A/N: I'm not so naïve to think this hasn't been done before, but I haven't seen it and the idea captured my attention, so here it is. Italics generally represent 'thoughts'.
Padded walls were entirely unnecessary.
Honestly. People find out you hear voices and they assume you're going to attempt suicide. Or turn into some kind of serial killer psychopath.
In reality, the voices never did anything as interesting as try to persuade me to take a handful of pills, slit my wrists, or hack up people with an axe. The voices' blabbering were mostly composed of mundane, annoying, trivial comments. Admittedly, it was strange, but completely harmless. But they just didn't understand that.
'They' being the 'nice men in the white coats'. Inconveniently, the good old doctors were under the impression I was having a psychotic break.
Thus the windowless, padded white room I was sitting in.
The pillowed box had been my home for the past couple of days. Though I didn't believe I was insane before I'd been thrown in here, I was definitely boarding the train to crazy town now. The dull, isolating blankness was maddening. Maybe it helped real insane people, but I didn't see how the utter desolateness could possibly inspire any sort of mental clarity.
My only entertainment was the ghosting of shadows along the white vinyl, created from the flickering of one of the overhead fluorescent light bulbs. Of course, I wasn't caged in here twenty-four hours a day. Occasionally an unpleasant, sour-faced orderly would stop by to temporarily free me.
I was quite taken with calling him Burly. I think the name speaks for itself.
Anyway, he graciously escorted me down the hallway for sessions with my case's psychiatrist, Dr. Hudson. After my first session, not long after my intake, they had even decided it would be ok to let me eat with the other patients. Joy.
But besides the doctor and the mundane cafeteria, the shadows were all I had. Frustratingly, there was one major drawback to the small amount of preoccupation the blinking light bulb provided- it buzzed terribly. The sound was so grating that I had taken to humming sporadically in the past couple of hours. Presently, I was working my way through various classical piano melodies and had just landed on Claire DeLune.
I scoffed to myself as I thought about the ridiculousness of the entire situation. Not only did I hear voices, but I was creepily humming to an empty room. And I was laughing at myself. I was becoming the picture of a mental patient. At least I wasn't rocking back and forth- yet. As if the doctors needed any more reasons to consider putting me on medication. I wouldn't be surprised if there was someone in this god forsaken place serving as Big Brother, observing me through a video monitor to catch any new proof of my unwell state.
Hmmm..maybe I could rock just a little. It might be fun to play with their heads and see what the voices said when I saw the docs again.
You see, the voices weren't the type of voices that most people would imagine. They didn't fit into the John Nash, A Beautiful Mind mold. I didn't think the voices were actual people, and I didn't think they were inside my head either. They were in other people's heads.
The voices were people's thoughts. The voices told me what other people didn't say out loud.
Ok, so maybe I would have to take back the statement about the voices not coming from actual people. They did, but not from people who didn't exist.
Obviously, I wasn't insane. I wasn't inventing things. I just read people's thoughts.
I couldn't help that, now could I?
I didn't have time to think much longer about my misunderstood ability before a couple of distinct spoken voices punctuated the stillness. I could tell they weren't internal voices. Those sounded different.
These voices were definitely the kind that engaged in quiet but spoken conversation and I recognized both of them; they belonged to Dr. Hudson and my beloved Burly.
My eyes had drifted shut at some point, but they snapped open as the noise registered. I listened intently to determine where the footsteps were coming from. I pulled my head forward, separating it from the spot on the wall I had been leaning against. The vinyl made an odd noise as I came unstuck and the footsteps paused right outside my white-cushioned door, blocking most of the thin line of light that came through the small crack at its base.
Keys jingled, and door swung open into the room, revealing my two guests and a tiny glimpse of the hallway. I wasn't too disappointed that I couldn't get a full look at it- the hallway was just as sterile as the solitary rooms that lined it. White could only capture my attention for so long.
