She picked him up at 9:00 and getting into her car was like stepping into a time machine. Suddenly he was back in high school, back when she had been his girlfriend, back when things had been, if not good, better.
She turned down the stereo, lowering the wail of Sleater-Kinney. Her taste in music was a reflection of her. Female voices, strong and compassionate, the way he'd always thought of her. The way she'd always been with him. He'd always been thankful, so thankful, underneath the feelings of selfishness and guilt. Guilt because he'd known that every day and night she spent with him was more time he robbed her of a chance at a normal relationship.
A normal relationship. He didn't even know what those words meant. Presumably it was what one had when one's boyfriend wasn't a mental case who was terrified of human contact.
She'd tried being patient, she'd tried being aggressive—and god, god how he'd wanted to do something, anything more than brush her hair back from her face or put his arm around her shoulders, breifly. Eventually, they'd kissed; nights at her place, her parents out of town, sampling from the liquor cabinet, a private game of “spin the bottle.”
But sober, he was useless, Sober, he was afraid. The things he saw just looking at people—the shadows—that was enough to chill him, to crush him. The visions he had when he got closer...
He didn't want to know. He didn't want to see what would happen to her.
It hadn't mattered that they told him it wasn't real. The medications hadn't helped, and here he was, so many years since it had all began, still seeing. And seeing was believing.
“You're awfully quiet,” she said.
“Sorry. I guess I just got lost thinking.” He glanced at her in the glare of a red light. “Where are we going?”
“Sara's. It's a coffee shop. Don't worry, it's never busy there this time of night.”
He felt embarrassed, realizing that even after not seeing him for so long, she was already taking care of him, taking his “condition” into account.
Old habits die hard.