She’d always be sitting up at the foot of the bed, her legs up and her arms tightly hugging her knees as if she were feeling cold, even though it wasn’t. The warm red glow of the little nightlight formed deep, dipping shadows across her face; coloured in the texture of the cotton pyjamas she always wore.
The night felt overwhelmingly warm, and safe, and comfortable, the way it always did; the room had a drowsy, sleepy sort of feel, as you’d expect from a closed place with almost no windows on a balmy night. The air was still and heavy in a way that brought to mind the stillness before rain broke in a thunderstorm, when you don’t really feel hot but the air swelters, unmoving. Sometimes I wondered if, in those moments after I’d lock the door to my bedroom and fumble in the total darkness for the switch of the nightlight, the room became some little place of magic; if the outside world disappeared and this little square was suspended somehow, alone in some universe between universes.
I was sitting on the bed as well, by the pillows.
‘How was school?’, she asked.
I smiled. ‘The usual. I don’t even know why you bother asking.’
She looked down at her knees, seeming a little embarrassed.
‘How was school for you?’, I asked after a while.
She looked up at me shyly. ‘You know. The usual.’
‘Don’t be so shy’, I said suddenly. ‘We’ve known each other for ages now. We’ve spent pretty much every night up here for like months now. There’s no reason to be shy.’
‘Look who’s talking’, she said archly. ‘You say you can’t even talk to girls at school.’
‘It’s really not.’ She laughed. She was the type of girl who’d seem really quiet and wouldn’t talk much, but once they got started they’d tease you mercilessly in the same quiet, timid tone that was very incongruous. ‘I’m the only one who ever makes fun of you. I should be the one lecturing you, actually. To stop being so serious all the time.’
‘I’m not’, I said.
‘I’m just a little nervous’, I shot back.
‘Why?’ She laughed again. ‘D’you still think I’m a ghost?’
The first time I saw her I had thought she was a ghost. It’s a funny story.
I’d walked into my bedroom and locked the door, fumbled for the switch amid the total darkness and turned on the little red nightlight as I sat down on my bed, to see her there, sitting where I know now is where she always sat, in her pyjamas at the foot of the bed. I’d started, but some part of me knew somehow that there was no reason to freak out, that nothing was wrong. She’d looked over at me sleepily and smiled with the kind of amused, accepting smile you give a sudden apparition in a dream.
I’d sat further back against the headrest and smiled back uncertainly.
‘What’s your name?’ she asked.
I told her. ‘What’s yours?’
‘Lindsay’, she said.
‘You look a lot like this girl from TV’, I told her. ‘Dark hair, blue eyes, the works. I had the biggest crush on her. She’s also a Lindsay.’
She smirked. ‘Maybe that’s me, in the future. Maybe you showed up in my dream from the future to let me know I’m going to be a big celebrity.’
‘I’m not from the future’, I said, and somehow this conversation actually seemed normal at the time. ‘Or at least, I didn’t travel through time in any way. I’m still in my present. Maybe you’re from the past and there was some kind of glitch that made space-time bundle up a little and our timeframes intersect for a little while.’
‘Wait’, she said. ‘What year are you living in?’
‘2011…’ Her voice trailed off into thought. ‘Okay, guess that’s not me on TV, then. Too bad. And guess you’re not a time-traveller.’
‘Okay’, I said.
She yawned. ‘I’m sleepy. I think I’ll go back to sleep now. Goodbye and good luck, dream friend.’
‘I should too’, I said, and turned off the light.
I’d decided that it was a dream by next morning. I’d woken up and my door was still locked, my room the same as it’d always been. My family lived downstairs. There was no way a real person could have gotten in or out of my house.
But once again that night, I locked the door to my empty bedroom and turned on the nightlight, and there she was, sitting up against the wall at the foot of the bed.
She looked surprised this time. ‘It’s you again!’
Then she stared at me for a moment, then looked relieved.
‘Oh, of course this is some sort of rather elaborate and repetitive dream. That’s the only way to explain it.’
‘Oh my God, if my own dreams are beginning to get self-aware that’s the creepiest thing ever-‘
‘Let’s just pinch ourselves then’, she said. ‘I mean myself.’
We looked at each other nervously and did.
‘It hurt for me.’
‘Yeah, it did for me too’, she said. ‘So I’m not dreaming and you’re real and actually here. I know I should be totally freaking out at a guy being in my room-‘
‘This is my room!’ I interrupted.
