Stephanie gazed up at the stars perfectly content. The evening couldn't get any better, she thought to herself. It was a warm, cloudless night and she was snuggled up on a blanket with the love of her life. As they lay together she knew that there was no place she'd rather be.
"What are you thinking about" Sportacus whispered into her ear.
"Oh, nothing. You know, just some guy…" she replied with a giggle. She could just make out his face in the moonlight and saw him fight to keep a smile off his face.
"Is that so? Well I better make sure the only guy you're thinking about is me" he said as he leaned down to capture her mouth in a gentle kiss. Stephanie wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him closer and making sure he couldn't move away. Opening her mouth slightly, her tongue met his and the kiss deepened.
When they finally had to come up for air, Sportacus look at his watch and jumped up when he realized what time it was. "Come on Stephanie, you're uncle won't be happy if you're late!" he exclaimed as he pulled her up next to him. As exasperated as she was at still having a curfew, she had to laugh at Sportacus acting like a teenager afraid of getting grounded.
Stephanie spent the walk back to her house grumbling about how ridiculous it was for a 19 year-old to have to be home by midnight, but with Sportacus' arm around her shoulders she couldn't really be mad. Sure, still living under Uncle Milford's rules was a pain, but she knew he did it out of love and didn't want anything to happen to her. Then again, what was going to happen to her in LazyTown? She was still fuming as they stopped outside her door. And with Sportacus! Even if by some freak occurrence something did happen, he was right there!
"Hmph. It's just not fair" Stephanie said, pouting. "I don't want you to go."
"Ah, but I have to, my love" Sportacus replied. "That face is hard to resist though" he chuckled, bending down to nip tenderly at her lower lip.
After a few more kisses, Sportacus did manage to separate himself and reluctantly headed back to his airship. Stephanie watched him disappear into the darkness before heading up to her room and getting ready for bed. Though they were apart for the night, he was still in her thoughts and her lips tingled at the memory of his mouth pressed against hers. Sighing, Stephanie slid under the covers and closed her eyes, hoping to dream about her love and make the night go quickly so they could be together again in the morning.
She opened her eyes, but could see nothing but darkness. Shifting to sit up in bed, Stephanie found that she couldn't move. Her arms and legs seemed to be bound to the bed. Her heart began pounding and her breath was coming in frantic gasps. She had no idea where she was or what was going on, but she was scared.
Trying to calm herself, Stephanie took deep breaths and relaxed as much as she could. Closing her eyes and focusing on listening, her ears strained to pick up any noise around her. Faintly, she could hear voices. Not talking though…crying. Crying and screaming. What kind of place was this? How did she get here?
Her eyes were adjusting to the darkness and she was able to see a faint light coming from under what must be a door. She stared at the light, trying to come up with a plan, but she was drawing a blank. Suddenly, something blocked the light. Stephanie heard a doorknob turning and as the door opened, she found herself screaming…
Stephanie sat up in bed, gasping for breath. As she looked frantically around the room, trying to get her bearings, heaving and heart hammering against her ribs. She was still in a blind panic, but her eyes slowly adjusted to the dark and she began to recognize the familiar surroundings of her bedroom. Taking a shuddering breath, Stephanie willed herself to calm down and focused on breathing deeply and slowing her rapid heartbeat.
Lying back down, she tried to go over the dream and remember what had scared her so much. Even though it had only been a few moments ago, all she could get were a few fuzzy images and the leftover feeling of terror. There had been a dark room and a door. She didn't know what was behind the door and she wanted to keep it that way. Just a dream, just a dream, Stephanie repeated to herself as she closed her eyes and willed herself to go back to sleep.
BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP
Stephanie rolled over groggily and flung her arm towards the alarm that was blaring at her. She felt awful this morning, which wasn't surprising after the night she had. It had taken her forever to get back to sleep and even then she never fell asleep deeply enough to be well-rested. She had just been too afraid to end up back in that dream, so she spent most of the night in a half-awake/half-asleep state. With the way I feel now, I should have just stayed up, Stephanie though ruefully. Summoning up the energy to get out of bed, she grumpily made her way into the bathroom to get ready for the day.
The hot shower had perked her up a little, but as Stephanie walked down to breakfast, she just couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. It was silly to let a little nightmare affect her like this, she knew, but she didn't know how to make the feeling go away.
"Good morning Stephanie, sleep well?" Uncle Milford chirped cheerily while pouring himself some coffee.
