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I’d be lying if I said I breezed through rehab like a champ without a single slip up or setback. There were times when I felt like the useless and lonely girl that blacked out at Everett’s party. Instead of simply wallowing in what I felt or shedding a few pounds to gain a short-lived sense of accomplishment, I worked through it. I talked it out with a therapist or Lacey. Early on, weekly weigh-ins were the cause of panic attacks. As time went on, I stopped focusing on the number. I shifted my focus to how I felt. I noticed that my hair was thicker and shinier. I wasn’t dizzy all the time. My heart wasn’t constantly racing. I could think clearly. When I woke up each morning, I didn’t feel sick or tired. I had a few more weeks before I could go home, but I felt like I had made some great progress.
I received a visitor two weeks before my scheduled release date. I wasn’t expecting it. I was escorted into the visitation room by a nurse. A huge smile crept onto my face when I saw Audrey. She was positively radiant when she noticed me. She hopped up from her chair and practically bolted up to me.
“You look amazing!” She hugged me tight.
I giggled. “You’re not into walking skeletons?” I joked.
She put her hands on either side of my face. “So healthy, so beautiful.”
I smiled. “Can we sit down?”
We made our way over to the table. She sat down on one side. I was on the other.
“How are you feeling?” She grinned.
“Pretty good. I painted a picture in group art therapy.”
“Ooh, sounds fun.”
I nodded. “Lacey’s convinced that it’s a blue cow. I’m thinking it might be a unicorn. The jury’s still out, but it was fun to make.”
She chuckled. “How was your weigh-in?”
“Good. I’m technically underweight, but I’m where I should be according to the doctor. Something about the way I metabolize food. They ran tests.”
“Genette had no right to target your size. She could’ve killed you with that nonsense.”
“I’m the one that did it, Aud. If you’re angry, it should be with me.”
“You didn’t know.”
“I’m not stupid. I had an idea.” I argued in mild frustration, sitting back in my chair.
“You’re wearing your necklace.” She changed the subject, refusing to acknowledge the facts I presented her with.
“I’ve yet to take it off. Have you talked to Dad lately?”
“I was just about to talk about him. You beat me to it.”
“We’ve talked about what to d0 with you once you are released from the program. They were leaning towards finishing schools in Europe, –” She continued.
“Be honest with me, Europe was Genette’s idea, wasn’t it? She’s always hated me.” I interrupted.
“It’s not like we like her.”
“So, what country am I jetting off to for school?” I looked down at my hands folded on the desk.
“Massachusetts.” She was unable to keep a smile off of her face
My eyes widened in shock and looked up at her. “They’re letting me go to Sella Moora?”
She nodded. “I told them that’s where I wanted you to go. You’ll be out of the spotlight and you’ll get to dance.”
“I seriously get to go? You’re not messing with me?”
“I would never do that. I know how important it is to you. The school’s still willing to take you based on your previous audition. You move in the Sunday after next. Your official home is still with them, but you’ll be staying at my house when you’re home for breaks.”
I smiled as hard as I could. “You followed through.”
She placed her hand on top of mine. “I told you I would.”
“I’m sort of out of shape. I hope they’re not expecting me to be amazing right off the bat.”
“I’m sure some of the other dancers slacked over the summer. You’re there to learn. Try your best and you will be fine.” She reassured.
Her smile began to waver after a moment. I narrowed my eyes in confusion. I was about to ask what was wrong when she clamped her hand over her mouth and fled to the nearby bathroom. I got out of my chair and trailed behind her. I found her in a stall, kneeling down in front of the toilet.
“Is it the stomach flu? Do you want me to get a nurse?” I asked frantically.
She shook her head and proceeded to get sick.
“I’ll be right back.” I left the doorway to get help.
She cleared her throat. “They’ll just tell me I’m pregnant!”
“You’re what?” A smile crept onto my face.
After wiping her mouth on a piece of toilet paper, she flushed and rose to her feet.
“Having a baby. You’ve just witnessed my morning sickness, which is misnamed. It lasts all day.” She smiled at me in the mirror as she washed her hands in the sink.
She retrieved a toothbrush from her purse and started brushing. Without warning, I hugged her from behind.
“You’re going to be the best mom.”
She giggled and turned in my arms.
“What was that?” I laughed at her attempt to speak with a mouthful of toothpaste.
She rolled her eyes playfully and rinsed her mouth out before turning to me. “Thank you, Honey.”
I linked her arm with mine and the two of us returned to the visitation room.