‘What’d you mean, your room?’ she shot back. ‘This is my room. My bed, my desk, my Beatles posters. My nightlight.’
‘I live here’, I said. ‘This is my room. In my house. I just had dinner downstairs only a while ago. I was doing homework in this same room earlier in the evening. I put up those posters when I moved here!’ I stopped suddenly. ‘Wait. I know what’s happened. Did you ever see that movie, the one where there’s like this family that lives in a house and every night they hear stuff and they think the house is haunted, but it turns out that actually they just hadn’t known all along and kept on thinking they were living in the house but actually they were the ghosts? That’s what’s happening, you think this is your-‘
‘Are you saying I’m a ghost?’ she interrupted. ‘What? Are you insane? Do I look like a ghost to you?’
‘That’s what they thought too’, I told her gently.
She picked up a pillow and hit me on the head with it.
She laughed. ‘Corporeal enough for you now?’
‘Okay, okay’, I said. ‘You’re not a ghost.’
‘And since that pillow didn’t go right through you when I hit you with it, neither are you’, she said. ‘So there’s a guy in my room-‘
I opened my mouth to interrupt again, but decided not to say anything.
‘But somehow I don’t feel any panic. It’s like somehow some part of me knows that there’s no reason to freak out, that it’s nothing to worry about. It’s like a dream in that way.’ She flashed me a look. ‘I’m sorry, I’m still probably talking to you like you aren’t real. It’ll take a while for my head to really get used to the idea.’
‘But how did you get here?’ I asked.
‘I just went into my bedroom and locked the door and sat down at the foot of the bed, and when I open my eyes there you were.’
I laughed. ‘No I don’t! I know you’re real. If you recall, you hit me on the head to prove that you had corporeal form. That made me pretty certain.’
‘I’m sorry.’ She giggled. ‘It was a really stupid idea.’
‘It made sense in context’, I said defensively. ‘We didn’t know enough details back then to actually make any better theories.’
‘But we do now’, she said. ‘We know enough to put the pieces together.’
It’d been over two weeks where we’d kept on seeing each other every night. When I’d close the bedroom and turn the nightlight on, she’d be there in my room; or, as we pieced together, I’d be there in hers.
We’d slowly gotten familiar with each other, the sort of familiarity that you’d expect being thrust into a common weirdness would create. At least it gave us something in common for us to start off, and having a goal- figuring out what was going on- kept conversation from becoming the kind of awkward silences I knew too well. I could tell she probably wasn’t the most social back in school wherever it was that she went either.
We kept on being surprised at each other’s conversation, at first. You don’t ever really realize just how much of daily conversation is references to current events or pop culture until you’re talking to someone who knows literally nothing about any of it.
She’d been curious to know more about this other girl Lindsay, so I told her. ‘This show, it’s sort of like a reality show.’
‘Like a what?’
I gaped at her. ‘You don’t know what reality shows are? What rock have you been living under the past decade?’
‘I haven’t’, she said. ‘I watch loads of TV and I’ve never seen any of those.’
‘You’re not living on this Earth, are you?’
‘Of course I am’, she said impatiently, then her expression seemed to dawn with sudden comprehension. ‘Wait, wait. I get it. We’re somehow, you know, we’re not actually from the same world. We’re both from Earth and stuff but it’s still a different world. And somehow through some glitch we’re ending up seeing each other here.’
And as we’d talked about how we got here, we’d figured out that this was both our rooms, somehow. Our houses, our neighbourhoods, everything outside our rooms were different for the both of us. Where I lived was a suburban area, with trees lining the roads and shinier, newer houses in neat rows. I lived in a large, rather white house, and went upstairs to my room. She lived in a more urban neighbourhood with much older, smaller houses and a much greyer tone to the place. But somehow when we both went up to the first floor, the ten by ten space inside was somehow identical in whichever worlds the two of us lived. We had the same bed and the same posters, the same nightlight and the same little window which was practically pointless.
Clearly we were from two different worlds, and this room was a place where both worlds were somehow identical. Where they coincided. Maybe there were hundreds of other such locations all around the world too, little spots which remained identical and were windows in some way to another universe. Or maybe this was the only one in both our worlds.
We’d both go into our rooms and turn on our nightlights in the darkness, and we’d both be there, in my-her-our room. And when we’d turn off the nightlight we’d somehow go back to our own worlds, alone in our own bedrooms.
