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The vault of dreamers, p.27
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       The Vault of Dreamers, p.27

           Caragh M. O'Brien
 
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  His expression went flat, and then he nodded toward the video camera I was holding. I’d practically forgotten it.

  “Good luck with your art, Rosie,” he said.

  A lonely, aching part of me wanted to reach for him, like I still belonged in his arms. The rest of me wished I’d never met him. I curled my hair back around my ear and blinked against the wind.

  “Good luck in St. Louis,” I said.

  I met his gaze one last time, and then he turned and headed down the pasture, toward the road that led to Forgetown. My cool eye framed up the shot, seeing how photogenic he was against the backdrop of the water tower and the horizon of the prairie, but even though I had a camera in my hand, I turned in the other direction, back toward the center of campus.

  31

  CATCHER

  THEY SENT A security cart around for me. They said Dr. Ash wanted to check on me. I flared up inside, ready to run, and then I saw their wary eyes. I heard the undertone in their calming voices. The crazy label was clear in the way they handled me, as if they were both sorry and secretly pleased that I’d cracked.

  I went with them. I let Dr. Ash check me out. I let her give me some pain medicine for my elbow and wrap it in a sling. She asked me if I truly believed everything I’d said to Linus.

  “What’s better to say? That I do or I don’t?” I asked.

  “Just be honest.”

  I thought rapidly. Honesty depended on whether or not I trusted the person I was talking to, and Dr. Ash was a liar. “I don’t want to say anything Linus might hear,” I said. “Take me off camera and I’ll talk.”

  “If you go off camera, you’re off the show for good. Is that what you want?” she asked.

  I shook my head.

  “Was this some kind of game you were playing on Linus?” Dr. Ash asked. “Like a performance art piece that went wrong, maybe? That’s happened here before.”

  I glanced down at my hands. “I’ve been having nightmares a lot,” I said. “Maybe I got confused.”

  “I wish you had told me,” she said. “And were you really dizzy on the ladder yesterday?”

  I nodded.

  “Any voices? Déjà vus? Blackouts? Hallucinations?”

  It was hard to tell if they were hallucinations when I believed them. “No,” I said.

  She set a hand lightly on my shoulder. “Let’s let you rest a little, shall we?”

  I turned to gaze out the infirmary window, and the doctor left me in peace. Outside, the wind had blown in a change of weather. A mist enshrouded the campus, bringing twilight early, and it thickened to rain as I watched.

  I had not known until then that a heart could feel bruised. Mine was bitterly sore, and each time I thought of Linus, it pumped the pain a little harder. I had thought, somehow, that we were starting something small together. Maybe not a family, but something that mattered. Now I couldn’t tell if I was angry at him for all he’d done, or if I was angry because he was gone.

  I didn’t want to need him.

  So why did I?

  * * *

  A tap came on the door, and the nurse, Mr. Ferenze, looked in. “A couple of your friends are here to see you. Dr. Ash says it’s okay for them to visit for a few minutes. Should I send them in?”

  “Sure.” I pushed aside my dinner tray and brushed a couple crumbs off my jeans. All I’d eaten was the apple crisp, anyway.

  A minute later, Paige and Janice came in hesitantly. Paige wore sweats, while Janice, all in black, looked paler and more chic than ever. Careful of my sling, Janice gave me an awkward hug, and then Paige did, too.

  “Thanks for coming, guys,” I said.

  “You don’t look too bad, all considering,” Paige said.

  “Thanks.”

  Janice had brought along my brown sweater and my umbrella. She offered me a quaint red flower made of bent plastic, with a string for hanging.

  “What’s this?” I asked.

  “I made it for you. It’s a dream catcher,” she said. “It’s for a window, normally, but you could hang it anywhere.”

  I laughed, realizing that the flower was made out of swizzle sticks. “That’s very nice. Thank you.”

  Janice glanced at Paige and then back to me. “We wanted to tell you,” Janice said. “Paige and Henrik and I went to the clock tower. I climbed down the pit to see what was at the bottom.”

  “You did?” I asked, surprised.

