A/N: Well this my first Willard fic. Also the first fic where the plot bunnies are running wild. This story demanded to be written and I just could not stop typing until the first chapter was done. If it stays this way, then this is going to take priority over all the other stuff I'm supposed to be working on. I'm kind of combining elements from both the book and the movie Willard, but mostly I will be sticking with the movie version. Reviews are always welcome of course! And hopefully my OC characters (they are many of them) turn out well developed.
Disclaimer: I do not own the book or the film Willard or any of the characters. I just like playing with them. ;P I'm taking a leaf out of another author's book and saying I will not repost this disclaimer for each chapter as it covers the entire story. Enjoy!
It was easy, at first, to get my hands on the hydrocodone pills. I had an extra bottle in my room left over from some procedure or other. But they didn't last long, even when I limited myself to three or four a day. I knew it was wrong, but simply didn't care. It was worth it for that feeling. Like a warm fuzzy feeling that spread from the back of the throat. It was synthetic love; rose-colored glasses. Or almost. It made it easy to ignore the loneliness. I knew what I should be feeling, but I didn't feel. Sometimes I wondered if my professors realized when they looked at me that I was popping pills . Then I remembered that they probably wouldn't care. It wasn't high school; they didn't keep tabs on students. We were adults and free to act as responsible or as reckless as we chose. Around the time I had to resort to making up excuses as to why I needed pain meds, I realized it was getting out of hand. My grades were dropping, sleep was impossible, and not a day passed when I didn't fantasize about just walking in front of rush hour traffic.
I had been here before and was lucky it hadn't turned out worse. A third chance seemed like too much to ask for. So, I waited until the semester was over and looked for a place to stay. I didn't know what I needed. Antidepressant? Someone to talk to? I was just hoping to regain control. To be who I was before: happy, imaginative, and full of laughter. I really missed that girl.
I joined the other patients in the cafeteria at exactly 12 o'clock. A half hour was given to eat before we were sent back to our rooms. Then, it was time for individual therapy for most. Always perfectly scheduled. Living by the clock was the first thing I hated about this place. I never wanted my days scheduled so meticulously. But then again, I thought, maybe structure would be better for me. Maybe that's what I was missing.
The food wasn't bad: chopped turkey, dressing from a box, and a roll. The green beans I wouldn't touch, no matter how much the cafeteria lady coaxed me. I just politely replied that they could give me a multivitamin if my health was such a big concern. After filling, my tray, there was the business of finding a place to sit. It reminded me of high school. If you didn't already have someone to latch onto, you were pretty much screwed. The best option was to sit alone and let others come to you. So, I made a beeline for the most open space of the tables. At least they were clean, if not comfortable. The chairs were really just stools attached to the tables that stretched halfway across the cafeteria in several rows. A long space was left in the middle for heavy traffic. I unwrapped my plastic spork (no knives or forks here - considered too dangerous I guessed) and began to eat my lunch.
The one good thing about the university had been that I could pay for the food and take it to the dorm or outside on the benches. At least that way the aloneness was private. Here it was on display for anyone to see. I stared at the multicolored waves painted on the walls as if they were completely fascinating, and people ate alone everyday, and I was completely used to it.
But if I had been preoccupied with chatter, I wouldn't have noticed the man who was lead into the cafeteria. He was tall and thin and his face looked like it had been ravished by some disease. Pale and waxy. His hair was limp, grimy, and dark. The circles beneath his eyes were very pronounced. And his eyes were just blank. They slid over the world like water, never latching onto anything. He looked like he truly belonged here, and I admit that he frightened me quite a bit. My nerves increased when "Alfred" (according to his staff nametag) sat him on a stool near me.
"You wait here, Willard," he said, "while I go get a plate." The man, Willard,he had called him, never even moved in response. The only thing that even distinguished him from the dead was the fact that he could support himself and his heavy, strained breathing. Wondering briefly if maybe he was catatonic or something, I averted my eyes. Those on the staff who walked by either paid him no mind or wore a look of distaste. At first, I hadn't noticed, but a guard had entered the building at the same time and continued to stand near our table. Was this man a danger to others? Or was it just a coincidence? I couldn't help but stare at him some more. The combination of his breathing and the tautness of his muscles gave him a look of a cornered animal. At any moment he could break from his restraint and attack. His body curled in on itself, as if he were afraid.