We talked at first about the lives of our respective worlds, said almost nothing about ourselves. We’d joke about which of our worlds were better- hers didn’t have reality TV, which was a huge plus there, but ours had Tumblr and Lenka, so that evened out. It seemed that mine and hers shared a common history somewhere. We’d both had the world wars, we’d both had Elvis and the Beatles. It seemed like our worlds has diverged somewhere in the sixties or seventies, and were quite different now. We didn’t know if somehow there was one universe running along and it somehow split into two like the fraying end of a rope, like an unravelling double helix, forty or fifty years ago. Maybe the world did that a lot, and the original universe of thousands of years ago had split into two like a seed putting out roots as it grew, diverging every few decades into an alternate reality. Or maybe we were two completely different universes from the start in a multiverse filled with an infinite number of universes, and in infinity there happened to be two worlds that had been so similar except for recent events.
‘Or maybe’, she said, ‘it’s like in physics. The idea that every moment, every decision, creates a new thread of space-time, and somewhere amid the trillions of almost-overlapping but invisible alternate universes there’d be one where each and every decision you or anyone else has made was taken differently, and it branched off into a new world. Maybe we were the products of two different branches in some history of the world, some decision someone we’ll never know took around the sixties. Maybe something completely innocuous, like someone stepping out of his house a minute too early, and the little gust of wind from his door launched a hurricane in the Mid-West which caused some little kid to go to a different school and grow up to be a President or not a president, or some little thing like that.’
‘We have that same theory in physics in our world too’, I said. ‘It’s called the Butterfly Effect. In chaos theory.’
‘We call it static studies. The Butterfly Effect is such an oddly poetic name for something scientific. Why is it called that?’
I explained it to her. ‘It’s pretty much exactly what you said’, I finished.
She laughed suddenly, a little dry laugh. ‘Who would have ever thought I’d be discussing physics with a guy? That’s something I never saw coming.’
‘Who would’ve thought I’d ever be discussing anything with a girl, period? Let alone in my bedroom?’
‘It’s m-‘ she started, and stopped suddenly. ‘Oh yeah, true…’
‘I get the feeling we have a lot more in common than we know’, I said. ‘Maybe coincidence-
‘Or fate’, she butted in. ‘I think in a situation like this we’re entitled to just say this is how fate decided things.’
‘Or fate’, I added. ‘Whatever it was, it was kind enough to make sure the people we’d randomly happen on like this were someone with whom we had a lot in common. You’ve told me about the appearance of your neighbourhood and where you go to school and all that stuff. I know a lot about your world now. But I don’t know pretty much anything about you.’
‘But where do I start?’
‘Start anywhere’, I told her. ‘Tell me about school. Tell me about your home life. Tell me about the stuff you like.’
‘Yeah we do’, I said blandly. ‘We know all about everything. Sort of.’
‘Yeah…’, she said.
The air was still silence for a moment. I felt a sudden burst of emotion, a rising feeling of urgency, an almost frustration.
‘Why’re we talking like this? Why’re we talking so blandly, like we just happened across each other in the mall and were having a little small talk before we went back to whatever we’d been doing?’
We stayed up for hours that night, talking. She told me about school, that she was studying science, that she was pretty much a loner aside from
‘Kathy’, she said. ‘She’s like my best friend. Sort of. I mean, she is. We sit together in all our classes and whenever I do go out it’s always with her. She’s a lot more outgoing than I am, she has loads of friends and she always tries to set me up with people, even though I tell her I don’t really want to.’
‘Do you really like her?’
‘Hmm…’ She seemed a little discomfited at first. ‘I like her. I mean, of course I do. She’s my best friend. I know when I talk about my life it might seem like I really don’t like it much, but I do, you know. I don’t really hate it. I’m pretty much perfectly fine with my lot in life. I kinda rather like my life as it is.’
‘I see’, I said noncommittally.
‘What about yours?’
‘I don’t know’, I told her. ‘I guess I’m also pretty ambivalent towards life. I don’t really hate it. For now it feels like some sort of transition, though, I don’t feel like I’m really existing as something right now. I’m on my way to doing this, and on my way to doing that, and on my way to becoming that, nothing in my life is in terms of the now. It’s all in terms of later. It makes me feel… rootless. Anchorless. D’you know what I mean?’
‘Sort of’, she said. ‘But not really.’
