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Authors: Marci Lyn Curtis

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BOOK: The One Thing
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There was something about the way he spoke—all energetic and lively, as though there were a mariachi band parading out of his mouth—that prompted me to open my eyes. And that was
when I realized I was hallucinating from the smack I’d just taken on the head.

Because I could actually see him.

It had been six months since bacterial meningitis stole my sight, six months since I’d seen anything at all. Sure, what I was seeing was a cheesy hallucination, but it was
I should hit my head more often.

A young boy peered down at me. I figured he was maybe eight or nine years old, but I’d never hallucinated before, so my hallucination-age-guessing skills could have been a little off. He
was small, golden-toned, and ribby, and he wore board shorts about three sizes too big, a cockeyed baseball cap, and a wide, toothy smile.

I sat up, swaying a little as I came to rest in a seated position. My brain was swimmy and I had a massive headache. “You,” I began, shaking an index finger at him, but the kid
furrowed his brows at me and I completely lost my train of thought.

I peered at the space around the boy. I wasn’t just seeing him. I was seeing several feet around him as well, as though he were a pale gray lightbulb, emitting the sort of muted light that
yawns into existence at dawn—almost more the idea of light than actual light. But it had been so long since I’d seen anything that it seemed more like a spotlight.

On the floor beside his sneakers, I could see a crumpled-up Skittles wrapper. Red. The wrapper was bright red. God, I’d missed red. Beside it was a bright blue plastic chair, on which
was carved in big block letters. And above the chair? A soft, buttery beam of slanted late-afternoon sunlight. Beyond that, everything just got dimmer and dimmer, slowly petering
out into the void.

Even for a hallucination it was weird.

I looked up at the kid, suddenly realizing that he was supporting himself with a pair of crutches. Not the kind that cram into your armpits, but the short aluminum ones that attach to your
forearms. Strangely, they seemed to be a fundamental part of him—if he were standing here without them, he’d look as though he were missing something vital, like a nose or an ear or
whatever. He was smiling at me with half his mouth, his expression stuck somewhere between amusement and disbelief. “Are you drunk?” he asked.

I’d never met a hallucination until just now, but I was fairly certain that this particular one was a little presumptuous. Maybe they all were. “I am not drunk,” I said
indignantly. “I am concussed, which explains your presence here.” I swooped an arm around with a flourish, as if introducing him to the situation.

He puffed out his cheeks and sighed. “So then you’re a pothead. Crap.” Under his breath, he added, “The good-looking ones always have a tragic flaw.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “Excuse me?”

“Well. The thing is? I used to be totally in love with Jessica Baylor. She sat next to me in math. She was
. Like, she had shiny hair and shiny eyes and a shiny smile. But
then? She told me she hates cake, and I’m fundamentally opposed to cake-haters. Then there was Hannah. From band? She had
. They were magnificent. Just thinking about them was
enough to make a guy go bonkers....” He blinked once. Hard. Like he was using his eyelids to wipe the image off his brain. “But the thing about Hannah was that I caught her throwing a
rock at a squirrel. A squirrel, for Pete’s sake. It just wasn’t right. Then today, when I saw you—
—I thought you were perfect. That fall? Wow. But
then I find out you’re a pothead.” He huffed out another huge gust of air. “It’s tragic.”

Whoa. I must’ve really knocked the crap out of my head. “I’m not a pothead,” I informed him, although I wasn’t sure why I was defending my honor to a young,
semiperverted apparition.

“Then why are you staring at me like that?” he asked. “Like, all blank-faced and goofy-eyed?”

Staring? Well, I guess I was. I wondered briefly why pointless social conventions applied to hallucinations. “You’d have to be staring at me to know that I was staring at you,”
I said. Clearly, he couldn’t argue with such logic.

