Elanor is leaving her comfortable childhood home to start college. Daughter of a wealthy but neglectful father with little self-confidence, she is nervous about the challenges ahead of her. How does she deal with having a roommate? Will she be able to keep up with her classes? Will she be able to make new friends? But all of her worrying and planning does nothing to prepare her for the day she finds herself kidnapped and told that her whole life is a lie; none of her memories are true. Who are you without your memories? How do you exist without your memories being real? Would you even want to? What is the smart thing for Elanor to do? Should she believe the people she thinks are kidnappers only interested in her father’s money and try to create a new life for herself or fight them and their ridiculous stories. Try to escape and find her way home? What would you do?
Targeted Age Group:: 16+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Honestly, I was hoping someone else would write it so that I could read it. I waited years for someone else to come up with the idea and the time to do it, but it just didn't seem like it was going to happen. In the end, I feel like I had no choice.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
That is a difficult question. Each character came from a different place. One is based on a very good friend, but only in my mind since they are nothing alike in looks or actions…their motivations are the same. I actually had a character show up without my permission. They just kept showing up and saying things and I couldn't stop them.
“There is no reason you can’t share a room like everyone else,” Brice Haye said without looking up from the housing brochure Elanor had given him with the corner of the page for single rooms folded down. He was sitting, as always, behind the ridiculously large desk in his office while Elanor sat across from him in the guest chair. Her father had the chair designed specifically to make the person sitting in it feel off balance.
It looked like a regular high-end office chair. In fact, it looked extremely comfortable and, for the first few seconds, it was. Then the occupant started to notice that things were just slightly off. The width of the seat was just wide enough to not allow anyone to use both armrests. It was so soft that, at first, the occupant would be very comfortable, but very soon the softness caused the seat to sink just far enough for a twinge of pain to begin in the lower back. The seat and legs of the chair were put together in a way that would make it impossible for anyone shorter than a giant to place their feet on the floor; instead, they would find themselves swinging their feet like a child. In a meeting with Brice Haye, the distraction caused by the strangeness of the chair was often enough to allow him to gain the upper hand.
“If everyone else shares a room, why do they have singles?” Elanor asked.
“Don’t get smart with me,” he said angrily. He finally looked up and the anger in his eyes lessened when they met hers.
“Elle, I know you are nervous, but it’s going to be all right.” Elanor cringed whenever anyone said everything would be all right and she did now.
“How about we make a deal?” he continued, ignoring her distress. “You live with a roommate for a year, and if you are still unhappy….”
“A year?!” Elanor interrupted in anger before having a chance to moderate the petulance in her voice.
Her father’s eyes closed slowly and she was reminded of all the other times she had seen him respond to the sound of her voice that way. He felt that if she could not moderate her emotions and tone, he was no longer required to listen to any argument she might make on any subject.
She knew she had lost. She watched her father snatched up his checkbook and began writing. When he finished, he tore out the check, with a ripping sound that made her teeth clench, and slid it – with her housing forms – across the desk to her. She could see without leaning forward that it was for tuition and double occupancy room and board. He then stood up and began gathering papers from his desk, putting them in his briefcase.
“You have had a very comfortable life here, Elanor, and you are going to have a very comfortable college experience. The fact that you are asking for more just goes to show that, despite my best efforts, you have grown to be a spoiled brat.” He closed his briefcase with a snap and walked out of the room.
Despite his best efforts! she thought, seething with indignation. Brice Haye’s best efforts never failed. When he graduated from high school he started work on an oil rig. He was the lowest of the low. Within a year, he was foreman. Two years later he was the assistant to the Vice President of Impavid Oil and Gas. Five years after that, he was the Vice President.
When Brice Haye, oil company foreman, met April McMillian, she wanted nothing to do with him. Over the next eighteen months, however, he applied his “best efforts” to her and, not only did she agree to marry him, she had been considering popping the question herself.
If Brice Haye had employed his best efforts to ensure that Elanor not grow into a spoiled brat, then there was no doubt in Elanor’s mind that it would be absolutely impossible for her to be one.
What shocked Elanor the most was that her father resided in the center of reality. He never indulged in imagining. Take the guest chair, for example. He knew that when only the argument counted, he would win every time. He was just that good. But it was rare that the argument was all that mattered. In a face to face meeting, he could be at a disadvantage. He was not a tall man and he was never mistaken for handsome. He was short and round and had begun losing his hair when he was only thirty. The hair that remained was thin and wispy. Elanor knew that if it hadn’t been for his impeccable grooming and extremely expensive suits, he would have entered the realm of creepy looking. Sometimes he would be confronted with a business rival who was tall or handsome or both. When they saw Haye, their own confidence was boosted, and sometimes that would be all it took to beat him, until the creation of the chair. He knew who he was and when he needed help, but it appeared now that he lacked the perspective needed to remember how his daughter was actually raised.
