After going to their bedroom for a brief moment of kissing and touching, Alexis and Natalie went to the day room for recuperation time. As the two women sat together at one end of the half-circle of couches, Andy and Carla sat at the other end, facing them from the other side of the room. Carla, an Amer-Latinx woman with short, straight, bleached hair, light-tan skin and heavy makeup on her face, had her hand cupped over her boyfriend’s ear as she whispered to him.
“I swear, that wench Carla is eyeballing us,” Natalie whispered to Alexis.
“Huh?” Alexis was too occupied with rubbing shoulders with Natalie to notice anybody else in the day room. “What do you mean?”
“Look at her.” Natalie glared at Carla and Andy. “She keeps looking at us, and then talking all in Andy’s ear.”
“That don’t mean she’s talking about us.” Alexis flicked the back of her hand toward Carla like she was brushing off a fly. “She’s probably just doing dirty sex talk to Andy as usual.”
“I’m telling you, that wench is studying us too hard,” Natalie insisted. “She needs to stop cutting her eyes at us before I go over there and poke them out.”
“Don’t even worry about her. She ain’t gon’t do nothin’ but look. That’s all that she do — cuts her eyes at people and then talks s__t and gossips to Kelly and everybody she thinks is her friend. She’s too much of a scaredy-ass punk to say or do anything to somebody’s face.”
“She needs to be scared,” Natalie said, “’cause I’d f__k her ass up if she ever stepped to me.”
“That girl ain’t steppin’ to a pillow if it if flew up and hit her in the face.” Alexis made Natalie laugh at that remark, and then Natalie put her head on her shoulder. Alexis was happy to see Natalie relax and not be fixated on Carla.
“It’s bedtime, sober-lifers,” the video screen wall announced while showing the time. All the game tables shut down and the lights dimmed, prompting the residents to move out of the day room and into the hallway. As Alexis and Natalie were heading to their bedroom, Adeel and Loni, two staff members, walked out of the office and intercepted them. “Hey, fellow sober-lifers, we need to talk to you,” Adeel said.
“Ok, what’s up?” Adeel, an Amer-Asian man, and Loni, an Amer-Indígenx bigender, were amiable staffers so Alexis wasn’t worried about what they wanted. Natalie, however, huffed and rolled her eyes.
“Let’s go to your room so we can talk without all these other people in the hallway making noise,” Loni said.
“All right,” Alexis replied, and they all walked to her and Natalie’s bedroom. Once they entered the room, as they stood in the middle of the room near the door, Loni said to Natalie and Alexis, “The therapeutic staff has told us that you need to be in separate bedrooms. So Natalie, let’s get your stuff together. You’re swapping rooms with Kelly.”
“What! Why?” Alexis’s jaw dropped. “She ain’t done nothing to me, and I ain’t done nothing to her!”
“Talk with your therapists about it,” Loni responded. “The therapeutic staff just told us that it’s for the benefit of your sober living goals.”
“But y’all know why!” Alexis argued. “The therapists don’t know nothin’ unless the staff here tell them something! Why are you doing this?”
While Alexis quarreled with the staffers, Natalie was silent as her lips shrunk into a tight scowl and she slowly moved toward Adeel.
“Why do you care so much?” Adeel gave Alexis a hard look into her eyes. “It’s not like either of you are being removed. You’ll still live here together and see each other every day. You’re not being put on any additional restrictions. You just won’t be roommates anymore. So what’s the problem?”
“The problem is that this is my girlfriend and I’m a grown-ass woman, bitch!” Natalie swung her elbow at Adeel, striking him in the face and knocking him to the ground.
“Natalie, no!” Alexis screamed.
Natalie then squatted over the staffer, who was bleeding from his nose, sat on his chest and repeatedly hit him with her fists.
“Natalie, stop it!” Alexis tried to reach for Natalie to pull her off or restrain her arms, but Loni pushed her away. “Get back! You might get hurt,” the staffer ordered. Ze then turned to Natalie to try to stop her attack on Adeel.