"What a surprise gentleman," I greeted dryly, turning my head toward the door but remaining in my seat on my bed. The orderly looked at me warily as he had every other time I had seen him. Stupid punk kid…
Ah- the voices were back. They never did stay away for long when I was around people. That was the only peaceful thing about being in this room; at least the only mental voice I had to deal with was my own.
"To what do I owe the honor?" I questioned. I wasn't just trying to irritate them, though sarcasm permeated by words. I was honestly curious. Even without a clock I knew it wasn't mealtime- if I had to guess it was about two in the afternoon. If it was a therapy session, the doctor wouldn't have come down here. Burly would have just dragged me to the interrogation room- another nice little nickname I had synthesized during my long hours of boredom. It was the moniker I had chosen for the small, stark room I met with Dr. Hudson in. But I didn't think I was headed there- the doctor had never come to my room before. Therefore, I was fully at a loss.
"Edward," Dr. Hudson began in a warning tone. The orderly continued to glower at me, ready to restrain me if necessary. Jesus, these people were all about overreactions. First, I get committed for hearing non-suicidal/homicidal voices. Then they walk on eggshells around me because I happened to get angry that they did so. Yes, I had kicked and screamed and thrown one tiny punch- that didn't mean I was ready to spring on them at any moment.
I sighed, relaxing back against the wall in an attempt to prove my pacifism. At this point I was sincerely resigned to my situation. I was beginning to be willing to do what it took to get out of this stupid box. I hadn't even followed through on my rocking plan.
"Yes doctor?" I replied, employing my most respectful tone. I needed to convince these people I was sane- or at least not a risk to anyone.
The orderly glared at me again. He's not fooling me…
Meanwhile, Doctor Hudson's face relaxed. Maybe isolation has served its purpose.
I fought a smirk at the doctor's internal self-congratulation.
"Edward, I came down here to let you know that you have a visitor. He'd like it if you would come and talk with him for a bit."
My head spun and my plans for a bit of playing-nice were dropped. A visitor? Who could possibly be visiting me? There was no one who would be interested enough to show up here- unless ghosts actually existed, that is.
"Who?" My voice involuntarily hardened around the question, and I jumped to a standing position without thinking.
Don't even think about trying anything. I shot a death stare at Burly when I picked up on his thoughts, a perfect match to his. See? Overreaction. I was just caught off guard and he was thinking I was going to whip out a switchblade or something on him. Which there was no chance of me having- I hadn't even packed my own bag, and was just wearing a t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants.
Doctor Hudson's face showed none of the signs of concern that his counterpart's did. He wore a calm mask, giving nothing away. "I think he'd rather you just meet him in person. Please, follow me." Just do what I say Edward…
I gawked at the doctor's retreating back for a moment. So it was a he? Maybe it was another doctor. Or possibly a social worker.
Burly halted my theorizing, clearing his throat and giving me a pointed look. I rolled my eyes but walked out of the room, aware of his hulking frame's shadow hanging over me. I followed Dr. Hudson's white coat, wondering what in the world this was all about.
Dr. Hudson led me to a part of the hospital floor I hadn't been to in two days. The first shock was passing through the metal door that opened out into the less sterile, more 'homey' section of the ward floor. It was carpeted in industrial gray, but at least everything here wasn't an eye-aching brilliant white. I vaguely recalled seeing the light blue walls and peaceful landscape paintings when I had been forcefully dragged in Tuesday afternoon. That is until someone had stabbed me in the arm with a sedative- after that it all blurred together for a bit and I woke up fuzzy-headed and thinking I had gone color blind.
It was odd to see colors again- almost as odd as passing by the glass-encased desk where patients signed out or willingly signed in. Not that I understood why anyone would ever take that second option. To each their own I suppose.
Unfortunately, we didn't go out the glass door that would have led to the visitor's lobby and the bank of elevators. For the briefest moment I considered making a break for it, but I couldn't stomach the thought of more time sitting in my own personal form of purgatory. With Burly stalking behind me, I'd be back in the room before I could blink- he probably had a fresh needle at the ready.
