there was an emergency generator in the facility, it was only used for essential matters. Apparently, them being locked up in a two-square-meters lift cage wasn't one of those, as much as Emily complained to the woman at the other end of the helpline.
When she understood there wasn't any hope to get out of there before the announced time, she sighed dramatically and resolved to check her make-up in the mirror instead. She caught Jess's eyes in the reflection and raised an eyebrow at her queasy expression.
"You're alright there, girl?"
"I, uh… don't really like elevators anymore."
"But you never had any problems with them before? Remember, in high school, we used to annoy the hell out of that teacher because we kept- oh."
Jess could almost see the lightbulb go off above Em's head as it dawned on her that "before" meant "before Blackwood" and a certain elevator shaft deciding that plummeting down several levels was the most sensible thing to do.
"Oh, I'm, uh, sorry? Are you, like… okay?"
It was clear how little Emily was used to comfort people. Somehow, it made it all the more touching that she was trying.
"Yeah… Just uncomfortable", Jess answered. "But I'm sure that's perfectly safe, that was what the lady said… right?"
"That was she said, yes. I mean, that's the truth? Yeah, definitely the truth. We are perfectly safe; I can assure you. Or at least I think we are. Uh. Am I helping there?"
Jess chuckled, which made her friend relax a bit.
"Eh, I guess so then," Em said. "That was what I was aiming for, making you laugh. Yeah. I always know what to do, of course, you know that."
"Wasn't that what you used to say to Matt, and… the others too?"
"Nah, it was 'Emily is always right'. Though last time I said it, I had a foot hit me in the face, so…"
"Oh, I need to hear that story!" Jess squealed, clapping her heads in an excited, almost childish motion.
She realized a second after that it was the gesture she used to do to show off how thrilling and exhilarating every little moment of her life was. She felt puzzled at catching herself doing it again without thinking about it. Did it mean she was putting her mask back on in front of Em, or that she had been excited, for real, for the first time in a long while?
Less thinking, more in the moment. She smiled to herself, thinking back on the catchphrase a therapist had given her, a few weeks ago, when she had opened up about how she felt like she was acting instead of living most of the time. For now, she just needed to listen to Em launching into a story about her clothes still in Matt's room, a game of Never Have I never with the rest of the squad, and a certain one-handed challenge that ended up in her saying "I love you" to Matt for the first freaking time ever, and them agreeing on being friends, and- Wait.
The interference stopped Em dead in her tracks as she was rambling about feelings and such, something that was very unusual for her.
"What, 'what'?" she replied with a hint of temper.
"You, being friends with a guy? After you confessed your love to him?! Who are you, and what have you done with my friend?"
"Eh, only fools do not change their minds."
Out of the blue Emily then let out a snicker, and had to explain to a confused Jess what happened during their last game night, almost three weeks ago, and how their last round of Never Have I Ever seemed to have turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy. They both burst out laughing at the idea of Chris sending a dirty text to the wrong person – was he even the kind of person to send dirty texts ?! – or Sam sleepwalking, or rather sleep-doing something embarrassing at one of the many houses that weren't hers she was sleeping into those days. Oh, yeah, they could picture sweet and collected little Sam doing things she absolutely wouldn't do normally. The two girls would give anything to see her uncharacteristically handsy, like that time when she had gotten really drunk at the dorms… Miss Perfect deserved to be making a fool of herself every once in a while.
They took a long time to catch their breath after that.
"And so, how is that 'friends' thing with Matt going?" Jess finally ask when they had both calmed down.
"Ah, honestly I'm not sure."
"Maybe I can help! Come on, spill the tea!"
She let herself slide against the metallic wall and sat cross-legged on the floor of the elevator, looking at a skeptic Em with eager eyes.
"I'm not sitting on that dirty floor with designer pants."
"Come one, it's like a hospital. It's clean."
Her friend looked less than convinced and didn't make a move to sit down. She started talking standing up – it had become a matter of principle at this point. She would not lower herself to put her butt on some floor like some commoner. However, almost one hour after, the technician opening the elevator gates found the two girls on the floor, their foots touching, in the middle of a lively discussion.
They did get their coffee, in the end, and it wasn't nearly as bad as Em had predicted.
Jessica couldn't stop smiling.