Time goes on.
In the weeks following the fire, Claire and Sean grew stronger and stronger until both ready to leave the hospital. Their visits with Astrid were not always...fruitful. When she wasn't being combative, she was sobbing and crying, begging to come home. And whenever they told her she wasn't ready to return, she invariably became combative once again. The doctors often reported that Astrid was fighting with other children. While Daniel remained ever hopeful about their daughter's condition, Claire became convinced that Astrid was never going to get better. "Danny?" Claire asked timidly as they drove back from their latest trip to the Krueger Centre. Daniel had been driving with the faraway look in his eyes he usually got after their visits. It had been two months since the fire. Two months since Daniel had signed away his daughter to the very place he despised. The fire damage to their home had been irreparable, so Claire and Daniel were forced to move their family to nearby Little Falls and live with Daniel's mother and father. Little Falls was also much closer to the Krueger Centre. Claire and Daniel visited Astrid in the Centre once a week, receiving updates on their daughter's condition. Tawny always refused to come with them, stating very clearly and plainly that she wished Astrid had never been born. "Danny? Sweetheart?" "What?" Claire took a deep breath before she spoke. "I don't know if Astrid is getting any better, Danny." "She IS getting better. I know she is. She just needs more time." "It's been a month. How much more time does she need? " Daniel shook his head obstinately. "So what? Are you buying into everything those doctors are saying? You want to believe that OUR DAUGHTER is crazy?!" "No, I don't want to believe it! I wish just as much as you do that Astrid would get better! But we've been going to see her every week and nothing has changed! When she's not crying and fighting and screaming bloody murder, she's sedated for attacking the staff! You heard them! They had to give her her own room because she ripped out her roommates HAIR! Not only that, but we've barely been able to speak to her! She just not getting better, Danny!" "I'm not leaving my daughter in that place. Never." Claire looked down at her hands, a pained expression on her face. "Danny, I've been offered a job in Colorado." Daniel turned and stared at his wife. "We can't move to Colorado!" Claire was shaking visibly and was on the verge of tears, but she felt resolute. "Watch the road," Claire replied calmly. "I'm taking that job. You can stay here and keeping lying to yourself, I'm going to take Tawny and Sean with me." Daniel alternated his attention between his wife and the road ahead. "You, you're serious?! You'd just abandon your own daughter? Take our kids and run away?" "If I have to!" Claire said defensively. "Every time we visit Astrid in that PLACE, we come back so on edge! After we came back the last time, you screamed at Tawny for spilling milk on the table! She nearly went into hysterics! We're letting this thing turn us into--into different people!" A dark look came over Daniel's face as he gazed at his wife. "I'm not leaving Astrid behind, Claire! She's getting better!" "Danny, watch the road!" Claire cried. Daniel had wandered into the oncoming lane and hadn't even noticed. "You may be ready to give up on our child," he said loudly, ignoring her words, "but I'M NOT!!" "DANNY, LOOK OUT!!!" Daniel looked back to the road just in time to see an 18-wheeler truck barrelling toward them. The massive truck turned sharply to avoid them, its trailer swinging violently behind it. Daniel jerked the wheel, swerving of the path of a giant 18-wheeler. The car fishtailed wildly as Daniel struggled to regain control. The enormous truck flew past them with a deafening, quaking rumble, missing them by mere inches. Their car bounced off the shoulder of the highway and flew into a dense cluster of trees. Claire screamed as thick tree trunks flew past the car windows, positive that they'd slam into one of them at any moment. Miraculously, their car stopped short of hitting anything. Daniel and Claire sat paralysed, breathing hard and shaking as the car came to a rest. "Oh, God!" Daniel cried shrilly. "Claire?! Claire, are you okay?!" Daniel turned to see his wife's face white as a sheet. "Yes! I'm, I'm okay!" Claire put her head into her trembling hands. "I'm so sorry, sweetheart! I'm so sorry!" Daniel reached over and wrapped his arms tightly around his wife, sobbing into her hair. Claire wept on her husband's shoulder. "I'm so sorry!" he repeated, sobbing ever harder. "I just--I don't want to leave my little girl! I just can't!" "I know, honey. I know," Claire replied as she wiped her running nose with still shaking fingers. "I don't want to leave her either, but she's just not going to change!" Claire pulled away and looked into her husband's eyes. "I--I always dreamed that one day, Tawny and Astrid would become best friends--and that they'd grow up sharing all the best moments of their lives together but honey, I know now that that's never going to happen. Astrid's just not well. She won't ever be. We have two other children to think about. And the way we get after these visits..." Claire shook her head as she finished. "Maybe you're right." Daniel swallowed as the realization settled heavily over him. "Maybe you're right?" Nurse Agnes Dougherty