Ten Months Before Impact Day
I arrived at Rachel’s house a little after 2am, not quite as careful as usual given how late it was. The chances of her mother still being awake were so slim it was almost not worth considering, but the consequences were serious enough that I wasn’t willing to be entirely reckless.
I crept up to the back door, gently pressing down on the handle so it wouldn’t make a noise. It slid down barely a centimetre before stopping, and refusing to move any further. I tried again, surprised. It’s locked? The back door was never locked; Rachel made sure of it.
Not willing to give up, I went around the side of the house to Rachel’s bedroom window. It didn’t open up far enough for me to get in that way, but at least I’d be able to talk to her.
I rapped lightly on the window, waited a few seconds, then rapped again. The curtains inside were tossed sluggishly aside, and Rachel’s half-asleep face greeted me, thoroughly unimpressed. When she realised it was me, she brightened a little, but she still looked adorably sleepy.
She slid the window open as far as it would go, which wasn’t very far, and beamed at me, brushing her wavy hair out of her face.
“The door is locked,” I whispered.
“I know. Mum locked it,” she said apologetically.
“Because of the other night?”
Well, you did kind of drug her…
“Shit, I’m so sorry,” I said, feeling a little responsible. She’d only done it to help me, and I couldn’t even imagine living under her mum’s draconian rule.
“Nah, it was my fault,” she said calmly. “But, uh, I’m not really sure what to do about it.”
“Kind of hard to come back from that, I guess.” I was sympathetic, but also a little annoyed. It was already hard enough to spend time with her…
“She’ll forget sooner or later,” Rachel said reassuringly. “Drinking tends to have that effect.”
“What do we do until then?” I asked.
“I don’t know.”
“You make a pretty cute damsel, at least,” I teased her.
“Oh, shut up.”
“Maybe you can tunnel your way out with a spoon.”
Rachel shifted uncomfortably, glancing back over her shoulder at her bedroom door. I placed my hand on the open part of the windowsill, and she rested hers on top of it.
“I hate this,” she said miserably.
“Yeah, me too.”
“Please, don’t be sorry,” I said, feeling bad for her guilt. “I just wish things could be better for you.”
“What about you?” she asked, taking me by surprise.
“What do you mean?”
She looked away, but her fingers dug into the top of my hand. When she looked back, I could see reluctance in her eyes.
“I hate to even bring this up, but… Charlie, you tried to kill yourself, remember?”
“Are you still worried about that?” I asked, not sure how to react. My life had changed so much, it almost felt like that had happened to a different person. Seeing the look on her face, it only dawned on me then that it wasn’t the same for her.
How would I react if she’d told me the same thing?
“Well, I’m not worried about you killing yourself, obviously,” she said, trying to force humour into her voice. “But I am worried you aren’t happy.”
“Do I seem unhappy to you?”
“No,” she said, “but you didn’t before, either.”
That hit me hard.
“Trust me, I’m happier now than I’ve ever been,” I told her. It was the truth, and I always felt it the strongest when I was with her. Even in that moment, on opposite sides of the window, I felt happier to be with her than anything else could have made me.
“I’m really glad,” she said, smiling peacefully. Once again, the fact that she just believed me meant so much.
“I kinda just want to go kick your front door in,” I said. She smirked, a wistful expression on her face.
“You’d only get me in more trouble, but it is a very romantic thought.”
Instead, we just sat there, connected through our hands, trying to pretend that was enough for us. As happy as I was to be with her, I didn’t want this to be the only way we could spend time together. I wasn’t sure I could handle it.
“I want to get you a phone,” I said suddenly, as the idea rushed into my head.
“I don’t know,” I confessed. “I could buy some cheap prepaid thing, and then at least I could call you.”
“And where are you gonna get the money?” she asked. “You don’t work.” As grateful as I was for her common sense, that wasn’t exactly the reaction I was hoping for.
“Maybe… maybe I’ll talk to Mark about it,” I said, considering it for the first time. I didn’t like to lean on him, or anyone else, but for Rachel’s sake…
“You sure that’s a good idea?” she asked, sounding surprised.
“No, but… Well, what’s the worst that could happen?”
“I don’t know…”
“Would you mind if I at least tried?” I asked, not wanting to do anything that would make her uncomfortable.
“I guess not,” she said.
“You’re allowed to say no,” I told her. “Or yes, or whatever. You’re allowed to mind.”
“I trust you,” she said, her dark eyes shimmering in the starlight. “And you’re right, it’s not like things could really get much worse.”
“Let’s hope not,” I said.
Next Week: This Definitely Will Not Be Fun For You