It continued almost every night. We’d both wolf down our dinners and go nervously upstairs, we’d lock the doors and fumble in the darkness for the switch, and the burst of dim red light would push away the darkness of our day, or our lives. My heart would always start wildly the moment the crack of light disappeared as I closed the door and darkness fell, so hard I wondered if she could hear it from wherever between dimensions we were before the switch flipped.
I’d always talk really calmly when I was nervous, and I’d always greet her in the steadiest of voices. And then we’d slowly warm up into conversation, and we’d talk for ages. The first few days we didn’t have much to talk about, then one night we realized we felt comfortable enough around each other in the dim night and still warmth to talk about anything. So we talked about ourselves, things we never talked about or got to talk about or could talk about with anyone else.
‘Sometimes I see all these really beautiful girls, and I see how they always have someone to give them affection and hang off them’, she told me. ‘And always someone who’ll love them. I know it’s easy for us to say that people don’t really love those pretty girls, it’s just lust or for their looks, but you know something? People do. Some people always do. Nice guys do fall for them. In their fantasies the perfect girl is that beautiful, so they see someone beautiful and imagine them as perfect. It used to bug me. But at some point, I figured that I’m kinda glad to not have been. I feel like I wouldn’t really be able to know just how special love is if I hadn’t gone through the years feeling unloved. I wouldn’t take it for granted cos I’d felt the empty sense of being alone.’
‘I think you’re beautiful’ I said.
She smiled. ‘And because when you do hear a guy tell you that it’s actually something special. That’s worth not being drop-dead beautiful.’
We sat by each other contently for a few moments.
‘You know what the weird thing about me is?’
‘No’, she said. ‘Do tell.’
‘I’m always in love with something,’ I told her. ‘I don’t know why, but it’s how I am. I’m just the kind of guy who’ll always be desperately in love. Sometimes it’s for a book, or a song, or a thought, or a place. Often it’s a girl. It’s always someone unachievable. Someone who appears on TV all the way from the USA. Someone I can never have. I fall for anything really fast, and I fall really hard. I think I look for some kind of magic everywhere, and life seems too mundane. So I fall in love with everything.’
She smiled bitterly. ‘That must be nice.’
‘It’s really not’, I said.
I fell for her, really fast, really hard. She was the only girl I’d ever been able to talk to. She was beautiful. She was real. But maybe most of all, it was the sense that it was supposed to happen.
The thought that the one spot in my universe and hers which coincided would turn out to be our bedrooms, that the two people inhabiting that one spot would both be late-teens, shy, Beatles-loving loners- It could’ve been any two spots. It could’ve been any two people. The romance of the situation lent itself to the belief that it was no coincidence, that it was some kind of magic.
We fell for each other, really hard, really fast. I don’t know if you know but spending long hours every night with alone with someone, baring your souls out in the dim light, creates an atmosphere of intimacy very quickly. Especially when neither of us really had anyone else.
We never admitted it, and we’d never even suggest at it in conversation. But, after the first couple days, for when we’d meet at nights, I’d always wear newer clothes when I went to bed, and she’d always smell of shampoo. And we’d chatter along in conversations and always hit that little invisible bump, and we’d slowly tiptoe around it ever so politely. How people are so implicit in not admitting or showing that they like each other is an eternal mystery to me. Isn’t that unspoken decision to always skirt around it as good as admitting that you’re into each other? But maybe that’s part of the wonder of it, and life is made by those little thrills.
Her voice was a note too high, a beat too rushed. ‘I don’t see any problem. I think we’re having a perfectly normal conversation.’
‘No, it’s not!’, I said heatedly. ‘And you know it. We both know it.’
Sometimes in the daytime I wondered if it was all a dream. Some kind of elaborate, repetitive dream. Whether a dream in the sense that it was all some creation of my imagination, or a dream in the sense that when I slept I was living in a world that did exist on some level, where she was real, but everything still took place in our heads while our bodies stayed in our respective beds. I sometimes wondered what I’d do if I found out it was all a dream, and I realized that I’d rather keep on sleeping than give everything up and go back to waking.
But we’d decided that it wasn’t a dream, figured out that we happened to meet in a location where our overlapping universes fit together perfectly, even though we never really knew the mechanics of the issue. Maybe it was some kind of magic that decided how we met, how we appeared and disappeared, and maybe magic was something that folded and ebbed among the multiverse, closing and opening windows, like some kind of golden, sentient Dust. Or maybe it was the mystery of our brains and subconscious, that thing which science still knows so little of- maybe the subconscious was what made those little doors click open, maybe they all interacted and interplayed off each other in the multiverse. And it’d been our mutual longing for someone like us that had opened this particular door.