His smile grew wide, commandeering his entire face, and then he said, “You were staring at me first, so you started it. I am just an innocent bystander who is taking note of all your

I tapped an index finger on my chin. There’s nothing like a good argument to knock the fog out of your brain. And I could tell by his expression that he noticed my improving mental clarity
as well, that he realized his pothead theory had been way off base. “Actually,” I said, “when I first saw you? Right after I fell? You were already looking at me, which makes you
the one who stared first. My staring, therefore, is just a byproduct of all your staring.”

There was a long silence, which then became a longer silence. Finally he whispered, “I believe I’ve just found my next girlfriend.”

I laughed so hard that I let out an unladylike snort. Evidently I had a way with hallucinations. But people? Well, I sort of sucked with people.

A sharp clicking of high heels came into the room. From somewhere behind me, the receptionist said, “What the...? Maggie? Why are you sitting on the floor? Are you okay?”

“Oh, I’m grand,” I drawled, not taking my eyes off the kid. “Never better. Just had a teensy slip, followed by a not-so-teensy fall. Something on the floor is a smidge

She was dead quiet for a moment, and then she said in a whine, “Oh—no, no, no, no. Not now.”

What her problem was I wasn’t sure, but I couldn’t be bothered. Right now, for some reason, life just seemed to

“Benjamin Milton,” the receptionist scolded, “stop flirting with the poor girl. Can’t you see that she’s way too old for you?”

The kid took in a big breath and puffed out his cheeks. Holding up one index finger, he said, “I am not flirting, per se. I cannot help that I am a sexy piece of man-flesh

But she cut him off before he could finish his sentence, her words flying out of her mouth so quickly that I could barely understand them: “Sorry Ben but listen I have to go because
I’m late late late and I have three minutes to pick up my son or the day care will charge me and I can’t pay them extra or else I’ll be short on my rent so be a dear and wipe that
stuff off the floor before someone breaks their neck.” I flinched as a dingy rag flew out of nowhere from behind me and landed on top of the boy’s shoulder. “Thanks a ton I really
appreciate it!” She raised her voice and said, “MR. STURGIS I’M LEAVING AND YOUR NEPHEW IS HERE AND DON’T FORGET TO LOCK UP!” Bottle-blond, thin, and middle-aged, the
woman half walked, half ran right through my faint bubble of sight. And then she was gone.

For several seconds, I forgot how to breathe. My eyes traveled back to the kid standing in front of me. I felt as though I’d collided with something massive and unyielding and then
exploded into a million tiny pieces. I shut my eyes, trying to gather what was left of my sanity. When I opened them, he was still there.

sat there for a few seconds, gaping at the kid. He shifted toward me on his crutches and grinned widely, flashing me his largish set of front
teeth. “Why can I see you?” I asked. He didn’t answer my question because I didn’t actually say it. I tried the words out in my mind, but they seemed too ridiculous to say
out loud. I ran a hand over the new lump on my head, wondering whether my fall had knocked something back where it belonged—whether some cog in my brain had been slammed back into the notch

Was that even possible?

I swallowed and let my eyes fall downward. I didn’t know what I was expecting to see, but it surely wasn’t...
. My blindness had caused me to doubt my own existence,
made me believe that I’d evaporated into nothingness—a ghost of a person. My hands were bone-white, thin, frail-looking, a single callus on my right index finger from learning braille.
I was wearing a white T-shirt advertising my current obsession and the best emerging band of all time, the Loose Cannons, and also the shorts my parents had purchased for me a couple months back.
I’d always thought the shorts were comfortable and unique, but now that I saw them I realized why. They were too big, too bunched up in weird places, and too reminiscent of something my
mother would wear. My toenails still had a couple specks of Blue Bayou polish on them. It had been my favorite back when I could see. On the side of my right ankle, just north of my flip-flop, was
the scar I’d gotten when I’d fallen out of a tree back in the eighth grade. I stared at it for a few heartbeats, long and hard, feeling oddly as though I were standing an inch from a
big screen, marveling at every little pixel.

—I could definitely see.



