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Authors: Trish Cook

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BOOK: A Really Awesome Mess
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After she left, I put away the clothes Heartland actually let me keep and plopped down on my bed. I had a horrible pit in my stomach. It had suddenly hit me that I wasn’t just all alone in this unfamiliar room, I was all alone in the freaking
. My parents had given up on me just as sure as my real parents had given me up. I pressed my fingers against my temples, willing the tears to go away at least until lights-out—which was still five-plus hours away—when I could cry without anyone seeing.

I’d almost succeeded in stemming the tide when a kid my age I assumed was Farm Girl walked in the room. “Hi,” I said, swiping quickly at my face to make sure there was no sign of weakness there. “I’m Emmy. And you must be—”

The girl gave me a little wave but didn’t say a word.

“You must be …” I tried again. Still nothing. I prayed I didn’t utter the words Farm Girl just to fill the awkward silence. Eventually, I gave up on waiting and finished the sentence for her. “… my roommate.”

She nodded. Then she sat down on her bed, grabbed a journal and a pen from her desk, and started scribbling away.

“Great to meet you,” I said, though so far, not so much.

My roommate looked up for a nanosecond, smiled slightly, and went back to writing.

I gave it one last shot. “How long have you been here?”

She gave me a noncommittal shrug.

Seeing as I had no one to talk to and no idea what to do with myself until dinner, I grabbed the the only book currently on my bookshelf. It was Sean Covey’s
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens
. I guessed
Thirteen Reasons Why
had been confiscated along with my tank tops and tweezers. “This yours?” I asked my roommate.

She shook her head, then wrote something on a scrap of paper, and held it out to me. Farm Girl obviously wasn’t deaf, but apparently she was mute. I grabbed the note from her hand.
Required reading for all students
, it said.

“Okay, gotcha. Thanks.”

I figured I might as well get it out of the way sooner rather than later, so I flipped the book open to a random spot. It talked about how sticking to your principles is the key to success and ignoring them means you’ll fail. No new news there. I read on. Next the author talked about how principles apply to everyone, everywhere, and cannot be viewed as belonging to a single gender, class or religion, or nation–and the specific example used was principles are not “American or Chinese.”

It wigged me out. Why did the one page I’d landed on mention being Chinese? It was like the book knew me and had specifically picked where I should start. I decided it must be haunted like the rest of the place.

That was the only semi-interesting thing Joss and I had uncovered about Heartland in all our Google-powered research: It used to be a home for “wayward girls.” Today, those same girls would probably get cast on
16 and Pregnant
and put on the cover of
magazine, but back in the day they got sent away for being an embarrassment to their families. Supposedly, there were tons of ghost babies wailing piteously for their mommies, and girls crying just as hard for their never-to-be-seen-or-heard-from-again kids roaming the halls of this place at night.

At home, with Joss, all this had seemed kind of funny. Now it was just plain creepy.

And things only went from bad to worse when a student mentor—a girl named Alisha on level five, which meant she was
this close
to getting sprung from Heartland—came to escort me to the cafeteria for dinner.

“Okay, so it’s my job to tell you the rules. And the rules are, you have to have a protein, a grain, a fruit, and a vegetable at every meal,” she told me as she plunked an
amount of food on our plates. “And you have to finish your entire meal, too.”

I stared at her like she was from another planet. To me, she
actually was: The Planet F-A-T. I felt sorry for her. If I still felt this bad after losing twenty pounds, she must absolutely

“Sorry,” she said, shaking her head like
Hey, what can you do?
“They’re really strict with us eating-disordered girls.”

A familiar anger radiated through my body, starting at my toes and working its way up until even my hair felt mad. Really? That was what my parents had told Heartland to get me locked up here? Wow. What a crime. All I’d done was get rid of some stubborn baby chub. I didn’t have a problem.
were the ones who had a problem—with me.

“You … “I started, but the words got stuck in my throat. I cleared it and tried again. “Have an eating disorder? Had, I mean?”

The girl patted her bulging belly. If I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought she was a wayward ghost girl who haunted the halls at night. “You’ll find out pretty soon you can’t actually get
of an eating disorder. You spend the rest of your life
from one.”

