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  • Emma stepped out into the hallway and found some much-needed distraction. Shalom walked toward her, beaming. Emma couldn’t help but smile back.

    “’Allo!” he greeted her excitedly. “You go with me now.” He gestured for her to follow him.

    Emma continued smiling, following Shalom into the common area. A bored-looking woman in a green pantsuit opened the door to the deck, and Emma got a whiff of the crisp smell of the autumn leaves. Shalom wasn’t the only one who relished the time on the deck. Four men played basketball on the court. They took the game rather seriously, with one man shouting, “foul!” every ten seconds. The others ignored him, and the game continued.

    Emma let Shalom do his own thing on the deck while she sat down next to the only other person her age whom she could tolerate.

    “Care to make a bracelet with me?” Emma asked him, reaching for the supplies on the picnic table in front of them.

    The boy smiled and took some supplies as well. They sat there in silence for awhile, placing random colored beads on stretchy thread. Emma alternated pink, green, light blue, dark blue, pink, green, light blue, dark blue.

    Bracelet-making only took eight minutes. Emma looked around to see what other activities were happening.

    In the corner closest to the doors, the woman in the green pant suit spoke to a middle-aged man who had his arms folded over his chest. He kept shaking his head and frowning as the woman spoke and pointed to the men playing basketball.

    Emma scanned the deck for Shalom and found him without difficulty. He stood in front of a girl who sat in a lounge chair. She smiled up at him as if he was the most amusing sight in the world. Those two were the talk of the deck. There Shalom stood, holding a Bible in one hand and pointing to the sky with the other, wearing a sheet from his bed on his head like a turban. And there she was, Taylor Swift – or, at least, that’s what everyone called her. She wore a red t-shirt with Taylor Swift’s face on it and walked around with a smile as large (though not as manic) as Shalom’s. While it was obvious why most of Emma’s neighbors were there, Taylor Swift’s presence confused everyone. It plain infuriated Emma.

    Emma observed her and Shalom exchange a few words. Shalom held out his hand to her and dropped a bracelet in her outstretched hands.

    When it was time to go back inside, Emma shuffled inside next to Taylor Swift, who gave her a toothy grin. Emma did not return the smile. In fact, Emma felt annoyed. The fact that someone could walk around and be that happy here was outrageous. It was as if Taylor Swift was mocking her and every other person there.

    The next morning, Emma came to breakfast after taking her first shower with the door half open. She found this to be extremely intrusive, though she understood why it was required.

    Sitting down at the table for breakfast, Emma found herself in the company of the most popular characters on the floor. Kenny, who sat across from her, was a recovering addict and drug dealer. Thomas, who sat diagonal to her, was a kind of indie poet-artist. He actually went around and drew people on the floor. He drew Taylor Swift. He did not draw Emma. Neither Kenny nor Thomas spoke to Emma. To Emma’s dismay, they were joined by Taylor Swift, who immediately launched into a chipper tale about her morning shower experience being interrupted by her roommate trying to take her razor blade.

    “I was about to just give it to her to get her out of the shower,” Taylor Swift said with a laugh that infected them too. They chortled.

    Emma couldn’t help herself. Someone had to remind them that they were in a very serious place. She became indignant, saying, “You realize that she could have killed herself.”

    Everyone at the table stopped laughing and looked at Emma. Taylor Swift looked cowed. Thomas nodded his head. Kenny was looking elsewhere across the room, preoccupied with another situation unfolding.

    “Um, yes,” was all that Taylor Swift had to say before she put that smile back on her face that annoyed Emma so much.

    In the corner of the room where they handed out the food trays, a struggle drew everyone’s attention. The rest of the breakfast room went silent or gasped or cheered as Shalom wrestled with a man in pink nurse scrubs. At first, Shalom just tried to keep hold of the orange juice carton in his hands, but the man was clearly winning. Shalom switched tactics. He held the man’s leg with one hand and grasped at the confiscated carton with the other.

    “What. The. Fuck. Did you see that?” Kenny gasped. “That dude just went over and poured hand sanitizer in his orange juice. No big deal. Like, I’m just going to have a hand sanitizer cocktail, thank you very much. What the fuck. And I thought I was bad…”

    For once, Taylor Swift didn’t smile. For once, Taylor Swift didn’t laugh. Instead, she remained silent with a look on her face that seemed to say, “What the hell am I doing here with these people?”

    Taylor Swift was released the day after the hand sanitizer incident. Emma never found out why she was there to begin with but knew she never belonged.
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