Chapter 7: Breakout

The next day it's Greg's turn to babysit. He whistles nervously and cracks uneasy jokes while he hustles me out to the car. "You have an appointment with Dr. Clark, remember?"

But I don't remember. I'm not sure I even knew when my next appointment was, and even if I did, I have no idea what day it is today. Plans are made for me without my knowledge, and I just follow along blindly.

I shrug at Greg while buckling my seatbelt, and he laughs, but now he has an upright crease between his eyebrows as well. I stare out the windshield so I won't have to see it.

When Dr. Clark comes out to get me, I see Greg looking her over appreciatively. He's probably jealous that I get to spend time alone with her. Doesn't he know I'd gladly trade places with him?

"How are you feeling?" Dr. Clark asks me once we're settled into our respective chairs. She sits beside me this time, turning her chair to face mine.

I give her a noncommittal shrug and meet her eye briefly. She casts an appraising eye over my face and smiles. "The bite marks look better."

I nod.

"How is the Paxil working for you? Is your sleep better?"

My gaze drops to my lap and I nod slightly.

"Nick?"

I don't look up. Just move on to another subject, please.

"Are you following the dosage instructions?"

I squint and scratch at a partially healed ant bite on my wrist.

"Have you been tempted to take too many?"

I dig at the welt, clawing at it with my ragged nails until it starts to bleed. A bright spot of red appears and I stare at it, fascinated. Dr. Clark grabs a tissue from a box on her desk and puts it in my hand.

"Nick? Have you?"

I shake my head quickly. There is silence for a moment, and when I finally look up, she is watching me carefully. I'm pretty sure that the second I walk out of there she'll be on the phone to the pharmacy, telling them no refills.

Finally she makes a hrumphing noise in her throat and changes the subject. "I got your test results back."

She reaches out to pick up my file up from her desk. My eyes follow her bloodred fingernails, the only spot of color in my gray world.

"The laryngeal evaluation revealed no obvious pathologies, no paralysis, no polyps, no nodules. The CT scan also came back negative. No neurological damage detected."

So what the hell is wrong with me? All these doctors, all these tests, and no one can tell me anything I didn't already know. I'm ready to give it all up.

Dr. Clark: So . . . what have you tried for communication?

Me:

"What about sign language?"

I roll my eyes and nod.

"I take it that didn't go very well?"

I give a short, silent laugh. Understatement.

"What about writing? Have you tried that?"

I nod.

"Did it work?"

I shake my head, remembering red ink running down the wall.

"Did you try typing?"

Another nod.

"Did that work? Were you able to type?"

I shake my head emphatically.

"Let's try it again." She clicks a few keys on her laptop and holds it out to me. I shake my head and push it away. I don't want to "accidentally" smash her laptop. It looks expensive.

"Come on, Nick, just try it, please. We'll never get anywhere if you don't cooperate."

I take a deep breath and take the computer. She has opened up a new Word Document, and the cursor blinks at me accusingly in a blank, white screen. I blink back for a moment.

"Just hit any key," she urges. "Don't worry about making sense."

With a sigh, I hit a key, and then another. It is gibberish, just as I expected. Clenching my teeth, I continue, hitting the keys harder and harder. Finally I look up at the screen. To my surprise it reads:

Agdlksjxamidead

I stare at the jumble of letters, trying to make sense of them. My finger hovers over the delete key.

"Stop!" Dr. Clarke commands sharply. I jerk my hand back as if it had burned me. She holds out one perfectly manicured hand, fingers curled in a "gimme" gesture. Slowly I pass the laptop over to her, expecting that at any minute she will start laughing. I decide that if she laughs at me I will get up and walk out.

She puts on a pair of half-moon glasses and reads the screen slowly, thoughtfully. Finally she taps a few keys and looks up at me, pulling the glasses off. "Legitimate question," she says seriously. "The answer is no."

