I went to sleep every night afraid. Of the darkness. Of slipping into another episode. Of not. I watched the ceiling, waiting for the shadow, for that feeling that someone was watching me. That maybe they always had been.
I could still see it, lithe and bristling like some kind of animal. There were no raised haunches or bared teeth. It didn’t growl or groan or say my name. But it knew me. It wanted me.
Roman had told me to run but then I’d blinked. I’d blinked and I was dry and I was alone. And Roman was still back there.
I sat up in bed and for a minute I just stayed there. I could feel the light pouring in from the window. I could hear the warble of water from a faucet, the clinking of drawer handles as my mom shuffled around the kitchen. I heard my grandmother flipping the channels on the TV. A car driving by outside. Doors opening and falling closed. The real world so loud that I couldn’t think.
Because Roman could be hurt. He could be…Stop it. Stop.
I felt her in the doorway; long shadow spilling into the closet.
“Roman,” I breathed.
She sunk down next to me and I handed her the coin. It glinted in her palm, finger pressed to the plastic case.
“My name is Roman,” I said.
She looked at me, wide-eyed. “You remember?”
“My name. I saw it and I knew.”
She traced the case with her thumbnail. “Roman.” Her lips curled into a smile. ”I like it. It’s…”
She looked at me. “It’s strong.”
Strong. Am I strong?
“Anything else?” she asked.
I shook my head. “No, not yet, and I’ve looked through everything in this house.”
She slipped the coin back into the box and rose to her feet. “Then maybe we should start looking somewhere else.”
I woke to Dani’s wet hair dripping onto my shoulder.
She’d stayed the night when she missed curfew and was too afraid to face her mom in the morning. She’d been out with Matt, parked somewhere and making out in the bed of his truck. My bed was going to smell like fish and pond water for a week but when she’d texted me I was relieved. I was tired of staring out my bedroom window, shuddering every time the curtains fluttered, waiting for that thing to find me.
I traced the ink rippling up from the sketch of the boy’s t-shirt, thumbnail grazing every smear and tear. It didn’t feel so foreign anymore or like some ancient thing that needed unraveling. Because he was a person. A person who might belong there among my old books and records and my grandmother’s quilt and every tree I’d ever climbed as a child. A person I might have been meant to meet. He was a person.
I sat there trying to make sense of things, wafting between fear and impatience. Because I had two choices: I could wait on the universe or I could find him first. I could find him.
There was a light knock on the door. “Homework?”
I flipped my sketchbook closed. “Yeah, still catching up.”
My mom sat on the edge of my bed. “So, I just talked to Dr. Sabine.”
“About the trial?”
“No, not exactly. I…might have asked her what she thought about you touring some college campuses this spring.”
“What?” I sat up. “Really? What did she say?”
“She said it couldn’t hurt. But she also said we have to be realistic about our expectations.”
“You may not get to go as far as you’d like.”
“I know,” I repeated.
“You may not get to…”
“I get it. Trust me. I am expectation free,” I said, even though I’d already decorated my dorm in my head and decided what I’d pack and made my class schedule. “Zero expectations.”
“You’re sure you want to do this?” she asked.
And I was sure. I knew I wanted to go, to live that life even if it was just for a day. What I wasn’t sure of was whether or not I’d be able to find a way to manage my episodes, if some spontaneous discovery in the next few months would lead to a cure. Or if the things that were happening to me were a sign that a cure, even if I did manage to find one, wouldn’t do much good.
But I could hope, right? I could go and I could hope.
“Okay,” my mom sighed, “then I’ll make the arrangements.” She placed a hand on my forehead. It was warm. “You’re brave, you know that?”
I smiled even though all sick people are brave by default. My mom’s eyes flicked to my window. That’s when I registered the voices, someone yelling. She shot up and I followed her outside, shadows tangled in the grass. My uncle’s shoulders were tensed and then for the first time in eight months I saw my dad. He was pinned against the door of a truck I didn’t recognize, my uncle gripping his shoulders.