Exasperated, Charles Christianson left his superior's office successfully hiding the slump of his shoulders. The man had been thoroughly debased by his boss and even though the shame was there, the anger was even greater.
It was common knowledge that the state funded many of the psychiatric hospitals in the state of Washington, giving a certain amount for each occupied bed. So what was one patient among the dozens that were there?
"Foolish and incompetent," is what he had been called while shrinking back in the expensive leather chair. Failing to meet the older man's eyes during the nearly single-sided conversation, the doctor had merely, out of cowardice, accepted the berating.
Yet as the doctor reached his own office, strolling with an air of faux sureness, he let the fašade drop once behind the door. Falling back into his chair, Mr. Christianson sighed. If only he had made his final check around his assigned division instead of leaving early for his date, a date that had never showed. His lips pressed in frustration.
Rolling his sterling pen between his fingers, the doctor leaned his head back against the chair. The past couple of days hadn't gone all that well and, to top it off, he was now being held responsible for some nutcases disappearance. If it hadn't been for his father, a retired psychiatrist, he would never have agreed to take the job. Now a broken routine would probably cause him his reputation. It was not that they had never had patients escape, quite the contrary, it was only that it had happened on his watch. Or at least what was supposed to be under his supervision.
Pushing himself up and out of the chair, Doctor Christianson's polished shoes created fine imprints in the carpet as he paced. Quieted voices outside his door set the doctor's mind racing. It was as if he could already hear the silent gossip and see the knowing, or perhaps pitying, stares from his colleagues. He would have to reclaim his pride, and other than doing countless amounts of deskwork (which even the most shamed doctors wouldn't do), there was only one way to accomplish his goal.
Robin was the first to awaken, yawning loudly as the early morning events occupied her thoughts. Picking up her cellular phone before her professional mind had a chance to regret what it was about to do, she dialed the number to her office and waited for her assistant to answer.
"Hey, it's Robin," she smiled at the worry in her friend's voice as he asked if she was okay, especially since she had missed her first appointment.
"I'm fine, Kevin. Actually that's part of the reason why I'm calling," the lawyer said. "I need you to cancel all of my appointments for today. Tell them...," she paused, wondering what explanation to use, "tell them that I'm not feeling well."
Rolling her eyes at the common excuse, Robin went on. "Reschedule for next week and send my deepest apologies." Listening as her assistant jotted the information down and listed off the people who had called, the young woman frowned when he reached Mrs. Evans message.
Making a note to call the older woman personally, Robin finished listening until Kevin reached the end of the list. "Thanks, Kev, I might stop in later but if I don't, set the machine to pick up and take the rest of the day off, anyway." After exchanging "goodbyes", the prosecutor pushed "end".
The dark-haired woman mentally repeated the number Kevin had given her and entered the local digits into her phone. The receiving line rang several times before Mrs. Evans answering machine clicked on with the standard greeting.
"Hello, Mrs. Evans," Robin began at the beep, "this is Robin Hawthorne. I'm calling about your request and to inform you that I have decided to accept your case." The reason was unknown to Robin mainly because she was currently going on instinct. Something she knew that the rest of the day, and perhaps week, would be fueled by. "If you're still interested in learning what happened to your daughter, I know where we can start. My number is...," she repeated the telephone number twice, also including that she would like to arrange a meeting soon, before hanging up.
Going over her most reliable sources, many of which were personal friends, the attorney collapsed back onto bed. The house was quiet and relaxing, yet strangely unsettling. It was as if something was brewing, like in the movies when the dark cloud passes over the creepy house. And even though Robin wasn't the type to believe in superstitions, she had seen enough in the courtroom to tell her that just about anything was possible.
The prosecutor gazed up at the ceiling. She needed to do something or call someone, but whom? She wanted to be supportive of Willow, which meant dealing on the redhead's terms. In which case, Giles was not supposed to know. The young woman had colleagues but couldn't be certain that the situation wouldn't endanger her or Willow's credibility. And besides, what would she say? How could she tell any one of them that her roommate had brought home an escaped psychiatric patient last night without receiving a raised eyebrow? She, like her associates, worked by the book and knew each page front to back. Yet now it appeared, to her at least, as if the pages were backwards and missing significant rules. Sighing and mentally crossing out the option of calling someone, Robin focused on what she could do.
