Word Count Total: 10,084
Ms. Grace then led her to another wing of the building, again using her I.D. card to get through several locked doors. Here, for the first time, Deuce began to see a bit of personality: they walked past rows of doors, as always, but now small signs and plaques began to appear. James’s Room—Keep Out. Tonya Lives Here. One had a poster of a basketball player making a slam dunk; another, a poster of Che Guevara. Upon seeing this, Ms. Grace pursed her lips and tore it down.
At the very end of the hallway, she stopped in front of one of the doors and waved her I.D. card at the sensor on the handle. Something inside clicked and she opened the door.
The room was a tiny white box. A bed stood in one corner, a desk in the other, and a closet was built into the wall next to the bed. Next to the desk there was a door, which Deuce assumed led to a bathroom. Someone piled her luggage neatly next to the bed.
“I don’t share? No roommate?”
“No one here has a roommate. We feel that sharing a room is a health concern.” Deuce nodded. Ms. Grace walked over to the barren desk and picked up a blue folder. “In this folder, you’ll find a schedule and a list of our expectations concerning your conduct during your stay here.” She drew out an I.D. card much like her own. “Keep this with you at all times. It will let you into various rooms and occasionally security officers will ask you to produce it. You must swipe your card every time you enter a door; no exceptions, even if the door is already open. Do you understand?”
“Good. Dinner will be in about an hour.” And she was gone.
Deuce looked around the room once more. It didn’t take long. With a small sigh, she decided to unpack, wondering how long she’d be here. She unzipped her first suitcase and saw a piece of paper resting on top of her things. She squinted at it.
In accordance with the agreement signed by the parent or guardian, the following items have been confiscated:
Unauthorized snacks—(1) package of crackers, (1) box of cookies, (1) bag of chocolate candies
Illegal electronic devices—(1) MP3 player, (1) electronic gaming device
“They took my Gameboy!” she exclaimed. “Oh, that’s just not kosher,” she muttered, slightly put out that they saw fit to rob her of her snacks and her Gameboy.
Every suitcase contained a list of confiscated items, much to her chagrin. In the end, not only had they taken her snacks, Nano, and Gameboy, they also made off with a lighter, two candles, her manicure set, a pair of desk scissors, her calligraphy set (though why her parents though she needed that, she couldn’t say), her incense burner, incense, her Swiss Army knife, and her copies of To Kill a Mockingbird and all her Harry Potter books.
“Okay, the lighter and knife I get...but calligraphy and Harry Potter? What harm could they do? What does this hospital think I’m going to do with them?” She hoped that once she left, she’d get everything back.
She changed her sheets, which added a much-needed splash of colour to the room. Then she set up her desk with her remaining books and a few stuffed animals in her own valiant attempt to make things homey. Since they left her with so few belongings, she had very little to do once she’d laid out her clothing and set up her closet of a bathroom. She checked her watch: she still had half an hour until dinner.
She pulled out a piece of paper, a marker, and a piece of tape. Taking her cue from the doors she passed, she very neatly penned “Deuce’s Room” on it before poking her head out the door. The hallway lay as deserted and silent as a ghost town as she quickly stuck the sign on the door and withdrew her head. She pulled out another piece of paper and set about to writing a letter home.
Dear Mom, Dad, and Ricky,
I arrived safely in D.C. The flight was bumpy and miserable but I made it. (She thought for a moment, then erased ‘and miserable’. No need for her mother to worry even more.) So far, I haven’t met anyone else. The building is very big and very boring. I hope everything is well there—
She stopped writing, realizing that even though her mother had thoughtfully provided her with envelopes and stamps, she didn’t know the address of this building, or how they could send mail. Maybe...maybe I’ll ask Ms. Grace, she thought doubtfully, wondering if she’d ever even see Ms. Grace again. Surely someone knew. Surely someone wrote home to their family.
At 6:15, a chime floated through the building, filtering through a P.A. system speaker in the ceiling that she hadn’t noticed before. She also heard signs of life in the hallway: doors clicking open, footsteps. She thrust her card into her pocket, threw her novel aside, and rushed out her own door, hoping to follow the herd to wherever the dining hall might be. Ms. Grace never said.
Every eye turned to her, staring openly. No one spoke. They simply...stared, unabashedly scrutinizing her from head to toe. She felt no scruple in staring back, a flush of colour creeping up her cheeks. The group was a motley assortment of boys and girls, some as young as ten, some older than her. An Asian girl gave a weak, hesitant smile before turning along with the group and heading away. Deuce trailed behind the silent collective. Nobody ever speaks to anyone, she realized, discomfited. It’s not just me being here. No one talks. Are they all new, like me? Don’t they have friends among themselves? The answer, it seemed, was a resounding ‘no’: even once they’d reached the cafeteria and gathered trays of questionable food, everyone carefully sat with an obvious distance between each person and no conversation came forth. As the very last person in line, Deuce took her tray of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and a little clump of lettuce swimming in watery ranch dressing and looked around the room. Her eye lit upon the smiling Asian girl from earlier, now with her head bent down resolutely over her food.
