The summoning, p.7
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       The Summoning, p.7

         Part #1 of Darkest Powers series by Kelley Armstrong
Page 7



  Just like me.

  After my session, I ducked into the media room to think. I was curled up on the love seat, hugging a pillow to my chest, when Simon sailed in.

  Not seeing me, he crossed the room and grabbed a baseball cap from the computer desk. Humming under his breath, he tossed the hat in the air and caught it.

  He looked happy.

  How could he be happy here? Comfortable, maybe. But happy?

  He flipped the cap over in his hand and tugged it on. He stopped, gaze fixed on the window. I couldn't see his expression, but he went very still. Then a sharp shake of his head. He turned and saw me. A flash of surprise, then a broad grin.

  “Hey. ”

  “Hi. ”

  He stepped closer, smile fading. “You okay?”

  I'm fine sprang to my lips, but I couldn't force it out. I wasn't fine. I wanted to say I wasn't. I wanted it to be okay to say I wasn't. But the concern in his voice went no deeper than his grin, neither touching his eyes. They stayed distant, like he was making an effort to be nice because he was a nice guy and it was the right thing to do.

  “I'm fine,” I said.

  He twisted the bill of his cap, watching me. Then he shrugged. “Okay. But a word of advice? Don't let them catch you holing up in here. It's like going to your room during the day. You'll get a lecture on moping around. ”

  “I'm not—”

  He lifted his hands. “Their words, not mine. I'm just warning you. You can get away with turning on the TV and pretending you're watching it, but they'll be happier if you're up and about, hanging with us. We're not such a bad bunch. Not too crazy. ”

  He gave a blazing grin that made my stomach flip. I sat up, struggling for something to say, something to keep him here. I did want to talk. Not about Dr. Gill. Not about schizophrenia. About anything but that. Simon seemed normal and I desperately needed normal.

  But his gaze had already shunted to the door. Sure, he thought I should hang out… with someone else. He was just giving advice to the new girl.

  The doorway darkened and Simon's smile flashed fresh.

  “Hey, bro. Don't worry. I didn't forget you. Just talking to Chloe. ”

  He waved my way. Derek looked in, so expressionless you'd think Simon was gesturing at the furniture.

  The scene in the basement flashed back—Derek accusing me of talking to ghosts. Had he told Simon? Probably. I bet they had a good laugh at the crazy girl.

  “We're heading out back,” Simon said. “Kick around the ball for our break. You're welcome to join us. ”

  The invitation came lightly, automatically, and he didn't even wait for a response before he brushed past Derek with, “I'll get Talbot to disarm the door. ”

  Derek stayed where he was. Still watching me.

  Staring at me.

  Like I was a freak.

  Like I was schizo.

  “Take a picture,” I snapped. “It'll last longer. ”

  He didn't so much as blink. Didn't leave either. Just kept studying me, as if I hadn't said a word. He'd leave when he was ready. And he did, walking out without a word.

  When I left the media room, only Mrs. Talbot was around. The other kids had returned to class after their break. She sent me into the kitchen to peel—potatoes this time.

  Before I started, she gave me another pill. I wanted to ask when I could expect them to start working, but if I did, then I'd have to admit I was still hearing voices. I wasn't seeing anything, though. Just that hand this morning, right after I took the pills. So maybe they were working. Maybe it didn't get any better than this. What would I do then?

  Fake it. Block the voices and pretend I wasn't hearing them. Learn to—

  A scream echoed through the house.

  I jumped, the peeler clattering into the sink. As my heart thumped, I listened for a reaction. No reaction would mean the voice had been in my head. See, I was learning already.

  “Elizabeth Delaney! Get back here!”

  A door slammed. Footsteps raced down the hall, punctuated by sobs. The hairs on my neck rose as I thought of the crying girl at school. But I forced myself to the door and cracked it open just in time to see Liz lurch up the stairs.

  “Enjoying the show?”

  I jumped and caught Tori's glower before she hurried after her friend. Miss Van Dop strode from the living room into the hall.

