I feel so tired when I get home from school. Perhaps Lisa’s attack took more out of me than I thought. I manage to act normally in front of my parents. I needn’t worry about Jack. Feeling concern for his sister isn’t something that generally occurs to him.
I get into bed much earlier than usual, though I know that I can’t fall asleep in case I sleep through the night and miss going to meet Erenel. But I’m so tired. Just closing my eyes for a second surely wouldn’t hurt...
I open my eyes, puzzled by my surroundings. I am perched in a tree, in a forest bathed in sunshine. How am I here? Did Erenel wake me up, take me out of my bedroom, and bring me to this wood? I start to climb down the tree, when I hear someone giggle. A high pitched sound, obviously a girl. It is followed by a deeper laugh which I can identify instantly. Erenel! I look eagerly around the forest, trying to see him. I spot his black hair on the ground underneath me. I’m about to call his name, when I freeze. There is a girl with him, and she’s holding his hand! Her blonde hair is only a couple of inches longer than Erenel’s, and not much tidier. He murmurs something to her, then leans forward and kisses her on the cheek. The girl turns around and looks up at me, smiling widely and looking annoyingly pleased with herself. It’s Lisa.
“Hello Natalie!” she calls delightedly. Erenel waves with the hand that isn’t clutching Lisa’s.
“Why are you here, Lisa?” I ask. “You don’t know Erenel!”
Lisa giggles. “Oh, yes I do. You can’t keep everything for yourself.”
“Erenel’s my counterpart,” I whine. “I’m the one who loves him!”
Lisa laughs again. “Maybe you should have told him, then.” She leans towards Erenel and... oh my gosh, she kisses him! Not on the cheek, but properly on the lips! She’s got her hands on his waist, and his are on the side of her face. It goes on for ages, too, and eventually I hide my face in my hands.
I suddenly move, so that I’m standing on firm ground. I lift my hands from my face and see that I’m standing next to Erenel, but there’s no sign of Lisa. He’s stood close, agonisingly close, looking so perfect and enchanting that I just want to hug him for ever. “Why her?” I ask. “Why not me?”
Erenel looks away. “She loved me.”
“But I love you!”
He looks at me sadly. “I know. I used to love you, too. But I don’t now. You spent all your time flitting around and fussing over every single detail like an indecisive mother hen and even when I waited patiently, you responded with hatred and stupid mixed signals because you were too wrapped up in your own ridiculous, selfish thoughts. You should be more like Lisa. You should learn to talk about things to people. You’re too late, Natalie. I’m with Lisa now, and I never want to see you again.”
“I’ll go back,” I sob. “I won’t be too late next time.”
I open my eyes suddenly, feeling wide awake. I’m in my bedroom, my pillow damp with tears. I sit upright and focus on the green numbers on my digital clock. 11:57. I’d normally be with Erenel at this time, but at the moment, I don’t feel normal.
Only a dream, I tell myself. Lisa doesn’t know anything about Erenel, and she’s always preferred blonde guys anyway.
I flop back down onto my pillow and run my hands through my tangled hair. I’ve never felt anything like that before. Erenel telling me that I was too late to be with him. Having him taken away, feeling so rejected and helpless... it’s the worst thing that my subconscious has ever conjured up.
Everything happens all at once. Something goes “ping!” inside me, and before I know what I’m doing I’ve clambered up on to my windowsill and slithered headfirst out of the window. I have to see Erenel, and I have to see him NOW. I love him. I don’t care if he’s not human. I don’t care if he doesn’t live in my world. He’s an incredible person and I’m not going to be too late. Whether he feels the same way or not, I have no idea. At the moment, crawling eagerly over freezing cold roof tiles, I don’t really care.
I manage to climb down from the roof without nearly killing myself, so I see this as a small success. A quick glance around the garden tells me that Erenel isn’t here yet, so I sit down on the edge of the patio to wait. It’s freezing tonight, and just starting to rain. In all the excitement, I completely forgot to bring anything warm to wear. Will I ever learn?
After about two minutes, the heavens open and I’m soaked within about thirty seconds. Marvellous. I must look like a drowned rat. Could that be any more typical? The one night of my life when I desperately need to look halfway decent, and we get the heaviest rain in about a decade.
Ten minutes passes like an hour, and I’m beginning to think that Erenel isn’t coming at all. What if he’s picked up on how I feel and he’s totally intimidated now? Or what if... oh my gosh, he might already have a girlfriend. My body shivers and prickles as though I’ve just swallowed a red-hot cactus. He’s so wonderful, of course he’ll be involved with someone. He might be sitting wondering how to let me down gently, or he might be too scared to come at all. I entwine my fingers in my hair and lean my forehead on my knees. What have I done?
I swing round and see Erenel crouched down next to me, partially hidden by the shadows from the hedge. His hand is half stretched towards my shoulder. He’s soaking wet too, but I think it enhances his overall appearance.
Let me rephrase: he looks amazing.
It’s quite dark, but I can see his glowing eyes, striking against the thick inky blackness of the night. Without thinking, I leap up and fling my arms around him. I want to be loved, held, protected...
We both tumble backwards into the hedge bordering the patio, narrowly missing a patch of nettles. He doesn’t seem hurt. In fact, I think he’s laughing.
It’s only then that I realise what I’ve done. Top marks for subtlety, I think, inwardly cringing. Despite the cold and the rain, I can feel my cheeks grow hot and red. My first possible chance at romance, and I do something like this. I appear to be more backward that I thought. Pulling myself off him and swearing to myself repeatedly in my head, I whisper, “Sorry.”
I turn to leave, as quickly as possible. Please, I say in my mind to anyone of a higher authority who may be listening, can I die right now? Or start a whole new life in a far flung country?
