"I don't sleep. My mind has the scary capability of being dark and demented."
If we were anywhere else, my instant response would be, "Same!" followed by some sort of half-joke about the severity of my workload. As it is, I just do the curious-head-cock thing and say,
"You're afraid of your dreams?"
Her quiet, haunted voice fills the cozy library nook that I've claimed for my sessions. She sounds so… tired. Her tone is a careful deadpan, but she still manages to exude a world-weary fatigue.
Not to mention her appearance; the gaunt face caked in grime and smudges, the scabbed over cut streaking across her cheekbone, the faded and stained hoodie that she's shoved her hands into, and the alarmingly thin frame all make it obvious that she's not in desirable circumstances. She's probably an OutBound, which means I could get arrested just for talking to her. I don't care.
Despite her rank odor, I've never wanted to hug anyone more than I have Ally Orwell.
Yet, after doing these little peer counseling sessions for so long, I'm at least halfway decent at reading people. Ally seems like the last thing she wants is
"You know something, Ally?" I say. I relax in my chair and opt to go the laid-back route. It feels kinda weird, to be saying my name and not be referring to myself, but Ally is a pretty common nickname.
(Though, I'm sorely tempted to ask her if she's related to my favorite author. If I could have any last name, it'd definitely be Orwell.)
I paraphrase a WebMD fact. "The thing about scary dreams is that they're just that: dreams. You know?"
"Right," she says. "Because no matter how scary a nightmare is, it's not real and most likely won't happen to you in real life."
Woah. That's kinda weird. It's almost like she took the words right out of my head, verbatim. Coincidence, I guess. Even though WebMD is borderline outdated, it's still a reliable source of information, especially for those like me who can't afford those fancy MediKnow things. Ally probably uses it just like I do. Though, her voice is... odd, when she says it. Almost cynical-sounding.
She tucks her hair behind clunky black glasses reminiscent of the pair I keep as
I open my mouth to respond, but—
"What's your happiest memory?"
I blink, surprised. Her eyes expression is really intense. It's kind of creepy, to be honest.
"Who's counseling who here?" I try to joke.
She doesn't bite, instead staring at me expectantly through the familiar-looking glasses. I sigh. I guess some of the students I talk to are bound to be a bit on the weirder side.
Then again, I guess "weird" is just another way of coping in this messed up world. It's not like anyone can put trust in the government anymore, not after the whole "sacrifice for the greater good" stunt they tried to pull on the OutBound. Just because you've been marked as a potential carrier of a population-destroying disease doesn't mean you're any less of a person.
Ally's totally living proof of that! She's probably marked, but I don't see a deadly killer. I see a scared girl, just a couple years older than me, who wants nothing more than —
"You gonna say anything?"
Oh. Right. The conversation I was in the middle of before spacing out. Whoops. I tend to do that a lot.
"Sorry. If I had to pick, I guess I'd say my fourteenth birthday party."
Just the thought of it made me smile. As far as birthday parties go, it wasn't "perfect" in any sense of the word. Regardless, it was my favorite. I guess because it was the last major event where my family was all together and happy. My dad died in a hovercycle crash a week later.
"Mom accidentally ordered the wrong cake. I guess that didn't really matter because Dad ended up setting it on fire while he was trying to light the candles. My best friend Roland got me a copy of 1984, which has been my favorite book ever since, and my older brother gave me his lucky jacket. It… kinda looked just like the one you're wearing, actually."
I stare. The faded and dirty blue hoodie she's wearing looks really similar to the old hoodie Davie gave me before he went back to college. Davie's, though, had a little white patch on the right sleeve from the one time that Mom spilled bleach on it...
Something draws my eyes to the right sleeve of Ally's hoodie. There's the familiar, lopsided spatter.
I feel Ally's gaze on me. I look up into watery green eyes identical to mine.
"I'm sorry," she whispers, jaw clenched and hands fisted. The tears making tracks in the grime on her face and revealing freckles that I've had since childhood.
But that's impossible. Right? This is too weird.
Ally's crying, though, and my stomach sinks.
"None of us should have had to deal with this," she says with a strange, resigned anger. She stands up and starts to leave.
"Ally? Wait, wait, you can't just leave-"
The intercom crackles to life. I recognize Principal Fields's breathless voice calling some sort of code, one that I'd never heard or read about before. What's going on?!
"Do me a favor?" Her voice is raised over the intercom. She continues before I can muster a response. "Try not to wait so long before telling Roland you like him."
I bound after her, but she slips out of the library. I try to follow her, but the hallway outside is complete chaos. People are panicked, running around, and I can hear screaming and crying and... growling? As I lose sight of my brother's hoodie, I realize that my last patient wasn't coming to me for help.
She was coming to me to say goodbye, to get one last look at the girl she was before everything went horribly, irrevocably wrong.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places,