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Rachel joined me for group therapy on her last day at the institution. It was going pretty well until I was asked to speak…

“And how are you doing today, Isabel? Anything you want to share?” The doctor peered over her glasses at me. “Okay, sure.” I gulped and looked around the room. The other patients stared back at me expectantly. “Well…I’m kind of sad.” I glanced down at my hands in my lap. “And why is that?” Dr. Wilkes asked, her pen raised above her notebook. “Um…well…my best friend is going home today. I’m really happy for her but I’m seriously going to miss her too. It just won’t be the same without her.” Dr. Wilkes nodded for me to continue. “And I guess…I’m just worried that I’ll never see her again.” My eyes welled up with tears. “Oh Izzy.” Rachel murmured and patted my leg. “That’ll never happen.” She gave me a hopeful smile. I nodded and wiped my face with my sleeve. “If you say so.” I shrugged nonchalantly. “And do you feel better now that you’ve told us what was on your mind?” Dr. Wilkes asked. “I guess so.” She began to write in her notebook again. “Good, good.” She muttered as she scribbled. “I guess that wraps things up for today. Everyone is dismissed.”

I walked over to the refreshments table for something to drink and Rachel followed closely at my heels. “Izzy…we need to talk.” I grabbed a cookie from a small tray and stuffed it into my mouth. “So talk.” I mumbled through a mouthful of chocolate chips. She took my hands in hers and held them tightly. “I’m going to come back for you. It might take me a few days because we’re going to need resources. Money, food, clothes, a place to stay.” She began to speak quickly, making plans. “But I will come back. And it’ll be soon. So be waiting for me, okay? Because I swear it, Izzy…I can’t just leave you behind.” She told me solemnly. “I’m busting you out of here.”

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“You seem to making very good progress in the six months that you’ve been here, Isabel. Keep up the good work.” Dr. Wilkes told me as she wrote something down in her notepad. “I will.” I promised her. “Now can we-” She interrupted me by putting her hand up. “And next time you come, we’ll talk about you going home. Okay?” I plastered a big smile on my face. “Sure.” I said through gritted teeth. It was the same thing she told me every week…yet we never talked about it. My eye began to twitch involuntarily as I sat there stewing in my anger. But luckily the doctor didn’t notice.
 
I found Rachel in the bathroom later that evening. “How’d your session with the doc go?” She asked in a cheerful voice. “About the same. Let’s face it. I’m never getting out of here.” She frowned at my response. “I’m beginning to think that Ricky is keeping me here somehow. Maybe he’s paying off the staff or something? He could definitely afford it. Or maybe it’s his mistress. They’re both lawyers. I know they pulled a lot of strings getting me in here to begin with.” Rachel lifted a skeptical brow. “Great. Now I sound like a conspiracy theorist.” I groaned and hung my head. “Maybe the crazy in this place is rubbing off on me finally.” Rachel began to massage my shoulders gently. “It’ll be okay, Izzy. Just relax. Good things happen to those who wait.” She told me playfully, trying to lighten the mood. “That’s easy for you to say, Rach. You’re getting out of here in three days.” She let go of me and pursed her lips. “You don’t have to remind me. I’d take you with me if I could. You know that.” I wrapped her into a warm hug. “I know. I just don’t know what I’m going to do without you.”

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“Whats going on with you? You’ve barely gotten out of bed today. Are you sick?” Rachel reached out to feel my forehead. “No. I just miss my son.” I moaned gloomily as she sat down beside me. “Today is his 4th birthday. And I absolutely hate that I’m not there with him.” I sighed. “Well that just plain blows. I’m sorry, Izzy.” She joined me in my misery as she leaned against me.
 
“Rach…what did you do to get put in this place?” I asked her after a few moments. She struggled with the words at first but she eventually told me. “After my ex left me…I kinda lost it. I tried to hurt myself. My parents put me here. For my own safety, they said. It’s been over a year and they haven’t visited me. Not once.” She looked as sad as I felt. “A year?” I repeated. “That seems like an eternity.” She nodded. “Yeah. Feels like it, too.” Then she nudged me with her shoulder. “But we’re going to get out of here, Izzy. Both of us. You can’t give up. And you can’t lose hope. It may not be today. Or tomorrow. But it’ll happen, just wait and see.” She sounded as if she actually believed that.
 
“Maybe it’s best if I never do get out though. I’ll probably kill my husband if I ever get my hands on him again.” I muttered darkly. Rachel appeared to be thinking. “So…how would you do it?” She asked with a mischievous smile. “Dunno. Beat him to a pulp with a frying pan? Then plead insanity?” I giggled. “Noooo! Then you’d just end up in prison or worse…here again. And what would happen to your son then?” She was dead serious. “You’d have to make it look like an accident. So you can actually get away with it. Something like…an overdose.” She stopped talking when saw me staring at her. “Or…we could tickle him to death!” She reached for my sides with her hands. “Oh stop! You’re crazy!” I laughed loudly and squirmed out of her grasp. “So I’ve been told.” She shrugged and smiled at me. For the first time in my life, I had something I’d never had before…a friend.

