I was met with a general round of pointed stares, blank looks, and sneers. Only Lane spoke up at first.
"I'm feeling fine, Naomi," she chirped, smiling in what would have been a sunny way if she had been without the scar tissue covering most of her features.

Lane, though one of my happiest-seeming, most cooperative and cheerful patients, is also one of my most troubled. She has a twin sister, Leanne, who she feels outshines her in everything. To her, Leanne was perfect, and everyone else agreed as well. Next to Leanne, Lane's imperfections and insecurities were painfully obvious to her, and she felt, to everyone else. Though they were identical, Lane couldn't stop imagining that Leanne was prettier, smarter, and more competent. Every time she looked in the mirror she saw her sister's face staring back at her. One day Lane smashed the mirror with her fist, cutting her own face in a desperate attempt to look different from her twin.

Strangely enough though, ever since then she has maintained an absurdly cheery attitude, as though looking different from Leanne, even if she was disfigured, was all she needed to be happy. At least she appeared happy outwardly... inside I doubted her rage and depression had left, as she seemed to want us to think.

Xander rolled his eyes. "Surprise, surprise, Pollyanna."

"I'm glad, Lane," I replied. Turning to Reverie, her roommate, I asked softly but firmly, "And how are you, Reva? Are you all right today, has anything happened you'd like to talk about?"

Reverie shifted in her seat, her brown, deliberately blank eyes darting away from me. She swallowed, looked down at her lap, then at Lane, as if asking her to answer for her. She clasped her hands together. Small and thin for her age, she looked like an anxious little girl.

"She's okay," Lane answered for her. "She's been drawing some more, haven't you, Reverie?"

Reverie didn't respond, just clasped and unclasped her hands in her lap, obviously aware of everyone's eyes on her. One thing Reverie likes to do, the one thing that seems to relax her, give her release, is drawing- when she is most open, she will often draw herself up into a ball in a place removed from others and sketch in a little notebook she never lets anyone see. I have often wondered what images were hidden inside it.

"I asked Reva, Lane," I said gently. Looking at her steadily, I said, "Are you feeling all right today, Reva?"76

A long, drawn-out pause ensued, with Reverie holding herself still, only swallowing occasionally. I waited, praying one of the other kids wouldn't make a sudden movement or comment, break the spell- and for once, they didn't. They seemed to be waiting for her to speak as well. Finally she nodded, a short jerk of the head. I smiled, only a little disappointed. That would have to be good enough for today.

"Good," I replied. "How's everyone else? Julianna? Are you nightmares getting any better with medication?"

"NO," Anya cut in loudly. "She kept us up all night crying her damn head off."

She rolled her eyes. Lane, the group mother hen, glared at her, along with Zara and Ariadne.

"She can't help it, Anya," Ariadne said sharply. "If you can't deal with it, you can sleep in a bathtub or something. We won't miss you."

"Yeah, don't harass people about their personal shit," Zara snarled. "We don't rub it in your face that your parents fucking hate you, do we? We-"

"Only because I gladly tell you so myself," Anya said carelessly. "And because you know I don't give a shit."

Turning to Ariadne, she said, "And about sleeping in a bathtub, I'd be glad to if I wouldn't get my precious "privileges" taken away."

She put heavy, sarcastic emphasis on that word for my benefit. "Or I could just get a different roommate- we have two empty rooms and six people who have to share in groups of three. That's a little ridiculous. Why can't we room by ourselves? Trust me, I'd hardly off myself if I had my own room- I'm not like Slice-and-dice here."

She jerked her head at Vanessa, who lowered her head further, holding her scarred, sleeved arms tighter against herself. "But if you're so worried about that I could room with one of the guys. So which of you wants me?" she said, looking from Miguel to Xander to Slater, who all shared a room as there were only five boys on my ward. Slater's eyes lit up in interest, but Anya's narrowed quickly.

"Discounting Merve the Perve here. That much excitement might give him a heart attack- and he'd lose some fingers if he caught sight of me undressing, because he wouldn't be able to keep his hands off me," Anya said dryly.

"You know we don't allow co-ed rooming, Anya," I told her.

