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saut dans le vide, my love (leap into the void, my love)

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day 8,165 (may 15, 22 yrs old)

Do you ever wonder what it would be like to be someone else? To step out of your own skin and into someone else’s?

I do it every day, and it’s all I’ve ever known.

_____

day 8,166 (may 16, 22 yrs old)

A barking dog startles me awake.

The first few seconds are always the most disorienting. Every morning brings with it the unhinging feeling of falling while dreaming, weightless then suddenly kicked back into consciousness. But when I finally do wake, I’m caught somewhere between dreaming and reality, blinking into another strange life, another unfamiliar room. Every morning, jolted into someone, and somewhere, new.

It’s been twenty two years and I have always been this way.

Today I’m Max. I open my eyes, Max’s eyes, to what must be Max’s room, unkempt and reeking faintly of pot. Sunshine is streaming through the crooked slits between the blinds of the window and there’s a warm mass curled on the adjacent pillow, a fluffy and rather large sleeping ginger cat.

Max is twenty two, I realize, teasing it from the odd bit of memory I’m able to access of those I inhabit. Luckily, I only find myself in bodies around my age, so it’s not like I skip around, one day in a sandbox and the next in a nursing home. There is some order to my chaos, although not much.

Max is twenty two, light skinned and fairly fit, with wiry muscles and long sinewy limbs. He sleeps only in boxers. Dragging my fingers through mussed and tangled hair, it’s obvious he gets wicked bedhead and maybe hasn’t showered lately. His jaw is rough with stubble of a few days’ beard and the inside of his mouth tastes of stale coffee. Other than the cat, whose name is Peter Pan, he is alone.

I dig a bit deeper into Max’s memories, accessing. See, It’s not just physical traits I need to realize first thing in the morning, but the context of the life I’ve come into. When you’ve been doing this as long as I have, the body itself is relatively easy to get used to, to feel familiar in. It’s the life that’s the hard part. Am I late for work somewhere? Is there another person sharing the bed? Are there children sleeping in the next room? Do I wake up craving a cigarette, or something worse? Are there responsibilities I must fulfill today in this body? How do I keep this person alive and their life relatively undisturbed until they return tomorrow? Do they know that someone else was here? Where do they go when I take over?

I have no answers as to why I am the way that I am. I’ve never met anyone else like me. But I’ve also never told anyone about myself, either.

I lie in bed for a bit, although Max’s memory tells me I should be up and getting ready for work. He’s an IT specialist at a small medical device company. I don’t know much about computers, at least no more than any other average human being, so maybe this is one of those days I call in sick for Max and keep him home. Too risky trying to fake it in the office. It’s something I’ve learned over the years, a lot of it the hard way. Meddling in other people’s business, making decisions for them, has the potential for seismic impact on their lives. Ripple effects I’d rather not feel responsible for. Although, truth be told, I rarely see or think again of those I inhabit once I’ve gone, so I never fully realize the ramifications of my actions. But I don’t like taking chances.

Traveling from body to body is a lonely life. When I was younger, I hungered for attention. For true and fulfilling human connections. I thought for however short I was in someone else’s life, that their people were my people and they loved me for me. But the truth is, to them, I’m not me. I am merely an unwelcome visitor in the person they know and love, and who they see isn’t me. And how quickly those connections I’d try to build were severed when I was torn from one body to the next when the clock struck midnight.

The truth is, there’s no one in this world who knows me at all.

_____

day 8,167 (may 17, 22 yrs old)

Today I’m Susan Tosi. A high school English teacher with a deadbeat boyfriend who she’s fighting with and an overbearing mother who lives just a few blocks away. She’s slightly overweight and her hair is graying already. Her apartment is a complete mess. Susan doesn’t live a very happy life.

