The Love That Split the World (5 page)

BOOK: The Love That Split the World
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“That’s what Satan’s pee tastes like when he has a urinary tract infection. What
is
that?”

“I have no idea,” he says. His voice is low and kind of slow, but in a nice way. He sounds like July to me, and I wonder where his family’s from that his accent’s a little thicker than that of most people around here. “It was a gift.”

“Ah,” I say. “Thus the wrapping paper, I guess.”

“You like that? That’s my dad—he thinks of everything.”

“Your dad gave you Satan Pee as a present? Do you want me to call child services? I have the world’s worst cell phone with me.”

He does another one of those inward laughs, where his shoulders lift and his heavy eyelids dip but he doesn’t make any real sound, and then he takes another swig.

“That really was a beautiful song. What was it?”

“I dunno,” he says, staring down at his hands with a faint grin. “Think I heard it in a Gary’s Used Auto Parts commercial or something.”

“Oh, right,” I say. “That must be where I’ve heard it too. Their commercials always move me to tears.”

The left corner of his mouth inches up, and his eyes lift up to mine, and I ignore an inclination to look away. “What were you doin’ in here anyway?” he asks.

“I happen to go to school here,” I tell him. “Or I did until today. What were
you
doing here?”

“Haunting,” he says, holding his arms out to his sides. The Satan Pee sloshes over the mouth of the bottle, running down his hand onto the window bay, and we both laugh and reach for the puddle, our hands fighting and failing to mop it up. “I’m sorry,” he says, looking up at me through the strands of dark
hair that have fallen around his face. “I spilled whiskey all over your school. That was rude of me.”

“It’s fine,” I tell him. “Really, today was my last day. I don’t need this school anymore. Feel free to spill all over it.”

“But you’ve got it all over your hand too,” he says, and when he looks down to where my hand rests beside his, I feel my forehead and cheeks flushing. There are times I really appreciate my complexion, and this is one of them.

His gaze comes back to mine, and I straighten up, putting a more natural amount of space between us. “My friends are waiting for me,” I tell him. “I should get back.”

He nods. I hop down from the window, pulling the curtains back along their track to let the moonlight unfurl across the room. I look back at him and hesitate for a second. “Okay,” I say again, pulling at my ponytail, then head for the door.

“Hey,” he says, stopping me.

“Yeah?”

“Natalie—that’s your name?”

I nod. His face is etched with shadows, but I can still see the corners of his smile. “Natalie Cleary,” I say.

“Nice to meet you, Natalie Cleary,” he says.

“Nice to meet you too, . . . ?”

“Beau,” he tells me.

“Beau
.

He nods.

Beau
.

“See you around.”

When I get back out to the parking lot, Matt Kincaid is saying the words “How ’bout Hooters?” and that’s how I know it’s time to go to bed.

“I think I’m just going to go home,” I say, and all four of them jump.


Jesus,
Natalie.” Rachel clutches her chest, and her eyelids flutter dramatically.

“Yeah, seriously, did you
float
here?” Derek says.

“Where were you?” Matt asks, and immediately I feel guilty. For hiding from them, for letting them look for me, and, if I’m being honest, for flirting with someone who isn’t him.

“At my locker.” I lift up my purse like it’s evidence.

“We went to your locker,” Rachel says, digging her hand into her hip. “You weren’t there, and by the way, you missed out on seeing the Band Room Ghost.”

“I stopped at the bathroom.” Now I’m outright lying, and I can tell by the arch in Megan’s thin blond eyebrows she knows it. That’s fine—I plan on telling her everything, but I’m not going to ruin everyone’s ghost story, and I’m
not
going to talk about boys with Matt Kincaid.

“We don’t have to go to Hooters,” he offers. “We could go to BW3’s.”

“What’s wrong with Hooters?” Rachel says.

“Literally everything,” I say.

She gives a harsh laugh. “You honestly think you’re too good to eat at Hooters.”

“Rachel, anything with functioning taste buds is too good to eat at Hooters,” I say. “Their food is gross, and I’m tired.”

“Or Barleycorn’s,” Matt suggests. “We haven’t been there
in a while.” Matt was the type of boyfriend to accommodate me, or to at least stand by my side in public. The
I don’t get why you couldn’t just go along with it/were offended by that/don’t want to do the things we used to do
would always come later, when we were alone, but I got the feeling he genuinely wanted to understand.

“I’m suddenly feeling exhausted too,” Megan says.

“Let’s just go drink at Rachel’s,” Derek tosses out.

“I don’t really feel like drinking,” Matt says.

