Flame Turns Blue
Alexis knocked on the door to Cameron's office. When he called out "Come in", she entered. "You busy?"
Cameron shook his head. "Not really."
"Heard anything from Zander?"
"Not yet." Cameron ran a hand over his face. "It's too soon anyway. It's only been three days and when I talked to Dr. Murphy yesterday, she said that Zander had been doing nothing more than sleeping. That he was physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted."
Alexis nodded. "Not surprising. He's been through so much for someone so young. It breaks my heart."
Cameron sighed. "I did this to him, Alexis."
"You weren't alone." She reached out to touch his hand and felt him clutch at her fingers, seeking a comfort that she couldn't really give him. "Alot of people used and abused Zander in various ways, myself included. But he has a great capacity to forgive and I think he will forgive us all."
"Maybe everyone but me," Cameron interjected.
Alexis shook her head. "If you love him and you make the effort to prove that to him, Zander will forgive you too. I see the way he looks at you, Cameron. With such longing. He still loves you and he wants you to love him back and to mean it. That's all Zander has ever really wanted. Somebody to love him...and mean it." A tear slid down Alexis' face and she brushed it away. She freed her hand from Cameron's grip and turned towards the door. "I have to go. Call me if you hear anything."
Cameron nodded. "I will. Are you going to go visit Zander next week?"
"First day he's allowed visitors," Alexis replied. "Maybe we could go together."
"I think I should wait until he asks to see me."
Alexis sighed. "I think that would be a mistake. I think Zander doesn't expect you to visit him, so you need to be there for him. Every day. Unless you don't give a damn about him after all."
Cameron glared at Alexis. "I love my son! I do! I just...I just don't know how to show him."
"Maybe Zander can teach you how to love. He's good at it." With that Alexis turned on her heel and glided out of the room. She didn't go far, however, barely making it to the waiting area where she collapsed into a chair. Tears slid down her face as she remembered back to the drive to Brookside. In some ways it had seemed a little like old times. Zander had talked about burnt popcorn and chick flicks. He had talked to Alexis about her sister, sharing a few moments with her of how much he had liked Kristina and that he thought of her at times and missed her. Alexis felt a fresh wave of tears slide down her face, remembering how Zander had thanked her, over and over again, for helping him. For giving him a chance at a future with Emily. For being there for him when no one else gave a damn, other than Emily. It broke her heart that for Zander, everything came back around to Emily in the end. And she knew that if he didn't deal with his grief at losing her, then he would never heal inside. He would never find a reason to live.
* * * * *
Janice Murphy entered Zander Smith's room. He had been here at Brookside for four days now. He had slept the first three days away and Janice had allowed it. The kid was exhausted in every way. Physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. She had talked to him briefly when he had first arrived. Alexis Davis had called on her cell phone, telling her that she was on her way with Zander and that he was ready to be admitted. The fact that it had been two in the morning had not deterred Janice. She had risen from her bed, gotten dressed and drove into work to prepare a room for Zander. He had been little more than a zombie upon arrival. Eyes glassy with fatigue and something more. Body weary. The cut on his wrist still bleeding a bit. Janice had examined him then she had sent him into the shower before taking care of the injury. She had then put Zander to bed and he was asleep before she could cover him up. Janice had put in an IV, left word with the nurse on call to keep an eye on Zander, then she had gone to her office with Alexis Davis.
Alexis had told Janice about the intervention. Zander's father had told Janice about his plans to stage one. Alexis had cried a bit while telling Janice the details and by the time she was finished, Janice knew the story of Zander's life in rather intricate detail, but she had no doubt but that she had little understanding of Zander Smith himself. Still, her heart ached for him even as she geared herself up for a challenge. Janice had told Alexis that she would be able to help Zander then she had sent the woman home.
Now Zander was awake and cognizant for the first time in three days. Janice had been at home when the nurse had called to tell her that Zander was up, and that he had pulled out his IV. It had bothered Janice a bit to learn that he was unresponsive to the nurse and that he was huddled in the corner of his room. Which brought her back to the present moment. She closed the door behind her then she moved to sit on the edge of Zander's bed so that she could study him for a moment.
He was pressed into the corner of his room. A blanket from the bed was wrapped around him like a cloak, covering everything but his head and his bare feet. Janice didn't think he was cold, she believed that Zander was trying to shield himself from the rest of the world. His knees were drawn up, his chin was tucked into them leaving only his eyes visible, and he was rocking. "Zander?" She said his name softly and when his head came up Janice was struck by two things. How young he looked, and how beautiful he was. And what touched her heart was the sadness that glimmered in his big hazel eyes. Too much pain and sadness for someone so young.
