Sisters in Sanity(10) by Gayle Forman

As it turned out, we would all have to wait a bit longer to meet Marguerite. Two days before our big spa trip, she called Bebe to say she had just gotten a small role in a made-for-TV movie about figure skaters and wouldn’t be coming to Utah after all.

“She wanted me to tell you how sorry she was. And she’ll send some samples,” Bebe said, practically spitting out her words.

“I’m so bummed. I wanted to meet her,” Martha lamented. V shot Martha her harshest arched eyebrow, shutting Martha up.

“I’m so sorry, Bebe,” I said. “Parents. They are clueless.”

“Unbelievable,” added V. “And they wonder why we’re a little out of whack.”

“Yeah,” I said, “maybe they should send all our parents to boot camp.”

“I can just see fancy Ellis Hardaway workin’ the brick pile,” Cassie said.

Even Bebe had to chuckle at the thought of that.

A couple days later, V sidled up next to me while I was building a wall. Though Clayton kept trying to separate us, V bristled at being told what to do, so every now and then she’d wend her way over to visit me. “It’s tragic that Bebe’s mom bailed, but she should have known better. We all should’ve,” she said. “Parental visits are a rarity here. There’s even something in the brochure about how the therapy works best when the troubled girl is removed from her familiar context completely.”

“The better to make you miserable. But I thought your mom came,” I said.

“She swung by once when I hit Level Five for the first time. She was at some conference in Vegas, so she had to come.”

“What about your dad?”

“He works for the United Nations. As a diplomat. He travels a lot. Anyhow, Mom did visit, but she couldn’t do that now. Not since Alex.”

“Who’s Alex?”

“Where would you get your gossip if it weren’t for me?”

“Dunno. I’d be lost, I guess.”

“Right. Alex was just some girl here. She hated it as much as we all do. And she wrote her parents all these letters about how awful it was, how dirty it was, how the therapists were all bogus. The only difference was that Alex’s parents believed her. Can you imagine?”

“Crazy concept. Trusting your child.”

“I know. Insane. Anyhow, her parents came by for a surprise visit. It was summer and blazing out, and we were all in the quarry in the middle of the day. The place was a dump as usual. Her father freaked out right there. He was screaming about suing this place for malpractice. They took Alex home that day.”

“I wish that would happen to me.”

“It’s the ultimate fantasy. But now drop-in visits are pretty much banned. Parents have to sign a contract when they enroll you, promising to abide by the ‘therapeutic guidelines’ and swearing not to sue if you get killed in Red Rock’s care.”

“No way.”

“That’s not the exact wording. But there is a contract, and it says you can’t visit without prior permission.”

“How is it that you know everything?”

V smiled mysteriously. “I have my ways,” she said, and then before I could ask her about those ways, she was on the other side of the quarry.

There were parental visits, of course. I mean most parents did want to see their offspring now and again. And family visits were a good “motivator.” It was amazing how after a few months at Red Rock, even girls who had terrible relationships with their parents were dying to see them. So Red Rock set up pre-arranged visits, called them therapy, and then charged extra for them. “Family Intensives” were held four times a year at a nearby hotel. Parents hardly even saw the school—they came by for an hour-long tour and a meal. The joke of it was, the week before the visits, we were all taken off the quarry and turned into maids, scrubbing the dingy halls, bleaching the skanky bathrooms. And when the parents came for lunch, the meal was catered. Not a very realistic view of life at Red Rock.

Of the five of us, only Cassie’s parents had come to one of the meetings, which Cassie said wasn’t too bad. One perk of Family Intensives was that you got to stay at the hotel where they held the thing, which meant a whole weekend of TV and swimming pools.

“And TGI Friday’s. I had potato skins for dinner every day,” Cassie said.

We had just finished a group therapy session, and the counselors announced which girls would be on the list for the next Family Intensive a few weeks later in March. Naturally, none of us was included, and Cassie was trying to make us feel better.

“The therapy part was the pits. All the parents sittin’ around gettin’ teary about how messed up we are and how glad they are that we’re on the road to recovery.”

“And let me guess, there wasn’t any talk of how your parents might have contributed to any of your problems, and I’ll bet none of you guys had the guts to bring that up anyhow,” Bebe said. She was still pretty bitter about Marguerite’s aborted visit.

“Well now, what was I s’posed to do? Blame my folks? Come on, they’ve darn near sold the farm tryin’ to fix me.”

“You live on a farm?” Bebe asked snidely.

“It’s just an expression,” Cassie said, looking wounded.

Cassie’s parents had gone haywire trying to degayify her. After a family vacation in Corpus Christi, when they caught Cassie kissing a surfer girl, they sent her to some gender dysphoria expert they’d read about online, only she turned out to be a shrink who mostly worked with transsexuals, so then they switched to a therapist who specialized in “fixing” g*y kids, and it was that guy who referred them to Red Rock.

“Why not blame your parents?” Bebe asked. “Mom didn’t give you enough attention. Dad didn’t give you enough love and now you’re a big ole lesbian.”

“That ain’t true,” Cassie said. “I don’t even know that I’m gay. I think I’m bi, but if you think about it, so’s everyone. We’re just tryin’ to figure things out.”

“Not me, darling. I don’t go for girls. And might I remind you that you got caught making out with some surfer girl? I’d say that qualifies you as a dyke.”

“And you got caught doin’ lord knows what with your pool boy, but that doesn’t make you a slut in my book.”

