Note: I’ll post all of the pieces in one continuous story on its own page under the DRIFT tab, where this novella will live forever more 🙂 I hope you love it!
The sky was clear and cloudless, the sun naked as I left the market, canvas grocery bags heavy in my fingers. Instead of going straight to the truck, I took a detour toward my favorite coffee shop on foot.
Tubac was small, and the morning was still cool enough to be comfortable—plus it might be a while before I got to enjoy a morning all to myself again.
Not that I wasn’t looking forward to my summer guest.
I’d been looking forward to this summer for seventeen years, in fact.
My phone buzzed in the pocket of my skirt. I fished it out and shaded the screen with my hand to find a text message from Harris and Samantha’s son, Drake: “Where are you?”
I paused for a moment under the awning of one of Tubac’s many art gift shops to compose my response: “In town. What’s up?”
“Nothing. I’m hanging out in your attic. Just didn’t want you to freak out when you get home.”
“I’d know you were there,” I replied. “Everything okay?”
“Leah arrives today,” I typed . “This is your last chance to hang out in my attic for the summer.” Then I added a smiley face for good measure.
Drake was only a year older than Leah. I was keen to see what happened when the two of them met, as they most definitely would. Samantha and Harris were my closest neighbors, after all.
“I know,” he wrote back. “The niece supplants me. 🙂 Attic looks good, btw. Very tidy.”
I sighed. If Drake was in my attic, it usually meant Sam and Harris were arguing. Again. It wasn’t that they didn’t love one another—and it certainly wasn’t that they lacked any love for Drake—but sometimes, I’d learned, life made love hard. Plus they were both too stubborn for their own good.
My phone buzzed again and I looked at the screen, expecting a new text from Drake—but found another name on the screen instead. I hit the green button and brought the phone to my ear with a grin. “Why, hello.”
“Hey, how’s the day?”
Felix’s voice never failed to make me smile. “Smooth and steady. What’s up?” This wasn’t his usual calling time.
“Just checking in. How’s your head?”
I stepped back out into the sunshine, on a mission for tea once again. “My head’s much better. Sorry I had to cut our conversation short last night.”
“It’s fine,” Felix replied. “I wasn’t worried about the conversation–I was worried about you. You never get headaches.”
“I’ve had a headache before,” I replied. But he was right, in a way: I’d never had a migraine. I guess there was a first time for everything, though I hoped that first time was also the last of that particular experience. Throwing up with a pounding head was like a special kind of hell.
“Is Leah on her way?”
I smiled, glad for the change in subject. “She is. They should get here tonight.”
“Colorado,” Felix remarked. “That’s quite a drive.”
“Agreed. Hey, how was Caroline’s choir concert?”
A shock of anxiety speared my chest, catching my breath.
Drake. Where was Drake? Where is Drake?
Why isn’t he here yet?
The bright sunshine faded, darkening like a cloud had passed in front of the sun. But when I looked up to see if the clouds showed signs of much-needed rain, the cloudless sky blurred in my vision.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
What was that sound?
Where was Drake?
Wait. Wait, Cecelia. Just slow down.
I forced myself to stop. To close my eyes and take a breath—a skill I had learned after years of being blindsided by panic-attack intuition.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
The desert suddenly smelled hyper-clean, like rubbing alcohol and lemon.
There was a shifter near me.
Disoriented, I opened my eyes and was surprised not to see sunshine. “Drake?”
The sun had disappeared behind a cloud. Or… hadn’t it?
“Cecelia? You okay?”
Where the hell was I? I turned my head toward the voice—I knew that girl: Ferris. Her name was Ferris.
“Where is Drake?” My head swam with a subtle throb that brought me back fully into reality, the anxiety and the final remnants of that real-life dream releasing me from their grasp.
“Drake isn’t here,” Ferris said, concern in her expression. She lowered her voice to a whisper. “ He’s with–”
“Right. Of course,” I said, interrupting her before she could say Leah’s name. It was bad enough I’d said Drake’s. I could never sure who was listening in. “Sorry,” I went on. “I was stuck in a dream for a second.” Or something… dreams and reality had started to blur at the edges lately. I looked at her in earnest. “How long have you been here?”
“About an hour,” she replied. “It’s no big deal. I slept for a while too, to be honest. I don’t know why I’m so tired but… the nap helped.”
Ferris looked out of place in my hospital room prison cell. Her dark hair was a shock of contrast in an otherwise pale room. Save for her hair, the rest of her was paler today, though, I thought. Paler, and simultaneously more bright. Like her palor was glowing. But then, my vision wasn’t terribly reliable anymore, so who knew? Maybe I was seeing things.
“You should have woken me up,” I said, feeling bad for wasting what little time I got to visit with anyone. I found the controller by my right hand and pressed the button that brought the head of my mattress up so I was sitting more upright.
“Not a chance,” was Ferris’ response. “You looked so peaceful. Besides, you need your rest if you’re going to get better.”
My heart ached to match my head for a heartbeat, but I smiled despite it. It did no good to burst her bubble of hope. Within these walls, hope was the most valuable thing anyone could hold; I had no intention of diminishing Ferris’ supply, regardless of whether her hopes were well grounded or not.
“How are the others?” I asked instead. “How’s Collin?”
She smiled, but her smile was different now than when I’d first met her, when she’d come to visit Leah over the summer—older, not so much in time, but in experience. Sadder. “He’s fine. They’re all fine.”
One of the nurses came into the room with a guard on her heels. “Time’s up.”
The guard crossed the room and Ferris stood to meet him wordlessly. He took her handcuffed wrists and quickly sprung the latch. Ferris moved her hands to clasp them behind her back where the guard locked the cuffs tight again.
“I’ll see you again soon,” I said, hoping against hope that was true.
“Feel better,” replied Ferris quietly.
It always made my skin crawl to watch the guard re-handcuff my visitor each evening, to watch them being led from the room like a criminal. Tonight, however, something felt different within the reaction, different in relation to Ferris, in relation to how I expected her to be treated. I wished they wouldn’t be so rough. I wished they’d be more careful with her. I found myself wishing Collin were here. But before I had time to inspect that reaction at all, Ferris was gone and the nurse was checking my vitals, making notes on my charts.
Most of the time I was good at taking this all in stride, but sometimes I was caught off guard and in those moments, I felt certain this couldn’t be my life. It just couldn’t.
There had been moments over the last weeks when reality blurred and I had a hard time staying in the present. Sometimes my dreams were so real, so detailed. Sometimes the dreams were memories that I relived in so much detail I didn’t know they weren’t real. Other times, I would see things that I couldn’t be seeing, like watching the world through someone else’s eyes. I’d hear things I couldn’t be hearing, like I was hearing with someone else’s ears. Felix was often that other person. Then Leah sometimes, as of late. The nurses had told me that I talked in my sleep. So had I been speaking aloud while I dream-lived in Tubac today, while Ferris sat alongside my bed? Did I care if I had? I didn’t think it much mattered what anybody knew, at this point—at least not where Felix was concerned.
Leah was the person who needed to know most. Leah and Drake alike.
And they were the very people I wouldn’t get to tell. Not in person.
With that thought, I took the spiral bound notebook I’d been keeping as a journal from the cart beside the bed. There was still so much I had to write down, so much I needed to record, to let Leah know—and not many more days to do it.