New Adult author Ava Conway’s new book Hollow is set in a mental institution, where two patients find love against the odds… continue reading for an excerpt from Hollow by Ava Conway.
“AFTER I PRESSED the accelerator, things get a little fuzzy,” I said.
“Hmm . . .” The lawyer twirled his monogrammed pen between his fingers and scribbled something into his notebook. “The same thing’s written in the police report.”
I tried to move my hands, but remembered they were strapped to the bed. After I ripped all the lifesaving tubes out of my arms last night, the hospital staff wanted to make sure I didn’t do anything so stupid again.
“Does it look as bad as the papers are suggesting?” My father pushed his fingers through his hair, which had turned more salt than pepper since I had gone to college.
The lawyer slapped his notebook shut and slid it into his leather briefcase. “You know the media will exaggerate anything to get a story. Although I have to admit, an attempted suicide one week after the accident won’t help her defense.” He clicked the briefcase shut with a loud, purposeful snap and smoothed his designer suit. “The jury will think she has a guilty conscience.”
“Come on, honey. Think.” My mother drew her neatly trimmed brows together, bringing attention to her large, round eyes. Normally my mother’s baby blues were her best feature, but the clumpy mascara and bronze eye shadow she’d chosen that morning made her look tired and worn out.
“There must be something else you remember. Some little bit of information that could help the police drop the charges.” She took my hand with her long, manicured fingers. People said that we looked alike, but besides the raven-colored hair and blue eyes, I didn’t see very much in common. It was almost as if we came from two different worlds. Hers was stoic and orderly. Mine was a neurotic mess.
I shook my head and turned to the lawyer. “There’s nothing more.” My voice sounded hoarse and strained.
Probably because of all the tubes they had to jam down my throat while trying to keep me alive.
My father swore and started pacing the hospital room. Even tired he looked magnificent, like some great stallion in an Armani suit. His angular features, tanned skin and outgoing personality drew people to him and made him an outstanding lobbyist. It was a damn shame that it was for show. Only my mom and I knew that the charismatic lobbyist waged an inner war with himself every night, armed with his trusty bottle of bourbon and a Cuban cigar.
“Your friend was right. You shouldn’t have been driving that night.” The lawyer leaned against the bottom of the bed and arched his brow. “None of you should have.” The highhanded tone grated on my nerves. All my life I had been trying to live up to my parents’ impossibly high standards.
The last thing I needed was this greasy-looking rent-a-lawyer talking to me in such a condescending tone. I opened my mouth to tell him this, but was cut off by my father.
“They can’t prove she was driving,” he said. “The car flipped over and no one was wearing a seat belt.”
“He’s right.” My mother dropped my hand and stood. “The other two were thrown from the car.”
“I know, and that’s why there’s still a chance of overturning the manslaughter charges.” The lawyer studied me for a long moment with his beady, green eyes. From day one, I didn’t like this guy. It wasn’t just that he was conceited or condescending, it was how he always seemed to be calculating his next step, as if life was this massive board game and he was playing to win. While I had no doubt that his decisions were the best for him and his law practice, I wondered if they were the best for me.
My mother certainly seemed to think so. She hung on his every word.
“What if we send her away to live with extended family for a while?” she asked. “It will keep her out of the press until things calm down.”
“No,” my father said. “We can’t send her out of state while she’s facing charges.”
“You have no relatives close by?” the lawyer asked.
“We moved away from them to be closer to work,” my mother explained.
I didn’t like how these people were discussing my future as if I wasn’t in the room. “I don’t need to hide from the press.”
“Don’t be silly, Lucy,” my mother said. “You know we can’t afford the negative publicity right now. If you stay with us, then reporters will set up tents on our lawn, waiting for
some crumb of information that they could use to tear us down.”
“She’s right, unfortunately,” my father said. “We have to find a way to keep her in state, but out of the public eye until this all blows over.”
“I’m twenty-two. I can handle myself.”
“Of course you can, dear,” my mother soothed. “Now hush, we’re thinking.”
The lawyer studied my face. Uneasiness crawled over my skin as his beady eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. “I’ve got it.”
