And so starts the first multi-chapter I've posted. This is old, like very very old. Not the writing (all shiny and 90% rewritten as of the last few days), but the idea has been rolling around my head and on documents for over a year. I started this fic with a horror plot in mind, but I'm not sure what it's going to turn into now! I have two more chapters entirely written at the moment and another that's about a third done, but I'm positive they're going to need hardcore editing, like this chapter did. It was significantly shorter when I started going through it, by about 3000 words actually.

This is of course an introductory chapter, with character/scene introductions and whatnot. The POV changes every chapter and becomes omnipotent later on when it becomes important to know what several characters are thinking per scene.

I'm tired of looking at this chapter! Please enjoy, expect an update in a week or so. c:

The first thing Wendy notices when she walks into the reception area is that Kelly Private Recovery Center looks nothing like a hospital. The walls of the waiting room are a shade of warm neutral beige. Brilliant leafy plants sit in red pots in the corners, and magazines lie in neat stacks on the glass coffee table in the centre of the room. On the receptionist's desk is a coffee maker, complete with a tray of ceramic mugs and cups of sugar, cartons of milk and cream. It doesn't look like a hospital more than the front desk of a hotel.

She walks over to the desk and pours herself a cup. When she takes a sip, she grimaces and adds more sugar, more milk. She doesn't drink a lot of coffee – she's scared of the idea of stained teeth – but she's anxious. Her mother already has her own coffee, and she carries it in a businesslike red carry cup. She approaches the front desk while Wendy puts her bags next to one of the chairs around the table. They look like they belong in the waiting room of a dentist's office. They're the only part of the room that would indicate that this isn't just a roadside bed-and-breakfast.

"Hello, I'm Mrs. Testaburger, I'm checking in my daughter Wendy," she says softly. Wendy smiles behind her coffee; it's the tone her mother adopts when she's nervous.

"Hello, Mrs. Testaburger. I've got Wendy right here," the receptionist answers, and she pulls out a sheet of paper from a file and places it on the desktop along with a pen. "If you'll just sign, giving us your consent to keep Wendy here for three weeks."

"Of course, of course," Mrs. Testaburger murmurs, scribbling her loopy signature on the dotted line. They've been over and over what Wendy will experience; daily therapy, available doctors, and family owned facilities. She is finally at ease with the idea that she won't see Wendy for the better part of a month. The only part of the deal she didn't go for: the fact that they didn't allow visitors until the time was up. According to the website, seeing family or friends could be a trigger, ruining everything that may or may not have been achieved in the time the patient is at the centre. Wendy, however, was excited to hear about that part; she's never been away from home by herself for more than half a week, and the prospect of it all is exciting.

The receptionist and her mother talk schematics, and Wendy stops listening, settling to pick up an older copy of People, which she doesn't read on a regular basis, but enjoys anyhow. She sips at her coffee and still finds it too strong for her tastes. The coffee she makes, when she makes it, is on the lighter side of a medium roast, and this is undoubtedly a dark roast. The bitter aftertaste echoes around her mouth unpleasantly. A clock in the corner clicks, and she picks her head up and out of her caffeine daydreams and looks at the time. It's 9:00 AM. She's half an hour earlier than she needs to be, but now she has the opportunity to watch everyone else come in, check in. Worried mornings and toss-and-turn nights mangle her appearance and confidence like nothing else, and now she's sitting in a faded pair of jeans (hole in the knee) and a hoodie that is her go-to for comfort. She doesn't look good, but others will look worse.

Her mother comes over, smiling in a tired sort of way. Wendy stands up, leaving her drink on the table. She wraps her arms around her mother's thin torso, nestles her head on her shoulder.

"I'll see you in April, Mum," she says into the fabric of her shirt.

"Oh, sweet girl, I'm gonna miss you," her mom whispers back.

"I'll miss you too." She feels her mom squeeze her tightly and then let go. When she backs up a step, Wendy can see the tears sparkling on her eyes.

"You'll be fine, then." Wendy nods. She kisses her cheek and gives her another hug.

"See you soon, Mum," Wendy says.

"Bye bye, Wendy." With that and tinkle of the chimes on the front door, her mother leaves, and suddenly she's alone, all alone, save the brunette behind the desk.

Wendy turns to the receptionist and says, "So should I just wait here?"

"Yes, dear. When the rest come, the doctor will come in and give you the grand tour. Just drink your coffee and relax a bit," she soothes. Then she extends a manicured hand over the table. "My name is Maria. I'm a nurse here."

"I'm Wendy," she says, even though Maria clearly knows who she is. Actually, she probably knows a good deal more than just her name, Wendy realizes, as she notices the files on the desk. The thought is not a comforting one. "If you're a nurse, why are you behind the desk?" she asks, just to get her mind off it.

"Just for today. We get a batch of people every month or so. We don't take single admissions. Our research shows that results are significantly better when you're in a familiar group the whole way through your treatment, as in nobody comes in, and nobody comes out while you're here."

"So that's why I had to wait for spring break to get here?"

"Yes, we were just finishing with the last group. Also, since your group is all high school age, we waited a few days for spring break to start. Because we're not a government organization, we have the ability to function on a less structured schedule," Maria says.

"I see. Well, I think I'll just sit down, then."

