Trent's POV

She's pretty, Bryce starts when we get back to my room. Plus she's nice, and she seems different than most of the people we've already met. What's her name again?

"Annaleigh. I know what you're implying, Bryce, and it's not happening. I am not straight or bisexual, and I will never be straight or bisexual. In fact, as far as I'm concerned, there will never be another chance for it to matter. You're all there is for me, and since you're gone . . . well, I guess the rest of my life will be lived alone."

I told you, Trent—I'm not gone, just in a different form.

"This isn't a sci-fi movie," I mutter.

It's the only explanation. You're not crazy, but that doesn't change the fact that I'm here. As cliché as it is, this isn't you, it's me. I put myself here and you know it. Why haven't you cried since I passed away?

Pain shoots through my chest when he mentions his death."I don't know."

Yes, you do, or at least some small part of your mind does. You aren't grieving because you know I haven't left. Your brain acknowledges my presence.

"I love you, but that is one of the dumbest things I have ever heard," I snap. "Me crying or not crying doesn't have any relation to whether or not I grieve. Have you forgotten how catatonic I was in the hospital, how I wouldn't even act like anyone was in my room? My dad, in a rare moment of giving a damn, sent me here because of my negative reaction to your passing! I refused to talk to anyone here until you threatened to leave for good. Even now, after meeting a potential friend—or in your mind, potential girlfriend—I still have plans to die alone. Is that not enough mourning for you? Am I still not affected enough?"

You're unhappy, he realizes sadly. What have I done? First I'm stupid enough to wander into a gang fight looking for you, then after I try to make you feel better by sticking around, it only makes things worse. I should go. I never should have come back.

"No!" I shout. I don't care how crazy I might sound to anybody listening in. Let them think what they want. "Stay. Please. IF you want me to be happy, don't go. I just feel so guilty about everything that happened to you, like how your family will never get to see you again. It just seems unfair to them that I get to keep you and be happy while they are left to mourn over your loss. Their sadness is my fault."

Honey, every aspect of life is unfair. Maybe . . . maybe it's neither of our faults. Perhaps this is just the way the universe wanted it to be.

"It's a possibility," I say listlessly. My mind is too busy worrying that he might leave to truly participate in the conversation at hand. What if he did leave? I suppose life would drag on, but would I ever get over him? Would I find someone else, as he intended me to?

Don't worry, I promise I won't go, Bryce soothes, as if he can read my mind. But you have to promise me two things in return. One, to do your best to get over these problems you're facing. The second is to try—just TRY—to find someone new. I'm not requiring you to date somebody, but I do ask that if someone comes along, you won't turn them down because of me.

"Okay." I would promise the world to make him stay. I can't afford to lose him, not now.

Good. All I want is for you to be happy. If sticking around makes you happy, then that's what I'll do.

I smile. Bryce is here, and that's all I really need, no matter what form he takes. I feel invincible, like I could take on an army or stop a world war—not to mention sail through Octavion Meadows. Everything is suddenly easier.

"Bryce?"

Yes?

"I love you."

He laughs. I know. I love you too. And I'm not going anywhere.

Renee's POV

"Are you ready to go?" Dr. Saint-Pace asks. She steps into my room and shuts the door behind her.

"Whenever you are," I mumble. I don't raise my head from my pillow, nor do I snap at her for being fifteen minutes late. My bipolar medicine is wearing off again, shrouding me in a dark shade of depression, and it's all I can do to keep my head above water.

I feel my bed shift as the doctor sits down next to me. "Are you alright?"

"Peachy," I reply, lifting my head and sitting up next to her. "I'm just running on very little sleep."

"Are you sure?"

I sigh. "Yes."

"Do you want to do this another time when you've had more sleep?"