I’ve only managed to walk about a yard when I feel Erenel’s hand on my arm. He looks serious, but not angry. I don’t get the impression that he’s about to take me to court for assault. “Don’t be,” he whispers, and then -
Anything I’ve ever read about first kisses is wrong. There are no fireworks. No fanfares. Roses don’t spring up in thousands under our feet. It’s perfect; I lose any sense of the outside world, and all I can think is: I’m being kissed. I’m being kissed. I’m being kissed. I’m being kissed.
My body feels just as inactive as my mind. I’m surprised that I’m still standing up, actually. Forget about the whole new-life thing, I tell the person in my mind. Leave me here. I’m being kissed.
I’m being kissed. I’m being kissed.
I have lost any sense of time. The kiss could have lasted three hours or three minutes or three seconds or three years. Anyway, it seems too soon when we part and Erenel gently pulls me towards him.
I lean my head on his shoulder, and he whispers something to me. His quiet words are drowned out by the rain and it’s not the moment to ask him to repeat himself, but somehow I just know what he’s said and I know what I have to say...
“I love you, too.”
Erenel says something else, and I’m about to reply, but I shiver violently before I can say anything. He hands me some folded up material which, on inspection, is my blue riding fleece. I look at him questioningly. “I saw you leave the house without a coat,” he explains. “I knew how cold it was tonight.”
I pull on my fleece, shivering again as the cool material touches my bare skin. “Thank you.”
We sit and talk now and again, but mostly we’re quiet. I start to feel tired (not surprising, considering I’m out in the garden at midnight), and our conversation eventually tails off altogether. We lean against the cherry tree, sheltered from the rain, for what seems like hours. It is the most wonderful evening that I’ve ever had.
My dream was so real; it’s hard to remember that Erenel was completely oblivious to it. Does he really think that I treated him like that? Does he really think that I should open up more, speak fearlessly about my thoughts and feelings?
“Of course I don’t,” he says softly, with a smile.
“Can you read my mind?” I demand instantly.
He exhales thoughtfully. “Not quite. Sort of. If I look into your mind far enough, then I can sort of read the gist of each of your individual thoughts, but they form nothing more than emotions, not words.”
“So how did you know that I was thinking about that dream just then?”
“When you woke up, you were thinking about it so incredibly strongly that you might as well have stood on your roof and shouted it to the world. Just then, a couple of minutes ago, I knew that you were thinking about the dream, for no other reason than it’s what you and I tend to do. We’re both thinkers. I felt in your mind that you were questioning something, which is how I knew how to answer.”
“So... all along, have you known how I’ve felt about... about everything?” I ask, half worried, half curious.
“I don’t pry, but sometimes I pick up on your emotions without even noticing.”
“But did you know how I felt about you?” I say in a rush.
Erenel thinks for a moment. “Not really. I mean, I knew that you didn’t exactly object to my presence, but I was worried that I was intimidating you into liking me.”
I laugh at this unbelievable concept. “Aren’t you supposed to be good at this sort of thing?”
“I am!” he says indignantly. “What I’m guessing happened is that you thought about me so much that I couldn’t tell. Either that or you were massively confused.
“A bit of both, actually,” I admit.
“I was right?”
I frown thoughtfully. “I suppose so, but I didn’t realise I was that confused. I liked you from the beginning, though I didn’t notice at the time. Maybe I didn’t want to like you... Not really caring about someone is easier than falling for them when you don’t know how they feel in return. But that dream... It made me realise how I really felt about everything.”
“I’m glad you realised.”
Sitting quietly, I can’t help thinking about the dream yet again. It’s an unimaginably awful feeling, seeing Erenel go off with Lisa like that. Unaware of my actions, I lean a tiny bit closer to him.
“You don’t need to think about it,” he says comfortingly. “It didn’t happen, Natalie, and it’s not going to happen. I don’t even like Lisa.”
“I know that. I just can’t stop thinking about it. It was just so... so awful, I don’t –”
He places his finger lightly over my mouth. “You don’t need to tell me, Natalie. I already know. Just try to think about something else. What do I have to do to take your mind off it?”
I shake my head. It’ll fade if I don’t think about it.
“You don’t like Lisa?” I ask conversationally.
“She’s pleasant enough, I suppose. I’m sure she’s different face-to-face.”
I sometimes forget that Erenel hasn’t met any of the people that we talk about. His connection with my mind means that I should feel invaded, but I don’t. It feels natural. He doesn’t spy on me; he isn’t another version of me; we aren’t related – we’re separate people who have an amazing connection. A connection I don’t quite understand...
“I still don’t get how the whole observation thing works,” I admit. I’ve puzzled about this for a while now, and I can’t get rid of the mental image of him tuning into my life on a television screen.
He frowns thoughtfully for a moment before replying. “It’s the same as the thought-reading. I just watch you in my mind, whenever I want.” He says it as though he’s commenting on the weather.
“But how do you know when you should stop observing me?” I ask. “Do I get... censored or something?” I cringe inwardly when I realise how clueless I sound.
“You’re so adorable when you’re clueless,” he laughs.
“You’ve not answered my question,” I remind him, with a smile filling my entire body. I just got called adorable!
“It’s not really hard to guess. Besides, I don’t sit for hours upon end gazing at you. I know your routines, and your thoughts generally tell me what you’re doing before I see you.”
“Confusing,” I murmur. “What’s the point of it? Why do your people need to see us?”
“It’s the way our world works,” he replies briefly, and I know that he could explain it for hours given the chance. “There’s a lot of history involved... I wouldn’t think too much about it – you do look tired.”
I nod, and yawn right on cue. How wonderful it is to be in love, and to be loved in return. We’ve got all weekend together, too. Envisioning the days ahead, I slip into the most delicious sleep that I’ve had for a very long time.