“Natalie, stop!” Alexis continued to shout.
As Loni wrestled with Natalie, two other staffers rushed into the room. One of them helped Loni to pull Natalie off Adeel, while the other stuck an injector on Natalie’s shoulder. Immediately, Natalie went limp and keeled over on top of Loni.
“Oh my goodness!” Loni exclaimed as ze and staffer Julie pushed Natalie off hir and crawled over to attend to Adeel. “Julie, go get two stretchers.” As Julie ran out of the room, Loni slowly pulled Adeel to a sitting position, tilted his head down and pinched his nose to staunch the bleeding.
Alexis’s whole body shook with sobbing as she watched what was happening to Natalie. She wrapped her arms around herself and shifted her feet back and forth as a wheeled, self-propelled, 30-centimeter-high stretcher entered the room. Zach, the staffer who injected Natalie, helped Loni put Adeel on the stretcher; he then pushed a button on the stretcher, and it rose up to the height of his waist. As Adeel left the room on the stretcher, Loni walked out with him, still holding the injured staffer’s nose.
Julie came back into the room, and she and Zach dragged and rolled the unconscious Natalie onto a second stretcher. Once Natalie was on the stretcher, Julie pressed a button that made straps emerge from the stretcher to bind the prone woman’s body. After raising the stretcher, Julie pressed another button that sent it out of the room.
Julie and Zach then turned to Alexis, who was still holding herself and weeping. “Alexis, are you all right?” Zach asked. “I know that had to be frightening. You’re not in any trouble. We know you didn’t have anything to do with what Natalie did.”
Alexis sniffed, swallowed and then asked, “Who’s the snitch?”
“What?” Julie asked.
“Who snitched us out?” Alexis cried. “You’re roomie-switching without taking away privileges or anything. That means you’re doing it on the word of a snitch. You can’t discipline nobody or put people on restrictions without real evidence.” She strained out the word “real” through gritted teeth.
“The roomie-switching was an order from the therapeutic staff,” Zach said. “You really need to talk about it with the therapists tomorrow.”
“Carla snitched us out, didn’t she?” Alexis yelled. “Probably jealous because Natalie and me were rooming together and she can’t with Andy anymore. Natalie was right. She was right! That punk-ass snitched us out, and now you’re gonna remove Natalie for violating!” With that, Alexis crumpled up on the floor and cried with her head between her knees.
“We have to, Alexis,” Zach said. “She’s proven herself to be violent. She’s got to go to mental wellness treatment now.”
“I know that!” Alexis howled. “I know that! And they’re probably going to put brain-changing bugs into her! She’ll never be the same! She’ll never be the same…”
“You don’t know that,” Julie said. “They’ll give her drugs and psychotherapy. Viral therapy brain treatment is only a last resort. Now come on, let’s get you off the floor and into bed.” She and Zach then pulled Alexis up and sat her on the bed. Alexis didn’t resist as the staffers took off her shoes and laid her out on the mattress.
“If you want, I can contact your therapist and ask her to let us give you a sleep aid. She’ll definitely approve given the circumstances,” Zach suggested to Alexis.
“Naw.” Alexis was exhausted and headachy from crying and shouting.
“You sure?” Zach asked. When Alexis nodded her head, he added, “You can always call on the video screen if you change your mind.”
Julie said, “We’ll let you sleep in, so you can get up an hour later to make up for all this. A staffer will come in and wake up Kelly so no alarm or lights come on. Speaking of Kelly, we’re going to get her and move her in with you now, okay?”
Alexis sighed. “Okay,” she croaked.
“All right,” Julie said, “Alexis, I’m so sorry you had to go through all this. I’d give you a hug if I could.” She and Zach then left the room and closed the door.
Alone in the room, Alexis was quiet and unmoving as she lay in her bed. After a moment, she began to mumble a song by Millie Jackson, “Love Is a Dangerous Game.”