Thus, with no options I followed the doctor and crossed over into the hallway of conference rooms and doctor's offices. I knew this was where most patients went for therapy and attended group sessions, but I had obviously been deemed too unstable to come to Dr. Hudson's office. Instead, he had come to me- regular protocol for patients 'like me', as he had so gently phrased it.
Yet here I was, with no forewarning or explanations. Burning curiosity at the sudden turn of events was overpowering all of my opportunistic tendencies. I was nearly twitching with anticipation when Dr. Hudson finally stopped at one of the dark wood doors.
He paused for a moment and turned to look at me, his hand resting gently on the golden handle and prolonging my wait.
Oh, I hope he isn't too much trouble…
"Don't worry doc, I'll behave myself. Scouts honor," I promised, holding up three fingers on one hand. He offered a slight smile, eyes full of hope and pity. I couldn't help thinking he wouldn't have had anything to pity if he would just let me out of here.
"I hope so, Mr. Masen. For your sake," he forebodingly responded before opening the door and ushering me in ahead of him.
The room was small, but cozy. The walls were a deep green and there were a couple of armchairs and a small couch surrounding a coffee table. Though institutional and formal, they were an improvement on solid white and gleaming silver.
Standing with his back to the door was what I assumed was my visitor. He was no one that I recognized.
His hands were tucked into the pockets of his black slacks and the sleeves of his white button-up were rolled to his elbows. He turned at the sound of our entrance, smiling hesitantly, and I saw that he was rather young. I appraised him for a moment, taking note of his casual dress and stance. If he were a doctor or social worker, his demeanor should have been more formal.
I considered what this meant until Burly interrupted my analysis and poked me in the back, forcing me forward so that he could stuff his gigantic frame into the room.
The visitor's hand instantly shot out in front of him when I was within range. "Hello. My name is Carlisle Cullen. It's nice to meet you."
My brows knit together, but I couldn't deny his friendliness. His ice blue eyes gleamed with genuine enthusiasm, despite the slight wariness and concern seated in them. Tentatively, I offered my own hand, shaking his twice.
"Edward Masen. Why are you here?" I saw no reason to not cut straight to the point. He had to have a point after all.
Dr. Hudson seemingly felt differently and shifted uneasily beside me, but the blond haired man- Carlisle- only chuckled. I wanted to feel indignant that he found my serious question humorous, but his laughter broke the tension of the room.
"Edward," Dr. Hudson cut in, "Dr. Cullen here is to make a proposal for your consideration. Please take a seat."
He gestured to the couch, but I held my ground. He was another doctor- that made some sense. But why did I get to come up here and meet him? Why hadn't he been in the interrogation room like other doctors I had seen?
Carlisle watched me while I studied him until his gaze suddenly broke with mine. He looked to the orderly, then back to Dr. Hudson.
"Dr. Hudson, if you don't mind, I'd like to speak with Edward alone. Would that be alright?"
Idiot. Burly's voice interrupted my observation of the exchange. He did not approve. Probably assumed Dr. Cullen didn't know what he was getting into.
I don't know if that's a great idea...
Dr. Hudson stood debating with himself, eyes narrowed.
This would work better alone- come on. Dr. Cullen's internal pleading matched his expression as he stared down the older balding man. Dr. Hudson's eyes flicked to me momentarily, but he made his decision.
"Alright. But we'll be just outside if you…need anything."
Dr. Cullen nodded and watched as Burly and Dr. Hudson exited. Rather than turn his attention to me, he sat down in one of the armchairs, apparently not bothered that I continued to stand just inside the closed door.
"So, Edward- you don't mind if I call you Edward do you?"
I shook my head no. "That is my name."
"Alright. Well, why don't you tell me why you're here?"
I snorted, and went to sit on the couch so I could look him in the face. I leaned forward, raising my eyebrows.
"Don't you already know all about that Dr. Cullen?" I asked, emphasizing 'Dr.' "Shouldn't it all be in some file some place?"
