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I was worried of what my parents would say when they learned of the doctor’s and police’s findings. Audrey picked up on that without me needing to say it aloud. She never left me alone with them. When I was released from the hospital, she went to our penthouse to pack my bags for California. I hated feeling like she was putting her life on pause, but I’d missed having her as my protector. I felt so much safer when she was there to buffer them out.
She spent my last night with me. We watched my favorite movie, Fame and she painted my toenails. I was still restricted to protein shakes, pastes, and water, but she spruced it up my shakes by blending in strawberries. I woke up feeling relatively well the morning of my departure.
I was able to shower and get dressed on my own. Sweatpants, a t-shirt, hoodie, and slip-on shoes were acceptable choices for a six hour flight. My hair went into a simple ponytail. Chapstick and lotion were as far as I felt inclined to go in terms of cosmetics and skin care. When I finished packing up all of my toiletries in my bathroom, I joined Audrey in my bedroom.
“Packed it?” She offered me her hand.
“Yep.” I handed her the small bag I had in my hands.
She neatly nestled it into my suitcase. “I think that’s everything. Christina’s in here along with clothes, books, and a blanket.”
“It’s what I’m for.” She zipped up the suitcase on my bed. She turned to me with her hands on her hips.
“I got you something.” She smiled.
“What?” I fought off a smile.
She went into her purse and pulled out a small box. “I hope you like it.” She offered it to me.
“I’m going to rehab, not college. Presents aren’t customary.”
“Don’t care. I want you to have it.” She placed it in my hand.
I lifted the lid. Lying on a sponge bed was a silver necklace with a small bee charm.
“Because I’m your Izzie Bee?” I smiled up from it and at her.
“I want you to stay busy and keep working hard. You’re pointed in the right direction now. I know you’ll do great.”
“I love it.” I stepped forward and hugged her.
“I love you.” She held me.
“I love you too.” I swallowed hard, trying not to cry.
“Here, let me put it on you.” She insisted, pulling away.
I handed her the box and turned around. She draped it over my neck. I looked down at it, smiling, as she fastened it into place.
“It’s beautiful.” I checked it out in the mirror.
I acted as though I didn’t hear her. She side hugged me. “You’re going to believe me soon.”
There was a knock at my door. “It’s open.” I replied.
Bosworth opened it, Soph came bounding in at full speed and hugged my legs.
“We said gentle with Sissy, remember? She’s not feeling well.” He instructed gently.
“She’s okay.” I reassured him as I ran my fingers through her dark brown hair.
She looked up at me as she continued to hold on to my legs. “What’s wrong?” She asked innocently.
I fought off tears and forced a smile. “My head and stomach hurt. The doctor in California’s going to fix them.”
“When will you be all better?”
“Three months, Ladybug.” I cleared my throat.
“I’m a princess now.” She corrected. “I go?” She asked after a moment of thought.
“The doctor. I’ll be real quiet.”
I crouched down in front of her. “I need you to keep B company for me. He’ll get lonely if both of us are gone. Can you do that?”
“I love you, Princess Ladybug.”
She beamed. “I love you too.” She zoomed forward and hugged me.
I held her tiny frame in my arms. “Keep telling people to be nice.” I kissed the side of her face and stood up.
“We should be leaving now.” Bosworth notified me as he lowered my suitcase to the floor.
“Right, just a second.”
I turned to Audrey and hugged her one last time.
“Please try.” She whispered.
“I will. I promise.”
She rubbed my back and let go. Her eyes were glassy when she pulled away from me.
“You’re not allowed to cry.” I told her playfully, feeling myself close to doing the same.
“You can’t tell me what to do.” She quipped with a shaky smirk as several tears escaped.
“Watch me. You got married six months ago. You and Ev should be going at it like bunnies. Do it while I’m gone. There’s too much fan fiction online about others doing it with him. Stake your claim. You could use the excitement.”
Her eyes widened and she gaped her mouth in mock outrage. “Soph!” She cried.
“She doesn’t know what I’m talking about.”
