My hand reaches out and intertwines with his. That goofy smile returns to his face as he pulls my from the room, shutting the door quietly behind me. It feels like time passes slowly as we scurry down the hall, our hands drifting apart but occasionally bumping. My nightgown flutters behind me like the wings of a bat, snapping the air.
We reach a corner and Thatcher grabs me, stops me, pulling me towards him. “Name something impossible you’ve always wanted to do.”
I’m taken off guard. “Uh, see the stars.”
Our voices are hushed, barely a noise above a breath. Far off and above us, I hear someone screaming. In the darkness of the windowless hall, I can hardly see Thatcher, only the straight line of his nose barely an inch from mine. “You’ve got to be kidding me. You’ve never seen the stars?”
I shake my head. “Not in person. Only through my window.”
“Well, that’s not impossible. Name something that’s really impossible.”
I give this one an actual second of thought, drumming my fingers on my stomach, hyper aware of our closeness, his hand on my upper arm. Every nerve in my body screams to pull away, that the contact is wrong and I shouldn’t like it, but my brain ignores all of it and I remain where I stand.
Finally, I murmur, “I want to taste the stars.”
I can feel his smirk in the darkness. “Do you trust me?”
No, no I don’t. But my heart and head say, “Yes.”
“Then don’t ever look back.” With that, he catches my hand up in his again and tugs me around the corner and takes off running. The adrenaline pumping through my veins makes it easy to keep up with his long legged strides.
Even though our feet are bare, we make no noise; the wood worn from years of rambling feet smooth beneath our own. A giggle rises in my throat and I don’t repress it.
I’ve never felt this way, so free and crazy in a severely not crazy way. My eyes tear up from the air whipping past them. Thatcher’s firm grasp urges me onward. Everything about this night just feels so magical and real and right.
When we reach a door that Thatcher finds by feeling around, groping in the dark, he drops my hand and messes with the lock again and the door glides open again. He turns to me, backlit by moonlight and walks backwards out the door, beckoning me to follow him. I do.
My feet press into moss on the ground and I recoil for a moment. I’ve never felt anything so soft and living on the ground before and its dampness startles me. But I take another step out the door. I’m outside, unattended, for the first time in my life.
Thatcher shuts the door behind me once more and I take a moment to turn in a circle, marveling at the cosmos above me, mouth hanging open slightly. They’re so much brighter without the cloudy glass between us. They twinkle far above me, winking down at the two of us. Even in the darkness, the outlines of trees in the yard miles away are more real and animated than anything I could have imagined.
I hear a chuckle behind me and turn, having completely forgotten about Thatcher for the moment. “Sorry,” I splutter. “It’s just so… shocking.”
I see him raise his hands in the darkness, palms facing me, “No, really Rosa. Take as much time as you need.” I want to sit down and know what it feels like to sit in grass on a cool summer’s night but I know it will stain my white dress and I can’t risk it.
Taking a few more minutes to crane my neck up, staring in wonder at the huge, beautiful moon. She is full and fat, casting a bright light down on us as the clouds pass from over it. I run my fingers through my hair, pulling it from the nape of my neck and up into a messy bun on my head before letting it fall again, feeling the wind brush the delicate skin there.
Then, I turn back to Thatcher. “Thank you so much,” I say.
“We’re not done yet,” he replies, then turns away and climbs up onto a large garbage can. I follow warily behind and he helps me up. “Now just jump up and grab the ledge,” he says and I feel his warm breath carry towards me.
Thatcher does just that, dragging himself upwards and onto the roof. I try to and catch the ledge but I’m not strong enough to pull myself up. The Home doesn’t focus much on physical education.
Thatcher helps me the rest of the way up and I find a thick woolen blanket spread across a part of the flat roof. This is one of the lower ones; there are many higher roofs in front of us and on either side.
Thatcher falls backwards onto the blanket, propping himself up on his elbows, his legs stretched out in front of him. I carefully follow him, seating myself down with legs crossed, leaning backwards on my palms and resting my head on my shoulder.
“Can you taste them?” he whispers into the night.
I open my mouth and breathe in my surroundings. What I understand are pine trees stand out most strongly, a sweet taste, but below that I taste something light and gentle. It dances on my tongue as the stars do high above me.
It’s got a sharp bite to it but also a syrupy texture in my mouth so that I continue breathing it in through my open mouth, large, heaving breaths. “Yes.”
“Then you didn’t pick something impossible enough.” Thatcher speaks softly by my side and as I glance at him, I find his eyes on me, heavy lidded and dreamy looking.
I scowl for a moment and say, “Why are you looking at me like that?”
He blinks suddenly and looks away. “Sorry, I’m tired.”
“We could go back, if you want,” I say, a little disappointed. Thatcher shakes his head, staring at his knees, which are covered by his white cotton pants.
We sit in quietness for a bit longer, staring up at the staring and just enjoying the simple pleasure of being in one another’s company. I haven’t had anyone whom I enjoy merely sitting together since Mary, and even then, she always wanted to talk.
Even with the headache tapping its sharp claws behind my eyes, I’m enjoying myself.
Thatcher rests a hand on my shoulder. It’s warm and slightly rough on my chilled skin. “I don’t usually go outside. I’m used to the temperature controlled inside of the Home,” I say.
Thatcher opens his arms. “Well come here.”