If that was what recovery looked like, I’d rather die, not that I told Alisha that. “Sorry, that must be hard,” I said. “But I actually don’t have an eating disorder. I’m here because I got kicked out of school for bullying some douche bag on Facebook. Unofficially, though, I kinda think my parents were just sick of people asking them who the little Chinese chick was.”

Alisha looked at me with something like pity in her eyes. Which is exactly how I looked back at her and her muffin top. “Save it for your therapist,” she said. “For now, you have to put the required amount of calories on your plate and eat them all.”

There was no freaking way I’d worked this hard to look half decent only to have it taken away from me by some blubber-loving freaks. Although I only resorted to purging on days I accidentally ate a little too much air-popped popcorn or grabbed a second fat-free, sugar-free yogurt, it was becoming clear I’d have to rely on this tactic a little more heavily here.

Like, after every single meal.

It wasn’t ideal, but nothing about this situation was. Whatever it took to keep from ballooning up like an Oompa Loompa again was what I was willing to do. A little pain so I wouldn’t gain. Totally worth it.

Pudgemeister Alisha and I carried our two-ton trays to a table and sat down. I nibbled at the corn kernels drowning in buttery sauce, feeling entirely nauseous and wondering how I was going to wait to go to the bathroom to puke and not do it right here, right now.

This guy across from me was watching as I pushed the yellow mush around on my plate. “You anorexic or something? Is that why you’re in this lovely therapeutic setting?”

I wanted to tell him to shut up and mind his own business, but he was kind of cute. Okay, totally my type. He had
that skinny, lost-puppy-dog, indie-rocker kind of thing going. If I hadn’t sworn off of guys forever, I might’ve given this one a second look.

“Nah, bullying,” I started to explain, but Alisha chimed in before I could finish.

“Justin, you may not ask other new students about their issues at mealtime. We talk about those sorts of things during groups, which start tomorrow along with regular classes. The therapists can maintain appropriate boundaries there. For now, try to stick to less controversial topics.”

“Oh sorry,” he said, giving me a wink. “Let me rephrase my question: Does your bullying of the corn have anything to do with why you’re here?”

I tried to play hard to get by looking pissed but ended up laughing instead. “Only according to my parents, who needed an excuse to get rid of me. You?”

He gave me a sly little smile, and it made his eyes kind of look like someone had thrown glitter in them. They reminded me of the sparkly green lava lamp Joss had given me for my eleventh birthday. I’d wanted to bring it to Heartland—I got kind of nervous in the dark, as embarrassing as that might be for a sixteen-year-old to admit—but personal furnishings weren’t allowed. Along with cute clothes and hair removal devices and cell phones and the Internet and everything else fun in this world.

“Same kind of deal,” he said with a shrug. “Hey, can I just say
you’re the first semi-cool person I’ve met since I got here? The rest are, like, totally nuts.”

His sort-of compliment made me miss my clothes and personal grooming items even more. How I was supposed to have a chance at a normal relationship here wearing shapeless sweats and sporting furry legs, a unibrow, and ape pits? I mean, yeah, I knew relationships weren’t allowed, and that I wasn’t even allowing myself any more of them until college, but it would’ve been nice to at least dream without the specter of unwanted fuzz hanging over my fantasies.

Alisha chimed in again. “You need to refrain from name-calling, Justin. This is a nonjudgmental environment.”

We both ignored her. “Tell me about it. My roomie”—I aimed a thumb at Jenny, which was what Alisha had told me Farm Girl’s real name was on the way to the caf, and who was sitting way at the end of the table—“won’t say a word. Just gives me basic sign language and writes me a note once in a while. Alisha here finally explained she has a form of this thing called selective mutism, so she won’t speak in groups or to new people even though she does with her family and friends, and I guess her therapist here. I feel bad for her and all, but I’m gonna go crazy without anyone to talk to.”

Justin gave me more of the green-eyed glitter treatment. “You’ll have me to talk to.”

“Good to know,” I said, feeling an odd little flirty flutter in
my stomach. Or maybe it was just more nausea from having to eat so much. Hard to tell.

“And if it makes you feel any better, my roommate won’t talk to me either, and he doesn’t even have anything to blame it it on. Honestly, he’s just an asshole.”

