THE SOUND OF MY MOTHER’S VOICE SHOCKED me awake.
“Happy birthday!” She stood next to my bed and smiled down at me. “She’s awake, guys! Come on in.”
I watched numbly as the rest of my family paraded into my room, carrying a stack of pancakes with a candle in the middle. “Happy birthday,” they sang.
“And many moooooreeee,” Joseph added, with jazz hands.
I put my face in my hands and tugged on my skin. I didn’t even remember going to sleep last night, but here I was in bed this morning. Waking up from my dream-memory-nightmare about the asylum.
And about the Everglades?
What happened last night? What happened that night? What happened to me? What happened?
My father pushed the plate at me. A tiny droplet of wax rolled down the side of the candle and lingered, trembling like a lone tear, before it hit the first pancake. I didn’t want it to fall. I took the plate and blew the candle out.
“It’s nine thirty,” my mother said. “Enough time for you to eat something and shower before Noah picks you up.” She brushed a strand of hair out of my face. My eyes wandered to Daniel. He winked at me. Then my gaze shifted to my father, who didn’t look as thrilled with this plan. Joseph beamed and waggled his eyebrows. He didn’t look tired. He didn’t look afraid.
And my shoulder didn’t hurt.
Did I dream it?
I wanted to ask Joseph, but I didn’t see how to get him alone. If it had happened, if he had been taken, I couldn’t let my mother know—not until I spoke to Noah. And if it hadn’t happened, I couldn’t let my mother know. Because she would have me committed for sure.
And at this point, I would be completely unable to argue with her.
I hovered on the edge of the dream and the memory, unable to tell which was which, as I accepted my family’s kisses and my present, a digital camera. I thanked them. They left. I pushed one leg out of bed, then the other, and planted my feet on the floor. Then one foot, then the next foot, until I reached my bathroom. Rain lashed the small window and I stared straight at the shower door, hovering between the vanity and the toilet. I couldn’t look in the mirror.
I remembered that night. Only when I was unconscious, apparently, and only in pieces, but they were taking on the shape of something enormous and terrifying. Something ugly. I rooted around for the rest of the memory—there was Jude, that asshole, that coward, and what he tried to do and then, and then—nothing. Blackness. The memory slipped away, retreating into the inscrutable vastness of my frontal lobe. It taunted me, niggled at me, and I was angry with it and the world by the time Noah knocked on the front door to pick me up.
“Ready?” he asked. He held an umbrella, but the wind unsteadied his arm. I examined his face. The bruise was gone, and there were only the smallest traces of the lacerations above his eye.
They couldn’t have healed that much in one night.
Which meant that last night had to have been a nightmare. All of it. The asylum. The Everglades. Had to have been.
I realized then that Noah was still standing there, waiting for me to answer. I nodded, and we made a break for it.
“So,” Noah said once we were both in the car. He pushed back his damp hair. “Where to?” His voice was casual.
That confirmed it. I stared past him, at a plastic bag caught in the neighbor’s hedge across the street, being battered by the rain.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, studying me.
I was acting crazy. I did not want to act crazy. I swallowed the question I wanted to ask about the Everglades last night because it wasn’t real.
“Bad dream,” I said, and the corner of my mouth curved into a slight smile.
Noah looked at me through rain-jeweled lashes. His blue eyes held mine. “About what?”
About what, indeed. About Joseph? About Jude? I didn’t know what was real, what was a nightmare, what was a memory.
So I told Noah the truth. “I don’t remember.”
He stared at the road ahead of us. “Would you want to?”
His question caught me off guard. Would I want to remember?
Did I have a choice?
The sound of the doors rang in my ears. I heard the tug of my zipper as Jude pulled it down. Then Rachel’s voice echoing in the hall, in my skull. Then she was gone. I never heard her again.
But maybe … maybe I did. Maybe she came for me, and I just didn’t remember it yet. She called for me, and maybe she came before the building crushed her—
Before it crushed her. Before it crushed Jude who crushed me. My mouth went dry. Some phantom memory teased my brain, announcing its presence. This was important, but I didn’t know why.
“Mara?” Noah’s voice reunited me with the present. We were stopped at a red light, and rain pounded on the windshield in waves. The palm trees on the median swayed and bent, threatening to snap. But they wouldn’t. They were strong enough to take it.
And so was I.
I turned back to Noah and focused my eyes on his. “I think not knowing is worse,” I said. “I’d rather remember.”
When I spoke those words, it hit me with exquisite clarity. Everything that had happened—the hallucinations, the paranoia, the nightmares—it was just me needing to know, needing to understand what happened that night. What happened to Rachel. What happened to me. I remembered telling as much to Dr. Maillard just a week and a half ago and she smiled at me, telling me I couldn’t force it.
But maybe, just maybe, I could.
Maybe I could choose.
So I chose. “I need to remember,” I said to Noah with an intensity that surprised us both. And then, “Can you help me?”
He turned away. “How?”
Now that I knew what was wrong, I knew how to fix it. “A hypnotist.”
“A hypnotist,” Noah repeated slowly.
“Yes.” My mother didn’t believe in it. She believed in therapy and in drugs that could take weeks, months, years. I didn’t have that kind of time. My life was unraveling, my universe was unraveling, and I needed to know what happened to me now. Not tomorrow. And not Thursday, at my next appointment. Now. Today.
Noah said nothing, but dug into his pocket for his cell phone as he drove with one hand. He dialed and I heard it ring.
“Hello, Albert. Can you get me an appointment with a hypnotist this afternoon?”
I didn’t comment on Albert the butler. I was too excited. Too anxious.
“I know it’s Saturday,” he said. “Just let me know what you find out? Thanks.”
He hung up the phone. “He’s going to text me back. In the meantime, did you have anything you wanted to do today?”
I shook my head.
“Well,” he said, “I’m hungry. So how about lunch?”
“Whatever you want,” I said, and Noah smiled at me, but it was sad.
When we turned on to Calle Ocho, I knew where we were going. He pulled into the parking lot of the Cuban place and we darted into the restaurant, which was still insanely busy despite the epic flood.
I felt well enough to smile at the memory of the last time we ate here as we waited near the dessert counter to be seated. I heard the hiss and spit of onions meeting hot oil, and my mouth watered as I scanned the bulletin board next to the counter. Ads for real estate, ads for seminars—
I moved closer to the board.
Please join Botanica Seis for the seminar “Unlocking the Secrets of Your Mind and of Your Past,” with Abel Lukumi, ordained high priest. March 15th, $30.00 per person, walk-ins welcome.
Just then, our waiter appeared. “Follow me, please.”
“One second,” I said, still staring at the flier. Noah caught my eye and read the text.
“You want to go?” he asked.
Unlocking secrets. I turned the phrase over, chewing on my lower lip as I stared at the flier. Why not? “You know what? I do.”
“Even though you know it’s going to be New Age, spiritual nonsense.”
“Even though you don’t believe in that stuff.”
Noah checked his cell phone. “No word from Albert. And the seminar starts in,” he checked the flier and then his phone, “ten minutes.”
“So we can go?” I asked, a real smile forming on my lips this time.
“We can go,” Noah said. He let our waiter know that we wouldn’t be sitting, and turned to the counter to order something to go.
“Do you want anything?” he asked. I felt his eyes on me as I looked in the glass case.
“Can I share with you?”
A quiet smile transformed Noah’s face. “Absolutely.”