"No!" I shoot up from the bed, quickly put my shoes on, and grab the box of things for Liotta's room. There is no way I'm passing up a chance to get out of this hellhole. Even though I have the liberty of leaving my room for visits, meal time, and the very brief recreational period I get at Level B, the lack of freedom compared to the life I lived outside of Octavion Meadows is killing me. At home, if I was going out and said "be back by dark," that would be all the reassurance my parents needed and I could do whatever I wanted. No questions asked. Now I'm only allowed small amounts of free time and am always supervised. I feel like an inmate on death row waiting for their execution.

I laugh to myself. But it seems the prisoners are the only ones doing the executions.

Block E, Liotta's block, contains the most rambunctious teenagers I've ever seen. It appears to be quiet once we first step into the building, but after the patients notice our presence, a few doors open and heads begin to peek into the hallway.

"Look who it is," a boy shouts. "The doctor must be giving a house call!"

"Doctor, I'm not feeling so well," a girl taunts. "Mind coming over here and giving me a little checkup?"

The exposed heads explode into a chorus of raucous laughter, which causes more teenagers to peer into the hallway. Unlike the "welcoming committee," these people look to have no intention of getting involved and are merely curious. I feel truly sorry for the others that live in this building and are forced to go through this. Enduring their obnoxious jokes would be a nightmare—I'd be debating between filing a law suit and demanding a transfer after one day.

"Where are your orderlies?" Dr. Saint-Pace questions in a demanding tone.

Someone towards the end of the hall scoffs. "You mean the wardens? One just left five minutes ago, claiming to be on a 'bathroom break,' but he's probably just going to take a hit somewhere. Dude was stoned as hell. I don't think he realized his buddy bailed a while ago. Can't say I blame him—if I was that high, I wouldn't give a shit about anybody else either."

"You have been that high!" another chimes in.

"Hey, isn't that Senator Arlin's daughter?" a girl who occupies the room next to where I'm standing calls.

"It is," responds a voice from down the hall. I look to where the voice is coming from and see Shania, the one that tried to make a move on the gay guy from group. "The poor little princess decided to rebel against nothing and wound up getting kicked out of the castle. Where's Daddy's precious bank account now? How's the lack of special treatment working out for you?"

I want nothing more than to march over and hit her, but years of my mother teaching me never to let my emotions cloud my judgment (and watching that firsthand with my dad) helps me to keep a clear head. It takes a lot of restraint, though. These people, who probably only hate me out of jealousy, infuriate me. They don't know anything about how I am or what my life's like besides what they read in the tabloids, yet they need to be judgmental and mean the first time they meet me. Envy will get them nowhere in life, and life's already put them so far behind.

Still, I can't leave her comment hanging like that. "Oh, shut up. Just because you can't get a guy to bang you doesn't mean you need to be so bitter. I think I saw him making out with another girl just after group—he must only be gay for you."

All the patients' faces turn into that of shock. The louder ones start to break out into "ooh" 's and "burn" 's, and Shania's face turns a bright red.

"That's enough," the doctor commands. She drags me towards the stairwell.

"Isn't there any control here?" I ask once we're on the stairs and out of earshot.

"Not as much as there should be," the doctor admits. "They weren't intentionally put in the same building. In fact, I don't think any of them knew each other outside of here. They just had similar backgrounds and interest and formed a gang of sorts. We tried splitting them up, but they began corrupting patients in other blocks and making branch-off gangs. Our only option was to put them back in the same block, isolate them from the other patients as best we could, and work with them each individually. The problem is that most orderlies refuse to deal with them. Those that will aren't exactly our best."

"For a place as big as this, one would think you would be better staffed," I mutter.

She laughs. "The patients here go through orderlies faster than we can hire them."

"I'm sure most of them are criminals," I argue. "Just ship them off to the nearest juvie."

"It's not that easy, Renee. What would that help? The only chance it would increase is their probability of becoming a criminal. Our whole motive is to give kids a better life, and I don't think we could even take our name seriously anymore. This is their second chance."

"Well, it seems like a lot of them don't want it."

