“They completely fucking lobotomized Erica,” Brittney revealed in a low voice. “She’s fucking brain dead now. A retard.”
Ashlee Taylor stared vacantly out the window of her aunt’s Toyota Camry and watched as the dull October dead trees and nothing but dead trees scenery of US Route 31W rolled by. She didn’t want to listen to them fight anymore. Every topic her remaining family brought up simply twisted her guts into new fits of anxiety, but blocking them out or pretending just wasn’t really an option anymore.
“Erica isn’t retarded,” Aunt Kimberly said in a tired voice, “and, they didn’t lobotomize her. Your Nan doesn’t want you swearing, so if you don’t start watching what you—”
“They lobotomized her,” Brittney shrugged. “She’s a retard now. I saw it for myself. Lobotomized.”
Lobotomized, like... they removed her brain? Ashlee felt herself pale in horror as yet another wave of drowning guilt began to flood in. Lobotomized like, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN lobotomized?
“Your sister was not lobotomized,” Aunt Kimberly insisted. “They have her starting on lithium treatments to start stabilizing her moods a little bit. She’s supposed to be a little loopy at first. It’s normal. She’s not lobotomized, she’s just a little loopy.”
Their aunt was once again driving them to Ireland, which turned out to be an ugly army hospital a fifty-minute drive outside of Springton rather than the gorgeous green European countryside Ashlee first imagined. It was a trip they made every week now—sometimes with Brittney in tow, sometimes without—visiting some sort of psychiatrist or something to help untangle the complex web of problems that made up the Taylor family situation. So far, it was just long, tedious drives, followed by waiting, and then incredibly awkward sessions as the lady tried to prod Ashlee into talking about anything and everything that was wrong.
She hated it. She wanted to be left alone. Ashlee definitely didn’t want things to go back to the way they were—no way in hell—but, the way things were right now weren’t any improvement. They were just strange and uncomfortable and scary.
“Fucking lobotomized,” Brittney insisted. “She got mind-wiped, it was like trying to talk to a little retarded child. I asked her if she was feeling okay, and she’s like yah I’m okaaay. I was like, they told me you were crying a few days ago—so what was the issue? She gets all fucking confused and embarrassed. So, I ask around, and it turns out she was having trouble figuring out how to put her pants on right one morning. Like a fucking toddler. Not even joking.”
“They’re still adjusting her medications, she’s going to be fine,” Aunt Kimberly said. “Bipolar disorder isn’t something that magically goes away in just a few weeks. It’s going to take some time. She’s going to get better.”
“...Get better at what?” Brittney demanded with an incredulous expression. “This isn’t Drop Dead Fred. There was nothing wrong with her in the first place. This is all bullshit.”
“Watch your language, Brittney,” Aunt Kimberly warned. “Your sister was diagnosed with a disorder. It was making her do things that she wouldn’t normally do, keeping her from thinking right. The lithium is going to help, she just needs to be on it for a while and she’s going to be loopy.”
Bipolar disorder was their fancy new name for Erica’s uncontrollable personality and constant need to lash out at everything around her. Pills were apparently the answer. Ashlee fidgeted in the rear seat of the car, adjusting her seatbelt and then trying—and failing—to find a more comfortable way to situate her legs. Frustration and uneasiness seemed to seep out from everything that was going on and stain every possible aspect of her existence.
Without any warning, an attorney, a social worker, a woman from the school board, and a police officer had showed up on their doorstep one day. With all of them crowding down their house’s hallway together, they had seemed like an enormous group. Mrs. Taylor had immediately launched into a suspiciously defensive explanation for Ashlee’s truancy, and as her mother grew increasingly more flustered and agitated, Ashlee realized that something was seriously wrong. The social worker, an irritated-looking middle-aged woman with short gray hair and a chain-smoker’s voice, had asked to see Ashlee alone in the other room.
Then, she’d asked Ashlee if she had any bruises.
