“All my life, I’ve been waking up,” she said.
The digital clock on Marshall’s dresser read 3:33. The numbers glowed red in the dim clutter of his room.
From the end of his bed, she looked softer than she did in the daytime.
“You’re sitting on my feet,” he told her, because it was simpler than anything else.
She made an indifferent noise and didn’t change position.
At school, she floated like a dandelion seed, elusive, far away from him. She was like pearls and sweater-sets, if girls still wore sweater-sets. She wasn’t a cheerleader, but she embodied everything that made cheerleaders unattainable.
“I’m tired of doing this,” he said to a spot somewhere across the room, away from her mysterious gaze.
“Are you really?” she said. “I’m just tired.”
The other day, he’d opened the newspaper and flipped to the back of the Local section to read her name on the honor roll. It was reassuring to see it there, inarguable, proving that she existed in the world. At night, the doubt and unease were all that seemed real, reduced to the shape of her silhouette
He turned his face into the pillow and closed his eyes. “I don’t know why you keep coming here. Go home. Go to sleep.”
“Teach me how,” she said, but he could tell she was smiling. “Teach me the secret and I’ll go away.”
The idea was relieving and painful. She scared him, but that was only casual, only surface. The fact was, if you were lonely enough, it didn’t matter if the company was real.
He rolled onto his back and stared up at the ceiling. “If there’s some great, amazing secret to sleeping, what makes you think I know it?”
“Because you’re the boy who puts his head down on his desk and ignores everything.” She laughed and the sound was lower than her speaking voice. He’d never heard her laugh in the daytime. “You’re the master of sedation—you’ve been doing it your whole life. Your trick is that you make the world disappear.”
“What about you?”
“My trick is, I’m the girl who never sleeps.”
And he had to admit that in the daylight, she was starting to look worn-out, dark smudges under her eyes like bruises. Still, when teachers called her name, she always answered. Clear and precise, clasping her hands on the desk. Old fashioned, not something other girls did.
On the back of her ankle—he’d seen it once when she knelt down, messing with her sock in the hall—on the back of her ankle were raw, oozing sores from where blisters had formed and then torn open. The surrounding skin was smooth and unmarked, fragile by contrast.
She ran. He knew that, but he’d never considered that maybe it took something out of you, that blisters would start and you’d have to keep running anyway. Her sock was sticking to the raw spots and she peeled it away carefully, without changing expression. The sight had made his throat hurt for no reason he could name.
At the foot of his bed, she sat up straighter, raising her chin like a princess. “All my life, I’ve been waking up. I could wake you up, too.”
She moved towards him in the dark and he flinched, clutching the blankets to his chest, turning his face to the side. “I’m not asleep.”
“How do you know?” she said.