made her way from the nurse's station to the long-term patient's ward, cursing herself for coming in fifteen minutes late that morning. "I should have known that lot would stick me with Nightingale. Damn!" It was nine in the evening and she had been trying to coax the Nightingale girl back into her room for the past two hours. The little girl was not one of their worst patients. Not by far. There were little boys and girls in the centre who had to be restrained at all times. There were children who screamed and screamed day and night, even in their sleep. There were children who clawed at the walls until their fingernails tore away, children who sought out sharp objects and carved chunks out of their own flesh? Nurse Dougherty shuddered. Nightingale wasn't the worst she'd seen, but she was one of the worst of the non-restrained children. She spat, bit, kicked, screamed and cried for hours on end? But as Nurse Dougherty rounded the corner to the Family Room, she felt a certain pang of pity for the little girl. There was no doubt she was a gorgeous child. Nurse Dougherty had never seen a child who looked like her. Those dark violet eyes and white-blond hair she looked almost like an angel however, most nurses at the Krueger Centre learned quickly that beneath their charges' innocent exteriors lay demonic little beasts. "Nightingale! That's it for tonight. It's bedtime. Let's go. NOW!" Nurse Dougherty barked. The little girl didn't move. She remained by the window where she'd been standing all evening. She stood perched on one of the visiting room couches so that she could see properly out the window; her face was pressed against the glass, eyes staring out into the pitch-black night that had fallen hours ago. "Nightingale!" Nurse Dougherty beckoned again. "Leave me alone I'm waiting for my mommy and daddy?" Once again, Nurse Dougherty felt pity for the girl. All the staff knew the truth but had been expressly forbidden from saying anything. "I heard there was a really bad storm down there in Little Falls. I don't think your parents will be making it down today." The little girl turned slowly from the window, her eyes narrowed with suspicion. She knew Nightingale wouldn't believe her, the crafty little sod. "Okay, Nightingale. We can do this the hard way or the easy way. You can come down off that couch and come to bed, or?" Nurse Dougherty pulled a large and nasty looking hypodermic needle from the pocket of her scrubs; it glinted sinisterly in the fluorescent lights overhead. Nightingale turned away from the window once again. This time her eyes filled with fear as she eyed the long needle. Nurse Dougherty smiled inwardly. There was nothing but saline solution inside the syringe, but Nightingale didn't need to know that. Besides, that needle would still hurt--saline or not. With a final parting glance through the window, she finally stepped off the couch and walked toward Nurse Dougherty. "That's a good lass. On you get." "Tawny, Tawny, sweetheart? Wake up!" Claire shook her daughter awake as she slept soundly in the back seat. "What? What is it mommy?" "We're here sweetheart! This is our new home--our new life." Daniel watched in the rear-view mirror as Tawny rubbed the sleep from her eyes. "Wow" She breathed taking in the mountains rising out of the landscape behind their new home. "I like this place, mommy! I like it a lot! What about you Sean-bear?" she asked tickling her little brother under the chin. Sean giggled and cooed happily in his baby-seat. "Sean-bear likes it too!" She exclaimed happily. Claire and Daniel burst out laughing. As their car slowed to a stop, Tawny leapt out from the car, jumping up and down excitedly. "It's so big daddy!! I love it, I love it, I love it, I love it!!" she cried as she spun around and around. Daniel went to the back of the car and pulled Sean into his arms as Tawny did cartwheels all over their new lawn. Claire leaned her head on Daniel's shoulder. "We did the right thing, didn't we Daniel?" A bittersweet smile spread across Daniel's face as he held his infant son and watched his daughter dance around, full of life and laughter. "I think so, honey. I think so." 10 Years Later? Charlotte Bishop gritted her teeth as she leaned against the cold cement wall. "101.102.103." "Will you hush up?!" Came a rough voice from somewhere behind her. Well, she knew WHERE the voice was coming from? She continued counting to put it out of her mind. "104.105.106--" "There! All done!" said the nurse with a snap of her rubber gloves. Charlie turned around and pressed her naked back against the wall, ignoring the goose bumps that erupted on her bare flesh. "I want my clothes back," she demanded, her voice as icy as her body. The nurse's pallid, doughy face contorted into a smile. "Sorry, love. You won't be wearing these," she said gesturing to the pile of denim, red plaid and metal on the floor that was her clothes. "All residents of the Krueger Centre wear standard issue uniforms," she said roughly shoving a pair of musty pyjamas into Charlie's arms. "Put them on quickly. And you'd do well to pull all of that metal out of your face, unless you want me to break out my bolt cutters!" The nurse's booming laugh and rubbery face echoed in Charlie's mind and ears long after she left the room. "How was it?" "Fabulous!" Charlie replied sarcastically. "Who doesn't love a detailed cavity search?" Ms. Donovan frowned