“You’re right. All the other guys I’ve done, that qualifies me as a slut.”

“Bebe, stop it,” I said.

“Oh please, not you too, Cinders. You’re not going to turn yourself into a doormat for these drones.”

“No, I’m not,” I insisted. “And neither is Cassie. And just because you’re pissed off at your mom doesn’t give you the right to dump on everyone else or to tell Cassie that she’s g*y or not gay.”

Bebe gasped as if I’d hit a nerve. “I have the right to say what I think,” she said.

“What are you, ten?” I knew Bebe was bummed, but I couldn’t stand to watch her take it out on Cassie.

“Oh piss off, Miss Bad Girl.” Bebe stared me down as if only she could see the real me. “You think you’re such a rebel,” she said, “but you’re really just a goody-two-shoes.”

“I don’t have to prove anything to you,” I said, fuming.

“That’s all you do—try to prove stuff,” she shot back.

“Spare me the cheap psychobabble,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I get enough of that around here.”

“Well maybe you need some more.”

“No, maybe you do. Look, Bebe, I know you’re angry, but enough with the bitchiness already,” I said. “We are all so over it.”

“Well, I guess my fifteen minutes of sympathy are up,” she said sarcastically. “Fine. Whatever. Just you wait until it’s your dad that cancels on you. Oh, but that probably won’t happen because he doesn’t even want to see you in the first place, does he?”

“Bebe darling?”

“What?” she snapped.

“Go to hell.”

Bebe and I iced each other that night and all the next day. I was furious with her, but I also knew I had to let it go. When you’re surrounded by enemies, you can’t really afford to hold grudges against your friends. Bebe realized the same thing. Two mornings later I found another of her notes stuck inside my shirt pocket.
I’m a bitch. I’m an idiot. I’m sorry.Forgive me?  BB I did, of course. I knew how frustration could build until you were ready to explode. Sometimes you just had to lash out at someone, and it was safer if we did that to each other. I also knew that what Bebe said wasn’t really about me or meant to hurt me. But her words hit home. In his letters, Dad did keep promising to visit. He was all gung ho, talking about making it a family trip with Billy and the Stepmonster, and while I had no desire to see her, I still wanted Dad to prove me wrong and show up. Although, having sunk down to Level Three, I wasn’t really in any position to have a family visit anyway. Despite the fact that I had been trying to “work my program.” Sort of.

V kept telling me to fake it, that all I had to do was open up in CT. It didn’t matter if what I was opening up about was total crap. So I invented sob stories about how alienated I was at school, how mean the other kids were to me. I even squeezed out a tear in one session. The counselors were impressed with my bravery and—get this—honesty. I thought for sure I was going back to Level Four, but I must have really pissed Clayton off, because even with all my feigned progress, I remained stuck on Level Three. I wasn’t going to see Dad in March and the next Family Intensive wasn’t until June—June! It was starting to look like was I going to be stuck at Red Rock for the summer. And what if they made me stay for my senior year?

That was one of the worst things about it, the not knowing. If you murder someone and go to jail, you’re allowed visitors, and you have a specific sentence, but the Sisters and I didn’t get those rights. After three months passed and I realized I wasn’t one of the insurance-only girls, it was a constant guessing game of trying to figure out when I’d be released. I was beginning to wonder if I’d be living at Red Rock until my eighteenth birthday. The thought of that thoroughly depressed me—which was ironic, and pathetic. I was always a pretty high-spirited person. I got sad, of course, especially when Mom started to melt down, but I was engaged in my world. It wasn’t until Red Rock that I started feeling empty, tired, and angry most of the time. There were some days when I just wished I could disappear from the world. So not only did I have no idea when I’d be getting back to my real life, I had no idea who I’d be when that happened.

Chapter 14

Dear Brit:How are you? How is school? I hope you are working very hard and getting good grades. Portland is as rainy and gloomy as ever. I sure wish I could be somewhere nice and warm and sunny.I wanted to give you some very exciting news about your Uncle Claude. His health is much better and he is again playing with his chamber music ensemble. He is very happy about this. In fact, his ensemble will be performing in a few cities, including San Francisco, Boise, and—you’ll never believe this—St. George, which is very close to you! He will be there on March 15, and would very much like to visit with you. I have told him that, unfortunately, this is against the rules and not possible. But he wanted you to know about his plans and that he will be thinking of you when he performs nearby.I hope you continue to progress at your school. Please mind your teachers and listen to your therapists. Spring is coming soon. And that means fireflies aren’t long after.Love,
 Dad “It’s from Jed,” I told the girls at our weekly meeting. I was beaming. “I can’t believe it. I haven’t been able to get a letter out to him because there’s been so much snow and all the field trips have been canceled. I thought for sure he’d given up on me. But it was like he knew how low I was feeling, and just when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, he sends me this.”

“Brit. Stop,” V said. “Breathe.”

I stopped. I breathed. V held her hand out. “May I?”

“Go ahead. Read it aloud.”

When she was finished, V looked at me and said, “I suppose you’ll be wanting to claim your Christmas present now.”

“Yes please.”

“Will someone explain what’s going on? I don’t get it,” Martha said.

“Yeah. I’m lost,” said Cassie.

“Uncle Claude—that’s Clod, my band. They’re going on tour. They’re coming to St. George, and Jed wants me to sneak out and meet him. At least I think that’s what it says.”

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