I don’t take much with me as I move through this world, skipping from person to person. I can’t possibly remember everyone’s names or the details of their lives, but I do remember feelings. I learn constantly about the complete spectrum of human emotion and behavior and I file each away. I’ve experienced deep depression and utter euphoria and everything in between. I know what being suicidal feels like and how devastating loss can be. I’ve felt great achievement and success, but also utter failure. Crushing defeat. I learn and I carry these emotions with me. The knowledge is the only thing I can take.

I move through Susan’s day as I usually do, as under-the-radar as possible, taking cues from friends and acquaintances as to how Susan typically behaves during the day.

I stand up at the front of Susan’s Wednesday classes, the first is American Lit where I lead a discussion on The Crucible, a play that over the years I’ve studied no less than fifty times throughout my lifetime, each in a different school. None of the students seem interested enough to pay much attention, and none of them seem to think anything is different with Miss Tosi. Next is creative writing, where I throw a prompt up on the board and spend the rest of the class period staring off over the class and accessing Susan’s memories, her likes and dislikes, how her boyfriend stays out late most nights and she suspects that he’s cheating. How her mother thinks she is a complete disappointment. I try and find something happy, but there isn’t much to go on.

It’s not one of my better days.

_____

day 8,168 (may 18, 22 yrs old)

Jackson King is a drug addict. I’ve woken up in bodies like this before, where my first thought isn’t who am I today, but instead a primal substance craving. Like I could do anything and everything for a dose. The addictions are more overpowering than anything I’ve ever felt before, the body literally making itself sick with withdrawal for one chemical or another. This time I’m guessing it’s heroin, although I can’t sort out his thoughts enough to make any sense of them just yet.

Even opening Jackson’s eyes feels like a struggle. Is it possible for eyelids to hurt? Although there’s not much to see in the grimy and dimly lit room, as the dirty and lumpy mattress I’m lying on is the only thing in here besides a smattering of used diabetic needles littered across the carpet. I’m freakishly skinny, my muscles atrophied practically to nothing, with pale purplish blue bruises bloomed along the veins in the crooks of my arms and along the tops of my feet. Anywhere where there’s an accessible vein. Jackson’s tattered clothes hang off his limp frame like a tent.

A crippling wave of nausea swells and crashes, and I gag, but there is nothing in Jackson’s system to expel.

Today will be a battle of will versus biology. My mind against Jackson’s body. I will not give into what his body craves because today Jackson isn’t here. I am.

Through a throbbing and splitting headache, I access back through Jackson’s life. Single mother, also involved with drugs, who he hasn’t had contact with in a year or so. I wonder if she’s dead. Jackson wonders too.

He started young with alcohol and pot, then forayed into cocaine, then codeine, oxy and finally, yes, the heroin. Even just thinking the word has a visceral reaction within him, his entire body seizing and shaking for another hit. To dull the ever increasing pain of being without.

I will myself to push the craving back. To distract Jackson’s warring body away from the opiates and towards something, anything, else. But within recent years, he has had no other interests, no other passions, just needles and highs and endless fog. He’s so deep into the addiction I doubt he has much time left.

I manage to stand and stumble across the room, Jackson’s legs giving out a few feet from a closet and I hit the floor, rolling once and settling with a hollowed cheek pressed into the soiled carpet. I suck deep wheezing breaths but can’t stop shaking, another crippling bout of nausea burning up my esophagus. The dry heaving returns.

Only one day. I can make it. I can do this for Jackson. To prove to him that he can do it too. He can beat this. Continue to live.

I have no sense of the passage of time.

There’s a tattered and fraying pale blue sheet tacked over the window, and through a rather large hole is overcast sky. A gloomy gray both outside and inside this room.

I crawl to the closet and find a book among piles of trash and rags that maybe used to be clothes but aren’t anymore. The tattered copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is missing its cover, the pages yellowing and brittle. Jackson’s name is scratched onto the top corner of the title page in neat but childish cursive. It’s the first time I manage to feel anything but addiction and hopelessness. I can breathe easier, even if for only the time it takes to read the title.

