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It was another restless night for Jamie. The third one this week and it was only Wednesday. She had been incapable of reaching an unconscious state for the past two months. Every night around nine she would get in her bed, shut her eyes and will herself to sleep. But after 30 minutes she would throw the blankets off of her in frustration and climb out of bed, going over to her computer and playing solitaire until she felt her eyes burn with sleepiness. Then she’d walk back over and climb into her bed only to find her body and, most importantly, her mind unwilling to sleep. Frustration would mount and sometimes she’d have to suppress tears, she’d bury her face in her pillow and whimper loudly until her face hurt.
Turning over she looked up at her ceiling, the color of vanilla frosting. She specifically chose that color when she was thirteen; her mother had agreed to upgrade her room from the style of her once six-year old self. She traded in the bubble gum pink carpet for hardwood floor and a large sandy brown rug. Her collection of stuffed animals now rested in a long oak trunk she positioned below the sill of her window that overlooked the spacious backyard. She walked over toward the window and knelt onto the trunk. It was black outside, the tiny lights that surrounded the pond slightly illuminated the frost on the grass. The pool was covered as winter was in its beginning stages. She stared up at the sky, small slits known as stars were not as remarkable from this distance. The moon was hidden somewhere far away in the sky. She shut her eyes, contemplating a prayer. Sleep, Lord, I just want to sleep, she begged. She pressed her forehead against the cold window, her heart filled with desperation. Fifteen minutes and she could not push herself into unconsciousness. She walked into her bathroom, opened the cabinet above the sink and grabbed the one bottle that was almost empty, it wasn’t even like they worked but they were at least a comfort. She swallowed the two sleeping pills and shut the cabinet.
Her parents and younger brother were sound asleep. As she walked down the hall of the third floor past each one of their doors she envied them. Even their Golden Retriever lied comfortably in his doggy pallet in the corner of the living room. She walked softly down the winding stair case into the kitchen. She dug in the freezer for a carton of vanilla ice cream, grabbed a spoon and headed to the basement. The basement was her father’s pride and joy, he had spent years remodeling it into a theatre-slash-arcade. On the left side is where the retro arcade machines and modern consoles were. To the right was a door that led to a state of the art home theatre. A 60inch flat screen television was mounted onto the wall and ten brown plush leather recliner seats were perfectly lined up to mimic the rows of a theatre. Jamie grabbed the huge complex remote and flipped on the television. Flicking through a list of movie titles she settled on an old 1930s silent movie. She had no interest in the plot. As the film rolled she opened her carton of ice cream and began shoveling its contents into her mouth.
This was her routine, had been for the past two months that sleep had evaded her: she’d swallow two “organic” sleeping pills bought from Whole Foods, grab a carton of ice cream and lazily watch a movie until she felt so heavy with fatigue she had no choice but to succumb to it. The only problem was, it never worked. Every night she’d feel the weight of tiredness but it was never enough to push her to sleep. The film would end, she’d shut off the television, take the empty carton upstairs to throw away and look at the clock on the oven that blinked 1:00 am. She would go back to her room and either try to finish some homework for her online classes or read a book. But tonight those options were not ones that satisfied her. She needed to get out. As enormous as her house was, she felt suffocated.
Not bothering to change out of her silk pajamas she grabbed her father’s large winter coat, stuffed her feet in her black combat boots and grabbed her keys off the counter. Maybe if she drove around, got lost somewhere for a bit she could clear her mind, come back and be able to sleep for at least half an hour. She backed her car out of the garage, unsure as to where she was headed. It was now 1:20 a.m., her gated community was quiet and still. Tiny flakes of snow dropped on her windshield, she wiped them away and drove toward the exit of the gates where she punched in the code and drove off into the night.