Brice Haye was home for exactly twelve weeks each year. Elanor wasn’t entirely sure where he was most of the time and had no idea at all what he was doing there. The one week he was home each month altered Elanor’s schedule for exactly forty-five minutes.
Her father would arrive home and she would greet him at the door along with the housekeeper, Mrs. Coleman. She would listen quietly as her father discussed the household matters with her, bills, repairs, and staffing issues, followed by a critique of Elanor’s behavior and grades. Once satisfied, he would go to his office and Elanor would be free until just before dinner that evening.
Each evening she would knock on her father’s office door and wait for his call of “Enter.” Nine times out of ten, he was busy with something on his desk or computer and would gesture her to the guest chair without looking up. Only once she was settled would he turn his attention to her. The list of questions he asked only varied as her age varied.
When she was six, he would start with “Have you made any interesting drawings since I’ve been away?”
When she was twelve, he would ask “Are you finding your schoolwork stimulating?”
Now that she had graduated and was getting ready to leave for college, the majority of the questions focused on money. “I have a monthly allowance in mind for you. I would like for you to come up with a list of what you think your expenses will be, and we will see if they match up. Can you have that for me tomorrow?”
Each meeting ended with him walking her to the door, kissing her cheek and saying “I love you. Be a good girl for Mrs. Coleman.” Then he would either return to his office where he would eat dinner while continuing to work, or he would leave to have dinner elsewhere. Elanor always walked to the kitchen to have dinner with Mrs. Coleman and her son, Tim, who worked as their gardener and driver.
The final five monthly minutes she spent with her father were the reverse of the first. She would wait while her father gave Mrs. Coleman a list of tasks for her to oversee. Then he would kiss Elanor’s cheek, repeating, “I love you. Be a good girl for Mrs. Coleman,” and disappear to destinations unknown.
When he was away the same conversations would occur nightly. When she was young they had happened by telephone. Once she was older, they had switched to email. In a concession to the fact that Elanor was now an adult, but still under his care, he would send an email each morning, which he expected to be answered by midnight that night.
Upon learning about this arrangement, some people might think that her father was neglectful, and in some ways, they might be right. But Elanor knew that her father loved her, and in all honesty, she had to admit that she liked the way things worked between them. But she also knew that if Brice Haye believed, truly believed, that he had given her his best efforts, then he was not the man she thought he was.
Elanor sat in the guest chair, not noticing her discomfort for the first time in her life. She was concentrating on her father’s voice in the hall. He was going over his lists with Mrs. Coleman while Tim inexpertly tried to carry the luggage to the car, bumping off the walls and door frame just as he always did. In her mind, she could see Tim’s bulging eyes look back at her father, clearly nervous that this would finally be the time he would have had enough of the housekeeper’s bumbling son. From the hall, she heard his gunfire like laugh which always filled the house when he saw that Brice Haye was ignoring him yet again. Then came the pause. She held her breath waiting to hear if he would call her to come and say goodbye. She didn’t have to wait long. The silence was soon filled with the sound of the front door closing, followed by the closing of the car door and finally the sound of the tires on the gravel. He was gone.
Her deep blue eyes began to sting but were startled dry when Mrs. Coleman opened the office door behind her.
“Ellie? What are you still doing in here, girlie? Your dinner’s getting cold.”
She rose and followed Mrs. Coleman down the hall.
She left for school the next week. She steadfastly ignored all of her father’s attempts at communication until the morning she left. She was in her room packing up the last of her things when Mrs. Coleman came in with a small box.
“This came in the mail for you,” she said, holding out the package. Elanor took it, but couldn’t imagine what it could be; everything she had ordered for school had already arrived.
Mrs. Coleman handed her a pair of scissors from out of her apron pocket.
“Figured yours would already be packed,” she said with a smile.
“As always, you were right,” Elanor replied, returning her smile.
Using the scissors, she opened the package to find a gift wrapped in silver paper and a large manila envelope with her name written on it in her father’s neat handwriting. With a heavy sigh, she looked at Mrs. Coleman who was comically whistling, scuffing one foot along the carpet and looking at the ceiling.
“Outwitted, as usual,” Elanor said with mock anger in her voice.
“I don’t have the first idea what you are talking about, girlie,” Mrs. Coleman replied as she walked out and closed the bedroom door.
Elanor sat down on her bed and stared at the box for some time. Finally, she gave in to the inevitable and grabbed the envelope. It contained a thin stack of papers and another smaller envelope. She set the papers aside and opened the small envelope first. In it, she found a credit card and a checkbook, both with her name on them. Setting them aside, she picked up the papers. There was a copy of the budget that she and her father had worked out along with the brochures one receives from the bank when opening an account. There was also a small paperback book called Banking for Dummies.
She couldn’t help but laugh. Her father thought the for Dummies line of books were just that, for dummies, but apparently, he would stop at nothing to make sure Elanor understood how banking worked. She put the paper, card, and checkbook back in the envelope and reached for the gift.