She sighs, stopping at a room halfway down the hallway of the second floor. "This is Liotta's room. You both are to stay in there and not exit unless I or another orderly permits you to do so. I have to page for two substitutes to temporarily watch over the patients, and until then I will be supervising the whole block. If I hear that either of you left this room, there will be punishments. Understand?"

"Yeah." Where would we go, anyways?

When Liotta sees me, her eyes brighten and she runs over to give me a hug. It catches me off guard, considering we're almost strangers. She appears to notice this the second after I do and steps away awkwardly, but first impressions have already been made—Liotta is the strangest person I've ever met.

"I'm so sorry!" Liotta exclaims. "I should not have done that. Charlie warned me against that, but you can see how well of a listener I am. I sincerely hope I haven't made you uncomfortable."

"No, it's okay," I tell her, setting the box down on her bed—which, just like the rest of her room, is white and bare.

"So, where do you want to start?" I glance around and notice the doctor has left. This scares me, because from what little I know about Liotta, she's different. She talks strangely. Plus, whatever is wrong with her is bad enough that she's been here for a while and hasn't been able to get above Level I. That gives me enough reasons to be a little uneasy about being alone with her, right?

"Can we decorate the walls first?" she asks shyly.

"Yeah, that's probably a good place," I agree, opening the box of things my parents sent me, that I finally got once I was promoted to Level B. I pull out a bunch of posters of bands and various celebrities that used to hang on my walls when I was home and also a roll of tape. I've grown out of most of them, so I don't care about giving them away. Searching deeper, I find page after page of bright stickers my mom probably packed. Back when my room at home had white walls, Mom liked sticking these around my room with me to make it livelier.

I glance up to find Liotta staring at the magazine posters completely confused. "Who are these people?"

"Well," I explain, picking up the stack, "this is Panic! At the Disco, Hilary Duff, Destiny's Child, Johnny Depp, My Chemical Romance, Leonardo DiCaprio . . . " She doesn't look any less lost when she hears the names. "Don't you know who any of these people are?"

"No," she replies abashedly. "Growing up, I never got much exposure to popular culture and the like. I suppose now, even though I'm interested in learning, I don't know where to start."

"What about friends?"

"Friends?"

"Yeah, friends. Don't any of your friends listen to music or watch movies?"

She laughs humorlessly. "Friends are a foreign concept to me. When I did endeavor for a friend, I was always shunned. They took one look at me, heard one word I said, and labeled me as an outcast. People are such fickle, shallow creatures." She looked at me, startled. "My apologies. Most people."

"Hey, no hard feelings." I hand her the book of stickers. "You stick these everywhere, and I'll hang the posters."

She goes to the opposite side of the room while I grab some tape. "Your story seems interesting. Care to share?"

"I can tell you're intrigued about my past. I have to warn you, my life has been rather odd. I'm a little worried you'll run away screaming."

"I won't judge. Besides, I can't run anyways, remember?"

"Right." She takes a deep breath.

"I was born in a typical cliché broken home—a mother who loved taking her anger out on me almost as much as she loved alcohol and a father who couldn't see straight through all his substance abuse, let alone care about what my mom was doing to me. Add on three older siblings who had the same terrible home life as I, and you can assume I never got any attention. Then, when I was about five, I stumbled upon the public library and instantly fell in love. The librarian taught me to read, and from then on I was hooked. By the time I was supposed to start kindergarten, I was already reading fourth grade material, so the school decided to let me advance to third grade. The other children thought I was strange because of this and the large vocabulary I had already developed. Negligence over the years made books my only friend, and my lack of social skills caused me to develop my own proper way of talking. I must have read every book in that library twice by age ten. Then again, it was a small library, so I guess that's not anything to sneeze at."

"That explains why you talk weird," I reply, "but if you're so intelligent, how did you get here? I know you have schizophrenia, but if you were diagnosed after you got here, what caused you to get sent to Octavion Meadows?"