  “Henrik came down, too, and Rosie, we didn’t find anything down there but a few leaves and some mouse droppings. It’s just a pit.” Janice curled her wispy hair behind her ear. “I’m sorry. It’s just, I thought you would want to know we tried.”

  “Thanks,” I said. She had just proven that everything I’d said on camera was a lie, but whatever.

  “I wish I could believe you,” Janice said. “It’s an amazing idea.”

  “That’s okay,” I said, but my voice came out flat.

  She came to sit next to me on the bed while Paige lingered near the door.

  The dean had to have some way to seal off the bottom of the pit. A false floor of some kind. But then, that didn’t explain why had he bothered having the false floor open at all. He had no reason to ever expose the opening.

  “Rosie, are you all right?” Janice asked.

  “Of course.”

  “About Linus and everything? You were pretty tight with him.”

  “I thought I was, anyway,” I said.

  “He’s a moron,” Paige said.

  I glanced over at her. “I guess.”

  “I mean it,” Paige said. She arched her back against the wall. “You have an incredible imagination, and when you figure out how to do everything you want, it’s going to be unbelievable.”

  “So you think I should stay here?” I asked.

  “Obviously,” Paige said. “You’d be an idiot not to.”

  Janice nodded. “I think so, too. We’ve all been feeling horrible since Burnham fell, and you were right there, part of it. It’s a crazy time, but it’s going to get better.”

  Another tap came on the door, and Dr. Ash leaned in. “We have a call on the line from Rosie’s mother. Can you ladies excuse us?”

  I got another hug from Janice before she rose from the bed.

  “Thanks, guys,” I said.

  “We’ve got your back,” Janice said. “Anything you need.”

  “Thanks.”

  Dr. Ash let them pass before her out the door. Then she handed me a phone and slipped out again herself, taking my dinner tray.

  “Ma?” I said.

  “Good gracious, Rosie,” Ma said. “What a day it’s been. What was that outburst with Linus all about?”

  Cafeteria noises sounded in the background as she spoke, and I remembered Friday was her night to work a shift at the prison.

  “Ma, you know they can hear me.”

  “So what? I’m asking for the truth. I need you to be honest, with me and the cameras.”

  I glanced absently at a camera button on the picture frame opposite me. The picture itself showed the letters of the alphabet formed by different animals: A for Alligator, D for Dolphin.

  “I’m not crazy,” I said.

  “You’re something, anyway,” she said. “Hold on a second.” A mechanical, blending noise came on, and then grew dimmer, as if Ma were moving around a corner. Then the noise abruptly stopped, and Ma’s voice was softer. “Larry thinks we should bring you home. He thinks you really have a screw loose up there and you’d be better off back home with the family.”

  “Seriously? Larry wants me back?”

  “He’s worried about you,” Ma said. “He says that artsy place is ruining you. He thinks you’d be better off here, working at McLellens’ and making your own little films on the side. He says McLellen would pay you more because you’re famous now. You’d bring in customers.”

  That was about the last thing I expected from Larry, and yet it made total sense, too. I pulled my legs up on the bed and crossed them, pret
zel-style.

  “What do you think?” I asked. “Do you agree with him?”

  When she answered, her voice was more thoughtful. “What I don’t understand is why you were out of bed last night in the first place,” Ma said. “I can’t believe you risked your entire education to see a boy.”

  “I didn’t.”

  “No. I can see that,” she said. “And that’s where I’m stumped. Because either you really have seen all these things you say about people underground, or you’re seriously disturbed.”

  “Then you believe me?” I said and my heart twisted with hope.

  The phone gave a bumping noise, as if she were switching ears. “I don’t know which is more likely, honestly,” Ma said. “I don’t know which would be worse.”

  I turned to gaze out the window at the rain.

  “You’ve been talking to Dean Berg, haven’t you?” I asked.

  “Yes. Several times today. He cares about you, clearly. I have no doubt about that.”

  “There’s no way I’m going to have him as my guardian,” I said.