"All right, here's your plate." Alfred set it in front of Willard. When he didn't respond, the nurse huffed and sat down beside him. "You don't want to be put back on the feeding tube do you, Willard? That's what they'll do if you don't eat, you know. And don't act like you can't hear what I'm saying, 'cause we both know you can." His words were stern, but his voice remained gentle.
Ever so slowly, as if his limbs were uncooperative, Willard took his utensil and ate a few tiny bites. Alfred turned to face me and smiled warmly. "You new here? I haven't seen you before."
"I just got here yesterday," I replied with a smile of my own. I liked this man instantly. His voice and his dark mustache reminded me of Gary Oldman. The thought made my smile widen.
"You can call me Al. You'll probably see me around quite a bit. My shifts change a lot, and I get to know most of the patients pretty well. You seem like a nice and normal gal. What are you in for?"
The question took me back a bit. But he was chatty and frank. I liked that. "Depression. Suicidal thoughts." I shrugged.
"Mmmm…just as I thought. Nice and normal," he laughed. I quirked an eyebrow, wondering if he was being sarcastic. "I haven't met a person yet who hasn't been depressed or thought about suicide. I figure it won't be long before they release you."
"I hope so. No offense, but I don't think I want to stay in here any longer than I have to."
He chuckled, "Don't worry. None taken."
I was beginning to feel really relaxed when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Willard glance at me. It wasn't a casual action; it was as fast as a snake striking, and that's what I felt like had happened. His eyes were such a cold and pale blue, even a look as brief as that made me shiver. It was very hard to pretend I hadn't noticed.
"So have you gotten all settled in your room yet?" Al asked.
"Um…yeah," I answered lamely, trying to get my mind back on the conversation.
"Do you like your roommate?"
"Actually, I don't have one at the moment. They said I probably would later. But I'm glad to take advantage of the privacy while I can."
"Yeah. That's one thing you lose staying here. But who said being healthy was easy? Has anyone showed you around?"
"No. Just the common room and here. We went over the rules. What time to eat and sleep and breathe, " I said wryly.
"You'll get used to it. If you want I can show you around after I take Willard back to his room. I get a break after that. I'm sure it'll be all right." He looked at me expectantly.
Suppose it's best to take a friendly hand whenever you can. I told him I'd be happy to meet him in the common room in a few minutes and took my tray back to the kitchen. When I passed Alfred and Willard on the way out, I caught the former nagging, "Well I suppose half eaten is better none."
Ten minutes later, I was dutifully waiting for my new escort in the common room. A rerun of The Cosby Show was playing on the small television set, and there were quite a few people sitting on the leather couches and chairs. Sunlight shone through the large barless windows, and plants made the area more cheerful. It was better than the individual rooms. The furniture in my room consisted of two brown laminate beds and the desks and drawers to match. The walls were a pale green. Perhaps they had springtime in mind when they chose the color, but it made me think of vomit instead. The barred windows I would never get used to. When I saw them my chest instantly tightened up with claustrophobia. Surely it was bad for the psyche to have the spooky thought that you could never leave?
Cheerful whistling drifted from down the hall and into my thoughts. That was definitely Alfred coming to fetch me. We had only just met, but I felt like I knew him well already. Or it could be my desperation for company. But when he turned the corner, thus proving me right, I changed my mind.
"Hey again," he greeted me enthusiastically. "Ready?"
I nodded and left my comfy chair to join him by the nurses' station. "Roxie," he addressed the woman behind the counter, who was currently filing her nails, "I'd like to go ahead and show our newcomer around the building, if that's all right."
Roxie, a red-haired, red-lipped woman who looked to be in her mid- to late-forties, looked up from her nails and smirked coquettishly up at Al. "Sure, honey, so long as you watch after her. It's Ember, yeah?" she turned to me.
Waving her hand dismissively, she said, "No, no, sweetie, none of that ma'am business. You just call me Roxie. Welcome to Bellevue - finest luxury hotel in town." Her laugh was loud and vivacious. I smiled shyly and muttered a thanks.
"C'mon, kid," Al said, with his hand steering me by the shoulder. "Be seeing you, Roxie."
"You better soon, honey," she called out after us.
"Roxie seems to be pretty fond of you," I mentioned slyly, as soon as we were out of earshot.
"Oh, she's like that with everyone," Al replied nonchalantly, but I noticed a red tinge appeared on his ears.