Ashlee felt proud and embarrassed and hopeful and terrified as she displayed her naked back to the woman in that other room, all the while the shouting back and forth on the other side of the door grew louder and louder. The bruising then had been getting bad, bad enough that Ashlee again had difficulty sleeping because of it, and now finally, finally someone had somehow noticed and would maybe do something about things. It was exciting to dare to dream of the prospect of change.
Change came immediately.
The social worker left just a few scant minutes after inspecting Ashlee’s bruises, taking Ashlee with her. She was brought away with such sudden whirlwind expediency that Ashlee felt completely unprepared for it—looking back, it all felt like something out of a distant, impossible dream. The last thing she remembered seeing was her mother collapsing in a hysterical panic on their front lawn, screaming and shrieking and clawing at the police officer. Ashlee had stared, dumbfounded, through the car window at the once-familiar woman as she receded into the distance behind them.
Ashlee was separated from her immediate family, and after a long talk and a rather mortifying medical evaluation, she spent two nights in a ‘halfway house,’—whatever that was—and finally was sent to stay with her distant Aunt Kimberly on the other side of Springton. Ever since then, bombshell after enormous bombshell news seemed to drop, one after another. Erica completely lost it and attempted to murder a girl. Police and social services were both investigating their family. Dad was getting locked up forever, mom was filing for divorce. Brittney got shuttled off to live with Nana, and Erica got shipped off to a loony bin for juveniles and then apparently lobotomized.
For attemping to murder my friend, Ashlee remembered in a daze. Tabby. The girl I blamed for everything I did. I did this.
All of the sudden changes were more than just disorienting; they were terrifying. Every other day, it seemed like a therapist or counselor or caseworker from somewhere was interviewing her with discomforting questions, and nobody seemed particularly satisfied with the answers she gave them. Most of the big red flags weren’t even related to Ashlee herself—apparently some of her father’s methods for dealing with Erica were capital letters NOT OKAY. Not okay, teetering all the way past a normal parent punishing an unruly teen and over into sexual abuse—child molestation.
It wasn’t easy to keep playing dumb about everything when the adults were so pointlessly persistent, and there wasn’t much to tell them anyways. He never touched ME. Don’t even really know what he did to them. Not for sure.
The topic was a sore subject for Ashlee in a lot of ways. Several years ago, a very young Ashlee had blundered upon her sisters hiding out in the big bushes by the fence in the very rear of their backyard. Curiosity at what they were doing back there turned into complete bafflement as she discovered that Erica was bawling her eyes out while Brittney attempted to comfort her. Erica didn’t ever cry. It was not something that she ever did, and in ten-year-old Ashlee’s eyes, not something that she would ever do.
“Leave us alone, Ashlee,” Brittney had warned her in a hard voice. “Go play somewhere else. NOW.”
Ashlee had started to scramble away in fright, because surely seeing Erica at a vulnerable moment was some sort of taboo and there would be repercussions for her intrusion here later on—but, to her surprise, Erica had called out to her, stopping Ashlee in her tracks.
“Ashlee,” Erica’s voice had been thick with emotion and that made her seem even more dangerous than usual, “if Dad. If Dad EVER touches you. Anywhere. Ever. You need to come tell me. You come tell me, and—and if he ever touches you I’m going to murder him. I’ll just. I’ll murder him in his sleep. I’ll cut his throat.”
Fleeing the scene back then, Ashlee hadn’t understood—she’d simply been terrified that Erica would try to kill their Dad, and hadn’t connected the why. It was even something she could see happening, because sometimes young Erica just did things.
Fly into a ballistic fit of rage at someone’s poor choice of words, bite one of her classmates at school during a scuffle—the girl’s forearm required stitches—or just walk out the door with a backpack because she’d suddenly decided to run away from home. Police picked Erica up all the way out in Fairfield, and everyone had been flabbergasted that a little girl managed to get so far.