Janice stood up and moved towards Zander. He watched her with wary eyes and she didn't push her luck. When she saw him tuck his head back down, she stopped. There was about three feet between them. Janice sat down cross legged. When she spoke to Zander her voice was pitched soft and low. "I talked to your father about what happened to you, Zander. He told me about Peter and about how he treated you and the lie he let you believe. He told me how you ran away from home, the trouble you got in with the mob and dealing. He told me about Emily and about how hard it's been for you since she died." Janice watched Zander, carefully, for a reaction but he didn't move other than to continue rocking. "Your friend, Alexis, she told me some things about you as well. She really loves you, Zander. In a mother-son kind of way."
Zander stopped rocking and Janice took that as a good sign. "You have alot of people that care about you. They're going to help you get through this rough patch, Zander. I'm going to help you too." Janice fell silent as Zander began to rock again. "Are you hungry?" She didn't get a response, nor did she expect one. But she rose to her feet and hit the call button. When the nurse responded she asked for a tray to be brought to Zander's room, then she headed for the window. The glass was tempered and there were bar strips across it, but the view was still lovely. "We have a beautiful garden here, Zander," Janice continued. "You're free to go there at any time. We also have a big library. I understand you like to read. And in four more days you can have your first visitor. But until then we're going to talk. Or I'll talk for now if you like." Janice moved back to her spot on the floor. "By the way, my name is Janice Murphy. You can call me Janice, which I prefer, but if that makes you uncomfortable you can call me Dr. Murphy." She took note of the fact that Zander's head lifted and she could see tears on his face. She wondered what part of what she had said to him had caused the tears. She would guess that it was Emily. Janice watched as Zander freed one hand from the blanket to wipe his face. The hand with the bandage around his wrist.
"Did you want to die, Zander?" Janice asked. And she did so to see if she could startle a reaction out of him. But no such luck. He just tucked his hand back inside the blanket and continued rocking. He had retreated far inside of himself where nothing could touch him. Nothing but the emptiness inside him, that Emily used to fill. Heaving a sigh, Janice rose to her feet. "I'll come back later and we'll talk some more." With that Janice left the room, but she couldn't shake off the sadness that seemed to emanate off of Zander. He wasn't going to be easy to heal, but she had always loved a challenge.
* * * * *
Elizabeth served coffee to Gia, Nikolas and Lucky, then poured herself a cup as well before sitting down at their table. They had gathered together to talk about Zander. "How do you think he's doing?" Elizabeth asked. It was the question on all of their minds.
Nikolas dumped sugar into his coffee, more for something to do with his hands than because he liked it that way. "I haven't got a clue," he replied. "To be honest, I don't think Zander is ready to face his demons. And until he does that, he won't be able to move on. To heal."
"But he went into rehab willingly," Elizabeth protested. "That has to count for something." This argument felt similar to the one she'd had with Luke after Zander and Alexis had left the bar to take him to rehab. Luke hadn't been very optimistic about Zander either.
"I think he went to rehab to escape," Lucky interjected. "I don't think Zander was ready to handle all the stuff we dumped on him at the intervention. Hell...I don't feel ready to handle some of it myself."
Nikolas nodded at his brother. "Yeah...I kinda feel the same way. You guys gonna go visit Zander next week?"
Lucky shrugged. "I thought about it, but it's not like Zander and I are really friends. I don't know if he'd even want to see me there."
"You won't know if you don't go," Nikolas countered. "I think it's important for all of us to go, to prove to Zander that we meant what we said. That we will be there for him."
"I agree," Gia stated. "We should all go."
Elizabeth nodded even as she blinked back tears. "What happens if Zander doesn't want to get better? I mean...will they lock him up in that place and throw away the key?"
Lucky patted her hand. "I don't know what will happen. In the end it's still up to Zander."
"Yeah it is," Nikolas replied, then he stood up abruptly and left Kelly's without saying goodbye.
"What's up with him?" Elizabeth queried.
Gia sighed. "I think in some weird sort of way, Nikolas feels some sort of responsibility for Zander. I can't explain it. I'm not sure Nikolas can either."
