Zoey felt the door slam inches from her face. She stood in the dim hallway, staring back at the dull gray door. Scratches and dents showed the years of abuse from tenants ramming furniture into it as they moved in, and then again on the way out.
Zoey knew when she agreed to move in with Tonya, she was going to have to put up with a lot. What choice did she have? She was a waitress at the time. She hadn’t made enough money then to rent a place on her own. She had needed a roommate. She figured she would have to put up with somebody’s quirks. Why not Tonya’s?
For two long years, she put up with her roommate’s paranoia, mood swings, and unreasonable demands. Zoey knew Tonya had a propensity toward emotional issues when she moved in. Those problems only intensified over time.
Tonya was convinced that everyone in the medical field was part of a conspiracy to try experimental drugs on unknowing patients. To that end, she refused to go to the doctor or dentist. She refused to visit her grandmother in the hospital last month. She was sure that it was the headquarters for the experimentation and if she stepped inside the hospital, she would be abducted and never heard from again.
It was ironic that Tonya was avoiding the only people who could help her.
This morning, things came to a boiling point. Tonya overheard Zoey on the phone.
“Yes, I’d like to get an appointment with Dr. Strydewater. She has an opening this afternoon? That would be wonderful. I’ll be there.” By the time Zoey hung up, Tonya’s face was ashen.
“Why do you need to see a doctor? What’s going on?” Tonya demanded.
“My asthma has been bothering me. I wonder if it’s the apartment. Have you had any breathing trouble?” Zoey began to cough violently. She covered her mouth with her hand and then braced herself on the kitchen counter. She took in a couple of deep breaths and got her breathing under control. She noticed Tonya’s eyes focused on the spot Zoey’s hand had touched the counter.
Tonya grabbed Zoey by the arm, pulled her to the front door and opened it. She grabbed Zoey’s purse and keys off the table next to the door and shoved them at her.
“You have to go,” Tonya said. “You can’t stay here anymore. If you get me sick, I’ll have to go to…” Tonya looked past Zoey, unable to finish.
“To the doctor?” Zoey asked. “I have an appointment this afternoon, Tonya. Why don’t you come with me?”
Tonya focused her eyes back on Zoey. “I’m sorry Zoey. Don’t come back.” And with that, she slammed the door in Zoey’s face.
Zoey’s appointment with Dr. Strydwater went well. The doctor was kind but firm. She was a specialist in her field, working on a new treatment.
“You understand the drugs are experimental. But initial studies show great success,” the doctor assured her.
At the end of the meeting, Zoey and Dr. Strydwater shook hands and nodded a silent agreement. Zoey walked out of the office, closing the door behind her. Block letters adorned the door, “PRIVATE”.
That afternoon, Zoey went back to her apartment. She tried to open the door, but Tonya had attached the chain. The door opened only a few inches.
Tonya! Let me in. I’m just here to collect my things.”
Tonya peeked through the narrow space from behind the door.
“Really!” Zoey continued. “No hard feelings. I found an amazing place. It’s a new apartment building with a special air filter. It should really help my asthma. They also have a staff who comes in and cleans for you every day. I got the last apartment. I can’t believe my luck!”
Tonya closed the door to unlatch the lock. She opened the door a little wider, still cautious.
“It’s even the same price I pay here because it’s a little smaller. It’s a one bedroom, but that’s really all I need,” Zoey said.
“Where is this place?” Tonya asked.
“It’s called the Everglades. Its over on 21st Street.”
In a reversal of her movements this morning, Tonya pulled Zoey into the apartment.
“I was wrong to throw you out this morning, Zoey. I’m really sorry. Why don’t you take the apartment? I insist. I may even move back home with my family for a while.”
“Tonya, that’s very generous of you. Are you sure?”
After Zoey waved goodbye to Tonya, she closed the door to the apartment. She sat down on the couch and smiled. This was the most relaxed she had been in two years. She couldn’t wait to invite her friends over. She hadn’t had friends over in months. Tonya was sure they would infect her with some mysterious disease.
With the salary she was getting in her new position as assistant manager at the restaurant, she could even redecorate. She might even throw herself a housewarming party. Her grin grew bigger. There was something she needed to do first, though.
She picked up her cell phone. “Hi, Mr. Hebert. This is Zoey in 3C. My ex-boyfriend stole my keys and threatened to come over here. Could you get a locksmith over here immediately? I will pay the fee.”
Tonya walked into the Everglades Apartment Building on 21st Street. A woman at the desk greeted her.
“Hi, I’m Natasha. Can I help you?”
Tonya explained that her friend, Zoey would not be taking the apartment after all. Could she see it?
“Of course. First come, first served. Let me show you around,” Natasha said. She led Tonya to the elevator. The elevator doors closed next to a door marked, “PRIVATE”.
Behind the door, an older couple sat nervously on the black couch, in the inner sanctum of the office. A young man brought them coffee and placed it on the black table in front of the couch.
“Dr. Strydwater will be here soon. She is just registering a new patient. Please watch this video while you wait.” He pressed a button on the remote and the large screen television on the wall came to life. A dark-haired woman in a white lab coat appeared on the screen and began to speak.
“I’m Dr. Natasha Strydwater, Psychologist and Director of The Home for the Mentally Unstable. Thank you for considering our hospital for your loved one’s needs….”