At the fringe of my vision, a shape is moving towards me. A grey silhouette. I am immediately thrown into some kind of disorientated panic as adrenaline kicks in, and I prepare to flee, just as the figure steps before me and I see the face properly: smooth, bronze complexion; short, tufty hair; flat nose: the boy that passed us yesterday. He holds both hands up in a surrender. Brown eyes lock with mine – eyes that communicate clearly their owner’s lack of malicious intent. Without realising it, I calm slightly. “What?” I breathe.
“I can help you.” He says ambiguously, lowering his arms.
I stare. When did it become standard for strange boys to want to talk to me? “What do you mean?” I ask, sceptical.
As if shedding an outer skin, the boy drops my gaze and distractedly grips the end of a grey t-shirt poking out of the bottom of his body warmer. “Um, well…I really don’t know where to start.” He murmurs nasally, as if he has a cold.
I look on suspiciously. I’m going to be late if he doesn’t hurry up.
“So – I – don’t know how to say it.”
Aw man, come on. I blink down at him.
“Well, I got this letter from my uncle.” He begins afresh. “He said that something – big – happened when I – we – were in the hospital. He told me to come to his so he can explain.”
I scrutinise him, uncomprehending, though interest is taking hold. His anxious but earnest complex rings the ghost of a bell. All these run-ins with my past can’t simply be coincidences. Can they? Yes, they can.
“So, what do you want me to do?” I ask, genuinely confused. Or perhaps I just want to be.
Blush creeps into his cheeks. “Could you, please, come with me?”
I cross my arms so as to ensure he knows that I’m not leaving without a decent explanation. And to give me more time to process what is happening; I already have a dismaying inkling of what’s about to unfold.
“I can, um, smell feelings.” He stares straight ahead at a point in the distance.
At the mention of the word “feelings”, apprehension begins to submerge me.
“Your smell is, er, stronger than normal. And you were in the same ward as me so I – I think what my uncle has to say might be of use to you as well?” He leaves it as a rhetorical question, probably in response to the deep furrow of my forehead. Then a shy, hopeful little smile creeps up his face, prodding against his lips.
It would have made me laugh if it had not been for the sinking feeling in my stomach. None of this can be true.
“Besides, a problem shared is a problem halved!” He exclaims quietly, attempting perkiness, though the subsequent shrug betrays his doubt.
Meanwhile, my panic is rising, and with it, the fever, but I try my best to suppress my reaction.
I nod nonsensically, teeth clenched. I feel like I might burst.
“OK. Meet you at Rosy Park, 4 o’clock? We can sort out the journey and stuff; what you’re gonna tell your parents.” There is a briskness to his tone now; I can tell he is relieved that the most nerve-wracking part is over for him. For me, however, it is just commencing. He hands me a torn-out bit of notebook paper with, written in spiky, unjointed lettering, a mobile number and the name ‘Samuel’ heading it. “Saffron, right?”
I find myself incapable of speech so I nod once more. It’s all I can do not to collapse to the ground or else run away in tears. My new, extreme instincts do not like being defied. My head is having a panic attack but my heart’s desire is to know what’s really going on; what I have become.
I must be showing signs of vast distress because Sam’s face falls and his fingertips stretch over to my shoulder, though they freeze within an inch. “Are you okay?” His whisper travels through the hazy bubble severing me from consciousness.
My brain doesn’t like that; dazed by the dizzying heat confined to my person, I tear off in the vague direction of my school, Sam’s hand leaving a tingling impression where it brushes against my collar bone as he jerks back in surprise.