“Since when, man?” Derek says.

“You used to eat at Hooters,” Rachel says, still on me. “Before you went all uptight feminazi Ivy Leaguer.”

“And
you
used to wear blue mascara,” I throw back. “People grow up.”

“Yeah, you know, I remember that blue mascara. My slut sister got that for me—the one who works at Hooters.”

“Rachel,” I snap, “I don’t care if Janelle wants to work at Hooters. I don’t care if you and the rest of the world want to go spend your money on dried-out chicken and ketchup-based sauces. And least of all—less than almost anything else I can imagine—I don’t care how much sex your sister is or isn’t having. That’s kind of the deal with the whole
uptight feminazi
thing—we don’t care when other women want to wear stupid orange Soffe shorts with white tennis shoes and have a lot of sex, or when they want to wear habits and live in a convent, or if they want to walk around in pasties and never French kiss, so long as they’re allowed to do what
they
want. And right now, all
I
want is to go to bed. Okay?”

She crosses her arms and glowers silently, so I turn and stomp across the parking lot back to my car. I don’t know
what’s come over her lately, but Rachel never lets anything I say go without a fight anymore.

“Call me later,” Megan shouts after me.

I climb into the Jeep and look back to where they’re standing under the bright white floodlight at the back of the lot a few rows over. “Tomorrow,” I call back.

Tonight I need to find answers.

I speed out of the parking lot, past Matt’s farm, past whitewashed churches, over dark narrow roads lined in lush foliage that roll and curve as determined by the buffalo herds that shaped them long ago. I think about Beau and his song, whose sounds I can’t remember but I can still
feel
.

I spilled whiskey all over your school
.

I
said like
ah
. I think about him all the way home.

Nice to meet you, Natalie Cleary.

Nice
said like
nahs
. I think about him until I fall asleep.

Three months.

5

I spend all weekend sorting through Alice Chans, without any conclusive results. By Sunday night, I’m still uselessly tossing and turning in my bed, mulling over every last word Grandmother spoke, and replaying the disappearance of Matt and everyone else at school and the appearance of Beau on the football field, in an attempt to make sense of it.

Before the eye movement desensitization reprocessing therapy, I’d had horrible nightmares, several recurring. The worst one involved a vast, shapeless darkness that chased me and Mom down a country road, eventually slamming into us so hard the car spun off the pavement and careened into a tree, folding in half. That dream woke me up gasping for breath sometimes, but it still wasn’t the worst part of nighttime. That would be the hallucinations. I’d had two different kinds, hypnopompic and
hypnagogic, but I don’t see how what happened with Matt in the hallway or Beau on the field could be one of those.

Hypnopompic hallucinations happen when you’re sleeping: Your body wakes up—eyes and vision included—before your mind fully does. Thus you may see your bedroom, exactly as it is, except there’s a torrent of spiders crawling all over you, or blood pouring down your walls, or an ancient American Indian woman sitting in your rocking chair. These hallucinations can be a sight, a smell, even a sound or sensation.

Hypnagogic hallucinations are nearly the same as hypnopompic—but hypnagogia occurs when you’re falling asleep instead of when you’re waking up: Your body, eyes, and vision remain awake though your brain’s already dreaming.

You know when you’re drifting off, when you’re nearly there, and suddenly your bed gets yanked out from under you,
and you’re falling? You jerk awake and realize you’re safe—you were in bed the whole time.

Congratulations, you’ve just had the most common nighttime hallucination.

You don’t need treatment if you wake yourself up with the sensation that you’re falling. You
do
need treatment, apparently, if you have insomnia, anxiety, night terrors, and tri-annual visitations from a seemingly omnipotent deity.

The EMDR had put a stop to all that, almost making me believe Grandmother
had
been a dream.

For the first time ever, I wish she were. Then her warning wouldn’t mean anything. Then I wouldn’t be chasing down one of apparently five billion local Alice Chans. I shove Gus’s snoring snout aside so I can roll over for the millionth time. Tonight
even the partial sleep of a hallucination would be welcome, but it doesn’t come.

At two in the morning, I give up on sleeping altogether and reach for my phone on my bedside table, rattling off a few more search word combinations. With a stroke of inspiration, I type a new one into the search bar:
Alice Chan Kentucky hypnopompic hallucination
.

I hit
ENTER
, and my heart stops when I see the first result.

Visitations: Premonitions and Other Psychic Phenomena Surrounding Hypnopompia and Hygnagogia
by Alice Chan, Professor of Psychology at Northern Kentucky University.