"Certainly. Go right ahead." She ducks her head back behind her computer screen after flashing Wendy a straight-toothed smile that sets dimples into her round cheeks. Wendy feels the corners of her mouth tug up in automatic response, and then sits back down with her coffee and bags. She has a backpack full of textbooks (the homework piles up when you miss the week after spring break) and a travel case full of clothes and necessities. In the front pocket of her bag, there's a cheap paperback novel about heroes and villains and dragons in forests, and she pulls it out and starts reading.

She's barely done the prologue when the door chimes ring and Sheila Broflovski walks in, looking neatly pulled together in that way people do when they're not sure what kind of impression they have to make. Her red hair is pulled back strictly, her jacket lint-free, though her face is softly lined with discomfort. She goes up to the desk and says she's Kyle Broflovski's mother, perhaps too loudly, but Wendy can't tell if it's because she's trying to look important of if she's nervous like her own mother. Gerald wanders in while Maria pulls out some permission forms, floating behind to let Sheila deal with all the important stuff. Kyle himself stumbles in a few seconds after, bumping the door awkwardly because his dad didn't hold it for him, dragging a suitcase on two wheels that seem to be more like theories than actual things, backpack slung over one shoulder. He props them next to her bags and drops down in the seat next to Wendy. A ragged smile traces his lips as he looks at her.

"Hey, Wendy," he says, leaning back in his chair, having taken in her tired appearance to satisfaction.

"Hi, Kyle." He looks much nicer than her, wearing dark jeans and long sleeve shirt that looks ironed, but the clothes are as far as he got with looking nice. His eyes are heavy-lidded, red in the corners, and he moves like a puppet, looking less aware of himself and more like someone is moving his arms for him.

"I've been up since four," he states, leaning back in the chair, "and I went to bed at midnight."

"At least that's four hours," Wendy says, sipping her coffee and looking at him over the rim of the mug.

"I went to bed at midnight," he says again, "But that doesn't mean I slept."

"Gotcha. Four seems like overkill, don't you think? If you've got everything packed, you just have to dress and eat. You could leave at seven o' clock and still get here on time."

"They had a ton of shit they wanted to go over, like emergency stuff. Mostly it was them talking and me waiting in the kitchen. God," he groans.

"It's only like a two-hour drive. Why four in the morning? I got up at 6:15."

"Fuck, ask them. They spent like, an hour before we left just squabbling and arguing about shit," he sighs, the corner of his lip twitching in the breath of a sneer. She cranes her neck around and sees Sheila scribbling her signature on a similar piece of paper to the one her own mother signed. Gerald watches passively.

"Your parents alright?" Wendy asks.

"They'll be fine," he says. Sheila turns from the desk with Gerald in tow and walks over to Kyle and hugs him tightly.

"You be good, bubbie. See you soon," she says kindly, kissing his cheek and then letting him go. A lipstick mark is left gracing his skin.

"Yup, bye Mom, bye Dad," he says, standing up. He hugs his dad and then watches them leave.

"Love you, Kyle!" she says over her shoulder, one foot out of the door.

"Love you guys too." He says it like it's a fact rather than a true memento of one's affections. Kyle is not good at affection, or feelings in general, honestly, except for with Stan, to whom he talks about his feelings constantly. When it gets right down to it, Kyle's not very good at human interaction at all. He has a blog that Wendy has bookmarked, and he thinks nobody but Stan knows about it, but Stan told Wendy, naturally, and now she regularly checks it to read his latest flame war or his most recent pet peeve, which he writes 2000-word posts about. She's gathered that he's better at internet interactions than real-life interactions.

"You have lipstick right here," Wendy says. She gestures to her own cheek.

"Oh. I hate her lipstick," Kyle says, and then scrubs his cheek with the side of his hand. He picks up a back issue of Time magazine and flips to the back. "I've read this already."

"These are all old," Wendy says, waving the People issue she was reading.

"Figures. Where'd you get that?" he asks, pointing to her coffee.

"Up on the front desk."

"Really? Cool." He gets up and pours himself a cup, no sugar, no cream. She winces and wonders how that could possibly taste good when she can hardly stomach her own cup, choked with three scoops of sugar and enough half-and-half to strangle the strong flavour. However, Kyle is a much more seasoned coffee-drinker than she. Every morning, he's carrying a cup of it in a Starbucks tumbler, whereas she indulges maybe once a week, less, perhaps. And, by Stan's reports, she knows he practically lives on caffeine when it comes to finals.

"You're a mess," she remarks as he sits back down.

"Do I look that bad?" Kyle groans, self-consciously running a hand through his hair, thick and unruly. She becomes conscious of her own hair, bed-head wavy and not at all styled.

She shrugs and says, "You just look like you got up at four in the morning."

They sit quietly for a minute or so, Wendy paging through her novel and wondering if she should just read the ending and Kyle apathetically reading an article about what other countries are doing about the turmoil in Syria.

"When's everyone else gonna get here?" Kyle asks.

"Oh, I dunno. Supposedly, everyone should be here by nine thirty, but that means someone will get here at ten."

"Of course."

