Home > Asylum (Asylum #1)(3)

Asylum (Asylum #1)(3)
Madeleine Roux

Dan let out a tiny sigh, nodding.

The hallways were jam-packed with kids still moving their stuff in. Many were milling around in groups, talking. Why couldn’t Dan have ended up with one of them for a roommate?

“Look, Daniel Crawford,” Felix commanded, pulling him to a stop when they reached the main entrance hall. He pointed out the front door to where students were heading across the lawn. “Girls. Enough for both of us.”

Gently disengaging his arm from Felix’s clammy grip, Dan went through the door. The day would improve. It had to.

“Well, I feel like a grown-up, how about you?” Dan took another bite of mint-chocolate-chip ice cream.

Felix stared blankly. “I’m not sure I know what you mean.”

“I mean this.” Dan held up the little paper dish of ice cream and danced it side to side. “This whole ice cream social thing. Feels like . . . I don’t know, like we’re little kids again at a birthday party.” He eyed the tiny wooden shovel that had come with the cup. It only made him feel sillier.

They were in Wilfurd Commons, a huge cafeteria-cum-ballroom located in one of the buildings off the quad. Above them a domed skylight let in the last traces of sunlight. The coming dusk gave the room a violet tint, while outside a fog was settling low to the ground.

“I don’t connect ice cream to my childhood,” Felix said.

That’s probably because you never went to any birthday parties. Dan immediately chided himself. He really had to be nicer, but conversation had so far been hopeless.

“Personally, I was hoping I’d have a chance to get some advice on which biology classes to take, but I don’t see any of the professors associated with— Wait! I think that may be Professor Soams now. I read his dissertation on the evolution of microbial pathogens. . . .”

Dan missed the rest of what Felix was saying, all too happy to see him wading through the crowd toward an elderly man in the opposite corner. Still, relieved though he was for the break from Felix, he was now painfully aware of being alone in a crowd.

Hoping that he didn’t look as awkward as he felt, Dan put another spoonful of the melting ice cream into his mouth. It tasted chalky, like medicine. The unpleasant smell of a burning cigarette wafted in from the open doors leading outside, and Dan felt himself clamming up.

Calm down, Dan, you’re fine, you’re fine.

A cold, prickly sweat gathered at the base of his neck. He felt dizzy, and the skylight spun. The whole room spun. He tried to grab the table behind him but missed and stumbled backward. Any second he’d hit the floor.

A strong hand caught him by the arm and pulled him upright. “Whoa! Careful, slick, or you’ll be wearing that ice cream.” Dan blinked and the world came back into focus. In front of him, still holding his arm, was a girl, petite, with large brown eyes and creamy olive skin. She was wearing a big button-down shirt that had splatters of paint on it over a tank top. Her jeans were ripped, and she had on a pair of heavy black boots.

“Thanks,” said Dan, checking his own shirt to make sure he hadn’t spilled anything. “I guess it’s just a little too hot in here.”

She smiled.

“I’m Dan Crawford, by the way.”

“Abby, Abby Valdez,” the girl said. They shook hands. Her grip was strong and warm.

“Anyway, you said it.” Abby snorted and tossed her wavy hair. It fell like a black curtain over one shoulder, purple and green feathers threaded into the curls. “They could at least turn on a fan.”

“Right? So, um, what do you think of this place so far?” Dan said. It seemed like a good, normal question to ask, especially after his decidedly not normal fainting spell. Dr. Oberst always told him that if he felt anxious in conversation, he should just ask the other person questions and let them do the talking for a minute.

“I could live without staying in an old loony bin, but otherwise it’s cool. What are you here for? Classwise, I mean.”

“I’m going to study history, mostly, and maybe some psychology. What about you?”

“I’ll give you one guess,” Abby replied with a laugh. “And it’s not astrophysics.”

Dan looked at the paint splatters on her shirt and the dark smudges on her hands, traces of pencil rubbed into the creases of her knuckles and palms.

“Um, art?”

“Got it in one!” Abby punched him lightly on the arm. “Yeah, the studio classes here are supposed to be great, so I felt like it was a good chance to work on my technique before portfolios are due for college apps. But who knows, right? There’s so much to choose from.” She spoke quickly, energetically, flitting from thought to thought with hardly a breath in between. Dan nodded and said “Uh-huh” at what he thought were the right moments.

Without discussing it, they drifted toward the open door.

“You feeling all right now?” Abby was saying.

“How do you mean?” Dan paused at the doorway. Outside, a glow-in-the-dark disk flew by. A dozen or so students were congregated on the lawn, playing another impromptu game of Frisbee.

“Before? When it looked like you were about to pass out?”

“Oh, that. Yeah, I’m fine. I think it was just the heat, and I haven’t eaten much today.” It was as good an excuse as any, considering he never knew for sure what triggered the episodes. Honestly, though, he was kind of glad it had happened this time—he wouldn’t have met Abby otherwise.

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