“Are you okay, Miss?” The room monitor asked when we returned.
Audrey nodded. “It was morning sickness.”
“Congratulations.” He smiled.
I ushered her back to her seat and made her sit down. I went back to mine and situated myself comfortably.
“Spill. I want to know all of it.”
“What do you want to know?” She nibbled on her bottom lip to prevent herself from smiling any harder.
“How’d you find out? How far along are you? If you can think of it, I want you to say it. This is my niece or nephew we’re talking about.” I coaxed impatiently.
She laughed. “Ev and I became a lot more relaxed with things after we got married. They were conceived during our honeymoon phase, which lasted well past our actual honeymoon. We were together nearly everyday for months on end, but we were not trying for a baby at all. . Do you remember that pharmaceutical convention I went to for work?”
“The one in Boston?”
“That’s the one. I shared a room with one of my coworkers. We had a little too much to drink at one of the cocktail parties. We were given tons of free samples, one of which was for a new brand of pregnancy test. We thought it’d be fun to take them. I have no clue why. Hers was negative; we laughed. I looked at mine; it was positive. I cried.” She ran a hand through her hair.
“Why?” I asked gently.
“I’ve always been a weepy drunk. It’s one of many reasons I don’t drink often. In that moment, I felt like Mom.”
“She drank when she was pregnant with me?”
“I did not know about you until she started showing. She had cocktails at family parties and events for Dad in the months before that.”
I cleared my throat. “Did he not know or not care?”
“I don’t know. She never did it when it was clear she was pregnant. They were never the most affectionate couple.”
“When did Ev find out?” I returned my eyes to hers, wanting to forget the past and focus on the future.
“That night. I called him sobbing.”
“How did he respond?”
“He got really quiet. I accused him of not wanting it. We got into a huge fight. I felt like I was having a heart attack. I hung up on him and made Natalie take me to the hospital.”
“Are you still fighting about it?”
“No. We’re fine. The hospital confirmed my pregnancy, flushed the alcohol from my system, and released me after realizing my chest pains were symptoms of a panic attack. He flew to Boston the next morning. We talked everything out. He’s a thousand percent on board with the pregnancy.”
“Why did he act like that?”
“He just found out the band was about to go on another world tour. He was overwhelmed by both sides of his life demanding so much from him. He was worried about the backlash he would receive from everyone when he announced which part meant more.”
It took me a second to line up the dates, but once I did, I felt sick to my stomach. “You knew you were pregnant at his party.” I stated in a small voice.
“Izzie Bee, it –“
“When Ev brought your things, he placed his hand on your stomach when he kissed you. I thought it was for balance, but it was for your baby?”
“I was in my first trimester. Miscarriage at that point is so common. A woman will bleed, assume it’s her period, and never even know she was pregnant.”
I buried my face in my hands.
“Nothing happened, obviously. I’m a little over three months now. I had an ultrasound last week. I’m officially in my second trimester. There’s not a whole lot to see, but I brought pictures. –“She dug into her purse.
“It could’ve. You shouldn’t have been dealing with me.”
“You were sick. You weren’t doing it to be selfish.”
I lowered my hands. “Still. It’s not your job to take care of me.”
“But you needed –“
“I love you.”
“I’m still going to look out for you.”
“I know that too, but I don’t want to come first anymore. You’ll have a real baby soon.” I focused my eyes on hers.
She nodded, but remained silent.
“Can I see the gray blob you’re calling a child?” I joked to ease the tension.
She shook her head at me and fought off a smile as she fetched the pictures from her purse. She placed them on the table in front of me.
“So, what am I looking at, here?” I studied them.
“They are sleeping right there. See the little eye?” She circled it with her index finger.
I tilted my head to the side and finally saw it. “Your sea monkey is pretty cute.”
“We were able to hear their heartbeat really well this time. Ev cried.” She smiled uncontrollably.
I looked up at her. “Nu uh.”
She giggled. “I kid you not. He tried to be so subtle. He will deny, deny, and deny if you ask him about it, but I noticed. I even kissed him for it.”
“That is adorable!” I cooed.
“He hasn’t told his fans yet. I’m surprised they haven’t caught on with how often he’s been caught looking at and buying baby stuff. Fleeting Moment’s going on tour this fall. They’re currently on the press circuit. They’re doing interviews and appearances in LA for the next two weeks. I tagged along to visit you and deliver your Sella Moora package.”
“What about your job?”