Wendy doesn't talk much to Kyle. They're good study buddies, both often competing for the top mark in the class, but Kyle is her boyfriend's best friend and they interact accordingly. She can't recall the last time she was in a room alone with Kyle, and when she thinks of their past conversations, they often are these three-to-six sentence snippets of statements, and usually started by her. Kyle talks a lot to among his friends, but she's not sure if she talks to them or at them. Stan talks of listening to Kyle for hours on end, but Kyle's other friends talk of having real discussions. Wendy herself is an extroverted person who's most comfortable in a throng of people, talking big ideas and personal opinions. Kyle's stunted conversational ability is frustrating to her.

They shuffle pages and sip coffee for five or ten minutes. Kyle refills his coffee once. Wendy has barely gotten through a third of hers. They both perk up when the bells jingle, Wendy taking a second to set her mug on the table. Kyle doesn't bother, however, and when he cranes his neck to see, his full mug dribbles over the lip and onto his pants. Wendy giggles at him and then looks back to the door, where Craig is holding it open with his shoulder and pulling in a duffle bag at the same time. He looks like he could use a hand, but she doesn't bother. When he does get inside, he drops his bags at a chair across from Wendy (his backpack makes a hard thud that makes Wendy wince and wonder just how many textbooks he has in there) at stands like he's not sure what to do next. Thomas Tucker comes inside after a moment of unsure standing and looking around. Wendy doesn't know him, but she's seen him around town, sometimes with Craig's sister or Craig's mom, whom her mother is friends with. He's a tall, sturdy man with a slowly eroding spattering of red hair, and he looks like he was a lumberjack in his past life (he's a carpenter in this life, so she thinks she's on the right track). He kicks dirt off his boots and spares Wendy and Kyle an acknowledging glance before walking up to the front.

Once Mr. Tucker jots a signature down, he claps a hand on his son's shoulder. He seems to be on the brink of a speech, but it doesn't come out, and he just nods, his face an odd mixture of vague pride and sadness. She guesses they don't have the best relationship the world has seen.

"Don't you be gettin' into trouble now, boy," he says in a manner which is gruff and still manages to be soft-hearted at the same time.

"I won't," Craig says straight-faced. She can see where Craig gets his lack of empathy and general emotion. Mr. Tucker can't seem to manage a smile either.

"Alright, then. Good luck, Craig."


There's a moment in which Craig's dad debates whether to say something more, but Craig slides out of his grip and looks off to the side in a way that suggests there's nothing more to be said.

"Dad, go home."

"Yeah, you take care of yourself," he finishes, making his exit by pushing the doors open and swearing under his breath when his toe catches on the door sill. Craig sits down and rubs his temples. He also probably didn't sleep as well as he should have, but now she's assuming nobody slept well. There are circles hanging off his eyelids, darkish-purple. Kyle is still winning the best-dressed competition; Craig is wearing a variation of blue hoodie (he seems to have several) under a bomber jacket that he's had for years, which he's shrugging off. His jeans are crinkled. She supposes he just picked them up off the floor. His hair is lazily styled out of his eyes, like he got halfway through his usual routine and said, "Fuck it, that's good enough."

"Hey, Craig," she says.


"How was the trip up?" Kelly Private Recovery Centre is two hours roughly northbound. The actual plot of land is about ten acres, and from what she read on the website's history page, the original owner purchased it in 1906, but it was unused until 2002, when the hospital was built. It really looks like it was just squeezed right in between all the trees, this industrial thing, out of place in a thick forest that goes on forever. Remote is what they were going for when they built it, as the hospital has the resources to treat drug abuse, mental illness, and other such things that may involve runaway attempts. When you leave the building, where do you go?

"It didn't go well at all. My dad kept saying shit like 'If everything doesn't go okay while you're up there, you just call,' and 'I want you to know that your mother and I just want you to get better, and we'll do anything to etcetera'." He rolls his hand in the air to indicate that his father said much more than what he had relayed to them. "It might have been okay except for that we never talk. Ever."

"So two hours of clumsily offered parental love?"

"Mm hmm," Craig replies with another sigh.

"Sounds like fun," Wendy says, giggling inwardly.

"It wasn't." He leans back in his seat and glances idly around the room, looking at the prints on the walls and the pattern on the seats of the chairs. His eyes come to rest on Kyle.

"Don't you look lovely," he says with a hollow grin. His teeth are finally straight after years of braces. She's pretty sure he got them off just a month ago. The silver line of his retainer graces over his front teeth, a welcome change from the complicated elastics and multicoloured brackets she's seen him with through most of high school. Watching her classmates go through various orthodontic horrors has made her very thankful for the straight-toothed genes in her family.

"Shut the fuck up, Craig," Kyle mutters.

Craig flips him off, still grinning. "Blow me."

Wendy huffs and asks, "Do you two ever get along?"

"No," Craig says simply

"I would try!" Kyle says, looking harried. "This asshole wouldn't see any of it, though."

"Could you at least try to be civil?" she suggests, exaggerated irritation slipping into her words.

"I try," Kyle says again. Craig gives her a look that suggests that she hasn't a clue what she's talk about, and then slouches back in his seat, pleased with himself.