Lucky smiled and tried to lighten the mood. "I'm not sure who I feel sorry for more. Nikolas or Zander. They're like night and day."
"True. But they have one thing in common," Gia stated.
"What's that?" Lucky countered.
Gia eyed both of her companions before replying, "Emily."
* * * * *
Zander sat at the window. He had spent his first two days, awake, pretty much huddled in the corner. Dr. Murphy had spent alot of time in his room, talking to him. Or rather at him. He had heard everything she had said to him, but he hadn't responded to any of it. He didn't want to talk to her or to anyone. In fact, Zander had yet to speak a word. But at least he had left the corner.
Dr. Murphy had tried to make him eat. After a day and a half of not eating a thing, she had come in and given him a warning. Eat or be force fed, then she had stomped out. Zander could still vividly remember Dr. Baldwin making good on her threat to force feed him and he never wanted to go through that again. So Zander had left his corner and grabbed an apple off the tray, then he had been lured to the window by the sunshine. So he spent whatever time he wasn't sleeping, in the shower or forcing down food, sitting at the window looking out.
"Good morning, Zander."
He heard Dr. Murphy's greeting but he didn't respond. Zander still wasn't ready to talk to her yet. He wasn't ready to deal with all of his tangled thoughts and chaotic emotions. Talking meant dealing with everything that twisted inside him, and Zander didn't have the courage to do that. Not now. All he wanted was to be left alone, but Dr. Murphy didn't seem to get the hint.
Janice moved to the window. "You did pretty good with breakfast this morning. Alexis told me you were fond of chocolate chip muffins so I asked her what else you like. So for lunch you're getting a double cheese burger, onion rings and a chocolate shake."
Zander closed his eyes, remembering all the times he had enjoyed such a meal at both Kelly's and at Jake's. Kelly's made a better burger though.
"Would you like to go outside today?" Janice queried. "It's beautiful outside and I thought we could take a walk. Your father sent your clothes so you can wear your own jeans and stuff."
The thought of getting out of the hospital pants and tee shirt were tempting, but Zander wasn't sure he was ready to leave this room. It offered a modicum of security to him, in some strange way. He felt Dr. Murphy move to stand beside him and he turned his head to look at her. She had kind eyes, pretty eyes. Eyes that reminded him of Emily's. Tears burned in his own eyes and Zander blinked them away. He shook his head at Dr. Murphy, hoping she would understand.
Janice sighed. "Zander...I know this is hard for you. But I can help you sort things out...if you let me. But you have to talk to me first. I need to know what you're thinking and feeling."
"I'm scared." Zander was surprised at himself for blurting that out. He had been thinking it but he hadn't meant to say it out loud.
"Of course you are," Janice replied. "You're in a strange place, and I'm a strange person and you don't know what you're supposed to do or what I expect from you. It's okay to be scared."
Zander moved away from the window, heading for his corner and sliding down until he was on the floor, his knees drawn up. He felt safer this way, for reasons he couldn't explain to himself. "I don't want to be here," Zander confessed.
Janice moved to sit on the bed, carefully keeping a respectful distance. "Where do you want to be?"
"With Emily in a good place, or with Emily in her grave?"
The question hit Zander like a slap in the face. It was the way Dr. Murphy asked it, with a nonchalance that suggested he actually had a choice. "She's dead!" Zander hissed. "There is no good place for us. No place for me."
Janice was thoughtful. "If you were free to go anywhere you wanted right now...where would you go, Zander?"
"Mexico." He didn't even hesitate. But then the memories of all the plans they had made to go there hit Zander like a tidal wave and he buried his face in his hands to hide the tears that slid down his face.
"You will always have the memories that you made with Emily," Janice said softly. "And that's a good thing, Zander. No one can take those away from you."
Zander wiped the tears off his face with the bottom of his shirt. "They hurt too much. Everything hurts too much. I don't want to remember anything. I don't want to feel anything!" Anger began to well up inside him and it propelled Zander to his feet. A plastic pitcher of water sat on the night stand and Zander grabbed it and hurled it against the wall. It made a somewhat satisfying thud as it hit and sprayed water. But Zander was already moving to the chair, lifting it and hurling it with all the anger inside him giving him strength. It made a much more satisfying thud. Since Dr. Murphy was off the bed, Zander began ripping it apart as well. He was so caught up in his hurt and fury that he didn't hear the door open or the heavy footsteps of the orderlies who came running in when Dr. Murphy hit the call button. Zander felt hands on him and he struggled against them, but they bore him down and then he felt a pin prick in his shoulder and the world faded to black.