“As of now, I’m doing my work via proxy. I can’t be in the lab while pregnant. The chemicals can cause birth defects. I can write formulas and reports from my laptop and email them to my coworkers just as easy as sitting in my office, so I’m going on tour with the guys. Wish me luck.”
I smiled. “They are going to be so protective of you. It will drive you insane. Do the admissions people at Sella Moora know where I’ve been all summer?” I asked after a moment.
“Yes, they know all about your eating disorder. They still renewed your acceptance.”
“Which is it: a Hales library or auditorium?”
“Neither. I called them myself.”
“How’d you manage to pull that?”
“You did it. I simply spoke to the dean of admissions and he pulled up your application file. He said that you deferred your original acceptance, instead of declining it. –” When she looked over at me pointedly, a smile crept onto my face.
“I was hoping that Dad would change his mind if I bugged him about it long enough. I didn’t think deferred admittance stayed active this long.”
“They’re a private institution. They can write their own rule book as long as they follow certain guidelines and regulations. I sent them footage from your last ballet recital. In combination with your scores from your original audition, it was enough for them to give you the green light to attend this fall.”
“How’d my health come up?”
“They asked if you were in a dance program this summer out of curiosity. I took that opportunity to tell them the truth.”
“They weren’t freaked out?”
“No. They’re aware that anorexia is a mental illness. They aren’t allowed to discriminate because of it. They were understanding and considerate. They’d like you to check in with the school counselor regularly to make sure you’re acclimating well to your new environment.”
She reached into her bag and removed a large envelope. “This is for you.”
I couldn’t keep the smile off my face when I saw the black Sella Moora logo and my name printed on the recipient line. I opened the seal carefully, wanting to save it for later.
I spread my papers out on the table and started going through them with my sister.
“I’ll be living with three roommates in a suite. I have my own room, but I’ll share a bathroom with one of them and a living room with all three.” I read aloud from the paper with my housing information.
“Does it say your roommates’ names’?”
“Yes, their names are: Morgan Cohen, Samilla Elkins, and Eleanor Woollard.” I mused. I studied their names as if they were going to tell me everything I needed to know.
They housed by grade and placed a member of each department into a 4-person suite. It was to keep us from dividing ourselves based on which program we were in. The four of us were juniors. I was in the dance department, so that meant they are in the music, art, and acting ones.
“We can scope them out on social networking sites.” She removed her smartphone from her purse.
“I don’t think –“
“It’s what they’re there for. I mean, if a person didn’t want to be looked up, they wouldn’t post their life stories online and provide updates by the second.” She tried to reason.
“Nope, we’re not going to snoop through their posts and gather information. I want to meet them in person before developing my opinion. I don’t want to base it on their profile pictures or the series of random posts they made at three in the morning.”
“You’re not even a little bit curious about what they look like?” She batted her eyelashes at me.
“I’m nothing like the girl I appear to be on my profiles. There’s no telling what’s circulating on there about me. I don’t want to see it; I know that for sure.”
“I can delete your accounts for you. Give me your info and I’ll do it as soon as soon as possible.” She handed me a pen and paper.
I wrote down what she needed.
“Please don’t tell me if you find something. I rather not know how much my old classmates hate me. I want a fresh start. I can’t be their whore anymore.” My throat constricted and my eyes clouded with tears.
“You never were.” She placed her hand on top of mine.
My teardrops pelted her skin.
She guided my face to hers. “In the case of Phil, sleeping with someone you don’t go on to marry doesn’t make you a less of a person. Colt’s getting what’s coming to him.” She looked into my eyes as she swiped away my tears with her thumb.
“Is that going anywhere? The police said there’s a chance it wouldn’t amount to anything.”
“They found pills matching the ones found in your system in his room. His parents were able to get that switched to a drug charge instead of attempted sexual assault. Our lawyer has subpoenaed his phone records and his computer’s hard drive. We’ll see what comes of that.”
“The emphasis on girls remaining pure and chaste is a social construct. It’s taught, not embedded in our DNA. It makes us out to be prizes to be won and processions, instead of human beings with hormones and emotions. Some people wait until marriage; that’s great. Others experiment before then; that’s fine too. It requires much more responsibility, you have to use protection and visit a GYNO, but you’re not defective.”
I smiled. “Your sociology minor showed greatly in that sentiment.
“You’re normal. That’s all I wanted to express.”
“Then please change my number so that I can start feeling like I am.”
