Every time the doorbell rings, I think it might be A. Every time someone looks at me for a beat too long. Every time a message arrives in my inbox. Every time the phone displays a number I don’t know. For a second or two, I fool myself into believing.
It’s hard to remember someone when you don’t know what they look like. Because A changes from day to day, it’s impossible to choose a memory and have it mean more than that single day. No matter how I picture A, it’s not going to be what A looks like now. I remember A as a boy and as a girl, as tall and short, skin and hair all different colors. A blur. But the blur takes the shape of how A made me feel, and that may be the most accurate shape of all.
A has been gone a month. I should be used to it. But how can there be any separation when A is in so many of my thoughts? Isn’t that as close as you can get to another person, to have them constantly inside your head?
As I’m thinking all these things, feeling all these things, I can’t let any of them show. Look at me and you will see: A girl who has finally buried the remains of her last bad relationship. A girl with a great new boyfriend. A girl with friends who support her and a family that isn’t more annoying than any other family. You will not see anything missing--you will not sense the part of her that’s been left inside someone else. Maybe if you look into her eyes long enough and know what to look for. But the point is: The person who knew how to look at me like that is gone.
My boyfriend, Alexander, knows there’s something I’m not telling him, but he’s not the kind of guy who wants to know everything. He gives me space. He tells me it’s fine to take things slow. I can tell that he’s fallen for me, that he really wants this to work. I want it to work, too.
But I also want A.
Even if we can’t be together. Even if we’re no longer near each other. Even if all I get is a hello, and not even a how are you?--I want to know where A is, and that A thinks of me at least some of the time. Even if it means nothing now, I want to know it meant something once.
The doorbell rings. I am the only one home. My thoughts race to A--I allow myself to picture the stranger at the door who isn’t really a stranger. I imagine the light in his eyes, or maybe her eyes. I imagine A saying a solution has been found, a way has been devised to stay in the same body for longer than a single day without hurting anyone.
“Coming!” I yell out. I’m stupidly nervous as I get to the door and throw it open.
The boy I find there is familiar, but at first I don’t recognize him.
“Are you Rhiannon?” he asks.
As I nod, I’m realizing who he is.
“Nathan?” I say.
Now he’s surprised, too.
“I know you, don’t I?” he asks.
I answer honestly. “It depends on what you remember.”
I know this is dangerous ground. Nathan is not supposed to remember the day that A was in his body, borrowing his life. He is not supposed to remember the way he and I danced in a basement, or anything that happened after.
“It was your name,” he says. “I kept thinking your name. Like when you wake up from a dream and there’s only one part you can remember? That’s what your name was. So I went online and checked out all the Rhiannons who live near me. When I saw your picture . . . I felt like I’d seen you before. But I couldn’t remember where or when.” His hands are starting to shake. “What happened? If you have any idea what I’m talking about, can you please tell me what happened? I only have pieces. . . .”
What kind of rational person would ever believe the truth? Who wouldn’t laugh when someone tells them it’s possible to move from one body to another? That’s how I reacted at first.
The only reason I stopped being rational was because something irrational happened to me. And I knew it.
I can see that Nathan knows it, too. Still, I warn him, “You’re not going to believe me.”
“You’d be amazed at what I can believe at this point,” he replies.
I know I need to be careful. I know there’s no going back once the story is out. I know he might not be trustworthy.
But A is gone. A can’t be hurt by this. And I . . . I need to tell someone. I need to share this with someone who at least partly deserves to hear it.
So I let Nathan in. I sit him down.
I tell him as much of the truth as I can.
Copyright © 2018 by David Levithan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.