The hallucinations had been less frequent since I had started the Visulex treatments, but now they returned with a vengeance. More than once, I had to stop and think about how to get to my own studio, when the paths across campus sprouted new branches. A rhythmic murmur of meaningless syllables, almost a chant, faded in and out in the distance. I turned the sketch over when Lily’s eyes seemed to follow me.
When I reached Ware Hall, I tucked the page away in my locker so that it wasn’t just sitting out there when Lily walked in. My latest painting was still on its easel, and I spent the time before she arrived pacing back and forth in front of it, trying to get my nerves and my senses under control.
I stopped paying attention to the phantom knocks at the studio door, especially after I left the door open and the raps continued unabated. When Lily cleared her throat behind me to get my attention, I jumped three feet in the air.
“Sorry to startle you.” Her voice was soft as well, as if she were in a library or a museum. Some people were like that around art; I liked it.
She looked around the studio. “Is this where you paint? I don’t think I’ve ever been in here before.”
“Yeah,” I said, standing there without a clue what to do next. “Welcome.”
“Thanks.” She approached the easel. “Is this one of yours?”
“Um, yes. My latest.” Sort of, I thought. The colors vibrated on the canvas.
She looked at it for a moment. “It’s very active, almost frantic.”
“That’s kind of what I’m going for,” I said, looking away and blinking to clear the afterimages from my vision.
“What’s it called?”
“After where you lived when you were younger?”
“Sort of. Well, no, not really. I don’t quite know.”
She nodded, and turned to face me. “Do you have something for me?” she asked gently.
I nodded, and went to my locker. Again, I felt a sudden urge to start babbling an explanation for the sketch, and once again I quashed it. She would see whatever she saw, without me trying to influence her. I took the page out, my back to her.
Still, it would be unfair to spring it on her without any warning. “Lily ... I don’t think that this is exactly what you expect,” I said before turning around. “It’s sort of personal.”
“It’s okay, Matt. It really is. I know that everything you draw has special meaning to you.”
“No...I mean, it’s sort of personal to you.” Ah, well, nothing for it, I thought. I brought the sheet over to the easel, and stood it in front of the painting. I swear it winked at me. Then I watched her reaction.
Lily’s eyes widened as she looked at the image of herself, and then she looked down, spots of color blooming on the sides of her pale face. After a moment, she gazed at the drawing again, then turned to look at me with a curious, almost puzzled expression.
“So,” I said, my heart pounding in my chest, “what do you think?”
“It’s beautiful,” she said, and I was startled to see tears start to form in her eyes. She closed them, and turned her face away.
“Lily,” I said.
She flinched away. “It’s not unusual for certain feelings to develop between patient and therapist. It’s not...real...”
“You know that’s not true.”
“I... I’ve got to go,” she said, and moved toward the door.
“Lily, please wait.”
“I can’t... I...,” she said, then broke off with a sob and fled from the room.
I carefully stored the drawing away again, revealing the chaotic frenzy of red and blue and yellow on the canvas behind it.
* * *
When I got to the hospital that night, Hector was waiting for me in the fifth floor lobby. I wasn’t entirely surprised.
“Come on, let’s take a walk.” He said, moving to lead me back to the elevators.
I held my place. “What, I’m being kicked out of the study? I was just doing what I was supposed to do, it’s not my fault what comes out.”
“Matt. Calm down. I don’t know what you’re talking about; you’re not being booted. But we need to talk.” He looked over his shoulder at the duty nurse. “Not here though.”
I tried to get my irritation under control as we left the hospital, and walked down the long path leading toward Harkness University’s stadium.
Hector looked uncomfortable when he finally spoke again. “You made your move with Lily, then. Went badly?”
“Yeah...I don’t know,” I said, and explained what happened with the drawing and the studio.
“Poor Matt,” he said. “Betrayed by your own subconscious. She was probably just overwhelmed, though. You could come back from that.”
I knew he was trying to be encouraging, but he sounded distracted. “You didn’t come here to ask me about Lily, did you?”
“What’s going on?”
He stopped walking, and let out a long exhalation. “Tomorrow, when it’s time for your session, you’re supposed to go to Professor Harte’s office instead of the usual place. Harte’s going to offer to move you on to Stage Two of the project. Lily’s reports on your progress were glowing. I guess the whole art thing impressed them.”
“Why do I think this isn’t a good thing?”
“Dude, we weren’t even supposed to discuss Stage Two outside of the lab until all of the data from Stage One came in. I’m almost certain it’s not covered by our FDA approval.”
“Why? What’s Stage Two?”
He looked around. “You can’t tell anyone about this conversation, okay? I’m not supposed to tell you, but what the hell. Increased dosage of Visulex, administered by injection. You’d be monitored by EEG instead of doing the drawing thing.”
I laughed bitterly. “That’s it? Too bad they didn’t start yesterday. Would I still be meeting with Lily?”
Hector rubbed his forehead with one hand and closed his eyes. “Más loco que un cabra... Matt, forget about your crush for a minute, and listen to what I’m trying to tell you. I don’t know why Harte’s rushing you into Stage Two, but you should turn it down.”
“Is it dangerous?”
“Maybe. Who can say? That’s the problem. We don’t have the Stage One data yet. And...” He paused.
“Spit it out.”
“You really can’t tell anyone I told you this. Two of the other volunteers from the study dropped out. Both claimed that they were having hallucinations during the day.”
I shrugged. “That’s nothing new to me. It isn’t because of the drugs.”
“Do you know that for a fact? Do you know it won’t get worse? ‘Cause I don’t.”
“If I say no, would they let me keep taking the Stage One dosage?”
“I doubt it. They’ve apparently already gathered the data they need from you. But they’d give you the money anyway and set you up with standard talk therapy to close out the treatment cycle, they’d have to.”
“I’ll think about it,” I said. The money wasn’t so important to me. Well, it was, but I had other things on my mind. “So, do I go back to Trask tonight, or what?”
Hector sighed. “No. I’m supposed to tell you to take the night off. Actually, Lily should have been the one to do it, but now I know why she begged off. I’m covering for her. I thought it would be a good chance for us to talk, though I’ve got the sneaking suspicion I didn’t get through to you.”
“I said I’d think about it.”
“All right. I’ve done what I can here. You know where to find me if you want to talk more.”
* * *
[Go to Chapter 4.3]