Firm knocks awoke Willow from her slumber. The doctor hurried down the stairs and peeked through the eyepiece. With a small grumble, the redhead opened the door and wasn't surprised to see her mentor standing on her front porch.
"Did I wake you?" He observed her tousled hair and tired eyes, and answered his own question.
"Coffee?" Willow mumbled, allowing the older man to step into the foyer.
"Oh, yes," Giles handed over one of the hot styrofoam cups before taking a seat on the couch. "How was your interview?"
"Interview?" Lips poised above the steaming cup, Willow frowned.
"With Riverside. Your cellular phone was out of range nearly all day yesterday, so I left a message on your machine."
Willow saw the blinking light on her answer machine and grimaced. "Huh."
"You didn't listen to it?" Giles' forehead creased as he regarded the young woman across from him. "Where were you yesterday?" He watched her eyes briefly dart around the room.
"I won't lie," she shrugged, knowing Giles was already aware of what she had spent her day doing.
With an sigh, Giles stood, hands in pockets, and gazed through the open curtains. "There are reasons for me not wanting you there, Willow."
"What reasons?" The doctor asked, noting the plural use. "Giles?" She probed when he didn't respond right away.
"Pines View does not have the best reputation when it comes to its treatment policies. And their admission policies aren't any better." He looked over his shoulder to make sure Willow was listening, although he knew she was.
"What do they do?" An edge worked its way into her tone.
"The question is, what won't they do?" The older man rubbed at his forehead as he turned to look at his protege. "There have often been rumors about bribery, forced drug treatment, overdoses, electroshock. I've known too many colleagues who've those themselves in that place."
"What about the government? Are they doing anything?"
"There has never been enough evidence for a solid conviction." Reclaiming his place on the couch, Giles used a handkerchief to clean his glasses. "Now you see why I don't want you going back there." He straightened his glasses and placed them back on his face as he waited for Willow to process what he had told her.
"I can't just walk away, Giles. Not now." Willow finally responded, watching the man's face fall slightly.
Giles knew there wasn't anything else he could say to persuade the redhead. "I can't say that I'm happy, but if you're sure Willow." He saw the beginnings of resolve form on her face, and nodded. "I should go." Leaving his untouched coffee on the table, the older man moved toward to door.
"Giles." Willow called after the retreating man. "Thanks for telling me. I'll be careful, don't worry."
"Just be careful of who you trust, Dr. Rosenberg." With that, the elder doctor left.
Willow stared at the closed door for several seconds as she finished her coffee. The bitter taste of the black liquid matched the feeling she had when she thought of the hospital. But even after two visits, she found herself unable to abandon her reason for going to Pines View. She had set out to help, and now she was even more determined to finish her task.
Arriving earlier than expected, Willow walked the main hall of the hospital, cautious of her surroundings. Other than a brief "hello", she hadn't said much to any of the hospital staff members, but smiled patiently as she waited for one of the orderlies to unlock the door.
One of the long ceiling lights was dimmer than the others and blinking off and on when Willow entered the room. The doctor found Tara curled up on her thin mattress, facing the door and sleeping.
The blonde's eyebrows twitched, squeezing the otherwise smooth forehead until tiny lines creased the skin. Willow paused in the doorway and thought about leaving. If she left she wouldn't be able to see Tara until Monday because Pines View did not allow weekend visits unless it was an emergency. Briefly, she wondered if she would be able to argue her way through the door if she showed up Saturday morning, but thought otherwise. Arguing would only draw unwanted attention.
"How long has she been asleep?" Willow whispered, turning back to the man who hovered over her shoulder. The short muscular man shrugged, unable to answer the question and clearly not interested in trying.
Hearing the orderly leave, the doctor stepped closer to the mattress. It was only when her foot grazed the thin bed that Willow heard the soft mumbles coming from below. The redhead set her shoulder bag aside and crouched down until she was inches from her patient's sleeping face.
As quietly as she could, Willow took her notebook and a pencil from her bag. If what Tara was whispering was important, the doctor wanted to at least have it on paper for future use. She leaned closer, catching small words as her hand scribbled messily on the notepad.
