Sweeney had left us a tray for breakfast. Two bowls of cereal sat on the tray next to two glasses of orange juice. Ben took one of the glasses and swallowed his pills. I grabbed a bowl and sat down on Sweeney’s squeaky office chair. I didn’t want to go to the bed he had restrained me to. Ben took his bowl and leaned against the counter across from my chair. We both ate our cereal in silence. Only the crunch of our chewing filled the air.
“Why did you come into my room?” I asked.
“I heard you crying and screaming,” he said. “I thought you may be having a nightmare. I used to get them every night.”
“Oh.” I looked down at my bowl in my hands.
Ben cleared his throat. I looked to see him set down his bowl, and cross his arms. He rubbed his hand along his jaw.
“Oliver didn’t hurt you, did he?” Ben asked.
I shook my head. I set the bowl down next to Sweeney’s computer.
“Do you still get nightmares?” I asked.
“Sometimes, yeah,” he said. “Not nearly as much as when I had my first surgery.”
“Did you tell Dr. Phillips?”
“No, but she figured it out. Don’t tell Oliver if you have any.”
“They want to believe that you are settling in here. I’ve been to two of these dinners, and they expect their subjects to be worshipping them. They want a respectful and polite subject at their feet.”
I rolled my eyes. A dull ache was still spread across my temple.
“What does that have to do with telling Sweeney about my dreams?” I asked.
“We want to get out of here,” he said. “That’s not going to happen right now. You need to gain privileges from Oliver, and the only way for you to do that is to get him to trust you. That’s not going to happen if you fight against him and tell him about your nightmares.”
“It took you three years to get to leave the house,” I said. “I can’t wait that long.”
“It took me three years because I acted like an idiot for most of the time. It resulted in me getting restrained and sedated all day.”
“I can’t just pretend to be loving this.”
“If you want to get out of here that is what you’re going to have to do.”
The lock to the door clicked, and I looked over my shoulder to see a blurry shape come down the stairs. When it came closer, I recognized it to be Phillips. Her lips were painted pink, and with a wide smile. Her hair was twisted into a low bun. Her lab coat was covering her blouse and skirt.
“Good morning, you two,” she said.
“Good morning, Dr. Phillips,” Ben said.
“Did you take your medication? I gave them to Dr. Sweeney.”
“Yes, I did. Thank you.”
Phillips glanced at me before walking toward Ben. She put her hand down on the counter beside him. She propped her glasses on the top of her head and batted her eyes.
“How has Diana been?” she asked.
“She’s been good,” Ben said. Ben’s eyes connected with mine, and he flashed me a smile. “I think she’ll do great at the dinner.”
“Really?” Phillips asked. “Dr. Sweeney told me that she had a meltdown this morning.”
Ben rolled his head to the side so that he was staring at her. My fingers curled into the pant leg of my pajamas. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them as they talked about me.
“To be fair, no one is really a morning person,” Ben said.
Phillips took her hand off of the counter. She let out a deep breath and put her hands into the pocket of her lab coat. She pulled out a pair of plastic gloves.
“Take off your shirt,” she said. “I want Diana to see how to act for an evaluation.”
Ben’s eyes darted toward me. He pulled his shirt up over his head. The dark patches poking above the collar of his shirt were spread across his chest. He had another patch that ran down his ribcage on the other side of his torso. Phillips ran her fingers along the jagged edges. I averted my eyes from Ben’s stare.
Ben stayed quiet as Phillips ran her fingers along his skin. He complied as she asked him to raise his arm and lean to the side. Every time I looked up, Ben’s eyes were on me. I tried to look away, but my eyes were stuck on his scaly patches.
Phillips looked over her shoulder at me. She curled her lips into a smile before turning to look back at Ben.
“You really think she’s settling in?” she asked.
“I do,” he said.
“I hope so. I miss having you home.”
She placed her hand flat against his chest. His eyes trail down to her hand. He put his hand on the small of her back, and she shuffled a step closer. I buried my face into my knees to hide my disgusted expression. I stayed that way until I heard Phillips’ heels clicking across the floor.
She grabbed my half-empty bowl of cereal.
“You need to finish it,” Phillips said.
“I’m not hungry,” I said.
“I don’t care.” She held the bowl. “Dr. Sweeney wants you to eat all of it, so that is what you are going to do.”
She gave the bowl a slight shake. I unfolded myself and took the bowl. She strolled away without saying goodbye to either of us.
Ben tossed his shirt back on. He came toward me and took the bowl out of my hands. He sat on the edge of the bed, and I swiveled around in the chair. He shoved a spoonful of cereal into his mouth.
“You’re sleeping with her?” I asked.
Ben shrugged and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Don’t shrug this off,” I said. “I can’t believe you’re having sex with her.”
“I never said I was,” he said.
“It’s obvious that you are. Don’t lie to me.”
Ben took the last few bites of my cereal and set it down on the table.
“Yes,” he said. “I have sex with her.”
“That’s disgusting,” I said.
“You’re telling me. She’s twenty years older than me and I’ve never been into the whole cougar thing.”
“Then why do you do it?”
“It’s all about playing the game.”
I scoffed and leaned back in the chair.
“It’s been three years,” I said. “You’re not playing it very well.”
“And as I have told you, I had not realized that I needed to outsmart them,” he said. “Geez, you really don’t listen, do you?”
“I listen,” I said.
“Alright.” He pushed himself off of the bed. “Let’s test that out. Shower and come back here in half an hour. I’ll show you what you have to learn.”
I got up from Sweeney’s office chair. I followed Ben as he walked down the hallway toward the shower room.
“Just so you know, I’m not going to start sleeping with Dr. Sweeney,” I said.
Ben looked over his shoulder and smiled.
“I wouldn’t want you to,” he said.
I brushed my wet hair as I walked across the hallway. The citrus smell of my body wash lingered in my nose. When I had searched through the plastic bags on my floor to look for clothes, all I could find were dresses. I settled for a denim dress that stopped above my knee. I couldn’t find any shoes, so I walked across the cold floor with my bare feet.
Ben was in the main room. He had changed into a pair of jeans and a hoodie. His mop of dark hair was wet and sticking out. He set a stool down in front of me on the floor.
“Let’s get you prepared for this dinner,” he said.