Waking up was instant — eyes were closed, then they were open. She blinks, looks around, and immediately sits up, hissing in pain as she unclenches her hands, dropping a small handful of old bottlecaps into her blanketed lap. “Oh,” she says to no one in particular. “I must have been sleeping. How did that happen? Silly girl.” Getting up, she carefully scoops up the bottlecaps and puts them in the pocket of the pants she’s already wearing. Walking is faintly lopsided. She glances down.
One shoe off, one shoe on.
“These aren’t the right shoes, anyway,” she murmurs, and rubs her eyes. “Where did everyone go?” For a moment, she walks in a slow, small circle, but grows frustrated when she doesn’t get anywhere. She’s focused so tightly on her steps, she doesn’t hear the door open.
“Are you coming down for breakfast, or—Christ. What did you do, wear your sneakers to bed?” an older woman sighs. “Is there mud in the sheets again?”
The girl’s head jerks up, and she looks at the palms of her hands, then the backs, then over to the woman in the doorway. “I think I’m lost. I’m stuck. I was headed there, but I’m still here,” she explains. “You understand.”
“No more of this,” the woman says, not unkindly. “Come to breakfast. You’ll stay home today.”
“Yes, home. I–”
“That’s where I was going. Oh, he’ll be so worried. So sad. His eyes, they light up. I miss him; I have to get back–” At first, she seems relieved to have a plan, but as she keeps talking, she looks alternately worried and saddened. “I have to get back to him. I know they put me to bed, and he isn’t waiting anymore, but he never– I don’t know when he…” She puts her hands into her tangled hair and utters a low sob. “It’s all gone backwards. It was supposed to be then but then it was now and he isn’t even there yet, is he? I don’t have the right shoes on,” she pleads.
“Honey,” the woman says, going to put her hands on the younger woman’s shoulders.
“NO!” the girl screams. “Don’t! I won’t be able to get back. I won’t be able to find him again.”
Flinching back, the woman sighs, and wipes tears from her own eyes tiredly. “This again,” she says resignedly. “Sweetheart, I–”
Footsteps down the hall, and a man walks in, with wire-rimmed glasses and hard grey eyes that aren’t touched by his concerned smile. “What is it? I heard shouting.”
“You don’t belong,” the girl whispers, shaking her head, her fingers to her mouth. “You never did, and that’s why it makes you so angry. And you, and you, and you and you and you,” she says, shaking her head. “Well it isn’t something I had a hand in, just all my fingers, in every pie. All of them. Just a taste. She’s laughing. She laughs at my jokes. I have to get BACK!” she shouts, and then her voice dwindles into a mournful sob. “Back home.”
“Okay okay — if there is home,” the woman murmurs, her voice so very soothing, “then where are you now, darling?”
“Stop that. You’re not helping,” the man snaps. “Don’t cater to her. Don’t play into her fantasy — you know this is all nonsense.” He walks up and reaches for the young woman, and grabs ahold of her shoulders and gives her a rough shake. “You listen to me, young lady. You’re old enough to know better. You stop this instant. Do you hear me?”
At first, she squirms, rolling her eyes and batting ineffectually, making pained mewling sounds in her throat.
“You stop this nonsense! Don’t you understand what you’re doing to this family? Don’t you see?” The shouting doesn’t seem to reach her — it is only when the back of the man’s bare hand touches her cheek in a stinging slap that anything registers. “Damnit, don’t you see?”
The girl’s head snaps down and to the side, and her eyes flinch shut as all the mewling stops. She shudders, taking a step back, and puts her hand to her cheek, panting briefly.
“Yes,” she whispers. “Oh, yes.” When she looks up, and her hair falls away from her face, she opens up her eyes and stares, through and through, far and away, her eyes shining blue-black, speckled with twilight stars, galaxies of possibility.
Her voice is full of threads of potential, of all possibility, as she whispers, “I see.”
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