There’s a pencil stuck bookmarking a page and I use it to scrawl on the cover page: Live, Jackson. Maybe he will find this one day and see his own handwriting staring back at him. He won’t remember writing it, but maybe, just maybe it’ll help.

Then I read.

I dry heave and shake and sweat, every muscle aching, but I read.

Time crawls on and eventually I fall asleep. Or maybe just lose consciousness, I can’t be sure. But when I wake the room is dark. I have neither the energy nor the willpower to get up, but Jackson has to pee.

I find an empty beer bottle in the closet.

It takes at least ten minutes to crawl to the light switch, but nothing turns on when I flip it. I’m guessing that whoever’s house I’m in hasn’t paid their electricity bill in awhile.

At this point in the withdrawal, the body is desperate for a fix. Even if I had enough light to read, Jackson’s hands shake too much to even hold the book. The hopelessness tries to swallow me but I keep pushing back, however feebly. My sight is beginning to blur and the breaths come only in shallow whispers.

I slip in and out of sleep. Wild and horrible dreams of burning, always burning.

It’s the worst night I’ve had in many years.

_____

day 8,169 (may 19, 22 yrs old)

I gasp awake just after eight in the comfiest bed. I love beds with the thin layer of memory foam on top, because you sink just enough into the mattress that you feel all melty.

I wait a few moments before opening my eyes, taking a few long and deep breaths. Relishing what a content and healthy body feels like. I have a fleeting concern for Jackson King. I hope that he lives.

Brittany Pierce has mint green walls, a black and white poster of Biggie Smalls wearing a crown, and a seemingly unhealthily overweight cat. The room, her bedroom I gather, is on the second floor and smells of clean cotton and the ocean. It’s relatively clean. When her alarm goes off, a rooster crows, followed by crescendoing horns. It’s the beginning of the Beatles song “Good Morning” and I find myself singing along.

Before I even access Brittany’s memories to find out what a normal Friday in her life looks like, I decide to play hooky. The first place that comes to mind is France. I’ve never been and neither has Brittany. But seeing as I’m only here in this body for twenty four hours, I can’t just spend all day flying there only to have her suddenly wake up tomorrow on the French seaside. I can imagine that would be very alarming, not remembering at all how she got there.

Brittany is a graduate student in landscape architecture at UPenn with only one class today. Her dream is to one day design a famous city park just like her hero, Frederick Law Olmstead. Even if he is practically everyone’s idol in her line of study, Brittany doesn’t care. Her bucket list is mostly to visit parks or campuses that Olmstead designed: Central Park, the Niagara Reservation in Niagara Falls, the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, U.C. Berkeley, Stanford. The list goes on and on.

I get distracted from accessing Brittany’s memories by the massive grey tabby cat beginning to purr and rub its face against my hairline. Lord Tubbington is a weird name for a cat, but it oddly suits him. He has to weigh at least twenty five pounds and I laugh at him while I reach to scratch behind his ears.

Brittany lives with four roommates in an row house at 42nd and Pine. The floors are slightly sloped due to slow sinking of the foundation and a lot of the wooden floorboards creak, but she loves its character and old bones, especially the front porch. Brittany usually has her morning coffee out there in a rocking chair any season that isn’t winter, but this morning I decide to go out instead. The idea of being cooped up anywhere after yesterday makes me itch for the outside world.

I slip into Brittany’s duck slippers and make my way into the hallway bathroom for a shower.

Through the bathroom mirror, I study her. Brittany is quite beautiful. Long and straight blonde hair, light dusting of freckles across the nose and strikingly crystal blue eyes. Her body is tall and athletic, graceful and strong. The contrast between Jackson and Brittany is day and night. Basking sunshine against limitless darkness.

When I step under the water, I start learning about Brittany, accessing memories. They flash and pile quickly with next to no effort. I learn about her four roommates. There’s Rachel, music theater major and uber drama queen, Quinn the hipster law student, Mercedes, working toward her masters in social work and the resident diva, and Tina, nearly-graduated senior studying for the medical school entrance exam, who wishes she was doing anything else. Brittany isn’t close with her parents. Her friends are her family.