* * * * *
Zander had been awake for a while. He wasn't surprised to find himself in restraints, in fact it would have surprised him more if he hadn't been in them. What did surprise him was the fact that he was in a different room. That bothered him a bit. He pulled on the restraints, testing them for no particular reason, but stopped when he heard the door open. Zander watched Dr. Murphy enter the room.
"How do you feel?" she asked.
Janice nodded. "I had to sedate you twice, but the effects will wear off in a bit. After we talk you can shower and I'll have a tray sent in."
Zander said nothing.
"I have a question for you, Zander, and I need an honest answer." Janice locked eyes with him. "Can you do that for me?"
"I don't know. Guess you'll have to ask the question and find out." Zander wasn't feeling in the mood to play mind games. He didn't want to talk. He didn't want to think. He wanted to close his eyes and sink into darkness and never wake up again.
Janice pulled a nearby stool next to the bed. "If I let you walk out of here, right now...what would you do?"
Zander frowned. He was surprised by the question. "You mean I could leave and do whatever I wanted?"
"That's what I mean. If I allowed that to happen…what would you do?"
"I don't know." It was as honest an answer as Zander could give. No one had allowed him to make that kind of choice for himself in so long, that Zander hadn't even allowed himself to consider what he might do.
Janice nodded. "Okay...let me ask direct questions. Would you try to kill yourself again?"
Zander closed his eyes then whispered, "Maybe." He tugged at his restraints, wishing he could rub his temples. A pounding ache had settled there.
"Bottom line is this, Zander. I can't help you if you don't want to be helped. I can't force you to pick up the pieces of your life and try to put them back together. You have to want to do that or there is no point in you being here."
"If I tell you I don't want to be helped, will you let me go?" Zander asked the question with a sense of hopefulness.
Janice sighed. "That's not my decision to make. But I would tell your father and Ms. Davis that I can't help you and then they would decide what happens next."
Zander laughed and it was a bitter sound to his own ears. "Figures. Everyone gets to decide what happens to me except for me."
"Well...you've been making bad choices, Zander. And the people who care about you aren't going to let you slip away from them without a fight."
"It's not up to them to make that call," Zander shot back, almost defiantly.
Janice nodded. "You're right, Zander. Whether or not you want to live, or die, isn't up to them. Ultimately it's up to you. Because in the end, if you really want to die, you'll find a way. But fate and perhaps something deep inside of you, has kept you alive up to this point. In spite of all of the bad and tragic things that have happened to you. In spite of being shot and beaten, drugged, overdosing and so on, you've survived. You are a survivor. You're worn out right now, and that's understandable, but you always get back up on your feet and fight back."
Zander felt as if she were talking about someone else. "I kept fighting back because everyone expected me to give up. I did it to be a pain in the ass. And sometimes I did it because I thought I had something worth fighting for..."
"But she's gone…and I can't think of any reason why my life is worth living." A tear slid down Zander's face but the restraints prevented him from wiping it away. He closed his eyes against further tears and was surprised when he felt the restraints being undone. Zander swiped at his face with the back of one hand.
Janice touched Zander's shoulder, making him look at her. "Your father and Alexis and all those people who staged that intervention...they all believe that your life has meaning, Zander. It means something to them, and that alone should make it mean something to you. They believe in you, and they care about you."
Zander shook his head. "I don't want them to care. I don't want to care about them!"
"Because it hurts too much?"
"Because in the end...it's not worth the pain. Not for them and not for me." Zander curled up under the blankets and closed his eyes again. "I'm tired."
Janice stood up. "I'll come back later and we'll talk some more. Call the nurse when you're ready for your shower. And afterwards you can go back to your room if you like."
Zander nodded and opened his eyes. "Yeah...I'd like that. Thanks." He listened to her footsteps retreat, then called out, "Can I ask a question?"
"Why did you move me to this room?"
Janice returned to the bed. "It wasn't to punish you, Zander. For the record, I had to move you originally because we had to clean up the mess you made in your room. But I also moved you because I felt you needed to be in restraints until I could judge your state of mind. I won't put you in restraints in your room. I want it to be a place that offers comfort and familiarity. Get my drift?"
Zander nodded. "Thanks." He watched her smile then she headed back to the door. When it closed behind her Zander let himself drift off to sleep.
