One Year Before Impact Day
Getting to Rachel’s house was not particularly difficult. It was well within walking distance, provided you didn’t mind walking for about half an hour or so. The problem was getting in once you got there.
Rachel lived with her mother, who more or less actively hated Rachel. She also got abusive when she was drunk, which was most of the time. Rachel had been taking care of herself from a very young age, and had learned the hard way how to survive in an abusive household.
Her mother didn’t technically disallow guests, but if she knew I was there, she’d make Rachel suffer for it later. I had to sneak in if I wanted to avoid trouble for her. Luckily, I had a lot of practice.
I met Rachel through jujitsu classes, and we more or less ignored each other for the first year. One day, one of the guys made a racist comment about her, and she told him to go fuck himself. He and several friends then proceeded to physically threaten her and I, in the infinite wisdom of youth, jumped into fight alongside her. There was nothing noble about it, I was just in the mood to fight.
The instructors broke it up before it got too serious, and to avoid further fights, paired the two of us together, since we’d effectively made enemies of the rest of the club. We begrudgingly accepted, because we didn’t really have a choice, but it wasn’t until we actually sparred that we felt any sort of connection.
Working with Rachel, practicing moves and sparring, I felt an almost tangible physical attraction, something I’d never felt before. It was like speaking another language, one only the two of us could understand. An elaborate dance, a silent conversation, an intimate connection.
After that, we became fast friends. We discovered that we had a lot more in common than we’d thought, and I found myself telling her things I wouldn’t tell anyone else, not even Sadie. We spent a lot of time together, but always in secret, because of the situation with her mother. Sadie had never liked her, but I didn’t care. Rachel was my friend, probably my best friend, and she made me feel more at ease than anyone else. Which is why it was her I went to see when I needed to feel understood.
I climbed over the fence of their next-door neighbour, sneaking up to the back door, which Rachel left unlocked. It was the only entrance that made it possible to get to her room without going past the living room, which was where her mother almost certainly was. I knocked gently on her door, and slipped inside, closing it behind me.
She looked up at me, sitting cross-legged on the floor, bits of wire and plastic strewn about her, and smile, her perpetually sullen eyes lighting up.
Rachel’s father had been Latino, and though her mother was as white as it was possible to be, Rachel took after her father almost entirely. It was difficult to believe she and her mother were even related.
“What’cha got there?” I asked, keeping my voice low, just in case.
“Hopefully, a police scanner,” she said, her hands still delicately assembling tiny pieces.
“What, like the thing they use in movies to listen to what the police radio is saying?”
“That’s the one,” she said cheerfully.
“You can just make those?”
“I can,” she said. “Not sure about other people. And I don’t know if it’ll work or not.”
“And what if it does?” I asked, genuinely curious.
“No idea! I’ll probably feel pleased with myself, then take it apart and try to build something else, I guess.”
“Yeah, that sounds like something you’d do,” I said affectionately.
“I like building stuff,” she said, a little defensively. Her mother was not a fan of the mess. “I like learning how it all works, then proving it to myself by actually making it work.”
“I know. I think it’s cool,” I told her.
I watched her work in silence, her hands moving deftly as she positioned tiny pieces of electronics, then delicately soldered them in place. She was so focussed, so absorbed, and it was entrancing just watching her work.
After a while, she looked up at me again, and frowned.
“You okay?” she asked. “You seem a little… I dunno. Something on your mind?”
I grimaced, not intending to be that obvious about it. Still, I should have known she’d be able to tell. She always could.
“Where do you want to start?” I asked, rolling my eyes.
“How about we start with why you’re still standing all the way over there in the doorway?” she asked, and I immediately felt self-conscious about it.
“Oh, yeah. Didn’t even realise.”
I sighed, stepping away from the door and perching myself on the end of her bed. “Look, Rachel…”
“Oh, this sounds bad,” she said, putting down her radio. She pivoted, staring right into my eyes. I felt scrutinised, but at the same time, it was a safe feeling. Like, I wouldn’t be able to hide anything, but I wouldn’t be judged for anything either.
“No, it’s not anything bad, it’s just…” I trailed off, not quite sure how to say it. “Does our friendship ever seem weird to you?”
“I don’t even know what that means,” she answered, looking a little affronted.
“I don’t know. We spend a lot of time together, and talk about a lot of stuff, and do a lot of it in secret. I just wanted to make sure you don’t, y’know, mind any of that.”
Until I opened my mouth to actually say it, I hadn’t realised just how much Sadie’s words had affected me. Damn her.
“Why would I mind?” Rachel asked. “I’m an active participant too, aren’t I?”
“So you don’t think that we’re, like, too close, or anything?” God, I sounded like such an awkward nerd. What are you even saying, Charlie?
“What does too close even mean?”
I let myself fall backwards, staring up at her ceiling. Part of me almost wanted her to say yes, to say she did think we were too close, just so I didn’t feel stupid for worrying about it. A bigger part of me was terrified that she would say yes, because I wasn’t sure what I’d do if she did.
“I don’t know. It’s just something somebody told me, and I guess I got worried,” I confessed.
“Are you gonna tell me who said that?” she asked, her tone vaguely threatening.
“Are you going to punch them if I do?”
“It’s a definite possibility,” she conceded.
“It was Sadie,” I admitted. At least she couldn’t punch Sadie.
Rachel was the only person I’d told about Sadie. It was one of the scariest moments of my life, because I had no way of knowing how she’d react. I had no way of proving that Sadie was there, that I wasn’t just hallucinating. Of course, there was always the omnipresent fear that I actually was hallucinating, but despite my paranoia, she had believed me completely. She never once made me doubt myself, or asked me to prove anything.
“Well that’s not fair; I can’t punch her. Is she here now? Sadie, you’re probably just jealous.”
“She’s not here,” I told her.
“Right,” Rachel said, looking slightly embarrassed. “Well, tell her I think she’s being overdramatic.”
“So you’re really not worried?”
“I’m really not worried that we’re too close,” she assured me.
Well, that was one concern I could mostly put to rest. Unfortunately, it was also the easiest one to talk about, and I had a lot more I needed to get off my chest. Still, I felt confident that if anyone would listen and not freak out, it would be her.
“Okay, good. But there’s something else I need to talk to you about.”
I took a deep breath, steeling myself against the next part. Then I sat up, knowing I couldn’t do it without looking her in the eye.
“I tried to kill myself,” I told her.
Next Week: You May Consider Me Intrigued