We viewed the music room first. Although the one instrument I had ever played had been the clarinet, and that was years ago, it was exciting to think I could learn to play something new. It would be something to focus on, anyway. "The instruments are all worn, but they still work just fine. There's a music therapist who supervises and does different group activities. Some of them are a little hokey, but they rather everyone participate," he explained, as I ran my fingers along the battered keys of the baby grand piano.
An instructor also taught yoga and Pilates classes in the recreational room. "They thought about putting in a pool, but I'm not sure what happened to that plan," Al told me. "Probably didn't have the funds."
"A pool would be nice, providing it was inside" I mused. I didn't get to swim as often as I liked, only a few times each summer. Yoga would be interesting, but I didn't know if I would be able to stretch my body into such awkward positions with people watching. But, around the perimeter of the room was a track walkway. That was something I used to love. Thank heavens they let me keep my mp3 player, even if they confiscated my phone.
"And here," Al said as unlocking the last door, "is the art room. Guests have the most fun in here. The one time they can really get messy."
"This is brilliant," I breathed. "I love to paint and draw." Several easels were set up throughout the room and a giant cubby cabinet took up one whole wall, filled with art supplies and pictures here and there.
"You'll get your own space later, if you want to keep any work you do."
"That's what I wanted to do my whole life. I mean, as a career," I said to Al. "I wanted to an artist. My work isn't the best, but I will say I have good ideas." I walked over to the window, thinking about how that was the perfect picture for inspiration. The view across Bellevue property was beautiful, even in October, with the trees and grass dying. Maybe this was a good idea. Maybe after it was over, I'd be in a good place, able to live again. Or rather want to live again.
"There's a library too in a different building, and there's always a board game or card game going on in the commons. You shouldn't ever get bored," he said from the doorway. "When you get out of here, you can work on becoming a famous artist."
My smile twisted into something more ironic. "Doubtful. It isn't exactly a real job. My father would prefer if I were a nurse or something."
Al snorted and folded his arms. "Take it from me, because I am a nurse and know what I'm talking about, you do whatever makes you happy. You think because I get steady pay with benefits that it means something special? It wouldn't if I didn't enjoy it, if I didn't care about every person in this hospital."
His words were kind, but not easily accepted. Not wanting to be rude, though, I replied, "Perhaps, you're right, Alfred."
After flicking out the lights, he motioned for me to exit. As we walked silently back towards my room, I thought about the odd man Al took care of: Willard. Such an old-fashioned name. Almost comedic. But I couldn't see anything funny about Willard.
"What's Willard in here for, as you put it?" I asked.
Alfred looked apprehensive for a moment before answering, "He's a special case. Never talks to anyone, except himself. We can't get him to mingle with other patients; he won't open up to any of the doctors. I only just recently managed to persuade him to eat and take care of himself somewhat. No one's sure what to do, and honestly, I don't think they really give a damn." He shook his head, wearing a look of disgust.
"Why did the guard follow you both in? Is he dangerous?"
"Well, in the time he's been here, he's never hurt anyone. Never even tried. So, as far as I'm concerned, it's all just too much precaution."
"Oh," was all I could think to say, and we continued the short trek down the hall in silence. Someone must know something more about this Willard to warrant extra safety measures. Even though I trusted Al, I felt that whoever it was, was right.
"This is my stop," I said when we reached my room. My companion looked in briefly at the bare walls and relatively bare furniture.
"Well, you haven't made it yours yet, but you'll grow into it." Putting his hand on my shoulder, he spoke more seriously, "If you ever need help adjusting, know I'm at your service. It will be tough the first week or so, but give it time. These doctors know what they're doing."
"Thanks," I told him, looking straight into his soft green eyes. I was genuinely grateful for his adopting me to his care. This place was scarier than I cared to admit to him.
"Be seeing you," he tapped his forehead before taking off.
"You better soon," I mimicked Roxie's words to him. He snickered softly before picking the tune he had been whistling earlier back up.
Ten o'clock was lights out, but it was hard to get any sleep with someone peeking into your room what seemed every 15 minutes. Wrapping the covers tighter around my body, I turned away from the door. The light coming through the window was filtered through the thick bars. Tears started to well up in my eyes. What the hell was I doing here? Why didn't I just go home? It was a long time before sleep found me.