Deuce took one step, then another, acutely aware of every eye in the place following her, every eye except the other girl’s. She kept her gaze fixed determinedly on her food, even as Deuce took a seat right next to her.
“Hi, my name’s Deuce,” she offered quietly, her voice hushed as though speaking in a library. Finally, the other girl raised her eyes and gave another tremulous smile.
“Nice to meet you.”
“Same.” Deuce chewed an experimental bite of meatloaf, too dry even for the gravy to save.
“How long have you been here?” Daisy looked surprised at Deuce’s attempt at conversation.
“Oh...about a year.” Now it was Deuce’s turn to be surprised.
“A year? Oh, wow, I—” A girl with short, choppy auburn hair plopped herself down right next to Deuce, slamming her tray on the table with ostentatious loudness.
“My name is Callie,” she announced, not bothering to keep her voice down, “short for Caroline.”
“Daisy,” the poor girl whispered, seemingly shell shocked.
“Deuce? There’s something you don’t hear every day. Is that really your name?”
“Yes. Sort of. I’m named after my mother, so it cuts down on confusion.”
“What’s your real name, then?” Callie pestered.
“Maura. Please don’t call me that.”
“No, no! I like Deuce better, anyway. It’s much more original. It’s creative. Where are you from, then, Deuce?”
“Ooo, it must be cold for you up here, then! I’m from
“Er, I was born in
“How long have you been here, Callie?” asked Deuce.
“Oh! Uhm...let me think.” She furrowed her brow and ticked off fingers quickly before her eyes lit up. “Nine months! Hey, that’s a whole baby!” Deuce fought to contain her dismay. Nine months? A year? She thought this would be a temporary situation.
“And...you two...do you have...blood problems, as well?” At this, even Callie went pale and grew uncomfortable. There was a brief silence. “Sorry. Forget I asked.” Callie bounced right back.
“Daisy! Tell us about
“Yeah, sometimes...” An adult walked into the room and the conversation came to an abrupt halt.
“Miss Liang!” he called. Daisy sighed and stood with her tray, leaving without another word. Deuce frowned.
“Don’t worry,” Callie reassured her, “they always call her away during dinner, every night.”
“They just do.”
“Well, if you don’t mind me asking...is this normal? I mean, do people really just not talk? All the time?” Callie looked uncomfortable again.
“Well...I guess...no one really wants to talk.”
“You don’t seem to mind.” Callie gave a one-shouldered shrug.
“You started it, so...” Deuce pushed her mashed potatoes around her tray, brow furrowed as the cafeteria door opened yet once more. “Oh, they’re going to call that Grant boy out now.” But Callie was wrong.
“What, Stanley? There’s no girl Stanley—oh,” she said as Deuce stood. “It was nice to meet you!” Callie chirped as Deuce deposited her tray in the trashcan.
“Follow me, please,” said the man whose lab coat, like Dr. Stanton’s was impeccably crisp and white, bearing the name tag “Dr. Sellers”. She did so, trailing him mutely down a series of identical hallways, stopping in front of a door with the name plate “Natalie Grace”. He knocked and a voice said “Come in.” He opened the door and ushered Deuce inside, after motioning for her to swipe her card even here as he did likewise.
“Miss Stanley, ma’am.”
“Thank you,” said Ms. Grace pleasantly, “you may go. Please have a seat, Miss Stanley.” She sat. “I trust you’re settled in?”
“Uh, yes. Thank you.”
“Excellent. Your teachers will expect you in class tomorrow. Here is your schedule.” Deuce took the proffered sheet of paper but didn’t read it.
“Now, Miss Stanley, I’d like to talk about your condition.” Deuce frowned slightly. “I’ve read Dr. Stanton’s report...you have a blood disease, correct?”
“Your health—our primary concern—is very delicate right now, so I cannot stress enough the importance of eating correctly, going to sleep early, and not over-exerting yourself or others. Please keep in mind that all the other participants have ailments as well, so we ask you to be respectful of that.”
“You shouldn’t hesitate to inform us if you are feeling especially poorly or if you notice someone else is working too hard. We are all here to help.”
“Okay.” Ms. Grace studied her for a moment.
“I do hope you will benefit from this treatment, Miss Stanley. It’s not for everyone.” This struck Deuce as an odd thing to say, but she nodded mutely. “Good. You may go back to your room. Be sure to get to plenty of rest; you have a busy day tomorrow.” Deuce nodded again and left the office.