Six Months Before Impact Day
I didn’t see him again for what I’m pretty sure was a week. It was hard to know for sure, given the lack of daylight or any timekeeping device, but it felt like a week. I only slept twice, but that wasn’t unusual for me. Part of the immortality deal seemed to be not needing a lot of it.
I spent most of that week being subjected to a battery of tests. They took vial after vial of blood, cut samples of my hair and fingernails, scrapings of my skin, saliva… other things I’d sooner not think about. I got crammed into every x-ray type machine I could think of, which worried me at first, but when they didn’t start ringing any alarm bells, I figured they somehow hadn’t noticed. Guess I lost that bet.
I was almost excited to talk to whatever-his-name-was again when he finally opened my door. Not because I had any sort of misplaced affection for him, but just because talking was a lot more fun than being poked and prodded.
“I was beginning to think you’d forgotten about me,” I said to him as he led me to the same interrogation room.
“I’m a busy man,” he replied. “I have a lot of damage to undo, thanks to you.”
I was beaming with pride, but I did my best to make sure he didn’t see it. By the time I’d taken my seat opposite him, my face was completely blank.
“So, what do you want to hear about today? My sixteenth birthday? I played laser tag. I won, but I think that’s because Liz let me win.”
He held up a hand to silence me. I considered ignoring it, but remembered I was supposed to be playing nice.
“Six months ago, you tried to kill yourself. I want you to tell me how you went from that to trying to single-handedly dismantle the largest criminal network in the city.”
“It wasn’t single-handed,” I said, enjoying the shock on his face. “I had help.”
“More like you?” he asked, his eyes lit up with a combination of hope and fear. He would not have made a good poker player.
“There’s no-one like me. But they were special.”
“I’m guessing you want another story?” I asked.
“I want answers. If a story is how I get them, I will listen. But if you waste my time…”
“Point taken,” I said. “Okay, let’s go back to the night I tried to kill myself.”
One Year Before Impact Day
Half an hour later, I was crawling in through the window to the basement, which also happened to be my bedroom. The second my feet touched the floor, the light turned on, in the most clichéd reveal I’d ever been a part of it. I had to smile at that. Aidan was leaning against the wall, a concerned look on his face.
Like his father, Aidan was thin in that bony sort of way that made him kind of look both like a stick figure, and also taller than he actually was. The blonde hair and fair skin added a somewhat spectral element to his appearance, though I wouldn’t have described him as unattractive. His grey eyes rarely settled in one place, but when they did, they stared with an intense focus that was almost unsettling, which was exactly what was happening.
It didn’t surprise me that Aidan was waiting up for me. I was even grateful that it was him and not Mark, my adoptive father, but mostly I was just irritated. I wasn’t exactly in the mood for conversation, and there was no way he was going to leave without a long one.
“Oh my God, what happened to you?” he asked, his expression mortified.
It hadn’t actually occurred to me that I looked like I’d been in an accident. Obviously I was fine, but whatever had kept me alive hadn’t done the same for my clothes. They were pretty badly torn up and covered in dirt and dried blood.
“Huh? Nothing,” I said, knowing he wouldn’t accept it but unable to think of a convincing lie in time.
“You look like Hell,” he said.
“Rude,” I told him, even though I knew he was right.
“Not like that,” he said. “Your clothes are all torn, your hair’s a mess, and you’re filthy.”
“Oh,” I said, as if I’d only just realised. “Yeah, I took a bit of a tumble.”
“In the park. It’s dark, and I fell down a hill. I’m fine though, really.” At least that part is true?
“What were you doing in a park in the middle of the night?” he asked, still sounding unconvinced.
“Just taking a walk,” I said, still lying through my teeth. “I just needed some air.”
“Charlie, it’s not safe,” he said, and I knew he wouldn’t ask me any more questions after that. He was too protective, and once those instincts were triggered, that was all he would focus on.
