REALITY FOR THREE

The room was small and dorm-like, but more rustic. It was a little cabin with two saggy beds, lit by a single 40 watt bulb. Joan was on one bed and a red haired girl was on the other one, slowly rocking to and fro. The girl had a small bald patch at the top of her head, and she was carefully examining a strand of hair as if trying to make a decision.

Darlene the hairpuller, Joan remembered. Darlene noticed Joan looking at her, gasped and turned her face to the wall. She began rocking faster—lost in her own private hell. Right, Joan recalled, direct eye contact was a no-no. Joan's natural empathy rose up in her, and she wished she could help her roommate—but how? If only she could get a hint from…

Joan whimpered in pain and frustration. No, HE wasn't real. Instantly, Judith, who had been half asleep in a chair, came to her bedside.

"Jo-Jo, are you okay?"

"Judith? Are you real?"

"As real as the meat loaf in the dining hall, and a lot easier to digest."

"I'm in crazy camp, right?"

"Gentle Acres, if you please. Bad dreams?"

"Yeah, and lots of them. Dreams of the past, dreams of the future, all mixed together."

Judith sat on her bedside. "You know what Dr. Dan would say. You're dreaming of the past and future because you don't want to deal with the reality of today."

"But what's real? All those times I talked with God, he/she seemed as real as you are right now. But… those were hallucinations caused by my illness… I think. How can I ever be sure what's real?"

Judith took Joan's hand. "I'm real, and you can always trust that. Judith Montgomery, fifty percent of Jonith, and zero percent dream."

"It's not Christmas Eve, is it? In my dreams it was Christmas Eve."

"No girlfriend, it's the middle of summer. The closest we've come to Christmas is in the common room with all those dumb Christmas-in-July ads on TV."

"Yeah, that makes sense." Joan said with a big yawn.

"Hey, it's a couple of hours until sunrise. Why don't you try to get some sleep?"

"Sleep? Just more crazy dreams…"

"You're okay Jo-Jo. I'll be right by your side, I promise. Just remember, two things are unshakably true…"

"Judith is real, and God… isn't."

Joan's eyelids began to droop as Judith gently caressed her hair. She noticed Darlene watching them.

"What are you looking at, freak?"

Joan murmured, "Be nice Judith, we all have our problems."

"I can't help it, there's something wrong about her…" (to Darlene) "Why don't you get out of here?"

Wordlessly, and without making any eye contact, Darlene grabbed her robe, slippers and handbag. Hastily, she exited while Judith smiled triumphantly.

Outside, in the dark, muggy night, "Darlene" suddenly transformed. Her shoulders no longer sagged and her face was no longer fearful. Instead, a confident young woman with a smug look of superiority stood in her place.

She removed an item from her purse that was strictly forbidden at Gentle Acres- a cell phone. She loved this part. So far this summer she had been Abigail, Brenda, Charlotte, and now Darlene. And in all those psychiatric facilities for troubled teens, she had fooled everyone. The doctors, the counselors, the other kids all thought she was crazy hair-puller girl, but in reality, she was a spy.

The cell phone connected and she spoke hastily. "It's me. I'm sorry to call so early, but my voluntary commitment ends this afternoon, and now is the only time I'll have to talk privately for several hours. I found another one, and she fits all your criteria."

(There is a pause while she listened to a question.) "Yes sir, security here is a joke. I've already copied her complete file and I'll fax it to you as soon as I'm out of this dump. The girl's name is Joan Girardi."

Another brief pause before she continued, "Yes sir, I know one is less than our usual average, but she fits the profile better than all the others. Perhaps I'll have better luck at the next camp, when I'll be Emily. I'll keep in touch, sir. Goodbye, Mr. Hunter."

The End. PLEASE REVIEW