I hesitate. As the moon draws closer to the horizon, the wonder and excitement were beginning to wear off, along with the rebellion my mind had been committing all night. Finally, my brain agrees with my body. I stay where I sit. Not to seem rude, I say, “Let’s just go inside. It’s almost daylight and you look exhausted.” Without waiting for a response, I clamber to my feet and hop down to the garbage can. It clatters loudly.
Thatcher follows me, rubbing sleep from his eyes as he fiddles with the door for a moment. As we walk quietly back down the way we had come, he says, “You don’t seem tired at all, Rosa.”
I suck in my cheeks. I really don’t want to talk about this. As I open my mouth to reply, a voice yells, “Hey! Stop right where you are!”
My heart stops and I look over my shoulder. A helper carrying a thick flashlight flashes it in our faces. Mary flashes before my eyes, her bloodied RUN, and I do just that, taking off sprinting down the hall. I’m around the corner before Thatcher even realizes I’ve moved.
He catches up easily.
We hear the heavy thuds of footsteps behind us over our heavy panting and despite the danger fetching up on our heels, there’s a wild grin on both of our faces.
We weave through the twisting corridors, pumping our arms and smashing into each other at each curve of the hall. Just when I think we’re going to get away, the alarm begins blaring for the second night in a row.
We’re bolting down a long, straight stretch of hallway and we skid to a halt as a group of helpers appear at the other end. We begin to turn but the man who had originally found us has been joined by three others.
My smile falters. Thatcher grips my shoulders and says, “Are you ready to go down with this ship, Captain?” His eyes beg me to play along, to humor him.
“Only if you are, my midshipman,” I reply, clutching onto his shoulders in turn. And a wave of men crash into us. They drag us apart and I try to pull away to get back to Midshipman Thatcher. “Thatcher!” I scream.
I hadn’t expected them to rip us apart. I thought we would be brought to Doctor Marcus together.
“Rosa.” I hear him say the word then there’s a nasty thumping sound, of a fist making hard contact with skin. He falls silent.
I can’t see him as the helpers half drag, half carry me in the direction of Doctor Marcus’s home, just outside of the hospital. I vaguely note the alarm has been shut off.
We descend two floors to the ground floor and they shove me outside. “Come on,” says one in a gruff voice.
“I’m going, I’m going,” I snap, brushing my knees off from where I landed at the shove.
I’ve only met with Doctor Marcus one time before, when I was nine. Someone had broken a little boys arm on the playground and the doctor in charge accused me. After meeting with me over the incident, Doctor Marcus fired the other doctor and erased it from my record.
His home was about twenty yards from the main hospital building, smoke drifting from the chimney, golden light drifting from the nearly closed windows.
With a man clutching each upper arm, I walk up to the front porch and one of the men knocks, smashing his fist into the wood of the door. The door creaks open and Doctor Marcus looks between one of the men, to me, and to the second man. “Rose.”
Doctor Marcus is tall and extremely thin, with legs and arms like a spider’s, long and spindly. His fingers move constantly, in waves of rising and falling joints. A pair of thick goggles dangles from around his neck and the mint green jacket is three sizes too big. His thick knuckled fingers rest on his hips. The Doctor has this twitch in his neck, where his whole head jerks to the side infinitesimally.
“Come on in,” he says, the wrinkles in his face deep in the lowlight. I shrug the helpers’ hands off and push past him. As the door closes, the backbone I spontaneously grew around the helpers dissipates.
His living room is just inside the front door, with two squishy arm chairs set facing a huge fireplace with a roaring, lively fire playing around inside of it. He rests a hand on my back and directs me towards his office, in the room next door. I twist away from the contact, uncomfortable.
I take the seat across from him as he rifles through a filing cabinet and pulls a manila folder out and tossing it on his desk. Then he seats himself in the spiny chair, intertwining his fingers. “Why are you here?” he asks.
“I was outside of my room…”
“After curfew?” he prompts me. I nod. “How did you get out?”
I press my lips together and as I speak, he begins to shuffle through the papers in the folder. I see my name stamped on the front of the folder and at the top of most of the papers. “The door didn’t lock.”
“Were you alone?” His eyes were cloudy, like he was blind but they followed my every movement, looking for my tells, trying to read the lies in my face. He is a man of few words and that’s what is so distressing.
I shake my head no and he inquires, “Who was with you?”
“Last name, please.”
“I don’t know his last name.” By this point, I’m shaking horribly, like Robert, and my forehead has a thin layer of sweat glistening across it. “I don’t really know much about him, really.”
“So, in the middle of the night, you left your bedroom to traipse the halls with a boy you hardly know?”
Embarrassed, I bob my head.
“Rose, you have been here for as long as I can remember. You are not that foolish. What were you thinking? He could have harmed you Rose. You are a young lady and cannot protect yourself. You’re lucky that the helpers came to your assistance.”
The pain in my head worsens, scraping, digging into my skull. “You’re right. I’m glad they came to my assistance.” Those eyes. They make it hard to focus on anything and the memory of the night begins to slip from my mind, blurring it and making it swirl together like a mess of paint.Doctor Marcus picks up a stamp and flips to the back of one of the packets in the manila folder, stamping the letter F on the bottom of an “inappropriate behavior” slip. Then, he looks up at me and says, “You may return to your room. One more misbehavior, Miss, and there will be a punishment.”