He awoke suddenly, in the early hours of the morning, as if a gunshot had gone off in his bedroom. When he tried to move, just to see that he was still capable of doing so, the aching of his heart and the intense dread that came with it was suddenly unbearable. Maybe that’s where he had been shot.
Although completely disoriented and mostly numb, the boy felt something rising from his stomach. He took a sip of water, trying to drown the butterflies, but only angered them more. Whatever this was, it was coming fast, and he was not strong enough to fight it. In desperation, he threw his blankets over his face, attempting to hide from this incoming force in the haven of the darkness, where the moonlight could not reach him.
But he knew he would be able to sleep no longer. She was there already, at the foot of his bed, afraid to be noticed but all too magnetizing to be ignored. Youthful as he, the girl was as unprepared to give her message as he was to receive it, and as reluctant to pain him as he was to be pained, but she was determined to see it through. She sat perpendicular to him, her gaze focused firmly on her shoes, lightly kicking back and forth.
“Good morning,” the girl said faintly, somewhat jokingly. She smiled earnestly and turned towards the boy, but he stayed under the cover of his sheets. Unable to fight and unwilling to run, the boy had opted for the third and final strategy of a cornered animal: he was now playing dead. The girl might have believed it too, if not for the stinging tension and smell of fear that permeated the room.
When the girl spoke, it was in a hushed whisper. “Are you asleep?” she asked. The boy wished he was. The girl, knowing the answer already, had posed the question rhetorically, in hopes that it would yield some response. But the boy stayed in his peaceful catacombs, praying for sleep, or for her to get bored and leave, or at the very least for death.
She weighed his options. She understood his position, but was determined to remove him from it. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I know you don’t want to talk. But please, let’s just get this over with.” No response. “I know you’re not asleep,” she remarked, maintaining a fragile patience, like a mother speaking to a hysterical son. “If you don’t talk to me, you’ll never get to sleep.” Still no response.
She picked up her phone, if only as a means of ma. He couldn’t wait out forever, could he? The bright screen lit up the whole room, burning the eyes of the girl, and subtly reaching the inside of the boy’s sanctuary, which upset him. He flipped his body to face the other direction, lightly mumbling something the girl couldn’t quite make out.
“It’s 4:30. You have work tomorrow,” she said. There was a pause.
“Morning or night?” he mumbled, his voice muffled by the pillow he had planted his face in, but still distinctly alert. This interaction had left him restless.
“The morning. You know you’re not going to be able to sleep like that, right?” she said. “And you have work early in the morning.”
The boy groaned, for the girl had managed to appeal to his logic, a tactic which he found to be very unfair. While he scrunched up even further into his soft dwelling, his head lifted ever so slightly, so that she knew he had surrendered. When he spoke, his words were soft and defeated. “Why are you here?” he asked weakly.
There was a long silence; the question was both concerningly easy and unreasonably difficult, depending on how much thought was put into it. The boy and the girl had met many times before, often early in the morning or late at night, in uncomfortable and undesirable locations, and with little warning. And in all those times, the boy had asked this same question, usually settling for the easy, simple answer: it was the memories, the mutual interests, and the constant reminders of the world that had brought them together time and time again. This usually pleased him enough. Yet there was a subtext to these questions; an expanded list of inquiries that never got any attention.
The boy had hoped these questions would be resolved on their own, and for a time, this held true. His meetings with her had become increasingly infrequent and decreasingly personal over time. At most, he’d catch a glimpse of her at the supermarket, or have a short conversation on holidays, or catch a reflection in the mirror early in the morning. In more recent months, even the most benign encounters ceased, and the boy wondered if he were finally rid of the curse that had been placed upon him.
This morning’s encounter, as untimely and unusual as it was, worried him or this very reason. If, after all this time, she could still haunt him, would he ever be free? The butterflies were now swirling inside him, reaching his throat and choking his words. He couldn’t speak, and could barely breathe.
The girl too took notice of the air of uncertainty. She wondered if there was anything she could say to alleviate the tension. She thought she would leave. He found his words before she had the chance.
“What can I do stop this meetings?” he asked, finally meeting her in eye contact. “I’ve tried everything to no avail! These were once a constant, in my life, but now, you come whenever I need it least, whenever I want it least, whenever it hurts me most. What can I do?”
He wanted an answer. Desperately. He looked down into the dark, and then back at her, but she was gone. She had left him, silently, and the butterflies were gone. He was left cold, in the dark, the moonlight lightly bathing him in his own hollow sadness. He was angry; at her, at himself, but most importantly, because she knew he would come again. But at the very least, he could now sleep.