Julian sat in the corner booth of the twenty-four hour café. He ordered a hot chocolate with skim milk. It was the heat from this drink that usually took the edge off his anxiety. As he slowly sipped the warm milk, he watched the emptiness of downtown. There were no cars parallel parked outside of shops, no sea of people rushing to get from one end of the street to the next. All that remained were the tall lamp posts, the frost framing the windows and this shop that stayed opened all night. This was where he spent most of his nights, alone and huddled over a cup of hot chocolate. He wasn’t really bothered by the loneliness, in fact he preferred solitude. Alone, there were no questions. Ever since he was eleven years old that’s all people ever did was bombard him with questions. It was at this time that he really got to soak in loneliness. The milk warmed him inside and he felt his eyes droop. Was it coming? He wondered. The drowsiness was like foreplay—forever teasing him but rarely leading anywhere. He was almost about finish with his drink when he heard the chiming of the bell above the door. He did a double take at the person walking in. They were wearing a pair of nude or beige colored pajama bottoms, black boots and a monstrous brown coat. This didn’t look like of the care’s usual nightly customers that wandered in around this time. All the insomniacs, drunks, and loners had specific schedules and he knew, at least by face, every single person who walked in the café after one o’clock in the morning. There were the occasional love sick couple, but this person was alone. He thought to laugh then caught himself, what if this person might be here to rob the place? A sharp pang of panic ran throughout his body leaving him momentarily paralyzed. Is this how I will die? Will the thief even bother with a gun, and of all places, why a coffee shop? He looked over his shoulder for the back door and contemplated his escape route before the potential robber could notice him. Then he saw the person lift their hands and pull back the hood, he was jarred to see a head full of black kinky curls pulled up into in a high messy bun. He didn’t know why but the sight of a female made him feel a bit more at ease, he doubted she would actually have a gun and if she did plan on robbing the shop and noticed him he thought he’d be able to take her. Her slim body was swallowed in a coat five sizes too big. Why was she wearing pajamas, was she homeless? He heard her speak, “Could I have a large Jasmine tea?” Her voice was soft and small, it reminded him of velvet. The middle aged woman turned her back to make the girl’s drink. He went back to drinking his own, deciding he should probably be getting back home. He might even be able to catch one of his friends online and play a quick game of Modern Warfare.
The girl’s nails made a drumming sound along the counter and she turned her head. Instantly he was caught off guard by how stunning she was. Her skin was the color of peanut butter, her eyes were huge, brown and clouded with the dark circles under them. Her cheeks were round and high, her nose small and mouth just as tiny. He thought she looked somewhere in between sixteen and nineteen. Her eyes fell on him and she looked surprised to see him staring at her. She gave a slight smile and turned back around when the waitress told her the price of her tea. She dug her hand in her left pocket and fished around and pulled out nothing. She reached into her right pocket and again pulled out nothing. She gave a short nervous laugh but by the look of the waitress’ face she didn’t find anything funny. The girl patted down the huge coat and sighed, “Shoot”. He smiled to himself, how cute was this little girl she didn’t even curse. The woman was reaching to take the drink away when he said, “I got it”. The words surprised him, did they come out of my mouth? The girl turned to look at him and shook her head.
“Oh, no, you don’t have to do that.”
“It’s ok.” He walked over to the counter, reached in his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. He handed the woman a five dollar bill, “Keep the change,” he smiled while his inside self was screaming, what the hell are you doing? The girl looked up at him with her huge tired eyes.
“Thank you, I promise I can pay you back if you just leave me your number or something.”
He chuckled, “Its ok, really, don’t worry about it. You look like you could use a cup of tea.” With a closer look at her face she looked like she hadn’t slept in days. A tiny wrinkle was indenting itself in the middle of her forehead and the whites of her eyes were a faint red. He felt bad for the girl, she had to be homeless, or at least a runaway, he thought, that would be the only way to explain why she wondered into the shop for a drink with no money to pay for it. He wondered how she’d gotten to be this way, was she a teen mother, were her parents dead, was she strung out on drugs? He realized he had been staring openly at the girl for too long and averted eye contact.
“Thank you,” she said, “but you have to tell me how I can pay you back” she said. He looked back at her.
“Sit with me.” He thought that at least for these few moments he could shield this poor stranger from the harsh reality of her circumstances.
The girl slid into the booth across from Julian and wrapped her slight hands around the green mug of tea. The steam brought the red out of her skin and spread along her cheeks. The sight disoriented him and he found himself lost for words. What was he thinking inviting this hauntingly beautiful girl to sit with him when he was the last person on earth that could hold a conversation outside of his friends or online which mainly involved obscene vulgarities. He bit his bottom lip trying to force down the anxiety. The girl didn’t seem disturbed. She put her small lips to the edge of the mug and sipped the scalding tea then hissed in pain.