  “I have had it!” the other voice boomed from the classroom. “I expect some behavioral problems tutoring in a place like this, but that girl needs professional help. ”

  “Ms. Wang, please,” Miss Van Dop said. “Not in front of—”

  “She threw a pencil at me. Whipped it. Like a weapon. Another half inch and she'd have taken my eye out. She broke the skin. Blood. From a pencil! All because I dared to suggest that a tenth grade student should be able to understand basic algebra. ”

  Miss Van Dop tugged her into the hall, but the woman broke away and stormed into another room.

  “Where's the director's number? I'm quitting. That girl is a menace. …”

  A shadow glided past me and I turned to see Derek at my shoulder. As the dining room door swung shut behind him, I caught a glimpse of books and a calculator spread across the table. He must have been there the whole time, doing independent work.

  As he looked down at me, I expected some sarcastic comment about eavesdropping, but he only muttered, “Welcome to the madhouse,” then brushed past me into the kitchen to swipe an extra snack.


  AFTER THAT, CALM DESCENDED. Like the calm before the storm, only in reverse. The nurses put dinner in the oven, then sequestered themselves in Dr. Gill's office, on a conference call, not to be disturbed.

  No one had disagreed with Ms. Wang's explanation of events. No one tried to say it had been an accident. No one even seemed surprised that Liz had almost put someone's eye out.

  When dinner time came, Mrs. Talbot served the food, then retreated into the office again. Liz joined us, wan and quiet. Simon snuck her a juice box, though we were supposed to be having milk. Tori hovered over her, coaxing her to eat. Even Rae and Peter made efforts at conversation, as if to distract her. Only Derek and I didn't participate.

  After dinner Tori reminded Liz it was movie night, when they could get a DVD delivered. She gave Liz the honor of choosing, but Liz seemed overwhelmed by the responsibility and looked to us for help. Simon made suggestions, but said he wouldn't be watching it—he and Derek had a project due the next day. Liz finally settled on a romantic comedy. While she and Tori went to tell the nurses, Rae announced she had to fold the now-?clean laundry. I offered to help.

  We each carried a basket to the room Rae shared with Tori. I could tell neither was pleased with the arrangement. I swore I saw pencil marks on the windowsill to divide the room in half.

  Tori's side was so clean it looked like mine when I'd first walked in. Nothing on the walls. Nothing on the bed or the floor. Every surface was bare, except two picture frames on the dresser. One held a shot of Tori and her parents and the other of a huge Siamese cat.

  Rae's half had enough clutter for both of them. Hooded sweatshirts on the bedposts, textbooks balancing precariously on the desk, makeup left open on the dresser, drawers leaking clothing. The room of someone who didn't see why she had to put things away when she'd only be using them again the next day. Her walls were covered with taped photos.

  Rae set her basket on Tori's bed, then closed the door. “Okay, I could beat around the bush, but I hate that, so I'm going to come right out and ask. Did I hear right? That you're here because you see ghosts?”

  The words I don't want to talk about it rose to my lips. But I did want to talk about it. I longed to pick up the phone and call Kari or Beth, but I wasn't sure how much they'd heard about what happened and whether they'd understand. The person who seemed least likely to make fun of me or gossip
about my problem was right here, asking for my story. So I gave it to her.

  When I finished, Rae knelt there, holding up a shirt for at least thirty seconds before realizing what she was doing and folding it.

  “Wow,” she said.

  “No wonder I'm in here, huh?”

  “And it started right before you got your first period? Maybe that's it. Because you were kinda late, all that stuff built up, and then… bam. ”

  “Super PMS?”

  She laughed. “So have you looked it up?”

  “Looked what up?”

  “The custodian. ”

  When I frowned, she went on. “You got chased by a guy in a custodian's uniform, right? And he was burned, like he died in some fire or explosion. If it really happened, it would have made the papers. You could look it up online. ”

  I won't say the thought hadn't occurred to me, but I'd only given it permission to flit through my brain, like a streaker at a football game, moving too fast for me to get a good look.

  What if I was really seeing ghosts?

  My brain flashed don't go there neon warnings, but some deeper part was fascinated, wanted to go there.

  I rubbed my temples.

