“I’m glad,” said Dr. Banks, and led me to the office door.
He talked while we were in the elevator going down, the usual easy, meaningless chatter about stock prices, recent news reports, and the weather. He seemed to realize I wasn’t really listening, but that didn’t stop him; it was like he needed to be doing something with his mouth to keep from saying anything that would break our fragile, temporary peace right down the middle. We could both feel how frail it was, stitched together with my silence and his willingness to back off when he saw that he had pushed me too far.
The really sad thing was, as I listened to him babble about anything and everything but the sleepwalkers, I realized that Dr. Banks genuinely seemed to care about what happened to me—even more than my own parents did. He didn’t have a very good grasp of how to show it, and he was almost certainly still telling me lies, but he wanted me to be happy. I could tell that much from the way he kept glancing in my direction, seeking approval from the lines of my face. He wanted me to be happy. Whether or not that was possible was irrelevant. We all want things that can never happen, and even when we know they’re not going to become reality, we keep on wanting them.
Dr. Sanjiv was waiting in front of the elevator bank when the doors finally opened on the underground lab level. Her normally impeccable bun was slightly less well tied than usual, resulting in a few flyaway hairs around her face; like Dr. Banks, she looked just a little unfinished, overwound, and tired. “Sir,” she said, offering Dr. Banks a polite nod before turning her attention to me. “Hello, Sally. How are you feeling today?”
“Okay, I guess,” I lied. I didn’t feel like getting into it with her. “How are you?”
“Busy.” She paused, realizing her mistake, and amended, “But always happy to see my favorite patient. Marvin is getting the ultrasound gel prepared for you.”
“I hope you understand the importance of Miss Mitchell’s comfort,” said Dr. Banks, with a note of warning in his voice that was enough to make me feel uneasy.
It was worse for Dr. Sanjiv; she worked for him, after all. “Yes, sir,” she said, straightening until it looked like someone had manually locked her spine into place. “I promise the utmost care will be taken in the procedure. You can ask Sally yourself, if you’d like. Dr. McGillis and I have done this multiple times, and she’s never had any complications.”
“They’re some of my favorite techs here,” I said, picking up my cue. It was the truth, and even more, I didn’t want anyone to get in any more trouble than was absolutely necessary. I was, after all, planning to disappear on their watch. It might go a little better for them if they weren’t already in trouble when that happened.
“If you’re positive,” said Dr. Banks. He looked to me, brows furrowing as he searched my face. I had no idea what he was looking for. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to know. “Sally, you know you can tell me anything, don’t you? I’m sorry about before, in the office. I wasn’t thinking clearly, and I apologize.”
“That’s okay, Dr. Banks,” I said, fighting the urge to squirm. Dr. Sanjiv was looking away, her face schooled into an expression of careful neutrality. The way he was phrasing things, it sounded almost like he’d made a pass at me. One that had been rebuffed. I was glad of that much, at least. I wasn’t going to have to deal with the entire staff of the lab thinking I’d been sleeping with their boss. “We’ve all had a hard week. It’s why I asked if I could have an ultrasound.”
Dr. Sanjiv laughed, an odd little rippling run of notes that sounded artificial only because I had never heard her laugh before. “She falls asleep every time,” she said, to Dr. Banks. “It’s amazing; we’ve never seen anything like it. The gel floods in, and Sally checks out. She stays asleep for the whole process. I wish all our patients could be as easy to work with as she is.”
“I always told you Miss Mitchell was special,” said Dr. Banks.
I was still trying to figure out why sometimes I was “Sally” and sometimes I was “Miss Mitchell” when he turned back to me, seizing my hands before I could step out of his reach.
“Maybe you know what I mean by this and maybe you don’t, but Sally, some doors are closed because they’re meant to be closed. Do you understand me? Not every door is supposed to be opened, and not every open door is supposed to be used. You have a choice.”
My choice had been made the moment I plugged the thumb drive into his computer, if not long before then. Still, he looked so sincere, and so worried, that I felt I owed him something. Trying to look confused and supportive at the same time, I nodded, and said, “I understand, Dr. Banks.”
“Good. Good, Sally.” He let go of my hands, taking a step backward, toward the elevator. “Dr. Sanjiv, I’m leaving her in your care.”
“Yes, sir,” said Dr. Sanjiv.
Dr. Banks stepped into the nearest open elevator, which slid closed behind him. Dr. Sanjiv motioned for me to follow her down the hall to the ultrasound lab. As promised, Dr. McGillis was at his station, tapping a series of commands into the computer. He wasn’t alone. I stopped in the doorway, gaping.
Sherman looked up from his study of Dr. McGillis’s monitor and smiled. “Hello, pet,” he said.
When it became apparent that I wasn’t going to move on my own, Dr. Sanjiv planted her hands on my shoulders and pushed me bodily into the room. I offered her no resistance. I did manage to keep from stumbling, but it was a near thing. She kept pushing until I was far enough in for her to close the door. “Well?” she snapped. I wasn’t sure who she was talking to. I hoped it wasn’t me, because I couldn’t answer her. I could barely breathe.