Eventually we stopped sitting at opposite ends of the bed and she moved up to sit by me, leaning against the headrest, just barely leaning against me as we talked. We talked very quietly, slowly, like we were content to just keep on talking to each other.
‘I’m not really close to Kathy’, she said quietly one night. ‘I mean, I like her. But we’re not like the kind of best friends that could be super close and get each other completely. We’re just too different. We don’t like much of the same stuff. You know how sometimes the really popular girl keeps on being best friends with their less cool childhood best friend even though they’ve turned out completely different over time? And they’ll be super understanding but they’ll keep on trying to cajole you into being cool and fun all the time. I think we’re just too different to be really close.’
‘What about me?’ I asked her.
She looked up at me earnestly. ‘You know something? Sometimes I feel like the most unloved person in the world. Sometimes when you feel so lonely it physically hurts and you don’t really care but you just want someone, anyone, to be there.’
‘I feel like that sometimes’, I told her. ‘Like the world is turning around me, and I feel so alone. It’s like everyone else has something or someone, and I’m here. Alone.’
She looked straight into my eyes. ‘And I don’t get why,’ she said steadily. ‘I think, I’m a good person. Someone shouldlove me.’
‘I do’, I said.
A little something flickered in her eyes. ‘Thank you. I wanted you to tell me that.’
‘Won’t you tell me anything?’
‘Wait’, she said. She suddenly looked defeated, almost miserable. ‘I really should be going now, I have to wake up early. I should sleep. We’ll talk tomorrow.’
The day barrelled past.
Night fell and I walked to my room, locked the door and turned on the little red nightlight by the bed. And there she was.
The atmosphere seemed heavy with awkwardness.
‘Hi’, I said.
‘Hi’, she answered. ‘How was today?’
‘It was okay’, I said blandly. ‘Yours?’
‘The usual’, she said.
We stayed still and looked around the room for a while, letting our eyes settle on anything but each other.
She was the one to catch my eye first, and smiled a little. I smiled back. She clambered over and sat where she usually sat, next to me on the bed, and rested her head on my shoulders.
‘Hey’, she said playfully.
I didn’t crack a smile. ‘About last night. What were you going to say to me?’
She scowled. ‘Do we have to talk about it?’
‘Of course we have to talk about it!’, I said hotly. ‘I told you I was in love with you! And you didn’t really say anything back and I think you should say something back at least so I know, you know?’
‘Okay’, she muttered.
‘What’d you mean, okay?’
‘Look, I don’t know what is right for me, okay?’ she snapped. ‘Am I in love with you? Yes. A lot. Like crazy. But I don’t know if I want to be. I’m not a great believer in love, I haven’t had the best experiences with-‘
‘Wait’, I cut in, my chest feeling suddenly constricted. ‘I thought you were too shy to even talk to guys-‘
‘Yes, and I can’t!’, she said. ‘But what’d you expect? I could never go up and have conversations with people but it’s not like people haven’t ever come up and had conversations with me and been able to keep up conversation even though I suck at it, and when you’re like fifteen and nobody has ever noticed you you’re easily impressed when an older boy pays attention to you, you know? I thought you were different but you judge just as soon as any-‘
‘I’m not judging’, I said coldly. ‘You should’ve told me before, I mean we’ve talked for weeks and you never told meanything about that big huge aspect of your life?’
Her eyes were filling up with angry tears. ‘Yes, shoot me for not mentioning stuff I don’t really like to dwell on constantly! Especially you, you’ve done the same thing, I suck at conversation and you’ve still managed to talk to me for ages on end so you know it’s perfectly possible-‘
‘Because I thought we were an exception!’, I said, my voice getting colder the angrier I felt. ‘And please don’tcompare me to your previous-‘
‘Okay, I won’t!’, she screamed. ‘Look, fuck you, okay? You don’t have to be an asshole cos you can’t handle the fact that just cos you were a loser-‘ she clapped her mouth shut suddenly, and the anger seemed to flood out of her, replaced by a look of horror.
