Rubbing her eyes, Alex leaned back and took a break from her assigned reading. It was raining, so the room had already grown dark. The lamplight helped, but her eyes were still straining to see. As she stretched, she glanced to the clock. It was already lunchtime. Alex hopped out of the chair and started walking to the lunchroom.
"Lizzie!" Franny's voice called out, and Alex turned to see Franny skipping toward her with a grin. "How are yah feelin' today?"
"Better," Alex answered with a smile of her own. Her throat was still bruised, but at least her voice was back to normal.
"Oh, honey." Franny pulled her into a hug before taking her arm and leading her into the lunchroom. After pushing Alex into a chair, Franny ran to the line and grabbed two plates. Alex watched as Franny cheerfully chatted with the lunch staff. The sound of a chair moving caught her attention. Pam had joined her at the table. Alex caught Pam staring at her neck.
"I'd kill the bastard," Pam murmured and stared daggers at her lunch.
Alex gingerly touched her own neck and said, "I'll settle for getting my freedom and money while taking away his."
"That's it?! You're too nice. That arrogant trash hurt you… You should want him kneecapped… at the very least."
Franny joined the table and said, "That might be a bit too far, Pammy darlin'. But he does deserve a good kick where the sun doesn't shine."
"He already got one of those," Alex said, stirring her mashed potatoes. "But that was before he got his hands around my throat."
Franny looked at her with concern, but in Alex's list of priorities and problems, Jeremy wasn't even in the top three. If she survived all of this drama, then she'd probably have ulcers from the stress of dealing with Dr. Crane. He wasn't cruel… at least not yet. His therapy sessions always put her on edge. It felt more like he was studying her than treating her, and Dr. Crane's undivided attention didn't seem like a good thing.
"Miss Arkham!"
Alex turned her head to see a nurse walking swiftly toward her. The nurse stopped in front of their table and crossed her arms irritably.
"Dr. Crane needs to see you immediately after lunch. No playing around."
"Yes, ma'am," Alex replied with a tired sigh as the nurse turned to walk away. After starting her sessions with Dr. Crane, she'd noticed the stares from nursing staff had become even more critical of her. "They really don't like me much, do they?"
"What did I tell yah about getting involved with Doctor Pretty Boy?" Franny joked in a singsong voice.
"And I thought that you weren't interested in Mr. Blue Eyes," Pam joined in with a coy tone.
"I'm not… Dr. Crane can help me get out of here and away from that bastard brother," Alex explained and gingerly brushed her hair away from her neck. "Why are they jealous of a patient anyway?"
"Because Dr. Crane is pretty and in charge. When it comes to this place… or even Gotham in general, the Doc is an 'eligible bachelor.' However, he always seems to be more interested in his studies than actual people. The 'little things' he's doing for you may seem insignificant, but to them it's a different story. Him doing things like sending them to get you stuff and overseeing your treatment personally make you a target. Just… please be careful. I don't think Dr. Crane is doing it on purpose, but it's better to be cautious. Even the staff here aren't exactly sane… You'd have to be a little off-kilter to wanna work in an asylum… in Gotham of all places."
Alex chuckled as she picked up her plate. It probably would do her good to distance herself from Dr. Crane eventually, but she needed him at the moment. She promised Franny, "I'll be careful. But for now… I've got a doctor's appointment."
With a wave goodbye, Alex dropped her plate in the bin and started walking to Dr. Crane's office. After the incident with Elizabeth's dear brother Jeremy, the Arkham Asylum higher ups had been far less stringent with her. She didn't have complete free run, but there wasn't always a guard escorting her. Likely her status as a descendant of the Arkham family played a large role in this privilege. Or it could have something to do with the fact that she wouldn't have been hurt if the guards had done their jobs in the first place. Maybe the guards themselves were giving her distance.
Two distinct voices came from inside Dr. Crane's office, so she waited outside. She had no desire to overhear anything that could put her in the morgue. The door soon opened to reveal a man with circular glasses in a lab coat. The man's eyes widened as he saw her.
"Ah, you must be Miss Elizabeth Arkham. It's nice to finally meet you. I'm Professor Hugo Strange. May I call you Elizabeth?"
"I prefer 'Lizzie' if you don't mind," Alex answered with slight hesitation. She was already used to Franny calling her that.
"Oh, not at all. And you may call me Hugo. I've never been one for unnecessary pleasantries."
"Miss Arkham," Dr. Crane said as he opened the door to his office a little more. "Thank you for coming so quickly. Apologies, Hugo. This is rather urgent business."
"No worries, Jonathan. Lizzie… I hope we can meet again soon," Hugo said cheerfully and adjusted his glasses.
"It was nice meeting you," Alex replied and held out her hand.
Hugo gave her a smile as he shook her hand. After letting go of his hand, Dr. Crane motioned for her to come inside his office. Dr. Crane gestured to one of the chairs as he took a seat behind his desk. Alex sat down and waited. Judging by the tired look on his face, something must have happened.
"Two people in the asylum have been contacting your brother," he said calmy, but Alex could feel his gaze probing for a reaction. "I don't believe they'd be stupid enough to try to outright harm you, but… that doesn't mean that they can't cause you trouble."
"But they're in the men's ward, right?"
"One of them is. The other is Laura Thorne, and quite frankly she's more worrying. She has a history of causing disruptions. You need to be wary of her."
"I'll be careful," she promised for the second time today. Perhaps Franny or Pam could point Laura out to her.
"Good. That's… reassuring. A date for the trial has been set. If things run smoothly, your conservatorship could end in six weeks. However… that means that you'll need to be especially wary in the upcoming weeks. They'll be looking for a weak spot to exploit."
