The weekdays were much more structured than how the weekend had appeared to include so much free/electronics time, with only two hours in the evenings where any outside communications were permitted, if you had earned (and maintained) that privilege. I slowly over the next couple weeks began to familiarize myself with the many staff members that went through the place, all fulfilling slightly different roles or leading specific therapy groups- of which the week days were full of.
After daily intentions and breakfast, most everyone was waiting in the living room for a group while I was out back sitting on the edge of the spa steps with my guitar, the crow and hummingbird both sitting at the top of the Cyprus tree above, as I could always count on whenever I went outside.
I was working on writing out a song called “Always” that had started playing in my head when I woke, when a Latino gentleman of roughly 6’3″ in a white chefs smock, came from around the corner of the patio with an armful of lemons very precariously cradled with the bottom half of his apron. He was clearly attempting to carry far too many in one trip, as a couple escaped out one of the sides and bounced off the ground with a dull thud, one rolling off into a rosebush and the other right up to my shoe. I picked it up, retrieved the other from the thorns, and holding them out to him, offered to assist him with any future lemon collecting.
“Nah, keep it. Just don’t let Shawna see. But when life gives you lemons-”
“You throw them at people, I know.”
“Well that’s not exactly what I was thinking, I was going to make some lemonade for you guys for a nice change- but you forgot squeeze them in people’s eyes,” he said, very matter-of-factually. “Pleasure to make your acquaintance Kat. Andre. OK, I cheated- I saw your name on the staff board.”
“There’s a lemon tree here?
“Of course, you didn’t see it? right around the corner, outside the main dormitory window.”
“No, because they have me sleeping in the observation room.”
“Ooh… What’d you do?”
“Nothing, it’s not important.” I took a bite of the lemon and pitched it out over the fence into the oak past the putting green.
“Food Mom!” Lizzy exclaimed happily, leaning halfway out the back door, “Did you go grocery shopping yet?”
“Iyiyi…”He shook his head with a reluctant grin. “Anyway, lunch and whatnot to prepare; if you ever have any special requests for meals or anything, don’t hesitate to let me know.” He gave a small bow, and took his armful of lemons into the house.
Andre was the house chef, and though he only really needed to be there each day long enough to prepare our meals ahead of time for in the fridge- and in addition to operating a restaurant out in Santa Monica, he seemed to always be around anyways- unpaid overtime, holidays, weekends, etc; usually until Shawna would *make* him go home, if she was around to. Despite my natural penchant for potentially invasive questions, I never managed to find out much else about his personal life other than that he considered three hours a “good night’s sleep,” and had a true passion for what he did in the restaurant business, and even in preparing food for reluctant anorexics who didn’t want to eat in the first place- which makes for a pretty damn tough critic; but he was an incredible cook, and you could always hear an upbeat song or whistle coming from the kitchen. Everyone thought he was late twenties at the most, for how youthful and lively he acted- but were all surprised to find some months later that he was actually in his early 40’s.
Despite Shawna’s yielding prohibition to us all regarding the “appropriateness” of it and to stay out of the kitchen- I probably spent more time around Andre than I did most anyone else in the clinic- usually talking about inconsequentials, or simply harassing the hell out of each other. I would rearrange the spice rack, or other things around the kitchen that he needed, or leave peanuts in every drawer and shelf because he was very fastidious; and because I was the only patient who was not a vegetarian, he would “accidentally” swap my meal protein for tofu or some other TVP, or put my guitar picks on the very edge of the top shelf of the bookcase. He often even made time to take me for walks when no one else would, through a viridescent branch of Sycamore Canyon. I would have gone even more downright insane without that little bit of fresh air. He was kind and patient with all of us, with me- when I was not to myself; lightening the mood when the darkest storm clouds rolled into the house; and I surmise that we were all more more grateful for his influence and the energy he contributed to the place, than anyone else.
Returning inside, I saw from across the living room, everyone but Amberlyn crowded around the island in the center of the kitchen; Melissa stood back a couple feet with a subtle lightness in her face watching them all. The kitchen was a spacious moderately fancy one of all white cabinetry, silver knobs, dark green and black laminate counter tops, and two large silver overhanging lights. The apparent object of fascination was a royal blue betta fish, that “Nice Mom”- whom I had yet to meet- had evidently brought in of her niece’s who was going away to college.
“How about Jaws?” Sabrina suggested.
“Corey!” Lizzy countered, enthusiastic as always. She really did have a strange preoccupation with Corey Taylor of Slipknot.
“No, you can’t name him, or he’ll die-” Leo stated confidently. “That’s getting too attached, and everyone knows if you get attached to something it dies.”
“He’s got a point…” Sabrina muttered, her countenance suddenly darkening in such a manner incommensurate to the trivial matter at hand.
The beta merely poked his head out of the glass log he was hiding in.
“Ok, so he’s just Fish.” Lizzy concluded.
They had reached an apparent consensus as I leaned over the counter beside Leo, attempting to be a part of the discussion. The beta fish darted out of his tiny fortress and charged up against the glass between Leo and I, puffing up elegant fins in a peacock-like show of hostility, then quickly retreating back to his log. I think if a beta could- it would have kicked one of our asses. I tried flipping it off, and it seemed to respond with an increased level of aggression; then as though losing track of the thought completely, it spied the fish food that had been floating above, gobbled it up, and returned to it’s refuge. So Leo and I traded off with the procedure of flipping off and feeding Fish every morning.
“You know you guys aren’t supposed to be in the kitchen-” Jacqueline walked in to see what the crowd was about. “Ah. Kat, bed rest.” she motioned over her shoulder, her other hand on her hip. “Did you forget?” She moved Fish to the hallway, outside the staff office door.
So there I was, lying on the couch with nothing but my red journal for the remainder of the next three days. Hopefully only three.