The wrapping job surprised her. She could tell it had not been professionally wrapped like most of his previous gifts. When she finished unwrapping it, she understood why. Her father had given her the picture of her mother that he always kept with him. Tears pricked at her eyes, but Mrs. Coleman came to the rescue once again, calling to her from downstairs.
“Ellie, it’s time to go. Let’s see a little hustle!”
Elanor put the picture gingerly into her carry-on bag and grabbed the envelope. Then she attempted to show Mrs. Coleman some “hustle” and silently promised herself that she would call her father that night.
Of course, she had been too busy to manage to make any calls. She would really have to make sure to do it tomorrow, maybe in the morning. It wouldn’t be very hard to get up early if she never fell asleep. Thankfully she hadn’t set up her computer yet; if she had she might be tempted to try and email him. Elanor knew that would be disastrous. Sleep deprivation was doing a number on her. Her eyes felt like a thin layer of cotton had been placed just under her eyelids, and she knew if someone were to ask her any question more difficult than “What’s one plus one?” or “What color is the sky?” she would have a hard time coming up with the answer. Maybe the layer of cotton was only using her eyes as an entry point and was now also coating her brain.
When she was eight years old, Elanor’s father decided she should have riding lessons. She was thrilled. She went to the stables three times each week. She loved her horse with complete abandon and named him Wesley. She and her instructor, Mr. Pierce, even managed to teach him to bow his head at the command of “As you wish.”
She had been riding for about two months when the inevitable happened. When Elanor hit the ground her arm was outstretched in the worst possible way and the snap was audible. Even now, when startled, loud sounds were often replaced in her mind with the sound of that snap.
The compound fracture resulted in several weeks of pain, two surgeries and a lot of people telling her everything would be all right. That was when she began to cringe whenever anyone would say those foolish words to her. And right after those surgeries was the last time Elanor had ever felt anything like she did now. It felt like her head was a wool sweater, thick and scratchy and even her blonde hair felt fuzzy.
I’m never going to get used to this, Elanor thought, frustrated as her roommate Teresa readjusted her position in the bed across the room. Sharing a room had been what worried her most about college. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. There wasn’t anything about college that hadn’t worried her. Each thing had to take its turn being what worried her the most, and right now it was sharing a room.
It had been her number one concern for most of the night. Every time she thought the moving had finally stopped, Teresa would shift again and Elanor would fight the urge to scream. That fight was getting harder each time. What made it worse was being unable to tell if it was really annoying or if she was the spoiled brat her father had said she was.
Teresa shifted again and Elanor began wondering if she would be this annoyed if she liked her roommate? Elanor didn’t dislike her. She just didn’t know her well enough to feel any way about her and she doubted the situation would change anytime soon. Teresa was a talker, which would have been fine since Elanor was a good listener. But even Elanor liked to be able to utter a word from time to time.
When Elanor had arrived two days ago, she found Teresa already in their room unpacking while dancing to a song Elanor did not know. Once she noticed Elanor, Teresa started talking a mile a minute, and Elanor found it unbelievably hard to keep up.
Twenty minutes later, she found herself walking across campus with Teresa with absolutely no idea where they were going. Evidently, she had agreed to go somewhere, she just hoped she hadn’t unknowingly agreed to go and perform any acts of genocide. Luckily, it turned out to be lunch, but she still felt relieved when given flatware and not a machete. Throughout lunch, Teresa amazed Elanor with stories of death-defying feats she had performed and the murders she had witnessed. Or she might have. She just talked so fast!
After they finished lunch, the roommates headed to orientation where, much to their surprise and Elanor’s relief, they had been assigned to sit in groups of five and were not together. Elanor’s group had three boys and another girl, plus their teaching assistant, Warren. It didn’t take long for Elanor and a dark haired girl named Laila to gravitate towards each other as the only girls in the group. After the afternoon’s orientation activities they all felt pretty comfortable together.
The fact that two of the boys in the group, Drake and Laila’s twin brother Renault, were roommates brought up an unpleasant subject for Laila. Elanor was surprised to learn that it was possible that Laila had it worse than she did.
During one of the breaks that afternoon, Laila had already let Elanor know how Renault had been planning to go to a much larger college out west, but at the last minute decided that he couldn’t bear to let Laila go off on her own and had switched schools. Laila loved her brother of course, but she had been looking forward to getting out of his shadow.
When they arrived, Laila had been taking solace in the knowledge that Renault’s dorm was two buildings away until he started carrying his trunk towards her building. Seeing his sister’s confusion, he said “Surprise! The best thing happened last night. My roommate called. His best friend was wait-listed and just heard that he was in and asked would I mind switching rooms with him. When I heard where it was, I jumped at it.”
“Well, that’s kind of sweet, isn’t it?” Elanor asked when Laila finished her story.
“After you get to know Rennie a little better you'll come to see that he’s very good at disguising his actions as sweetness when they're actually quite devious,” she answered sadly.
