“Huh?”

“Socks,” Bebe elaborated. “Wear those big white sweat socks, the terribly unfashionable ones that bunch down your legs. And sneak your food into them. No one will ever notice, and you can dump the stuff in the yard.”

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Martha looked at her own thick white socks. “Why didn’t I think of that?”

“We need to get back before the guard wakes up,” V said. “So listen to this last bit. It’s important. This place is not about fixing you. It’s about warehousing you while your clueless parents are bilked out of thousands of dollars. Sheriff, Clayton, and the counselors do not care about us. And they don’t want us to care about each other, so we’ve got to be sneaky. If we rely on each other, we won’t go as nuts as our parents think we are.” V put her arm into the circle.

“One for all and all for one?” Martha said, like a question. V nodded, and Martha put her hand in the circle.

“We, my dears, mustn’t forget that we are the Divinely Fabulous Ultra-Exclusive Club of the Cuckoos,” Bebe said, adding her hand.

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“Sisters,” said Cassie, putting her hand in.

“Sisters,” I said, clapping my right hand on top of theirs. I felt the full strength of all of us together. “Sisters in Sanity.”

Chapter 9

Dear Brit:Happy Thanksgiving. Looking forward to a big turkey dinner at school? It’ll be a quiet one at home. Your grandmother had hoped to join us, but her hip is hurting too much for the drive and she hates to fly. I’m sure if you were here, she would make the trip, though. She’d do anything for you.We have received a few progress reports from the school. I understand your grades are up, which your mother and I are very happy about. The psychiatrist explains that you are making progress but are also resistant to facing up to some things. I hope you will take advantage of this opportunity to work through your anger.We have also been told that you are now permitted to write letters. I look forward to hearing from you. Perhaps we will come for a visit after Christmas, if that is acceptable to your teachers.I don’t know what else to tell you. Rainy and dark here as usual. We’ve all been sick with bad colds for the last month. Tell me about where you are. While I know you don’t want to be there, it must be a relief to have escaped the gray of Portland.I love you.

 DadP.S. I’ll take a picture of Billy holding a drumstick for you!Dear Dad:I’m sure Thanksgiving will be fantastic this year. We’ll all sit around in our warm cozy rooms and eat a home-cooked dinner and talk about how thankful we are for the constant supervision and the forced labor and the insults and the spying. Then we’ll pig out on pumpkin pie and watch It’s a Wonderful Life on TV. The next day, we’ll go to the mall to shop for presents.Hello? I know you think I’m the deluded one, but just what kind of place do you think you sent me to? I’m not supposed to tell you how awful Red Rock is, and you probably wouldn’t believe me anyway.Still, I don’t understand why I’m here. The counselors seem to think the trauma of Mom has turned me into some wild, bad girl, but you and I know that’s not true. I think the real reason I’m here is not because of you or me or what happened to Mom, but because of your wife. She obviously wants a family of three, and she’s made it crystal clear that four’s a crowd. Now she’s brainwashed you into thinking the same thing.As for Mom, I have been dealing with her issues for three years, and just because I don’t feel like whining to some cold fish of a doctor (who, by the way, is not even a shrink—did you bother to check credentials?) doesn’t mean I’m in denial. What am I supposed to do, wear a badge that says, “Hi, My Name’s Brit and My Mom’s a Schizo”? Because that’s what would pass for progress around here.I can’t think too much about how I got here, because when I do I feel like I’ve been betrayed by you, and that makes me feel worse than everything else that’s happened. Does Grandma know where you’ve sent me? I’m sure she’d be furious, but then again, you’ve never let anything she says change your mind.You should come and visit. Maybe seeing this place up close would make you rethink your, or should I say, her, decision.Brit.P.S. The reason my grades have jumped is that the school here is completely remedial. Billy could get A’s here.

 P.P.S. I’d take a year of Portland rain over a sunny day in this hellhole. “I see you haven’t written your parents a letter,” Clayton said to me, tapping her pen against a clipboard, something I swear she did to remind us all of the power she could wield with her little Bic. “Would you like to tell me why not? Most students are quite enthusiastic when they reach Level Four and are permitted to start communicating with family. Around the holidays, it’s customary for students to send cards.”

This was true. Red Rock even printed up these jolly cards with a picture of a bunch of smiling students in Santa hats and shorts for us to send home. They were total propaganda as far as I was concerned.

I had written my dad several versions of the same letter, but in the end I just tore them up and buried them in the quarry—in part because, as V warned me, outgoing letters would be scrutinized by staff, so you had to watch your attitude or they’d hold what you’d written against you in therapy. Clayton already acted as if she knew me better than I knew myself, and her smug attitude gave me the urge to smash things. There was no way I was going to let her read my mail to my dad, and I didn’t think I could fake a casual, hey-how’s-it-going letter to him either.

See, the thing was that in two months at Red Rock I’d had a lot of time to think, maybe too much time. I thought about Jed constantly; it was the only thing that made me feel good. But the rest of the time, I thought about Dad and Mom and me and, unfortunately, Stepmonster. And I thought about how much Dad had changed. As much as I wanted to pin this whole thing on Stepmonster, the sad reality was that Dad had gone along with her plan to send me away. If you had told me five years ago that my mellow, sweet father would dump his kid off at a boot camp, I would’ve told you that nothing, not even a gun to the head, could have pushed him to do such a thing.