He gave me a small smile. "Carlisle please. I'm not here as a doctor, so I only know that you are a committed patient of this hospital's psychiatric ward. All other details are hearsay."
"Carlisle huh? You aren't here as a doctor? Don't you work in this hospital?"
"No, I'm not, though yes, I do. Psychology isn't my specialty. At least not officially."
Now I was more confused than I had been before. What was that supposed to mean- 'not officially?'
"Then what's your 'proposal'?" I asked, putting air quotations around the word Dr. Hudson had used.
"I think I asked you a question first," he pointed out, his voice still kind rather than harsh. For some reason, it made it seem okay to answer him.
I sighed. "Because I hear voices, and apparently that makes me insane."
His face remained calm at my confession. As if people told him they heard voices every day. His lack of a reaction actually earned him a bit of respect in my book, even though I knew he was probably doing it on purpose. I was tired of people flying off the handle when I told them the truth.
"And you don't agree?"
"Because they're real." I sucked in a small breath. That was the first time I had said that aloud, rather than just insisting I wasn't insane. Hearing it myself, maybe I could understand why others tended toward putting me in the crazy column. But Carlisle just nodded, as if my reasoning made perfect sense.
"Why don't you tell me about them?" I paused, eyeing him. Besides my doctors, I had only told my therapist anything about the voices, and it had landed me in here. But Carlisle was taking everything else so well, even if I had no idea what he wanted, so I answered.
"I'm not schizophrenic. The voices are just…they're people's thoughts."
"You can read minds?"
"Yes." He thought about that for a minute, never breaking eye contact.
"What am I thinking?" I sighed. His internal voice had been chattering away, though it had been relatively calm for the past few minutes. I listened intently for a few seconds before answering.
"You find this all very interesting. Even though you aren't sure what to think."
He gave me a dry smile, but it wasn't patronizing as I was accustomed to. He wasn't the first to test me. "Astoundingly accurate. At the very least, you know how to read people."
I ignored the connotation of his second comment, which fit with what the others had said when I had effectively answered the exact same question. I decided I would take the compliment instead. I found myself wanting to like the man who sat in front of me.
"It's your turn. Why are you here?" We had discussed my presence in the mental ward, but all I knew was that this stranger was here with a proposal for me, the accused mentally-unstable teenager. I was intrigued.
The golden-haired man took in a deep breath, preparing himself to answer.
"I was the doctor that treated you and your parents." So tragic.
Oh. A barrage of images and memories assaulted my mind's eye, replaying the events that haunted my dreams. Me, driving my parent's Lexus after begging for the keys in the parking lot. My father sitting beside me and my mother in the back middle seat. Coursing along the roads on the way home from my piano performance as part of one of Chicago's most esteemed symphonies for young adults. The silence that had permeated the car because my parents and I never seemed to have anything to talk about anymore and we hadn't been able to agree on a radio station. The blinding lights of the delivery truck I hadn't seen because I had been too caught up inside my own head. The sickening crunch as I pulled into the intersection and the truck hit the passenger side of the car, nearly bending our town car in half. The quiet that had descended, everything ending as quickly as it happened. Ambulances and police cruisers arriving, sirens blaring.
As if the sirens were in the room, I was shocked out of my reverie by the mental recollection of the noise. I choked down any more flashbacks, blocking out the much more painful part of that night. My hand flew to the bridge of my nose and I pinched it, attempting to compose myself. When I opened my eyes, Carlisle was still watching me, expression unchanged.
"That doesn't really answer my question," I stated, my voice trembling despite my efforts. I clenched my jaw.
For the first time, Carlisle looked away momentarily. He cleared his throat, looking at the generic painting of colorful sailboats in a sunny harbor. He blinked twice then turned back to look me in the eye.
"You know your father was already gone when he came in- he took the brunt of the collision. But your mother- she fought so hard." Such a brave woman…
I wanted to interrupt him- I wanted to make him stop. He was pulling at a wound I was determined to ignore e and his thoughts weren't any better. But I couldn't, because I needed to know what could have possibly made him come to see me. Doctors didn't usually become so interested in their patients after they treated them, did they?
