“Annika! Are you up there?”
It was a guy. A real guy, not just one in her dream landscape.
He had brown hair with murky green streaks and wore black clothes. There was no reason I didn’t like him, I guess I just didn’t. From his stupid smirk and slight lisp, to his papercuts and tobacco laced fingers - I just didn’t like him.
But did Anni’s heart race.
I asked her quietly to fall back asleep. That we had tests in the morning, and I was sure he wasn’t all that. But she was already pushing open the heavy window. It groaned in hesitation, and she held her breath as if it would make it any quieter. This boy must have meant something big, because for a girl who coward away from her parents and peers she really could sneak in someone who I’d never even heard in her thoughts.
Anni tossed down a ladder that she had in her room in case of an emergency, and he climbed up as if he knew the rails well, his eyes always running over her. I accidently made Anni take a step back. I really didn’t trust him.
When he got up the ladder he bowed slightly, making her giggle.
“Hi.” she said, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. He picked her up and swung her around, careful to not hit any creaking floorboards.
“Hello, beautiful.” He kissed her cheek, and I felt her whole face go hot.
“Hi.” She said again, striking me immediately with a huge case of second hand embarrassment. But he didn’t seem to care.
“You must be freezing. Come here.” he pulled off his leather jacket and draped it over her shoulders, his hands finding his way to hers.
Now, I’m obviously a big fan of leather jackets, but this was a flower girl. She liked happy things and colours and shit like that. So what was this plague that was sitting on her bed with her, and why the fuck was he holding our hand?
“Anni, who is this?” I asked. She hummed, in the kind of way actors do when they’re playing a girl in love, with their swinging legs and batting eyelashes. And I know what I’m on about. I was in Le Sang D’un Poète.
“So how has this week been?” he asked her.
“It’s been alright. I spent most time-”
“How is your dream garden?”
She blinked, “It’s… It’s okay.”
“Great. Once it’s complete I’ll get on painting it.”
“Thank you, Cameron.” she whispered, resting her head on his shoulder.
“Cameron? Alright, but who is he? Like, if he’s your boyfriend you should think about him a little more.” I said, but I think her head was too full of him. Love is like cottonwool. It gets inside your mind and makes everything fluffy and soft, but it’s a bitch to get anything else in or out.
“It’d be a pleasure. I love hearing everything from your mind.”
They stayed quiet for a little while then. The room was cold, but his jacket was warm on her bare arms. His eyes drifted over her from time to time, but he spent most of his time looking at her desk in the light from the streetlamps. They illuminated the plumes of dust in the air as they drifted into the long shadows of the piles of books and jars and other trinkets in her room. She closed her eyes after a while, and listened to his heart. It was the loudest thing in her fuzzy mind. But underneath the steady thumping I could hear something. Something nearly static.
She was repeating the same phrase in her head over and over again, trying to perfect it. I’ve seen a lot of people with anxiety try do that, changing each word and pronunciation ever so slightly, as if anyone really cared. I guess love and anxiety weren’t to far from each other.
He lifted her up enough to reach over to her bedside table. My heart started beating faster, before I realised he was only taking out a lighter.
He pulled a cigarette from his pocket and lit it. He breathed out in the direction of her window, plumes of white smoke getting caught on the wall and bouncing back into our lungs. Anni took a deep breath, although it set fire to her throat. Love was a strange thing.
“Cameron?” she whispered, finally decided on what she wanted to ask.
“Yes, baby?” he said, looking down at her. He loved her too, that was for sure. But there is an unconditional love, and then there is a dismissive, “I’m glad you came love”. But then again, I couldn’t tell if he even fit into a category. The cotton wool in our head stopped my train of thoughts before I knew what I was waffling on about. But why would a boy come to his girl friend’s room early in the morning to sit in silence and smoke?
“Are you really interested in my dreamscape?”
He nodded, and breathed out onto her face. She shut her eyes and let the smoke run over her features. The warmth made her forget about the tear stains that still made the outside air feel cold on her cheeks.
“Of course I am. You’re remarkable, and I love hearing how you work.”
She bit her lip, “Okay. Well… Something strange was in my dream garden.”
“Really? What could be strange in a dream?”
“Well it was a man. A man with black hair and-”
He laughed over her, “You’re not thinking of other men, are you, love?”
She bit her lip harder, but smiled through the sharp pain, “No, no. I was just-”
He kissed her quickly, paying no attention to the crack in her lips that left the resin of blood on his smirk that I knew I would always hate. He started smoking again, letting her continue.
She gulped down the dry spit first, “He was… I mean, he had black hair, and he was wearing a shirt. He looked normal, except I couldn’t control him. I never have other people - you know, since you don’t want me to.”
He nodded again, with his eyes shut.
If I had my own body I’d fuck him up, I swear.
“It was so strange. He never said anything I wanted him to, or did anything. He just asked me questions. It was almost like he wasn’t inside my head at all.”
Cameron chuckled, “Are you sure you weren’t just after drifting off? And doesn’t he have to be in your head, since he was just a dream?”