“Is he at least in another part of the building?” Elanor asked hopefully.
Laila let out a laugh that Elanor thought bordered on hysteria.
“Of course not. He and Drake live right next door!”
Just then Renault glided into the seat beside her.
“Has my sister told you about how she is the grand prize winner of the roommate lottery from hell?” he asked.
“Don’t,” Laila said, her voice stern.
“Oh, Laila,” he said sweetly. “Elanor, my sister is always trying desperately to see the best in people, from the homeless drug addict mugging people at gunpoint to the Jesus-freak of a roommate Renee who will, no doubt, be trying to save her soul every moment they are together.” Elanor thought his tone might be secretly taunting.
“I’m sure she isn’t going to be that bad,” Laila said, trying to sound confident but really sounding defeated and tired.
Renault turned away from his sister. “I was helping Laila carry some of her belongings into her room. . .”
When he looked away to address the other members of the group, Laila leaned over to Elanor and whispered, “I have an entire series of graphic novels planned out in my head, and Rennie is the supervillain known as Pomposity.” Trying not to snicker, Elanor turned her attention back to Renault.
“. . .opened the door to find a girl sitting on one of the beds talking on her phone. Most people I know would be polite enough to end their call, especially when first meeting a new roommate, but whatever,” Renault said with an eye roll. “She continues her call and says, I kid you not, ‘Mom, everything is fine. … There are no girls only dorms on campus. … We’re supposed to be mature adults.’” Then Renault paused, gathering himself so that he could continue. “Then, she says,” taking a deep breath, “‘Yes, Mom, perhaps Jesus is frowning, but maybe this is a test.’” Renault was unable to maintain his composure.
Laila tried to look like she was above it all, but once Elanor met her eye, her resolve broke and it took several minutes for all of them to finish their giggling.
“After that, she went on about how she was certain that she and Dylan would be able to keep the promises that they had made to each other and to God and that they had to just look at their promise rings to be reminded. Then she actually held up her ring for us to see,” he said with another overly enthusiastic eye roll.
Then raising his eyes to the ceiling, Renault looked pensive for a moment and said “Perhaps this Dylan has some potential. I bet he never thought about the likes of me when he made all of those promises to Renee and God.” There was a devious gleam in his eye that flashed just before he began laughing.
No one was shocked by this, although they were amused. Renault had started out his introduction to the group by saying, “Each and every one of you has the honor and privilege of being in this group with Renault Bowman, youngest openly gay man in Brison County history.”
Elanor was pretty sure she was going to like it here.
The next morning, the group gathered for breakfast together. They spent the meal exchanging stories about how things had not gone as any of them had hoped the past few days, and Elanor had a chance to share the woes of living with “the talker.”
“She talks in her sleep, too,” she explained when Morgan, the third boy in the group, remarked how tired she looked. He looked pretty frazzled himself with his unkempt hair and mangled hipster jacket, but it couldn’t have been roommate troubles – he was lucky enough to live in an apartment off campus, alone.
“You’ll be needing some ear plugs,” Laila said.
Warren, their teaching assistant, arrived just in time to hear this and suggested a store where she could purchase some.
Elanor stared at him mutely, just as she had at their first meeting the day before. His sparkling blue eyes drove her to distraction. She had already spent far too much time thinking about them since yesterday. Reading her enamored stare as confusion, he began to give her very exact directions to the store. Her inability to focus on anything but the eyes shining in front of her left her staring at him long after he had finished.
He looked to Laila for help. She elbowed Elanor lightly in the ribs breaking the spell long enough for her to thank him while blushing furiously. Luckily, Laila had paid attention to Warren’s words, his eyes apparently having no effect on her, and the two girls spent the day exploring campus and doing a little shopping, including the store Warren had recommended. Elanor never expected to become so attached to the two little orange pieces of happiness.
Teresa shifted again and Elanor wondered why on earth the ear plugs blocked the sound of her talking but not the sound of her moving around.
Her pulse began to quicken as she realized that something was wrong. The cotton in her brain seemed only to grow with her frustration and fear. It became thicker and thicker the harder she tried to fight the feeling.
Calm down, she heard her mother’s voice say in her mind, which had never failed to relax her before.
As her pulse and breathing began to settle, the cotton in her brain receded slightly. She lay very still, taking slow, deep breaths. Suddenly, she was deluged with flashes of disordered memories rushing through her mind like flash cards:the argument with her father; Wesley bowing; dinners with Mrs. Coleman and Tim; walking with Laila that afternoon; Tim’s terrible jokes; the sound of her father’s car driving away.
Without warning her mind flooded with memories that couldn’t be hers but that somehow she knew were: hiking through the woods with Renault and Laila; laughing with them while they watched Morgan and Drake face off against two other boys in a snowball fight; Renault in the woods entering a doorway made of light; the light in the door becoming two headlights with the sound of screaming tires; the headlights heading straight for her, getting closer and closer until the sound of her arm snapping as she hit the ground next to Wesley made her mind go blank.