  Ghosts aren't real. Ghosts are for crazy people. What I saw were hallucinations, and the sooner I accepted that, the sooner I'd get out of here.

  “It'd be cool if it was,” I said carefully. “But Dr. Gill said seeing visions is a clear sign of a mental illness. ”

  “Ah, the label. God, they love their labels here. Can't even let a girl get through her first day without slapping one on. Mine's pyromania. ” She caught my look. “Yeah, I know. We aren't supposed to share. Protecting our privacy. I think that's crap. They just don't want us comparing notes. ”

  She lined up socks and started matching them. “You don't agree. ”

  “Maybe with something like pyromania. It sounds almost… cool. But there are other things, labels, that we might not want to share. ”

  “Like what?”

  I concentrated on mating the socks for a minute. I wanted to tell her. Like the stuff about the ghosts. As scared as I was of sounding like a freak, I wanted to tell someone, to see what she said, get a second opinion.

  “They say I have schizophrenia. ”

  I studied her reaction. Just a small frown of confusion.

  “Isn't that multiple personality?” she asked.

  “No. Schizophrenia is, like, you know, schizo. ”

  Her expression didn't change. “So it's seeing things and stuff?”

  I lifted a white sail of a T-?shirt, with faintly dingy armpits. No need to check the name. I folded it and added it to Derek's pile. “There's a whole lot of other symptoms, but I don't have them. "

  “None of them?”

  “Guess not. ”

  She eased back, uncrossing her legs. “See, that's my problem with it. You have one weird episode and they slap on a label, even if you just have the one problem. It's like coughing and they decide you've got pneumonia. I bet there are a lot more symptoms to pyromania, too. Ones I don't have. ”

  Her gaze fixed on a red and a blue sock, and she stared intently at them, as if she could will them to turn purple and match. “So what else comes with schizophrenia?”

  “Dr. Gill didn't say exactly. ”

  “Huh. ”

  “I guess I could look it up on the Internet. I should. ”

  “We should. Schizophrenia and pyromania. I'd like to know more. To be sure, you know? Especially with the way things are going with Liz…” She rubbed her mouth with the back of her hand, still staring at the mismatched socks. “I think you're going to have the room to yourself soon. Maybe real soon. ”

  “They're transferring her?"

  “Probably. They've been talking about it for a while. This place is for kids who have problems, but they're not too bad and they're getting better. A couple weeks after I got here, they transferred a guy named Brady. He wasn't getting worse or anything. Not like Liz. He just didn't want to get better. He didn't think there was anything wrong with himself. So off he went. … Taught me a lesson. I might not like their labels and their meds, but I'll keep my mouth shut, play the game, and get out of here the right way. ”

  “And go home. ”

  A moment of silence, neither of us moving. Then she yanked a blue sock from my hand and waved it in front of my face.

  “Whoops. ” I hadn't even realized I'd been holding it.

  She folded the blue pair together, then shoved the lone red sock under Tori's bed. “Done. It should be movie time soon. ” She piled folded laundry into one basket. “Notice how quick Simon was to get out of watching the movie? Couple of real scholars, those two. Anything to avoid hanging out with the crazy kids. ”

  “I got that impression. Simon seems nice but…”

  She handed me one basket and took the other. “He's as much of a diva as Tori. They'd be a great pair. Derek might be a jerk, but at least he's honest about it. Simon makes nice during the day when he has to hang with us, then bolts the minute he can escape with his brother. Acts like he doesn't belong here. Like he doesn't have any problems and it's all a huge mistake. ”

  “What is he in here for?”

  “Believe me, I'd love to know. Him and Derek, both. Simon never goes to therapy, but Derek gets more than anyone. No one ever comes to visit them, but sometimes you'll hear them going on about their dad. Simon's dad, I think. If he's so great, why'd he dump them here and take off? And how do two guys from the same family, but not blood brothers, both have mental problems? I'd love to see their files. ”

  I'd be lying if I said I wasn't curious about Simon. And maybe Derek, if only because I had the feeling I might need some ammunition against him. But I wouldn't want anyone reading my file and I wasn't going to help Rae read theirs.
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