The doors open for the third time that day, and they all look up. Butters and his parents walk in out of the frigid, blowing winds that come with the usual March weather. He follows his parent obediently up to the front desk and they check him in. His dad is in a trench coat that looks much too spiffy for little South Park, and his mother is wearing a wool coat down to her mid-thighs. They look like they have extravagant plans to celebrate the leaving of their son, and yet they both look worn around the edges. Her mother has said that the only reason they're still married is because divorcing is too expensive, too messy. Their goodbye is the shortest so far; either they got all the formalities over with while in the car, or they really couldn't care less that they were leaving their only child for nearly a month. It's as much as them staring hard at him, then Stephen Stotch saying, "I don't want to hear any trouble from you while you're here, young man. Do you understand me?"

"Yes sir."

"Are you going to get better?"

"Yes sir."

"Then we'll see you in three weeks."

"Alrighty, see you guys."

"Goodbye, Butters."

And then they just leave. No hug, no kiss, no I-love-you. They just leave. Wendy honestly has to look twice, from the door to Butters, back to the door, back to Butters, breath stolen by what could have qualified as the most loveless interaction she has ever seen between a boy and his parents. Even Craig's clumsy parting with his father was filled with undertones of parental love. But this had not a whisper, not even a sour breath of any sort of pride or affection or any implication that they gave a damn at all. They treated it like a business affair, not hateful or spiteful, but not personal either. She could have assumed it was somebody else's kid if she didn't know better. She wants to apologize on their behalf, but he's probably used to being treated like that. He probably doesn't mind.

"Butters, come and sit down," she says, patting the seat next to her. He smiles and does.

"Hey, guys," he greets them, pushing his bag under the chair.

"Hi, Butters," Kyle says, offering him a quick, haggard smile. Wendy notices his cup is nearly empty; hers is now half gone. Craig says a vague hello as well, probably in response to Wendy's request for civility. Craig and Butters aren't friends, but it's more out of the fact that they don't really have a reason to talk rather than being on unfriendly terms. She supposes Craig finds Butters irritating, and Butters finds Craig to be kind of an asshole, but Craig generally dislikes people, and people generally find Craig to be an asshole. None of it is personal. There's a second of silence before anyone says anything.

"Is this it? I mean, I thought there were a couple more of us coming here, like someone else or something. Am I the last one here?" Butters asks, twisting his fingers. A couple of years ago, it was bumping his knuckles. Then it was cracking them. She much prefers the finger twisting.

"No, we're still waiting on a couple of people," Kyle answers. He downs the last sip of his coffee and gets up for another refill.


"Stan and Kenny, I think?" He looks over at Wendy for confirmation. She nods.

"Think they'll get here in seven minutes?" Wendy asks, raising her brows.

"Oh, hopefully. Gosh, I sure hope they're not in trouble."

"Aren't they always?" Craig says. He extrudes him phone from his pocket and starts tapping away at the screen.

"Don't be a dick, Craig," Kyle huffs.

Craig gives him a sidelong glance. "No need to so pissy, Broflovski. She said be civil."

Kyle doesn't respond to that, instead taking a two-second-long sulk at the coffee pot. When he comes back, he walks carefully to avoid spilling it a second time. He shoots Craig a sneer which Craig returns before Kyle sits down. Wendy rolls her eyes, and then turns to Butters with a tired smile.

"Nice having these two around."

"No kidding. You said Ken was coming?"

"Yeah? Why do you ask?"

"Nothing, it's just that Ken's kinda good at subduing Craig," he says rather frankly. He glances over at Craig, who's looking up and seems a bit like he's not sure whether to be nonchalant or upset.

"When'd you guys start being friends anyway?" she asks pointedly.

"I don't know," he says, and it's obvious he does, but she doesn't feel much like prodding.

Butters looks out the window and his face breaks into a bright smile, the sort that is his trademark. Butters always had a good face for smiling. His eyes light up like nothing else, his teeth sit on display in their straight, white glory (one year of braces; all he had was a slight overbite. She gets the feeling Craig resents this).

"Hey! Stan and Kenny are here!"

"At the same time?" Kyle asks, looking out the window as well.

"Yeah! See, they're just getting their stuff now!"

Wendy sits up and shakes her hair out of her eyes. She's been looking forward to having Stan with her through this time. Maybe it will make the whole experience better - she isn't expecting it to be bad, per say, but he's nice to have around,

Stan and Kenny bustle in, Kenny with a backpack and oddly new looking duffle bag, Stan with two duffle bags, one big and one small. They look okay, maybe about the same as her. Stan's hair is sticking up everywhere, and Kenny looks a little shabby, like he always does, in faded jeans sporting a hole in the knee and a hoodie that has a sharpie all over it to hide the stains. Kenny goes up to Maria; Stan pushes the bags under the seat next to Butters and comes around the line of chairs to kiss Wendy.

"Hey," he says as their lips part.

"Hey. How are you?"

"Bit tired, not too bad otherwise." He gives her a lingering, loving look before greeting everyone else. "Hey, guys."

"Hi," Kyle says, and for a second Wendy wonders if he's jealous that Stan greeted his girlfriend before his Super Best Friend. She doubts it; after all, he's had to put up with their on-and-off relationship since fourth grade. Stan seems aware of it, though, and he sits down next to Kyle.

"Heya, Stan!" Butters says enthusiastically.

