Used to her conversational leaps, he responded, “I think I’ve seen her around. Shortish, blonde, a little spacey? What about her?”
He’d more than ‘seen her around,’ and he knew Isobel knew it. Verity was one of her favorite students, and spent a considerable amount of time lingering in the asylum’s light-filled studio.
“I think you should try talking to her sometime. She could use a friend,” Isobel said casually.
Jeremy finished rinsing the brush in his hand and set it aside. He didn’t reach for another. “You want me to befriend a patient. Is this a suggestion from my concerned mother, or an order from my crucifor?”
“She’s a resident, not a patient,” his mother corrected him, leaving his question unanswered. The quirk to her mouth spoke volumes, though.
He sighed. It wasn’t that he was opposed to spending time with Verity. It was just that Isobel rarely had only one reason for doing anything. “She’s worth something to the order, then,” he ventured. “Which is it, asset or threat?”
She put the last of the brushes on the drying rack and gestured for him to help move the easels to the sides of the room. After a few minutes she continued, “I do have a certain interest in seeing her protected. But also, I like her. And she seems like a very lonely girl.”
Isobel met his skeptical look with one of perfect innocence. “Fine. I’ll talk to her. But I’m not making any promises beyond that.”
“Of course,” she said reasonably, looking like the cat that ate the canary. “What more could a mother ask?”
He watched Verity for nearly half an hour from the shelter of the porch before approaching her. Isobel hadn’t been much more forthcoming about the girl, but he’d asked around among the nurses and the more lucid patients. It was true that she was here voluntarily; she’d been admitted by her father a hair before she turned eighteen, but had stayed for the following four years under her own remit.
With a judicious use of charm, he’d gathered from the nurses that her diagnosis included haphephobia—the fear of being touched—as well as some form of hallucinations or delusions. He didn’t bother trying to pry anything from her doctor. Dr. Bekenner was a confessor, and they held their patients’ privacy so dear they didn’t even take notes.
Although that in itself told him something. To be assigned a confessor rather than a regular psychiatrist implied there was something interesting about her. He doubted she had too sordid a past at her age, and she certainly appeared too sane to be a sin-eater. And if that were the case, he doubted his mother would be eager to pour salt in that wound by asking him to spend time with her.
Whispers from the other patients filled in some of the blanks. It seemed that Verity’s fear of touch wasn’t one-sided—others were uncomfortable with being touched by her, as well.
“Made me feel like I was bein’ judged down to the tips of my soul,” Gloria Heller had told him with a shudder.
Verity was apparently discouraged from spending too much time in the common rooms, which explained why she haunted the studio so much. “I saw her one time in the game room,” Nurse Maloney said. “All five of the other patients were bawling their eyes out, sobbing like their hearts were broken. And there she was, sitting calm as you please in the eye of the storm, playing solitaire.”
In short, Jeremy was beginning to understand why his mother might describe Verity as lonely.