She passes the computer back to me. When I look at the screen, I see that she has put in the spaces and punctuation, so now my message reads, "Am I dead?" I squint at the screen, wondering where that came from. I don't even remember thinking that.

I take a deep breath and position my fingers over the keys again. Slowly I type, the letters coming a little easier now. When I look up at the screen it reads, "howdoiknow"

Dr. Clarke takes the computer and reads my new message. Then she puts the laptop on the desk and leans in toward me. I flinch, thinking she is going to get in my face the way Sara did. I don't think I can handle that again.

Instead she picks up my wrist and puts her fingertips against my pulse. My heart is pounding. "Feel that?" she asks, lifting up my wrist. "You're alive, Nick. You survived."

After a moment she finally releases my wrist. I hold my hands up and inspect them carefully, marveling that they no longer shake. In fact, I feel like I'm carved from stone, incapable of movement, of reaction, of emotion.

I'm not sure how long I sit like that, unmoving, as Dr. Clarke tries to get me to type again. After a while she gives up and tries a different tack.

"I thought you might be interested to hear what Dr. Grissom told me last week."

I look up at her warily. Maybe I want to hear it and maybe I don't. Can I really handle Grissom's honest opinion of me?

"Do you want to hear it?" she prods.

I nod slowly.

"He told me about the stalker in your attic. He mentioned that you handled that incident very well."

I look back down at my hands. This is a waste of my time, because Grissom obviously wasn't honest with her either. We both know I didn't "handle that incident" very well.

Dr. Clark continues, although I'm hardly listening anymore. "He seems to have a high opinion of you. He believes you'll recover from this incident as well."

I continue to stare at my hands. She falls silent, and the silence stretches out so long that I finally look up at her. She is watching me with a concerned expression.

"Nick? What's wrong?"

I shrug. It's nothing I can explain to her, and even if I could I doubt she would understand it anyway. I feel another irrational surge of anger at Grissom, but I keep my emotions carefully hidden. I don't understand why I'm so angry at him, anyway. He's trying to help me, I remind myself.

Dr. Clark glances at her watch. "All right, Nick, I guess I'll see you next week. Don't--don't do anything rash."

I get up and walk out without looking back. She follows me out and stops Greg just as he is standing up. "Excuse me, can I talk to you for a moment?"

That pulls me out of my stillness. I jerk my head up and glare at her. She didn't ask my permission to talk to Greg. Greg glances nervously from the Doc to me and back again.

"It will just be for a moment," she says firmly. "This way please."

With an apologetic smile at me, Greg follows her into her office. While he is gone, I fume inwardly, fists clenched. She has no right to tell him anything. It's supposed to be private. I perch on the edge of my chair and stare at the closed door.

After just a few moments, the door opens and Greg slips out. He silently chews on his lip and shoots me concerned glances while we walk out to the car. I won't look him in the eye.

He doesn't volunteer to tell me what Dr. Clarke told him, but when we get back to my house, he disappears into my bathroom for a minute. I don't hear any water running.

When he comes out, I'm sitting on the couch with the TV turned up too loud for conversation. He fixes me a sandwich for lunch, but nothing for himself. He plunks the plate and a glass of milk down in front of me and folds his arms, blocking my view of the TV. I try to look around him.

"She's just worried about you. Frankly, so am I."

I scowl at him.

"Sara told me you were moping around. Looks like she was right."

So he was the one she was talking to on the phone. I should have known. I find I don't really care.

"I brought something to show you. I'll be right back. Eat your lunch."

He goes out the front door, leaving it open. I push the sandwich aside and continue mindlessly watching the Discovery Channel. I'm not really following what's happening on the show. Something about moose migration, I think.

After a moment, Greg returns with a lidded file box, kicking the door shut behind him. I try to stay focused on the TV, but curiosity keeps turning my head toward that box.

Greg gives a short laugh. "Eat your lunch, and I'll show you."