I dress quickly and grab the worn brown leather tote that is Brittany’s school bag, her initials printed in small and neat gold lettering towards the top of the bag. I empty it of textbooks and class materials, but leave a novel whose title I don’t bother to read, a pocket planner and Brittany’s school sketch pads.

I descend down the stairs and into the foyer, poking my head around the first floor, but I’m alone. I put in headphones on the front stoop and press play on whatever was last playing on Brittany’s phone, bobbing my head to the Rolling Stones and making my way toward campus. I barely have to think about where I’m going even though I’ve never been in this part of Philadelphia before. Being in Brittany’s body feels natural and easy as breathing. Different somehow in a way I can’t quite place.

I cross one final block and step onto campus, my whole self buzzing with something, something. I’ve never seen UPenn in person, and although Brittany’s memories are vivid and at my fingertips, I want to experience it for myself.

Saxby’s coffee shop is surprisingly quiet for a Friday morning. As I step up in line, Brittany’s phone shuffles to a Taylor Swift song. Begin Again. I chuckle at the irony as the melody flutters through my consciousness.

I don’t even have to access what Brittany typically orders, the words tumbling from my lips before I even know I’m speaking. The barista smiles up at me knowingly as she punches in the order, as if she expected it. Apparently Brittany is a regular.

“Good morning, Shan.” I greet, her name tumbling from my lips without thought. I brush off how easy this all is, being Brittany. But some days are easier than others. Some bodies are just a good fit.

“Morning, Britt,” she greets. “Class today?”

“Nah, I think I’m taking today off. Need a little break, ya know?”

She nods, grabbing a cup and scribbling my name in black Sharpie. Shannon has a beautiful smile. “Wish I could join you. $3.50.” she rings in, looking back up at me.

I hum in agreement and hand her a $20 bill with a wink. “For mine, whatever the next person in line orders, and the rest in your tip jar.”

She blushes as she takes the bill, shaking her head like she can’t quite believe there are people like me in this world and thanks me, promising to see me tomorrow. I wish I could see her tomorrow. That anyone I meet on any given day will be any sort of constant figure in my life. I push the lament away quickly, determined to enjoy every moment of this day because I am alive and healthy and happy. At least for sixteen or so more hours until I am thrust into someone else.

As I’m pouring milk up to the brim of the iced coffee, there’s a tap at my shoulder. I start just a bit, my shoulders jumping up in surprise before turning and pulling out my headphones. I’m face to face with a slightly shorter and beautiful raven haired girl. I feel all the air rush from my lungs.

“Thank you. For the drink.” I find myself staring at the way the words form on her full and pink lips. She stoops just enough to interrupt my staring with warm mahogany irises and smiles quite stunningly, a deep dimple sinking into the curve of her cheek. She raises her steaming cup up and toasts it to me, taking a scalding sip that she may regret later, yelping as the liquid hits her tongue. “Ow.”

“You know, I’ve been telling them they’ve been steaming the milk too hot, but they continue to ignore my advice.” She smiles again, a tiny laugh bubbling up from her throat and I feel my heart speed up. I feel butterflies. I have the inexplicable urge to continue talking to this girl. I want to know her. “And you’re welcome.”

As she turns to leave, I reach for her elbow. I have no idea what makes me do it, but I’m just not ready to say goodbye yet. She’s a magnetic field I can’t quite pull away from. “Hey. This is going to sound weird, but are you busy?”

She cocks a perfectly sculpted eyebrow and squints slightly, as if trying to figure out a hidden motive. Her eyelashes are impossibly long and I watch them flutter as she blinks. I wonder if she feels it too, some strange invisible string between us.

“I was going to take a walk. Just around campus. Enjoy the fresh air-” I trail off, pointing vaguely in the direction of the central quad. “I could use some company.”