Her eyes flew open and she looked around seeing nothing, blinded by panic. The sound of Teresa shifting in bed came again and she felt cold, strong fingers grasping her hand.
She looked to the right of her bed, but her vision was now covered in cotton batting and she could only see that there was a person sitting beside her. The shifting sound came again and it finally dawned on her that this was the sound she had been hearing all along. She was hearing this person readjusting in the seat next to her bed, and it was not Teresa. She knew that, too.
Her pulse began to race again but quickly reversed when the figure spoke in a soothing voice with a British accent.
“Be calm, child. Everything is all right.”
She had always been a sucker for a British accent.
Elanor lost consciousness almost immediately after hearing the voice that came from the chair at her bedside. Over the next ten days, she regained consciousness more than a dozen times, but never for longer than a few moments before she would slip away again.
On the morning of the eleventh day, she slowly opened her eyes and took in her surroundings for the first time. The room was dimly lit by a lamp on the nightstand to her right. She squinted as she looked towards it. Even the dim light caused her eyes some pain.
Within her reach on the nightstand sat a small rectangle with buttons resembling a television remote. Her time spent in the hospital as a child told her that the buttons would control her bed and summon a member of the nursing staff if she pressed them. That, however, seemed like far more effort than she cared to expend, so she continued to look around the room.
Next to the nightstand was the now empty chair that had creaked its way into her dreams. It wasn’t as close to the bed as it had been. It had been moved back up against the wall. On the wall behind the evil chair was a large window with its curtains pulled tightly closed. She could not see even the smallest sliver of light coming from outside.
Even though the room was very small, Elanor groaned inwardly when her eyes landed on the door to the bathroom. It was in the wall across from her and as far as possible from her bed. Would she have the strength to walk that far?
Directly in front of her bed was a wooden cabinet that held the television, and she also knew then that one of the IVs in her hands must have some excellent drugs in it because she thought it was a stunning piece of furniture, and you don’t normally find the furniture in a hospital to be stunning. She had an idea that her father must have sent her to some high-end facility.
Knowing that her father must be in town and that she would have a chance to apologize for her behavior in person made her feel a little more at ease. She continued her stationary tour of the room. Between the foot of her bed and the beautiful television cabinet, she saw a rolling table that had been left carelessly between her and the bathroom. It was the first thing she had seen in the room that she was certain had been mass produced.
In a design move that would have given a practitioner of feng shui heart palpitations, the entry door to the room was on the wall directly across from the window. The door was closed and windowless.
To the left of the door was the room’s final piece of furniture. It was a low-back chest of drawers that matched the television cabinet. Her father must be spending a fortune on this place. Centered on top of the chest was a vase of fresh orchids, her favorite flower.
Just turning her head to take in her surroundings had used up most of her strength and with nothing to occupy her mind she began to drift back to sleep again when the door opened and a shapely rear end covered in a nurses uniform entered the room. The rear end was attached to a nurse who was backing into the room pulling a medical cart with her.
After pulling the cart through the door, the woman continued backing towards the bed. It was obvious that she was very practiced at this part of her job. She moved with ease from one task to another almost robotically. Never a hesitation or pause for thought. While she was distracted with her work Elanor studied her.
She was a tall woman with the type of curves that cooed sex. Elanor was certain that this woman had never been anywhere that men’s eyes didn’t follow her. Her light brown hair bounced in its ringlet curls as she moved. She reminded her of Shirley Temple, if Shirley Temple had grown up to be a sex symbol. It was a strange combination of innocence and sex appeal. Her plump, yet perfect face showed her concentration and it wasn’t until she lifted the blood pressure cuff from the cart and turned towards Elanor that she realized her patient was awake. Her expression immediately changed from that of concentration to one of kindness.
“Well, good morning,” she said with a lilt of surprise in her voice. “It’s nice to see you awake.”
The woman patted her patient’s hand kindly as she put the blood pressure cuff on Elanor’s arm.
“Let me just get your vitals before I go get the doctor and Miss Thorn.” She smiled and turned her attention to the digital readout on the monitor. Then she took out another instrument that brushed quickly across Elanor’s forehead and down one cheek. She saw Elanor’s confusion and said, “New kind of thermometer – pretty cool, isn’t it?” she grabbed a chart from the cart and began noting the readings as Elanor nodded her head.
“Good, good,” The nurse said softly as she reviewed the chart. Then she turned her full attention to Elanor. With another smile and a tilt of her head the nurse said, “Now, I’ll go and get Dr. Kalina and Miss Thorn, but before I go, can you let me know if you’re in any pain?”
Elanor was surprised that she had to take an inventory of her body before she could answer. Her mind went through a checklist. Legs, check. Arms, check. Torso, check. Head, check. When she was certain that what she felt was slow and somewhat stupid, but not pain she opened her mouth to answer only to find that her throat was so dry that she looked down surprised to not see sand flowing from her open lips onto her chest.
