Bale was a complete mystery to all of us. He didn't even know his own story. I had had so much therapy with art and dolls and stories already that I confused it for play.
"Why don't we make your story up?" I had suggested.
"Why would I want to do that?" he'd asked.
"For fun," I had countered with six-year-old logic. "I do it all the time about other people."
I pulled out my sketch pad and began to write: Once upon a time...
Bale looked at me like I was crazy, but he didn't retreat. I looked at his profile and drew a quick sketch of him.
"That's me," he'd said, pointing at his own chest. How he found himself in my collection of rudimentary lines made me want to draw him out, make him tell his story even more.
"Now you tell me who you are," I'd urged, doing my best Dr. Harris impression. "Once upon time, there was a boy named...," I singsonged, and waited.
"Bale," he had replied quickly. "Once upon a time, there was a boy named Bale who lived in a house made of wood. The monster made him cry like no mother or father should. Then his family went away. But made Bale stay. And Bale burned it all down one day."
To this day, I don't know if I remember it right or made it up, but the name Bale stuck and so did his story.
We had different monsters. Mine was my icy anger. Who wouldn't be angry after being locked up all their lives? Bale's was his love of fire. If fire didn't exist, I thought Bale would have been a normal boy. But a world without fire didn't exist any more than a world without air. Would Bale love me, understand me, if fire didn't consume him like it did?
I knew Bale loved me from the first time he saw me have an episode. He was no stranger to anger. And when I was feeling it, the sensation was so strong, it took over my whole body, making me hot and cold all at once. I was never sure if it was better to hold it in or let it out. Fighting against it felt like holding my breath. There was no way the anger wasn't coming out eventually, and my head always hurt from the pressure. Most people usually ran in the other direction when I exploded. But not Bale. He stood right next to me. He didn't touch me. He just stood patiently until I was done. When I stopped seeing red, and the intense, all-consuming wave of anger subsided, and everything in the room finally quieted down, he held my hand. That was when I fell in love with him, too.
I wanted my hand in his from that day to forever. Even if he did break it in two places eventually. Because no one really understood what it was like to live with this kind of rage and pain, like fire and ice, inside you. No one but us. And no matter what ward we were in, we always found our way to each other. Again and again. He made this place a home. Without him, Whittaker was the same thing for me as I'd always thought it was for everyone else: a prison.
* * *
I stood in the hallway of Ward D, staring intently at the back of Bale's head, willing him, begging him, to turn around. To look at me now.
Vern gently cupped my arm to get me to keep moving.
"Please...just a few more seconds," I pleaded.
She shook her head. "Child, if we could actually cure things by staring long enough, Whittaker wouldn't need to exist."
Begrudgingly, I continued down the hall toward the visitors' lounge.
"You know you're going to have to forgive your mother eventually," Vern said.
I shrugged. Mom had said she loved me. And despite all my problems and her committing me to an insane asylum my whole life, I believed she did, in her way. But after Bale broke my wrist, Dr. Harris had recommended that he and I be separated, and Mom had agreed. She took away the one thing that made Whittaker more than just survivable. He was my only friend. I could not forgive that. I hadn't even tried to.
* * *
Vern was still looking at me for a real answer about my mother, but I just shrugged again. Around me the hallway was growing cloudy, but the colors were more vivid than before. My footsteps felt lighter. My Happy dose was working.
"Well, you'll have to. Maybe not today. But soon," Vern said.
"Why?" I bit back—unapologetic.
"Because you only have about three people in the universe to talk to, Snow. And technically Dr. Harris and I are paid to."
I looked sharply at her. She laughed.
"You know you're my favorite, Hannibal Yardley."
That was my nickname because of the biting. She named me after a character who had a penchant for killing and cannibalism in a violent movie we weren't allowed to see. Coming from anyone else, the nickname would have elicited a toothier response and a bit of blood. But from Vern, I took it and kept on walking.
(This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.)