In a rest area an hour outside of Washington, a car pulled away from the lot. The driver maneuvered behind trucks, passing other cars as the vehicle sped down the freeway. They would be in Seattle soon.
The light blue cotton sheets rustled while the body beneath, stretched tight limbs until the tension released. Lost in breaking dreams, Tara's mind pulled free as she blinked into wakefulness. The blonde's head throbbed, but the feeling was common and had been ever since she quit taking her medication. But, like so many other times, Tara knew that the dull pain would eventually pass. While her mind ignored the ache, the former patient's eyes scanned the unfamiliar room.
The light, possibly lavender, hue gave the room a certain glow that was utterly different from the artificial smiles and paleness of Pines View.
A simple name, which would make outsiders envision tall trees and lush flowers surrounding a beautiful estate, sent a chill throughout Tara's body until tiny goosebumps layered her arms. The blonde's eyebrows furrowed and her jaw tightened. She would never go back. Stopping the stir of emotions from welding up, the blonde shut her eyes, blocking out the images she had grown so used to.
Breathing evenly, the shakiness in Tara's legs as she slid from the bed only lasted a second, her toes popping quietly as they flexed against the soft carpeted surface. The young blonde yawned, wincing as her cheek pulled, irritating the sore skin. Having slipped from the stairway railing during her late night flee, the bruise had been painless until now or, perhaps, unimportant.
Tara stood in place as the harsh bottoms of her feet, where small cuts from the cement had formed, soothed against the cool floor. Despite her tired body, the blonde smiled, enduring the pain as her face burned and her rigid back tightened at the base of her spine. Soft movement coming from behind flattened Tara's smile. The covered body, resembling a cocoon with messy strands of red hair sticking out from the opening, surprised Tara. Her lips twitched silently debating whether to smile or frown.
Carefully, the former patient stepped around the edge of the bed to where Willow lay asleep on the floor. Who was this woman who had risked so much for her? Who was still in danger? The blonde observed the redhead who snored lightly against the crumpled pillow she gripped.
Why had she helped her? More importantly, why had Tara chosen the red-haired doctor? The sleeping woman was a... stranger? Friend? Savior? Why had she put her trust and possibly her life into this woman's hands?
Lowering herself until she was inches away from Willow, Tara curiously watched the woman sleep. The contours of the doctor's face were thick with worry even in sleep, blurring the soft laugh lines.
"Why?" The single-worded question fluttered back against Tara's lips, forcing her to frown with confusion. The word had filled her mind everyday for so many years and later dissolved, unanswered. And yet, she was asking it again.
A sense of resolve covered the blonde's face as she regarded the slumbering figure. She would do what was right; she would... a light buzz distracted Tara from her thoughts.
Willow's pager vibrated from its place underneath a mound of papers, drawing the former patient's attention toward the desk. Yet when Tara reached the desk, her concentration set on locating where the noise was coming from, she hesitated. A brown folder lay open on the cluttered desk with papers and small note cards covering every end of the file. But what held Tara's interest were not the papers or their contents, it was the photographs hidden slightly beneath a sheet of paper.
Pulling the glossy pictures out from underneath the nearly blank document, the blonde stared, fixedly, at the face. It was her, and yet it was not her. So many things had changed and the year of each photograph was unknown even to Tara. The blonde touched the bruise on her face, her eyes growing unfocused while her fingers gently traced over the soreness. Dropping the pictures onto the desk, Tara stepped toward the tall mirror positioned in the corner of Willow's room.
Worn fingernails outlined her face from jaw to eyebrow on each side, stopping only to wipe the tears. This was who she was... no, had become, battered from within until the bruises showed on the surface. Why had it taken her so long? Her mind, reduced to nearly nothing except the bits and pieces she refused to let go off. Was she insane? Eight years couldn't answer that question. The mirror seemed to open old wounds as if the thin sheet of glass could reflect what had happened to Tara's mind and reveal her past.
