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A Storm of Shadows
The leaves of the lone Bigtooth maple cast a dappled shade across the patio table, a warm afternoon breeze causing the shadows to shift and change. If one didn’t know better, the area could have easily been mistaken for a park, instead of a psychiatric facility. Forest Ridge was different than most, though, partly because of its clearance status, and partly because of its approach to mental health rehabilitation. Dr. Crystal Bailey had personally handpicked a team of highly qualified professionals, and they all shared a common viewpoint--while medications play an important role in stabilizing mental conditions, therapy is vital to a successful outcome. When creating the therapy programs at Forest Ridge, Dr. Bailey started with the traditional approaches—individual, group, family and couples psychotherapy. But realizing other outlets were just as important, she incorporated music, art, writing, drama and relaxation therapies into the milieu of treatment. Her unique approach focused on the individual needs of the patient, treatments were goal-directed; teaching and reinforcing positive coping skills outside the residential setting. Because of her successes and the caliber of her clientele, not to mention the nature of her work, she was afforded an autonomy almost unheard of among other government entities.
At the moment, the newest arrival to Forest Ridge was sitting in a chair beneath the maple tree, staring out into the distance. A full month of one-on-one daily therapy with Dr. Bailey herself had resulted in some progress, but it was slow going. While she had started spending some of her free time outside, Jessie still refused visitors, and had lost more weight because of a nonexistent appetite. The other patients left her alone for the most part, some recognizing the signs of a severe trauma, others just understanding the need to be by oneself. The low-dose Xanax Dr. Bailey had talked her into taking after supper had helped her sleep through the night, and the hypervigilance she had first exhibited on arrival had slowly waned. The daily routine she had established between sleep, therapy and time to herself was slowly reestablishing her balance.
After her morning session Jessie went outside, seeking solace in what had become her spot at one of the tables, sheltered by the branches of the tree. She let her mind go blank, indulging in the slight scent of pine from the conifers in the distance, the comforting warmth of the sun peeking through the limbs, and most of all the sound the leaves made above her when the wind blew. She was enjoying these simple pleasures when she became aware of the sound of approaching footsteps. Jessie didn’t turn around, hoping whoever it was would take the hint and keep on going. Unfortunately the steps slowed, and the sound of something being set down on the table added to the unwanted intrusion.
"If you don’t start eating, they’ll run a tube through your nose and down into your stomach for tube feedings. It really isn’t very pleasant."
Glancing to her right towards the table, she saw a bowl of soup had been placed in front of her. Looking up towards the direction of the voice, the sun was momentarily in her eyes, and she could only see the silhouette of a woman. Only when the woman sat down in the chair next to her did Jessie recognize who she was.
For a split second Jessie wondered if it was someone who looked like her. The auburn dye had faded in her hair, the ash-brown roots were much more prominent, but it was the voice that pegged her identity with certainty. Jessie turned back to her vantage point, wondering what cruel twist of fate was responsible for Calandra sitting next to her. That she really didn’t care was a testament to her damaged psyche.
Calandra sat quietly for several minutes, waiting to see if the young woman would respond. She had noticed her not long after Jessie had arrived, but Jessie hadn’t seen her. Calandra had wondered why she was there, but over the ensuing weeks of watching her, she began to recognize the signs. Despite herself, or maybe it was because of the progress she had made, she felt herself empathizing with the obvious suffering Jessie was experiencing. "That soup doesn’t taste any better once it gets cold," she said, trying to prod a response.
"I’m not hungry."
Calandra pressed her lips together, nodding in understanding. "No, and you won’t be for quite a while. But your body still needs nourishment."
Jessie continued to ignore her, and after a while Calandra got up and left without saying another word. Jessie turned the encounter over in her mind, but couldn’t even muster up enough energy to be upset over it. Looking down, she picked up the spoon and stirred the soup before taking a bite. It might as well have been sawdust. Laying the spoon back down, she resumed watching the trees sway with the wind.
Another routine soon established itself. Each afternoon Jessie would sit at the table as usual, and after about fifteen minutes or so Calandra would join her, bringing either a bowl of soup or a sandwich. Mostly Jessie ignored her and Calandra didn’t say anything, leaving after a short while. Inevitably, though, Jessie would take a bite of the sandwich, or take in some of the soup, making her way up from one bite to actually eating enough for someone to tell a few bites had been taken. Unknown to either woman, Dr. Bailey observed each and every one of these encounters.