The dream was surreal in itself. Zander saw himself lying still in a coffin, yet at the same time he felt as if he were watching this from inside himself. There was nothing around him but a kind of mist and then he saw them. Peter and Emily. They were dressed in white and had a kind of glow about them. They approached the coffin and stood there for a long moment, just looking at him. Strangely enough, Zander could almost feel their sadness. Then he saw the tears that flowed down their cheeks. Blood tears. Then Emily was reaching out to touch his face and Zander could feel the softness of her hand, and then he felt a warm slickness and realized that it was blood.
He came awake with a cry and he felt the slick of a cold sweat on his skin and he was shaking. Zander realized something in this moment. That he was in a state of limbo. He couldn't go back and he wouldn't go forward. He was stuck in the present and afraid of taking a chance on anyone or anything. But if he didn't make a choice about his own life soon, then someone else was going to make that choice for him. Again.
It hit Zander that he didn't want to die. Not today. Seeing Peter and Emily together, and knowing that he couldn't be with them made Zander angry. He wanted to be with them, but here in his world, not in theirs. Which meant that he had to start living in his world. It was a place to start. Because the image of Emily weeping over him was still vivid in his mind, and Zander didn't want to make her cry again. Not even in his dreams.
* * * * *
Janice entered Zander's room and was stunned to find it empty. She had planned on visiting him much sooner but she had gotten caught up with another patient and since no one had called her to tell her that Zander was trashing things, or himself, she had figured that he was okay for the moment. But to find his room empty, shook her. Janice ran to the nurses station. "Where is Zander Smith?"
A dark-haired nurse named, Lisa, replied, "In the garden. He asked if he could go out and you had it in his chart that he was allowed outside mobility."
"Yeah...he is." Relief washed over Janice. "How long has he been out there?"
"Maybe two hours."
Janice felt a smile curve her lips. "Did he eat anything?"
Lisa frowned. "Um...not alot but I think he did eat a few bites of his cheeseburger and he took an apple out with him."
"Thank you." Janice patted Lisa on the shoulder then headed for the exit.
Zander was sitting under a tree by the small Lake on the grounds, when Dr. Murphy showed up. He had been expecting her.
"Mind if I join you?" Janice asked.
"It's not my grass," Zander replied.
Janice sat down beside him. "I'm glad you came out here. It's beautiful, isn't it?"
Zander nodded. "Yeah. It kind of reminds me of Florida. No beach and no alligators...but the serenity of it. It kind of feels the same."
"Were you happy in Florida?"
"Sometimes." Zander sighed and rose to his feet. He collected a pebble and made it skip across the water. "I really loved the sun and the water."
Janice watched him for a moment. "Do you ever think about going back there?"
Zander shook his head. "Not really. There's nothing there for me. Of course...there's really nothing anywhere for me."
"You can look at that as having a chance to start over, Zander."
"Start over doing what?"
Janice rose to join him. "You can live your life the way you want to live it."
Zander felt tears burn in his eyes and he blinked them away. "No...I can't do that. That option died with Emily."
"Do you want to talk about Emily?"
Janice let silence fill the air between them for a while. Then she asked, "What do you want to talk about?"
Zander skipped another pebble. "You tell me. What do I have to talk about to get out of here?"
"Zander...the reason you're supposed to be here is to find a way to deal with all the stuff bottled up inside of you. The pain you feel. The sadness. The guilt. Whatever." Janice risked touching his arm to make him look at her. "Let me ask you a few questions. Do you want to die?"
"Not right now." That was easy enough for him to answer. But Zander was wary of what Dr. Murphy would ask next.
Janice nodded. "Okay...why do you think you keep trashing yourself? Why do you think you always self destruct?"
Zander locked eyes with Dr. Murphy. "Are those trick questions? Like...if I answer wrong I get locked away in a rubber room for the rest of my life?"
"There are no wrong answers, Zander. Okay?"
"I don't know why I trash my life," Zander replied. He rubbed a hand over his face then moved to sit back down again. He felt tired all of the sudden. "I guess I do it to myself before someone else can. Because they will. Nothing I do is ever right. Nothing good ever happens. And even when I do the right thing, it turns out to be wrong somehow. No matter what choices I made, no matter what I did for people...it blew up in my face." Zander chuckled softly, to hide the pain he was feeling inside. "Thing is...I haven't figured out yet why everything I do is so wrong. And why I keep getting punished in some way."