"Why?" she snorted. "You afraid we'll screw and I'll get knocked up? Naomi, if I wanted to screw one of these psychos nothing you did would stop me."

"Miguel?" I said loudly, trying to bring our minds back on subject. "Anything you want to talk about?"

Miguel looked up, shooting a quick glance at Anya- I guess to gauge how interested she was in his reply, and therefore how bitingly she might reply.

"Uh- I'm okay," he said. After a hesitation, "I dreamed about Alejandra again last night."

I nodded sympathetically, keeping my face open, encouraging. Miguel had come to us after surviving a school shooting, in which his girlfriend, Alejandra, and two other students had been killed. Miguel was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, having flashbacks vividly of the day it had occurred. He was often restless, twitchy, and had trouble sleeping soundly and without nightmares.

"Would you like to tell us about it, Miguel?"

Miguel kept his head down, moving in his seat uncomfortably. His elbows resting on his legs, hands gripping his knees, he paused, then shook his head slightly. I was going to go on, let him be, when he spoke suddenly.

"It was like my flashbacks," he mumbled slowly. "The ones where I'm really awake, but it's like I'm back there, back where it happened..." he swallowed, eyes glued to the rug, as if afraid what would happen if he looked at anyone. "We were- we were in the cafeteria, and I was sitting with Alejandra and our friends... she was laughing, because I had ketchup on my face. She licked her finger and wiped it off, and she was smiling..."

His voice trailed off, became tight, barely audible. "Then Bryce was out in the middle of the tables, he had a gun... everything was in slow motion, like it was under a strobe light or something. He was yelling, his face was all twisted and evil. I saw two teachers coming toward him, and he shot them, they had holes in their chests, and they fell..."

Miguel was speaking faster and faster now, his words beginning to run together, eyes feverish, intense. I knew he was no longer just relating a dream but seeing it happen, caught up inside it as if it were happening. He probably didn't see or hear any of us- nothing but the events of the past.

"Mr. Dover told us to get down, under the tables, he was trying to talk to Bryce, but there were bullets everywhere... it was so loud, the gunfire, and the people, screaming, crying... I tried to get Alejandra, pull her under the table with me, but she was falling, she was bleeding... her mouth was open, and she was bleeding..."

Miguel's voice was louder and louder, and he was shaking, his eyes seeming to burn holes into the rug.

"I-I started to hold her, under the table, I told her not to die, I told her she'd be okay- but she wasn't. She wasn't okay, he killed her, he fucking killed her," Miguel said, his voice cracking.

He went silent, but his trembling continued, and I noticed he was blinking rapidly, fists clinched, as if fighting back tears. The others were watching them, some wary, some concerned, a few, particularly Julianna and Joel, apprehensive. Anya alone seemed unaffected, even bored, by Miguel- she even breathed out heavily through her nose, as if impatient.

"Miguel," I said softly, leaning toward him and trying to catch his eyes. "Miguel, look at me."

I waited, and when he still kept his eyes fixed to the floor, breathing shallowly, I raised my voice, more urgently. "Miguel!"

Slowly, painfully, he looked up, as if trying to pry a stubbornly stuck piece of gum from a swatch of carpet- not into my eyes, but somewhere between my chin and lap. It would have to do.

"Miguel, that is not happening anymore. You're safe, you're in here with us, and everything's okay. Nothing can hurt Alejandra anymore," I said. "Can you talk to me, Miguel? Let me see you understand?"

Miguel nodded dully. A bit of the torment in his eyes began to fade- but whether he was simply shoving it back into hiding or truly felt reassured, I was unsure of.

"It can't be easy to keep seeing that," I continued quietly. "It's painful and scary when you do, but it's not real, Miguel, not anymore. It happened once and it isn't going to happen again. You have to tell yourself that, that it's over, it's not happening, and it won't happen again, until you stop seeing it. It will always hurt, but if you tell yourself this, eventually it won't hurt so much."

"That's bullshit," Xander broke in. I looked at him, a little surprised. His face was knitted into a scowl, and he looked at me as if I'd told him there really was a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow.

"Just because something isn't happening right now doesn't mean it wasn't real. It's real to him, isn't it? That girl's really dead, isn't she?"

