I don’t know if I made a noise or if he felt me behind him, but he turned and looked at me. For a split second, I thought he would smile. Then his expression changed, and he became wary. Like he didn’t trust me. Then his face went blank.
I had all these emotions and memories pushing against my barricades, trying to spill out into the open. He looked like he couldn’t care less.
I wanted to spit it out and run, but I knew that was a bad idea. It’s not exactly normal to warn your professor that you might have given him mono.
“Can we talk… in private?” I asked.
He looked around the room, and I could imagine where his eyes went. To Eric probably. Maybe to Cade. Or Dom. Whatever he was looking at, he stayed focused there as he said, “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Bliss.”
Yeah, I’d run out of good ideas a long time ago.
“It won’t take long,” I promised him.
He looked at me, finally. I wanted to believe I saw a softness in his eyes, but I could have imagined it. I did that all the time. All I had to do was close my eyes, and I could see him reaching toward me, his lips millimeters from my own. But always… always I opened my eyes and it wasn’t real.
A hand curved around my shoulder, and pulled me into a hug. It was Eric. He started talking, about rehearsals and costumes and spring break, and all of these things I just didn’t have room for in my head.
I looked at Garrick, smiling at his boss. His smile was tight, close-lipped. When was the last time I saw that gorgeous grin.
Maybe I didn’t have to tell him. I mean, I wasn’t even sick.
It’s not like he’d made out with anyone else from that party (I hoped). And if I never got sick, he never had to know. Plus, he clearly wanted to just forget our little fling ever happened. I mean, he’d talked about changing jobs for Christ’s sake. And ever since then, I’d been careful not to look at him too long or stand too close or give any indication that I wasn’t as over this as he was. Because as bad as things were, it would be infinitely worse if he were just gone altogether.
Yeah. I’d tell him if I had to. No need to bring it up if it wasn’t actually an issue.
I excused myself, said goodbye to Eric and Garrick both. Then I went back to pretending. At least my education was getting put to some use, even if I never managed to do anything else with it. It taught me how to lie.
The last day of school before Spring Break, I woke up exhausted and was so cold that I wore a sweater to Garrick’s class, even though it was spring in Texas. It was pretty obvious, or it should have been, but I was so pre-occupied with surviving the day and getting to the break that I pushed aside my unease.
Garrick let us go early, but not before saying, “Sorry to give you guys homework over the break, but when you come back—I want a definitive plan for what you’re doing on May 23rd, which for those of you not looking at your calendar is the day after your graduation.”
Dom snickered behind me, “Does still being drunk from the night before count as a definitive plan?”
I didn’t even have the energy to roll my eyes.
“Some of you I will see tonight at rehearsal, and the rest—have a great spring break! Don’t get arrested or married or any of that kind of thing! Enjoy the rest of your day.”
I think there was clapping, but my head felt a little fuzzy. I packed up my things, and decided I didn’t really need to go to the rest of my classes today. I should go home and take a nap. A nap sounded good. I’d be fine after I slept a little longer.
I felt dizzy as I tottered toward the door.
I hadn’t realized everyone was gone until Garrick and I were alone, and he asked, “Are you okay, Bliss?”
I nodded. My head felt like it was full of cotton.
“Just tired,” I told him. I was coherent enough to make sure my response was carefully neutral—not needy or bitchy. “Thanks though, have a good break!” My voice sounded far away, and it took all of my concentration to get out of the doors and to my car.
The drive home was a mystery. There had definitely been driving, but I couldn’t remember the streets or ever turning the wheel, but then I was in front of my apartment, so close to my bed.
I wanted to fall right into it, but my neurotic need to hang a calendar right beside my bed reminded me I had rehearsal tonight. I set one alarm for 5 P.M. so I’d have time to fix dinner before hand, and I set another for 5:05 P.M. just in case I accidentally turned off the first. Then the bed caved in around me, and I was tumbling head long into oblivion.
Minutes later, the world was screaming and it was so loud that I tried to press my hands against my ears, but they were dead, lifeless at my side. I swallowed, and my tongue felt barbed, my throat burned like chapped lips.
Rolling over felt like moving mountains.
The clock read 5:45 P.M.
I blinked and read it again.
The world was still screaming and finally, finally I lifted my hands and pushed at my alarm until the noise stopped.
I swallowed again, but my tongue felt too big. My spit singed like acid on its way down.
Dazed, I looked at the clock again. I was out of time. Rehearsal started in fifteen minutes. Somehow… I don’t know how, really… I pushed myself out of bed. My legs quivered like the floor was a boat and beneath it the sea. There were things I needed to do… I knew that, but I couldn’t think beyond that nagging sense that there was something I was missing. And it was so cold, where was my coat? I needed my coat.
Wrapped in the warmest things I could find, I lurched outside toward my car. The world turned for a second, like a child refusing to sit still. I stuck a hand out to steady myself, but there was nothing there to catch me. I pitched sideways. I didn’t fall, but managed to catch myself, barely. I stared at the ground; I was just so tired. Would it be so bad to be there? On the ground?
It was so cold though. I really should go inside if I was going to lay down… or in my car. Did I have time for a nap in my car?