I watch as she considers the proposal, pulling out her phone to check the time and shrugging. “Alright. You did buy my coffee this morning and I’m not due to be in class for another hour. Why not? You don’t look much like a serial killer.” This time she smirks and and my heart skips a beat.

I have the sudden urge to tell her of the time I actually was an aspiring serial killer, inhabiting the body of a very disturbed 16 year old boy years and years ago, but remember my life would make absolutely no sense to her. She’d just think I’m crazy. Maybe I am.

I hold the door open for her and wave to Shannon on my way out, the brightest smile cracking across my face, laughter lines tugging at the corner of my eyes. I feel happier in this moment than I have in months.

“I’m Santana, by the way,” she greets, her voice liquid nectar, smooth and sweet as we fall into step. I let the name tumble around in my consciousness for a few moments, accessing, accessing. She is the first Santana I can ever remember meeting and it makes my stomach twist.

“Brittany.”

“Hi, Brittany.”

“Hi.”

“So do you always buy coffee for strangers or am I a special case?” she asks, glancing at me as we stroll along cobbled stone paths and under the shade of ancient oak trees.

I chuckle and nudge my shoulder into hers softly and quickly. “Random acts of kindness. You should try it sometime.” I pause, thinking. “But you. You are definitely a special case.”

She blushes, smiling, and the butterflies swell and multiply. I feel full with them.

My head says not to do this. That the connections are so fleeting and will only cause me sadness and pain later when they’re all inevitably ripped away. But there’s something about this girl that I can’t resist. Something that feels deeper than us. Something that makes me want to break all the rules I set for myself so long ago. To be myself with her, honestly and openly.

“So are you a student? Or just hanging out around campus to prey on the innocent undergrads?”

She laughs and it’s music. A song I want to memorize. “I’m a graduate student. Environmental science, emphasis on climate change.”

“Ah. So are you one of those save-the-world super hero types or the just-want-to-know-what-we’re-up-against-but-we’re-pretty-much-screwed types?”

She smirks, taking another sip of her coffee. “Can it be a little of both?” she asks, looking at me over the plastic lid. I see the traces of her smile pulling at the corner of her eyes, even if I can’t see her lips.

“Of course. I think it’s one of the greatest advantages to being a human being, isn’t it? Freedom to be or think whatever you want to at any given moment.”

“Deep. Let me guess. Philosophy?”

I bark out a laugh, but shake my head. “Not quite. Landscape architecture, actually.” Although truth be told, I have inhabited a few philosophy majors in my undergraduate years and the majority of them are completely insufferable.

“And what is that, exactly?”

“It’s designing public outdoor spaces. Like city parks, monuments, college campuses, stuff like that. Basically looking at infrastructure, intended purpose of the land, social and economic conditions, and environmental concerns. Then designing a space that is functional but also aesthetically pleasing. Something beautiful.”

Santana hums as we continue further into the heart of campus.

“You’ve been to Central Park, right?” and she nods, glancing at me again with that warm and soft smile. Oh, this girl. This girl. “Well, that’s landscape architecture. The layout of the park, the ponds, the pathways and bridges, all of it. In the middle of the most famous city in the world.”

“I’ve never really thought much about that before. I guess I kind of just assumed it was, I don’t know, there.” She seems embarrassed but I shrug it off, reaching out to squeeze her free hand quickly and dropping it just as fast.

“Most people don’t notice a lot of things. For people like me, it’s not about the recognition. No one will remember my name even if I one day design an incredible or famous space, just like hardly anyone knows who designed Central Park. It’s not about the legacy of my name, but instead that of the space and how it makes people feel to be there. You know? I want to make people feel something. Appreciate the beauty of the natural world even if it’s manufactured and planned out.”

She looks at me knowingly, like she recognizes something and the feeling blooms flowers in my chest.

We talk all the way up to her next class, conversation flowing like a faucet that won’t turn off. When she finally looks at her watch, she sighs, turning to face me.

“I don’t want this to end,” she admits, meeting my eyes and smiling. “I don’t want to stop talking with you.”