I felt tears of anger rise to the surface and somehow that made me feel even more blinded with anger, the thought that she could see those moments after she’d said what she said. I felt a burst of sudden feeling for her as I saw the look in her eyes but I pushed it away, and all I knew was that I wanted to hurt her as much as she had hurt me. I looked at her icily and reached across to turn the nightlight off without saying a word.
The next three nights I’d go to bed and leave the door ajar, the nightlight untouched. I was too angry to want to see her or want to talk to her, at first. But the heat of the moment fades soon enough and you know that pride isn’t worth losing something wonderful.
The moment I flicked the switch and turned around I saw her standing at the foot of the bed.
We looked at each other for a moment. ‘I’m sorry’, she said. ‘I didn’t mean to call you a- you know. I don’t really think that either, I was just confused and angry and… you know.’
‘Okay’, I said.
She looked at me. ‘Where were you the past couple nights? I mean I get it, we both needed to cool off and…’
‘I was here’, I said cruelly. ‘But I kinda had company, so…’
I felt a rush of revulsion even as I saw the words, and the shocked, blank look in her eyes filled me with a sudden tenderness that dissipated every little remnant of anger I felt and made me feel disgusted with myself.
‘I’m sorry’, I said quickly, my voice much softer than before. ‘That just now wasn’t true. I just wanted to hurt you there for a moment, but seeing you… I couldn’t bear to, you know. I’m really sorry, it was a horrible thing to do-‘
‘Damn right it was!’, she snapped.
‘I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry for that and I’m sorry for the night before and I’m sorry for not coming all these nights-‘
‘Stop’, she said, her voice tired. ‘I don’t want to fight, let’s not fight. Let’s forget everything except that you told me you loved me, and I told you I loved you back. And I didn’t say anything else, and we were content with that much.’
‘I do love you’, I said simply. ‘It was really hard for me to say cos I’d never said it before to anyone. But I do.’
‘I do too’, she said. ‘Look, be there tomorrow night, okay? Just make sure you’re there.’
The day barrelled past.
Night fell and I walked to my room, locked the door and turned on the little red nightlight by the bed.
‘Turn around’, said a voice behind me into my ear.
I turned around slowly.
Lindsay was on the bed behind me, sitting up on her knees. Locks of dark hair fell over one of her eyes, but her hair was neatly tucked in behind her ear on the other side. Her eyes gleamed playfully, but the little smile on her lips was expectant and almost silly, painfully self-conscious. She was wearing a black slip that hung from narrow straps off her slender, freckled shoulders. The red light formed dipping shadows that played across her collarbones, and reflected in her eyes, giving them a sort of blazing vitality.
I looked at her unmovingly and uncertainty flickered across her face, the uncertainty of someone trying to push away the sudden thought that something you’d been sure would turn out well might be ending in an unexpected disappointment.
She smiled a little wider, a little more self-consciously.
I couldn’t say or do anything. I was overwhelmed with sudden realization, what happens when your brain has trouble really realizing that so many things that you’d dreamed of were actually happening and could actually happen, that everything was suddenly so different and would never be the same.
‘Well, will you kiss me?’, she said timidly.
I pushed away a lock of hair gently, brushing her face with my fingertips. She smiled hesitantly, looking at me with a sort of complete trust that made me feel a little weak, and parted her lips a fraction. I moved in and kissed her lightly, a little nervously for a moment, but then we both sunk into the kiss and rolled over on the bed. We kept on kissing, long, hard, breathless kisses. Somehow we both seemed to feel a certain overpowering gravity in the situation, like this was something vitally, crucially important and serious, something that was a really huge deal.
We pulled apart, breathing heavily, and looked into each other’s eyes, staring deep into them urgently, like there were so many things we wanted to say in this moment that couldn’t be said in words, like we wanted to feel this moment and somehow looking into each other’s eyes would be looking into each other’s souls for a moment that might finally bridge that barrier between, like we wanted to record the feelings we felt from the looks in our eyes and remember it forever.
She had an almost panicked expression, like she was desperately trying to show no emotion and pushing away a tide that was trickling through enough to make her lip wobble a second, like she was desperately looking everywhere else but at me to avoid the betrayal of eye contact.
‘Look, I’m sorry, okay? I just don’t think I could bear saying anything right now. I just can’t bear everything not being normal. I don’t want to say it because saying it will make it feel like it’s true. Hearing myself say it will make it irreversible. I wouldn’t be able to bear that.’
‘So then what? We spend tonight acting like nothing was up? Because it’s hard? It might be the easy way out now but do you want to have that regret forever, being sad over every minute wasted just because it was hard?’
