Sisters in Sanity(3) by Gayle Forman

“No, none of those. I just play in a band, have pink hair, and have a freak of a stepmother.”

“Ahh, we have a Cinderella in the house!” Bebe called to the crowd before turning her attention back to me. “How very Disney. What did Clayton diagnose you as during your intake?”

“Opposition something something.”

“Oppositional defiance disorder. You’re ODD,” said a sure voice from behind. It was the girl again, the tall bitchy Sixer with the good advice. “We all get tagged with that label. It’s a no-brainer. What’re your other offenses?”

“I don’t know.”

She sighed. “Okay, newbie. Let me give you the remedial catch-up. Red Rock inmates fall into five broad categories: You’ve got your substance abusers, but never anything worse than pot or ecstasy because a weekly AA meeting is all the drug treatment this place offers. Then there are your sexual deviants, comprising slutty girls and dykes. Cassie over there”—she pointed to a girl with short red hair and freckles—“is in on lesbo watch, and Bebe here is in on slut watch—she got caught making it with the pool boy.”

“That’s not entirely accurate, my darling Virginia,” Bebe said, shaking her long mane of hair. “I got caught making it with the Mexican pool boy. That was my real offense. An unthinkable crossing of class lines.”

“Thanks for the clarification, Karl Marx. And don’t call me Virginia. I go by V.”

“V is not a name, darling; it’s a letter.”

“And BB is two letters. What’s your point? Now where was I? Yes. The food issues. Mostly minor-league bulimics. Red Rock would never take on any serious anorexics because they need serious help, not the fraudulent counseling that passes for therapy here. Do you know, Clayton’s the only one around here with any credentials? And she’s not even a shrink. She’s an internist. She’s only here to prescribe pills. So we just get a smattering of occasional throw-up dieters and a lot of obese girls whose parents think that Red Rock is more “therapeutic” than fat camp.

“Our precious roomie, Martha, for instance,” Bebe said. “She’s a fat-camper.”

“Correct,” said V. “Then we have a handful of cutters—you know, the self-mutilating types. And a grab bag of your garden-variety runaways and petty thieves—we’ve got lots of kleptos here. And last but not least, the suicidal-ideation girls.”

“Like our Virginia,” Bebe said.

“You? You tried to kill yourself?” I asked.

“No. Too Sylvia Plath. If I had, Red Rock would’ve been afraid to let me in. I just wrote some poems and stories about a girl who kills herself. Spooked my mom enough to send me away. And I’ve been here ever since. Almost a year and a half.”

“V is for veteran.” Bebe smirked.

“No, V is for Virginia, and for victory and for vixen.”

“You’re incorrigible, you bad, bad girl. I’m so impressed,” Bebe faked a yawn.

“Sarcasm creates a chasm between yourself and others,” V said with mock piousness. She turned to me. “Another Red Rock nugget of wisdom. Anyway, I’m in Level Six now and I intend to be back home before Christmas.”

“Where’s home?”

“Manhattan.”

“Back to work, ladies. Cut the chitchat,” one of the counselors yelled from the patio, where she was reading a copy of Us Weekly.

“Ugh,” Bebe groaned. “They really need to provide us with sunblock. When I have to Botox, I’m going to bill Red Rock for each and every wrinkle.”

“Hey, look, we finished the wall,” I said. We’d been so busy talking, I hadn’t noticed that every last cinder block was stacked up neatly. Bebe and V looked at each other, laughing at me.

“Yes, the wall is finished. And now we break it down,” V said.

“The wall is meant to teach us that our existence is futile, dears,” Bebe said. “Welcome to Red Rock logic.”

Later that night in our dorm, I asked Bebe which soap her mom had been on. She narrowed her eyes at me and turned away, like I’d asked some ridiculously inappropriate personal question. I didn’t get her. Or V, either. They were like Jekyll and Hyde, giving advice one minute and icing me the next. I was starting to think it might be better to keep to myself, because after Bebe snubbed me, I’d felt worse than I had when I took my first fully supervised shower. I even cried into my pillow that night, something I hadn’t done in weeks. The next morning, though, I found a note tucked into the pocket of my Red Rock shirt.
Cinderella, the walls have eyes (notice the cameras?) and ears (beware of Tiffany). Ratting is a way of life around here. No chat in the building. Cinder-block yard only.BB I crumpled up the note and smiled. Someone had my back.

Chapter 5

When I was growing up, I never had the sense that someone had my back, because I never knew what it was like when someone didn’t. It would never have occurred to me that I could end up alone and vulnerable, since in those days, my family was the best, the coolest, the tightest.

My parents met at a U2 concert. Dad was working as a roadie, and Bono pulled my mom onstage to dance. He used to do that at every concert. Every girl in the audience probably thought she was worthy, but Mom really was. She had this thing about her, this light—an energy that made you want to be around her because when you were, life was giddy. Free spirit is such a clichéd term, but it totally fit my mom. When she went floating backstage that night, she looked up at Dad in her post-Bono ecstasy and kissed him. He was probably a goner right there and then.

After that, it was like some bohemian fairy tale. They tromped around Europe and Africa together, with Mom selling her paintings to earn money. They got married on a cliff top in Morocco, and she got pregnant with me in a Portobello Road hotel in London—hence my name, Brit (middle name is Paula for Bono, whose real name is Paul). Then they moved to Portland and bought a ramshackle house on Salmon Street and started CoffeeNation, a coffeehouse/art gallery/club.

