The handcuffs pressed uncomfortably against her wrists. The metal was cold and chafing as the police cruiser made the journey to the nearest hospital. They had called it an involuntary committal or a section 302; Stacie called it institutionalization. Not that the cops cared to listen, that is.
“It’s good you’re doing this! You’ll go in, and they’ll make sure you get better,” The cop exclaimed cheerfully. Stacie rolled her eyes and put on a chirp of a voice, “Yeah, I’m sure. I really just want to get better,” She said as she shimmied her handcuffed hands down her body and brought her legs through. Her hands were now at the front of her body as opposed to behind her, where the cop had cuffed them.
“I’m really glad you want to get better; that’s the first step after all,” The cop prattled on. Stacie nodded and smiled at the cop through the rearview mirror as she fiddled with the cuffs in front of her. “Well, it looks like we’re here!” The police officer stopped the car and got out. Stacie watched the officer walk around the cruiser and open her door; she took a small victory at the look of surprise on the man’s face when she saw she had brought her hands around.
“Well, when did you do that?” The policeman chuckled.
“It was uncomfortable having them behind me,” Stacie shrugged.
The man snorted amicably and held out a hand to help her up. When she stood, she stood a little taller than the police officer, which was even more comical to her, especially when she saw the man straighten his posture in an attempt to look taller. “I’m sure everything will be fine when you get out. This way.”
The hospital had sliding glass doors and metal detectors at the entrance. Stacie took a seat in the lobby while the policeman talked to the receptionist at the front desk. An older woman gave Stacie a courteous smile. While the cop and receptionist discussed the technicalities of an involuntary commitment, Stacie continued to fiddle with the cuffs. Luckily, she had put her hair up that day, so it only took her a moment to pull a bobby pin out of her hair. Biting the plastic tip-off, she inserted the self-made pick into the lock and bent it to a ninety-degree angle, and then bent it the opposite way at a forty-five. Once she properly formed the pick, Stacie inserted the pin all the way and twisted clockwise for the first tumbler and then counterclockwise for the second. The bolt unlocked, and she pulled her right hand out and massaged her wrist before unlocking the left cuff.
Satisfied, she waited for the cop to finish up his conversation, his eyes widening further when she held the cuffs out for him. “Well, aren’t you making my job easier;” The cop chuckled. Stacie shrugged and turned to the approaching nurse. “Can you follow me, please?” The nurse requested; Stacie stood up and did as she was asked. Resigned to her fate.
The nurse had her sit in an empty room at a round table with her phone for several hours, filling out phone numbers on a small card and a ton of paperwork. The forms requested information about her parents, her medical history, allergies, special diet requirements, the reason for forced institutionalization, permission to hold phone and belongings, etc. By the time Stacie was done with the forms, it had been three hours, and her phone was on nineteen percent.
Once they collected her paperwork and filled her in on hospital expectations, she handed her phone to the administrative worker, who tossed it into a Ziploc bag. Once her orientation was complete, he guided her down a series of hallways and further into the hospital. Stacie made a note of the koi pond and spa that they passed, followed by a pool and an area dedicated to shuffleboard. The administrator rattled off information about their activities, but Stacie mostly zoned out through it.
After being strip-searched, Stacie was given back her leggings and a paper shirt in place of her hoodie. “Why can’t I wear my hoodie,” She asked the nearby tech.
“You can, but we’d have to cut the strings off of it,” The girl explained. Stacie gawked in horror and donned the paper shirt without further protest. She liked her hoodie too much to allow them to cut the strings. “Do I get my shoes back?” She asked.
“You don’t really need them, plus, you can’t have shoelaces,” The tech replied. Stacie groaned, “What’s the full list of things I can’t wear?”
“Anything with a string isn’t allowed, no sharp objects, shoes aren’t suggested since you’ll mostly be in here anyway. We bring a cart out for shampoo and conditioner at seven PM sharp, and we take the cart away at eight, so you need to shower before it goes back in storage. You only get a paper cup filled with soap, and you’re constrained to two pumps.”
“What, do you think we’re going to drink it?” Stacie scoffed.
The tech looked at her skeptically as if to say, “yeah, duh.”
“Anything else?” Stacie pressed.