“Then don’t.” I shrug, and her smile widens, suddenly mischievous. “Play hooky with me, Santana.”

And she does.

We spend the remainder of the morning sprawled across the lawn of the quad, just talking. She tells me of her childhood in southern California. Of her family dog who they had to put down last year and how much she misses him. How she ended up here and what she loves most about her studies. I could listen to her talk for a thousand lifetimes. Eventually I pull out Brittany’s sketchbooks because I can’t resist sketching this moment. This beautiful girl.

When our stomachs start growling, I take her to lunch. We share pizza and a pitcher of cheap beer. We laugh over the old couple arguing in the next booth over and I tell every bad knock-knock joke I can think of just to hear her laugh over and over. I feel myself falling but I can’t stop it. I don’t want to stop it.

She grabs my hand and I follow her to the river, our elbows pressing together as we lean over the railing. She watches the water and I watch her, drinking in as much as I possibly can.

“Do you believe in fate?”

She turns fully towards me, her expression soft and pliable. And I feel her studying, digging, looking for something I can’t name.

“Yes,” she whispers.

And then she kisses me. And as her lips press against mine, I feel something shift deep inside me. Pieces sliding together and settling into place. Deep and ancient cracks sealing themselves. I’ve kissed countless people in my lifetime, but this. This is something entirely new. And I know. I know that I’ve found her. I know that my soul has found its mate. And I lose myself in everything Santana. Her smell, honey, coffee, and sweat, the taste of her tongue against mine, the feel of her shirt gripped between my fingers, her warm cheek beneath my palm.

It’s my first truly perfect moment.

And then I remember. Remember the time, and how little of it we have left. And my reality collapses around me like sinkhole, swallowing me deep and dark. I pull away but Santana’s lips follow, searching for me.

“Wait. Santana, wait.” And her eyes meet mine and I find hurt. Rejection. I scramble to ease her worry, but I realize it’s futile. This whole thing is futile and it makes me want to scream.

“Did I-”

“No, god, no. It’s just,” I start, but I don’t know where to start. How to ever explain. To make her understand. “I have to tell you something. About me. And I just need to you let me explain, okay? And just. To believe me. I wouldn’t. I would never lie to you, Santana.”

She looks scared, so I reach for her hand, lacing our fingers together.

“This is going to seem crazy. But I promise it’s the truth.” I take a deep breath and focus on her eyes. “Every day I wake up as a different person. I don’t know why I am the way that I am or if there’s anyone else like me. I’ve been this way since I was born and as far as I know, I can’t stop it.” I try to keep my voice steady, but it’s shaking. Santana says nothing, just staring at me, her jaw dropped in disbelief, so I keep talking. She pulls her hand away and takes a step back. My legs itch to follow her, but I don’t, giving her space. “Today, I’m Brittany Pierce. And yesterday I was Jackson King and the day before that, I was Susan Tosi and on and on. I’ve never known anything else but this life.”

“I,” she starts, swallowing. “You’re not serious.”

“I am,” I promise.

“It’s not. It’s not possible, I-”

“It is possible. It’s my life, Santana. And I have no more control over it than you did being born into your own body. And I’ve always wanted it to stop. To stay in one place. To feel, I don’t know. Like I belong somewhere. But it’s been twenty two years and I still wake up someone different. I know it sounds like the craziest thing in the world, but it’s true. And I needed you to know because. Because I’ve never felt this way, about anyone.”

“Me either,” she whispers, and my heart feels like it’s about to burst free from my chest.

“But you need to know that the way you think of me, the way I look and sound and feel, it won’t be the same tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the day after that. I don’t have the chance for a future, only a present. And I can’t hide that part of myself from you anymore. I don’t want to.”

I take a hesitant step closer, my fingers finding the hem of her t-shirt and she closes her eyes, just trying to take some steadying breaths.

“So after this, after today, that’s it?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know.” And I cry.