  “We need to think about this carefully,” Ma said. “He’s not going to let you stay unless you sign a contract.”

  I had agreed to stay earlier, in the trustees’ meeting, but that was before I told everyone what I knew. I couldn’t stay at the school now that the dean knew how much I had discovered.

  “Then I’m coming home,” I said. “I guess that’s decided. Simple.”

  A soft tapping came from her end. “I’ve been put in a terrible position,” Ma said. “I’m going to look like a monster if I agree to this contract.”

  I was instantly wary again. “You just said we’re not.”

  “Here’s the problem, Rosie,” she said. “I’ve always believed you. I know you’re a truthful person. But supposing you’re wrong, just in case you’ve only imagined all of this business and convinced yourself it’s true, then you need far more psychiatric care than we can ever provide for you here. I don’t want you coming home and going crazy and committing suicide like those other kids.”

  “So you’re saying you want me to stay?” I asked. “For my own health? That doesn’t even make sense.”

  “You’re a genius, sweetheart,” Ma said. “Forge can provide you with more structure and stimulation than anywhere else. That’s just what you need most.”

  “I’m not a genius. Did Dean Berg tell you this?”

  She laughed strangely. “He’s seen all kinds of kids like you, kids with incredible imaginations. And he can get you the care you need. He can arrange for a therapist to come right to the school for you. A private therapist, just for you.”

  “Ma. I’m not staying.”

  “And this contract, it’s actually a good thing,” Ma said. “The high stakes will help your motivation. It will give you a chance to show you can follow the rules.”

  I clenched the phone hard. “I’m not signing it.”

  “And if, heaven forbid, you can’t follow the rules, Dean Berg will get you into the best psychiatric facility in the country,” Ma said. “He knows people. He has connections, and he’ll spare no expense. He promised me.”

  She had already decided. I could hear it. She was turning me over to him.

  “I don’t want to,” I said finally, my voice low. “Dean Berg frightens me.”

  “Please don’t make this harder than it has to be,” she begged.

  “Can I talk to Larry? Let me talk to Larry before you decide.”

  “I’ve already told your stepfather.”

  “Ma, what are you saying? How can you do this?” I demanded. “You’re always so weak! Why are you standing up now, for the wrong thing?”

  A gulping noise came from the other end of the line. “I’m scared for you, Rosie,” she said. “I’m thinking of the years ahead. Don’t you see? My heart’s breaking here.”

  I gripped the phone, while inside me, everything stilled.

  Ma thinks we’re crazy, my voice said.

  My own mother. Ma wanted only what was best for us. For a long moment, I couldn’t think at all. I couldn’t argue. I couldn’t breathe.

  “Okay, Ma,” I said. “Don’t cry. I’ll be all right.”

  “Promise me?” she said, her voice tight. “Please, Rosie, will you please be okay?”

  “Yes.”

  32

  THE CONTRACT

  THE DEAN’S OFFICE felt smaller without the trustees, more hushed and private. Dean Berg took my umbrella for me when I arrived, but I kept my sweater. Fake logs had been lit in the fireplace to counter the chill of the drizzle, but when I reached for warmth, I felt none.

  “How are you feeling?” Dean Berg asked me. His pale eyebrows lifted. “Dr. Ash tells me you’re doing well.”

  “I am, thank you,” I said. “And you?”

  “It’s been a busy day,” he said. “Something warm to drink? Tea? Cocoa?”

  “No, thank you.”

  A light aimed at the mantel portrait now cast a glare that obscured the stern woman. I saw from her label she was Lavinia K. Jacobs, the show’s founder.

  The dean leaned back on the front of his desk, where he’d been earlier that day, and his tweed blazer fell open. “That was quite a conversation you had with Linus this afternoon,” he said.

  “Do you know where he is now?”

  “I understand he left for St. Louis.”

  I nodded. That was what Linus had planned to do.

  The dean sighed heavily. “I wish you had told us about your nightmares,” he said. “It’s unusual for a student to have nightmares at all, and exceedingly rare for one to remember them on waking, but clearly that’s what’s been happening to you. If I’d known, I would have had Dr. Ash adjust your sleep medication.”