"Uh, yeah. I slept fine," Stephanie answered, not wanting to worry him. Her uncle got worked up over things so easily; she knew that bringing up her dream would just cause him to worry the rest of the day over something that he couldn't do anything about. Besides, she doubted it would happen again.
Grabbing a piece of toast, Stephanie headed out the door to meet her friends on the soccer field. It was summer break and they didn't really have any plans. They all pretty much spent their time hanging around like they did when they were kids. Nothing too exciting, but maybe it would get her mind off things. She knew the gang could always cheer her up, plus Sportacus was bound show up in between saving people.
"Hey Steph! Come on, you're late," Ziggy yelled from across the field.
"Coming!" she replied, breaking into a jog.
Once she got closer, Stephanie could see that Trixie was looking at her strangely, but no one else seemed to notice anything out of the ordinary. Pixel and Stingy were chattering on about some gizmo. Pixel wanted it because it was the newest high-tech gadget and Stingy wanted it because…well, because he was Stingy. Meanwhile Ziggy was bounding around talking a mile a minute about something or other. Stephanie couldn't help but smile. She loved them all so much; it was good to spend time with them again. After high school they had all scattered off in different directions for school, while Ziggy still had a year of school left in LazyTown.
"…so what do you think Steph?" Ziggy said.
"Um, sorry. What?" Stephanie stammered, blushing slightly. She felt bad for not paying attention, it was so unlike her. Stephanie shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts.
"No problem, I was just saying that we should go get Sportacus for a game of soccer. Maybe even see if Robbie's interested" he replied. "The more people the better."
"Yeah sure" Steph smiled. Even though she just saw him last night, she couldn't wait to see him again. They had been friends for so long, but nothing more until just before she left for school. Having to leave him then was so hard, but coming back and having him be hers made it all worthwhile. She needed to cram in as much time with him as she could before summer ended. "I don't know about Robbie though" she laughed, "he hasn't exactly mellowed over the years. We can try though."
The boys ran off to the Sportacus' mail tube, laughing and carrying on like they were 10 years old again, but Stephanie followed behind more slowly. She looked at Trixie when her friend fell into step beside her and looked at her with concern.
"You ok Steph?" she asked.
"Yeah, definitely. Why do you ask?" Steph answered, trying to sound as perky as she usually did. Somehow she knew Trixie wouldn't be fooled though. Their whole group was really close, but Trixie and Stephanie were best friends and Trixie always knew when something was wrong.
"Ok," Trixie answered doubtfully. They walked along in silence, but it was comfortable. Trixie knew that something was bothering Stephanie, but she wouldn't push. Her friend would confide in her if she needed to. She reached out to squeeze Stephanie's hand. Until she said anything, Trixie would just be there for her so Stephanie knew she wasn't alone.
It only took a few minutes for Sportacus to get the message and make his way to the soccer field. Stephanie ran into his arms, excited to see him after her difficult night. As Sportacus spun her around, kissing her on the lips, Trixie watched Stephanie's face and caught the anxious look that crossed it as she clung to Sportacus. Shaking her head and vowing to keep an eye on her friend, she followed behind the gang as they split into teams and took up their positions on the field. They decided that Sportacus, Stephanie, and Pixel would be one team and Trixie, Stingy, and Ziggy would be the other.
The game was going well and the score was tied 4 - 4. They only played to 5 goals, so whoever scored would win the game. Stephanie was keeping goal as Trixie and Ziggy came running towards her. Ziggy was dribbling the ball down the field while Trixie set up in front of the goal to Stephanie's left. Unsure of which side to cover, Stephanie decided that Trixie was trying to fake her out, so she went right and charged Ziggy as he approached the goal. She realized she had made the wrong choice though, and as Ziggy moved to pass the ball to Trixie, Stephanie dove to intercept it.
Ziggy had been too quick though and Stephanie missed the ball. Somehow as she fell back towards the ground, she landed awkwardly and banged her head hard against the earth. Both teams rushed over as Stephanie fell, but didn't get back up.
"Stephanie!" Sportacus cried, kneeling beside her and checking her for injuries. There didn't appear to be any aside from the nasty bump on her head, but she was still unconscious. He picked up Stephanie's limp body and carried her over to one of the benches on the edge of the field.