"A year and a half ago, my parents had another child," Liotta explains. "I know what you're thinking—how could two monsters like that bring another child into the world without killing it? You see, my parents had slowly morphed over the years. They had stopped doing drugs, got good jobs, and moved into a better house, all too ready to start a new life and 'correct their mistakes'. Though they started treating me like their daughter, they failed to see the psychological imbalance I have—particularly a voice in my head named Charlie who's been my ever-present friend for as long as I can remember. When the baby arrived, Charlie persuaded me to try to kill the child because of the pain and sorrow he foretold it would bring me. My logic was that Charlie had never steered me wrong before, so why stop listening to him now? You can guess what happened next. I tried to do away with it, but the wretched thing began screaming and gave me away. Naturally, my parents discovered what I was doing, became afraid and disgusted of me, and shipped me here, where I've been humbly living for about a year now."

"Wait a second. You've been here for a year? Excuse me if this is rude, but how have you not graduated out of here yet?" I would go batshit crazy if I had to stay here for a year, and to think she lives in the same block as those hellions downstairs . . . I don't know how she does it without going insane. Then again, she already is, right?

"Let's just say I do really good for a while, then run into a few setbacks and have to start all over."

The look on her face tells me I don't want to know exactly what those "setbacks" are.

"However, I do have to give my parents one thing. If they hadn't sent me here on reason of insanity, I would probably be rotting away in a juvenile hall somewhere right now."

That reminds me of Dr. Saint-Pace's words to me earlier. "This is their second chance." I suddenly feel a twinge of guilt for saying that after hearing Liotta's story.

"How did your parents take everything?" I ask.

"My parents and coping don't exactly go hand-in-hand. In other words, they have no clue about how they should deal with my insanity and almost killing my baby brother. For the past year, they've been in a state of shock and disbelief, and halfway decided the best coping mechanism would just be to shove the issue under the rug. I still see the amazement of what I did reflected in their eyes each and every time they visit."

"Do they visit often?"

"It's a stretch to say they even visit, so to suggest they visit often is simply ludicrous. The only times they remember they have a schizophrenic teenage daughter are holidays and my birthday, which I'm surprised they bothered to remember."

"I take it you don't have a close bond with your parents."

Liotta laughs dryly. "To say we have a bond at all is overstating things."

"That's . . . wow. I can't even process that, to be perfectly honest. I grew up in a two-parent home as an only child, and I guess I was a little spoiled until just recently."

"What happened?"

I mentally slap myself for bringing up this topic. Of course Liotta would have no idea about what my dad had done—she's been in here for at least a year.

"I found out my dad's been cheating on my mother with a coworker of his. I threatened to tell Mom, so he slapped me hard enough to break the skin and warned me there would be worse results if I told. Later I found out two girls from school that I liked to harass had been admitted to the hospital for attempted suicide, and I guess I couldn't take it all happening in one night. I took sleeping pills to help me fall asleep and acted on my impulses. After having a taste, it became impossible for me to stop at just one."

Liotta's mouth forms a small "o". "You overdosed on sleep medication?"

"Tried to. Obviously I didn't succeed," I smirk. "It sounds so weak saying it out loud, like I'm too much of a spoiled rich bitch to have things not go my way. But my dad had always been so nice, and my parents always maintained this perfect relationship. To see their love go up in flames was surreal. Liotta, you had to have seen my father's face to understand how much this affected me. It's like he forgot I was his daughter and became a monster only out for my blood, then to know I had most likely caused two girls enough pain to want to die . . . "

I backtrack quickly when I see the look of horror and pity in Liotta's eyes. "I've said too much. You—"

"Do you regret it?" Liotta blurts out.

I stop in shock. "What?"

"Bullying those girls, taking the medication, everything you did that day—do you regret it?"

"Let's put it this way. If I told you 'no,' I'd be lying, but saying 'yes' wouldn't exactly be telling the truth either. What about you? Do you regret almost killing your little brother?"