“You all right?” he asked, trying to hold back the grin on his face. She fanned her tongue and nodded. The grin was too hard to fight and his face broke out into a full blown smile. She cut her eyes at him but the corners of her mouth turned up and they were both smirking at one another. “So”, she said once she gained feeling in her tongue, “What’s a guy like you doing in an all-night café?”
“A guy like me, what’s that supposed to mean?” he said, still smirking. She looked him up and down—Nike shoes, Levi jeans and a Polo hoodie. He looked down at his clothes then chuckled. “Don’t judge a book by its cover, isn’t that what they teach you in school” he said.
Her eyebrows raised and she gave him another sarcastic look.
“What” he asked still not being able to shake the smile off his face.
She shook her head, “Isn’t a bit too late for you to be out?”
“Sorry Mom, I didn’t know I still had a curfew at this age.”
She took a sip of her tea and shut her eyes, appearing to revel in its warmth.
“If you must know, I have a little trouble sleeping so most nights I come here since it’s the only thing open in this boring town” he said. Her eyes widened, but she didn’t speak, she took another long gulp of her tea.
“What about you” he asked, “you look a bit young to be out at-”, he checked his watch, “two in the morning?”
She set the mug down and rolled her eyes, “I’ll be twenty-one in three months thank you very much.”
He didn’t even pretend to hide the absolute shock that struck his face, twenty-one, she looked like she was twelve. Ok he was exaggerating but she definitely didn’t look that old.
Catching the disbelief on his face she snapped, “Well how old are you Mr. Investigator?”
He didn’t want to say. He was afraid that if he did, something in her would change. She’d probably call him a baby, make claims that he was too young and high tail it out of there. So he lied.
“Twenty” he said.
She nodded and took another large gulp of tea.
“You know, tea is meant to be savored” he said, wanting to return to the banter, “not gulped down like a fish just thrown back in water.”
She cut him a fierce look and made an obnoxious swallowing noise as she downed the rest of her drink. When she set the mug down her face looked slightly more refreshed. The dark circles were still deep and the wrinkle still visible but her face looked a bit more vibrant.
“You still haven’t told me why you’re out so late” he asked, trying to confirm whether or not she was homeless.
“Same reason as you”
“You have trouble sleeping?”
“Only for the past two months”.
He made a psh sound with his mouth, “That’s nothing. I’ve been like this since I was thirteen” he said, instantly regretting it. Now she would ask “Why”, the one question in the world he hated more than anything. She shrugged her shoulders instead and looked out the window. He then posed the exact question he hated onto her.
“Why haven’t you been able to sleep?” She shrugged her shoulders,
“Not something I’m really interested in talking about”, she looked over her shoulder then back in his direction, “actually, I think it’s time I leave.” She was scooting toward the edge of the booth. “Wait”, he said, louder than he’d meant for it to sound. She paused. “At least let me drive you home, it’s way too cold to walk”
“You’ve been kind enough” she said, “plus, I didn’t walk.” She stood up and made her way toward the door. His mind was torn in frenzy, he couldn’t understand the desire he had for her not to leave, but he didn’t know what to do to make her stay. He didn’t know this woman, she was too old and he still hadn’t figured out if she was homeless. But for some reason he slid out his side of the booth and went after her.
Jamie had barely made it outside before the boy burst out of the door after her. “Hey, wait”, he said. The clouds of smoke that pushed out of his mouth whirled around before disappearing. She looked at him confused. She knew she should have never accepted his money. Hadn’t her mother always taught her that if you let a man buy you anything he’s going to expect something in return. Well if this stranger thought he was going to get something out of her, he had another thing coming. “I know this is going to sound crazy, but you said you had trouble sleeping and it’s not like there’s anything else opened at this time so why go back home just to not sleep.” His words were rushed and his light eyes were passionate. The pleading in his voice made her uneasy, but he did have a point. The last thing she wanted to do was go back home to her peacefully sleeping family and be tormented with the ever illusive notion of rest.
“Well I definitely don’t want to sit in a café for the rest of the night” she said, trying to fight back the cold that was attacking her legs through the satin pajamas. She should have at least put on some sweats, but then again she planned on grabbing the tea and leaving.
