Ben had me stand up on the stool. It slightly rocked under me, and I curled my toes. I was about an inch taller than Ben now. I had my arms crossed over my chest. Ben’s eyes scanned me from head to toe.
“Uncross your arms,” he said.
I let out a deep breath and unfolded my arms.
“Drop the attitude,” Ben said. “When you’re asked to do something, you have to do it with a smile.”
I spread my lips into the most outrageous smile I could create. Ben shook his head.
“Tone it down a bit,” he said. “They really don’t like the sarcasm.”
“They don’t seem to like a lot of things,” I said.
“That’s true,” he said. “But they love a perfect subject. Stand up straight.”
“I am standing up straight.”
Ben put his hand on the small of my back. He pushed it forward to straighten my spine. He put his other hand on the top of my chest and pushed it back. Ben looped around me once. I yelped when I felt my hair be pulled back.
His fingers were tangled in my hair. He pulled my head back so that he was towering over me. My hands covered his and tried to push him away. I gritted my teeth as the sharp pain ran across my scalp.
“Let go of me!” I yelled.
“Settle down, Diana,” he said. “This may happen.”
“They’re going to grab me?”
“They may. Dr. Kozlov can be pretty rough with subjects. Oliver doesn’t have much of a spine, so he’ll probably not say anything.”
Ben let go of me, and I straightened my body. I rubbed my sore scalp and watched him as he took a step back.
“If that happens, try to look a little scared,” he said. “Those doctors love fear.”
“How many doctors are there?” I asked.
“Last year there were fourteen. There’ll be a few more this year.”
“Where is this dinner?”
“Somewhere in the Caribbean.”
I raised an eyebrow and bit down on my lip. They would have to bring us to an airport. They would have to look at my ID. They would know I’m missing, and arrest Sweeney. The problem would still be not having the medication to keep my vision.
“There are going to be some questions you’ll hear a lot,” he said. “Since Oliver is trying to become a member, he’ll probably be standing by you all night. If you answer everything perfectly, he is sure to give you privileges when you get back.”
“Do you think Dr. Sweeney will be accepted?” I asked.
“Yes, what he did to you is really impressive,” he said. “Also don’t call him Dr. Sweeney when it is just the two of us.”
“They’re not really doctors.”
“They’re not doctors?”
He ran his finger through his hair before pushing up the sleeves of his sweater. My eyes darted to the patch of scales on his arms, but he didn’t notice.
“They are doctors,” he said. “They have the training and they work in hospitals, but who does this to people? It’s sick. When we get out of here they are all going to lose everything.”
“Okay, I’ll call him Oliver,” I said.
“Only when it is the two of us. Whenever you’re around other people then you have to call him doctor,” he said. “They get off on those kinds of things. The same goes for Dr. Phillips. Call her Bethany.”
I nodded. Ben grabbed Oliver’s chair. The wheels squeaked as he rolled the chair so that it was in front of the stool. He sat and leaned back.
“Can I get off this stool?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “You’re going to be standing for a long time at this dinner, so you better get used to it. Watch your posture too. You’re slouching again.”
I took in a deep breath and straightened. Ben put his elbow on the armrest and rubbed his hand along his jaw.
“Now, Diana,” Ben said, he spoke with a deeper tone. He was acting like he was impersonating a doctor. “How do you feel now that you have been blessed with this gift?”
“I feel…good,” I said.
Ben chuckled and shook his head.
“Good?” he asked. “That’s all you can give me. I thought you were a university student.”
“I’m sorry that I’m not a hipster screenwriter like you.”
Ben put his hand on his chest. “That one hurt.”
“How about this?” I put my hands behind my back, fixed my posture, and raised my chin. “Since Dr. Sweeney has performed this amazing surgery, my life has drastically improved. This is more than I could ever hope for.”
“A little cheesy, but I think it will work.”
I shift my weight between my feet. Ben shook his head in disapproval. I stopped and stood straight again.
“What was your life like before this operation?” he asked, using his deep voice again.
“Am I supposed to tell the truth?” I asked.
“Hell no.” Ben leaned forward in the chair. “They like a sappy story. Give them some sad past and how Oliver’s surgery made life better.”
I closed my eyes and I slouched. A sad story? I couldn’t think of one. Being kidnapped and losing your eyes is a sad story. My life wasn’t a sad story before this. I was an honours student at university. I had a track scholarship. My mother, Marcy, and I were close. I only saw my Dad twice a year, but that never really bothered me. I hadn’t made many friends since I started university, but I was busy with assignments and practice. I hadn’t gone out on a date since my high school boyfriend broke up with me after graduation. I wish I had a bad life before this. I lost more this way.
“Diana, your posture,” Ben said.
I stepped off of the stool. Ben furrowed his brows.
“What are you doing?” he asked. “We’re not done. Get back up on that stool.”
“No,” I said. “I don’t want to do this anymore.”
“What do you mean?”
“This is dumb.”
“I’m trying to keep you alive.”
“I’m not going to die.”
