I have no idea what it was about my escort that made me so uncomfortable. Maybe it was his solid, apathetic, stoic presence, or the knowledge that he was somehow superior to me and he wanted me to know that as well as my name; regardless of the reason, the guy and his absent companion made me desperately wish invisibility was an option. Unfortunately for me, the proper people to make that happen were out of the office, so I was left to try and shrink and shuffle after my escort, apparently called Dwayne (I later learned his partner was his brother Tobias).
I was excited to hear about the chess option; it had always been a favorite game of Roger's and mine, I'd always been quite good. Then when the doc warned me about not letting loose my full chess game Dwayne got this little glint in his eye. He leaned to mutter in my ear, "Yeah, sometimes those things can get ugly. I'd be real careful if I were you." I couldn't help but swallow in such a way that out of context might've sounded comical. Not trying too terribly hard to suppress a smirk, he led me up to the cafeteria.
Scanning the crowd I honed on on the most with-it person I could find. It's not that I have anything against the clinically unbalanced, I just wasn't used to the atmosphere. I asked if I could join him. He gave a shrug and answered, "Why not?" He extended his hand and introduced himself as Russell.
"Glad to have the company," he said as I introduced myself and sat down. He seemed nice enough, and as we got to talking I couldn't help but notice how sensible and together he seemed. I even made a point to tell him so.
He gave me a sort of half-smile. "I usually can keep it together, but the best way I can explain myself is that overall I'm sane, except when I'm not. And when I'm not..." He finished with a low whistle, allowing me to finish the thought as I saw fit. "So, you the new guy?" he asked casually, poking at his lunch. I nodded.
"S'it that obvious?"
Russell laughed. "It's just new faces are easy to spot in a group such as this." He toyed with his spoon a bit before speaking again. "What'cha think so far?"
I made an indecisive noise. "A bit stuffy, I s'pose. Doc seems a bit curious to me, but overall not too bad for the first twenty hours or so."
"There're a lot of white coats in here, which one'd you get stuck with?"
He ahhed in recognition. "That's who I'm with. Yeah, I think life's just starting to get to him. Been cooped up with us crazies too long, y'know? 'Course, I don't see too much reason for him to complain, he usually gets the more bizarre and interesting cases. F'I was in his place, I'd be itchin' to work."
"You're quick. Yup, psych major, theater minor back in school. Odd combo, I know, but I loved both. Still do, in some capacity. Worked out really well for me around finals time for the various med students. I'd study up on particular ailments and go in as a sample subject. For diagnostic exams, see? I was particularly good with the psychological stuff, seeing as that was my area of study. Everybody thought I was good at it, so much so that they said I was just a few steps off from the real thing."
"Oh, it was! The research and practice were my favorites to do. I'd even look things over in my spare time. I got so immersed, y'see, I knew almost every mental mishap inside out and backwards. But that was also kind of my problem: I knew them so thoroughly that they became ingrained in my brain, became habits, y'know? I'd get so involved with it, and in the test situations I was treated like I was nuts. So between the habits and reactions, something in my subconscious started to believe that I was in fact mental. All just sort of spiraled out of control from there."
I whistled with pity. "So you drove yourself nuts by convincing yourself you were nuts?"
"Precisely. That, and I was under the impression that everyone around me thought I was nuts. That's why, in my opinion, I'm one of the worst cases in here: subconsciously I know I'm crazy. I know others think I'm crazy. My subconscious believes it, and it molds my actions to those expectations to make them true. And I can't do a thing about it. It's that simple."
He allowed me to ponder a moment, then glanced at something over my shoulder. "And if it isn't the doctor himself," he murmured, nodding behind me. I turned to find Russell was right; Doc Esco was coming across the cafeteria towards us, and I couldn't help but notice he looked a little worried.
"Hi Doc," I greeted him.
"Hello Connor, I see you've met Russell." He absentmindedly nodded a greeting to my tablemate. "Listen, Connor, I was thinking about it, and I wanted to ask: are you sure you're up for rec time? It's just that you haven't been here for very long, that maybe you wanted to get a bit more adjusted."
A confused laugh checked itself in my throat. "All due respect, Doc, but I thought the very fact that I am new would be the only reason I'd need to do rec, whether I was up for it or not. And since I'm still feeling up to it, I think it's the perfect reason to do rec."
Dr. Esco looked a bit surprised at my response. He looked to Russell, as if looking for some sort of clarification. All Russell did was shrug and mutter, "He's got a point, Doc."
"Very well then." He turned on heel, clearly disappointed and a touch distressed. I looked to Russell inquisitively, who could only turn up his hands in question.
"Your guess is as good as mine." He checked his watch, then verified the time with a nearby wall clock. "Now, if I were you I'd head down if you want any chance of grabbing a chess board or anything."
"Alright." I rose. "You coming?"
"Nah, too unpredictable for me. But it was good talkin' with you, Connor."