I burst out laughing, and the combo platter of what Justin had just said and my response to it pushed Alisha over the edge.

“You—” she said, pointing at Justin. “I said no name-calling. And as for you”—she pointed at me here—“you better watch yourself. Any more crap and I’ll get you put in the SR group with the hard-core dykes. They’ll love your skinny little ass.”

“What’s SR?” Justin asked, pulling a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket. “I’m assigned to a
group and I’m just wondering if the hard-core dykes are going to appreciate my manly hetero presence in there.”

Another one of the green sweatshirted staff walked by and Alisha fell right back into therapy robot mode. “
stands for ‘Sexual Reactivity’ and no, you won’t be placed in the gay girl’s group.” Once the Staffer was out of hearing range, she glared back at me. “You, I’m not so sure about.”

I pulled my schedule out of my pocket, and there were those awesome hip bones jutting into my palms again. They made me even more determined not to eat, or at least not hold down, the steaming globs of goo Alisha was trying to force-feed me. “Nope, I won’t be there either. Apparently, I’ll be in a thrilling
Adoption Issues group instead, after which I have … “I scanned the paper and then snapped. “… a freaking Anger Management one? Crap! Why does everyone think I’m so angry?”

I guess I was yelling a little bit, because the whole table turned to stare at me. Even Jenny, who tended not to acknowledge stuff going on around her, gaped at me wide-eyed.

“Yeah, it’s probably because you start screaming every time something doesn’t go your way,” Alisha said with a smirk.

“I don’t scream every time I don’t get my way!” I practically screamed at her. I know, the irony. But I was

Alisha just laughed. “I can see that.”

Justin put his hand on top of mine. The weight and warmth of it felt nice, like snuggling under a heavy blanket on a rainy day. Right before Alisha yelled at him for “touching me inappropriately,” he said, “Don’t worry. I’ll be there with you, too. We’ll have fun yelling at everyone else.”

Alisha gave me the stink eye until I finished all the food on my plate. I was so full and disgusted with myself by the time I finally did, I could barely wait to get to the bathroom. “Be back in a sec,” I said, trying to look ultracasual and not as sweaty, sick, and desperate as I was feeling. “Just have to brush my teeth before study hall starts.”

Alisha gave me a knowing look. “I have to ‘brush my teeth,’ too,” she said, using her fingers to make air quotes. “I’ll go with you.”

“Yell with you tomorrow,” Justin said. “Try not to get into too much trouble before then.”

“You, too,” I called over my shoulder.

I walked down the hall super-fast, trying to burn some of the calories I wasn’t going to be able to get rid of—it wasn’t realistic to think
would come up—but no matter how much speed I put on, Alisha was right there beside me.

“Forgot to tell you another rule they have for ED kids here,” she said, panting. Clearly all that chowing down had not only wreaked havoc on her figure, it had also made her grossly out of shape. “Your feet have to face the right way in the bathroom, if you get my drift.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I told her, slamming through the girls’ room door and into a stall, although of course I did. She’d pretty much read my mind.

I sat down on the toilet without even pulling down my pants and rested my head in my hands. Once again, tears were threatening to spill and if I started crying now, I was afraid I’d never stop. I hoped my parents were happy—so far, this place had been
for my mood and self-esteem. Not. I was madder and more depressed than ever, with the exception of a few minutes at dinner when I’d talked to a semi-cute guy who’d thought I was semi-cool.

Alisha interrupted my pity party by rapping on the door. The sharp, tinny sound echoed around the tiled bathroom, making
my head hurt along with my stomach. “You done yet?”

“Almost,” I said, giving her the finger from behind the door. I’d considered using the container on the wall meant for used tampons and pads as my puke bucket, but then I opened it and found it completely full. It never would have held the entire contents of my stomach, and besides
. I did not want to get hit in the face with someone else’s former uterine wall. I was just going to have to ride this one out until I could ditch Alisha. The timing was definitely not ideal—the longer I waited, the more of what I’d eaten would get digested, the more calories I’d have consumed, the faster I’d get fat again—but I didn’t have much of a choice.

BOOK: A Really Awesome Mess
6.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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