"I won't do anything rash," Alex reassured him. Even though she was worried about Jeremy's plans, she couldn't help but feel elated at the thought of escaping this awful place.
Dr. Crane relaxed into his chair and replied, "I believe in you. I just needed to keep you informed of what's to come. Your brother doesn't seem like the type to lose gracefully."
"Thank you, Doctor. Do you need me for anything else?"
Dr. Crane tilted his head and seemed to think for a moment before answering, "That should do for today, although… I heard that you were reading some of my work. I'm rather curious of your thoughts."
Never had Alex felt more like a deer in the headlights. She'd known that looking into his work might draw his attention, but she didn't think he'd ask her about it. His demeanor was once again of a cat curiously playing with its prey. He was likely more curious of her reaction than her thoughts.
"Ah, well… I'm not sure if my insight would be of any help…"
"But I would like to hear your opinion regardless."
"Ah… well, uh… There was one thing… I remember that you wrote about how in modern times fear has become less important for survival and is now more of a burden than a help."
"And you disagree?"
"Not exactly but… fear typically comes from a source. People are afraid of heights because they're afraid of falling. Without an appropriate amount of healthy fear, who'd bother using a rope when climbing a cliff? Fear is a natural response to danger. Rational fear isn't a burden."
Alex glanced back at Dr. Crane to see him thinking over her words.
"That's an astute observation," he said with an approving nod. "So what would you say about phobias? Or as you might call it… 'irrational' fear."
"Well, it's likely the fear came from somewhere. Someone afraid of dogs might have been attacked by one in the past. Does that mean that every dog wants to attack them? No, but an incident has taught them that dogs can, and potentially will, attack them. To them, it could be a case of 'better safe than sorry'. I'd agree that phobias can be a burden to those that have them, but as you said… phobias are derived from irrational fear."
Alex stopped when she noticed Dr. Crane giving her a gentle smile. He'd smiled at her before, but they had seemed either fake or, at best, amused. Goosebumps trickled up her arms. She hid her fear with a confused smile of her own.
"Thank you for your time, Miss Arkham. You've given me… something to consider. Now for the time being, it would be wise to stay with your friends during your free time. A second pair of eyes may come in handy should Miss Thorne try to make a scene."
Alex nodded and stood up. Before she opened the door, she asked, "Laura Thorne is one of them… Who's the male patient? Is he someone I need to be worried about?"
"You won't need to worry about him. He won't be here long."
Alex wanted to ask more questions but figured that it would most likely be in her best interest to drop it. If Dr. Crane was already being this evasive, then she didn't want to make him angry. After saying goodbye, she slipped out the office door and started walking to the recreation area. Franny and Pam were playing chess when she arrived. Or more accurately Pam was. Franny was slumped over the chair as though it was the most boring thing in the world.
"Exciting game, I see," Alex murmured from behind Franny, causing Franny to almost tumble onto the ground.
"Lizzie's spending time with us today?!" Franny celebrated, and Alex quickly glanced around the room to check if anyone was watching them.
"How much do you know about Laura Thorne?" Alex asked in a low tone.
Pam looked pointedly behind Alex, and Alex turned to see a tall woman with strawberry blonde hair waltz into the room with a look of disgust at her fellow patients. Upon noticing Alex, Laura's face changed into a blinding smile.
"Oh, I remember you. Elizabeth, right? I heard you lost your memories… you poor thing. You and I go way back. Same high school and both of us are frequently flyers here after all. I'm Laura," Laura said and extended her hand graciously.
Alex shook her hand and took notice of how Laura was sizing up Pam and Franny. After letting go of Laura's hand, Laura covertly wiped off her hand.
"Sorry," Laura said, knowing she'd been caught. "Diseases run rampant here. You can never be too careful."
"I suppose not."
Laura cleared her throat and said, "My masseuse will be here soon… I was wondering if you'd like to join me for a spa day. This place can be so stressful."
"No thanks. Maybe some other time," Alex said and grabbed a chair. "I already promised to play a game. Want to join us?"
Laura threw a disgusted look toward Pam and Franny and replied, "No thanks. I'm good. You know… you might want to be careful who you spend time with here. Certain… people tend to bring others down. You and I… we're a different caliber of human from these people."
"I doubt that," Alex said and took a seat beside Franny. "Nice meeting you. Have a fun spa day."
Laura's posture became stiffer with Alex's dismissal, and she took a step closer with a fake smile, "Okay then. Some other time then."
Alex gave her a fake smile and waved as Laura left the room in a hurry. It probably could have been an opportunity to see what Jeremy had planned, but it was most likely a trap. Or maybe the plan had been to isolate her. Either way Alex couldn't be sure if she'd saved herself from trouble or just pushed it back for later.
"What a bitch," Pam muttered as she moved the rook up two spaces.
"Yup," Alex agreed and turned to see Franny giving her a conflicted look. "What's wrong?"
"Are… are you sure you'd rather stay with us? It's not everyday you can get a massage in this place."
Alex smiled assuredly and replied, "The price to pay for it seemed a bit high. Plus… I'm still a bit sore."
Franny smiled and put her head gently on Alex's shoulder. Alex watched as Franny moved her knight.
"Why'd you ask about the witch anyway?" Pam asked as she looked over the board.
Alex leaned in and whispered, "Apparently, she's in contact with my brother. Just trying to figure out who I need to avoid."
"Oh, so you're just using us as an excuse to avoid her? How cruel," Pam said playfully as she claimed another one of Franny's pieces.
Alex chuckled and replied, "Of course not. I'm also using you as a study break."
Franny made a mock gasp and giggled, and Pam tried to hide her smile. Alex watched as Pam slowly robbed Franny of her favorite pieces before finally ending the game. As much as Alex hated this place, right now… it wasn't quite so bad.