The Dollhouse Asylum Online - Mary Gray

1

Gruff fingers yank a blindfold off my face, light splashes into my eyes, and I blink. Gray walls swim about my head, and the ceiling soars much too high above me. I don’t know this place. I was walking to my bathroom when someone grabbed me from behind and forced a sour-smelling cloth over my face and—someone grapples with my hair, and I flinch. Who—who is touching me?

I try turning in the flimsy chair, but someone’s grabbing my shoulders, forcing me not to move. Spasms of fear shoot up and down my arms and legs. I try swinging my fists to make them loosen their grip, but my captor’s fingers only tighten.

Raising my arm to jab my captor in the gut, I pause. Someone’s laughing. How do I know that sound? It’s beautiful and low, a laugh I could recognize anywhere. Glancing around the sun-filled room, I find the source almost immediately. It’s Teo, my Teo, standing across from me on the hardwood floor, beaming at me. His ebony eyes shine forth like two onyx stones, and even his olive-toned skin makes me breathe a bit shallower. Choking back a strangled laugh—no one’s here to hurt me—I reach out for the love of my life, too tongue-tied to say anything.

His lips spread into a thin smile, reminding me of his mouth melting into my own. Fire raged beneath my skin with that kiss and it felt like I was lifted up into the air and floating. Six days ago we had our first kiss and we still haven’t been able to talk about it. I tried repeatedly to go into his classroom, but it was like our school had purposely decided to schedule a more-than-average number of parent-teacher meetings.

Locking his eyes on mine, Teo asks, “Manicure?”

I glance down at my fingernails, trying to see why he would think I needed a manicure, when my shoulders are released and pale, icy fingers grip my hand. Chills run through me.

A flat, tenor voice says, “Yes.” And I’m startled to see my fingernails are actually painted. Clear and shiny.

The fingers drop my hand, and my captor walks around to face me. White uniform, white skin, white hair. He’s albino. Who is he?

“Makeup is good.” Teo taps lightly on a handheld computer screen. “Hair is so-so.” He continues to scan the device, and I don’t like how he’s picking me apart like he’s Photoshopping me. Where are the other students? Or maybe it’s more than I could ever hope: it’s really just the two—three—of us, and he is finally unveiling his feelings. I never expected to fall in love with a teacher, but when I started at Khabela, the Austin math and science school, Teo was the only one who welcomed me. It took me a moment to understand why a math teacher would care that I read Tristan and Isolde, but soon we were knee-deep in conversation about all our favorite classic stories.

I wish he’d tell me why he brought me here. Maybe he let my mom know, explained what we were actually doing.

“Teo—?”

But I fail for words, the gray walls seeming to snatch at the fear inside me. My palms break out in a sweat and it’s calculus all over again, where Teo asked me to stand in front of my class to share the index card I had made to memorize last year’s trig functions. While I hate speaking in front of groups, I did it anyway, my heart slamming against the insides of my chest the entire time. When I’d finished, Teo congratulated me, making the fear worth it.

Tapping his computer screen, Teo trains his gaze on me again, softening a little. “I cannot tell you how much seeing you here pleases me.”

My heart flip-flops and it’s hard to say anything. He’s happy to see me. It’s all I can do to keep myself from smiling stupidly.

He takes one step toward me and I long to fill the gap. And when he speaks, his voice rings out in a baritone melody. “I hope you enjoy our little neighborhood, Miss Laurent. The women are on one side of the street, the men on the other. They each have their own houses. Seven again.” His lips perk up into one of those smiles that I love, and I’m reminded of his reverence for the number seven, how he arranges our desks in three rows of seven.

Glancing at the wooden door ahead, I open my mouth to ask if he’ll show me this street