Couldn’t sleep, went for a run. Back soon. Prepare yourself.
A smile spreads across my lips, so wide it hurts. I’m overpowered by love for him, for this boy who knows exactly what I am, exactly who I am, and loves me anyway, despite it. Because of it. I couldn’t wait for him to get back so I could tell him. Show him. A week had passed, but it could have been a year—I would never get enough.
And I don’t have to. We have all the time in the world.
I glance at the clock—9:30 a.m.—and shower and dress before heading down to the kitchen. My brother is banging cabinets around, loudly, to announce his presence; a charm of protection against any stray public displays of affection, no doubt. Luckily for him, I was just as embarrassed by our loud colonization of the town house as he was—more, probably. Unluckily for both of us, Noah didn’t care. God knew what Daniel heard.
A ferocious blush rises in my cheeks, and I vainly try to hide it with my hair. “Morning!” I chirp. I’m so obvious. “Is there coffee?” I rummage through the pantry, making a ton of unnecessary noise myself.
“In the pot . . . that you just passed.”
Right. “Right! Thanks!” I snag a mug from the cupboard.
Daniel shot me a look. “You okay?”
“I’m slowly adjusting to a new reality that includes superpowered teenagers and the entities that try to control them. Are you packed yet?”
“Car’s picking us up at four.”
He then says what I’m thinking. “It’s going to be weird for you at home, isn’t it.”
“But you’ll be back soon? That still the plan?”
It was. Once we returned to our respective homes, Jamie would present our proposal to skip our senior years and head directly to college without passing go. It was a real thing, early admissions or something, and it would get us out of Florida faster and with fewer loose ends than anything else we could come up with. And we needed to get out. None of us could imagine finishing out our senior year of high school. It would be hard enough performing for our parents, pretending for them, but I knew I needed the summer. Joseph would be losing not one but two siblings in the fall—it would be hard for him. I wanted him to have the time with us. With me.
Daniel takes a swig of orange juice and then slips his arms into the sleeves of a long button-down shirt. “I’m going to meet my friend Josh over at Juilliard before we go. Don’t forget, car at four.”
“I won’t forget.”
“Oh, also.” Daniel spins around on his heels and heads for the hall closet. “You need to start prepping if you’re going to test in June.” He reaches for something on the top shelf, which is stacked with board games. They topple to the floor.
“Not how I planned that.” We start picking up game pieces: Risk, Monopoly, Scrabble. “Oh. Hello there.”
I look up to see my brother holding a wooden, heart-shaped piece in one hand; a planchette. From a Ouija board. I look around and sure enough, there it is behind him, lying between Sorry! and The Game of Life. My brother peers at me from the little plastic circle in the middle.
I glare at him, goose bumps notwithstanding.
“Kidding, kidding.” He drops the piece back in its box. “This is what I actually wanted to give you.” He rummages through the games and then picks up a book: One Thousand Obscure Words on the SAT.
I roll my eyes. “What would I do without you?”
“You won’t ever have to find out.”
I wonder if Daniel knows that I will do anything I can, everything I can, to make sure that stays true.
“Having a little post-breakfast séance, are we?” I turn at the sound of Jamie’s voice. He’s staring at the unfolded Ouija board. Not kindly.
“Accident,” Daniel says, and tosses the book to me. I stuff it in my new messenger bag as my brother puts the games back in the closet where they belong. “See you kids later,” he said with a wave. “Car’s coming at four, J.”
I look at Jamie once the door closes behind Daniel. “J?”
He lifts his chin. “We’ve become fast friends. While you and Noah were . . . busy.”
I walk backward toward the door, slinging my bag over my shoulder. Blushing too. “I’m going out for a walk.”
“You? A walk? Since when do you need food, sunshine, fresh air?” Jamie looks around dramatically. “Oh. Noah isn’t here. That explains it.”
“Come. Let us find him together,” Jamie says, and offers his arm, which I take. We wander a bit before heading to the park. I do not fail to notice the pendant around Jamie’s neck; he’s developed a habit in the past week of hooking his finger around it while he talks. Mine rests in my pocket, nestled next to Noah’s. I haven’t made my decision yet.
“So what college am I going to lie to your parents about for you?” Jamie asks, bumping my shoulder.
“Not sure.” We walk past a street cart selling roasting nuts; the smell mingles with the scents of dust and metal from the construction being done on the street. “But I like New York.”
“Same. I was thinking about Columbia, or NYU maybe. Not sure I’ll get in, but I’m black, queer, and Jewish so I got three brochures.”
I smirk and catch a glimpse of our reflections in the dark glass of an office window. Not that long ago, I probably would’ve died laughing at the things Jamie said. But what we’ve been through has thrown us forward a decade, at least. People who didn’t know us would think we looked like teenagers still, and if they saw pictures of us Before and After they might not even be able to tell the difference. But I can tell. Our smiles for cameras are jaded now, our grins at jokes a bit bitter. That’s what separated us from the multitudes of Them. We lived harder. Knew better. But we laughed anyway. Laughed because there was nothing else to do but give up.
And I would never give up. I’ve done terrible things I regret and terrible things I don’t. But I don’t need to be fixed. I don’t need to be saved. I just have to keep going.
We cross the street into the park, and blossoms fall like snow as we walk beneath the trees. The sky is blue and cloudless—a perfect spring day. It’s like a dream, light and beautiful and happy, the kind I never have.