My mind was confused by how happy that made my heart and body. Nodding, I threw off the comforter, climbed off the bed, and headed into my bathroom. I brushed my teeth and washed my face quickly. When I walked out of the bathroom, Carson was where I’d left him. I grabbed a bottle of water off the desk and took two aspirins instead of the pain meds. I started to ask if he wanted anything to drink, but he had an energy drink on the floor beside the bed.
His eyes followed me back to the bed, and just then I realized I was only wearing a pair of tiny sleep shorts and a thin tank top. I had a feeling the old Sammy would’ve slowed down or swayed her hips, but I hurried to the bed and slipped under the quilt instead of the covers, flushing from head to toe.
“Shut up,” I muttered.
He twisted onto his side, facing me, eyes sparkling with mischief. “What? I like the look.”
I rolled my eyes and snuggled down. “You’re here to talk about my pajamas?”
“No, but it’s not a bad conversation starter.” Carson scooted down so that he was stretched out beside me. With just the patchwork quilt between us, it felt so strange to be lying in bed beside him. Strange but good. “You going to tell me what happened?”
“Did my brother tell you anything?”
Carson smiled faintly. “No.”
The urge was there, like it had been with Mrs. Messer on Wednesday. I wanted—needed—to tell someone, and there was the level of explicit trust with Carson. And he was here because he cared. Del could’ve snuck in if he was really concerned. That wasn’t fair, and I knew it, but it was the truth.
Carson was here.
Here even after I spent a good five or six years being a tool to him. He’d already seen the worst of me. My faults were exposed to him like live wire.
I drew in a shallow breath. “I think I’m crazy.”
It seemed as if Carson was expecting me to say a lot of things, but that wasn’t one of them. His eyes narrowed. “You’re not crazy.”
The sincerity in his voice brought a lump to my throat. “You don’t understand what’s been happening to me.”
“Then tell me,” he said, eyes locked on mine.
And so I did. I told him everything—the notes, everything that had happened at the lake and then in the car. I even told him about my mom’s suspicion and—the worst thing of all—the hallucinations. When I finished, so much pressure lifted off me. Nothing was fixed or better, but I felt as if I could finally breathe for the first time since I came to, walking that lonely, unfamiliar road. I expected him to pat me on the head and then run from the house.
Carson did neither.
“You’re not crazy,” he said vehemently.
“I’m not?” Tears that had been building finally spilled over, coursing down my cheeks. “I really can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not real anymore.”
He inched closer, chasing the tears away with his thumb. “Look, there’s got to be an explanation for a lot of these things. You said Scott saw the first note, right? And I saw you with the yellow piece of paper in bio that one day. Those notes existed.”
“But what about the one in the car? I didn’t even have my purse with me, and I would have sworn that it was there.”
“Look, I’m not ruling out stress. When my…when my mom died, my dad thought he did so many things that he didn’t do. Once he left the car running and blamed me for it. He even wrote notes, like to-do lists, and then forgot he did it.” He caught another tear, wiping it away. “And you said the guy was kind of like a black blur?”
I nodded, sniffling.
“In class that one day you were drawing a dark figure. I think what’s happening is your subconscious is pushing through. The guy in the woods and in the car—it could be a memory.” A muscle popped in his jaw, but his eyes, so vividly blue they looked violet, were still incredibly soft. “You don’t know what happened to you. Someone could’ve been chasing you. The hallucinations could all be memories.”
“My reflection talking to me is a memory?” I blushed even though I’d told him about it.
“Like I said, some of it’s probably stress, and that’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” he said gently. “You’ve been through a lot, Sam. And you’re putting a lot of pressure on yourself to remember so you can help find out what happened to Cassie.” He paused, cupping my cheek. “Please. Please stop crying.”
His softly spoken plea reached down inside me, clamping around my heart. I nodded, doing my best to stop my tears. It was hard, given how freaking perfect he was being about all of this.
“Thank you,” I finally said when the tears subsided, and he pulled his hand back. “I mean it. I don’t feel so…so crazy right now.”
A small grin tugged at his lips. “I’m happy to hear it.”
My chest fluttered again, and I rolled onto my back, taking deep, steady breaths. I’d told him about the vision with Dianna, and I wanted to know what that was about, but I knew better than to push it right now.
Carson also flipped onto his back. Several moments passed between us; the silence was soothing, not at all awkward. “You really think going up on the cliff would help?”
“Yeah,” I sighed, wiping my palms over my damp cheeks. “I think it might. Mrs. Messer keeps suggesting that I visit familiar places.”
“I can go with you,” he offered. “I know the layout pretty well. You used to know your way around there, too.”
I used to know a lot of things. Turning my head toward him, I smiled. “If you can…that would be great.”
“Would Del the Dick get mad?” One dark eyebrow arched mockingly.
Good question. I gave a lopsided shrug. “I don’t think so, but you shouldn’t call him that.”
Carson chuckled. “Do you care if he gets mad?”
My immediate response was on the tip of my tongue, but I squelched it and changed the subject. “I doubt my parents will let me out of the house this weekend, but maybe after school…”
“Whenever you want, just let me know.”
“I will.” I looked at him again, my eyes crawling across the broad cheekbones and parted lips. Part of me knew then that I would never grow tired of looking at him, but it was so much, much more than that. Carson made me feel normal—sane. That was worth more than anything I could ever say or do to repay him. “Thank you for coming by. I really mean it.”