“Breakfast is at eight AM sharp, group therapy is at ten, and we will schedule your individual appointments throughout the day. You’ll be required to sign voluntary surrender forms between then. If you get violent, we are expected to call a code grey and give you a sedative and return you to this room for solitary confinement. Medication, if you've given any, is dispersed at half-past seven, right after vitals.”
“Great,” Stacie mumbled. The tech opened the door and led Stacie into the common room.
A nurse gave Stacie a meal as the woman explained that all her fellow patients were out at dinner. The meal itself was generally sparse fare. Mashed potatoes, chicken, and an apple. While she was eating, she was interrupted by a flurry of discussion and the automatic opening of the ward doors. Turning, she was met with the image of three boys rushing forward in paper shirts and pants, rubber-tipped socks squeaking against the linoleum floors. “Trolls!” One of the boys cheered. The troll boy had styled black hair and glasses; his smile was wide as he hopped over the back of the couch and flicked on the television.
“Looks like we’ve got fresh meat,” One of the other boys grinned. He had boyish looks and brown hair; he reminded Stacie vaguely of a cherub.
“Don’t call her fresh meat, Bumper; it’s rude,” A blonde girl with blue eyes chided. “I’m Jessica; the obnoxious one is Bumper.”
“Sup,” Bumper grunted.
“Ooh, fresh meat!” Another girl shouted upon her entrance. Stacie’s eyes widened when a chubby blonde girl with an Australian accent approached eagerly with a wild look in her eye. “Fat Amy!” Another voice groaned. “You’re going to scare her.”
The Australian girl stopped short and cocked her head to the side in confusion. “How would I scare her?”
“Well, for one thing, charging at her like a bull definitely won’t help the transition,” Another girl scoffed. Stacie looked up to see a black girl with red hair and a bright blue v-neck. “Hey, I’m Cynthia Rose,” The other girl introduced herself.
“Um, hi?” Stacie said haltingly.
“See, you scared her,” Cynthia Rose admonished Fat Amy, turning in the other girl’s direction with her hands on her hips.
“Quiet guys, I’m trying to watch Trolls,” The boy with the glasses shushed them.
“Donald, you’ve watched that movie every day for the past three days;” The blonde girl with blue eyes groaned.
“Shhh,” Donald ignored his fellow patient’s protest as the Trolls ran from the king’s cook.
“Sorry about him, I’m Jessica, and that’s Donald.” The blonde girl pointed at the boy with glasses, who offered Stacie a quick wink before turning back to the screen.
“I kind of figured he was Donald since you just said his name,” Stacie chuckled.
“Who hasn’t said their name yet?” Jessica asked her fellow patients.
“Hey there, I’m Bumper, but you can call med-”
“Shut it, you overgrown cabbage patch kid,” Fat Amy cut Bumper off with a hip check. “Well, CR said my name and then introduced herself, so I’m assuming you know who we are. Which leaves the people that haven’t spoken up.” Fat Amy grabbed Stacie’s arm and pulled her to her feet, spinning her around to face the group's direction.
“Let’s do a rundown anyway. Skinny blonde is Jessica; our local lesbian is Cynthia Rose, the worst person you’ll ever meet is Bumper, best is moi also known as Fat Amy-”
“You call yourself-”
“Yes, she does, so twig bitches like us don’t do it behind her back,” Jessica and Cynthia Rose sighed in unison.
“Got it,” Stacie uttered under her breath.
“The boy that hasn’t talked yet is Benji,” Fat Amy gestured towards a boy with brown hair and thick eyebrows. He smiled kindly at Stacie and gave a small wave. “He’s our magician friend. Next, we have Shawshank, our very own walking iPod. Seriously she knows every single song; just ask.”
“Hi, I’m Beca;” A tiny brunette introduced herself sheepishly.
“Red is in her room at the moment; she wasn’t feeling up to dinner at the moment;” Fat Amy rattled off the names in short order, finishing by pointing Stacie towards the hall where she assumed ‘Red’ was located. “You’re new, so for the first night, you get your own room. Good for you!”
Stacie watched as Beca walked off down the hall towards the rooms as the others crowded around the common area to watch the movie or play board games. “So, what are you in for legs?”
“I was found at the top of a parking garage,” Stacie shrugged.
“Found as in, something bad happened up there, or you almost did something bad up there?” Fat Amy inquired.