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I tried to steer clear of Rachel the next day. And it was hard…she was everywhere I went. Then that afternoon I heard screaming coming from the lobby. There was a large group of people watching what was happening from afar. I found Rachel in the crowd and stood next to her as we watched the scene unfolding in front of us. “Why is Betty being arrested?” I whispered to her. The officer was trying to get handcuffs on Betty but she was hysterical. She snapped her teeth at him like a rabid dog. “It wasn’t me!” She cried before lunging to bite the cop. He had to use his taser on her, and she hit the floor with a hard thud. “Betty pushed Harlie off the balcony. She wrote about it in her journal. Stupid, right?” Rachel snorted. “Anyways, I’m guessing they’re going to move her to jail until her trial. She may end up back here for all we know.” She smirked and rolled her eyes. “Wow. I can’t believe it.” I shook my head in dismay.
 
“Serves her right though.” Rachel put her hands on her hips and turned to me. “Can you believe that she was spreading a nasty rumor about me? She was telling everyone that I killed Harlie.” I guiltily looked down at my feet. “So you heard it too. Is that why you’ve been avoiding me?” She asked. “Yes.” I whispered then looked up to meet her gaze. “Did you believe it?” Her piercing green eyes burned into mine. “Yes.” I squirmed uneasily. “Why?” She didn’t look angry, just intrigued. “Well…I thought you may have done it for me.” I spoke quietly. “I was afraid. And this may sound silly…but I was also a little flattered.” I admitted with an awkward shrug. Rachel chuckled and before I knew it, we were both cracking up. “That’s just crazy!” She smiled at me. “Right?!” I giggled. “Now I kinda wish I had done it.” She winked at me and howled with laughter again, clutching her belly. “Well, next time I need someone killed, I’ll come to you.” I snickered causing another outburst from Rachel. She wiped the tears from her eyes and we grinned at each other. “Come on, Izzy.” She draped her arm around my shoulder. “Let’s go raid the kitchen for snacks.”

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At breakfast the next morning, we learned that Harlie didn’t make it through the night. I sat next to Rachel in the dining hall and we both ate in silence. “Well I’ve got an appointment with the doc, I’ll catch ya later.” She told me as she took her trash and left. After I finished eating, I wandered into the common room to find something to read. I didn’t even get past the first paragraph when I felt someone sit down beside me. I peered up from the page I was on and jerked in shock. It was the older lady from the room next to mine…her name was Betty.
“Hey…aren’t you “the biter”? I asked suspiciously as I scooted a bit further away. “Ha! So everyone still calls me that, huh?” She laughed and slapped her knee. “But don’t you worry. I don’t bite my friends.” She gave me a devious smile. “We CAN be friends, right?” She narrowed her eyes at me. “Uh…sure.” I stuttered. “Good. Cuz I got a secret to tell you…and it’s a juicy one.” She leaned in closer.
“I saw what really happened last night.” She whispered in my ear. “What do you mean?” I was curious. “Harlie was out on the third floor balcony again. She would sneak out there every chance she got. And she always got away with it.” Betty shook her head. “But she didn’t fall. Uh uh, no way. I saw it with my own two eyes…she was pushed!” She hissed vehemently. I looked around nervously but no one was paying any attention to us. “That’s just horrible!” I covered my mouth to keep from talking too loudly. “But who pushed her?” Betty gazed at me intently for a moment. “Your new best friend.” She rasped. “Rachel?” I mumbled dumbly. “Yeah.” She nodded. “But you didn’t hear it from me.”

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Much later that night, I woke up to the sounds of sirens. I wiped the sleep from my eyes then jumped out of bed. Moving my nightstand out of the way, I stood on my tiptoes and glanced out of my window from the second floor. There were police cars and an ambulance in the driveway below.
 
I went to my door and put my ear against it. From the hallway I could hear loud voices and a police radio going off. Someone in the room next to me was crying.
 
Something very bad had happened.
 
“Hey, what’s going on out there?” I yelled through the bars on my door. Suddenly the door opened up, spilling light in, and I yelped in surprise. Rachel was then escorted inside. “Good morning, Isabel!” She called out cheerfully. “Um, hi.” I burrowed my brows in question. “What happened out there?” I was betting that she knew. “Oh, it’s Harlie. It’s so sad. She took a long fall. And I don’t think she’s going to make it.” Rachel slumped her shoulders. “That’s awful.” I frowned and sighed. Harlie was mean but I didn’t want her to die. “Yeah, but that kind of thing happens all the time here. What can ya do?” She shrugged and smirked. “Anyways, my room is taped off. The police are combing it over. Guess you know what that means, huh?” She beamed at me. I shook my head. “What?” I asked. “We’re going to be roomies now!”