Craig doesn't even bother to say hello, but neither does Stan. It's no secret that they've hated each other since fourth grade. They're courteous about it, simply choosing to avoid each other rather than make a scene about it. Stan is non-confrontational, steering clear of conflict to the best of his ability, and Craig only attacks when threatened. Put together, they're fairly benign; Craig says nothing as long as Stan doesn't.

Stan's mom and dad come in while Stan makes his greetings, looking intentionally relaxed. They probably spent the whole drive talking about how this is okay and not a thing to worry about. Stan's parents are good people; Sharon, an observant but respectful mother, keeps her nose out of her son's business while somehow still knowing all about it; and Randy, off the wall at the best of times, but cool in that he offers Wendy a beer when she comes over after school and always makes homemade pizza when Stan has friends over. They sign the papers, then walk over to Stan. Randy sighs, dropping his hands on Stan's shoulders.

"So this is it. Well, we're going to go now, Stan, you get better, okay?"


"There's forty bucks in the side pocket of the little bag, and a box of the old 'French letters' in the big bag," Randy says with a wink, cutting Stan off.

"Dad! What do you think I do in my spare time?" Stan sputters, face reddening. Wendy just wonders why he knows such an obsolete slang term for condoms. Knowing Randy, he probably googled it, just to find the perfect awkward thing to say at the big goodbye. He's like that, making a hobby out of making Stan uncomfortable. She's sure he does it on purpose.

"Randy! You didn't actually!" Sharon says in horror, pushing her husband away from Stan.

"But Sharon, it's three whole weeks and there's only one girl here and-"

"Randy, we talked about this! I swear to god that you're going to be the death of me!" she groans. She shoves past Randy and opens Stan's bag and after some rustling around, she actually does pull out a box of condoms. She tosses them to Randy to hug Stan tightly.

"Have a good time, sweetie, we'll see you soon," she says, petting his hair down and taming the cowlicks in it.

"I will. Love you, Mom," he answers, letting her go.

"Love you too, sweetheart. Bye."

"Bye Mom, bye Dad," he says, waving at Randy.

"See you, son! Don't go 'conceiving trouble'!" he shouts as Sharon drags him out. Wendy can hear Sharon muttering I can't take you anywhere under her breath. Once they've left, Stan looks at Kenny.

"You need a parent signature, dude."

Kenny looks over his shoulder and grins. "I brought a signed note, but they're calling my mom to check that I didn't stow away here against her will."

Maria hangs up the phone after a minute or so, and looks at Kenny. "Everything looks fine, Kenneth-"

"Kenny," he corrects quickly.

"Kenny. Have a seat."

"Thank you, ma'am," he drawls, and picks up his bag. He drops it and his backpack next to Craig's chair, and then goes around to the other side, where Wendy and the others sit. He starts with Kyle, who's sitting closest to the end of the line of chairs if you bypass Stan, who she supposes Kenny's seen enough of for now. He digs his face into Kyle's mountain of curls.

"Hi Kyle," he muffles.

"Hi, Kenny." Kyle is unalarmed and doesn't look up from the hangnail he was beginning to discuss with Stan. Stan snickers.

"Did you know I'd fuck your hair if it was a person?"

"I think you'd fuck my hair regardless," he says.

"Damn straight, man," Kenny laughs, moving down the line to Wendy.

"Hey, Wendy," he says, kissing the top of her head.

"Hi," she says, smiling. Stan looks off the side. He doesn't mind Kenny doing that to her – Kenny's not the kind of person to date your ex, let alone your current girlfriend – but he's inexplicably uncomfortable with it, and when she's asked him about it, he's shrugged.

"Butters," Kenny greets, scruffing his hair roughly.

"Heya, Kenny," Butters says, grinning.

"Sorry 'bout the hair, sugar, it's just too fun," he says, petting it back into place. He fixes the last flyaways and heads back to where he placed his bags.

Craig sticks a leg up to keep Kenny from coming closer to him. "I don't want a kiss, asshole," he says, but not meanly.

Kenny grabs his leg and kisses his shoe. "Sorry, sunshine," he says, letting go. The chair to Craig's right becomes Kenny's home, and he sits down sideways in it, placing his shoes in Craig's lap. Craig looks less than impressed, but not surprised.

"Oh my god, guys, that was legit the longest car ride I've been in since that field trip to in Utah in seventh grade. Goddamn, I gotta get out more," Kenny says, cracking his knuckles. Wendy winces.

"Well done, Kenny," Kyle says.

"I know, right? I didn't get carsick or anything." He looks over at Craig's phone, craning his neck to get a view that isn't obstructed by glare. "What'cha doing?"

"I'm playing Solitaire," Craig says.

Kenny groans. "Do you know that you're the most boring person on the planet? Do you know that? There are a bazillion apps in the world and you're playing fuckin Solitaire." He hesitates for a beat, and calls towards the desk. "Excuse my French. I'm sorry."

"It's alright, Kenny," Maria replies.

He looks back to Craig. "So do you know you're so boring?"

"Yeah, cuz you keep telling me, asshat," Craig says.

"Why were you with Stan, Kenny?" Wendy asks, leaning forward in her seat.

"Because he's sexy."

Stan blinks at him. Kenny laughs, light and lilting.