The idea that Erica was being abused—that both Erica and Brittney were being abused— had never really occurred to Ashlee. Seeing either of them as victims of anything took quite a bit of mental gymnastics on her part, because to Ashlee, that just wasn’t who her sisters were. Sometimes Brittney and Erica would sit off somewhere and speak in low voices while forbidding Ashlee come near, but there had never been any indication that their bond was anything but that normal sort of popular pretty girl solidarity that Ashlee hated.
Aside from that one single instance where she’d seen Erica in tears, of course.
In light of the new circumstances as they were revealed, Ashlee could almost imagine Erica had been protective and sisterly back then in that moment. Which felt weird and unnatural, but was somehow also a sentiment so alluring that she just couldn’t discard it no matter how implausible she thought it was.
After all, Ashlee only ever hated her father because he never protected her from her sisters and always took their side on everything, which made the revelations of abuse even more confusing. Mr. Taylor had never laid a finger on Ashlee. He always seemed more unnerved than most by her—people often had trouble socially connecting to her, because the orientation of her eyes made it difficult to read where she was looking.
He could probably never adjust, Ashlee thought with a bitter smile. I mean, other than my eyes, I look just exactly like my sisters. Dark hair, okay face. PRETTY—almost. Makes the difference worse, makes the problem stand out so much more.
Some rare people never even seemed to notice her lazy eye—like her best friend Tabby, too mired in her own troubles and misery to really look past them. Ashlee liked that. She could appreciate that. Ashlee’s own sisters called her Eyegor, from the infamous comedy character played by Marty Feldman. Other kids were weirded out by her, or made fun of her, or pitied her like the teachers, and each of them inevitably became distant in different ways.
If I just kept my eyes closed all the time, people would maybe treat me normally, Ashlee thought. But then I’d never be able to see it happen. All I can do is keep staring and pushing them all away.
All of these new authority figures in her life also seemed mystified as to why Ashlee had been pulled out of the school system to be homeschooled. They now told her that she had not actually been homeschooled, because she wasn’t being given any curriculum by her parents or anything to study. Registration and packets of coursework were eventually discovered at the house, but Ashlee had never been aware of them.
Ashlee realized why this was, but none of these people seemed to accept ‘I was really bad at school and they were tired of putting up with it’ as an acceptable answer. Her mother had never bothered—Ashlee never did schoolwork, and she was too difficult to deal with. It was almost comical to her how aghast and horrified everyone was by that.
As if that wasn’t completely normal life for Ashlee.
Suddenly, her mother’s knowledge of the bruises itself became a crime—she was now somehow complicit in her sister’s misdeeds. Ashlee had always struggled how terribly unfair life seemed, but for the situation to be so suddenly and violently corrected was still completely jarring and overwhelming. She wasn’t even sure if she hated her mother. Not completely, at least.
“Yah, okaaay,” Brittney mocked, bringing Ashlee’s attention back to the moment. “Whatever. Erica’s a total retard, now. I think it’s like a revenge thing. An eye-for-an-eye, for her giving Tubby Tabby brain damage or whatever.”
“It’s not revenge, stop it,” Aunt Kimberly shook her head. “That’s not how things work, this has nothing to do with that. Your sister was out of control, and now she’s getting help.”
“Yeah,” Brittney scoffed, shooting Ashlee a meaningful look. “Help, huh.”
“She was completely out of control,” Aunt Kimberly said again, this time in a tone that brooked no further argument. “Can we just stop? Let’s just drop it, okay?”
“Right, yeah. Better leave all the bitching for time with the therapists, that’s what they get paid for,” Brittney rolled her eyes. “You know, they’re gonna make you take pills too, Ash. For your ADD. Make sure they don’t give you the retard pills.”
Icy fear blossomed in Ashlee’s gut again, because she had indeed overheard them talking about possible medications. They were discussing putting her on something called Ritalin, to hopefully help her focus on things like school work again. I didn’t want any of this. I didn’t want ANY OF THIS. Why is it like this. Why did everything go this way. Why is all of this happening to us?