‘No!’, she said, her voice breaking. ‘I don’t know. I don’t know, just hold me.’
The next few weeks were perfect.
Daytime seemed like some kind of dream, filled with our own secret happiness but one where we floated through, just going through the motions.
We’d rush upstairs every night, going to bed so early our parents were bemused, making stupid excuses about being tired from studying or school or whatever; the few hours of red-tone monochrome, in a 10 by 10 space, outside of both our worlds, the hours where we felt alive.
It was a week earlier when I’d turned on the light and the moment I saw her I knew something was wrong. She was trying to keep her expression monotonous, but I could tell from her drawn smile and the despairing look in her eyes.
She nodded, a little gesture of hello.
‘Umm.’ She blinked. ‘Well, uh, we’re moving. Moving house.’
She looked at me. ‘My family is moving. My parents decided already. You know there’s no argument you can really make against something like that without sounding like a crazy person, and I know if I risked it all anyway and told them they’d only think I was crazy and it’d be more reason for them to move, so-‘
I cut her off. ‘When?’
She slumped into the bed, her expressionless demeanor suddenly cracking. ‘Next month.’
‘Okay’, I said. ‘What’s going to happen to your house?’
‘Some other family is buying it’, she said. ‘A young couple with little kids.’
‘Okay’, I said again.
We both sat there silently for a while, not looking at each other, not saying a word.
I finally broke the silence. ‘Do you think-‘
She looked up at me and looked at me desperately. ‘That we could ever see each other even if we were elsewhere? That whatever it is that unlocks our worlds is us and us really wanting each other, and not that we happened to be in a place in the universe where it all lined up?’
‘You don’t think so’, I said.
‘You don’t think so either.’
We both waited a moment, our hearts sinking, trying to think of straws to clutch at but knowing somehow, deep inside, that there weren’t any, that there wouldn’t be any no matter how much we thought and how hard we looked.
‘So what’re we gonna do?’ I said finally.
‘I don’t know’, she said. ‘What can we do? I guess we’ll just have to hold out hope. That maybe I can come back here, when I’m done with school and college, or something. Maybe that fate will again direct the both of us to another spot like this in our worlds, maybe our college dorms will also line up…’
‘No, they won’t’, I said. ‘This was a miracle. That’d be an impossibility…’
‘They might’, she said vehemently. ‘This was fate and if fate ended up making this impossible probability happen once so we could meet each other it could just end up doing that again, couldn’t it? You never know-‘ she stopped mid-sentence, as if she’d run out of words, and just stared at me for a moment. She opened her mouth to speak, her expression fervent with belief, and closed it again, and then she seemed to suddenly drain of vitality, as if that was the moment when the fantasy she’d convinced herself might turn out to be true suddenly came crashing down.
‘Don’t.’ Her voice cracked. ‘Please don’t try to comfort me, don’t say anything.’
That was a week ago.
I kissed her lightly, and we sat huddled together on the bed for the next hour, not talking, me playing gently with her hair where it fell over her forehead, just taking comfort in feeling each other, solid and warm and real, next to us.
‘So we have only one week left together’, she said slowly. ‘Before I have to move. And we don’t know if we’ll ever see each other after that. We don’t know if we’ll be able to come back to these houses…’
‘But that’s the plan’, I told her gently. ‘To buy or move into these houses in our respective worlds the moment we grow up and get jobs and become able to.’
‘But we don’t know that’, she said. ‘We don’t know if these houses will exist by then, or if some repair work will happen or some other change will happen. Or if we won’t fall for other people over the next many years, if we won’t convince ourselves as we get older that we must have been some kind of dream or hallucination and move on with ‘real-life’ people, people in our own world. Or if one of us may get sick, or get in an accident, or die, or anything. We don’t know. The only certainty we have is this week, and that we love each other now.’
We both spoke in soft, unemotional voices- not the voices of someone in despair, but the voices of someone who was sad but accepting, and thankful of what we’d had. And right now that was how we felt. We’d had something so unexpectedly, irrationally wonderful that it felt callous to be angry at it not lasting longer.
‘So what do we do tonight?’ I asked her.
‘Just hold me’, she said. ‘Just hold me now, and let us forget about the future and goodbyes until that last night comes. For now I’m perfectly happy just sitting here, together. Until we can’t stay up any longer. Don’t turn off the light.’