"She should have been dead. She certainly shouldn't have been conscious- there was so much blood loss." He spoke as if a trance, and I was being pulled under with him.
"Instead, she was awake and alert. She made me tell her how you were." I winced. The truck had hit both on the passenger side and further back on the car. As a result, my injuries hadn't been serious, and I couldn't deny the guilt I felt. Other than a concussion from banging my head on the steering wheel and some cuts, I hadn't needed much medical attention.
"I told her you were fine, but she wasn't satisfied. She demanded I take care of you, make sure you came out of everything ok. She made me promise to do everything in my power to ensure your well-being."
He paused, and I assumed he was finished.
"Well, you did your job. I'm alive."
He looked at me with sympathy. Except you're not ok. "But you're in a mental institution," he stated, as if his point was obvious.
"That isn't your fault. You're no longer obligated."
"I think I am. She said 'everything in my power.' There are still a few more things in my power."
I narrowed my eyes. What could he possibly mean? He wasn't a psychiatrist. He had already told me that. Besides- I didn't need any more shrinks. I didn't need any shrinks at all.
"What could you possibly do?" I expected him to look away when faced with my blunt question and harsh tone. He didn't. If anything, his gaze became more determined, though cautious and hesitant.
"Edward, my wife and I have created a family by taking in teenagers who didn't have families and needed help. We can welcome you with open arms- provide you with a safe place and anything else you may need. I'm here to offer you a home."
I felt like I had just been punched in the gut. I felt like the air had been forced out of my lungs. That was the last thing I had expected the man to offer.
"You want the crazy orphan boy to come home with you?"
"That is my proposal. Except I thought we had already established that you aren't crazy."
I took a deep breath. It felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest as I considered the possibility. It was just so…unexpected. I couldn't even compose my own thoughts.
"Why would I do that? Come live with a bunch of strangers?"
"For one, it's better than a padded cell."
"I don't think that will last forever," I shot back. Although, secretly, I knew another minute was too long. The thought of white was beginning to make my stomach turn.
He looked contemplative and turned his head slightly to the side. "I suppose not- if you would really rather stay, I could pull some strings to get you out of there tonight. Maybe even get you transferred into a more…pleasant facility. But I can promise my home would be much better than either of those options, or the group home you'll go back to when you are eventually released."
He hit home with that one. My memories of my first two weeks in the local group home after my hospital release were not pleasant. I had no living family after my parents' deaths. They were only children and my only surviving grandparent was in a retirement home, suffering the aftermath of a severe stroke. A judge had decided I should be sent to the home until a foster family could be found.
The group home's food was disgusting, the rooms were worn down, and the kids were messed up. Because it was late July, I couldn't even escape to school. The director was also the one who had forced me into grief counseling. By the transitive property, the group home was the reason I was in this hospital. But Carlisle had said his family was made up of teens without families- the 'Cullen House for Lost Children' didn't sound so much different from a standard group home. Then again, at least he and his wife picked kids willingly. It couldn't be any worse, could it?
"How can you do that? And how soon could I be out of here?" I didn't have anything to lose by learning more. If Carlisle could get me out of here, I was going to take my chances.
"I'm a well respected doctor, and I sort of have a reputation in situations such as these," he said, sheepish. How do you get a reputation for taking in teenage mental patients? Not that I really cared. "We could leave as soon as you get your belongings and the paperwork is signed."
My eyes widened. "Now?"
He grinned at my disbelief. "Absolutely. Is that an acceptance?"
I shrugged, deciding to reign in my excitement until I saw how this all turned out. "Why not?"
A/N: John Nash is a Nobel-prize winning mathematician who struggled with schizophrenia and overcame it. The movie A Beautiful Mind was based on his life, and won an Oscar. It also happens to be my favorite movie. If you haven't seen it, you should.
As always, reviews are much appreciated :)