1. Asylum

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Rose rinsed airplane and asylum from her long dark hair, groping for soap with eyes tight shut in the unfamiliar shower of her new guardian's home. This was only her eighteenth placement in the nine years since she lost her parents, but Rose thought hopefully--though not too optimistically--that this might be her last. Great Aunt Marie. Her mother's aunt, Grandma Thompson's sister.

"You're not crazy, dear child," she had soothed Rose when they first met, two long months ago. "It's magic."

Rose had known the elderly woman spoke the truth as soon as she heard the word. However, her many years dealing with strangers taught her not to hold on too tightly to hope. Weeks had passed with no sign of Marie's return, and Rose slumped back into the safety of insanity there at CYRS, pronounced curse by the patients.  Central Youth Recovery Section, the juvenile unit of the Central State Mental Hospital in California's San Joaquin Valley. A home for the disturbed.

There was comfort in the familiar, and at least this place was consistent--the usual People's Court reruns on the bolted down TVs, the battle-weary staff in ill-fitting white scrubs, the dull hum in her ears from meds that left her numb, the patients whose crazy ranged from quiet and creepy (like Rose) to screeching and scary. So, she decided these inexplicable things she could do... these were just symptoms of her schizophrenia. Hallucinations. Delusions. Like the doctors said. Like her mother. And, besides, it was so much easier to agree, to go along with whatever they decided was wrong with her. It was the fastest way back out into the world.

Then yesterday, Doctor Hutcheon summoned her to his office, where Marie sat waiting with court documents releasing Rose.

And now, after a blur of travel, she was three thousand miles across the country in a three-story white stone home in New York City with a woman who formed a bright autumn-orange ball of light in her hand as soon as they stepped inside. Was it real? Rose wasn't sure. Images of her mother holding a glittering green orb swirled like mist in her mind, dismissed before by so many psychiatrists. She wanted to believe that these memories weren't false, that her mother had it too, this magic.

"Magic," she affirmed aloud to her amorphous form in the steamy mirror, hoping that this wasn't all in her mind. This is real, and I am here. Rose was 14. And a half. Yet the only sign of her age was her height. She was tall and straight, like the slender, smooth stalk of a calla lily. Rose rolled her eyes in disgust and went in search of clothes. She was no blooming flower.

As she descended the stairs, Rose saw yellowed pictures of vaguely familiar long-dead relatives, and her frustration at being held captive by people who mistook her magic for craziness resurfaced. Someone who knew better--who should have helped her sooner--was right here all along.

Marie glanced up from the kitchen sink, where her gnarled hands rinsed lettuce, a crisp massage. "Are you all settled in?"

"Why did it take you so long to get me?" Rose asked in answer. The promise of this home was too good to be true.

"Well, it took several weeks to get all the paperwork processed through the courts, both here and in California."

"No. I mean, why did it take you all these years--half my life--to come find me?" Her voice had almost reached a shout, anger and desperation seeping out despite her best efforts to keep them hidden. Rose closed her eyes and breathed slowly. This was more than she had said to anyone in months, not because she was isolated or shy. But because she was broken--people usually dismissed whatever she said as the ravings of a lunatic, so why say anything? Now all her emotions were seeping out, and she desperately wanted to retreat back into the quiet.

Marie crossed the room and enfolded Rose in her long arms. "I didn't know," she murmured, her face pressed into Rose's hair. When Rose remained silent and stiff, not returning the embrace, Marie pulled away and continued. "Rose, I knew that your father and brother passed, and that your mom had been placed in an institution. Betty and John told me they were taking you. I didn't know. I didn't know you--"

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