In her mind, Erica maybe did deserve some of what was happening. Not to be lobotomized, of course—that was beyond the pale. But, Ashlee had always wished Erica would face some comeuppance, some sort of consequences for her violent actions. The fact that her sister was dangerous and out of control was something Ashlee had known forever, since she was little. It was only recently that everyone else was seeming shocked by this ‘sudden revelation.’ Brittney was mean too, of course, and sometimes Ashlee thought that she was the more cruel sister… but Erica could be terrifying. Unpredictable, unhinged. Crazy.
Ashlee wasn’t allowed to describe her sister as crazy to the psychologist or anyone at Ireland, even if her sister was obviously crazy. Instead, it was their dad’s fault for molesting Brittney and Erica. It was the bipolar disorder to blame, rather than Erica simply being a psychopath. It was an unfortunate blend of situations and circumstances that caused her sister to unexpectedly commit a serious crime. Everyone seemed so keen on figuring things out and making things right, but Ashlee didn’t think any manner or perspective of comparing all of these wrongs was ever going to make a right.
It’s all just… fucked, Ashlee thought as she slumped to rest her cheek against the rumbling window of the car. Fucked up for good. There aren’t any rights, only wrongs. It can’t be sorted out or fixed or set straight. It’s fucked. Totally fucked. And all of this happened because of me.
She broke into an unhappy smile again at the thought.
“You say that this Tabby girl was your friend,” Mrs. McDonnell observed. “You’re using past tense—do you not think of her as a friend anymore?”
The child psychologist’s room was several floors up but didn’t contain any windows, and because of the nature of her patients the decor was a strange mish-mash of toys and kiddie posters that seemed at odds with the professional-looking business attire of the woman sitting across from her. There was even a molded green plastic sandbox shaped like a turtle on one side of the room, filled with actual sand and the occasional bright plastic of a pre-schooler toy. It was weird seeing a sandbox inside, and Ashlee couldn’t help but wonder whether sand got all over the carpets here in a big mess.
“I don’t know,” Ashlee shrugged, trying not to make a face.
Sometimes it felt like the adults were grasping for any loose thread they could tug on to hopefully unravel some big story out of her, and they never seemed to care how uncomfortable that made her feel. She didn’t want to talk about Tabby. She didn’t even want to think about Tabby, lately.
“You’ve said that when your sisters threatened her, she never came back to visit again,” Mrs. McDonnell remembered. “Can we talk about how that made you feel?”
“I don’t know,” Ashlee shrugged with all the indifference she could muster, hoping the woman would take the hint and stop pressing for answers.
“Did that make you angry at Tabby?” Mrs. McDonnell pressed for answers.
“Not really,” Ashlee frowned. “It was smart of her. I guess.”
“Because you thought your sisters were dangerous?” Mrs. McDonnell prompted.
“Yeah,” Ashlee nodded. “I guess. I knew how mean they can be.”
“Siblings can be very mean,” Mrs. McDonnell said, scribbling something in on her clipboard. For some reason, Ashlee found it incredibly irritating. “Did you think Tabby was in danger?”
“I don’t know,” Ashlee said, groping for whatever the right answer might be. “Yes?”
“It’s okay for you to feel upset with her,” the woman explained in that annoying always patient tone of hers. “Even if she’s not at fault. Her leaving and not coming back after that day, that may have made you feel like she was giving your sisters even more power over you—like they were given control of who could and who couldn’t be friends with you. Do you think that’s how you feel?”
“I don’t know,” Ashlee muttered, trying her hardest not to think about it. “What does it matter?”
“How you feel about it matters a lot,” Mrs. McDonnell explained in a gentle voice. “My job’s to help you work through how you feel about things.”
“Or, what?” Ashlee asked. “I’ll get lobotomized?”
“No, we won’t lobotomize you,” Mrs. McDonnell replied with a good-natured laugh.
“They gave Erica pills that lobotomized her,” Ashlee said. “Because of what she did.”