“No, no, I should have said, you’ll find your mouth is very dry and I’ll get you some ice chips as soon as the doctor says I can, but until then you can just nod, okay?”
“So, any pain?” she asked, her hazel eyes twinkling in the reflected light of the lamp on the nightstand, opening comically wide, as if she were afraid she would miss movement of Elanor’s head.
Elanor shook her head to say no.
“Oh, good,” she smiled again. “I would have hated to discover that you had been in pain this whole time and I’ve just been prattling on.”
Elanor did her best to smile.
Patting her hand again, the nurse said “All right, I’ll have the doctor in here as quickly as possible.” She turned and walked towards the door. “And I’ll come back as soon as I’m allowed with the ice chips.” She finished her sentence as the door closed behind her.
Elanor tried very hard to think of something other than her newly discovered, yet unbelievable, thirst.
She was stunned when the sound of the door opening startled her awake. She thought for sure her thirst would have overpowered her need for sleep. The door had already closed before she had managed to convince her eyes to sharpen the image before her. She was certain a large dark blob hadn’t just entered her room and refused to allow her eyes to try and convince her otherwise. After a short and painful protest, she was able to see the man standing at her bedside.
He studied her chart intensely and then suddenly snapped it closed.
“Enough of that,” he said in a deep booming voice. “Everything there looks fine,” he added with a grin.
His brown eyes met hers, and she couldn’t help but smile as well.
While they exchanged smiles he reached out for her arm and began taking her pulse. Since she had gone to the trouble of forcing her eyes to do their jobs, she sent them to work.
He looked to be in his mid-to-late fifties with a riot of dark hair that reminded her, and everyone else she was sure, of Einstein. This was paired with a goatee of purest white. He was very odd looking, but there was something about the oddness that was somehow comforting. As if he knew what she was thinking, his eyes met hers again and then winked at her, causing her to blush and look away.
“Now, Macie tells me you aren’t in any pain, is that correct?” he asked as he walked to the other side of the bed.
“Excellent,” he boomed as if he had never received better news.
He sat in the chair next to her bed and set the chart on the nightstand. Slapping his hands on his knees, he began a new line of conversation.
“I'm betting you have a question or two, so I’ll let you down right away – I have very few answers.” The kindness of his smile stopped her rising panic.
“I expect you to recover completely, physically. And I am hopeful that there won’t be any lasting emotional or mental damage.” This time, the sight of his smile caused her to start laughing soundlessly. “Ah, see there, you will be just fine,” he said as if silent hysterics were a sign of good mental health.
He waited for her to stop shaking with her silent laughter before resuming.
“You are going to be extremely tired for the foreseeable future. Rest, rest, and more rest is what I will be prescribing.” Slapping his knees again, he began to rise from the chair when the door opened.
The nurse she now knew was named Macie came in carrying a cup of ice and a pink plastic pitcher.
“Oh,” she said, taken aback, “Dr. Kalina, I’m sorry, I thought you would be finished.” She began to back out of the room as if the doctor were royalty.
“No, no, Macie,” he said, his voice filled with amusement that echoed through the small room. “I was just leaving and I’m quite sure this young lady is more interested in what you have there than anything I might have to say.”
He wasn’t wrong. Elanor’s eyes had locked onto the cup of ice like a cat seeing the red dot from a laser pointer.
Macie saw the look on Elanor’s face and hurried to her side while letting out a little giggle. She set the pitcher on the rolling table and pulled the table around so that it was next to Elanor’s bed but still out of her reach. She handed the cup of ice chips to Elanor. She then removed a spoon from her uniform pocket and held it just out of Elanor’s reach. When Elanor finally stopped staring at the cup in her hand, she looked desperately at Macie.
“You must promise to go slowly,” she said sternly, and Elanor could see that when she chose to be, Macie could be a force to be reckoned with.
Elanor nodded her agreement quickly and Macie handed her the spoon. While Elanor took the spoon and began scooping out the ice, Macie used the controls on the outside of Elanor’s bed to raise it up so she wouldn’t choke.
“Now, young lady,” Dr. Kalina said, and waited until he had her full attention, “you do exactly what Macie tells you, okay?”
Elanor nodded solemnly and finally scooped a spoonful of ice chips into her mouth. She laid her head back on the pillow; if she’d had a voice, she would have used it to groan with pleasure.
Dr. Kalina let out another booming laugh as he left the room.
Elanor spent the next ten minutes focused on nothing but her cup of ice chips. When her thirst was finally somewhat sated, she noticed that Macie had taken the seat the doctor had vacated. She had been watching Elanor eating her ice chips with a look of pride that seemed more appropriate to someone watching their toddler take its first steps.
Seeing that the cup was empty, Macie asked, “Better?”
“Yes,” Elanor answered with a grating sound that did not resemble her voice in the slightest.
