She looked different that morning, as she came down the stairs with her hair neatly brushed and tied back. Not happier, exactly -- I couldn't remember the last time I had seen her smile in public -- but lighter, as though some burden had been removed from her slumped shoulders.
"Hi, Shelley. You look good. Has something happened?" I made my way over to her, clutching a bowl of cereal. I knew it was not the policy for doctors to eat breakfast with their patients but I felt that it might be helpful. If I treated them like normal humans perhaps they would remember who they were.
"No, nothing," she said: but she was keeping something from me, I had known her long enough to be able to tell. "You look suspicious. Has something happened?" Mockingly, she echoed my words. That was the one thing I loved about our Michelle. Though tormented and driven halfway to insane by the voices, she never lost her own unique sense of humour.
"No, nothing," I replied, equally sarcastic. She nodded her head to acknowledge that I had scored a point. With a slight grin I indicated the table of cereals and toast.
"How old are you?" Michelle asked suddenly.
"What makes you ask that?" I had known her since she was nine but never had Shelley asked me such a direct questions. All our conversations were clinical, impersonal.
"You don't seem old," she mused aloud. "Not like the other doctors. And yet you're qualified and you've been here -- what, six years? About that, anyway. So how old are you?"
"Perceptive," I said, nodding. "All right, you win. I'm only twenty nine."
"You're almost twice my age," she said, laughing. "Hello, old man." I didn't mind her teasing because it showed she was in a good mood. Some days, Michelle would not even talk to me. She just closed up and disappeared inside her own head.
"Something is different," I said again. Or was this the first time I had dared to say it aloud? "You're different, Shelley. You've changed."
"I'm fine..." she repeated. "Why are you looking at me like that? What is it?"
"They've been speaking to you again," I decided, and knew in my heart that I was right. "They've been speaking to you, haven't they? Tell me the truth!"
"Yes," she admitted, hanging her head. It had to be unusual or she would not have shied away from telling me the truth straight away. Normally her chatty personality, so repressed in childhood, would show through as she told stories of their conversations, and blow-by-blow accounts.
"Tell me what they said. Tell me everything."