We sit along the waterfront for nearly an hour, Santana holding my hand or slipping hers through the crook of my arm. Every few minutes, I kiss her forehead or temple, just needing to feel her skin beneath my lips. She tries to understand. She asks questions, about my childhood and how I coped (not well), about what it was like growing up without parents or siblings (lonely). About the worst and best days.

I turn fully to her, my arm around her shoulders and look for a long time. I study every plane of her face, committing it to memory. The curve of her jaw, the point of her nose, the arch of her eyebrows, the way she bites her lip when she’s considering something. The way she looks at me like I’m a breath of fresh air. Like I’m something truly special. Her smile, so warm. Eventually I lean forward to press our foreheads together, my eyes closing and our noses brushing. “Today is the best day,” I whisper, before capturing her lips.

“Have you ever told anyone?” she asks, and I open my eyes again, finding her.

“Just you.”

She kisses me like she may never get another chance.

I tell her that although I’ve never experienced a lasting relationship, I’m not altogether incomplete. That I’ve seen so much. That because who I am changes every day, I’m able to experience so much, so many tastes, perspectives, and ways of thinking, both good and bad. That I see life from all sides and somewhat more objectively than everyone else. That I learn the true beauty of life experiences and the value of every single day. That I do nothing but learn and learn and learn, because it’s all I can carry. I tell her that I wish I had the time to learn every little thing there was to know about her.

We spend the afternoon wandering through the streets of Philadelphia. We sip espressos at an outdoor table under a bright red umbrella and people-watch, sift through boxes of old tshirts at a thrift store, take whiskey shots just because. And we kiss. In dressing rooms and alleyways, in between rows of old vinyl records and while we wait at street corners for the light to change. We kiss palms and hands and cheeks and jawlines. Shells of ears and lips and fingertips and dimples. We both try to avoid watching the clock, but it’s a constant presence in the backs of our minds. That this perfect day will eventually flow into tomorrow, taking me with it.

She takes me home.

Her studio apartment is incredibly cramped but perfectly Santana. The massive bed takes up the majority of the open space, the sheets dark midnight blue, ruffled and unmade. I want to press my face into her pillows and get lost in her smell. There are posters of Billie Holliday and Amy Winehouse, a bookshelf so full that multiple tall stacks of novels perch on top. Santana pulls two folding chairs from a closet and sets them up next to a tiny table, opening a bottle of French red wine and pouring two glasses. She puts Fleetwood Mac on the record player and sits, watching me look around. I feel her eyes as I move around the tiny space, reading the spines of countless books, sticking my nose in a fresh bouquet of white hydrangeas.

“Are you ever scared?”

“Of what?” I ask, taking the seat beside her and pulling her legs into my lap. I work my fingers into the muscles and tendons of her feet and cherish her contented sigh, tucking the sound away into my very being.

“Of the people you could become, I guess.” She pauses, tugging her bottom lip between her teeth and working it back and forth. I nod, because sometimes I am scared of what’s next. When I’ve learned first hand how terrible human nature can be. But it can also be lovely and transformative and beautiful.

“What does it feel like?”

“It depends. Some people feel more familiar to me than others when I wake up inside them. And the memories I can access are also kind of limited. It’s the experiences I can feel, rather than emotions. Does that make sense? Like, I can judge how the person I’m inside would react to certain situations by reaching back for memories of how they’ve done so in the past, but I don’t know how that person would feel. It’s hard to explain,” I trail off, shrugging and taking a sip of wine. She leans forward and kisses the taste from my lips feather soft and I shiver all over.

“But it’s different today. Brittany’s memories are so much more entangled with mine. They almost feel like my own. I feel-” I pause, struggling to find the right words. Stringing together all the wrong sentences.

“What?” she asks, combing her fingers through my hair and scratching lightly at my scalp.

