“I dreamt of you last night,” Sophia announces, and my heart practically skips a beat.
“Yeah, I was waving to you from my window, and you were looking right at me, but you wouldn’t wave back. Strange huh?”
“That’s odd,” I laugh, “just for the record, I’d never ignore you.”
We sit together on the school grounds, grass imprinting against our palms. The weather is milder today, so I figure we would take our lunch outdoors. Frothy clouds sail across the baby blue sky, creating pictures of animals.
“Have you ever played that game, where you try to see pictures in the clouds? Take that one there,” I point straight above us, “doesn’t it remind you of a rabbit? With the long ears.”
Sophia squints and agrees with my observation. She spots a lion, just as I make out a monkey or cat. Something with a swooping tail anyway. In unison, we raise our hands to the sky in recognition of a heart. It causes our fingers to collide, just for a moment. Shock waves ripple through my core, and I retract my arm. Did she feel that too? She simply giggles and leans her head back against the wild lawn that’s been left unkept due to the cooler season. I think back to her body lying under the covers last night, and the mysterious sketches on her dresser.
“We got cut short yesterday at your house when we were talking.”
“You mentioned something about a fresh start? What was so bad about Richmond?”
The atmosphere changes instantly. Sophia’s arm tenses against mine as she takes a deep inhale. I stare up at the pale sky, waiting for her reply.
“Life was chaotic there, that’s all. My parents were arguing a lot about work and money. My dad… erm… he doesn’t cope well under pressure or stress. Hopefully, his new job will change all that.”
I try to read between the lines but the picture she paints is fuzzy and grey. It’s clear she won’t elaborate further, so I close the door on the topic. For now. Sophia rolls onto her front and grabs a sherbet dip from her plastic tray. As she sucks on the fizzing candy, I attempt to continue with the conversation, testing the boundaries.
“What is Fred’s new job?”
Sophia tells me that her dad works as a salesman for a shoe brand I’d never heard of and that he is setting up the brand here in Sacramento. Her mum, Janice, is a nurse and sometimes works nights. That might be a problem, for me.
“Jeez, that must be tough. What are her hours out of interest?”
“She’ll work three days from 8 pm-8 am and sleep most of the day. Then she gets two days off in-between.”
False alarm. That works just fine. One less soul to worry about.
“Are you close with your family?” Sophie asks after several minutes of calm. I’m taken aback by the directness, then reflect back on my own probing queries.
I clear my throat before speaking, “Honestly, I feel like the black sheep of my family. I’ve never really fit in.”
In the distance, bells ring indicating the end of recess. We gather our belongings for class.
“I get that. I often feel that there’s something wrong with me.”
People flow around us, making their way back into school and yet as our eyes lock, it is as if time stands still. This girl is getting under my skin. We share so much in common. God, I wish I were normal. I wish this would be enough for me. In reality, I am nothing like Sophia. She is pure and white, and I am rotten and dark. She is a million times better than I will ever be. I should stop. But you and I both know, that isn’t going to happen.
That night, I watch as Sophia writhes in bed, caught in a nightmare she cannot awake. It takes all my strength not to shake her from her demons. Who is she afraid of?