“I don’t think that’s what’s happening,” Mrs. McDonnell seemed amused, and flipped back to a previous page on her clipboard. “I’m guessing this was something... Brittney said to you?”
“Yeah,” Ashlee admitted.
Deflecting the topic to Brittney and getting her sister in trouble for one of her sessions had been her plan, but maybe her execution wasn’t quite as subtle as she thought it was. Clever adults were bad. Adults who remembered how clever children could be were always worse.
“I’m sure that’s something I’ll talk about privately with Brittney,” Mrs. McDonnell promised. “Would you like me to bring it up another day when we’re all having session together?”
“I don’t know,” Ashlee gave yet another repetitive shrug.
“Okay,” Mrs. McDonnell jotted down another note. “Can I tell you what I think?”
“I think Brittney is very uncomfortable about Erica’s treatment,” Mrs. McDonnell said. “She knew her sister as one person, and now therapy and medication is making Erica seem like another, different person—that’s going to be upsetting.”
Well, DUH, Ashlee wanted to retort, barely holding it in and instead simply staring. She said they were forcing her to become retarded!
“When Brittney’s upset, I think she isn’t comfortable showing it,” Mrs. McDonnell continued. “Because, that makes her feel less in control. So, instead she vents her frustrations to you in a way she thinks will upset you—then, you can be upset in her place. She can have an outlet for all of those feelings she doesn’t like, by passing them over onto you.”
That one wasn’t quite an obvious duh thing to say, and Ashlee’s gaze wandered to the carpeting as she considered it. The idea made sense, but she was really struggling to apply it so that it fit with her idea of Brittney. Maybe Brittney’s just really different around Mrs. McDonnell? She acts more mellow around most adults. More courteous, watches what she says. Not like Erica.
“So—so, what?” Ashlee asked. “Am I not supposed to get upset?”
“That’s not up to anyone but you,” Mrs. McDonnell answered in typical cryptic fashion. “How do you feel about Erica, right now?”
“Did you ask them for some retard pills?” Brittney asked as they drove back from Ireland Army Hospital. “For your ADD?”
“Brittney—drop it,” Aunt Kimberly warned. “Please. Enough.”
“She said Ritalin is the opposite of retard pills,” Ashlee retorted with all the confidence she could muster. “That they would make it easier to think. Get less distracted.”
“I bet she did,” Brittney snorted. “They probably told Erica the same thing for her stuff. Doctors are all in cahoots with all the big pharmaceutical conglomerates. Getting you on pills is just like selling a car to them. Cash commission, right into their pocket.”
Ashlee didn’t trust Brittney’s words over Mrs. McDonnell’s, but she knew that the seeds of doubt her sister planted would sour her impression of prescription medicine all the same. On the one hand, she hated how easy to manipulate her feelings on the matter were, but then on the other—distrusting someone or something always seemed to speak to her on a deeper level. Because that’s how things always really were.
“Mrs. McDonnell’s a total quack case,” Brittney laughed. “Did you ask her how much money she makes for just sitting there going ‘hmm, yes, and how does that make you FEEL?’ while she plays tic tac toe on her little clipboard? How do I feel? Seriously? Uh, pissed off, mostly? Erica wasn’t even in the wrong, really. Someone needed to beat the shit out of Tubby Tabby for all that shit she was getting away with. Things only turned out like this because the little bitch got herself all cozy with the cops—you saw how they were treating her. They were totally biased, and for what?”
“Please don’t start again,” Aunt Kimberly snapped. “Just—drop it. Okay? We’re not going through this again. You don’t talk about that girl to anyone anymore, you don’t try to talk to her—just drop it, completely drop it, forget about whatever you think happened, and stay away from her so we can all put this behind us and move on with our lives.”
“I’m not Erica, I wasn’t actually gonna do anything,” Brittney rolled her eyes. “I can talk about it all I want, though. It’s a free country.”
“Well, you’re in my car, and I don’t want to hear it anymore,” Aunt Kimberly growled. “Alright? Brittney?”