Janice crouched down beside him. "Is that what it feels like? Like you're being punished?"
Zander shrugged. "Pretty much. Not that it matters. I deserve most of the shit that happens to me and at some point I'll do something else stupid and deserve even more. So I guess it will all balance out in the end."
"How does Emily factor into this, Zander?"
"She doesn't!" Zander felt his temper flare. He didn't want to talk about Emily.
Janice swallowed a sigh. "Okay...let's talk about something else. What about your brother? Your father told me about Peter and about what happened. How he let you believe you killed your brother even after he knew Peter committed suicide. How do you think watching you try to take your own life has affected your father?"
Zander stared at Dr. Murphy in disbelief. "Do you think I give a fuck how anything I do affects my father?"
"Yes..I think you do give a fuck," Janice shot back. "I think that you have spent your entire life looking for approval from the people you care about. You want it most from your father, but you've sought it out in others too. The thing is, I think you go out of your way to sabotage every effort you make because you're afraid of being hurt again. Afraid of seeing disappointment and disapproval in their eyes when they look at you."
"You're full of shit," Zander snapped. He glared at her then turned and started walking back towards the facility. He heard her running to catch up to him.
Janice kept pace with Zander. "You can't run away from the truth, Zander."
Zander knew she was right, but he kept going anyway.
* * * * *
He looked up from the book he was reading to see Alexis standing in front of him. "Hey!" Zander jumped up from the bench he was sitting on, having retreated to the garden over an hour ago, and pulled Alexis into a hug.
She hugged him for all she was worth, then she eased back so she could look at him. "You look alot better than the last time I saw you."
"Yeah...I bet I do." Zander kissed her cheek then eased out of the hug. "You're my first visitor."
"We kind of planned it that way." Alexis moved to sit on the bench, gesturing for Zander to join her. "Your father figured you might not want to see him. So he's waiting for an invitation. I'd like to be able to tell him to come up."
Zander sighed then shrugged. He wasn't sure he wanted to see his father just yet. He wasn't ready to deal with all the stuff that was built up between them. All the emotional baggage. "Um...I'll think about it," Zander replied.
Alexis nodded. "Okay, fair enough. You'll be seeing Elizabeth and Nikolas and Lucky and Gia soon. We didn't want to gang up on you on the first day. I think Nikolas is coming up tomorrow with Gia."
"They don't have to come."
"They want to."
Zander wasn't sure how he felt about that so he changed the subject. "How's Kristina?"
Alexis smiled. "Beautiful as ever. I brought you a picture of her. I thought you could keep it in your room. To make you smile." Alexis fished the 5 x 7 photo of her daughter from her purse and held it out to Zander.
"She's so incredible," he said, smiling at the image of Kristina dressed in pink overalls and holding a white teddy bear.
"Yeah…she is." Alexis was ever proud. "But so are you, kiddo. Even though you don't believe it."
Zander pulled away from Alexis, standing up and pacing over to the fountain. "Can I ask you a question?"
Alexis followed him. "Of course you can. You can ask me anything."
"Do you think I'd do well in college?"
"College?" Alexis echoed. "Uh...are you thinking of going?"
Zander shrugged. "I don't know. Emily and I talked about it once."
Alexis smiled. "What would you major in?"
"Hell if I know." Zander laughed. "I'm just asking. It's stupid."
"No it's not." Alexis got in Zander's face. "You got your GED and I know you got good grades when you were in school, in spite of yourself. You're smart, Zander. You can do anything you want. Be anything you want to be. You could be a lawyer."
The thought sent Zander into peals of laughter. "Me? A lawyer?" He countered between guffaws. "Not in a million years."
Alexis glared at him. "Okay then. What interests you?"
"Pool." Zander said it with a smirk on his face. It had been a long time since he felt like teasing anyone.
"Ha ha." Alexis smacked Zander in the arm. "Seriously. What interests you?"
Zander ran a hand through his hair and his smile faded. "I don't know, Alexis. Okay? I just...I'm not really thinking about going to college. I guess I just wondered if I was smart enough to do it."
Alexis patted his arm. "You are. And you should think about it, seriously."
"Yeah…whatever. Want to go for a walk?" Zander didn't feel like talking anymore.
"Sure." Alexis linked her arm with his and they strolled off.
* * * * *
"Do you like it here?"
Zander looked at Nikolas, who was studying a rose bush, and shrugged. "I've been in worse places. I like it better than jail."
