A scream erupted from the small room. Tessa’s breath caught in her throat as her head flew away from her pillow and she shot up. She gasped, her hand touching her chest, and balled her hand into a fist around her bed sheet.

“Jesus Christ,” she whispered.

She hadn’t had that nightmare in four years.

The door flew open and the lights flickered on, filling the bedroom with brightness. Then a voice spoke.

“Not again. You’ve got to learn to control the nightmares.”

“I would if I could,” growled Tessa, staring at the man in the doorway. “How is Ava handling things?”

Dr. Kinsey nodded and came further into the room. He reached up and tousled his brown hair and looked at her.

“She seems to be adjusting quite well,” he murmured.

“That’s good,” Tessa said, sliding out of bed. “What time is it?”

“Just after six at night,” Kinsey said. “You’ve been asleep for a few hours. Long morning?”

Tessa ran her fingers through her hair, combing it away from her face, and sighed. “It feels more like a long lifetime, Alex.”

He smiled, his green eyes soft. “It always seems like a lifetime when you work here. What happened over at the hospital?”

“You would think her mom and brother would be supportive,” Tessa said. She didn’t even mind when her voice hitched up in annoyance. “Her mom knows the truth and she’s trying to act like that little girl is fine now, all because she doesn’t want to be looked at differently for having agreed to put her daughter here.”

“Maybe she is,” Alex said, coming to sit beside her. “Maybe she’s just like all girls her age who have no one to talk to. They form a bond with their own creation.”

“She seems too attached,” Tessa said after a moment. “She said he told her he’s been with her for a long time. I told her I would help her figure out if what he said was true.”

“How are you going to do that?” When she didn’t reply, Alex shook his head. “Tessa, no. I told you I couldn’t do that, not after last time.”

Last time was the reason a lonely little boy walked in front of traffic. After his session with Dr. Kinsey, it had proven too much. The parents had blamed Alex, of course, saying that he hypnotized their son to walk into the street.

It was damn lucky that they didn’t sue Ridgewood. Everyone would have been out of a job in no time, and most of the patients wouldn’t have anywhere to go since they were now outcasts to their families.

Tessa didn’t want that for Ava.

“If you really couldn’t do your job, then you would have quit after it happened. It wasn’t your fault, Alex.” She touched his shoulder, and he turned his head to look at her. “You can do this. You can help her.”

After a long silence Alex said, “What is her imaginary friend’s name?”

The End

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