"I didn't say none of these things happened, Xander," I said evenly. "I said that Miguel needs to tell himself it happened months ago, it isn't happening all over again in the moment he sees it."

Xander ignored that. "And what are you telling him it won't happen again for?" he demanded. "You don't know that, you ain't God. And even if it doesn't something just as shitty will. We never get breaks in life."

"Is that how you see it, Xander?" I asked. "What about the rest of you, do you agree with that?"

No one said anything, but whether because they didn't want to say or they just didn't want to give me the satisfaction of hearing them say wasn't clear. But after a few moments Zara finally responded.

"Well, yeah, I mean, I hate to say Xander's right," she said, giving him a pointed look, "but that's the way it is."

"Thanks for the crumbs from your table, O Queen," Xander said dryly.

Zara ignored him. "Life sucks, all of it. You're happy, you think you always will be, and some shit comes up to crash you down. Then once you finally get past it a little, start to think, okay, now I can be happy, here comes some more shit, and pretty soon you're buried in it."

"Is that why you began to use drugs, Zara? To try to bring back the happiness when, as you put it, the shit starts burying you?" I asked quietly.

Anya, Xander, and Slater looked at me in surprise, then smiled, as if not expecting me to repeat Zara's swear word. Sometimes I find if you do something like that, some little thing to show that you're not a completely formal authority figure, it can loosen up some kids, make them more likely to confide in you.

I noticed Slater was staring unwaveringly at my chest and quickly looked down to make sure nothing was showing- no, no cleavage or see-through state, it was just Slater. I tried to ignore him.

Zara shot me a suspicious, squinty-eyed look, didn't say anything, then sighed suddenly, her face softening. "Yeah. Yeah, I guess. I mean, it worked..."

"But not forever, right?" I persisted. "Only until the high wore off."

Zara hesitated, then nodded slowly, reluctantly.

"That's because you using drugs as a way to be happy is like using a spoon to fling the shit off of you. You need a shovel, Zara- and here we'll show you where to get one."

I addressed the rest of them. "How about the rest of you- do you agree with Xander and Zara?"

A general murmur of agreement went throughout the room. Only Lane disagreed.

"I don't," she protested. "I used to think that, but I don't anymore. I mean, I'm happy now."

"Why?" Anya sneered, eyes glittering. "What do you have to be happy about? You're stuck here in a psycho ward, you have scars all over your face like a Frankenstein knockoff. What the hell makes you so happy about that?"

A light of understanding lit up slowly in her eyes as soon as she spoke. Her eyes shone with realization, and her mouth curved into a cunning, malicious smile.

"Ohhh. Never mind. I see. That's why you're so happy, isn't it? You like being here, you like all those scars- you made them after all, didn't you? You don't care where you are as long as you're away from your twin... you don't care what you look like as long as you don't look like you twin," Anya said in a very soft voice, but I heard the vicious self-satisfaction in it.

Lane looked away from Anya, cringing slightly at her stare. She blinked several times, trying to decide between tears and anger.
"Yes," she said finally, lifting her chin defiantly. "YES, okay? Are you happy? Are you satisfied now, Anya?"

Interestingly, her cheer had dissipated at Anya's stunningly accurate perception- now she looked and sounded like the other patients.

"Yeah," Anya muttered, smiling lazily and stretching back in her chair. Slater's eyes were instantly glued to her thrust-out chest and crotch, and noticing this, her smiled widened. "Psycho."

"Anya," I hissed. "Remember those privileges we were discussing. Don't make me speak to you again."

"Okay, okay, chill out," she rolled her eyes and sat normally again. "I won't say anything. I'll sit like a lump on a log like some people here whose names I won't mention. Okay, I'm kidding!" she added hastily as my mouth opened. "Jesus, I thought the point of group therapy is to talk."

"Appropriately, Anya. Appropriately."

I turned to Slater, trying to get his mind and eyes off Anya's body- she was doing nothing to discourage his stares, and was in fact egging him on from the way she sat legs apart, lips parted, slowly running her hands up and down her thighs. If she or I didn't stop him, he might jump up and attack her.