“We don’t have to” was all he said.
“You said yourself there’s nothing else opened at this time so what exactly do you suggest we do?”
He shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans and bounced up and down looking above her head.
“There’s the beach” he said.
She cut her eyes at him dangerously, “You are aware of the fact that it’s November right?”
“I know, that’s where my house is. We could hang out there. ”
Was he serious? She thought.
He laughed, “Oh, right” he exclaimed, finally getting it, “you don’t know me from Adam. Look, I promise I’m not going to kill you or rape you or whatever you may or may not be thinking” he held his hands up innocently, “I’ve just never met another person who…we’re alike in a way. You’re an insomniac, I’m an insomniac…I don’t know.”
“That was probably the most convincing argument anyone could give a stranger when suggesting they drive with them almost half an hour away to a house on a deserted beach.” she said sarcastically.
The smile on his face was fading as he contemplated her actually not coming. She rolled her eyes, wasn’t this what she had set out for tonight—an adventure? Sure, she didn’t know the guy and she could be regretting this a few hours later if she did end up buried in a ditch somewhere. But there was something about him, so warm and open. It could be her sleep deprived mind messing with her but whatever she did, she was not going back home to confront that unavoidable truth.
“All right”, she agreed, “but I swear if you even think of trying to-”. He laughed, cutting her off, “Trust me.”
Sitting in the passenger seat of his silver Camry she couldn’t believe what she was doing. The only sound in the car was the blasting of the heat. She kept peeking over at him, ready for the moment he did something suspect. What would she do if he had decided to pull over and choke or rape her? These weren’t things she spent much time thinking about because she had never seen herself ending up in a stranger’s car at almost 3 in the morning. She couldn’t really make out his face in the darkness of the car and she hadn’t paid much attention to what he looked like when they were in the café. She just knew he was tall, it was probably the only thing that stuck out to her. He was over six feet making her feel like a puny bug he could step on if he felt compelled.
“Any request”, his voice broke her thinking and she looked over at him holding up his iPod. She shook her head.
“I don’t think you’d have the type of music I’m interested in”
“What makes you think that? You know, you’re going to have to stop trying to stuff me into this premade box” his words, although truthful, stung. Why was she so defensive—he hadn’t given her a reason not to trust him, yet. “Sorry”, she said and reached for the iPod. She scrolled through the playlists, most of which were titles to songs she had either never heard of or didn’t like. “How about we talk” she suggested, setting the iPod in the empty ashtray.
“Ok, what do you want to talk about”.
“Well, I guess we could start by formally introducing ourselves” she looked over at him, waiting for him to begin. He turned his head toward her waiting for her to say something. He laughed, “Well, aren’t you going to start?”
“Oh, right, ok I’m Jamie I’m twenty years old and I live with my parents” she shrugged. He nodded, so she wasn’t homeless, or a runaway. He felt a bit embarrassed of his judgments of her.
“Nice to meet you Jamie. My name is Julian, I’m also twenty and I too live with my parents, well parent.”
“Looks like we’ve got a lot in common Julian” Jamie remarked. He nodded, trying to get the bitter taste of the lie out of his mouth.
A few beats of silence passed before one of them spoke again.
“So Julian, what is it that keeps you up at all hours of the night” Jamie asked as she absently looked out the window. She could tell they were approaching the beach because of the glitter of snowy sand that lit up the black night. Julian gripped the steering wheel and clenched his jaw. For a moment he considered that what he was doing—bringing a strange girl to his mom’s home—was the last thing he should have done. What he should have been doing was sitting in the basement playing Call of Duty until one of his friends told him to “f*** off” because they were going to bed. He was relieved when he saw the drive way and pulled into the garage. “Here we are”, he said, hoping she wouldn’t press her question any further. Jamie stepped out of the car into the tiny garage. It was nothing like the four car garage her father had built. Julian led her through a door of the garage that connected to the house. As she stepped in she was greeted with the soft scent of cinnamon. Her stomach rumbled and she bit her lip hoping the noise wasn’t too noticeable.
“Hungry?” he asked, grateful to start a new subject.