I shook my head, trying to clear the fog, and something awful rattled around in my skull. It hurt. God, it hurt. I pressed at it with my hands, trying to understand why, and I swallowed again, which hurt, too. Everything hurt. Everything.
I couldn’t stand up anymore. Standing was too hard. I was almost to the ground, reaching for it, thinking the asphalt would be warm against my cheek when something hooked me from behind.
I kept reaching, but I was caught, a fish dangling on a line.
I began to cry because my head was pounding and my throat was clamped down like iron. I still wanted my coat, and I didn’t want to be a fish, and I wanted to sleep.
Someone was telling me that I was okay. The hook was gone, and my pillow held me once more, and I must have been dreaming. Sleep.
Sleep perchance to dream.
Something buzzed. I thought of bees. I was flying with bees.
“… Be okay. I can’t tell how bad, but she definitely has a fever. She’s not coherent at all. Mono, yeah. Should I take her to the hospital? Are you sure? You’re sure. Okay. Yes. Bye. ”
I reached a hand out. There were too many words. Bees shouldn’t talk. That didn’t make sense. Where was I?
“Where?” I groaned, then, “Ow,” because everything still hurt even after sleep. My hand found something. Or something found my hand. And it was warm. And I was freezing. I sighed. The warmth found my cheek and I pushed into it, wanting more.
“So cold,” I told the warmth.
And then the warmth answered, low and soft, “ I don’t know what to do.”
I clutched the warmth that held my face and asked, “More.”
Then the warmth left, even though I tried to hold on. Air blew past me, and I was shaking, shaking, shaking. I cried and the tears felt like rivers of ice.
“Cold,” I said. I swallowed, but that felt worse instead of better. I hated this. I wanted it to be over. Please. Please.
“I’m here, love. Hold on.”
The world fell over, bent sideways, broken. And it cradled me, taking me with it, but instead of dying, I fell into warmth, solid and strong. I clutched at it, wanting to be inside it, to make the shaking stop, to make everything stop.
It was the sun, and it held me in its arms, called me by name, touched me from forehead to toes. I fell asleep cradled in the sky in the arms of a star.
When I woke next, my head was clear enough to know that I was sick. I had to breathe through my nose because my throat was too swollen, too tender to stand the passage of air. My muscles ached and my stomach felt hollow. I was still cold, but not frozen solid. Thawed. Sleep called me again. I was still so tired.
But I knew, knew what that meant.
I had gotten mono after all.
Which meant I had to tell Garrick. But that could wait until my head wasn’t bursting and my lungs felt full and my throat was not on fire. Once the fever broke, I would call him.
I shifted, wishing that my knees and my elbows and shoulders would just cease to exist because right now they were nothing, but pain. And then, I knew I was dreaming, that the fever had re-arranged my brain because Garrick was there beneath me, his bare chest my pillow. It was cruel, this fever. But I knew it was only because I had thought of him. I was probably still dreaming.
His eyes were open, staring at me, not speaking, just staring. Couldn’t be real.
“Wish it was real,” I whimpered, before giving in again.
When I woke again, the chills had stopped, and I was alone. Even though I knew it was a dream, I pressed my face into my pillow, wishing it hadn’t been.
I hadn’t noticed until now, or maybe just hadn’t admitted it, but even now I was falling for Garrick. Maybe I had never stopped falling. Every memory and fantasy pulled me deeper into wanting him. Though still exhausted, this time I had to work to fall back in to sleep.
“Bliss, wake up.”
No time had passed at all. It must be a dream.
“You need to drink something. Wake up.”
I tried to turn away, to crawl deeper into sleep, but something tugged against me, and I was sitting up against my will. Something pushed at my back, refusing to let me lay down, so instead I leaned sideways.
My head met something solid. It wasn’t laying down, but it was close enough. I closed my eyes.
“Oh, no you don’t. Drink first. Then you can sleep.”
I was sleeping. At least, I thought I was. I must have been because out of nowhere a cup appeared in my hands. It was warm, almost as warm as the other hands wrapped around mine.
It smelled wonderful, and I let the cup be pulled to my lips.
Chicken noodle, maybe. It tasted salty and warm, but swallowing was too hard. I pushed the cup away.
“Please, love. I’m worried about you. I don’t like worrying about you.”
I knew those words, and it was cruel for my subconscious to parrot them back at me now, when he was no longer worried at all. I looked up, and there he was, perhaps even more perfect in my dream state than in real life. He was the sun. He’d always been the sun—shining and brilliant.
This was too much. I was hurting inside and out.
“I miss you,” I told my sun. “I was so stupid. And now I’ve lost the light.”
He didn’t say he missed me back. He didn’t say any of the things I would want from him. He told me, “Drink, Bliss. We’ll talk when you are well.”
I did as he asked because I was too tired to fight, too tired to make myself face the unreality. Slowly, I sipped, tipping my head back and letting the liquid slide down my throat so I didn’t have to work so hard to swallow. Halfway through the cup, I could take no more. I pushed it away and he let me.
“Now you can sleep. Sleep, love.”
I fell back against the pillows, but I was seized by something else, by fear. I feared losing this… this dream space between worlds where I hadn’t ruined anything. Maybe Cade would arrive next, and Kelsey. And for a little while, my life could be simple again.