She smiled weakly, thinking of one of her favorite fairytales, but the moment was short-lived. No, there would be no knight in shining armor, or would there? A groan came from behind Tara, the sound of an unwanted dream slowly beginning to fade. Continuing to study the almost foreign features, the former patient touched the glass but the surface held no answers. Cold against her fingers and dead within her eyes, the blonde turned away.
Willow had been watching from her place on the floor and quickly shut her eyes when Tara looked away from the mirror. Satisfied that she hadn't been caught, the doctor opened a single eye and continued watching from the tiny slit. The crestfallen expression on the blonde's face gripped Willow's heart, pinching it with sympathy.
Thinking for a moment about how she should "wake up", the red-haired doctor wasn't aware that Tara had already known. Needless to say that it was Willow who was startled when she fully opened her eyes and found the blonde woman gazing down at her.
"Morning," her voice was hoarse from tiredness as she tried to look less than guilty. "How you are feeling?" Willow sat up, combing fingers through her hair as she heaved herself off the floor.
Tara hesitated, not sure of what, if anything, to say. This was the woman who had helped her. She was indebted to her, and yet all she could muster up was...
"Tha-Thank you," eyes downcast, the action was one of habit. Steadying her breathing, the blonde's eyes met those of Willow's, holding the other woman's gaze.
The redhead stuttered as well, uttering "You're welcome." The response was automatic as Willow shifted on her makeshift bed, her foot digging under the edge of the blanket. Her lips moved several times but no words came out. She wanted to be sure that Tara knew what she had done. But more importantly she needed to know why although, subconsciously, she couldn't fault the blonde's decision.
"Why did you leave the hospital?" The doctor's question was sudden, surprising them both as the words shot out of Willow's mouth. The young woman knew that Tara's actions had to have involved some degree of competence.
Startled, Tara was silent. She had begun to wring her hands together nervously, standing frozen in the quiet room.
"Did someone hurt you, is that why you left? Willow probed but couldn't break through the blonde's silence. "Tara, you trust me, don't you? I'm not going to send you back, okay?" Frustration and sadness creased the redhead's forehead as her mouth dropped into a small frown.
Seemingly weighing the doctor's words, something broke on Tara's face and her resolve crumbled. "I-I don't b-belong there. I c-can't go back." Wetness shimmered in the blonde's eyes.
"But... but you signed yourself in Tara. You put yourself there." The blue of Tara's eyes continued to glow with moisture but her face remained unchanged. "Why would you put yourself there, if you didn't think you belonged?" Willow slumped onto the bed, defeated.
Dressed in her crumpled clothing from the night before, the doctor was aware of the uncomfortable atmosphere. After all, she was standing in the middle of her bedroom questioning her pa... former patient. At a loss, Willow stared down at her hands.
A weight upon the mattress made it dip slightly beside the red-haired doctor. Tara settled onto the bed only inches away from Willow.
Sighing heavily, the young blonde stammered, "It w-wasn't supposed... t-that's not...," sighing once more, Tara started over. "You don't understand."
"Help me understand," the redhead faced her former patient. "Are you even insane?" The question was odd even in Willow's mind, but she wasn't sure what to think. On one hand, Tara showed many signs attributed to mentally ill individuals, but those signs were also commonly found in depressed teenagers. And yet a teenager who acts out doesn't usually spend eight years in a mental institution.
The blonde picked at an unraveled piece of thread that hung from her sleeve. There is salvation in secrets; the words entered her mind after having been dormant for so many years.
"Tara?" Willow watched the young woman bite her bottom lip, worrying the skin until it reddened. Rising from the bed, the doctor retrieved the messy file from her desk and returned to where Tara was sitting. "Here, this is yours." She placed the folder on the mattress, "I haven't read all of it yet."
Tara stared at the file as it lay closed on the bed.
"I need you to tell me what's going on," the doctor sat down next to Tara's document and held the other woman's gaze. "I know," wetting her dry lips, Willow continued, "I know that you're scared. So tell me why. Why check yourself into a psychiatric hospital, only to escape?" The redhead had never intended on starting the morning with an interrogation, but her impromptu detective role had already taken over.
"I'm only trying to help you, Tara." Help me, the silent plea covered Willow's face.
The quiet blonde considered the doctor, closely. There was salvation in secrets and now Willow would soon know hers.