Julian slid out of his shoes and shrugged off his hoddie. Jamie pulled her bare feet out of the boots and shivered at the feel of the icy linoleum. He looked down at her tiny feet, toes painted soft beige—a beautiful contrast against her peanut butter skin. “I’ll get you some socks, follow me.” He said. She tip toed after him, up the narrow stair case and down a short hallway. His room was the middle door on the right. When he opened the door she was immediately confronted with clutter.
“How do you even manage to sleep in here”, she asked as he stepped over scattered clothes and books and video games and whatever else boys shoved in their rooms.
“Easy”, he said, flopping himself on his futon bed. She shook her head. She was not stepping foot into his room, disorganization was something that threw her off balance and made her feel almost nauseous.
“What’s the matter”, he asked, “Don’t worry there aren’t any roaches or bugs. Mom makes sure of that”
“So your mother is your maid?” she cocked an eyebrow
“No. Man, are you harsh. She just comes in and folds my clothes and vacuums”
“How old did you say you were again?”
He felt heat rush toward his face. This girl was asking all of the wrong questions. He got up and opened the top drawer, pulling out socks.
“Think fast” he said chucking the long white Nike socks at her. She caught them.
“Are you sure these are clean”, she held them at arm’s length.
“Yes, Jamie” he sighed.
She stared at them suspiciously.
She unfolded the socks and inspected them further, stainless white and they smelled like a pine forest fabric softener scent. She decided to “trust him” and put on the socks. He laughed.
“What” she barked.
He shook his head, “I don’t think you could look any more ridiculous if you tried.” She looked down at herself—she still had on her father’s mountainous brown coat, not to mention her nude colored silk pajamas and now large tube socks that were bunched up around her ankles.
“That’s a nice thing to say to your house guest”, she said.
He chuckled and shook his head again, “I’m sorry it’s just that when you came into the café I actually thought you were either homeless or a runaway.”
Her mouth plopped open and the wrinkle in her forehead deepened, “Is that why you paid for my drink?” He nodded. “I can’t believe you!” she screamed.
“What, it’s not every day I see a very small girl walking into a café wearing pajamas and a coat twenty sizes too big for and orders something she doesn’t even have money for, well that isn’t true actually. Plenty of homeless people and runaways come into the café, but I know them all by face at least. You, you were different.”
She rolled her eyes, “I live in Tinker’s Hills thank you very much.” She folded her arms trying to hold onto a little dignity.
Julian shook his head, “Looking like that, I find that hard to believe.”
Her face continued to grow angrier, “I drive a BMW M3, my father owns Gilbert Brothers” she snapped.
“Woah”, was all he could find the words for.
Gilbert Brothers was a well-known chain of hardware stores throughout the entire country, the company itself was worth about 30 million dollars. Suddenly he felt ashamed-of his room, his house, his self.
Satisfaction settled on her face.
“What the hell were you doing in Parkside then” he asked,
“Nothing is in Tinker’s Hill, definitely nothing that stays open past 9’oclock anyway”
“But why even leave your house, I’ve seen those things they’re like the size of mini malls. You probably have any and everything you could ever imagine.”
She rolled her eyes, now irritated that she had said anything in the first place. People’s attitude toward her always changes when they find out who her father is and she hated it. Yes, her father owned a highly profitable company and yes, she lived a privileged life but she was only forced to stay in their house until she was deemed “fully recovered” by her doctors and her mother.
“Are you going to give me a tour or are you just going to stand there judging me” she finally said.
“I don’t think my house is worthy in comparison to what you’re use to”
The house was two floors and very narrow. There was a wide window in the living room that overlooked the water. Plants surrounded each room, exotic plants that Jamie had never seen before. There was minimal furniture, but what struck her the most were the walls of the entire living that were covered with a collage of pictures. They weren’t in frames like normal homes. They were pasted to the walls like a college kid’s dorm. Jamie was intrigued by all of the faces and tried to find Julian in one of them.
“Is this your father?” she asked, pointing to a tall slim man with skin the color of chestnut, a long prominent nose and a wide smiling face.
“You look just like him”.
Jamie looked up at Julian. He had his father’s height, his brown skin, long face and prominent nose. He was actually very handsome. Julian wasn’t interested in talking about it any further. He opened a door leading to the basement. Jamie looked at it hesitantly.
“If I was going to attack you do you really think I’d be this obvious about it”, Julian asked sarcastically.