“Am… I allowed to talk to Tabby?” Ashlee spoke up. “Ever again?”
The Toyota Camry rolled down US 31W in particularly strained silence for several moments.
“Mrs. Cribb from the school board... did bring that up,” Aunt Kimberly admitted. “I wanted to wait and see what you thought. Do you want me to call her?”
What?! Ashlee’s mouth fell open as she glared at her Aunt. Why the hell didn’t somebody say something to ME about it?! You all just had me assuming it wasn’t even an option!
“Uh, yeah,” Ashlee said in frustration, ignoring the withering stare she received from her sister. “Is Tabby still in the hospital?”
“I hope so,” Brittney made a disgusted sound, crossing her arms and looking off out the window. “She’d better be.”
“I’ll phone Mrs. Cribb as soon as we get back, then,” Aunt Kimberly said with a sigh. “We’ll see how things go, alright?”
“I can drive you over to see her today!” Mrs. Cribb exclaimed over the telephone’s handset receiver held to Ashlee’s ear. “She doesn’t get enough visitors. I bet she’s just going to be tickled pink to see how much better you’re doing.”
How much…BETTER I’m doing? Ashlee wanted to scowl at the woman’s cheery mood.
Just because the marks were fading away didn’t ever make them gone. They would always be there, Ashlee knew she was probably going to carry them in some form or another for the rest of her life. Some jolly old lady wouldn’t understand what that was like, though. The psychiatrists and therapists couldn’t understand, either. Not really. They saw the bruises but didn’t understand why they hurt. The only one who maybe would get it was Tabby. Tabitha had seen first-hand what it was like for Ashlee trying to survive in the Taylor family. She knew.
“Today?” Ashlee repeated.
“Yes, of course. I’ll make sure that works out with your Aunt, whenever you can put her back on,” Mrs. Cribb said. “Tabitha’s out of school for a while now, I don’t know if you’d heard—I was hoping you two girls would be interested in studying together. With Tabitha’s help, I think you’ll be able to test in as a sophomore without any problem.”
“As sopho—as a tenth grader?” Ashlee blurted out. It sounded too good to be true. “I didn’t go to ninth grade. I mean, I’m not now. I’m not enrolled.”
“Oh, I know, sweetie,” Mrs. Cribb assured her. “There’s a fair bit of English and Math for you to catch up on, but I don’t see that being a problem if you and Tabitha put your heads together for a few months.”
“A few months?” Ashlee echoed. “You think... I can just go back to school? Aren’t I behind on… a lot?” Like, a whole grade? A lot more than just English and Math?
It honestly didn’t sound like fun—Ashlee still hated school. At the same time, not going to school for the past year had continued to fill her with a formless sort of fear she wasn’t able to shake. Fear that she was falling further and further behind her peers and would never catch up, never be normal. As much as she hated getting picked on and being unpopular, simply not going to school at all was just as bad or maybe even worse, because then she felt like she was missing out on all the important growing up stuff promised by shows like Sweet Valley High, Teen Angel, and Party of Five.
“I’m going to make sure we have everything you need for that,” Mrs. Cribb promised. “We’ll make sure you both get all squared away and up to speed for your K-PREP assessment, and I’ll be there to help you girls make sure you take care of all your other requirements.”
“Uh. Okay,” Ashlee said, unsure of whether or not this woman was bending the rules for them. “Thanks. I’m gonna put on my Aunt.”
“Thank you, dear,” Mrs. Cribb said. “See you in a few!”
Ashlee didn’t know how to feel as Mrs. Cribb led her down a corridor of Springton General Hospital towards the room where her friend was in recovery. It was weird that she’d spent most of her day either going to or in different hospitals, and the atmosphere was beginning to wear on her. At the same time, she wanted to see if meeting Tabby again after so long—it had been months—would dispel the strange, surreal sense Ashlee had been caught up in ever since being separated from her parents.