Twisting around, I looked behind me. I had maybe a foot of hazy sight, but beyond that, everything faded into oblivion. No waiting room. No chairs. No...nothing. I swung my head back, peering at
a thin river of frothy light-green substance that snaked its way along the not-quite-white tile floor. Pistachio ice cream, I was guessing. Evidently this was what I’d slipped on. I had never
been a fan of pistachio ice cream—nuts have no business hanging around in something smooth and creamy—but in light of current events, I might have to eat a whole carton of it

Because really.

The kid, Ben, cleared his throat, cranked his head around to face Mr. Sturgis’s office, and basically screamed, “UNCLE KEVIN! Mom wanted me to run in and ask whether you could come
to dinner tonight, but you’re, like, obviously busy working and stuff, so I’ll take my new girlfriend instead.” All Mr. Sturgis could get out of his mouth was “Um”
before Ben interrupted him by saying, “No, it’s totally cool, because I want her to meet my family.”

“Er. Okay?” Mr. Sturgis hollered back, clearly confused.

“I’m not your girlfriend,” I informed him in a low voice, but he just smiled at me like a complete lunatic. And then, chin raised high and spine straight and confident, he
lowered himself to the floor with one arm, using the
chair as a prop. His skinny legs folded up limply underneath him.

“So,” he said, one eye on me and one eye on the pistachio ice cream he was wiping off the floor, “shoplifting?”

I didn’t answer him because his question made zero sense. Also, his head was turned a little, giving me a full view of the writing on his cockeyed hat:
! I was so idiotically thrilled to see the written word that I read it over and over. Finally, I realized that he was waiting for a comment or an answer or
something—to what, exactly, I couldn’t quite remember—so I said, “Um. Excuse me?”

“Why are you in my uncle’s office?” he said, turning toward me and taking away my brief view of the writing on his hat. “You don’t look like an ax murderer or a
drug dealer, so I figure you’re a shoplifter.” He leaned toward me and lowered his voice to a stage whisper. “What did you steal?”

“Nothing,” I said sharply. In a normal situation, I would have replied with something quick-witted and smart-assed, but the throb in my head and the sudden one-eighty of my eyesight
was interfering with my thought processes.

“I think you are hiding something from me, beautiful,” he said.

Well. I didn’t know how to reply to that. Mostly because I found it impossible to argue effectively with someone who had just called me beautiful. Even if the compliment had come from a

He stopped wiping the floor and waited for an answer to the shoplifting question. I straightened my posture and said, “I am not a shoplifter. I don’t even like to shop. I
was...involved in a school prank.”

His smile widened, and he laughed in one quick burst that had the sound and the feel of an exclamation point at the end of a sentence. “I love a girlfriend with hidden depths.
Please...continue,” he said.

“I’m not your girlfriend. I’m way too old for you,” I informed him.

“Yes, but you
be my girlfriend, so technically it’s the same thing,” he said, flicking his eyebrows at me.

“Technically, it isn’t. Technically, you’re, what, nine years old?”

“Ten,” he sniffed, as though the one year made a huge difference.

“Technically, you’re ten and I’m seventeen, and there are probably laws against ten-year-olds and seventeen-year-olds dating.”

He waved me off and said, “So. The school prank?”

There was something in his eyes—a realness or a sincerity, maybe—that I was beginning to notice, if only because it was so lacking in myself. It was this quality, and this quality
alone, that prompted me to tell him about the prank.

It went down something like this: Several months ago, while both the faculty and students attended a school assembly, I relocated the obnoxiously huge statue of our obnoxiously huge-headed
school founder, Elias Merchant, a few feet across the hallway to the boys’ restroom. In front of the urinals, to be exact. Then I coated my feet in the Home Depot’s Moon Dust white
paint and walked a short trail of painted footprints from where the statue had once stood to where I’d moved it. So basically, it appeared as though the statue had sort of walked off to the
restroom and decided to stay there for a while. Okay, so I knew that none of the students would actually see my artistry, but I was certain they would hear all about it. And it was better that way.
The embellishments you dream up in your mind are always better than reality. At any rate, it was all in good fun. Until I got caught, that is.

BOOK: The One Thing
7.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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