“Good. Best to use head shakes when you can until that gets a little better, unless. . .” She paused ominously. “That isn’t your normal voice, is it?”
Elanor smiled and shook her head.
“Now, when you think you're up to it, I’m going to ask you to tell me your name. But before you do,” she added quickly, “if it’s unusual or difficult to spell, let me know and you can write it down.”
Elanor lifted her hand and mimed writing. Her entire life people had spelled her name wrong. Eleanor was the “correct” spelling, but Elanor’s mother had been a Tolkien fan and could not resist using the spelling for the flower found in the Shire and the daughter of Samwise.
Macie handed her a pen and held a pad of paper steady so she could write. For a moment she thought it was strange they didn’t already know her name but decided it must be some sort of neurological test. Not wanting to fail, she made sure to write “Elanor Haye” as neatly as possible.
“Elanor,” Macie said with another smile, “That's a lovely name. It’s very nice to meet you, Elanor. Like I said before, I’m Macie, and I’ll be your nurse.”
To show that she understood, Elanor nodded and smiled yet again but couldn't help looking down longingly at the empty cup in her hands.
“I expect that Miss Thorn will be here in a few minutes,” Macie said.
Elanor looked up questioningly.
“She’s in charge of the entire facility,” Macie answered the unasked question. It was clear that Macie was in awe of this Miss Thorn and her accomplishments. Even while distracted by her thirst, she had noticed the way Macie had said this woman’s name with her eyes slightly glazed over.
“She’ll spend some time with you and let you know what’s going on and what you can expect in the coming days,” she said, her voice cracked with her barely contained excitement. Elanor could tell that Macie expected this to be one of the best days of Elanor’s life.
Still smiling, Macie rose from the chair and walked around to the left side of the bed. Elanor felt relieved that the glaze of awe was gone. Remembering that Elanor’s cup was empty, Macie reached out for it. Elanor gave it up sadly and watched Macie place it on the rolling table next to the sweating pitcher.
“Now, let’s get you sitting comfortably,” Macie said as she took the controls of the bed, lowering it slightly. Then she rearranged the pillows in a way that made Elanor so comfortable that she quickly drifted to sleep again.
When Elanor woke it was to the sound of the door opening. She turned her head toward the door to find a small woman there. She couldn’t have been more than five feet tall even with her gray hair sitting atop her head in a tight bun. She stood very still, the gaze on her sharp face directed at Macie.
Once Macie noticed, she fidgeted.
“Ah,” Macie stammered, “Miss Thorn.”
“Macie,” the woman said as if she were already bored. Elanor quickly recognized the voice as the same one that tried to comfort her in the darkness of her room the night she first woke up.
“Miss Thorn, this is Elanor, Elanor Haye.” The nervousness and excitement practically vibrated off the nurse in waves.
Turning her attention from Macie to Elanor, she said, “It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Haye.”
Returning her gaze to Macie, she continued, “Macie, would you be so kind as to see to Miss Haye’s breakfast while she and I have a little chat?”
“Of course, Miss Thorn,” she answered with a voice that was so squeaky with excitement that Elanor had to stifle a laugh.
“I will ring for you when we are ready.,” Miss Thorn dismissed her with a disinterested wave, as one would a servant with her soot covered feather duster.
“Yes, ma’am,” Macie said and hurried toward the door. As she was about to pass Miss Thorn, she made some sort of bowing curtsey that should have landed her on her rather large rear end. Luckily, she managed to stay on her feet, and Miss Thorn who seemed to have forgotten Macie existed the moment she had stopped talking to her, didn’t notice. With her face flushed, Macie left the room.
Miss Thorn walked to the chair slowly and with a grace Elanor felt was rarely seen anymore. She lowered herself into the chair and straightened her skirt. When she finished, she looked up, locking her cold eyes on Elanor’s, and said, “I am Amanda Thorn. I am the administrator of this facility, and it is my job to have this conversation whenever the need arises,” she said as if reading from a script, adding, sotto voce, “Which is far more often than I would like.”
Elanor’s pulse inexplicably sped up.
“I have found that people who deal best in this situation are those who hear me out, in full, and with an open mind. If you can do that you will find it easier to adjust to your new life.”
“I don’t want a new life. I just want to see my father and get back to school,” Elanor said angrily despite the painful rasp in her throat. When she had first heard Miss Thorn’s voice when she came in, Elanor had thought she was in the company of a compassionate person. She had been comforted by her when she had woken in the night terrified. But her cold treatment of Macie coupled with the way she was talking to Elanor now convinced her that her initial impression had been wrong. She couldn’t begin to understand why Macie was so enamored with her.
Miss Thorn rose from her chair with a sigh. She walked slowly around the bed to the table. She returned to the chair after a moment with a cup of ice and a spoon. She offered them to Elanor who took them gratefully, despite her dislike for the woman. After Elanor’s throat was cooled slightly, Miss Thorn continued.
