As the night grew later and everyone else in the warehouse started getting ready for bed, I laid on my bedroll, staring at the ceiling. I’d already brushed my teeth (which was still as weird as ever) and I was completely ready to fall asleep.
Except for the fact that it probably wouldn’t happen very soon.
“Hey, Calypso,” Zoe yawned as she passed me. She laid on her own bedroll and before I could even say ‘hey’ back, she was snoring.
How does she do that?
Marlee approached hesitantly, sitting on her bedroll and opening her mouth to speak a few times before closing it uncertainly.
“Hey,” I said softly, glancing at Zoe.
“Hi,” Marlee replied nervously. She noticed my glancing towards Zoe. “She always falls asleep like that. I have no idea how it works, but she sleeps the best out of all of us.”
I couldn’t tell whether ‘all of us’ referred to the group of teenagers or everyone in the warehouse.
“Maybe she’ll give lessons,” I said, only half paying attention to what was coming out of my mouth.
Marlee laughed a little too loudly and clapped her hand over her mouth. “Sorry,” She whispered, still shaking with restrained laughter.
I smiled at her, enjoying her perky mood, much to my dismay. “It’s fine,” I said.
Marlee looked at me, biting her lip. “You’re okay with me, now?” She asked hesitantly.
I felt bad, which surprised me because I never felt bad.
Could this be a quarter-life crisis or something? This is getting ridiculous. Can I just be normal again?
“I’m sorry,” I told her, genuinely sorry, “I had a rough night last night.”
“You did challenge Don,” she replied as though that explained a lot.
I laughed, “That wasn’t the least of it, I’m afraid.”
“Oh,” Marlee looked concerned, “It must’ve been a really bad day, then.”
I smiled sadly. Yeah, you could say that. I remembered the dream I’d had last night even though I kept trying to forget about it. I tried to shove it down, but it just closed off my expressions. I saw Marlee shift away in disappointment.
“Do you ever have dreams about things that you don’t think really happened to you?” I asked her slowly, trying not to reveal too much.
“Yeah,” Marlee’s eyes looked sad. “Sometimes I dream that someone is my friend and then I remember that they don’t usually like talking to me for too long.”
My heart panged because I knew I was one of those people. It was a testament to Marlee’s strength that she still acts perky even though she knows it annoys some people half to death.
“I’m sorry,” I said softly, looking down. I took a slow breath and leaned back, glancing all around my limited range of vision before continuing. “I dreamed about having real parents last night,” I told her, then laughed humorlessly, “I even had a sister.”
“You don’t have real parents?” Marlee asked in genuine confusion.
“I was raised by a bunch of gang members,” I told her bluntly. “I didn’t have sisters and I didn’t have a mother; I had a father figure and a bunch of brothers who ranged from five years older than me to almost twenty years older than me. Just because I called them my brothers doesn’t mean that they were really my brothers. Sometimes they were rough, sometimes they passed me without even acknowledging my presence, and sometimes...” I stopped, wondering how much I dared tell Marlee.
“Sometimes what?” She asked gently, her eyes shining as though she knew what I was going to say.
“Sometimes, you are forced to watch them die,” I croaked out. I choked as I tried to stop the tears that came to my eyes.
Marlee slowly pushed herself up and sat down next to me, wrapping her arms around me and squeezing hard. A tear leaked out of my eye and I quickly dashed it away. Marlee squeezed harder, leaning her head on my shoulder.
“You’re still here,” She reminded me softly as though she’d done this before; as though she had to remind herself, too. “We’re still alive and we’re still fighting. Our pasts were bad, but we aren’t going to get brought down by them.”
Briefly, I wondered what her past was, but I was too busy trying not to cry to ask. I focused on her head on my shoulder; on how she was only slightly taller than me and how that made it comfortable in some strange way.
“We have scars, but we’re not going to let them define us,” Marlee continued firmly. “We can get bruised, but we’ll heal and we’re going to keep moving on and make our own lives because that’s what we deserve. No one gets to choose who we are and no one has the power to change who we want to become.”
I swallowed hard, turning my head to look at her. “Thanks,” I rasped.
Marlee lifted her head from my shoulder. “You’re welcome,” She said easily, as though she hadn’t just been having a heart-to-heart with me.
I managed a smile, “You aren’t going to think that you deserve any thanks I give you, are you?”
Marlee grinned, “Probably not. However, I will say that you owe me one.”
Now I laughed, tears still stuck in my throat even though the pressure behind my eyes was fading. “That works, too,” I said.
She smiled gently at me, “Ready for bed, now?”
I shot her a look, “Definitely not.”
Marlee’s lips tilted up on one side. “I suspected that,” She admitted. She moved back to her own blanket and laid down, curling up on her side and looking at me as she pulled part of it over her. “You can wake me up if you need to talk,” She offered.
I shook my head, “I’ll pester Devin tonight, but I’ll keep that offer in mind in the future.”
Marlee’s eyes glinted, “I thought you two were getting close.”
“We are,” I said, then realized what I’d said. “Wait, not like that." My cheeks flamed.
Marlee laughed, “If you say so, Calypso.” It was the kind of concession statement that made it all too clear that they didn’t believe you at all.
“I say so,” I told her sternly.
Marlee just kept laughing. “Goodnight, Calypso,” She said finally.
“Goodnight, Marlee,” I replied. For a moment, we both fell into silence until I broke it.
“You can call me ’Callie.’” I said so softly that I didn’t think she heard it.
“You can call me ’Mar,’” Marlee said softly, “But don’t you dare use it as the word means.”
“I won’t,” I promised, smiling at the ceiling.
Marlee didn’t reply, but her breathing evened slowly until I wondered if she was at least half asleep.
I just listened to her breathing and let the uniformity calm me, because for once, I wasn’t afraid to see what sleep held for me.
Because I finally had people to turn to.