Stacie turned to see a pretty redhead entering the room with Beca in tow. They were holding hands. “Hi, Becs told me we had someone new; I’m Chloe;” The redhead took a seat on the couch after Benji stood up to sit on the floor. “Trolls again?” Chloe giggled.
“It’s my favorite movie,” Donald mumbled self-consciously.
“That’s okay, Donald; I love anything with music, you know that,” Chloe assuaged the boy with a pat on Donald’s knee.
“What were you guys talking about?” Chloe asked.
“We were asking how legs got here,” Amy informed her friend.
“Oh, hmm, well, she doesn’t have to answer that,” Chloe commented.
“Well, I’m here because I was deemed dangerous to the public. All I did was punch a guy; it only got worse because I called the cop a wanker and broke a window,” Fat Amy exclaimed with something resembling pride.
“I wrote a Reddit post about how I was having a tough time of things, and my university tracked me down to commit me,” Bumped harrumphed.
“I went to a hospital asking for a therapist, and they sent me here instead. I didn’t know that I said the wrong things when they asked me whether I ever felt sad or hopeless sometimes,” Donald continued the conversation, his eyes never leaving the screen.
“I’m not answering this question,” Cynthia Rose grunted.
“Same,” Beca muttered. Chloe nodded in agreement, her thumb brushing over Beca’s.
“I’ll go,” Benji offered.
“Nah, dude, yours is messed up,” Cynthia Rose exclaimed.
“I mean, it’s kind of funny?” Benji continued.
“Dude, your method is the reason we’re not allowed to have shoelaces,” Donald snorted.
Stacie’s eyes widened in brief understanding; the comments were definitely adding up. “I think I get it,” She told them.
“Good, no need to tell the full story then,” Chloe hummed.
Stacie slept badly that night. The air conditioning was loud, and her blanket was too thin for her to complete a REM cycle fully. When the nurses came in to wake her up, she rose rather easily since she hadn’t fully fallen asleep anyway. She filed into the hallway, followed by the others, as the nurses took her blood and checked her blood pressure.
“I hate mornings,” Beca grumbled.
“It’ll be alright, babe,” Chloe yawned and patted the brunette on the head comfortingly.
Stacie approached the couch and sat down, debating the entire time on whether she wanted to attempt sleep again. Maybe she could ask for another blanket? “Looks like we have fresh meat again,” Bumper grunted. Stacie turned to look in the same direction as the boy in surprise. In the seat nearest the door sat another blonde girl with green eyes and a deep scowl.
“Aubrey?” Chloe gasped. Stacie watched as Chloe rushed forward to stoop near the blonde. “What are you doing here?”
“I was doing a mock trial paper, and I was having someone peer review my work, but the idiot thought I was serious when I related to depression in my speech, so he reported me.”
“And they Section 302’d you for that?” Cynthia Rose gawked.
“They wouldn’t even listen to me; they threatened me and everything when I didn’t want to cooperate. If they just read my paper, they’d realize it was a school assignment. Yet, here I am. I’m going to be so behind in my coursework,” The blonde, Aubrey, groaned.
“They wouldn’t Section you for a term paper,” Beca stated suspiciously.
“Are you calling me a liar?” Aubrey challenged, green eyes narrowed on Beca.
The tiny brunette held up her hands in mock surrender, “Fine, whatever you say.”
“Well, at least you’ll have company during breakfast today,” Cynthia Rose said to Stacie.
“Huh?” Stacie turned to look at the other girl in confusion.
“You haven’t filled out all your paperwork yet, and you haven’t had your first psychiatric appointment. You’re not allowed in the cafeteria,” CR explained.
“Well, Aubrey, you and… wait, did we never ask you for your name yesterday?” Chloe gasped, turning to Stacie with a dropped jaw.
“Yeah, it’s fine, though. You can call me -”
“Anastacia Conrad!” The nurse at the reception area called out. Stacie groaned at the use of her full name. “Please, call me Stacie,” She said loud enough for everyone to hear.
“Stacie is a lot less impressive than Anastacia,” Aubrey hummed, quirking one perfect eyebrow.
“Yeah, well…” Stacie trailed off. The tall brunette made her way to the desk, where the nurses gave her an appointment time.