Nikolas chuckled. "Yeah...I bet. Seems like an okay place."
"So far." Zander watched Nikolas pace and felt like joining him. They weren't exactly friends so this felt somewhat awkward. "Where's Gia? Alexis said she was coming with you."
"She was but she woke up with a migraine. She told me to tell you she'll be up in a few days."
Zander nodded. "You can tell her she doesn't have to come."
Nikolas locked eyes with Zander. "She wants to."
"Sure." Zander stood up and started walking towards the lake. He heard Nikolas following him. "You don't have to visit me either, you know," Zander stated, as Nikolas reached him at the bank of the Lake.
"I know I don't have to, Zander. But I'd like to visit. Unless you don't want me to."
Zander shrugged. "I guess it's okay." He didn't add that he didn't get why Nikolas would want to bother. "So what have you been up to? You must have alot of free time on your hands now that I'm locked up here and you're not following me around like a shadow."
Nikolas smiled. "I'm keeping busy," he allowed. "Are you making any progress here?"
"Are you trying?"
Zander felt a ripple of anger but he let it diffuse itself. Nikolas wasn't his enemy. "Let's just say I'm not trying to off myself today and leave it at that."
Nikolas nodded. "Fair enough. So...want to give me a tour of the place?"
"There's not much to see."
"Show me anyway."
Zander shrugged. "Okay. Follow me." They headed off.
* * * * *
Zander was in his favorite spot in the garden when Monica Quartermaine appeared. He was more than a little surprised to see her. Rising from the bench, Zander went forward to greet her. "Monica."
"Hello, Zander," she replied. "I can tell you're surprised to see me."
Monica nodded. "How is it going?"
Zander almost lied to her. Almost. But she had always been honest with him about everything, so he couldn't be any less honest in return. "It doesn't feel like it's going anywhere."
"Are your therapy sessions helping any?"
"I guess so. I dunno." Zander sighed and ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. "I've never been good at talking about my feelings. Not to anyone."
Monica locked eyes with Zander. "Not even with Emily?"
He couldn't hold her gaze. "I could tell her I love her and that she was the only reason my life was worth living. But I couldn't talk about my father, or the things in my past. And I still can't."
"I have something for you." Monica pulled a small, leather bound, book from her purse. "I found this when I went through Emily's things. It's a journal that she started after she learned she had cancer." A tear slid down Monica's face and she wiped it away before holding out the book. "It's her thoughts about you and your relationship with her. How she felt about you. How she loved you. How she was scared for you and for herself."
"I don't want it." Zander backed away as if the book might burn him. He wasn't ready to deal with Emily's thoughts and emotions. And he wasn't at all sure he wanted to know what she felt about him in her private thoughts.
Monica put the book down on the bench. "I'll leave it for you anyway. Maybe it will help you see yourself through her eyes, Zander. And then you'll know how much you're worth. You know that Emily loved you with everything she had. Her body, mind, heart and soul...and I know that is the way that you loved her." A tear slid down Monica's face and she brushed it away with the back of one hand. "I miss her so much."
Zander wanted to go to her, to hug her, but he didn't move. He was fighting his own pain. "I wish...you know, she talked about you alot."
"She did?" Monica's eyes lit up.
"Yeah. She really loved you alot. She thought the world of you."
Monica went to Zander and locked eyes with him. "She talked about you too. She wanted me to understand why she loved you, and I do. I really do, Zander. And I want you to understand that as well. So please...read the journal. And I'll come back in a few days and we can talk. It would help me to talk about Emily with you. Because I know that you will always feel the same connection with her that I feel." With that Monica turned and walked away.
Zander watched her go then he looked at the journal. He felt a sudden surge of anger, followed closely by a wave of soul searing pain. Just seeing Monica was a painful reminder of Emily in so many ways. A reminder he didn't want. Feeling the pain rising from deep inside him, Zander felt the need to lash out. So he punched a nearby tree and he felt the shockwave of pain reverberate up his entire arm into his shoulder. A different kind of pain, and one that was far more tolerable. So he punched the tree again. And again. And when his knuckles were bloody and his arm was numb, Zander turned and began to run. He ran until his knees buckled and every intake of air into his lungs burned. And when Dr. Murphy and two orderlies found Zander and tried to take him back inside, he lashed out at them, like a wounded wildcat. In the end it took four orderlies to hold him down while Dr. Murphy sedated him. And when the darkness reached for him, Zander went willingly.