disapprovingly. "They're a necessary evil, Charlotte. Believe me, no one loves cavity searches." Charlie narrowed her eyes and cast a withering look over her shoulder at the stout nurse who had just examined her. Her backside was still sore. "Tell that to Nurse Lucky Charms over there," Charlie muttered. "I don't think I need to tell you that the Kruger Centre is the ONLY institution willing to take you? After what you pulled at the last facility?" Ms. Donovan sighed as they walked into a tiny control room. "I've done all I can for you as your case worker. You screw up here; the next stop is juvenile hall. You understand that don't you?" Charlie plastered a fake smile to her face that looked more like a grimace. "Of course, I do, Ms. Donovan." "Good," she snapped. Ms. Donovan addressed Nurse Dougherty. "Can we please start the tour? I have somewhere to be." Nurse Dougherty rapped on a thick glass window, behind which two large, uniformed security guards sat. One of them pushed a small red button and a buzzer sounded as the large, metal security door slid back for them to enter. "After you, Ma'am Bishop," Nurse Dougherty said, smirking widely as she stood back for Charlie to pass. "Welcome to your new home." Charlie, Ms. Donovan, and Nurse Dougherty trudged down a brightly-lit corridor. The bright fluorescent lights reflected by the stark, white walls dazzled Charlie's eyes. After a few minutes of scrunching her face against the light, a dull ache began to pound in her head. She wondered how many kids in this place had lost their last grip on reality because of the bizarre lighting alone. Charlie hated hospitals. She'd been in and out of hospitals her whole life. But she supposed they were better than the crappy group homes she'd been placed in. "Here we are," the nurse announced. They stopped at a door and the nurse pushed it open for them to enter. The room was sparsely furnished. All the furniture was in pairs: two beds, two desks, two dressers and two chairs. "This is your room," Nurse Dougherty declared. "You'll be expected to follow all the rules. Curfew is at 8, every night, but those on good behaviour are allowed to stay up until 9. You'll be attending group therapy once a week along with your private sessions. You'll also be tutored daily. You must take your daily medication, no exceptions. Any troublemakers will be placed in isolation and have all privileges revoked. Is that understood, Miss Bishop?" Charlie shrugged and flopped down on one of the vacant beds, staring moodily at the ceiling. "I'll take that as a yes," the nurse said, sounding slightly annoyed. "Thank you, Nurse Dougherty," Ms. Donovan said in apologetic tones. "Shall we head back to the office and finalize--" Ms. Donovan's question was cut off by an anguished scream. Charlie bounced off the bed and rushed to the door, eager to see what kind of freak show was happening. Down the hall, a burly man burst from a room. As he collapsed against the opposite wall, a thick stream of blood sprayed from the fist he had closed over his nose. Nurse Dougherty ran to him. "Lenny, what happened?" The orderly spat blood from his mouth. "That b**ch broke by nose," he coughed. "She kicked me in the face!" Another orderly dragged a screaming girl from the room. "Get your disgusting hands off me, you bastard!" She shrieked. Charlie watched in amazement as the girl, easily half the size of the orderly attempting to subdue her, deftly wrenched her arm from his grip and swatted him across the face in one swift motion. As the guard grappled with her, Nurse Dougherty leapt forward, pulling a syringe from her pocket. In the blink of an eye, she had yanked the girl's pyjama bottoms down, partially exposing the flesh of her buttocks, and plunged the needle into it. The girl barely had time to register surprise before her entire body went limp. "Phew!" Nurse Dougherty wiped the sweat from her forehead and tossed the emptied syringe into a nearby medical waste receptacle. Charlie ventured closer to get a better look at the girl. Now that she could see her properly, she realized that the girl seemed to be about her age and was startlingly pretty. Her long, pale blonde hair trailed behind her as the uninjured orderly scooped her into his arms. Charlie found herself curious about what she'd done to get thrown into a place like this. The normal-looking ones were always the most screwed up. "Come on out now, Rose!" Nurse Dougherty barked. From the room, a young timid looking nurse emerged shaking visibly. Ms. Donovan placed a comforting hand on the younger nurse's trembling shoulders. "What in the world happened in there?!" "I'm sorry Nurse Dougherty! She lost control when she found out we were moving her from a single room!" "Patients don't lose control, Rose," Nurse Dougherty growled. "NURSES lose control! Didn't I warn you to sedate her before telling her?" "She wouldn't take the medicine! I think she knew why we were there!" "No more excuses, Rose! Please take Leonard to the infirmary!" The nurse did as she was told and she and the injured orderly disappeared down the hall. "Who was that nut case?" Charlie asked, gawping after them. The nurse smirked sardonically. "That "nut case" is your new roommate, Astrid Nightingale." Charlie's jaw seemed to unhinge as it dropped even further. "Oh," the nurse said with a chuckle that set several of her chins aquiver. "The two of you should get along JUST fine!"