Next time I woke up, I found Flora sitting on her bed across the room, combing her hair with a glazed, faraway look in her eyes. Her gaze was fixed on the wall above my bed, and didn't shift as I stirred. I spotted a small yellow cup on her nightstand, and I deduced that she'd already tossed back her morning dose. Reaching out, I found a similar cup on my own nightstand, and I threw the five or six pills into my mouth, gagged a little, and forced them down.
"Flo," I coughed, waving my hands in the air. "Flora, snap out of it."
She jerked her head around, blinking furiously. "You're awake."
"Well... Yeah," I said, swinging out of bed, finding myself head-to-toe in soft grey cotton. I grabbed a fistful of the material that sat on my waist. "Why am I wearing this?"
"You spent the night in the Mallow."
I stared at Flora, searching for signs that this was a joke. "What?"
"Yeah, you sneaked out with Cherry, the Yellow Suits caught you, and brought you in here around two hours ago. You were shrieking and thrashing like that girl in the Excorcist before they injected you. You don't remember any of this at all?"
"No," I whispered, rubbing my upper right arm, which felt tender and swollen. I could almost feel the metal tip of a needle slipping inside my flesh, but other than that I could recollect nothing. My heart faltered with panic. I'd spent nights in the Mallow before, but this was the first time that I'd woken up none the wiser in my own room.
Flora shrugged, standing up and quickly making her bed. "Better get a move on, it's almost half past eight."
I dressed and got ready for class like a zombie on auto-pilot. I couldn't wait to see Cherry at breakfast to find out exactly what had happened the night before. I doubted she'd been carted off to the Mallow with me, but according to Flora she'd called on me to sneak out. So maybe she could help jog my memory.
"Ready?" asked Flora, heading to the door of our room. She was wearing a plain white t-shirt and high-waisted jeans, and her light brown hair was tucked neatly behind her ears and spilled down her back.
I'd chosen a floral patterned top and light coloured jeans. Bright colours often helped boost my mood, and boy did my mood need a boost this morning. I plaited my chocolate brown hair to one side of my head, tied it with a yellow ribbon, and followed Flora out the door.
Our building was the furthest from the Central Living Space. That meant a five-minute walk on clean white paving slabs before the path opened up into a small, neatly trimmed garden of yellow roses and sweet green grass. The grey rectangular bungalow beyond the garden was where the Residents ate, showered, studied, and entertained themselves. Thinking about it, the Residents basically lived out their lives in the CLS. Ultimately, this building was the Uncool Residency.
Flora and I didn't speak much as we crossed the lawn to the glass paneled door labeled "BREAKFAST HALL". And as soon as we stepped inside, and we were immersed in the drowning sound of hundreds of chatting voices, we split up without a single word. I scanned the rows of tables for Cherry's face, and I spotted the back of her head by the window at the right hand side of the hall.
I took to the queue at the back of the noisy hall, and grabbed a tray. As always, there was a small, colourful poster in the centre of each and every tray.
"Good Morning, Resident! Have you taken your Morning Dose? No Dose, No Nosh!" was printed in large, playful letters. The fineprint was plainer, black Arial font: "The Residency Breakfast Hall reserves the right to run tests on Residents if given reason to believe that the Resident has not conformed to the rules regarding doses. Staff reserve the right not to serve Residents suspected of skipping doses."
I was given a bowl of porridge and a drizzle of honey from the woman in the yellow apron behind the counter, and then I pushed through the crowd to get to Cherry's table.
"Hey, Cherry, what happened last night?" I asked, sliding into the seat opposite her.
She looked up from her bowl, and I got such a jolt of shock that I almost tipped my chair backwards. The sacks under her eyes drooped as far as her cheekbones.
"Nothing happened last night," she murmured.
My heart plummeted right to my guts. Flora wasn't someone who made up things like "Cherry called you out last night." Which meant that whatever had happened to me last night - whatever had erased my recollection of events - had also happened to Cherry.
I glanced across the hall at the two Yellow Suits who stood on patrol by the door. Flora and I had barely noticed them on our way in, because they were everywhere and nobody ever paid them any attention. But maybe... Maybe we should.
Maybe there was something that they wanted us to forget.