“I don’t know. I mean, yes. But there was something about him.”
He poked her ribs, “Hey, maybe you are cheating on me!”
She pushed him back lightly, but he swayed right back into her so she could put her head on his shoulder again. He moved in waves. Steady, repetitive waves. Moving the cigarette from his lips to smile at her, to sigh, to laugh, to look over her body, to move the cigarette back up. He was like an actor himself, repeating the same script every few minutes. Not like she minded.
“The funniest thing is that I can hear him when I’m not even asleep.”
He shrugged, “So he lives in your mind palace? He must just be a subconscious fear or something like that.”
“I don’t see any reason to be afraid of him. But it’s strange hearing him in my head all the time.”
“Can you hear him now?”
“No. I mean, he’s probably listening. But he was asking who you were a minute ago.”
“And what did you say?”
“Nothing.” Anni pressed her lips together, “Should I have said something?”
“It’s your mind.”
“Why don’t you introduce yourself?” She said, and then blushed because she realised how stupid that sounded.
He just laughed, and moved around to face us. “Alright. Hello- What’s his name?”
“I don’t know.”
He laughed again. I didn’t say anything, since I was too busy trying to stop our heart from speeding up. Between her love and my panic we could have been thrown into a heart attack, and me thrown straight down to hell. I couldn’t believe she was telling a random prick that I existed. There was no reason she should even realise I’m here. I am only the background support, but of course he had to go and give her a platform she could see me on. This bastard and his mind shit.
I dug our fingernails into the palm of our hand. I wasn’t letting some crush of hers mess this up for me. I had to stay calm.
“I don’t think he likes you.” she eventually said.
“Aw no.” he said jokingly, “Why not?”
“I don’t know. I suppose you’ll just need to introduce yourself. And quieter, incase my parents hear you up here.”
“No problem, babe. Hello, imaginary friend. My name is Cameron and I am in love with Annika here, so keep your invisible hands off her.”
If I had my own hands they wouldn’t be on her, lad. They’d be knocking you out.
“He really doesn’t like you.” She giggled.
Sometimes the line between me thinking it and saying it to her gets a little blurred, out comes a confession. It’s caused me to die many a time.
“Well, I guess her really likes you.” Cameron tucked a piece of hair behind her ear, “I also am an artist, and I’m devoting my life to getting inside this beauty’s head and painting her dreams. I suppose I’ll be painting you too, huh? Anything you can say about yourself?”
“I fucking hate you, if that’s what you're looking for.” I said. I knew she was too in love to say it to him, since she wasn’t sure herself that I wasn’t her own thoughts.
She flushed red, “Nothing. He’s not talking.”
“Then why are you all red?” he tried to smirk at her again, but she dropped her eyes. “Hey, what’s wrong?”
He took her hands, but noticed that they were clenched tight, thanks to me.
“Why are you so strained tonight, Annika?” he said, unraveling her fingers, which she immediately let him do. I stiffened her joints, just to give him a bit of a struggle.
“It’s not me. I’m sorry.”
“It’s not you, what? Not you balling your fists up?”
“Yeah. I mean, I don’t think it’s me.”
He leaned in close, as if it was a big secret. He accidently tipped ash onto her knuckles, burning them. I swore and tried to pull away, but she wouldn’t let me. The pain settled her, but started my heart back up again.
“Annika, is it the guy in your head that’s doing this?”
“No. It’s just… What he’s saying. It’s making me a little tense, is all.
“It’s not… You’re not…” he paused. I don’t think it was to consider not saying what was about to send pricks of fear through her body. I think it was simply for emphasizing. “Schizophrenic? Are you?”
She shook her head, “No, I’m not. It’s just my own thoughts.”
“But you saw him, you said.”
“No, no. It’s just…” she put a hand to his face, and pulled on a fake smile, “It’s nothing. Just a character. Don’t worry about it.”
He chuckled, “I’ll never get over your mind, love.”
Me neither, she thought. And that’s why I’m never talking about him again.
“Me?” I said. I knew she heard me, since she she started grinding her teeth, but she said nothing.
He leaned in and kissed her. I think it took us both by surprise, since he hadn’t seemed at all passionate about much until that moment. His tongue tasted like tobacco too, which made her feel like throwing him out, and made my cravings kick back up.
He pulled away first, “Well, since there’s no little man in your head judging us…” His eyes ran over her in her cozy pajamas and his leather jacket. I felt her legs start to shake, as if she’d rather be anywhere else and was willing to run to it if she had to.
“We can’t, Cameron. I mean, not tonight. I have a test in the morning, and it’s late, and-”
He kissed her again, but softly this time. He let her lean back in and press her cold fingers to the back of his neck, before he pulled back again, “No problem. I’ll see you soon. And no cheating on me in that little head of yours.”
She smiled. The energy from her legs moved back up into the butterflies in her stomach, “Come back more. I love seeing you.”
He kissed her cheek, “And I love you. Goodnight, dear.”