“Get bunnies. I wants to play with them.” She vocalized her innocence.
Bosworth snickered. Audrey shook her head at me, trying her best not to smile.
“Get hopping.” I instructed as I attempted to pick up my carry on.
“I’ll get it. Save your strength.” B lifted it from my bed.
His bag was on his shoulder. The handle of my suitcase was in one hand, my carry on was in the other. The four of us left my room. I followed him down the stairs. Audrey held Sophia’s hand was they joined us.
“Ready to leave?” My father asked.
I looked up and noticed he was standing in the foyer with Genette at his side.
“What?” I flickered my eyes back to Audrey once I was settled on the floor.
“We are accompanying you to the airport. The media’s outside. We need to present a united family front.” Genette explained.
Aud let go of Soph’s hand and walked up to me. She pulled me into her arms. “Too many people will be watching. They won’t say anything. I love you. Call me when you land.” She breathed into my ear to ensure I was the only one that heard.
I nodded and stepped out of her arms, drying my eyes with my fingers. She tucked my bangs behind my ear and placed a kiss on my cheek. Sophia cut in, hugging my leg. I looked down at her.
“Don’t be sad. I go.” She offered in hopes of cheering me up.
“Stay like this, okay? Don’t lose it.” I ruffled her hair.
“What?” She tilted her head to the side.
“Your sunshine. Ladybugs need it to grow big and strong. You’re their princess; you need it most of all.” I used terms she could understand and I could get away with using in front of our parents.
She nodded. I placed a kiss on her forehead. I waved goodbye to both of my sisters. I lowered my sunglasses from the top of my head to my eyes and walked to the elevator in the foyer. I pressed the call button. The four of us boarded the elevator. My father pressed the down button.
“My show cameras are waiting downstairs in the lobby. No outbursts. We’re doing what we can do address the rumors and allegations to avoid cancellation. Do your part.” He briefed me the moment the steel doors were closed.
“The makeup artists will quickly make you presentable in the powder room before they start rolling.” Genette tacked on.
I said nothing in response. Bosworth reached out and took my hand, silently giving me his support. I raised my free arm and used my sleeve to soak up my liquid emotions.
When the elevator arrived, our bags were taken to the car. Genette and my dad schmoozed in the lobby. I was escorted away by the makeup artist. Bosworth kept my hand in his. I was asked to sit on the leather couch in the bathroom. I sat down. He remained standing at my side, never letting go. She sat down in the seat beside me, her kits already set up. She removed my sunglasses. I couldn’t stop crying.
“Deep breaths.” She picked up a clump of tissue and dried my eyes.
I tightened my hold on B’s hand and did as told. I was eventually able to will myself to stop. I closed my eyes and allowed her to paint me up. I didn’t bother looking in the mirror when she lifted a handheld one to show me her creation.
“Can she put her sunglasses back on? She feels so exposed already.” He requested on my behalf.
“The producers want her emotions visible. The upcoming season will be geared towards how they rebuild as a family.” She started packing.
“This is cruel. She’s a child, a sixteen year old girl, who is traumatized and sick. You’re milking her life experience for drama to boost ratings. All of you should be ashamed.” He spat in distaste.
“I didn’t make the rules. I follow the orders, just like you do. It’s my job.”
He rolled his eyes. “Let’s go, Sweetheart.” He helped me to my feet. I leaned into him as we walked for comfort, not balance.
He was ripped away from me as soon as we were reunited with my parents. He was shooed to the outskirts of the shot. My father put his arm around me. Genette was holding my carry on as if she was actually helping me.
“ACTION!” The director called from behind the camera.
The three of us started walking slowly. I was in the middle, both of them were looking at me sympathetically. I closed myself off, disabling my ability to feel anything in that moment. I locked my eyes on the camera. The hyper-fixation allowed my mind to blank.
“We’re – we’re so worried about you. We’re going to do everything we can to help. We’ll beat this together.” My father gave an Oscar-worthy performance, even allowing tears to collect in his eyes.