  “She said the same thing.”

  “Why didn’t you tell us, then?” he said.

  I began a circuit of the room. “I didn’t know they were nightmares, did I? They seemed real to me.”

  The dean considered me, pursing his lips. “What do you think now? Did you really climb down the clock tower and find a whole world down there? If you believe that, I seriously question why you would want to stay here.”

  We were negotiating. We were deciding how crazy I was, but no matter what I said, he had methods to conceal his vault of dreamers. Of that, I was certain.

  “You don’t need to worry,” I said.

  “No, I am worried,” he said. “I want you to be perfectly honest with me, because if you’re truly hallucinating, we need to get you professional help. We’ll fully cover the cost. It’s no fault of your own. You have no reason to be ashamed.”

  Shame, is it? said my inner voice.

  “I’m not hallucinating,” I said.

  Not at all, she said.

  Don’t distract me.

  “I’m relieved to hear it,” he said. “And you’re not having any headaches or dizziness or déjà vus? Nothing unusual at all?”

  “No.”

  Little knickknacks and sculptures were posed among the books on the shelves, but no family photos. On one narrow shelf, beneath a white camera button, lay a miniature set of watercolor paints and a spiral-bound pad of art paper. I reached to open the pad.

  “You can leave that,” the dean said.

  I glanced over at him. “Are these yours?”

  “Painting helps me unwind,” he said. “Here I am, surrounded by all you artists. I’d prefer you didn’t look at them.”

  I left the pad untouched. “Do you have a family?” I asked, wondering if he’d tell the truth.

  The dean reached for a few papers behind him as he answered. “I have twins. They’re eighteen. They live in New York with their mother, so I don’t see them nearly as much as I’d like.”

  “Did they ever want to come to the Forge School?” I asked.

  “No. It’s not their thing.”

  “What are their names?” I asked.

  Dean Berg stroked a hand down his blue tie. “Why the interest?


  “I’m just thinking, if I’m signing a contract where you could be named my legal guardian, I should know something about you. After all, you know practically everything about me.”

  “Brian and Emma,” he said. “But I don’t expect to become your legal guardian. That’s not how this is supposed to work.”

  On the next shelf was a small sculpture of a man crawling out from under a shroud, and I traced the silky marble. His label read “Morpheus.” The dean liked nice things, I decided.

  “Why’d you get divorced?” I asked.

  “My wife didn’t like me.” The dean straightened from his desk and stood to face me as I moved nearer to the windows. “Anything else?” he asked mildly.

  “No.”

  When I came to the edge of his desk, I reached for a spherical paperweight made of glass. It was heavy and etched with the continents of the globe. Little spiky Iceland floated in a smooth sea of blue glass, and someone had placed a tiny gilt star upon it. I wondered if it was a gift from Huma.

  “Suppose we get down to business.” He passed me a sheet of paper. “Your parents have approved these conditions and they have a copy. Please read them carefully.”

  I set down the paperweight, skimmed my hand over the paper, and sank into his desk chair. I expected him to tell me to get out of his seat, but when he didn’t, I began to read.

  1. Rosie Sinclair will conform to all Forge School rules, including proper ingestion of her nightly sleep pill and remaining in her sleep shell from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.

  2. Rosie Sinclair will undergo complete physical and psychological screenings at Mr. Sandy Berg’s discretion, and he will personally oversee any necessary medical care.

  3. Rosie Sinclair will not leave campus for any reason without Mr. Sandy Berg’s express permission.

  4. Any breach of this contract will result in Rosie Sinclair’s legal guardianship passing from her mother, Ms. Joan Sinclair, to Mr. Sandy Berg. Rosie will be promptly expelled and removed from the Forge School. She will be placed elsewhere at Mr. Sandy Berg’s discretion and fully cared for until her eighteenth birthday, at which time she will be released.

  At the bottom, a line was already filled with my mother’s signature, via Legalpen. Two other lines were open for my signature and Dean Berg’s. I looked up to find him regarding me.

 
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