Still scowling, I shove a bite of sandwich into my mouth and swallow it almost without chewing, washing it down with a swig of milk.

Greg nods at me and sets the box on the floor next to the coffee table. "Eat some more," he commands, while he removes the lid and starts pulling stuff out of the box. A packet of pictures, still in the lab envelope, with my name written on the outside in Grissom's block printing. A coil of wire connected to a tiny camera. Swabs in plastic vials, with white labels that I can't quite make out. A CD in a jewel case.

While I force down another bite of sandwich, he pulls a laptop out of the box and boots it up. He opens the jewel case and puts the disk in the player. I can't see the screen.

Unable to contain my curiosity any longer, I set the sandwich aside and click off the TV. I start to pick up the packet of pictures, but Greg slaps my hand away. "You're not allowed to touch, only look. I got special dispensation from Grissom, but it didn't include you handling the evidence."

Frowning, I put my hands in my lap, and Greg starts to open the packet of pictures, but then hesitates, and sets them aside instead. "Look at this first."

He turns the computer so I can see it. Internet Explorer is open; there is only one line in the middle of the webpage. It reads, "You can only watch." The word "watch" is a link. I frown at Greg. What the hell is this?

"Ready?"

I nod. He clicks on the link, and a picture pops up, a video feed. A bright light switches on, and there I am, in my coffin, head twisting to and fro, sweating and pushing on the lid. My breath catches in my throat at the sight.

"When the light came on, that was us. We wanted to keep the light on for you. We--we didn't know, about the fan."

I stare unblinking at the screen. It doesn't even look like me anymore. Just some stranger.

Greg is watching me carefully. Finally he closes the laptop, sets it aside, and picks up the pictures again. He brushes imaginary crumbs off the coffee table and lays the pictures out one-by-one, with exaggerated care.

My frown deepens as I stare at the pictures, not sure what I'm seeing. He picks up the closest one. "This is the box we found--well, Catherine and Warrick found it, buried in Gordon's warehouse," Greg explains. I squint at the picture and make out a dog, obviously dead, lying in a plexiglass coffin.

He puts the picture down and picks up the next one. It is of a fan, feeding air into the side of the box. I squeeze my eyes shut and hear the whirring, clicking off when the light comes on. I hear the sound of Greg shuffling the pictures around.

"These are the dimples we found under the box. Hodges figured out what they were." I open my eyes and see a close-up of a round, grayish divot in plexiglass. I give Greg a look of confusion.

"Explosives," he clarifies, but he looks confused too. "Remember? Hodges figured it out just in time."

I shake my head. No, I don't remember that. Was that what Dr. Clark was talking about? She said there was a bomb under the box. That part is completely missing from my memory.

"When we pulled you out, it exploded. We were lucky you stayed still when we opened the box, otherwise you would have been blown to bits. I don't know how you managed that, man. I would have been out of there like a shot."

I remember wanting to jump up as soon as the box was open, but I didn't. Something held me there, trapped, even after the lid was off. What was it? Why don't I remember?

I stare at the pictures, numbly. They don't seem real. My eyes jump around, catching glimpses of the other shots--there are some of me in the hospital, the bruise on my side, the ant bites. A couple are of the shattered remains of the box.

I know I should have some sort of emotional response, but there's nothing there. It's like I'm observing from the outside. The pictures don't have anything to do with me. I push them away.

"We all worked together to find you, Nick." Greg's voice is more serious than I have ever heard from him. "Every one of us would have given our lives to get you out of that box. But the irony is, you're still there. You won't let yourself out." He shakes his head. "Don't take it with you, man."

Something held me in that box, holds me there still, but I can't quite see it.

A picture springs to my mind, Grissom's face, distorted through the Plexiglas and mud, his hand on one side of the glass, resting against mine on the other. His lips move, "Promise me!" I feel myself reply, "I promise." What did I promise?