With a hazy look in her eyes, she said as if to no one, “A new life isn’t what any of us were after when we arrived here.”
After a long moment, she seemed to come to herself and continued. “But despite what any of us want, your life changed forever eleven days ago. Now all that is left is to determine what to do about it.”
Elanor nodded even though the woman was still not making much sense, her attention was now almost exclusively focused on her cup of ice chips.
“Imagine something for me, Elanor. Imagine an author writing a story. Now, when a person writes a story, sometimes there is a character that comes alive when someone reads it. Have you ever read a story like that?”
Elanor found the change of subject disconcerting, but her curiosity was peaked, against her will. She remembered her favorite book in elementary school, On the Stone Bridge. The main character had been her best friend aside from Sara for several years. Sara had once accused Elanor of preferring her imaginary book friend to her. So yes, she had definitely read a book like that. She nodded slowly.
“Characters in books that are the most beloved by readers are characters the author has realized most thoroughly. Characters that seem to come alive are often based on people the author knows best, themselves or possibly, a loved one. They then, of course, alter them making them braver, nobler, more beautiful and, in the end, they have an ideal version of the actual person. The perfection combined with the authenticity of the character is what makes them unique. So, in our scenario, imagine an author pouring so much into a character, so much that is real, but something happens. What if the author was unable to complete their narrative? What would happen to the character, who is now so full of life, with nowhere to go, if the story stopped?”
Elanor was still curious to find out where this was leading, but she was getting tired again, so she hoped it would get there soon when she answered with a croaked, “Nothing.”
“Yes, that is the popular answer and it is more often true than not.” She paused and seemed to be gathering the strength to continue. Elanor wavered between thinking Miss Thorn was emotionally drained by having to explain things or she was just plain bored.
“Sometimes, however, those characters are so real in the author’s mind that when the author dies with the work unfinished, that character….that person, becomes real. That is where we come in. We are here to help those people adjust to their new lives.”
Elanor didn’t think keeping an open mind was going to be difficult when Miss Thorn first requested it of her. Elanor had always done her best not to rush to judgment but this was just silly. She was in a hospital and no one had told her why. Instead, this woman was telling her fairy tales. She couldn’t begin to imagine what any of this had to do with her anyway. If she had been asleep for eleven days she was going to have a lot of school work to catch up on and she was certainly not going to have the time to write a story. And she had no intention of dying for a very long time.
It was then that the fog in her brain lifted just enough for her to understand what Miss Thorn was trying to say and she could not contain her laughter even though she knew it would hurt. Miss Thorn did not react to Elanor’s laughter in any way. She sat in the chair with her hands folded in her lap and waited with a placid expression on her face, almost as if Elanor’s laughter were music and she was meditating to it.
It took some time for Elanor’s snickering to subside, although she was quite sure she could have gone on indefinitely if it hadn’t been so painful. After she caught her breath, she opened her mouth to apologize and found she was again so hoarse that she could not make a sound.
Miss Thorn stood again. She returned to the chair quickly and handed Elanor a fresh cup of ice chips. Elanor took it eagerly and savored the first spoonful as Miss Thorn went on.
“Do not worry yourself about your reaction. It is only to be expected and it is far from the worst I have seen,” she said with a tight smile. “I know that it is hard to believe, but you were, up until eleven days ago, the figment of some author’s imagination.” Miss Thorn’s expression was still unreadable to Elanor.
Studying her face, the only thing Elanor could decipher was that Miss Thorn believed everything she was saying. Elanor figured she must be a patient from the mental ward of the hospital and wondered why Macie had let her in. Unless, of course, they were both mental patients. Or maybe she was still unconscious, she just didn’t know it. The one thing she did know was that she was not now, nor had she ever been, a character in a book. Not even the best book that was ever written. She could remember her first riding lesson, her first crush, watching her mother’s slow and agonizing illness. Her brain was bursting with memories that spanned her entire life. She had been there and it had been real. Those memories were her.
“I know what you are thinking,” Miss Thorn said without showing any feeling. She looked off towards the wall and her eyes glazed over again as she spoke, “There is not a single feeling that you will have over the next few months as you come to terms with your new life that I have not endured.” Elanor stared at her thinking Miss Thorn was, on top of being absolutely crazy and wrong, terribly arrogant to say such a thing. Not only did Elanor doubt this woman could understand anything she was feeling, she was beginning to think she didn’t have feelings at all. Her face conveyed no emotion as if all she had ever used it for was opening cans with its sharp edges.
“I have had this conversation many, many times. But the first time,” she paused taking a theatrically deep breath, “the first time, I was not in the chair, I was in the bed.”
She rose and glided towards the door. With her hand on the doorknob, Miss Thorn turned back and said “Macie will be in shortly with your breakfast. Be sure to eat it slowly. I will return this evening to answer any questions you might have. Until then, get as much rest as you can.” She smiled and in Elanor’s mind she could see a sharp-faced Thorn practicing this smile in front of a mirror.
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