Teasers & Deleted Scenes
Ashton, VA, May 2009
Stephen Reyes had met Gary and Angelique Gates before, when Hafidha was sick--the first time Hafidha was sick, he mentally corrected. The Anomaly was an illness. It was one point of argument in which he was in complete agreement with Chaz Villette: people were monsters or heroes, and alphas or gammas--or betas, if that was even a valid category anymore. People were not alphas or gammas--or betas--because they were monsters or heroes. They were alphas or gammas or betas because the world was capricious and unfair, and that was just how things were.
The first time he'd met them, Reyes had formed the opinion that Gary was the reactive one, labile, fanciful--and that Angelique performed an admirable series of roles in public, from hard-headed pragmatist to flaky New Age chick, but that in reality these were defense mechanisms layered over a heart of pure marshmallow. They were both profoundly competent in their chosen fields--Angelique a microbiologist, Gary a network administrator turned bespoke carpenter--and that competence, and the confidence it engendered, underlay their various performances of self quite effectively. Most people were ciphers, conundrums, and contradictions: the Gateses, while exactly the sort of people who could give rise to a personality as nuanced as Hafidha's, were not what anyone who had heard Hafidha describe them would expect, and Stephen Reyes knew that was exactly why Hafidha spun it that way. It was protective behavior--protective of her parents, of herself, of her privacy. She guarded herself in funny, subtle ways, and Reyes had always made a point to honor that. Everybody needs walls, more or less permeable.
Now, he wondered if he should have pushed Hafidha's walls a little harder.
But he didn't let the wondering show on his face as he stood up to greet Gary and Angelique. They looked small and lost in the grandly proportioned white marble entryway of Idlewood, leaning into one another as they came up on the security post and metal detector. The recognition, apprehension, and relief that flickered across their faces could have made Reyes wince, if he allowed it--but he had a role to play here, and it wasn't just that of rescuer and confidante.
The guards cleared them through with the usual shuffling of stuff in and out of pockets and checking of identification against lists. Beth May gave them receipts for their electronics and so forth, and then they were crossing the lobby to Reyes.
"Angelique," he said. "Gary." They each shook his hand somberly--they'd gotten past the Doctor and Mister Gates stage years ago.
"You said on the phone that her syndrome seems to have progressed." Gary spoke first, as Reyes had anticipated, while Angelique hung back, observing. The circles under her eyes hinted that she might not have slept or eaten since the news came, and Reyes made a note to take them out for a nice meal before he led them back to their hotel.
Reyes nodded. "You know that there can be--cognitive symptoms."
"Delusions," Gary said. "Urges toward self-harm or harming others."
Reyes nodded. "She's safe for now. But we're going to need to talk about her treatment plan, and some other things. If you'll follow me, please, Dr. Ramachandran would like to see you."
Idlewood had been built in an age when beauty was believed to heal an ailing soul, and though its vaulted corridors were worn by the passage of a hundred and fifty years they were still lovely. Whether the architecture made any difference for the patients, Reyes could see it working its magic on the Gateses. They walked a little straighter, heads lifting, shoulders squaring. They must have come here straight from the airport, hours on a plane from Hawaii and then the long drive.
Of course, he thought. They love their daughter.
Casey Ramachandran's office had a big bay window in the white wall behind him, the requisite cherry bookshelves laden with a heterogeneous collection of texts, and a white-painted steam radiator, currently serving as host to a small jungle of potted plants. Ramachandran himself was a spare brown man with square glasses balanced on his nosetip, his steel-colored hair thinning across the top. He bounced out from behind his desk when Reyes paused to announce himself to the administrative assistant guarding the outer chamber and came to meet them in the doorway.
"Doctor Gates," he said, shaking hands firmly. "Mister Gates." Of course he'd get that right: Ramachandran was particular with his research. "Thank you for coming so quickly."
"She's our daughter," Gary said. "It's nice to meet you, Doctor Ramachandran. Stephen says you're the best in the business."
He was the only one in the business, unless you counted Allison, Baylor, Beale, and Reyes himself, but Reyes didn't think now was the time to point it out. Instead, he allowed Ramachandran to usher the Gateses into his sanctum. Reyes shut the door behind them while Ramachandran said, "Please, call me Casey. Would you like tea or water?"
"Tea, please," Reyes said, breaking the tension as the Gateses looked uncomfortably at one another. "Please, Gary and Angelique. Sit."