One day, Calandra came up as usual, bringing with her two sandwiches and two glasses of tea. She unloaded the tray before setting it aside and taking her seat, eating her lunch next to her silent companion. This time, however, Jessie didn’t stay silent.
"What are you doing?"
Calandra looked up, startled. "I’m eating my lunch."
Jessie shook her head slowly. "Not that. Why do you keep coming over, bringing me food?"
Calandra took a bite of her chicken salad sandwich, chewing it thoughtfully before answering. "You need to eat; you’ve gotten way too thin."
"Why do you care?" She looked at the shorter woman closely. "I mean, you tried to kill me. Why not just let me starve to death?"
Calandra caught herself before she denied the accusations. Part of her therapy was to own her actions, admit her culpability and responsibility. She sighed as she sat back in her chair. "Yes, I did do that. For what it’s worth, I was in the middle of a psychotic meltdown. With the help I’ve received since then, though, I’m getting better…I’m trying hard to get better." Taking her napkin, she started worrying the corner of it. "I can see you’re in pain…and I’m hoping that nothing I did is the cause of it."
Jessie took a sip of tea, then rubbed her thumb over the pads of her fingers, spreading the moisture from the condensation on the glass. "What happened to me has nothing to do with you."
Calandra wasn’t so sure about that, but she kept her thoughts to herself. She was still in the process of sorting through what was real and what wasn’t, as well as reconciling the fact of what she might have set loose in the process. That last part wasn’t something she was sharing with her therapist…it just came down to one’s personal beliefs. "Did it happen here, or through work?" Seeing Jessica’s puzzled look, she said, "The thing that happened, that brought you here…did it happen here, or while you were on a mission?" Jessica’s expression changed, taking on that blank affect once again. Calandra set her napkin back on the table, and took another bite of her sandwich, not really expecting an answer.
"A mission," came the soft reply.
That she had received a reply shocked Calandra so much she almost dropped her sandwich. Thought about what to say in return, but decided to leave it at that. Jessie would talk about it when she was ready…that much Calandra knew from personal experience. The two women ate their lunches in silence, while Dr. Bailey took notes and updated both their charts.
"You what?" Janet exclaimed, shocked.
"I’ve been letting Calandra and Jessica interact together."
"Crystal, have you lost your mind? That woman tried to kill Jessie!" Janet was having serious doubts about the sanity of her old friend.
"Relax, Janet. Calandra has stabilized quite nicely with therapy and medication, and she has actually helped Jessica; she got her eating again, which was a miracle in and of itself; I was getting ready to order tube feedings for her. Besides, they are never unsupervised, either indoors or out. I’ve got more audiovisual gizmos installed over there than the FBI and the SGC combined. There’s nothing that goes on between them that I don’t know about."
"How is Jessie doing with her therapy?"
"She’s coming along, albeit slowly. She still hasn’t talked in great detail about the assaults, but she has given a general outline of what happened. She’s sleeping through the night now, and she isn’t as jumpy as she was when she first arrived."
"Has she talked about her relationship with Cam?" Janet asked.
Crystal shook her head. "No. We’re still working on getting her to recognize she’s not at fault in the attacks. She’s experiencing a fair amount of guilt, and I think that in a large part is keeping her from addressing her relationship with Colonel Mitchell. I think she feels the attacks diminished her value as a person, that now she isn’t good enough for him."
"And that’s a bunch of bullshit, even though it’s a fairly common reaction." Janet flipped through the folder on her desk. "So you think she’s making progress?"
"Yes, I do. In fact, I think she’ll be able to go home soon, if that’s what she wants to do. She can continue therapy on an outpatient basis, but I think getting back into a more normal routine would be good for her."
Janet sighed. "It would be nice to get her back here. There’s definitely something missing with her not being around." She spun the pen on the desk surface. "I trust you, Crystal; I wouldn’t have placed Jessie in your care otherwise. But, just keep an eye on this Calandra business, okay?"
"I promise you, I will. I wouldn’t allow it if I didn’t feel it was helping them. I’ll keep you updated on the progress."
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