"No."

"What do you mean, 'no'?"

"Exactly what the word implies. I believe Charlie when he said that child would bring me nothing but pain and sorrow. It's his fault my parents only show up once in a blue moon because of their eagerness to start a new life with just him and leave me in the dust. I want nothing to do with him."

She half-smiles at me. "I guess we're all a little mad here."

After that, we revert back to working in silence. Sometimes one of us will make a funny comment and we'll both start laughing, or I'll tell her all about a celebrity or band that's on the poster I'm hanging. Surprisingly (and despite the dark conversation we had towards the beginning), I have a wonderful time. It feels more real than any of the conversations I've ever had with Tiffany or Ella, maybe because there are no facades I have to hide behind. I just have an easier time relaxing with someone who I know is incapable of judging me.

That doesn't stop what I confided in her from haunting me, however. While jokes are being exchanged, I think deeply about the day that landed me here. Do I regret any of it? Will Mom and Dad split because of me? What about Annaleigh and Oakley? How big of a role did I actually play in them attempting to take their lives?

What's done is done, I remind myself. You can't change the past, you've just got to embrace the consequences. Since that's impossible when you're isolated from the rest of the world, just forget about it.

All too soon, Dr. Saint-Pace comes into Liotta's room and forces us to say our goodbyes. I want to bargain and argue so I don't have to go back to my boring room (and honestly because I was actually having fun), but when I open my mouth she gives me a look that says the topic is not negotiable.

I turn to Liotta. "Well, I guess this is goodbye."

"Yes," she agrees sadly. "Will you come visit me again soon?"

"Sure."

Satisfied with our goodbyes, Dr. Saint-Pace strikes out of the room. I begin to slowly follow her when Liotta holds me back.

"You know, loneliness isn't that bad," she whispers. "I think you'll soon find the solitude more preferable than being constantly in a crowd of people."

"Not likely," I murmur back. "I like being around people too much. Heck, I'd take a load of screaming kids over long periods of alone time."

"I wouldn't be so sure of that," she mutters under her breath.

I face her. "Look, I know you and your brother had a rocky start, but trust me when I say you do not want to leave bridges broken. It only leads to regret and hurt feelings, from both sides."

Dr. Saint-Pace marches back into the room. "Renee, I said we are leaving, and I meant it."

"I understand your concern, but my brother and I will never have a relationship," Liotta hisses quietly. "The only thing I regret from that day is not succeeding."

Despite the strange bond we quickly formed, Liotta's chilling words haunt me for the rest of the day.

A/N: After a few months, I have once again returned! Life needs to stop being so clingy. It's really getting in the way. :P In all seriousness, though, I have been really occupied these past few months. A lot of stuff has been going down that I've had to deal with. But the important thing is I'm back now, and I even turned another year older in my absence! Props once again to my Beta, Dorkfish97. If you like this story, you should seriously check out hers, The Reasons Why. It deals with some of the same stuff this one does.

I'm going to try out a new system for updating my stories. I'll update Bound every other Tuesday and After the Storm every other Friday, but the updates won't be on the same week, if that makes any sense. Hopefully sticking to a schedule will work out better for me.

A MERCEDESPHOENIX PSA: If you didn't know, yesterday was International Suicide Awareness Day, which I fully support. When you take your life, you don't just affect yourself, you affect everyone around you. Learn to look for the warning signs of suicide, and if you or someone you know might be contemplating this, tell an adult—even if the person begs you not to tell anyone and insists they're fine. If someone opens up to you about their suicidal thoughts, don't brush it off, and please, for the love of God, don't say they're just fishing for attention. They will do it, and unlike the characters of this book, not everyone is lucky enough to get a second chance.

And on that note, it's adieu till the 25th! Review and tell your friends! I will reply to each and every one, and anonymous reviews are always welcome. :)