The Love That Split the World (21 page)

BOOK: The Love That Split the World
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“You think she’s right?”

“I don’t know. I think Grandmother could help me.” It’s not just that I have to save someone’s life—though I do. There’s a part of me that believes Grandmother can help me stay Open, and I actually want that.”

Beau’s hands start to drift over the keys, and I close my eyes. The song is beautiful, dark and thick, slow and painful. Like kissing Beau after I ran from the hospital.

Saying goodbye to Megan.

Watching a new life enter the earth and an old one extinguish.

Growing up, being stretched and stamped and squeezed through life like homemade noodles cranked through a pasta
maker. As the music enfolds me, I miss dancing.

“What is this song?”

“It’s you,” Beau says. “But I haven’t finished it.”

I feel a rising up within my rib cage as I fall through time, and he stops playing. I open my eyes, and we’re on top of a hill under the moonlight, a herd of snoring buffalo below us. Beau stands up, and I follow his lead. “Where are we?”

“In the past, I think.”

“You brought us back here,” he says.

He turns in place, and I follow his eyes to a tree partway down the hill. He starts hiking toward it, and stops with a hand on the trunk. “I wanna try something,” he says, smiling crookedly. He holds his other hand out to me.

“Do you, Beau Wilkes?” I trek down to him. For some reason, here—or rather now—there’s no anxiety about Matt, about losing Beau’s world or finding Grandmother. Here, we exist outside of it all, and I feel calm as I rarely have in the last few years. There’s nothing to escape.

Beau pulls me against his side, his arm around my back. His lips move against my temple, and my heart speeds up. “Ready?”


He closes his eyes and taps his fingers against my ribs like piano keys, and we start to move forward.

Through time, not space, like we did in my closet. The gentle sinking in my stomach, as if we’re being towed upward through warm water. The sun spinning up in the east, shooting down in the west. Clouds shifting overhead, changing color and shape and density, rain falling in curtains then evaporating and
condensing above us once more. The grass growing taller and taller and taller until it licks our waists, the gnarled trunk under Beau’s hand moving with us.

Animals blur past us for full minutes as the sun, moon, and stars swirl around us. Sometimes people too, though we can’t see their features. Wagons and cars and big yellow Bobcats clear the earth, flattening it around us, passing right through us and our tree as if we aren’t there. Once the ground is solid mud, we see foundations laid, bricks stacked in the thousands, cement poured, and still the tree stays with us, completely invisible to the lives and objects moving around us like ghosts.

Suddenly I feel as if we’ve come up against a wall, and my mind recognizes this as
the present
, all its weight and all my fear. The spinning slows, and we see people moving around us in the band room, but too fast to notice us or our mammoth of a tree. When time finally spits us back out, we’re still standing next to the tulip poplar. I tip my head back to stare up at the ceiling, which the tree spears through to keep stretching hundreds of feet into the air.

The ceiling isn’t crumbling or shattered; rather, it looks like the room was built around it, the tree allowed to grow through it this whole time, pushing through tiny cracks and spreading out overhead, its massive roots digging through the industrial-grade blue carpet. I laugh and look up at Beau, whose serious face tilts back down toward me. “Reminds me of your story,” he says. “The girl who fell from the sky.”

“I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.”

“You like that tree, Natalie Cleary?” he says. “It’s yours.”

“You’re amazing.”

He dips his chin toward his chest almost shyly. I’m looking at a new piece of him, another tiny fragment of Beau I get to have. I want to gather all of them up and spread them out, keep them forever. I cup the sides of his jaw and kiss his cheek. “You make me want to stay,” I whisper.

His hand drops from the trunk, and the tree slips away as though it was never there. The ceiling and floor are solid again, and we’re alone in the band room. “Then stay,” he says, hands gently circling my waist.

“It’s not that simple.”

“Stay,” he says again through a smile.



To be yourself will cause you to be exiled by many
, Grandmother used to say.
To comply with others’ wants, though, will cause you to be exiled from yourself. The tension is painful, but there is no choice to make, Natalie.

That’s how I feel with Beau. Like I can’t be with him. Like I need to be with him. Like there’s no choice to make and the answer should be clear, but it’s not.

I untangle myself from his arms. “We should keep working.”

“I’ll wait if that’s what you want,” he says.

I think of life without Beau, and Beau with someone else. Both are unbearable thoughts, but I swallow a knot and grit my teeth. “It’s not,” I lie. “Don’t wait.”


“Oh my God!” Coco shouts, bursting into my room. “Look at this. It’s all over the news.”

I jolt upright in bed, heart pounding. A second ago, I’d been lost in nightmares, sure my lungs were filling up with blood, and now I can’t help gulping down oxygen as Coco shoves her phone at me.

I feel my face flush, expecting to see pictures of the school speared through with a five-centuries-old tree or, worse, more bad news about Matt. Instead, a woman’s portrait stares up at me with too-far-apart eyes framed by a brassy pixie cut. “Dr. Langdon?”

“Her house burned down,” Coco squeals, yanking her phone back. “She left the oven on.”

