Insight by J.V. Perry
Istep out of our van into darkness, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. “What is this?”
The skinny three-story building has probably been here for a hundred years. Light from the tired streetlamp stretches just as far as our car, but the blackness still presses in.
Our new home is a dump. Like all three stories will fall over if the wind blows too hard—it will definitely be on the list of worst places Mom and I have lived. The grey paint is worn, and the white trim isn’t all that white. Giant evergreens lean in one side, a parking lot on the other.
“Turn around, Micah.” Mom’s smile is sly.
I turn from the building and suck in a breath of amazement. I’d live in our car to wake up to this every day. There’s a small hill down to the railroad tracks, and in another few feet is the ocean. Just like that.
I like the water, but the ocean? The ocean is a moving body, alive with attitude and power. Power to heal, power to frighten, power to kill and power to save.
A small ferry dock is to the left against the trees, and dim yellow lights reflect from an island across the water.
“Wow.” I walk across the narrow street to stand over the tracks, pulling my unruly masses of blond curls into a low ponytail mess. It’s a quiet night, no wind, and the water looks like black glass.
“Something isn’t it?” She watches, probably enjoying my reaction. “I knew you’d like being on the water. Puget Sound is the best part of Washington. Like I always say, gotta take in the whole view before you judge.”
“What’s that? Out on the island there?” I point.
“Fox Island Prison.” She chuckles as she pulls a few duffels out and sets them on the ground. I spin to see her smiling over the first pile of our belongings. Mom and I have the same blue eyes and angled face, but her hair is a gorgeous sleek brown instead of my unruly curls.
“Oh. Great. Prison.” I try to sound sarcastic, but in this moment, I wouldn’t care if we were in the house just outside of the prison walls—the smell of the ocean could keep me happy anywhere. As I spin back toward the building, I feel a whole ton lighter than I did a minute ago. “So, which one’s ours?”
“Top.” Her smile widens. “Top, left.”
Perfect. I look up to see a small hammock chair, and wonder how many naps I’ll take in there with the rain pouring down on the metal roof of our small balcony.
“Well, there’s no elevator, and we have a lot of stuff to haul up.” This is her nice way of asking me to get my butt in gear.
I take a deep breath, grab two bags, and follow. The stairway is narrow, but it’s late enough that I don’t have to worry about anyone else here. With my abnormality, personal space is a serious issue. No one who gets unwanted visions when they bump into people would like tight spaces.
I step into the apartment. It’s even smaller than the one we left back in Spokane. One tiny bedroom attached to a tiny living room and a practically microscopic bathroom. I can see it all from the doorway. There’s a distinct smell of mustiness—an earthy quality that I find appealing, rather than a sign that the place is probably in need of a good scrub.
“Are you sure we’re done with student living, Mom? Because this feels like a closet pretending to be an apartment.” I drop the two bags on the floor.
“Very funny. This is temporary.” She disappears out our door and back down the stairs.
I stand in the small space and stare at the ocean again. When I open the sliding door, I get another breath of ocean air. My arms rest on the railing, and I feel home.
“Well, I vote we both sleep in the living room tonight. We can fight about who sleeps out here and who gets the bedroom tomorrow.” Mom has just brought in another load. “Come on, Micah. One more load up the stairs, and I’ll leave you alone, okay?”
“M’kay.” I back through the sliding door, unwilling to take my eyes off the water.
The ocean turns a new shade of black as the lights dim, and a small breeze hits the back of my neck giving me chills. I hope we’re here at least until I go to college. I don’t want to leave the water’s edge.
With a a few more loads, everything we own is in the small space. I’m immediately back onto the balcony for one last look. But I can’t stop looking. The silk of the water. The lights from the prison. The small ferry dock’s lights flicker off, lending depth to the night.
By the time I step back into the apartment, the shower is running. I dig through our bags to find a few blankets and pajamas—almost as musty as the apartment after being crammed in the car.
“Tired?” Mom asks as she steps out of the bathroom. The smell of her strawberry shampoo fills the air, but I can’t make out her face in the dim light of our room.
“Yeah.” After driving across the state of Washington, and hauling all our possessions up in one night, my body’s about done. We’re both on the floor, but Mom promises she’ll get mattresses tomorrow.
“Thanks for being so good about moving like this.” She kneels next to my makeshift bed. “Especially halfway through senior year. It’s just the job came up, and I felt like—”
“I know, Mom. It’s fine.” She’s apologized to me a million times, maybe not realizing that I didn’t leave anything behind. Besides, the job is for third grade, and Mom loves that age.
She leans forward to give me a hug like she does every night. Mom is the only person I look forward to touching because when we do touch, my vision is the same, every time. I see me.
Sometimes it’s a flash of me as a baby, sometimes now, sometimes near future, but it’s always me.
I never know what I’ll see when I brush against someone else. I don’t want to know private things about people or what they feel—but it’s sort of unavoidable unless I want to be a total recluse. Which I don’t. Most of the time.
I’ve seen a lot of bizarre moments in people’s lives, and I sometimes wonder why I don’t just see the moment we touch. But I also wonder why I have this oddity at all. Mom is safe, so I sit up to put my arms around her.
A man. Short brown hair with bits of grey at the temples. Warm, kind eyes. A friendly smile on the corners of his mouth. A lot of like.
It’s not me.
My hands close in fists, and I try to stop the shaking spreading through my limbs. Mom is my constant. I can’t lose my safe vision from her. Not with our move.
It takes every ounce of willpower not to jerk away. My heart is frantic, beating desperately against my ribs. He must be in her future. I don’t know this guy.
“You okay, Micah?” She drops her arms and scoots away.
I’m grateful for the dark because I have no idea what my face looks like right now. There’s no way I’m doing a good job of hiding my shock. I’m too tired. “Just sore.” I clear my throat. “From moving.” I lie back onto my pillow, eyes fixed on the white popcorn ceiling.
“Okay.” She reaches out again and touches my leg. He’s back. Short hair. Kind eyes. Soft smile. Lots of like.
I blink away tears. This shouldn’t make me cry. This should make me relieved. Happy. I graduate in a few months. I’ll go to college. Mom will be alone.
At the same time, I rely on seeing my face from my mom, and I’ve been replaced by a stranger. For the millionth time, I wish I’d told her a long time ago about the things I see, but I have no idea how to do that now. I’ve waited too long.
Mom lies on the floor and pulls her blankets up over her shoulder.
“Night, Mom.” At least my voice came in some version of normal.
My visions seem completely pointless and really only make me wish for the ability to disappear. Ever since I can remember, every time I touch someone, through clothes, bare skin doesn’t matter—I see and feel the experience as if I’m them. Just for a moment.
Avoiding people is not going to be an easy feat as the new girl more than halfway through senior year.