“I guess not”, she said and followed him downstairs.
Julian flipped the light switch and was a little embarrassed about the junk on the floor, the basement was his domain. Everything from clothes to empty bowls were scattered around. He shoved the clothes off of the brown couch and gestured for Jamie to have a seat. Jamie clamped her mouth shut but she could feel the anxiety rising in her, the sight of things out of order caused her skin to chill like being pierced with a thousand tiny threading needles.
“What’s wrong?” he asked. Jamie shook her head, unable to speak. She felt very small, like the room was going to close in on her.
Not tonight Jamie, not here, not in front of a stranger, she ordered herself.
“Jamie” he walked over to her peering into her worried face. Jamie shut her eyes and shook her head,
“It’s fine, I’m fine” she said, letting out a deep breath and going to sit on the couch. Julian was confused but didn’t want to press the issue. He went over and sat next to her.
“So is this the great adventure you’ve invited me to be a part of” she asked looking around at the clutter on the floor, she found an empty Call of Duty Black Ops video case and picked it up.
“You have this” she shouted, he smiled and nodded.
“I am the queen at Black Ops”, she boasted.
“That’s funny ‘cause I happen to be the king at Black Ops.” She raised an eyebrow inquisitively,
“We have to play.” He laughed, surprised at the fact that this outrageously beautiful and rich girl even knew what Call of Duty Black Ops was let alone how to play. He turned on the game, set up the two player version and they began playing. Jamie finally took off her father’s coat and focused intensely on the screen. She was an excellent shooter and had a keen skill at retreating from the zombies with enough time to reload or purchase a new weapon. There were times when she had to go back and rescue Julian who had been knocked down by the army of zombies. They made for a great team. An hour had passed before they finally decided to end the game.
“Well I think we know who’s better at this game” Jamie said.
“Yeah, me” Julian replied.
“Yeah, right how many times did I have to go back and save you again?”
“It’s an off night for me, come back and play me when I’m more alert”. Jamie rolled her eyes.
“How’d you get so good at the game anyway” Julian asked after a beat of silence.
“Oh, so now you admit I’m good”
“I never said you weren’t, you just aren’t better than me”
“Whatever. My little brother would force me to play the game with him for hours, I sort of became a pro at it”
“So are you one of those gamer chicks”
“Are you a girl who’s obsessed with video games?”
“Well what do you like to do” Julian asked.
Jamie sighed, “I don’t really know. These days I’m just kind of in and out of it you know.”
Julian didn’t know but he nodded his head anyway.
“I use to love running track, that’s what got me to college, a full ride until-” she stopped, looking down at her hands which were beginning to shake, she clenched them into fist.
Julian noticed this too, “Until what?” he asked.
She shook her head, “Nothing.” They were quiet for a while after that.
Jamie’s stomach roared loudly again which furthered her growing frustration.
“You sure you aren’t hungry?” Julian asked, concerned.
She shook her head.
“You’re a stubborn girl, come on let’s go get something to eat” Julian led the way back upstairs. Jamie sat on one of the barstools at the kitchen’s island while Julian searched through the fridge.
“Dammit”, he hissed, slamming the door, “There’s nothing here, my mom forgot to go grocery shopping”
“You are such a little boy”
He didn’t like that, was she going to call out the fact that he wasn’t as old as he claimed to be?
“We can go to that burger spot up the road. It’s the only place that stays open on the beach all year”, he suggested.
Jamie shrugged, she could use the fresh air and from the contractions in her stomach, a burger.
“Can we walk?” she asked when they stepped into the garage.
“In this weather?”
“I’m dressed for it”, she held out her tiny arms which were hidden in the swollen sleeves of her father’s coat. They walked out of the garage and onto the dock.
Jamie soaked in the fierce air biting away at her face. She didn’t put her hood up, she liked the tingle sensation of the wind piercing her scalp, it washed away the anxiety she felt while in his house. The narrowness and clutter made her lungs feel compressed. She was tired. She was hungry. But overall, she was stuck. There was something inside of her chest trying profusely to break free but continued to run into her rib cage bruising her and finding no escape. Tonight she wasn’t settling for it, whatever it was inside of her that she had kept caged for close to two years, she was letting go of. She spread her arms like wings and lift her head back, the light snow had let up but something about being here in the cold made her feel free, or maybe she was just delusional from the lack of sleep.