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The following week, I did everything Joan told me to do. I stayed as far away from Harlie as possible. I kept to myself. I took my medicine without a fuss. I participated in group therapy. I took my meals alone. And I didn’t try to make any friends…until I met Rachel.
 
“So what’s your story?” A young woman with short hair asked me as she plopped down next to me at dinner. “I’m Rachel.” She held out her hand and I timidly shook it. “Isabel.” I replied. She took a big bite of food and asked again with her mouth full. “What’s your story?” I pushed my spoon around in my bowl then took a deep breath and spilled my guts. “My husband kept me locked in the bedroom with our son during the day while he was at work. I tried to tell someone…in hopes that she’d help us. Instead she got me sent here. Now I know better. I should’ve never trusted her. Pretty sure they’re having an affair and she wanted me out of the picture.” I sighed and blew my hair out of my face.” Rachel stopped chewing and stared at me. “Wow. That’s rough.” I smirked. “Tell me about it. And no one believes me.” I moaned and pushed my food away. “I do.” She shrugged and took another bite. “Well in that case, you seem to be the sanest person in this place then.” We both giggled.
 
After dinner, we played cards together and gossiped about the other patients. “What’s Harlie’s deal anyways?” I asked Rachel. “Stalker. Some kind of incident with a country music singer. Instead of jail, they sent her here. That was probably a mistake.” She snorted. “No kidding.” I mumbled. “We actually share a room. She’s not so bad. If you pretend she’s invisible.” Rachel laughed again. “Right. Tell that to my face.” I touched the bruise on my cheek. She gasped and gave me a look of pity. “She did that to you?” I nodded my head. “Well, it won’t ever happen again, Isabel.” She promised. “I’ve got your back.”

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“This may come as a surprise but this place is worse than prison.” A nice orderly told me as she came into the bathroom to find me. I peered closer at her identification badge and found out that her name was Joan. “And the women here are just plain mean. But in their defense…they’re all crazy.” She shrugged. “That’s going to be a nasty bruise.” She told me as she touched a tender spot on my cheek. I winced in response. “You’ll have to keep it sanitized.” I let out a shaky breath. “I will. Thank you.” She pulled out a box of band-aids and helped me clean my face at the sink. I caught her gazing at my reflection in the mirror. “I’m still not sure about you.” I lifted an eyebrow. “What do you mean?” I asked. “Well…your medical records were squeaky clean and there was nothing about past episodes. It was all very suspicious the way your lawyer got you in here so quickly. I’m just curious as to what happened. What landed you in this hellhole?” She waited for my answer. I sighed and stared off into space. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” She grinned at me. “And you wouldn’t believe how often I hear that.”
 
Joan led me back out into the common room. But I was reluctant to move away from her. “So…got any advice for me?” I tried to stall. “Yeah. Stay out of Harlie’s seat. Just avoid her at all costs, actually. And keep your head down. Don’t try to make any friends, it’ll come back to bite you in the rear later. Make sure you always participate in group therapy and keep calm during your talks with the good doctor. Don’t put up a fight when it’s time to take your pills either. The process will be slow but eventually you’ll walk out of here unlike some of the others.” She nodded her head in the direction of the blonde named Harlie. “Thanks.” I mumbled. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye on you until you learn the ropes.” I gave her a grateful smile. “Well, you’re on your own for now. I’ve got to get back to work.” She waved then turned on her heels. “Oh, and watch out for the older lady in the room next to yours…she’s a biter.” Joan called out over her shoulder. I gulped and stared after her. Would I even make it out of here in one piece?

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Settling into my new surroundings wasn’t easy. There was a lot of crying and screaming involved. “Uncooperative” and “Hysterical” were some of the words the staff used to describe my behavior. No one wanted to listen to my side of the story, no matter how many different ways I tried to tell it. I’d already met with so many doctors, I lost count. And they all barely passed a glance in my direction. Instead they were constantly writing on their little notepads. I could’ve been talking about fluffy clouds and unicorns and still the only response I would’ve gotten was, “Uh huh, and how did that make you feel?” To make myself be seen during one of these sessions, I threw a chair through a window and tried to escape. Which in turn, earned me a week of being confined to a room without any furniture. It seemed that no matter where I went, I always stuck behind a locked door.

But eventually I was let out of the bare room and brought into a sitting area of sorts. “Make yourself comfortable.” The orderly told me before making a hasty retreat. I’d just sat down with a book when a shadow fell over me. “You’re in my seat.” I stared up at the blonde who was glaring down at me. There were empty chairs scattered all over the room. “Can’t you sit somewhere else?” I mumbled under my breath. She put her hands on hips and laughed. “You must be new, huh?” She asked me with a nasty smile. I stood and nodded my head. “Figures. You’re gonna have to learn the rules around here, twinkie, and ya better do it fast. But first things first…welcome to hell!” And that was the last thing I remembered as her fist connected with my face…

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