“Is she okay?” I ask, swallowing a lump in my throat.

“She’s alive, but barely. Apparently she woke up in the
middle of the night and she didn’t even smell the fire, but something was telling her to check the stove, and when she went into the kitchen the flames were all the way up to the ceiling. They got her and her
out through an upstairs window! She’s covered in second- and third-degree burns.”

“But she’s going to make it,” I say. “Right?”

Coco shrugs without taking her eyes off the screen. “I can’t believe your counselor’s house burned down the same week your boyfriend got into a—” She drops off abruptly and claps a hand over her mouth. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to say that.”

“It’s okay,” I lie.
And Matt’s not my boyfriend,
I add silently because it feels too cruel to say aloud.

“It’s so crazy,” Coco repeats, typing rapidly on her phone. Her crystalline eyes flutter up to me. “Why does it seem like you don’t think this is that crazy?”

“I do.”

“No you don’t,” Coco says, shaking her red-gold waves. She looks back at the hallway then lowers her voice. “Did you burn her house down or something?”

I say sharply. “I didn’t
her house down. It’s nothing like that, okay?”

“Then what?”

I sigh and close the bedroom door. Mom would hate it if she knew I told Coco this stuff. She’d hate it, and she wouldn’t even admit that to me, because she’d be too worried about making me uncomfortable or ashamed. She’s like a silverware divider with a conscience, trying to keep us all separate and safe without making the forks feel bad about not being spoons or the spoons feel worried that the forks shouldn’t be so poky.
“Grandmother told me,” I admit, and Coco’s eyes go even wider.

“Told you . . . what, exactly?”

“She told me Dr. Langdon’s house was going to burn down.”


I nod.

“And you’re sure you didn’t do it?” she says.

“What the hell, Coco!”

She holds up her hands. “I don’t know—maybe you sleepwalk or something!”

“I didn’t do it.”

She raises one eyebrow and digs her hand into her hip. “Do you have an alibi?” She looks down at Gus and ruffles his ears. “Did you see Nat leave, Gus?”

“Actually, I was out with someone last night.”

Coco claps her hands together and plops down on my bed. “Who? Derek Dillhorn?”

“Ew, no,” I say. “He’s not from Union.”

“Has Megan met him? Did Matt know?”

“Sort of, and yes.” The guilt is crushing me now, squeezing every ounce of breath from my body. “We fought that night. He saw me with Beau, and he left. I tried to get him to stay. I knew he shouldn’t be driving. I

Coco chews on her bottom lip and picks at my quilt. Then she reaches over and grabs my hand. “You know that wasn’t your fault.”

“I don’t.”

“Well, I do.”

“It feels like you’re wrong.”

Coco rolls her eyes. “You’re just like Mom and Dad. All
in this house could sink the

“Don’t be ridiculous, Coco. Nothing could sink the

My car’s in the shop until tonight, so Beau gets someone to cover his shift and takes me to my appointment with Alice.

“I can’t keep losing shifts,” Beau says on the drive over. “Now that I’m done with school, Mason needs me to get half of the rent.”

“It’s the last time.” Alice will be furious when she finds out Beau’s not joining us for our last two weeks of sessions, but I can’t keep asking for every spare moment of his time.

Dr. Wolfgang is in the office again today, smoking a cigarette out the window behind Alice’s desk while she listens to the recordings I gave her on Tuesday. She beckons us in, but when Beau follows me, she holds up a hand, stops the recording, and pulls out her earbuds. “Not for the hypnotherapy, Beau,” she says. “You wait out in the lobby.”

I look at him apologetically, then he nods and leaves.

“Sit, sit,” Alice says impatiently.

An hour later, I emerge from hypnosis as though waking from a nap. I see Dr. Wolfgang looking unimpressed as usual, but Alice is smiling and nodding to herself.

“Get something?” I ask her.

“Dance,” she says. “You started dancing when you were tiny, and you quit right before Grandmother disappeared, and you didn’t think to mention this?”

“Should I have?” I say. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

She rolls her eyes and opens the door sharply. “Thank you,
Dr. Wolfgang. Would you send Beau back in on your way out?”

Dr. Wolfgang and Alice have a quick exchange in German. When he leaves the room, she rolls her eyes again. “Miserable old man.”

“I thought you guys were friends.”

“He was one of my professors. He’s a genius, but I hate his guts. He’s old, cranky, and impossible to impress. But you should see the size of his—”

“Oh my God, please don’t.”

“I was going to say
memory palace
,” Alice says.

“And that is . . . ?”

“It’s a trick for remembering things. You build a house inside your mind. Whenever you want to store information, you focus on where you’re putting it. You keep things utterly organized, so you know where to find them.” She pretends to gag. “It’s not how I’ve ever worked. It’s led to some . . . disagreements while we’ve been interviewing you under hypnosis.”

“Such as?

“He wants to follow the hallways of your little memory hut,” she says. “He wants to sort carefully through every room, every drawer, every cabinet, every shelf, in order.
prefer to follow the trails.”