Ouch, Stephanie thought, reaching up to hold her head. She had a killer headache and was feeling a little out of it. What had she been doing? She couldn't seem to remember. Opening her eyes against the bright light, she saw she was in bed, in an unfamiliar room. It was all white and looked very sterile. What was she doing here? She started to panic and threw her legs over the side of the bed so she could get out of there.
Just then the door to the room opened and a couple walked in. Stephanie didn't know who they were, but their faces seemed familiar. There wasn't really anything that stuck out about them though. The man was tall with short brown hair and blue eyes while the woman was about a head shorter than him with shoulder-length blonde curls and hazel eyes. Stephanie froze, staring intently at them.
"Oh honey, you're awake!" the woman exclaimed, rushing over to hold Stephanie's hand. She seemed nice enough, fussing over Stephanie's attempt to get out of bed. She gently lifted Stephanie's legs back up and tucked her under the covers.
"What's going on" Stephanie asked, her voice raspy from non-use.
"Oh, you're doing just fine" the man said. "You had a nasty fall yesterday on the way down to Dr. Roberts' office. Just a bump though…the nurses can bring you something if you have a headache."
"Doctor who?" Stephanie asked, confused.
The couple glanced at each other, but before they could say anything the door opened and a tall, thin man in a white coat came in.
"Good afternoon Stephanie, how are we doing today?" he asked.
Before Stephanie could answer, the woman got up and whispered something to the doctor, while she looked at Stephanie with concern.
"Oh, I see" the doctor responded grimly. "And we were doing so well."
The doctor walked further into the room and stood next to her bedside while the woman reclaimed her seat.
"Stephanie, I am Dr. Roberts and you are in Rosemarsh Psychiatric Facility. You've been here for almost 8 months now. Do you remember any of what's been happening with you" the doctor said.
"What? No! What's going on?" Stephanie gasped. "I don't know any of you. I don't understand what's happening. How did I get here? Where's Sportacus?" Her voice trailed off into a scared whimper.
The doctor began to respond, but Stephanie shut her eyes, covered her ears, and curled into a ball on the bed. She knew she had to be dreaming. Maybe if she shut everything out, she'd wake up and everything would be back to normal.
"Stephanie! Welcome back. How many fingers am I holding up?"
"Wha- what?" Stephanie groaned, forcing her eyes to open. As her eyes slowly focused, she saw Sportacus' relieved face and the 4 fingers he was holding up in front of her eyes.
"Uh, four. What are you doing" Stephanie managed to get out while struggling to sit up. Sportacus grabbed her gently by the shoulders and helped her so she wouldn't get too dizzy. It was then that she noticed the rest of her friends standing around with worried looks on their face.
"Whoa, you sure scared us Steph!" Ziggy exclaimed. "You really bonked your head back there."
"No, no, I'm fine. Thanks guys" Stephanie responded with a shaky smile. Her head was a little foggy, but it wasn't too bad. It was the fragments of her dream, or whatever it had been, that were bothering her. First the dream last night, now this. She hoped she wasn't going crazy. Otherwise, why would she be dreaming about some weird hospital and a bunch of strangers. Hopefully that would be the end of it.
"You know guys, I should probably head home and lie down for awhile" Stephanie said.
"Yeah, that's probably not a bad idea. I'll walk you" Sportacus said, putting an arm around her shoulders and leading her off the soccer field. Her friends called out their goodbyes and well wishes as she headed for home.
She could feel Sportacus' worried gaze on her as they walked, but she was too confused to calm his fears. Truth be told, she was scared too, but didn't know what to say to anyone. That she was having weird flashes of a different life? A mental hospital? Yeah, that wouldn't cause any panic… So she decided to keep her mouth shut and maybe everything would just go away after a little more rest.
When they reached her door, Spartacus held her at arm's length and looked into her eyes.
"Are you sure you're ok? Is it just the bump on the head? You have been acting a little differently today…" Sportacus trailed off, concerned.
"No, no, I'm fine. Just a little headache. I'll be fine after a nap, I promise" Stephanie said with a small smile. She gave him a quick peck on the cheek and headed inside.
She made her way up to her room and barely made it into bed before her eyes closed and she was out.
"Oh good she's back" the woman said.
Stephanie groaned. She instantly knew that she was back in this strange dream, but she just couldn't wrap her mind around why it kept happening.
"Stephanie, I'm Dr. Roberts. Do you remember what I said the last time we spoke?" the man in the doctor's coat said.
"Yeah, you said that I was in some kind of hospital" Stephanie mumbled, trying to remember what had happened the last time she was here.