“What?” my parents both asked at the same time.
The lawyer’s gaze never left mine as he addressed my parents. “Is there any history of mental illness in the family?”
“Of what?” My mother stiffened and exchanged glances with my father.
“Of mental illness,” the lawyer repeated, turning toward her. “If there is, I could talk to her doctor about arranging an evaluation while we wait for a court date.” He straightened away from the bed railing and began to pace. “If we can prove she’s mentally unstable, it would help with the defense.” He drummed his fingers together as he walked, as if closing a steel trap.
“You want to put my daughter in a loony bin?” My mother swayed and grabbed the bed railing.
“Not a loony bin—a mental hospital. And only if she needs it.” The lawyer cracked his knuckles. The loud noise reminded me of how both of Bethany’s legs had been broken in the crash. “Yes, putting her in an upscale institution like Newton Heights until the investigation is over will help gain sympathy for our cause.”
“Newton Heights. That’s where that celebrity went last year when she announced she was being treated for depression, isn’t it?” my father asked.
“Yes, but . . .” My mother waved her hand in the air, as if struggling to find the right words.
“It’s expensive, but for those who can afford the high costs, it offers a sanctuary from the outside world.” The lawyer waved his hands to the sides and flashed his slick smile. “There’s also a teaching hospital on site, so if she should need physical treatment . . .” The implication was clear. If I was ever to try to kill myself again, emergency personnel would be on site to save my life.
Fear sliced through me at the thought of going to Newton Heights. I didn’t want to be locked away with all of the crazy people, like some reject in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I wasn’t sure what they did to patients at Newton Heights, but if it was anything like that movie, I wanted no part of it.
“I’m not going.” My voice sounded small and weak to my ears.
“You might not have a choice in the matter, kid,” the lawyer said. “Not if you want to beat these charges.”
My father bowed his head and ran his hand over his face. “I can’t believe this is happening to us again . . .”
My father lowered his arm and nodded to me. “She’s turning out just like him.”
“Who?” I asked.
The air became thick with tension. I switched my focus from my father to my mother, but neither was willing to expand on my father’s mutterings. Instead they stood there, staring at each other, and I couldn’t help but think that some silent war was being waged in front of me.
“Mom, what’s Dad talking about? I’m turning out like who?” Hair fell into my eyes. I shook my head, trying to remove the offending strands from my field of vision.
“Whom,” my mother corrected, her gaze still fixed on my father.
“I was so convinced Lucy would turn out differently . . .”
The vein in my father’s temple pulsed, but otherwise his face remained an expressionless mask.
My mother let go of the bed railing and put her hand on my father’s arm. “Clark, she is different—”
“Would someone tell me what’s going on?” I raised my voice, desperate for some answers.
“We can’t keep up appearances under so much scrutiny.”
My father unfolded his arms and placed his hand over hers. “No.”
I tried to sit up, but the restraints forced me back on the pillows. “Mom, what’s he talking about?”
My mother moved to my side. “Not now, Lucy.” She swiped the hair from my face and smiled reassuringly. “To answer your question, Mr. Jameson, yes, there’s a history of mental illness in the family, but I will die before that information is leaked to the press.” Her voice was a sharp contrast to the gentleness of her touch.
“There’s no need to tell the press,” the lawyer reassured her. “Just the doctor. All we need is an evaluation.” He glanced at me. “Since she’s technically not a minor, we’ll also need her signature.”
“Leave that to me,” my father said.
A disoriented feeling settled into my core as I mentally flipped through all of my extended family members. “Who was mentally unstable?” I whispered to my mother. “Was it
Aunt Heather? Cousin Paul?”
“Not now, Lucy.” My mother turned to the lawyer. Her face became a cool, expressionless mask. “Will that be all, Mr. Jameson?”
The lawyer shifted his gaze between the three of us, as if weighing his options. “For now, yes. The police are still going through evidence at the crime scene. They’ll probably want to question her again at some point.”
“What happens if Lucy’s found guilty?” my father asked.
“Vehicular manslaughter is a serious crime. It would most likely involve prison time.”
My mouth went dry. Prison?