“Oh, please,” I said, rolling my eyes. “What’s the worst that could happen?”
I had to keep myself from smirking as I watched him bristle. When you’ve known someone for the vast majority of their life, you tend to figure out exactly how to push their buttons. Aidan had been my adoptive brother since the accident, and we were best friends even before then. I knew everything about him.
“Do I really need to say it?”
“Aidan, I can take care of myself,” I insisted. “I have like, three black belts.”
Mark had signed me up for aikido classes years ago in a vain attempt to give me an outlet for all of the aggression I was feeling. It didn’t work, but I enjoyed it so much that I also took up jujitsu and karate. I’d never actually been in a real fight, but I still felt pretty confident I could take care of myself.
“That doesn’t make you invincible,” he said, and I struggled to keep a straight face. “If anything, the overconfidence only makes it worse.”
“You are such a worrier. Trust me, I’m fine.”
“Try telling me that when you haven’t just come home looking like you were hit by a car,” he said, and for a moment, I hesitated. That was a little too close to the truth. There was no way he could actually know what had happened, right?
“God, you’re such a nag,” I teased.
“And proud of it,” he said. “Alright, go and have a shower. I’ll make you some food. Custard?”
If there was one thing Aidan was good at, it was taking care of people. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t get much of an outlet for that, living with Mark and me. We much preferred to take care of ourselves. That said, I wasn’t about to turn down custard.
“That’s cheating. You know I can’t say no to custard.”
“I’m just looking out for you,” he replied, smiling innocently.
I grabbed a clean t-shirt and underwear from my closet, then pushed him up the stairs so I could get to the shower. As he made his way to the kitchen, Sadie followed me into the bathroom. I started the water running so that we could talk without anyone overhearing me, and began peeling off my ruined clothes.
“Are you going to tell him?” she asked, perching on the side of the bath.
“I’m not going to tell anyone,” I said, wincing as I realised how badly my clothes stank.
“You can’t keep everything to yourself, Charlie,” scolded me, as I stepped into the shower. The hot water felt amazing, and almost immediately I could feel all of my muscles beginning to relax. After only a few minutes, I felt like myself again.
“Just watch me,” I told her.
“Aidan’s worried about you, too. Don’t you think it’s unfair to lie to him like this? If you can’t trust him, who can you trust?”
I wanted to say nobody, but there was one person I felt like I could actually trust. I wasn’t ready to talk just yet, but when I was… I felt pretty sure I knew who I was going to talk to.
I turned off the water, ignoring Sadie’s question. She stared at me as I began to towel myself off, and it was obvious she was checking for any sign of injury. I just kept ignoring her, pulled on the baggy t-shirt and fresh underwear, and threw the ruined clothes in a plastic bag. They were going right in the bin.
The smell of custard lured me back into my room, where Aidan was waiting for me, bowl in hand. He offered it to me and I snatched it out of his hands, suddenly very hungry.
“Okay, yes, this is delicious,” I told him, my mouth full of hot custard.
“Feeling better, then?”
“I told you, I’m fine,” I insisted. “Look, not even any scratches.” I pulled up the t-shirt to show him, smirking as he turned red.
“I see that,” he said awkwardly.
“Oi. Eyes up front, pervert.”
“Put some damn pants on, then,” he snapped, looking away.
“Shouldn’t have to,” I retorted.
“No, I didn’t mean-”
“Relax, I’m kidding,” I assured him, enjoying his embarrassment. It felt harmless and natural, which was just what I needed. I also needed sleep, though. I was going to get precious little of it as it was. “Thanks for the custard. Mind if I sleep now?”
“Yeah, I’ll leave you in peace,” he said, collecting the bowl from me. “Just take care of yourself, okay?”
I stuck my tongue out at him as he left the room. It was nice to feel loved. It was nice to be able to recognise it. Even a few hours ago, I hadn’t felt that way at all.
Next Week: You’re Not A Very Good Liar