Julian looked over at her and laughed, this night had completely taken a direction he hadn’t prepared for. He hadn’t really prepared for anything. He was supposed to have finished his hot chocolate, sat around people watching until he felt he’d fall out of his chair from extreme drowsiness and then returned to an empty home where he would either lay around on the couch dipping in and out of light sleep until the sun came up or threw on a video game he’d play until his thumbs locked up. The last thing he imagined he’d be doing was walking down the boardwalk to an all-night burger diner at close to 5 in the morning with a beautiful stranger. He was still surprised she had even agreed to come with him. It was still a mystery as to why he felt so compelled to chase after her or even pay for her drink. With all the people that wandered into the café he never really batted an eye at them but for some reason tonight he looked up and saw someone he’d never seen before and who turned out to be this amazingly funny and sarcastic girl. He decided not to spend any more time questioning it. Had he’d wasted time thinking he probably wouldn’t have went after her which would have altered every inch of this night. This was something straight out of a movie, he thought, and he was going with it.
“Feeling better?” he asked.
“Yes” she shouted into the open air, “I want to jump into the water” she cried.
“You do know that it’s partially frozen”
“I don’t care” she said, suddenly taking off running.
“Jamie” he called after her small body wobbling over toward the sand. He had no choice but to jog after her.
Forget food she thought, she wanted to feel alive. That thing locked in her chest was beating wildly, pushing her almost toward the sea. This was why she came out tonight, to do something ridiculous, something adventurous, something that would set this caged thing inside of her free. She was half hoping that whatever she did would tire her to the point where sleep couldn’t possibly be evaded. Her breathing was increasing and her heart thundered as she quickly approached the water. “Jamie”, she heard the faint sound of her name but that didn’t stop her from kicking off her boots and rushing into the water. The icy waves crashed into her skin sending her into shock then breaking her into a wild panic. She let out a piercing scream and trudged as quickly as she could out of the freezing water that didn’t seem to want to let her go. Julian was standing there watching her in a mixture of horror and confusion. “What is wrong with you”, he asked. “What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with me is that I haven’t been able to sleep for the past two f*ing months ever since I stopped taking those stupid meds. I’ve been a walking zombie, trapped in my house while everyone else is asleep”. The words were spilling out of her like vomit, she couldn’t stop them. Julian stood still watching her shiver like a wet puppy. He wanted to do something but he didn’t know exactly what. The short spark of adrenaline reached its peak and now Jamie’s body felt sluggish and heavy. She was sure that she was going to get frost bite up to her shins as she shivered in icy pain. “Come on, let’s you back” he said, bending down to pick her up. “What are you doing? Put me down” she demanded but was too weak to fight him. She felt herself being lifted what felt like twenty feet in the air. He carried her shivering and twitching body like a pup he’d rescued from drowning. They didn’t speak as he marched back to his house. Tears were forming at the corner of her eyes from the pain oscillating throughout her body and the swelling anger that roared in the pit of her stomach. Julian kicked opened the door of the house and hiked up the stairs toward his room. He sat her down on the bed despite her objection. He opened his bottom drawer and pulled out a pair of gray sweat pants then handed them to her. He stepped out of the room to allow her to change. When she confirmed she was decent he walked back in. She was sitting on the bed with her face buried in her lap. “You want to talk about what that was?” he asked. She sighed, exasperated. There was no since in trying to pretend she didn’t know what he was talking about. Despite the fresh pair of pants, her body still shivered and the tears were threatening to spill. Her body felt like a mass of heavy weight she was too weak to carry and the eruption in her chest hadn’t let up. She wanted to confront everything and at the same time from it all. She lifted her head, but kept her eyes on the cluttered floor. “About year and a half ago I got into an accident,” she said, “my boyfriend, well ex-boyfriend, was driving too fast. It was dark and I told him to slow down. He wasn’t drunk or anything, we were just arguing. I don’t even remember what about. All I remember is him making this turn, it was so sharp and I heard shattering then my head smacked something hard and everything went…black. Two days later I woke up in the hospital with both my legs in casts, my left arm in a sling and gauze wrapped around