I open the abstract and know right away: I’ve found Grandmother’s Alice.

The first Spirit Week event is the Superlative Parade, the one I’m least excited about, but after last night’s success, I’m jittery with excitement and nerves. The lack of sleep and excess of caffeine surely aren’t helping. When we get to the school, it’s drizzling and thundering. I drop Jack and Coco off at the front doors, then pull around to the back lot, where the Spirit Week Committee is lining up the “floats”—which is, apparently, what you call a pickup truck once you hang a black-and-orange banner on it.

When I spot my assigned float and co-rider, I park as far away from both as I can and wait for Megan, reading and rereading Alice Chan’s abstract over and over again as if I haven’t memorized every word. A minute later, Megan’s black Civic pulls up beside me, and she hops out of her car and into mine, shaking the warm rain out of her hair and hood. “Okay, let’s see it.”

I pass my phone to Megan right away.

“Why does your phone look like it passed through the heavens to fall to Earth?”

“Um, maybe because I was on it for the last forty-eight straight hours, during which I was also making little sandwiches out of spray-can whipped cream and Lay’s potato chips.”

“Ah, brain food.” Megan turns her eyes down and scans the text. “So this is like a light, fluffy, beach read, right?”

I tap the portrait of the severe-looking woman with a bob and a thin-lipped scowl in the top right corner of the screen. “Alice Chan’s the head of the Psychology Department at NKU.”

“And you think she’s
Grandmother’s
Alice why?”

“Because.” I free the phone from her hands again. “Look here. This is exactly the kind of weird sleep stuff I was going through all those years. Hypnopompic and hypnagogic hallucinations are basically just dreams, but you have them while your body’s technically awake. Maybe that’s what happened to me the other day in the hallway—and at senior night. Anyway, that’s what Dr. Langdon always thought Grandmother was: a nighttime hallucination.”

Megan purses her lips. “But she’s not. She knows way too freaking much to be a product of your subconscious—no offense.”

“Thanks for knowing that. But the point is, Alice Chan isn’t a counselor. She’s a researcher. She says herself these hallucinations are really ‘visitations and psychic phenomena.’ Maybe she knows how to induce them. If she can bring Grandmother back . . .” I trail off, and Megan reaches across the middle console to squeeze my hand. She’s trying to calm me down, but her own features are obviously torqued with worry. I shouldn’t have told
her about Grandmother’s warning. I’m freaking out enough for both of us. “Grandmother told me to find this woman for
some
reason,” I say. “She can help.”

Megan’s thin lips scrunch up as she thinks. “Have you called this illustrious Dr. Chan yet?”

“Not yet. I’m going to, right after my wedding.”

Megan grimaces out the window in the direction of my float. Its banner reads
MR. AND MRS. MATT K
INCAID
, our names surrounded by orange and black hearts. Matt’s standing in the truck bed in his letterman jacket, his sweatshirt hood pulled up from underneath to keep the rain off his neck and face. A girl couldn’t ask for a classier processional.

“Do you think this is the first time in history that the couple voted Most Likely to Get Married weren’t even a couple when they were nominated?” I ask.

“People suck,” she replies.

“That
banner
sucks.”

“You didn’t even get a
first
name, let alone a last name.”

“My husband’s name is all I need now,” I say. “Unlike people like you, who are crowned Most Athletic.”

“True,” Megan says.

“Are you ready?”


I
am,” Megan says. “
You’re
not. I saw the thrift-store wedding dress Rachel and the Spirit Week Committee got for you.”

“Oh God.”

“That’s right. You’d better pray. By the way, what the hell is that sound?”

“I think it’s the carburetor.”

“What’s a carburetor?”

“It’s a thing inside a car that sometimes makes that noise when you’re about to commit your life to the wrong person in the back of a pickup truck.”

“Ooooh, gotcha,” she says. Then, “He still loves you, you know.”

“I love
him
. But not like that, I don’t think.”

Megan nods.
That’s
how it should be. Two people who are right for each other should get one another, trust one another. I should’ve known I could tell Matt about Grandmother and he’d actually listen, but I never genuinely
felt
that, so I never did. We spent every minute together, but still I kept so much of myself from him—everything he wouldn’t understand. It only made it harder for me that he always seemed so perfect, so unshakably sane and normal. When we broke up he must’ve felt totally blindsided, though to me, looking back on it now, it had been coming for ages.

Megan and I get out of the car and jog through the rain toward the floats.