I don’t know how many kids can say that they once crayoned in a Muppets coloring book with Kurt Cobain, but I can. Tons of musicians and artists hung around CoffeeNation, which was funny because neither Mom nor Dad knew an A from an A minor. But they had a weekly open-mic night, and a lot of bands got their start there, and I think the place just got a reputation as a music haven.

We pretty much lived at CoffeeNation. After school, I’d sit down at my own reserved table, and Dad would fix me a hot chocolate before I started my homework. It never took me long because I had like forty pseudo big brothers and sisters there to help me—musicians are weirdly good at math, which is probably one reason that back in my own school, I would’ve been taking calculus in my junior year. My favorite customer was Reggie, a tattoo artist whose arms, legs, and torso were like a mosaic. A lot of people probably thought he looked like a thug, but he was the nicest guy ever. He loved to read almost as much as he liked to talk, and he used to check out a copy of whatever book I was reading for school, so we could have literary discussions together. I was only eight when we met, and Reggie and I read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. together.

When my friends complained about their parents, I didn’t even pretend to agree. I hung out with my parents most afternoons at the café until Mom and I went home to cook up these wild dinners—like the night she decided everything had to be purple (eggplant stew with beets and grapes isn’t half bad, by the way). We’d eat late when Dad got home, and I never got sick of being around them.

Just before seventh-grade winter break, Mom got it in her head that we should escape the gray and go live on the beach in Mexico for a month. She whispered her idea into Dad’s ear, and next thing you know, Grandma is running CoffeeNation, and we’re living in huts on the Yucatan Peninsula, eating fish tacos for breakfast. What kind of parents let their kids do something like that, even if it means missing a couple weeks of school?

Looking back, to tell the truth, I guess Mom didn’t care quite enough about stuff like school, but Dad did. Where she was like a rainbow after a storm, he was like the umbrella during it—the solid one keeping us dry: the doctor-appointment maker, the lunch packer, the worrier. Dad was the parent, and Mom was more like another kid. So maybe that’s why when she started to change, no one noticed at first. She’d do odd things, like insist that we unplug all the phones and leave on the downstairs lights at night—to prevent spies from watching us, she’d say. Or she’d leave for work and show up at CoffeeNation four hours later, with no memory of where she’d been. When she took a knife to her paintings because “the voices told me to,” we started with all the doctors and their diagnoses. First “borderline personality disorder.” Then “paranoia.” And finally “paranoid schizophrenia.” But Mom refused to admit anything was wrong and refused any treatment. My grandma moved up from California to take care of us and begged Dad to have Mom committed to a mental hospital, but Dad just kept saying, “Not yet; she might get better.” I think he really believed that. Until the day she left us.

After that, Dad had to close down CoffeeNation and go to work at a software company, which is where he met Stepmonster, who’s the kind of woman who freaks out if her handbag doesn’t match her shoes perfectly. Within a year they were married, and my wonderful family was history. Then I understood that having someone watch your back isn’t automatic. It’s special—and it can be taken away from you.

Chapter 6

“How’d they get you?” Bebe asked. It was my second week working the cinder-block piles. Autumn had arrived suddenly, cooling the desert furnace and making the sky turn an unbelievable shade of blue.

“How did who get me?”

Out of the corner of my eye I saw V snicker. She and Bebe had some kind of weird friendship—constantly insulting each other affectionately—and because Bebe and I were roommates, I ended up spending a lot of time around V. Unfortunately, everything I did seemed to irritate her.

“Cassie, this is our ignorant newbie, Brit. Have you met?”

“We’ve howdied but that’s all. Nice to meet ya.”

“You too.” Cassie was from Texas, strong like a ranch hand, and great to work near on the quarry.

“Red Rock, darling,” Bebe explained. “How’d you get here?” she asked again.

“My dad drove me. How else would I get here?”

“An escort, of course,” Bebe said.

“Like a date?” I asked. V laughed again, right in my face this time.

“Now don’t laugh, V,” Cassie said, giving me a sympathetic look. “More like a kidnappin’. That’s how they got me. They came for me in the middle of the night and hauled me away like a stray dog or somethin’. They even handcuffed me. I thought it was some kind of abduction, until I caught sight of my folks watchin’ from the window.”

“They did it because you’re…..gay.”

“Well, they think I am.”

“Are you?”

“I’m bi. But don’t get all squirrelly on me. You don’t hit on every guy you meet, so it’s not like I’m gonna come after you.” She was right about that. I didn’t hit on any guy I met. I just crushed hopelessly after Jed.

“It’s nice to see that Cassie’s given you her introductory homophobia lecture. Forgive her,” V said. “She can’t help herself.”

“Yeah, well, half the girls in this place act like they think I’m checking them out all the time. And most of them ain’t even cute.”

“But you were kidnapped and brought here? That’s awful, Cassie.”

“Darling Brit,” Bebe interrupted. “It’s called an escort, and it’s standard operating procedure.”

“So your parents did that too?”

“Parent, singular. Dad’s out of the picture. And Mother, well there’s no Four Seasons within a hundred miles of this place. She wouldn’t be caught dead here.”

“Are your parents rich, Brit?” V asked.

“That’s none of your business.” I could tell that V’s were. She had that money smell to her.

“Don’t get all OC on me, newbie. I ask because if you have money, you’re screwed. Insurance pays for the first three months of your stay. If you’re poor, then suddenly at three months, boom, you’re in level Six and out the door. Cured by the miracle of Scam Rocks. But if your family has the money to keep footing the bill, that’s an entirely different set of circumstances. You could be stuck for life.”

“Don’t be so dramatic, Virginia. Until you’re eighteen,” Bebe said. She looked at my panicked face. “When you’re eighteen, you can check yourself out.”

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