Ben stood and came toward me. I took a step back, but he grabbed my arms. I pulled away from him, but he tightened his grip.
“Diana, if Oliver doesn’t get into this club he is going to kill you,” he said. “Do you not understand that?”
“What’s even the point?” I shrugged Ben off of me. He reached again, and I took a step away. “Even if I get out I’m not going to get my old life back. You said that yourself.”
“Yes, but at least you’ll have a life.”
I took another step back. My eyes burned, and I took in a breath to stop myself from crying. I brought my hands up to my face and pressed the skin around my eyes. The swelling had gone down, but the ache still reminded me of what I lost. I had been adjusting to this new vision. The haze of colours had become normal.
“Think of how happy Marcy will be to see you again,” Ben said.
I took in a sharp breath and my mouth went dry.
“How do you know about Marcy?” I asked. “How do you know my sister’s name?”
Ben muttered a curse under his breath.
“I saw it on the news,” he said.
We were watching movies last night, but it never occurred to me that it would have cable. I spun around and took off running. Despite the dress restricting the length of my strides, Ben couldn’t catch up. I ran to the room at the end of the hall. I swooped down to grab the remote. I turned on the television to see a news story about a newborn panda at the New York Zoo.
Ben ran into the room. His eyes jumped from the television to me. He must have woken up after I went to bed and turned on the news before going to his room.
“Give me the remote,” he said.
“No.” I clutched the remote to my chest. “Marcy and my Mom are looking for me. I have to see.”
“You can’t,” he said. “Oliver doesn’t want you watching the news.”
A news story about a hurricane on some island filled the screen.
“I don’t care,” I said.
“Yeah, well I do,” Ben said, taking a step closer. “If he comes down here and that’s on we’re both going to be in trouble. I’m supposed to be watching you.”
Ben took a few more steps forward. I held the remote behind my back. We circled around the couch as he continued to chase me for the remote. I stopped when I heard a familiar voice.
“I just can’t believe it.” Marcy was in front of a collection of microphones. Her makeup was running down her face, and Mom was crying on her shoulder. “Diana is so sweet, kind, and intelligent. I don’t know why anyone would want to hurt her. I’m praying that she’s safe and no one has harmed her.”
My eyes were glued to the screen. Ben snuck up behind me and snatched the remote out of my hands. He turned off the TV.
“Put it back on!” I yelled at him.
I lunged forward, but Ben pulled back. His hand shot out and pushed me back as I reached forward to grab the remote.
“Stop it,” he said.
“Ben, give me the remote!”
He threw the remote onto the couch. I leaned forward for it, but Ben grabbed my waist. In one swift movement, he knocked me down onto the floor. I gasped for air as he pinned me down. I swung my fist, but he leaned back. My fist only connected with the tip of his chin.
“Get off of me!” I screamed.
He grabbed my wrists and held them down beside my head. I kicked out my legs, but it was useless.
“Calm down, Diana,” he said. “I’m trying to help.”
“Don’t touch me!”
I wiggled under Ben as I tried to pull myself out of his grip. I looked up to see Ben staring down at me. His eyes were on me and his brows were furrowed together. He looked up, and I twisted my head to see what he was looking at.
Oliver was standing in the doorframe. I groaned, and Ben’s grip loosen on my wrist. I pulled it out of his grasp and slapped him across the face. My palm tingled, and Ben’s fingers were wrapped around my arm.
“I’ll give her something to calm her down,” Oliver said.
Ben let out a deep breath, and it tickled my skin. He leaned forward and rested his forehead against the floor between my wrist and head. His hair brushed against my cheek as he shook his head.
“This is what I didn’t want to happen,” he said.
Oliver’s steps echoed through the hallway. Ben straightened up before Oliver came back into the room.
“Hold her down while I give her this, Benjamin,” he said.
Oliver crouched down next to me. He was holding a large needle in his hands. My eyes grew wide as he popped the cap off with his thumb.
“This is going to make you feel better, Diana,” Oliver said. “You will wake up with a better attitude.”
Oliver moved out of my sight. His cold fingers grabbed my knee, and he pushed up my dress. There was a sharp pinch in my thigh. I yelped. Ben squeezed his eyes shut, and I watched as he focused on controlling his breathing.
“You can let her go,” he said. “Get her to her room while she is still conscious.”
“Yes,” Ben said. “Thank you, Dr. Sweeney.”
“I will be down to check on her soon.”
Ben got up off of me. He reached his hand down, but I ignored his help. I rolled over onto my side. Whatever Oliver gave me was already starting to work. I struggled to keep my eyes open, and my joints were weak. I gathered all of my strength to get on my feet. I took one step and my knee gave out. Ben grabbed my elbows to keep me steady. I wasn’t going to waste my remaining strength pushing him off of me. I let him hold onto me as I shuffled my feet across the hallway.
I flopped down onto my bed as soon as I was close. I only made it halfway onto the bed. Ben grabbed my ankles and pulled me so that I was lying across the bed. I rolled over onto my side so that I did not need to look at Ben.