“Nice of y’all to show,” Rachel shouts across the parking lot. “It’s not like the rest of us are just standing here in the rain.” She only joined the Spirit Week Committee as an alternative to summer school (which was an alternative to all her detentions), but you’d think we just interrupted her wedding. She plants one hand on her hip then points her other hand sharply, first toward my float, then Megan’s.

I make my way along the long line of trucks and convertibles toward Derek’s cherry-red pickup. The whole senior class is invited to participate in the parade, but those of us who “won” a superlative lead the way. It’s just a few laps around the school,
the underclassmen watching through the classroom windows, followed by a pancake breakfast in the cafeteria. Pretty unremarkable, but it’s a tradition I’ve always looked forward to. We all have, I guess.

“If it’s not my beautiful bride,” Matt proclaims from the truck bed.

“Hi,” I say stiffly. I don’t want to be cold, but frigidity seems like the best course of action when you’re standing with your ex whose heart you’d rather not keep shredding, on a float devoted to your relationship, just like all the “Matt &Nat” carvings in all the trees and bathroom stalls around the middle school. Even his letterman jacket proclaims our “undying” love: Matt Kincaid, QB1, has been #4 since age twelve, when he chose his jersey number in honor of my birthday, April fourth.

As he offers me a hand and helps pull me up, my eyes land on a hideous monstrosity of white taffeta and lace draped over one side of the truck bed. “My gown,” I say. “It’s just how I imagined it.”

Matt laughs, swipes the dress up, and lifts the immense amounts of fabric over my head for me to put on.

“Don’t you have to wear a tux or something?” I grumble, forcing my head and arms through the respective holes.

“Rachel gave me a suit jacket,” he says. “It’s under my coat.”

“Oh, how convenient,” I say, then a whiff of something sweet hits me. “Is that whiskey on your breath?”

He glances down at his feet, scratches the back of his head, and then eyes me. “Maybe.”

“Since when do you drink whiskey at eight in the morning?”

“Well, I guess you wouldn’t know, would you, Nat? You’re not exactly blowing up my phone these days.”

“Fair enough,” I say. By the time we broke up, I already found Matt’s burgeoning party boy persona a little annoying. At first, I’d just assumed that he was being absorbed into the many-headed monstrosity that the football team can be, while forsaking his true self. But when his drinking became more and more regular, I knew that wasn’t it.

“You want some?” Matt says, patting a flask-shaped lump in his pocket.

“A flask?” He nods. “What is this, Atlantic City in the 1920s?”

“Do you want any or not?”

“Hold on, I’m about to make a joke about the little teetotaling town from
Footloose
.”

“Nat,” he says. “Yes or no.”

“No thanks,” I say. “I don’t want to fall off the stage onto the mob bosses while I’m doing the Charleston.”

He laughs again and shakes my shoulders. “So, what do you think? Are you ready?”

“To debut my flapper dress to a bunch of bootleggers?”

“To get married,” he says.

“Ah.” I look up at the cement-and-faded-redbrick school, the cropped green grass and trees, the columns of dark clouds forming overhead. Thunder booms in the distance, and this secondhand dress is soaking through, growing heavier with rain every second.

And suddenly, it happens again.

I feel my stomach rise as though I’m on a roller coaster.
Matt, Megan, Rachel, and all the others, Derek’s truck, the school itself—everything—is gone.

I’m alone in a field of rolling blue-green hills, standing in a cool breath of wind beneath a brewing storm, my hair and dress dripping. Thunder booms again, closer this time, and rain rushes down my eyelashes, blurring my vision. On the hill in front of me, where the school should be, I see a herd of buffalo.

I can hear them eating the grass. It’s a thick, breathy, crunching sound, and puffs of mist expulse around their velvety nostrils. Their great heads swivel back and forth as they eat; their large brown eyes with impossibly long and curled lashes are watching me, though they don’t seem concerned.

And then it ends, as quickly as it started.

My stomach drops back down. The school flickers back into place. The buffalo wink out of existence. Matt’s in front of me again, the corrugated truck bed firm beneath my feet. The sounds of the world rush back in, my classmates hooting and laughing and talking all around me, leaning on their horns and driving Rachel insane as she tries to get everyone moving. “SCREW YOU,” she’s screaming. “Seriously, Tony,
screw you
!”

“Nat?” Matt says. “It was just a joke. I don’t really think we’re getting married. You know that, right?”

I nod, distracted.

“I mean, unless you
want
to get married, in which case—”

“Matt,” I warn, immediately alert again.

“Don’t do that, Nat. Don’t say my name like you’re about to deliver crushing news. It was just a joke.”

BOOK: The Love That Split the World
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