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Illustration by Lisa Occhipinti

“TELL ME, WILLIAM. Why are you still here?”

Billy Doheny stared at Dr. Crouch, the psychologist he’d been assigned to since he checked himself into Happy Grounds Home just over a year ago. Dr. Crouch knew Billy’s family history even better than Billy himself did. Dr. Crouch knew everything that Billy’s voices had ever told him to do.

“Have we met?” Billy tried to keep his tone light, tried to keep the bitterness out of his voice. The truth was, he hated Happy Grounds—even more this past month since Florencia had left—but being here was the right thing to do. “It’s me, remember? The one with the voices.”

Dr. Crouch placed his pen carefully on the table behind him. He did everything carefully: walked, spoke, listened. It was one of the things Billy appreciated most about him. “William, I have been a psychologist for over thirty years, twenty of them at this very institute. I have worked with thousands of clients and patients. Yes, you hear voices. Yes, that is a symptom of schizophrenia. While I would prefer your voices stayed silent, and while I certainly wish you would consider at least trying the pharmaceuticals we’ve prescribed for you, I have told you countless times that you are not a threat to yourself or society. In fact, your voices seem to be more sane than most of the people I know.”

Billy leaned forward in his chair. “Are you telling me you think I should go home?”

“No. Legally, I can’t say that. But I can remind you that you checked yourself in of your own accord, and you are not required to stay.”

Billy stared out the window, trying to make sense of the jumble of emotions pouring through him at the thought of leaving: relief, fear, jubilation, worry.

“Plus,” said Dr. Crouch, lifting his eyebrow, which was the closest he ever got to cracking a smile, “we could use the bed.”

Fuckin’ A, let’s book it, said the male voice, the one who wanted to pay for the entire world’s needs. Billy had nicknamed this voice George, after George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life, only the voice was a tad more crude. There’s a family down the street that can’t pay for their groceries.

“Shut up,” said Billy, mildly.

“Which one was that?”

“George. Apparently someone needs some food.”

Dr. Crouch fixed Billy with a level stare. “William, call your brother. The worst you might do is go bankrupt trying to save the world or buying too many books.”

“But…” Billy wasn’t sure why he was protesting. “My mom…what if…are you sure…?”

“Call your brother,” said Dr. Crouch.

 ∴

“Dude, that’s it?”

Billy hefted his duffle over his shoulder. “Livin’ light,” he joked, hoping that his younger brother Mark—who had suddenly shot up to six four, towering over Billy— didn’t pick up on his anxiety.

Mark shuffled his feet and then reached out for Billy’s bag. “Uh…want me to take that?”

Billy sighed. This was ongoing with Mark, who couldn’t quite seem to understand that there was nothing physically wrong with Billy. Of all his siblings, Mark was the one who troubled Billy most. Nineteen and working at the gas station, playing video games and contemplating joining the Army. “Ten bucks says I can still bench press you, Mosey, so I think I can carry my own bag.”

“Don’t call me that,” said Mark, sullenly.

Mosey was the nickname their baby sister Breanna had given Mark when she was eight and Mark was eleven and going through a cowboy phase. Somehow it stuck, as nicknames are prone to do, but now Mark hated all things country and cowboy, including his nickname. He’d been trying to get them to stop using it for years, but only their other sister Andi—two years younger than Billy—had managed to break the habit.

They climbed into Mark’s truck and rode in silence, Billy watching the town pass by. So small. So cramped. He shifted uncomfortably.

You could move to California, said the voice he had named Harlequin Romance, HR for short. Bet it’s real pretty there. Breanna’s sixteen; only two more years! 

“Hey, can we stop at the Hinky Dinky?” Mark took a right turn, looking at Billy expectantly.

“Watch the road!” snapped Billy. He wanted to go straight home, not stop somewhere as public as the grocery store. He felt exposed, uncertain how to navigate the town the way he once had. “What for?”

“So you can buy me a six-pack, dude,” said Mark. “They confiscated my fake ID at this bar in Omaha. Total bullshit.”

Billy didn’t answer. There was nothing to say. He wanted to do right by Mark, to help him grow up into someone with morals, with ethics. With a sense of pride. But Mark had his own ideas, and they certainly didn’t include education or much in the way of thoughtfulness.

At least HR was right about one thing: only two more years until he could do what he wanted. Two more years before his life was his own again.

Two more years before he was done playing Daddy.

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