He showed them to the sofa in the conversation pit while Ramachandran messed about with the electric kettle and a china teapot with scenes from Alice in Wonderland on it and the Cheshire Cat for a lid. The Gateses sat regulation distance apart, and Reyes pretended he didn't see it when Gary reached out and took Angelique's hand, or the white-knuckled squeeze she gave back.
"Doctor Gates," Ramachandran said, "I understand you're a microbiologist. Research or clinical?"
"Please," she said. "Call me Angelique. Clinical. Retired."
He nodded, swishing boiling water around in the pot before pouring it out into the jug he used to water the avocados, and measuring in green jasmine tea. "We believe Hafidha's illness to be chronic, progressive in most cases, but treatable. It does appear to have a strong organic component--we're not sure what the causes are, but there are measurable effects on the brain. You know she gave her consent to the commitment."
"I know," Angelique said. She glanced at Gary. "We know."
But Gary doesn't like it, Reyes finished silently.
Angelique retrieved her hand from her husband's clasp and twisted her fingers together. "Do you agree that she's a danger to herself?"
"And others," Reyes said. "I strongly believe she was not competent at the time. And I do not hold her culpable. But she did cause the deaths of three people."
Gary glanced at Angelique. Looking at her, not at Reyes--nor at Ramachandran, who was setting cups and saucers on the tea tray while the tea steeped--he said, "What if we wanted to move her to an institution closer to home?"
"I would recommend against it," Reyes said. "Idlewood is specialized for the treatment of patients with her needs--"
"Supervillains." Gary slicked a hand through his thinning hair.
Reyes smiled thinly. He could have reprimanded the man for his flip dismissal, but if anybody needed their defense mechanisms, it was the parents of a gamma. "She stands a better chance of recovery here than anywhere else. And not to put too fine a point on it, it's safer for the rest of us if she stays here."
Gary looked down at the floor between his knees. "That's a life sentence."
"I wish I had been able to do more to prevent this," Reyes said.
"No blame." The way he said it made Reyes think of the I Ching. The tension across Gary's cheeks wasn't teeth-gritting, but it was something that would like to have been.
Ramachandran brought the tea over and set it on the coffee table. He settled down in the big chair, leaving the loveseat to Reyes. That meant he and Reyes were sitting kittycorner, rather than shoulder-to-shoulder directly across from the Gateses like some sort of review panel. As he handed out cups, Ramachandran said, "We are working toward therapies that may someday allow our patients greater freedom. And Hafidha knows she needs to be here. She's having a particularly clear-minded period today. When you see her, it's likely she'll tell you herself."
Gary leaned forward, his untouched tea resting on the hand between his knees. Angelique reached out and laid her fingertips lightly on his arm. He ignored Reyes and frowned directly at Ramachandran. "Casey. If it was your daughter, what would you do? Would you lock her up here?"
If he hadn't been looking for it, Reyes never would have seen the micro-expression that pinched the corners of Ramachandran's mouth with pain and quickly smoothed away. "Mr. Gates--"
"Gary," Gary said.
"Gary," Ramachandran acknowledged. "My daughter Cecelia is a little older than Hafidha. She's my only child. I am a widower. You may be certain she is exceedingly precious to me."
Gary nodded. He sipped his tea. Angelique glanced from him to Ramachandran, brow furrowing as if she anticipated, somehow, what Ramachandran was going to say next.
Reyes remembered blood, a younger but not young man curled on the floor beside the convulsing form of a strapping young woman, the blood that leaked from her nose, ears, and eye sockets smearing his once-white coat as he tried to cradle her head away from the tile floor. From the expressionless cast of Ramachandran's face, he was remembering the same thing. He'd been a senior psychiatric fellow, and the woman--
With an effort, Ramachandran lifted his gaze from his cup. "Cecelia is a patient at Idlewood. About thirteen years ago, there was an incident in the hospital at which she was serving her residency. Somebody with Hafidha's disease injured her badly, and she is unlikely to ever recover sufficient functionality to live independently."
Gary sat back, hard, against the couch cushions. Angelique just nodded, as if her suppositions had been confirmed.
"So you see," Ramachandran said, "I also have a personal stake in this. And you have my assurance that Hafidha will receive a standard of care equivalent to my own child."
Gary looked at Angelique. Angelique looked at Ramachandran. Reyes had a moment's illusion that everyone had forgotten that he was in the room at all.
"I would like very much to meet Cecelia," Angelique said. "If that's not too personal a request?"
"If it was," Ramamchandran said, lifting his teacup, "I wouldn't have mentioned that she was here."