"No, my mom didn't feel like driving me, Dad was hungover, and Kev would only drive me if I paid for gas, which I couldn't. So Stan offered to take me up with them. But Stan is also very sexy and an excellent backseat-mate. You are one lucky girl, Wends."

"He groped me the whole way up," Stan groans. "And you wanna know what my parents did? Nothing. My dad said 'Please don't get gay in the car, thanks boys,' once, but oh my god, what kind of dad says that?"

"Randy does," Wendy says, looking his way. "Poor baby."

"Hey, I don't get to cuddle, like, ever. Such is the bachelor life," Kenny says, shrugging. "Hey Craig, you wanna cuddle?"

Craig doesn't dignify this with an answer. He keeps tapping at the screen of his Android like Kenny's not there. He hasn't bothered to move his feet, but instead works around them.

"Goddamn, Craig, throw me a bone here. I'm just a poor boy angling for a hug."

"Go hug Butters, he's good at that sucky stuff," Craig says. He clicks his phone off and stows it away.

"Did you get bored with Solitaire?" Kenny asks, wiggling a foot.

"I lost four times in a row."

"Do you wanna cuddle now?"

"No, you're all bony. You'd probably stick my eye out with your elbow or something."

"That's cold, man. Real cold."

"You'll survive," Craig says, patting his feet sympathetically. Kenny frowns and pokes his hand away with the worn toe of his shoe.

"Excuse me?" a voice comes from behind them. They all snap their head up to the source; Kenny's feet slide off of Craig, and Stan surfaces from his deep conversation with Kyle (she wasn't listening, but Raisin Bran kept popping up). A greying man in an olive green shirt and black pants is standing by a set of frosted glass doors next to the desk. He adjusts his tie and smiles when he sees he has their attention. He continues. "Please grab your bags and head back over here."

Wendy exchanges confused looks with the others, and one by one, they begin to pick up travel bags and backpacks and walk over to the man, forming a small cluster around him. He nods at them.

"My name is Dr. Kelly. I'm the owner and the head doctor and therapist at Kelly Private Recovery Center. If you'll follow me, I'll lead you to your quarters, and once you've dropped your bags off, I'll give a tour around the hospital."

Wendy nods, looking at the man closer. He appears to be in his mid-forties, maybe fifties, and by the gold band around his finger, he's married. His face is clean-shaven, his hair mostly there, though thinning. Around his green eyes are folds of crow's feet, around his mouth, smile lines. Perched on his nose is a pair of wire frame glasses. He has a warm, friendly way about him, from the fatherly face to the potbelly. She decides Dr. Kelly doesn't look like a man she can hate.

Turning around, he pushes open the doors and leads them down a long hallway painted the same beige of the receptionist's office. There are unremarkable prints of trees and forests hanging on the walls, and a nondescript grey carpet like the kind you find in kindergarten classrooms.

"This is just the main hallway. It leads down to the centre of the hospital, where the therapy rooms and your rooms are," he says, floating a hand up as if to further glorify what was in plain sight. Wendy notices he has a slight limp on his right side, but she doesn't say anything. She lets herself fall back to where Stan walks, and twines her fingers through his. He smiles and squeezes them lightly. Dr. Kelly talks a bit about the history of the place, giving them the short version of the page she read on the website. She zones out and reads some of the inscriptions on Kenny's hoodie, most of which are names and dates; "Stan the Man!" "Kenneth Jesus McCormick" "Señor Hitler's [something scribbled out] big bones" "March 22 is a good day to fuck bitches, man!" There are song lyrics here and there; "Waves knock me down, I'll get up again." "Be young, be dope, be proud, like an American." "Don't stop, make it pop!" There's a limerick of sorts: "So I'm writing poetry / and it's about geometry / Triangles and squares / and clean shapes in pairs / Fuck this number artistry." She wonders who wrote it.

The hallway ends and they turn left, leading to a hallway with doors on either side. None of the doors are exactly across from each other; they're diagonally placed. There are lever door knobs on each of the white doors, each equipped with an outside lock. A small number lies at eye level on each one, going from one to fifteen.

"These are your rooms. They're nothing special, just a place to sleep. You won't be spending much time in them. Go ahead, they're unlocked," he says to Butters, whose hand is on one of the levers. He clicks it open and they all peer inside. They're fairly simple rooms; a round light attached to the center of the ceiling, two double size beds, a small table next to each bed (a timetable, a lamp, and list of rules lies on top), a closet, a bathroom; catalogue-order accommodation.

"As you can see, you'll be in pairs. Some people find the whole experience somewhat scary or lonely, so we're using the buddy system to make sure you always have someone to talk to."

"Oh. I don't suppose we can pick our roomies," Kyle says, tone falling flat.

"We've already done that," Dr. Kelly says, giving Kyle a sorry smile. He fumbles around in his pocket and pulls out a folded piece of paper. "We asked your parents to suggest who you might like to room with." Kyle perks up at that. "Let's see; Kyle, you're with Stan in room one, Wendy and Butters in room two, and Craig and Kenny in room three."

Wendy sends Butters a quick smile. She won't mind rooming with him; Butters is quiet and unobtrusive, and if she knows him, he'll probably just want to go to sleep. She'd have preferred to be with Stan, but she can see the reasoning behind not putting her there. Sexual shenanigans are not a target point of the hospital's curriculum, she assumes.