It was his attempt at pulling me back in and gaining some material they could splice together. It went through one ear and out the other without impact.
“You’re so beautiful. It’s such a tragedy that you don’t see it.” Genette slammed on the hot button issue without hesitation.
They kept trying to trigger something as we made our way to the car. I remained in my world of nothingness. Bosworth was forced to sit in front with the driver to stay off camera and accommodate the camera crew in the back of the limo.
I was allowed to sit in the seat beside my father. I folded my hands in my lap and lifelessly stared at the black square attempting to spin my life into a fairytale.
“We can’t use any of this. She looks demented.” The producer finally pointed out.
“YOU RUIN EVERYTHING!” Genette screeched.
My father didn’t defend me or agree. I remained inattentive. I felt invisible, completely worthless.
“Shut it off. This was a waste of time.We’re not going to bother trying to get a shot of you hugging her goodbye. There will be no build up. It’ll come off as forced. ” The director ordered the cameraman.
The second the little red light went out, I shoved my sunglasses onto my face and stared out the window. I drifted into my usual daydream.
I was a star in the galaxy millions of light years away. My warm glow illuminated the darkness and people all over the world gazed up at my beauty, silently thankful for my presence. I was happy way up high, nothing could touch me, hurt me, or haunt me. I was free to be.
My door being opened for me shattered my wondrous illusion.
“Goodbye, Isabella. Try to successfully complete treatment.”, was my father’s frigid farewell.
Genette glared without shame.
“I’m so sorry, Daddy.” I squeaked as I gave him a quick hug. I crawled out of the car before he could reject me.
“Why wasn’t the camera rolling?! That was perfect!” I heard the director shout as the driver shut the door. I wrapped one of my arms around myself and used the sleeve of my sweater to dab my eyes beneath my glasses.
“How was it?” B approached me as our bags were fetched from the trunk.
“The producer said I look insane. They’re not going inside with us.” I sniffled.
“Shhh. It’s going to be okay. If I had the money, I’d adopt you and Soph, but I don’t. Aud’s up to something. You won’t be returning to this mess.” He hugged me.
The man I wanted to comfort me was seated in the car, presumably on his Blackberry, too disappointed to show sympathy. He paid yet another person to fill in for him.
“We have a flight to catch, Sweetheart. Try to relax.” He took a step back to take our luggage.
“Okay.” I offered him a smile.
The two of us made our way through the airport. I closed my eyes when we were comfortably seated in first class. I sank right back into my favorite dream. There was a car waiting for us when we arrived at LAX. We went straight to the rehabilitation facility. I looked out the window, allowing myself to be taken in by the palm tree-lined streets and sunny atmosphere. The center was located on a private beach. I was able to hear waves crashing when I stood on the pavement outside the entrance.
“It’s beautiful.” I told B when he joined me with my bags.
“Imagine it’s an educational vacation.” He replied as we walked onto the mat and the automated doors whooshed open.
“That should be easy enough.” I slid my glasses onto the top of my head as I looked around the place.
The walls were painted a warm beige. Hotel-style art of passively pleasant images attempted to create a false sense of comfort. The common thread of dark wood furniture with beige upholstery and draperies should’ve had a calming effect, but I felt myself getting frustrated by how perfect and cohesive everything was.
Nothing has a flaw or quirk to give it genuine character. They are all concisely cut pieces of a puzzle that acclimate to their environment just as they should. Are they going to attempt to make me do the same? What if I can’t? Are they going to force me anyway? That’s the reason I’m here, right–? I tried to fit in where I didn’t belong? Are they going to attempt to shove me into a new mold now that I’ve learned striving towards their definition of beautiful will kill me? Instead of learning how to get better, will I simply be taught new and healthier ways to mask who I really am? I–
“You’ve got to stop nibbling. There’s going to be nothing left.” He removed my fingers from my lips and clasped my hand in his as we approached the sign-in desk.
“What if they can’t make me good enough to belong either? What happens then?” I whispered as the lady behind the counter requested my information.
