"Should we have a safe word or something?" My blood goes cold, his words are spoken so softly yet they bring coursing goosebumps onto my skin.
"What did you say?" I reply, my voice straining with my anxiety. The ghost of Grayson is beside me, he's reaching out to me to be kind and helpful. I'm rude in return, and he perseveres, being there for me. I shake away coma-dream Grayson and gaze into the eyes of a real-life Grayson who is here and now.
"A safe word? We're both such nervous people," he laughs dryly. "We could come up with a safe word that you can say if you get too overwhelmed, so I can get you out of the situation." It's Grayson speaking in verbatim as coma-dream Grayson, the memory is too vivid to handle.
"Yeah, that sounds ok. How about, 'help I'm afraid?" I say sarcastically, making him laugh as he scratches his head. I'm not sure why now I speak verbatim, maybe to test the walls between my coma and my now.
"Hm, it's a little lengthy. What about 'Uncle'. Good ol' fashioned 'Uncle'." I exhale heavily out of my nose smirking, I'm not sure how to feel about this deja vu. Part of me yearns for coma-Grayson, the Gray that I fell for originally. I can love this Grayson too, and he can love me. Maybe, I'm just a sucker for nostalgia.
"Um...sure, yeah. I'm warning you though, I'm not one to say, uncle." I may just say 'uncle' to get myself from this deja vu, he leans over and kisses my forehead. That's enough to get me back to reality, coma-Gray wouldn't dare touch me; knowing already it was a no-no.
"Are we ready?" No, we're not. I'm not. But Avery makes her way to the car, my sister, and her new boyfriend Theodore. My sisters moved on from jocks, shockingly enough, and is now going on dates with Avery's fellow leaders in the school play. Salem knocks lightly on my window, she's looking at me with concerned eyes. She wants me here, having fun, but at the end of the day, she cares about me being okay more.
I think of Becca, her bold purple lips smiling at me softly as I bawl my eyes out over the crumbling of my psyche. 'And maybe going to the asylum, seeing that the monsters aren't there, would help-', her words play in my mind and I shiver convulsively. Some therapist, encouraging me to break onto private property.
"Do you want to go home?" Grayson whispers at me, I shake my head. He squeezes my hand, it tells me what I'm already thinking. We can't just sit in the car, especially not with three people patiently waiting outside of the car. Here goes nothing, I let go of Grayson's hand and push open my door.
Grayson is out of the car and around to my side in just seconds, there to support me. I take his hand again and slam my car door shut, the noise echoes over the treetops.
"Good to see you, Sage. I don't think we've ever actually met...I'm Theodore." He extends the hand that my sister isn't holding to me, and I take it briefly. Theo is a drastic change from her ex, Conner. Salem's ex, who thought one blonde wasn't enough, was a buff blonde that always wore his Varsity jacket. Theodore, who is a theatre major, wears a dark jacket and has a guitar case slung over his shoulder. His black hair is tucked behind his ear, it curls just under his chin, his light gray eyes peer over our heads.
"Nice to meet you..." I say back, realizing I went a little too long without responding. I notice on his hand a small fading tattoo, an astrological symbol I think. Makes sense that he and Avery are friends, they're into the same things. I guess I'm just shocked my sister moved on from her type. She smiles at me though, and they take off to the trails towards the lake.
"I'm so happy you're here," Avery says to me, taking the arm Grayson isn't by and we take off to the trails ourselves.
"I am too." I lie, a little white lie. I'm not happy to be here, walking these trails. I can only think about my first time here, how I tripped on the ground and Grayson caught me. Then we got there, and the dare happened.
"Grayson...Gray." I say suddenly, squeezing his hand tightly to get his attention. He looks at me quickly, Avery does as well. Their eyes hold so much love and acceptance for me, I hope I don't ruin it by spewing idiocy.
"You ok?" Avery asks, and I grab both their hands wildly. I'm too afraid.
"Please, please promise me. If they try playing truth or dare, we leave. Please, please." They look at me strangely, I don't feel ashamed. If there's a chance of them playing that game, I can't be there.
"Sure, yeah. Yeah, of course." Avery says, nodding her head. Grayson nods too, even if they don't understand why they will still love me and support me. I'm so lucky, it's a shame my mind is crumbling to the point where I can't enjoy it.
"If we don't play that...stupid... game. We will be ok, that game leads nowhere good. Ever." I ramble, Gray and Avery exchange a worried glance. I must sound crazy. "In my past, I've played the game and people have gotten hurt, so please promise we won't play."
"We promise, we're here for you," Grayson says, and I feel better. I feel ok enough now, to keep going. We walk, I can hear the chatter of the seniors already enjoying the fire. The strum of a guitar, a soft male voice traveling to the edge of the trees where we stand.
"Oh, I love this song," Avery says giddily, pulling me gently towards the fire where Theo plays a slow song. We get closer, and she releases my hand to go stand behind him; she begins harmonizing. Her voice brings an angelic flow to Theo's low voice. They sound beautiful, everyone sits quietly; not even the slightest murmur disturbing the music that carries over the sand and out to the water. Mason puts a hand on Avery's shoulder, she grabs it and smiles quickly before continuing her song.
Teens sit on wooden logs around a large fire, they have drinks in their hands but nobody is acting crazy or rash. Everyone just enjoys the fire and the music. Salem sits beside Theo, she looks at him with admiration in her eyes. She looks so happy, as does everyone here. I'm reminded again that my mind is what made the senior nights dangerous, another large difference between the two worlds.
A warm breeze comes over the lake, ruffling my hair. The warm May weather lays peacefully on all of us, the lake trickles lightly with the spring breeze. It's beautiful, straight out of a movie. The vibe is serene, and I breathe out a sigh of relief.
It's not dangerous, my mind is what's dangerous. How silly I am, to be so afraid of the people at this school, to be so afraid of going to outings because of my fear. When I guess in reality, the only thing I should be afraid of is my mind.
I lean against Grayson, who wraps an arm around me. Black tea, and mint. I feel safe. Looking away from the peace that is Avery and Theo harmonizing, I look across the lake to the abandoned building. It looms, it mocks me. 'Look at me', it says. 'Prove me wrong', it says.
I've been wrong about everything thus far, I must be wrong about that too. Nonsensical seems to be my truth.
'Look at me'. Yeah, yeah. I see you.