"Wendy doesn't have to have a room by herself?" Stan objects. When all eyes fall on him, he flushes slightly. "I mean, like, you don't have rules against putting her with a guy?"

"No. There are cameras in every room, and there will be people watching you all night. We've assured that nothing will happen that we won't know about," he says firmly.

Wendy glances at Stan, who's gone quite red, and at Butters, who has also turned a bit pink.

"Now," Dr. Kelly says, breaking the silence, "go ahead and put your stuff away."

Stan and Kyle stay in the room they're all standing in and drop their things on their respective beds. The other four file out and move down the hall to their rooms. Wendy walks into the room diagonal from Stan's and picks a bed, shedding her backpack and hoisting her bag onto it. Butters follows her in and heaves his bag on the perfect sheets, hopelessly wrinkling them. Wendy picks up the list of rules and has a scan over them.

1. Please do not bring food from the dining room into the bedrooms.

2. Respect your neighbours; stay quiet.

3. Doors locked at 11:00 PM. Please refrain from making too much noise and watching television after this time.

4. Please do not bring others into your room; your quarters are for you and your roommate only.

5. No drugs, alcohol, or sex. Violation of this rule will result in an immediate transfer into a high-security room BY YOURSELF. This is a treatment center; indulgence of any of these things could be detrimental to your success in this program.

6. Avoid spending too much time in your room by yourself. Hiding away from your companions during free time is not recommended for success in the program.

7. What you do in this room is not secret. Center staff monitor rooms at all times.

"Great," she sighs.

"Uh, Wendy?" Butters says suddenly. He's wringing his fingers again.

"Hmm?" Wendy turns around.

"I just want you to, uh, know that I ain't gonna, well, come onto you or anything," he mumbles anxiously. She feels her heart twist up, because the assumptions he makes in saying this sentence are so wrong, and the thought of Butters of all people hitting on Wendy with the intention of making her uncomfortable is unthinkable. The way he thinks of himself, so quick to let all of his self-esteem and confidence run out the bottom makes her throat swell. She has pitied a lot of things in her life, but nothing is more pitiful than Butters reassuring Wendy that he's not going to hurt her.

"Oh, Butters, Stan was just being Stan. I know you're not."

"O-okay, then. Why d'ya think he thought that?"

"Because he was confused about the rules, and because he can be jealous," Wendy explains, leaning on the wall. "Really jealous." There have been times where she's worked on projects with other guys because the teacher picked partners and Stan's gotten jealous. She's talked to guys and make Stan jealous. She's talked to fucking teachers and made Stan jealous. And still, he's unaggressive. He glares, but he keeps mind straight.

"Well, that's just weird," Butters laughs quietly.

"Yeah, well, that's Stan. Come on, let's go." Butters nods and they go back to the hall, where everyone else is standing. She moves next to Stan again, and he gives her a sorry half-smile before he finds her fingers again.

Dr. Kelly grins. "Well, let's go see the rest of this place. Follow me," he says, and walks briskly by the rest of the doors. Wendy watches the numbers slide from three to five to fifteen as they pass them. She wonders if the hospital is ever full, or if it's always small groups of six or eight. This gets her thinking about the money the center is making; if the price is 7 000 dollars (she's not certain of that, but she heard more than five and less than ten) and the hospital has say, eight people every month (again, a total guess), they could be making 56 000 a month and 67 2000 a year. She doesn't know if that's a lot when you talk about hospital cost and maintenance, but god! It sounds like a lot to her. She knows her health insurance covered most of her cost, but she wonders about the others. Kenny, for example; there's no way he has health insurance like she does. The questionable location of his funds is something she decides she might not want to think about.

"Now this," Kelly says as they enter a large room, "is where you'll be eating. There's the kitchen over on the far side there, where food will be set up buffet-style on the counter. Breakfast is served at seven-thirty to eight. Lunch will start at eleven-forty five and goes on to twelve-forty five. Dinner starts at six and ends at seven. This is so you can all get meals even if your therapy goes overtime."

There are scattered affirmative noises. Kelly carries on past the dining room, stepping gingerly on his bad leg. What's it from? This time, there isn't a hallway, just a large, elegant pair of doors leading to another large room with couches, a TV, bookshelves, and tables. The TV has an impressive stereo system, apparently with the idea of music in mind. A tall stack of CDs sit on a rack. A counter with a hot water dispenser and coffee maker connects to one wall. Next to the bookshelf is a shelf that has blank paper, lined and unlined, sitting in neat piles, along with card stock in various colours and several boxes of pencils, pencil crayons, and markers. There's some artsy sort of paper there as well, and some paints (acrylic and watercolour) that are either new of just unused. There's a printer hooked up to a clunky Windows computer. Above the monitor is a sign that says "NO WIFI. FOR WORD PROCESSING."

"This is the common area, where you'll be spending your free time. This is basically like the hospital's living room, there's just a bunch of stuff for you guys to amuse yourselves with. Out those doors are the gardens, where you may go if you please," he says, gesturing to a set of sliding glass doors leading out to a grassy area. Wendy looks through them and sees an empty flowerbed that might look nicer once the weather gets warmer.

