I ran my butt off to get to the Trask Center on time the following night. I didn’t quite make it.
Lily was standing in the lobby, looking at a folder. “Mr. Larkin. You’re late,” she said, without looking up.
“Well...you never...want to be the first one...at the party, right?” I said, smiling and trying to catch her eye.
“Try and be on time tomorrow. Come on, I’ll show you to your room.” She led me towards the elevators.
“Something with a view and a minibar, I hope.”
Lily ignored that, and pressed the up button.
“Oh, at least tell me it’s a non-smoking room.” No reaction. Come on, give me something, I thought, I’m dying here.
It had occurred to me that Hector might have gotten himself in trouble by helping set me up with Lily; she was supposed to be my counselor, after all. But when I asked Hector about it, he just laughed and said that my chances of anything happening with her before the project ended in six weeks were so vanishingly small that he wasn’t worried. At the time, I had taken that as a challenge; now I was beginning to see what he meant.
Lily didn’t actually look at me until we were in the elevator. Then she turned her head slightly, and said, “You didn’t tell me that you knew Hector.”
Uh-oh. “Well, yeah, I mean...”
“It puts me in an awkward position, you know.”
“Uh, really? Sorry...”
“That could have affected us accepting you for the project, you know.”
“I didn’t realize...”
“We selected you all with specific patient/therapist relationships in mind. You were supposed to be paired with Hector. Dr. Harte wanted it that way.”
“He did? Oh...” Some part of my mind noticed he was “Doctor” Harte now.
The elevator opened at the fifth floor, and Lily strode down the corridor. I hurried to keep up.
“It’s no wonder the two of you were friends, your interpretive matrices seem to be virtually identical. Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Well, I didn’t realize...”
She stopped suddenly in front of a closed door, catching me by surprise. I pulled up short, inches before I knocked her down with my excess momentum.
Lily turned around, and I saw a flash of surprise as she found me directly in front of her. She dropped her voice to a whisper, but she didn’t back off.
“Hector was very embarrassed about the whole thing. He said he kept quiet because he wanted you to get the help you need, but he made me promise I’d look after you. We’re going to have to work hard together at this.”
“I can do that,” I said, grinning inwardly.
* * *
It was a private room, I was glad to see. Standard uninspiring decor, white walls, metal frame hospital bed, black and white checkered linoleum. The only unusual things in the room were the two pills next to a glass of water on the nightstand, and the 11” x 14” pad of paper sitting on the bedside chair with three yellow pencils.
“You’ve been assigned this room for the duration of the project,” Lily said, standing in the doorway. “You can come straight up here when you arrive tomorrow; everything will be set up just like this.”
“Will you be here tomorrow?” I asked.
“No, but you can ask the duty nurse to call me if there’s an emergency, and I’ll come right over.”
“Oh. Okay.” I walked over to the table and picked up one of the pills. “I take it this is Visulex?”
“I see Hector’s been telling you some of our secrets.” She smiled, ever so slightly.
“Not quite everything,” I said. “So, what do I do?”
“It’s really simple. Visulex is a nootropic; it enhances your senses, and allows you to visualize what you’re thinking more clearly.” She gestured at the pad of paper. “All you do is take the pills, try to relax, and write down or draw whatever it is you’re thinking about. Do as much or as little seems appropriate. In the event you actually feel like sleeping, go ahead, but try and sketch whatever you can remember from your dreams. In the morning, you leave the pad behind and check out with the nurse.”
“So, when do we get started?” I tried to let a little eagerness show, but just a little. She wanted to be professional, I could do professional. Hector had given me an opening, I had to make the most of it.
“Your first counseling session is in three days. That’s when we’ll start trying to get to the bottom of your condition.”
“I’m looking forward to it.” And I realized that I really was – both to see her again and to hear what she had to say.
She stepped out of the room. “Well, good night, Mr. Larkin.”
“Um, if we’re going to work together, I’d really be more comfortable with Matt, or Matthew.”
She smiled, the first real smile that night. “All right. Good night, Matthew. I’ll see you in a few days.”
“Good night, Lily.”
* * *
[Go to Chapter 3.2]