"Slater. How about you, do you think it's possible for everyone to obtain happiness?"

Slater tore his eyes away from her reluctantly, looked at me with slight guilt. "Uh, I don't know," he said, shrugging. "I mean, that's hard luck about his girlfriend and all," he said, jerking his thumb at Miguel. "Was she hot, man? Because, that, like, would be even worse, you know. I mean, if she'd been an ugly bitch-"

" Excuse me?" Ariadne cut in icily. "Are you saying that if a girl isn't so called hot, then it's not as bad if she dies then if she was? And you actually just asked someone whose girlfriend died if she was hot? What the hell is your problem?"

"He's Merve the Perve," Anya said, grinning. "What do you expect, Spider?"

"My name is Ariadne, not Arachne, for the last time," Ariadne said heatedly. "Slater, you just act like it's no big deal his girlfriend died-"

"Kind of ironic you'd say that," Xander said dryly, "seeing as you killed your own baby."

Ariadne's face, which had been red with growing anger, blanched, and she went silent, stricken. I saw Anya shoot Xander an appreciative glance, admiring his shot at her.

"Hey, that wasn't very nice of you at all, Xander!" Lane snapped. She leaned over Julianna to touch Ariadne's arm. "You okay, Ari?"

"Xander, that was not okay," I said sharply. "You're not getting any more warnings from me."

I leaned toward Ariadne. "Ariadne-"

"Oh shit, Vanessa, what are you doing? Stop it!" Zara cried.

I jerked my head up and saw that Zara was holding Vanessa's hand, which was bleeding from the finger tips.

"She was chewing on them," Zara said, the both disgust and concern evident in her eyes. Zara, as Vanessa's roommate, was often annoyed and frustrated with her actions, but also felt protective, concerned for her, watching out that she didn't hurt herself or have people messing with her.

I stood to kneel in front of Vanessa, taking her hand from Zara and examining it. We had cut her fingernails so she couldn't hurt herself with them, but somehow she had chewed past the quick to the nerve underneath. Grabbing some tissues, I pressed them to her fingers, then called for Diego over the intercom to come escort her to the nurse, who would take care of it.

After Diego had collected Vanessa, and everyone had settled down a little, I said to them, "Okay, I have some news for you all. We'll be having another member join your group starting tomorrow- in fact, she's arriving today. Her name is Nadia."

That stirred up a general interest. Most of them turned toward me, varying degrees of suspicion, wariness, curiosity, and displeasure on their faces.

"What's she like?" asked Bailey, frowning. After he spoke, I immediately saw his lips moving furiously, though I heard nothing, and knew he was repeating it twice under his breath. He had to do that every time he spoke, which was probably why he seldom did.

"Yeah- what is she?" Miguel asked. "What happened to her?"

"She can tell you herself when she gets here," I replied. "I don't have the right to tell you anything she doesn't want to talk about."

There was a general round of eye-rolling at that.

"More importantly," Anya asked, "who's she rooming with?"

Good question, I thought. I hadn't yet come up with an answer...

I looked over the three girls currently sharing a room- Julianna, Ariadne, and Anya. Julianna and Ariadne had been switching off nights sleeping on a cot, as Anya had flatly refused to do so.

As I studied them, it was clear to me it should be Anya who moved- she didn't get along with either of her roommates, especially Julianna. Ariadne and Julianna got along well, on the other hand. I kind of doubted Anya would be a smooth match with Nadia, seeing as she was depressed and Anya's favorite pastime was verbal abuse, but neither was Anya a good match with anyone else, and she had to be put somewhere.

If it doesn't work, I can always rearrange, I thought. Maybe put her in with Lane and Reverie can be with Nadia- but we don't like to put depressed people in the same room if we can help it, it's too dangerous. There were no good solutions.

"I guess you will be, Anya," I finally replied.

Anya smiled- and I noticed Ariadne and Julianna did as well.

"Good. Hope she's cooler than these two."

Just then Ethan's voice came in over the intercom, calling me to come to the admissions office- apparently Nadia Majella had arrived. Announcing the session was over and dismissing them, I made my way to the front of the building, preparing to meet my newest patient.