“Of light,” she says. “I’ve seen them since I was a child. They’re connections that my intuition shows me. Think of it like this: You mention something about your recurring nightmares. You describe them to me, and one detail sort of . . . illuminates. So say it’s the orb of darkness that swallows you. That jumps out at me, like it’s all lit up, and I start to follow that to
everything it’s connected to: the nighttime, a growing sense of dread, your Opening, feelings of powerlessness. It can be specific or vague. Either way, I wait until something else jumps out at me before I keep moving.”

“And if nothing jumps out at you?”

Alice scrunches up her mouth. “Then I keep waiting until it does. That’s why this takes so long. But still, it’s easier than starting from the
beginning, wasting hours in a room full of memories about birthday parties and balloons and beets. And it worked, didn’t it? I mean, minimally, but it worked.”

Beau appears in the doorway. “Come in, come in,” Alice says, waving him forward.

He takes a step and leans against the doorway.

“We’ve had a revelation,” Alice says, clapping her hands. “Three days after Natalie completed the EMDR process, she quit dancing. Prior to that time, she encountered Grandmother several times a year, and she’d been dancing since shortly before her first visitation, her Opening. There could be a link between your decreased level of physical activity and your losing track of Grandmother.”

“Doesn’t that seem like a coincidence?” I say.

Her head wobbles. “No,” she says firmly.

“And that’s because a light string told you so?” I ask.

, but yes. This is important. I feel it. Besides, think about it: It’s a physical activity, a ritual of sorts, but there’s also a sort of meditative or artistic quality to it. That’s the point of ritual: When you’re comfortable enough with an action, your mind is able to disengage from the actual, physical motions and focus elsewhere. When we dream or hallucinate,
multiple separate parts of the brain are active. It’s possible that dance, which marries physical
mental actions, enables you to access Grandmother’s world better than simple stress or emotional fatigue would on its own.”

Beau looks at me. “Like with the piano,” he says.

“What’s that?” Alice says.

Beau shifts his weight to his other leg. “I can move between the worlds when I play.”

Alice taps her fingertips together. “Perfect. An accompanist.”

“But I’ve never seen Grandmother while I’ve been dancing,” I pipe up.

“Maybe not,” Alice says. “But there are so many reasons this could have an effect. For one, it’s possible that dancing regularly affected your sleep. After all, this phenomenon starts as a dream state. Completing the EMDR might’ve cleared out some of your stored, unprocessed trauma, making those heightened dream states unnecessary. But you’re still having a recurring nightmare. You’re still able to move between your world and a world that exists as a dream state for most of us. I still think pinpointing your trauma is the key here, but deepening your sleep might help too. We don’t want to use any drugs that could augment your dream patterns or keep you from waking up when Grandmother appears, but we can naturally exhaust you as much as possible. We’ll send you to the studio late at night, and when you get home you can take some melatonin to help you sleep.”

“Studio?” Beau says.

“The NKU dance studio,” Alice replies. She rifles feverishly through the papers on her desk. “Where the hell did I put
my phone? The dance studios have pianos in them already. It’s perfect, strangely so even. Two people from two different versions of the same town, with the same gift, accessed by complementary activities. It means something.”

“Light strand,” I say, and she points one finger at me vehemently.

“Light strand! Light web, really. Which you two will untangle as soon as possible. We’ll start tonight. I’ll get you a key.”

“And what, you’ll just sit in the corner and channel Degas?”

“I wish,” she says. “But people rarely experience these kinds of visitations with spectators around. The point of this is for you two to combine your abilities, not for me to become the Berlin Wall of hypnopompic hallucinations.”

I turn to give Beau an apologetic look, but he’s already staring at me, concern evident along his brow. “All right. Tonight, Cleary.”

Beau picks me up in the middle of the night again, parking his truck up the street like he did before. There’s that same electric feeling that there always is between us when I get in the car, the same lag when he looks down at my spandex dance shorts and bare legs. During the day, the tension between us shrinks to a manageable intensity, but at night it’s practically unbearable to be close to him but not touching.

The highway’s deserted, and when we reach NKU, the parking lot is too, except for a green-and-tan Subaru covered in bumper stickers bearing political slogans and Rorschach inkblots that all basically resemble a person giving the peace sign. I see
Alice’s silhouette by the building’s front doors, and she lifts her arms over her head, waving at us. Beau parks, and when we get out into the intensely hot night, I feel some relief from his magnetism.

“Hello, hello,” Alice says vaguely, fumbling in her pocket. She pulls out a key ring, jiggles one key in the lock, then pulls the door open. She hands me the keys. “Now, the gold key unlocks the studios. It should work on any of them, so just choose your favorite. Be out by six
., and make sure you lock up.”

“That’s it?” I ask as she starts across the parking lot.

She holds her arms out to her sides. “That’s it. Make me proud.”

The building is frigid and dark, the air conditioning set so high the vents blow my hair and give me goose bumps as we make our way down the hall.

BOOK: The Love That Split the World
3.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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