“That’s not the goal. We want to get you well again. That’s the only reason you’re here. They’re not going to morph you into something you’re not.” He started filling out forms.
I laughed humorlessly. “Was I ever doing well?”
He looked over at me. “Why didn’t you come to me? I would’ve listened.”
I looked down. “Soph needs you more. They haven’t destroyed her yet.”
He put down his pen and guided my face up with his hand. “You’re not broken. This is your chance to patch yourself up so that you can get back out there, stronger than ever before.” He looked directly into my eyes.
I nodded ever so slightly.
“I love you.” He placed a kiss on my forehead.
I softly smiled to myself as he resumed filling out my paperwork. I was forced to surrender my phone and all other outside communication devices. I was sure to call Audrey from it first. A hospital bracelet was attached to my wrist and I changed into a hospital gown, the robe I brought from home, and house slippers. B hugged me goodbye and I was escorted to my room by a nurse. I walked in to find a girl in there, making one of the twin beds. She looked up shortly after we entered.
“Are you my new roommate?” She asked as she stood up straight.
I nodded and tucked my hair behind my ear. She walked up to me, offered me a warm smile, and held out her hand. “Lacey Danes.”
I shook it. “Izzie Hales.” I returned her smile.
“I will leave you to get further acquainted. Lunch time will be in twenty minutes. Page the nurse’s station if you need anything.” The nurse told me.
I nodded. She left, shutting the door behind her. I noticed that my bags were placed beside the dresser on my side of the room.
“How old are you?” Lacey asked.
I walked up to my bed and ran my hand along the linens. “I turned sixteen in April. How old are you?”
“nineteen. First year in college. I started purging to avoid the freshman 15. My mom caught me over spring break and freaked out. They sent me here, instead of back to school.”
“Where do you go to school?” I asked.
“UCLA. What city are you from?”
“Manhattan.” I went into my suitcase and removed Christina.
Her eyes widened in shock. “This is pretty far to come for treatment. All of the facilities on the east coast were booked up?”
I placed my stuffed animal on my bed, putting her head on my pillow.
“My dad has connections out here.” It wasn’t a complete lie.
She nodded in understanding. “So, how’d you get caught?”
“I passed out at a dinner party with my parents. They learned at the hospital that I’m anorexic, among other things. Do you know what’s for lunch?”
She sat down on her bed. “It depends on what level you’re on. By the looks of you, I’d say you’ll be enjoying a tall shake. They’ll upgrade you as you gain weight and have a better chance of being able to keep food down.”
“Do I look really bad?” I spared a glance in her direction.
“You’re skin and bones, but that’s common place around here. Bulimics don’t usually get to your size. We tend to binge before purging, taking in too many calories. That’s why I look the way I do. You’re the only one that’s shown up in makeup, though.”
“I forgot about, um – I need to wash this off.” I walked to our bathroom.
I picked up one of our hand towels. I soaked it and smothered it with soap. I scrubbed my face as hard as I could, trying to rid myself of the mask my parents put on.
“Where have I seen you before?” Lacey showed up at the door and leaned on the archway.
“I don’t know. What kind of activities do the let us do?” I deflected.
“Art therapy, group therapy, music therapy – plenty of therapy, on top of our private sessions with Dr. Fuller. We have free time on the beach. We have to pass our mental state evaluations in order to go near the water. We have time in the rec room. There are ping pong tables, board games, and a television. The shows and movies we’re allowed to watch are pre-selected. Plenty of Animal Planet, squeaky clean sitcoms, and inspirational stories. Guilty-pleasure dramas and reality shows are strictly banned. There’s no shot of them budging on that. Sorry.”
“I love that, actually.” I cupped water in my hands and drenched my face with it.
“Complete removal from the outside world?”
“Yeah.” I picked up a dry towel.
“I have a real shot of clearing my head and starting over.” I added as I dabbed myself free of moisture.
“I’ve only been here for three weeks, but it’s a good place. I’m starting to feel like I can breathe again.”
I smiled at the thought of that happening to me.
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