“She’s right in here,” Mrs. Cribb gestured, leaning ahead of her through the door. “Tabitha? Hello! Your friend Ashlee’s here to see you! I’ll let you two talk in some privacy.”
Turning back towards Ashlee, Mrs. Cribb gave her a smile and ushered her forward. “Go on, go on. I’ll be waiting just down the hall with a newspaper. I’m so happy to be able to get you two reunited like this. Have fun!”
The teenage girl hadn’t realized how reluctant she actually felt until Mrs. Cribb was actually pushing her inside the bright little room, and once there, all she could do was stare. Mrs. Cribb was saying something in a polite tone, a redhead wearing a headband of bandaging smiled back and replied, but Ashlee wasn’t paying attention to anything that was being said.
Is this… some sort of mistake? Ashlee’s mouth went dry as she realized Mrs. Cribb was already leaving, rushing out to give the girls some personal time. Is this a joke?
“Hello,” the girl on the hospital bed gave her an uncertain little wave. “Ashlee. It’s… it’s been a while. Feels like forever.”
The girl was slender, almost frail-looking, with pale white skin and reddish-orange hair. She possessed delicate features, wore a kindly smile, and held herself with a graceful sort of poise that immediately set Ashlee on edge.
“You... aren’t Tabby,” Ashlee said, staring at the redhead in bewilderment. “Who are you?”
“Um,” the girl claiming to be Tabitha Moore seemed taken aback. “Well. I understand that I do look very different, but—”
“No, you’re not her,” Ashlee insisted, stepping backwards as her sense of alarm grew. “Who are you?”
This wasn’t even about looks.
Appearance-wise, this girl did have some features that were vaguely reminiscent of the Tabitha she knew. The similarities only made the wrongness stand out even more, make it seem more severe, though. Ashlee had always instinctively felt comfortable and familiar around her best friend Tabby, because at a glance she could tell they were kindred spirits. This person was not Tabitha Moore. The presence she exuded was completely different. It was a slapdash alien facsimile.
Why would they have someone replace Tabby?! Ashlee’s mind raced with possibilities, each more paranoid and panicked than the last. Did Erica actually kill the real Tabby, and they didn’t want that to get out? Or, something? No, that would never work—that’s impossible. Doesn’t make any sense.
Maybe this stupid setup was just for me? The therapists, or the psychiatrist or somebody thought this would fool me? That I’d snap like my sister did, if I found out what really happened? Does this mean the real Tabby’s really dead? My sister’s actually a murderer? Erica murdered someone because of those things I said, and everyone knows but didn’t want me to find out? Why THIS, though, who would ever think I’d buy into—
“I lost a significant amount of weight over the summer,” The girl in the hospital bed tried to explain with an awkward expression. “I know that I seem very—”
“Stop. You can’t fool me,” Ashlee snapped, feeling her throat close up with terror. “You’re not her. I know Tabby. She’s my best friend. You’re not her. I don’t know who you are. Or what you’re even doing here. Why are you pretending to be Tabby?”
She did look a bit like Tabitha, but the differences in the girl’s expression and demeanor were not minute, and grew into uncrossable chasms the longer Ashlee stared. Maybe this was some distant cousin or relative of similar age from the Moore family, but this was definitely not Tabby. The real Tabby had an indescribable muddled tension to the posture of her stillness that Ashlee had always found intimately familiar—when this fake Tabby was still, there was only an underlying calmness and clarity that was completely, totally out of place. The way she spoke was off, the words this fake chose were wrong, and the patterns of thought they drew from were completely foreign and didn’t match the Tabitha she knew in the slightest.
“Where’s my Tabby?” Ashlee demanded, unstoppable tears forming in her eyes as she felt herself breaking down. “What happened to her? Is she, is—is she dead? What’s going on? You’re not Tabby. Where’s Tabby?!”
“Uhhh,” the imposter pretending to be her best friend winced and brought a hand up to her brow in consternation. Like she knew her cover had obviously been blown. “Well, shit.”