C A L E B
The sky was the cloudless, peppered through with tiny sparks of light. It was the clearest I’d seen it in months. Stars winked at us, watching as we lay on the hood of the Megan’s scuffed car.
Leg bent, she lay back against the dirtied windshield, hood up. Glossy, dark hair tumbled down her chest, long enough to brush the middle of her thighs.
“I have to say, this is nothing like the movies,” Megan laughed. “It’s cold and my ass hurts.”
I grinned. Before we’d driven up to the cliff edge, we’d stopped at a shop and bought at least sixty pounds worth of junk food. Wrappers lay strewn around us, and Megan clutched at a can of bubblegum flavoured juice. That had barely contributed towards the grand total; all the girl wanted was a 39p fizzy drink. Typical.
I plucked it from her grasp.
“Let me see what the fuss is about,” I said, tilting the can back. The rank taste hit the back of my throat and I gagged so hard that some even came out of my nose.
“May I just point out how hot you are choking on juice,” she sniggered, thumping me on the back.
Tears streamed from my eyes. It burned.
Megan handed me a napkin. I wiped at my face and hoarsely voiced my thanks.
Far below us, cars shifted on the main roads, lights blinking through the darkness. The town was a mass of dark, shadowed buildings and looping black concrete. In daylight, it was an ugly, boring little place but it thrived at night. Almost like it survived on the sleeping bodies inhabiting it.
“I’ve never done this before,” I admitted, once I could speak.
“What? Been with a girl or parked on the edge of a cliff at eleven on a Thursday night?”
I shrugged. “Both, I guess.”
After a quiet pause, Megan shifted closer to me and wrapped her arms around me. “Me neither,” she whispered, pressing her icy nose into the crook of my neck.
“You’re freezing, you weirdo.”
“Ice princess,” she mumbled into my skin. “Icy Queen of Mean.”
“Yup, definitely a weirdo.”
She smacked at my chest. It was a fond move, but firm, reminding me of where I stood.
I couldn’t stop thinking about my brother. At the start, he’d been the one to tell me my last name, who my birth parents were, who I was. He’d been that small fraction of how my life should’ve been. Now, I could hardly imagine being Caleb Dwight, son of philosopher and teacher, brother of successful businessman. Nothing about that story related to me. It was a shadow of a path my life could’ve taken.
“Can I tell you a secret?”
We’d been lying in a comfortable silence for so long that I thought she’d fallen asleep. I gently picked up her hand, playing with her long fingers. “Sure. Doesn’t mean you get one in return, though.”
She twitched with a silent shake of laughter. Quiet again, the girl beside me looked up.
In her eyes, I could see the stars.
“When I was fourteen, I tried to kill myself.” The words were firm, unemotional. She spoke them like she was reciting a line from a textbook. Unattached.
My body froze.
Quickly, I tried to loosen my muscles. I had no idea what to say to that.
“I was just a stupid kid,” she continued, voice quieter. “I wasn’t even really sure why I did it. But I became detached from myself. I had no one. I was no one. I was that girl at the back of the class, the one who went to lunch alone. I never had friends home, never had anyone to call or text about homework or just life in general. I was obsessed with watching other girls interact with each other, obsessed with discovering what was so wrong with me.”
Megan chewed her lip, her delicate white teeth dipping into her soft skin. Only now I realised that one of her front teeth was ever so slightly crooked. Finding that somehow made me relax.
All that Megan Carter was, was a lonely girl. She wasn’t a superhero, she wasn’t some kind of human prodigy.
“So, one day, I just decided that was the end of the road for me. That not being here would hurt less than being here,” she whispered.
Somewhere far below us, a car revved its engine.
She slipped her fingers into mine. “I walked onto train tracks and waited. And waited and waited and waited. But a train never came. When I got home, it was all over the news. A train had crashed just ten minutes from where I’d sat, half an hour before I’d sat on those tracks. And in that moment,” she sighed, her voice shaking. “I knew that I had to stay. That that crash was some sort of omen for me. Life had to get better, or there would be no reason for me to be here.”
Her mouth closed. The hand that wasn’t entwined in mine clenched into a white fist.
Her name fell from my lips like a plea.
Her face tilted towards me and I pressed my lips to hers, faces fitting together perfectly. Her secret bled between us like oil, slipping through the cracks in our masks. We couldn’t pretend when we were together; I saw straight through her like glass, and she knew I was an awful liar.
I moved my hand to cup her neck, pulling her closer.
Everything was heavy but I couldn’t stop. All I could focus on was her.
When we pulled back for breath, I saw it again.
The stars reflecting in her eyes, watching me from within the galaxy of her mind.
I was home.