“I will. I’m not going to let them take anything else away from you. While I’m at it, I’m going to look up your roommates for — uh — safety purposes.” She compromised, taking the piece of paper with their names.
“You’re so nosey.” I teased as I resumed going through my packet.
“I am not! I’m investigating. There is a difference.”
“Yeah, okay, Ms. Detective, just be sure to keep these findings to yourself.”
“I will respect your wishes. I always do.” She smiled at me cheekily.
“Have you been tested after your incident with Colt?” She lowered her voice.
“Yes, to get my birth control renewed. She gave me a clean bill of health, but it’s not like I’ll be doing it again any time soon.”
“And they didn’t notice your weight?”
“I told them I was trying my hand at acting and it was for a new movie about starving children. They wished me luck. An intricate web of lies was a major part of it, Aud, please accept that.” I fixated on the papers in my hands.
“I don’t want to think you were trying to kill yourself.” She squeaked.
I looked to find her on the verge of tears.
“I wasn’t, ever.”
“Promise?” She used her fingers to dry her eyes beneath her glasses.
I nodded. “It’s me and you, remember? I can’t go anywhere.”
Audrey stayed with me until visiting hours are over. Even after she left, I kept reading and rereading my Stella Moora papers until dinner time. My excitement grew with each page I turned and absorbed. I could hardly contain myself by the time I met up with Lacey in the cafeteria.
“Iz, I know I told you not to get sad over the fact that I’m leaving tomorrow, but your smile hurts. Pretend you’re going to miss me. Act sad, at least for a little while, so I can pat the top of your head awkwardly as an attempt to comfort you.” She joked.
“You have no clue how much I’m going to miss having you here with me. I just got some really great news and I’m having a hard time not being happy.”
“Oh, really? What’s the amazing news that’s overshadowing the gloominess of my departure?” She inquired with an easy smile.
“My dad’s letting me go to Sella Moora, that boarding school for the arts that I was telling you about. My sister talked him into it.”
“Congratulations. I’m sure you’ll be great.”
“I’m happy I got to see you like this before I leave tomorrow. If this is the last time I see or hear from you, I’ll easily be able to imagine that you’re happy out in the real world.”
Tears started to pool in my eyes. “Are you going to make me cry?” I tried to make light of that fact.
“I’m not trying to. I just want you to know that I’ve had a lot of fun with you these past couple of months. You get so excited about the smallest things. Like every time we had applesauce, you smiled the entire time you were eating it. I guess what I’m trying to say is: I’m really glad I met you. I know you’ll be great out there on your own.” She was crying by the end and struggled to keep eye contact with me.
Without thinking twice, I walked over to her and pulled her in for a constricting hug.
“We both are.” I breathed into her hair. She nodded and held on to me.
We had a fun last night together. We managed to keep our conversations fun and lighthearted, talking about our good times. The next morning, I woke up early to have extra time to spend with her. After showering and getting dressed, I sat down on my bed and watched her pack.
“So that’s what you look like in normal clothes.” I called to her playfully.
“The real world has a different dress code. Unfortunately, I can’t walk around in my pjs all day, every day.” She replied with a shrug and a smile.
“Well, not with that attitude.”
She sighed heavily and turned to me with a sad expression.
“This is it, Kiddo. Bring it in.” She gestured for me to come to her.
“We’re going to be okay. We’re going to be happy this time.” She promised both of us as she hugged me.
“Thank you for being nice to me.” I wiped away a few of my falling tears.
“Dude, you made this place fun. It was like medical summer camp.” She laughed humorlessly through her own tears.
“Don’t forget me.”
“Never.” She gave me one final hug.
I watched as she left with her family before returning to my room. Instead of crying because of her absence, I picked up my packet of Sella Moora information. I reread everything as I waited for breakfast time. I learned all that I could about my new home, wanting to focus on the next adventure I’d have, instead of the sadness I felt that the one was on was coming to an end.
Lacey helped me a lot from the very beginning. She kept my mind off of my first meal by talking to me. We were there for each other during dark moments, but we also found the light in the most random things. In art therapy, we’d take turns guessing what we made. When we attempted to play ping pong in the rec room, it always turned into a game of ‘power serve and go fetch’. One of us would hit the ball like a wannabe tennis champion, the other would have to retrieve it and serve the same way. We’d giggle and laugh about the funny faces we’d make and make up names for our different serves. In other words, she was my first real friend. She never made me feel inadequate or weird. I simply felt understood and appreciated. I knew she’d always mean a lot to me, regardless of where we were or if we saw each other again