"Now then," he continues, to the other side of the room to an open hallway, "down this hall are the therapy rooms. There are six of them, but we'll only be using three. Each of you will have an assigned therapist to talk to, and once every few days, you'll come talk to me. Okay?"

"What about down there?" Wendy asks, pointing to another hallway connecting to the room. She assumes there's a door at the end, but the hallway turns right sharply, and she can't see it.

"That leads down to the treatment area. You'll have therapy every day and treatment when we see fit."

She thinks about that. What could the difference even be? Isn't the therapy treatment? "What's treatment consist of?" she asks. Dr. Kelly's lips turn up in a bit of a crooked smile, like it's a silly question, like she shouldn't be asking it.

"You'll see. It targets your exact problems, so it's different for everyone." He looks around the group. "Are there any more questions?"

"Yeah," Kenny says. "Are there cameras here too?"

"There are cameras in every room, Kenny," Dr. Kelly says. Hearing him say Kenny's name strikes her the same she was struck when she thought of Maria knowing her name, her birthday, why she's even here to begin with. Kelly must know all these things as well, but still, it feels weird to know he knows all their names when they haven't even introduced themselves.

Kenny pulls a face and pauses for a bit, and then says, "Cameras are kinda creepy, dude. I thought we were going for 'non-threatening' and 'harmonious atmosphere' or some shit. Aw, not again. Pardon my French."

"Oh, don't worry about it," he laughs as Kenny looks at the ground, a bit flustered. "The people who supervise the cameras are nurses who work here, not stalkers." He glances at his watch, an expensive-looking gold piece of work, and smiles at them. "I have to prepare for your first meetings with me. The intercom will call you down to me when I'm ready for you. My office is the far door on the left. My name is on it, it's hard to miss. For now, you can relax here." With that, he turns around and leaves the room, walking down the hallway to his office. His footsteps fade as he walks further away, and when the office door clicks shut, the room is silent.

They exchange six nervous glances. Finally, Kenny sighs.

"Well, if you don't mind my honest opinion, I'd say we're fucked." He looks around for agreement, the corners of his lips twitching upwards when a couple of people nod. Wendy's heart beats painfully against her chest. Dr. Kelly still doesn't look like a man she could hate. She's scared, but she's not upset.

"So what do we do until he calls us down?" Stan asks, not really looking for an answer. He receives shrugs. Craig pulls out his phone and frowns.

"That's weird. I can't get service," he says, tapping on the screen as if it would help.

"We're in the middle of nowhere. You really thought you could get service?" Kenny asks, raising an eyebrow.

"I was texting Clyde in the reception area. I had service until like ten minutes ago." They go quiet.

"There's no WiFi, either. See," Wendy points to the sign.

"I saw that. Shit, when they said 'no outside communication', I didn't really think they'd actually, well, enforce it. Like how they say no texting in school and everyone still does it," Craig says. "Now that I say it that way, it sounds really stupid. Of course they'd enforce it. This isn't school, it's a fucking hospital. Jesus."

"I noticed you brought your phone even though the site explicitly said not to bring your phone," Kyle says, taking the opportunity to make a dig at Craig, quite unnecessarily, Wendy thinks.

"Shut the fuck up, Kyle. I thought everyone would," Craig snaps.

"So we're fucking marooned here," Stan says. "Fantastic." He lets go of Wendy to shove his hands in his pockets.

"I'm sure it ain't that bad," Butters says cautiously. "If we needed to contact somebody that bad, I'm sure they'd let us."

"Because they're so lovely that way," Craig says, spitting the word.

"Okay assholes, standing here and moaning about it won't get nothing done," Kenny says, punching Craig's shoulder. "Let's make a game plan. You know, figure out how we're gonna survive here, because I'm looking at what's coming . . ." He pauses to chuckle a bit, but not humorously. "And I gotta say, man, it looks shitty."

"So what do you suggest?" Kyle asks. He sounds as though he has little faith in Kenny as an advisor. She has to admit he's not her first choice either when it comes to a situation like this.

"Honestly, I think we should wait," she says before Kenny can open his mouth. "Nothing truly bad has happened, right? He told us there are cameras everywhere, but god, why wouldn't there be? This is a recovery center. They need to monitor the people. We're not here because it's a fun little game; we're here because we have an anxiety disorder that interferes with our day-to-day lives. This is a shitty place, but we've all got shitty minds. We should give it a couple of days, or at least 'til the end of this meeting or whatever with Dr. Kelly before we start calling shots."

She's applauded by a heavy silence.

"Shit, she's right, you know," Stan says. "Let's wait."

"Fine," Kenny says. "We'll wait. But man, if he pulls a knife on us when we walk in, I'm kicking your ass in the afterlife, Wendy."

"Whatever, Kenny. It'll be fine."

He sighs, and he goes to say something, but he closes his mouth instead. "I dunno if it's nerves or what," he mumbles, avoiding her eyes, "but I just feel like hitting something, as hard as I can. Just fuckin whaling on it."

These words hit her hard, but it's beginning to feel like every other sentence uttered hits her hard. This whole place is hitting her hard. She sighs and reaches up to his hair, scratching his scalp gently with the tips of her fingernails. It brings the breath of a smile to his face, one of those quiet, automatic smiles. She feels like she's going to have to hold onto these smiles.