Suddenly it comes to me. I promised to stay still, not to move. Grissom made me promise to stay in the box. My hands start shaking again at the realization.

Greg grabs my hands in his. I want to fight him, but I can't summon the energy. His grip is firm.

"After the lab exploded," he says hoarsely, "I walked around in a fog for weeks. None of it seemed real. I couldn't fathom that that had actually happened to me, and yet every time I closed my eyes, I would see the flash. I could even smell the smoke." He swallows hard, eyes shining with unshed tears. "I see the same look in your eyes, Nick. You gotta dig your way out.

I am trembling all over now. I yank away from Greg and clench my hands into fists, my fingernails leaving half-moon impressions in my palms.

Greg suddenly stands up. "Stand up, Nick," he says, voice quavering. I don't move. I can't move. "Stand up!" he shouts. I jump to my feet, every muscle tense. My fists refuse to unclench.

"You wanna hit something? Hit me," Greg says.

I stare at him, watching the colors return to his face, the spots of red on his cheeks, his shock of blond hair. My teeth are clamped together so tightly my jaw aches, but I can't move.

"Hit me!" he commands, voice gaining strength. I take a feeble swing at his arm, but he blocks the blow. "Come on, don't hold back. Hit me harder!"

My vision goes to red, and the only thing I see is Grissom's face, making me promise to stay in the box. I strike out blindly, and my fist connects with something, hard. "That's better," comes Greg's voice through the red, and then I feel a blow to my shoulder.

I hit back, and the next thing I know Greg is falling and dragging me with him, and we are rolling on the floor, still fighting. We grapple for a minute, then my fist connects with something that makes a "crunch". I feel Greg roll away; he curls up into a ball, moaning.

The red clears from my vision long enough for me to make out that Greg's hands are over his face; blood is gushing from his nose. Everything is in living color.

"Greg!" I croak. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry."

"Dammit, just get me a towel or something."

"O-okay." I race to the kitchen and grab a green-striped towel from the bar on the front of the oven. When I dash back into the living room, Greg is sitting cross-legged on the floor, both hands to his nose. Bright red blood is oozing out between his fingers and dripping onto the light blue carpet.

I kneel next to him and help press the towel to his nose. It is soaked almost instantly. I want to ask him if he wants some ice. What comes out is "Ice?"

He shakes his head, and meets my eye. I can see that he is smiling beneath the towel. "You talked!" he crows.

"Huh?" I say stupidly.

"You talked! You're talking!"

A smile slowly comes to my face as well. "Guess I am. How 'bout that?" My voice is scratchy and hoarse, but it is my voice.

Greg shifts the towel to find a dry spot. "All it took was breaking my nose. I'll have to hire myself out to psychiatrists as a therapeutic tool."

"Could be . . . painful," I rasp, sinking down to sit next to Greg on the floor.

"You're probably right." His tone turns serious. "Look, man, I was serious about what I said. Don't take it with you, Nick."

I take a deep breath and nod. I can feel tears threatening, burning behind my eyelids, but they don't surface. "Working on it, Greggo."

He shrugs. "Best I can hope for, I guess. Can you get me another towel?"

I flash him a grin. "You bet," I say, then wince from the new bruises as I gingerly get to my feet. It feels good to finally feel something again, even if it's pain.

&&

The next day I kick everyone out. No more babysitters. Because I'm fine. Really. I don't even need the damn sleeping pills anymore. I can't find them anyway, but that's all right. I don't need Dr. Clark either, which I call up and nicely tell her. Thanks for your help, but I'll be all right on my own from now on.

I call and leave a three-word message on Grissom's voicemail: "I forgive you." Let him puzzle over that for a while.

I still have a little trouble with bugs, and tight spaces, but everyone's got their little quirks. I still check my attic twice a week, too. That doesn't mean there's something wrong with me. Not a problem. I'm fine.

&&

That's the end, which means this is your last chance to review. Pretty please?