“So why would he go along with it?” V asked me. The Sisters in Sanity had taken to meeting once a week in the empty office for our real therapy. It was the only time we could really talk about things that were bugging us, so I’d floated my theory to the group that Stepmonster hadn’t acted alone.

“I don’t know. He’s just kind of a pushover, and she’s a serious ball breaker.”

“But you’re his daughter. Surely if he didn’t want you to be here, he could’ve mustered up some kind of opposition,” Bebe said.

“Maybe he just doesn’t want me around.”

“Of course he wants you around!” Martha protested.

V arched her brow, Bebe narrowed her eyes, and Cassie guffawed.

“What?” Martha protested again.

“Darling, the obvious. If Dad wanted her around, why would she be here?” Bebe asked, turning back to me. “So, I think we’ve established that aside from some standard oppositional defiance disorder—and if you ask me, the sixteen year-old who doesn’t exhibit those ‘symptoms’ is the one that’s about to go Columbine—you’re as sane as the next girl. So why did Daddy send you packing?”

“Maybe…..” I started and then stopped.

“Maybe what?” V prompted.

“Maybe I’m just a reminder…..of what happened to Mom.” The minute the words came out, I knew that they were true. The Sisters knew that Mom had gone schizophrenic and disappeared, but I’d spared them the saga: the year-long ordeal of her personality change, the endless psychiatrists, Dad begging Mom to try different medications and even shock therapy, and then when she wouldn’t, agonizing over whether or not to commit her. I didn’t tell them about the last time we’d seen her, hanging out in back of Powell’s bookstore, near the Dumpsters. She looked more like the ratty-looking homeless people you see all over Portland than like someone’s mom. She didn’t even seem to recognize me. And I didn’t tell them how after that, I felt Dad starting to pull away from me.

“You did say that yah look a lot like your mom,” Cassie said.

“Oh, well then,” Bebe said, sweeping her hand through the air. “Mystery solved. And I can empathize. I’m certain my mom holds my striking resemblance to Husband Number Three—that would be my dad—against me. He was, after all, the only man who ever dumped her.”

“No way. You look just like your mom,” Martha said, blushing. “I used to watch her on Lovers and Strangers. She was the best. I can’t believe she never got an Emmy.”

“Why, thank you, Martha, but what has that got to do with anything?”

“Because Brit looks like her mom, so she’s a constant reminder. That’s why her dad let Stepmonster send her here.”

“I don’t know, Brit,” V said. “This sounds a bit beyond the average Cinderella story. After all, Cinders’ dad was dead, which explains her situation with the stepmom. But you have your dad, so the comparison doesn’t quite work.”

It occurred to me that the Sisters were only half right. Dad had probably sent me away because I reminded him of Mom, but after a few sessions with Clayton I had started to suspect that his reason may have been something even worse. What if he thought I was going to end up like her?

Clayton continued to grill me about my lack of epistolary enthusiasm. I just kept telling her that I wasn’t very good at writing and that I figured Dad was getting lots of updates about me from the school. “He seems really happy about my grades and has mentioned coming for a visit,” I told Clayton. “I’ll just tell him everything then. But I love getting all the letters he sends me.” She gave me a hard look. I never could tell if she bought my fake perkiness, but why else would she have advanced me to Level Four? V told me it was because, as an insurance-only stay, they had to make it seem like I was ready to go home after three months. Most people seemed to advance to Level Four quickly, but if your parents had deep pockets, you could fester at Red Rock for months.

Still, I wasn’t really lying when I said I looked forward to some of Dad’s letters. I’d snuck a letter out to Jed in November, just a quick note to say hi and explain my situation and ask about the band. I didn’t want to go into much detail about my Red Rock experience, because part of me was really embarrassed about it. I wrote the letter to the whole band, even though I mailed it—or a graduate named Annemarie mailed it—to Jed’s address. I also gave them a quick rundown of how the code worked, just in case they wanted to write back. I didn’t want to put too much pressure on Jed to write back to little incarcerated me. I wasn’t after his pity. But when I got my first letter after Thanksgiving, I knew it was from him. He had an old manual Underwood typewriter that he loved, and he’d even used it to type the address on the envelope.

Jed got the whole code thing so perfectly, which made a certain sense I guess, since songwriters are always writing in code. Most of his letter was about my “Uncle Claude,” who plays violin in a chamber music ensemble. Claude had been sick of late, and the ensemble had been forced to play without him—the music was suffering. Then he told me about how the Portland skies were even rainier than usual—I wasn’t entirely sure if that was a coded message that he missed me or if he was just being honest; you never knew with Oregon. But he ended the letter by saying that the winter was so long and dark that it made him yearn for summertime and fireflies. Which of course had my heart flipping.

Chapter 10

Every other week in the warmer months, Levels Three and Four got hauled on a ten-mile hike straight up into the hills. Sheriff liked to call these little expeditions “backcountry therapy.”

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