"That's right" he answered, "I need you to stay with me this time. What I say may come as a shock, but you just need to keep calm and think about it carefully, ok?"
"Um, yeah, ok" Stephanie said nervously.
"Like I said earlier, you've been with us for a number of months now. You have been suffering from breaks with reality and have retreated into a world of your own making. When we've been able to communicate with you, you've told us about a place called Lazytown and some friends you've made there. Also, a man named Sportacus who seems to be very important to you. Does this all sounds familiar?"
"What? You think that I made it all up? I don't even know who these people are" Stephanie said, gesturing angrily to the man and woman sitting behind the doctor. "I don't remember you. I remember Sportacus, my uncle, Trixie, Ziggy…everyone. How can that not be real?"
"Stephanie, take a deep breath. It's ok. You experienced some trauma before coming here, that we can talk about later, but it caused your mind to shut down and create a safe environment for you. It's not that unusual. It's a coping mechanism. Think about it. According to you, Lazytown is practically perfect. Full of children and fun, where nothing bad happens. And if there was any trouble, you have you very own superhero to come along and save you. Now, does that sound realistic to you?"
Stephanie could feel her heart racing and thoughts of Lazytown and her friends flashed through her mind. Sure, it did seem almost too good to be true, but that's just because of how much she loved everyone there. She'd lived there for years, how could that all have been created by a sick mind?
"No, no…" was all she could manage to get out. This couldn't be happening.
"Now Stephanie, these people behind me are your parents. You've said before that in Lazytown, your parents died and you went to live with your uncle. But you can see that your parents are right here. You remember them, don't you?"
She lifted her head to look at the couple more closely. She knew they looked familiar, but as she stared at them, she had flashes of moments with them. Her mom holding Stephanie on her lap and rocking her. He dad cooking breakfast. It was all too confusing. She put her hands over her ears and closed her eyes to try and escape again. This time though, Dr. Roberts grabbed her wrists and pulled her hands from her head.
"Stephanie, you can't keep running away. You know that Lazytown isn't a real place. Those aren't real people there, just figments of your imagination. Sportacus isn't real. He can't save you."
She shut her eyes tighter, picturing Spartacus in her mind. Lying with him under the stars. Stolen kisses in the field under his airship. Hiding out in the old treehouse when they needed some time alone. She couldn't leave him. He was real. He loved her and she loved him. Stephanie could feel the tears starting. She would die without him. Why were they doing this to her?
She began rocking back and forth, wishing that she would wake up again in her bed. This would all be a bad dream and she would open her eyes to see Sportacus' smiling face. They'd go outside and meet their friends to finish the soccer game. She'd never have to see these terrible people again. But no matter how tight she closed her eyes or how fervently she wished to go back, it wasn't happening.
Stephanie fell to the floor, her body wracked with sobs. "I don't want this" she choked out, "Leave me alone."
"You need to choose to get better, Stephanie. We can't do this for you. You need to leave them behind and join the real world again" Dr. Roberts said. He reached down to pull Stephanie up, but she jerked away.
"No" she said, looking into his eyes. She looked over at her parents before closing her eyes once more and lying back down. Her face went blank and they knew that they had lost her. Probably for good.
Stephanie groaned as her eyes fluttered open.
"You're awake!" someone said. As she turned her head, she saw Sportacus sitting next to her bed, a look of concern on his face. A huge smile broke out on her face and she practically leapt out of bed and into his arms.
"Whoa, take it slow. You've been out for a couple days. We were so worried! We brought a doctor, but he didn't know what was wrong. He didn't think the bump on your head should have caused such a problem" Sportacus explained while putting her back into bed and tucking her in.
"Well if I've been in bed so long, don't you think it's time I got up?" she asked with a smile.
"Haha, well you have a point, but no. You still need to take it slow."
"Well, then why don't you join me? That would give me a good reason to stay here" Stephanie asked, scooting over to make room.
"You know I wouldn't normally, but I guess just this once…" Sportacus said. He quickly jumped in next to her as she laid her head on his chest and snuggled up to him.
"I've missed you so much" she sighed into his chest.
"Missed me? I was right here with you" he said. He kissed the top of her head gently and gave her a squeeze.
"Oh, you have no idea" she answered, but she had no intention of telling him about it. She knew that she was here for good and nothing could drag her away from her life in Lazytown or Sportacus.