When Tara's lips stopped moving, the redhead pulled back and saw that the blonde's eyes were open. But unlike yesterday, Tara's eyes weren't clear. They were glassy and unfocused, and seemed to see right through the doctor.
"Ms. Maclay?" Willow whispered, but Tara kept staring ahead. The red-haired doctor was hesitant to touch her patient when Tara was in such a distant state of mind.
"Tara?" Somewhat at a loss for what to do, the doctor simply poked the blonde's shoulder. No response. She moved to poke Tara with a little more force and quickly drew back when Tara suddenly blinked.
Blinking several more times, the blonde hurriedly scrambled to the other side of the mattress, pressing her back into the wall.
"Hey, it's okay," Willow held her hands up, "I was just... well, you were..." The doctor felt incredibly foolish and unprofessional as she stammered through her words. She watched the frightened blonde breath harshly through her nose and moved back to give the other woman some space.
"Sorry, you were," she paused unsure of what exactly had happened. "Are you okay?" Inwardly, the doctor admonished herself. In her brief months as a practicing doctor, Willow had never experienced anything of this sort, nor had she ever treated anyone whose condition was as serious as Tara's.
Frustrated and a little disappointed in herself, the redhead rose to her feet. It wasn't that Willow expected instant results or changes in her patient's behavior, it just seemed that every time she thought there was some progress, her doubts would set in.
Tara's breathing returned to normal, but the blonde had yet to raise her head or move an inch from the padded wall.
Willow pulled her professional mask back over her face and regarded her patient with careful consideration. "Tara, do you remember yesterday when you looked at me?" She asked, watching for signs of understanding. "Do you think you could do that again?"
The blonde's head titled slightly as if thinking.
"Please, Tara." The doctor had been taught to never beg or say "please" to her patients, but the word left her mouth before she remembered her training. "I'm here to help you, remember."
Tara's nervous breathing blew pieces of her hair, flipping the dirty blonde strands across her cheek. Willow waited, a small smile of relief curving her lips when Tara slowly moved her head up. When their eyes connected, the doctor immediately noticed the change in Tara's irises. The cloudiness often attributed to mentally impaired patients was missing in her patient's eyes.
"Do you know why you're here, Tara?" The question was the first to come into her mind.
The ceiling light that had been blinking finally went out with a sizzling pop. A shadow covered the left side of Tara's face but her eyes stayed on Willow's.
"Yes." The hoarse response slowly slipped past Tara's dry lips.
"Yes?" Progress. Willow reached down and grabbed her notebook from where it lay forgotten near the mattress. "Okay, good," the redhead nodded, "Can you tell me why you think you're here?"
A scream made them both jump and a scuffle could be heard in the hallway as rubber shoes screeched against the polished floor. Willow dropped her notepad and peered through the glass, watching as two orderlies half pulled, half carried a man down the hall. A nurse down the hall was curiously scanning over her a sheet attached to her clipboard as she marched down the hallway toward Tara's room.
Willow cast a reassuring look back at Tara as she stepped into the hall to intercept the approaching nurse.
"Dr. Rosenberg, visitation hours are now over." The nurse's stern tone surprised the redhead. Willow glanced at her watch, noting that visitation hours were two hours from ending.
Deciding not to argue, the doctor nodded. "I need to get my things first."
"I'll come with you," leaving no room for argument, the nurse followed Willow into the poorly lit room.
Tara had returned to her docile position against the wall when the two women entered. Willow gathered her belongings and stopped short when she noticed the corner of a loose sheet sticking out from the back of her book. Deciding against correcting the placement of the sheet of paper, she stuffed the notebook into her bag.
"I will see you Monday, okay, Tara." The nurse beside her snorted but didn't speak. As both women moved to leave, Willow caught a side glimpse of Tara's face before she was rushed through the door.
"I'll be back to fix that light," the nurse gestured toward the ceiling, "can't have you sitting in the dark, can we?" She hummed as she led Willow out of the room and down the hall.
Willow waited until she was at least a mile past the Pines View gate before pulling to the side of the road. Rummaging through her bag, the redhead found the loose and nearly crumpled sheet of paper and silently read over the words.
And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven
328 W. Den-