Aubrey was an anxious mess, something that became glaringly apparent as Stacie interacted with the girl. The blonde would often go off on tangents about school assignments, her father's opinions, calorie intake, professors, school ranking. It got to the point where Stacie was beginning to stress out for the girl. “You know, worrying isn’t going to help you in this situation, right?” Stacie said hesitantly.
Aubrey slowly turned to face Stacie with the dramatics of a horror film. “Aca-Scuse me?”
“Aca- what? Where did, what -” Stacie stumbled through her thoughts as she attempted to frame an appropriate response to Aubrey’s utterance.
“For your information, I am a member of the Barden Bellas, and my captain will kill me for missing a single day of rehearsal. I’m sorry I don’t have my head in my ass as you do. Some people have things to do in the real world.”
“The Barden Bellas? You mean that group of girls that sometimes sing while cosplaying as flight attendants?”
If it were possible, Stacie would have sworn that Aubrey’s face got redder. “Aca-”
“Whatever,” Stacie broke in, “You can miss a couple of days of flight attendant training while you focus on getting better because as much as you say you don’t belong here, every word you have said so far suggests you need this.” Stacie’s words were met with Aubrey’s furious glare and the snap of her mouth shutting. “Good, now breathe; we have a long seventy-two hours ahead of us.”
Aubrey groaned and settled her head in her hands. “I’m so screwed.” Stacie looked at the blonde and her defeated posture. She felt a spike of sympathy for the other girl and tentatively patted her on the shoulder.
“Hey, it’s three days of your life. They’ll realize there’s nothing wrong with you, you’ll get your discharge papers, and you’ll never see this place again. It doesn’t sound like it’s your first time here anyway, so at least you have some form of prior knowledge of how things work here, right? I’m sure everything will be fine, and nothing is a better excuse for lack of access to technology and assignments than being locked up someplace against your will. Professors can’t fail you for that.”
Aubrey peered at Stacie suspiciously for a moment before relaxing. “Yeah, you’re right. Although, Alice is still going to murder me.”
“I don’t know who this Alice is, but do you want me to punch her?” Stacie chuckled. Aubrey finally cracked a smile; the force of her grin was dazzling at the moment. Stacie thought that Aubrey’s smile was the most beautiful she had ever seen.
“Don’t punch her; you’ll wind up right back here, and don’t let the nurses hear that. You’ll be marked down for violent thought patterns.”
The two shared a look of annoyance before bursting into laughter. “So big brother’s watching?” Stacie chortled.
“Oh yea, big time. They take note of everything you say.”
“So, your little spiel on how stressed you are just earned you what? Another week?”
“Don’t even joke about that; I would have a panic attack,” Aubrey snorted.
“Well, if it makes you feel better, I’ll probably be here longer than three days too.”
“Why’s that?” Aubrey inquired, curious.
“That’s what you get when you’re caught trying to jump off of six-floor parking garages,” Stacie shrugged.
Aubrey’s expression faltered for a moment, a mixture of alarm and sorrow flit across her features. “If I may ask, why?”
Stacie shrugged once more and stared off at the black television screen. “I guess I didn’t see much of a point in sticking around. It’s funny too. I had just been hanging out with friends, and I was laughing with them, playing games. I saw my friend Emily score a goal in her soccer game, her boyfriend Mikey cheering her on. Everything was good. I wanted to do something after but Emily was tired. I didn’t want to be alone, but they weren’t sticking around, so I went to the roof of the garage to get some air. I usually did that to breathe, be closer to the sky. Except this time was different. This time I didn’t spend my time looking up. Instead, I looked down, and all I wanted was to fall and never get up again.”
“Were you practicing?” Aubrey asked.
“I don’t know, I thought I just liked to go there to think, but at that moment, it felt like everything was supposed to lead up to me jumping off that roof.”
“I’m glad you didn’t,” Aubrey said. Stacie turned to look at the blonde in mild surprise, “You just met me.”
“That doesn’t mean I can’t care about another human being, so I’m glad you didn’t make the jump.”
“I almost did,” Stacie mumbled.
“But you didn’t, small victories;” Aubrey’s response was accompanied by a gentle taking of Stacie’s hand.
“Small victories,” Stacie repeated as she accepted Aubrey’s hand with a gentle squeeze.