For his birthday she bought him an alarm clock. One of the ones with a radio and seven different sound settings— wind, brook, ocean, falls, spring night, rain, white noise.
“Because I know you have trouble sleeping. It’s dumb, I know. But when I was a little kid I used to have nightmares, and my dad bought me a clock like this. So I’d set it to “ocean” or whatever, and imagine I was at the beach until I fell asleep. It’s like that guided meditation bullshit—”
He tried to hide his skepticism. “And that really helped?”
“Well, most of the time.” She blushed slightly, looked away. “Sometimes I’d dream I was adrift on a raft somewhere cold and dark. And a lot of the time I’d wake up having to pee.”
“Ah, well, thanks.”
“Just don’t use ocean. Stick to wind or white noise or whatever.”
His parents are away, and her’s probably think she is staying with Suzie or Mary or Jen or any one of her multitudinous friends from school. She’s leaving for college soon, there’s a lot of goodbyes to be said. But instead, she’s here with him, wondering why she still lies to her parents. They’re both adults, what does she have to be afraid of?
They sit on the small expanse of sand below his parent’s mansion, momentarily quiet in awkward adolescent regression. His shoes are off and the surf tickles his feet. She laughs suddenly at something he said a minute ago, passes the bottle of cheap, fruit-flavored vodka back to him. He drinks and sets it aside. Trying for causal and ending up with clumsy, he slides closer to her, puts his arm over her shoulders. She leans into him, and lightly, hesitantly, his lips brush her forehead. She reaches a hand behind his head, winds her finger through salt-water knotted curls and draws him closer, kissing his lips, his face.
Abruptly laughing, he pulls away, lays back on the sand.
“What’s so funny?” She smiles down on him, brushing his hair out of his eyes.
“Nothing— nothing. I’m just. Really drunk.”
“I could have told you that.” She stops smiling. “You only ever kiss me when you’re drunk.”
“So?” It’s the wrong response. She snatches her hand away, fire in her green eyes. It’s all wrong. He realizes he doesn’t even know if she wears contact lenses. No one has eyes that green.
“So? So? What’s wrong with me?” She’s on her feet and turning away.
“Sam. You know this— you know it’s not you. I just, I have this thing about people, right? It’s like, I’m afraid to touch them.” He’s never told her the whole truth. He probably never will. “But sometimes I can forget that, and—” It takes him a second to find his feet. He’s glad she’s turned away.
She sighs. There’s something maternal in the sigh, and he’s not sure how it makes him feel. Mainly small. “I though you were seeing doctors. You know. They gave you drugs for that, to help. Are you even taking them?”
“Of course. Yes. Sometimes.” She’s turned back and staring at him. “I— I don’t trust them. I don’t trust the doctors.”
“Great. Are you even trying to get better?” There’s real caring in her voice, despite the antagonistic phrasing. It doesn’t matter. It’s his turn to switch gears, get mad.
“What the hell do you mean by that? You think this is how I want to be? Gee Sam, I’m sorry dating the crazy kid isn’t as much fun as you thought it would be. Should I start taking my meds and, I dunno, do something more acceptably deviant like ride a motorcycle?”
“Don’t be an asshole.”
Silence. They stand a few feet apart, eyes wide and trembling.
“Come on, it’s getting cold. Let’s go inside.”
“I suppose the guest room is all made up for me.”
“Yeah, it is.” He reaches for her hand, and she lets him take it. “Sam, I’m sorry. And I’m trying—”
“I know. I just don’t know how much longer I can wait for you.”
Inside, upstairs. The air in the house is cold. He lays in bed, still as death, listening to the world settle around him. The walls in the house are thin, and he tells himself he’s imagining things, but he can’t shut it out. He hears her moving in the next room. The sound of her pajamas against the blanket as she slides into bed, her hair as it rustles against the pillow.
He should go to her. He could go to her.
He rolls over and stares at the alarm clock. 1:23. He sets it to white noise.