The ride to Oakridge Estates was nauseating. I should’ve pretended everything was all right. Of course, I didn’t; now it was too late. I sat as if I were a muzzled dog. Not saying a word…the whole way to the loony bin.
Dad pulled into the driveway leading to the rustic structure of stone and wood. Black smoke billowed out of the chimney. There was something ominous about it as if it were warning me to stay away.
Dad parked the Navigator close to the steps leading into the home. I took a heavy breath as I stared out my window, gripping the door handle, my eyes still on the swirling black smoke.
I heard Dad open his door; I kept looking out the window until his presence settled in front of my door. He reached for my door handle, looking at me with the full intent on leaving me there. I blinked and looked towards the sky overflowing with dark gray clouds. The air was bitter and squelchy. Still vapors of steam fled from Dad’s nose as he breathed. “Please. Dad, I promise.” He only shook his head.
“Let’s go,” Dad said, holding the door wide open. By the look on his face, there was no reasoning with him. I had better listen to him this time. My eyes stung with tears.
My whole world collapsed in front of me as I stepped out onto the snow-covered ground. I hung my head low, not making eye contact with another betrayer of my heart. Without wanting him to, Dad took my hand as if I were a child once again.
I trudged up the steps leading to Oakridge Estates hand-in-hand with my father. My feet were slow to move, listless. Entering the doorway, I halted. I expected to see images of the movie One Flew over the Cuckoo Nest. My eyes ping-ponged around the area, trying to accept Dad’s decision to bring me here; I was beginning to realize the whole scope of my predicament. I stood in the lobby of an institute for troubled teens. A year ago I would’ve expected it but not now. I’m not the same person I was before Lucien.
The inside reminded me of the cabin at Hidden Valley. The walls were made of cedar and pine, but this was no vacation place. This was my punishment for falling in love with a monster, not a human being. He let me fall in love with him, and then he abandoned me.
Seated behind the front desk in the entrance was a large woman. I assumed she was the receptionist. If this were under different circumstances, I might have actually smiled. I found it amusing how her belly overlapped the desk and plopped, spilling over into the reception area. I’m in a loony bin; I don’t belong here.
To my right was a large red rug covering dark hardwood floors, mismatched—not at all like the rest of the place. The oversized living room had two large-size beige couches with two matching loveseats and pillows. Against the wall were a moderate-size flat-screen television and a DVD player. Seated on the couch were two teenage boys watching a sports event. Their eyes never left the TV.
To the left of where I was standing was an open-spaced room stocked with a pool table, a small ping-pong table and two individual round tables that each seated two. At the larger-size table were four kids’ playing cards. They never once took their eyes off their game to ogle. Either they were heavy medicated or they didn’t give a rat’s ass, which suited me just fine.
While looking around at my new surroundings, my eyes caught the attention of a sandy blonde-haired, green-eyed boy. He stood in front of the pool table and stared back at me with unreadable eyes. His hair, messy and unkempt, fell around his boyish face. He wore a much too large blue hoodie and a pair of bleached, stained jeans. His sad, almond-shaped eyes locked with mine in an uncomfortable moment. Dark circles ringed his green eyes like he hadn’t slept in days. I could understand why, being trapped here––who would be able to sleep? He gripped the pool cue tightly, making his fist red. His eyes didn’t break our stare until he put the cue down on the green felt of the pool table. Little by little, he walked a few inches at a time to the wall dividing the rooms. He poked his face around the beam of the wall with as much curiosity as a cat on the prowl. Curious–I watched him move as if he were a whisper rounding the corner. I thought it weird how he stared at me as if he either knew me or feared me; whichever one it was—one thing for sure, he was strange. He reminded me of a ghost from a long-forgotten time.
My eyes scanned the facility. There was a big picture window. I could see a gazebo, reminding of the gazebo where Lucien had told me who he really was. I imagined a flower garden in the warmer months; it probably looked nice out there then—hopefully I’d never find out. My mind once again wandered to when I took a bath at the ranch. I remembered the flowers all around it. The memory entangled my thoughts; my heart fluttered. Brushing off the memory, I squeezed my eyes tightly, trying to forget the past.
Down the center hallway two doors were on each side of the walls. Dad touched my arms, gesturing for me to follow him to the reception area. I waited while he told the large-size woman who he was. She smiled, took a clipboard and handed it to Dad to fill out. She picked up a red phone and dialed three numbers on the dial pad.
“Dr. O’Neil will be here shortly,” the woman said, giving me a quick smile.
“Oh, joy,” I mumbled under my breath.
“Samantha.” Was all Dad said, warning off my remark.
In a matter of seconds, a tall, thin woman wearing khakis and a white t-shirt with the word “Oakridge” embroidered on it with purple thread appeared from the hall, walking towards us.
Her black ponytail bounced with every stride she made. She smiled as she walked in our direction, showing white teeth with a small space in the front. You’d think she was an attendant at a resort instead of a doctor by her cheerful disposition.
“Hello, I’m Dr. Debra O’Neil.” Her cool, deep-set black eyes gleamed. She held out her hand; I ignored her request to shake. “You must be Samantha.” I stared back, saying nothing. She took her hand back and turned to my father.
“Hello, Doctor O’Neil, I’m Joseph Hunter,” Dad said, shaking the doctor’s hand. “I spoke with you on the phone earlier.”
“Yes—did you have a pleasant ride? By the way, the snow keeps coming down; you may run into some nasty roads driving back. It should end soon. I’m surprised we got this much snow. Not our typical New Mexico winter, is it?” Her gaze went towards the front glass door.
“This is our first winter here. It’s nothing compared to Pittsburgh.”
“Of course, you’re welcome to take a room with us until morning if you prefer.”
“I’m sure I’ll be fine; thanks anyways, all-wheel-drive and I’m used to the snow,” Dad said, sure of himself as always.
“Come along, Samantha. I’ll show you to your room. You can get acquainted with everything and make yourself at home,” the dark-haired woman said. She gestured for my dad to say his goodbyes. He settled next to me, taking my shoulders in his hands.
“Samantha––this is for your own good. When Dr. O’Neil says you’re not a threat to yourself and ready to come home, I’ll come get you.”
“I’m not going to do anything stupid. I’m not like Mom,” I said in a low monotone voice, regretting it after seeing the stunned expression on his face.
“It doesn’t matter; now you’re here.” He squeezed my shoulders a moment. “Make the best of it.”
I held my tongue even though I wanted to scream as he bent down to kiss my forehead. My father turned and walked out the front door. I can’t believe he’s really going to leave me here. Shocked, I rushed after him. I stood looking out the front lobby window, watching him get into the Navigator and drive away, leaving me behind.
Don’t leave me here, I said to myself. My stomach sank.