my head which had been split open.” She shook her head trying to get the tears to disappear but they were all over her face by now. “I couldn’t run track for the rest of the season, I couldn’t train. I lost my scholarship. Yes, I could have had my father pay my tuition, easy, but I didn’t want him to. To be honest, I didn’t even want to go back to school. Nothing was the same, I didn’t want any of the help I was getting but I told my parents I was fine but I was going f*ing crazy. I was sick of MRI’s, physical therapy, rehab. My ex-boyfriend wasn’t hurt as bad as me. He fractured his wrist and had to have stitches down his face-” she waved it off with her hand, “we broke up. I mean what was left for us? We weren’t meant to last anyway. I dropped-well failed out of school, really, and my mother begged me to come back home so she could personally see that I was getting better. I eventually enrolled in some online classes. I couldn’t sleep but at least then I was able to just drown enough pain medication to knock me out. Eventually my parents saw how depended I was on the meds they took them away, forced me back into therapy which does absolutely nothing because I won’t want to talk. I just want to f*ing sleep” she growled, using the back of her hand to wipe the tears away. Julian looked at her for a long time, too long in her opinion. She didn’t expect him to say anything, but she didn’t expect him to be so…silent. She was instantly beginning to regret saying anything, these were things she’d been avoiding for almost two years and suddenly was spilling it all out to a stranger, a stranger who didn’t even have the decency to say anything. “My dad died when I was eleven” he said, interrupting the rage in her head. She looked up at him, his hands were gripping the edge of his dresser and his eyes were looking down at his shoes. “He had a heart attack during the super bowl. I found him in the bathroom. I-I can’t describe the look on his face,” Julian felt the bile rising in his throat and he fought to push it back, “ever since then I could never fully sleep. I can take short naps but I can’t get in bed and just fall asleep. My mom has it worse. Most nights I don’t even know where she is. She can function pretty well in the morning, has a job and all but sometimes she kind of wanders off. She’ll just walk out of the house and is usually back later in the morning.” It was Jamie’s turn to be silent. She watched how hard his face was fighting to stay emotionless but it betrayed itself and exposed the absolute pain. Jamie felt her heart slow, “Oh my God. Julian I am so sorry. I couldn’t even imagine-” she stopped, unable to find the words. He shook his head. “It’s fine, it’s not something I like talking about really. I just-you were talking about that accident and I felt so horrible I didn’t know what to say and ‘I’m sorry’ wouldn’t have been adequate. God knows how angry I felt every time someone told me they were ‘sorry’. ” “Julian, I’m-” she bit her lip before allowing the apology to come out. “Don’t worry about it.” The two sat in silence. Julian pushed off the dresser and came to sit beside Jamie who was trying to fight back disobedient tears. “Don’t cry” he said, lifting his hand to wipe the one on her left cheek before it reached the corner of her mouth. She looked up in his face and saw a completely different person. It wasn’t like she knew exactly who he was but the image she was developing of him was now completely distorted. “You know what we should do,” he suggested. “What?” She sniffled. “Sleep” She laughed, “Is that supposed to be a joke?” He shook his head, unzipped his hoddie, pushed off his shoes and crawled over to the left side of his futon and lied on his back then shut his eyes. “So you think if you close your eyes you’re going to somehow magically fall asleep?” He shrugged his shoulders. “Well it won’t work, trust me I’ve tried.” He didn’t say anything and Jamie watched him for a few minutes. He looked peaceful, like he had actually reached that unconscious state. The sluggish feeling was getting to her again and even though she knew that even if she did lie down she would still be wide awake just like all the other previous nights. But looking at his unbothered face and the steady rise and fall of his chest, she couldn’t help but at least try to see if tonight would be any different. She took off her father’s jacket—her pajama shirt still on and Julian’s baggy sweat pants were hanging on her small legs. She scooted up so her head was next to him and shut her eyes. “Relax” Julian said. Gently and slowly Jamie allowed her tense muscles to do just that. The wild thrashing against her rib cage stilled, she didn’t know if it was free. All she knew was that her body was exhausted and it felt good to be lying with someone who found sleeping just as impossible as her. Her breathing evened to a steady pace. Julian searched for her hand lying still beside his and took it. They lied there for what was left of the night, the promise of sleep still left unfulfilled. But morning would be coming soon.