“I don’t know... Found. Settled.” And then I look at her, watch the candles lit throughout the apartment glow like fireflies in her eyes and find the exact word. “Home.” My eyes well, but don’t spill. I swallow thick against a constricting throat. “I’ve never felt that before. I mean. I know what the word means, I see what it means to other people but. Now I know.”

And she kisses me again and and again and again, whispering promises against my lips.

And then she’s standing, looping her fingers around my wrists and leading me towards the bed. And I follow, falling into the sheets, falling into her arms, falling into Santana.

“Are you sure?”

She lays her palms across my face, running the pads of her thumbs across my cheek bones and looks at me. Sees the real me, right below the surface, reaching for her. “More than anything.” And I know it’s a promise.

We move slowly, cherishing every gasp, every tingle and shiver. I kiss every freckle, every curve. Marvel at the way our bodies fit in all the right places.

I’ve never made love like this and I doubt I’ll ever do it again.

And when she’s under me, giving herself completely, there is no more time. No worry. No dread for tomorrow. There is only this girl, this soul, this beautiful love. The sounds she makes pressed against me, her lips at my ear. The silent moans, the catching breaths. I feel them vibrate my very being. And when her body tenses and unravels, I am whole.

We remain in bed for a long time after, our limbs tangled together beneath the sheets, my head on her chest, listening to the steady and constant beating of her heart. She tells me stories of her childhood. That her favorite place to be is the beach. That she dreams of constellations and children one day.

I tell her children are a dream of mine, too, and I kiss the tear trails away when she realizes.

The more she thinks about my life, the sadder she becomes.

“But I still don’t understand. How-” I quiet her with a soft kiss, laying a palm along her cheek and staring deep down into her. Her breath hitches and I give a little more of myself to her. The only part of me I can give.

“What you are. What makes you you. It’s not what you look like, or how you smile, or laugh or any of that. It’s what’s in here.” I move my hand to press against the warm skin of her chest, right over her heart. I feel it beating back at me, strong and true. “Your soul. Your spirit. And I have that too, only mine isn’t fixed. It jumps from body to body, day after day. I’ve lived a thousand lives, Santana. All of them different. And I’ll live a thousand more. And when Brittany wakes up tomorrow, I’ll be gone, onto someone else. Somewhere else. No matter how much I want to stay.”

“And you never know where you’ll be?”

“Never. But I’ll still be out there. Somewhere.” And then her hands are on my face, her thumbs interrupting tear tracks and smearing them with kisses.

“I don’t want you to go,” she whispers, her voice cracking half way through.

“I have to.”

“I know.” She nods, trying not to cry.

“I’ve waited so long for you, Santana. And I don’t want to let you go.”

“Then don’t,” she whispers, squeezing me tight. “Come back to me.”

“I wish I could. More than anything. I’m in love with you, Santana. I know that seems crazy but I’ve never been more sure of anything in my entire life. I’ve seen the world, so much of it, more than I could ever put into words, and this, you and me-”

“I know.”

She kisses me long and deep and my body hums. My whole self sings. I dread what’s coming. I don’t know how to pull myself away. To break the connection. To end the fairy tale.

I watch the clock with my face pressed to her chest, her fingers combing through my hair. She’s singing to me, and it’s the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. Liquid and soulful I feel it in my veins, humming just under my skin, seeping into my soul.

“Like a river flows surely to the sea, darling so it goes, some things were meant to be.”

I press up on my elbows and over her, watching the way the music starts in her chest, moves to her throat and the floats through the air. I join her for the next line, my voice trembling.

“Take my hand, take my whole life too. Cause I can’t help falling in love with you.”

She sings the entire song to me, tears flowing freely and seeping into the sheets. I kiss her every chance I get. And then I pull myself from bed. She watches me as I dress, the clock ticking towards midnight. Her tears match mine.

“I can walk you home,” she offers, but I shake my head.

“It’s easier-”

“None of this is easy.”

“No. It isn’t. I’m sorry, Santana.” I’m not sure what I’m apologizing for exactly. For coming into her life, for turning it upside down and not being able to help myself. For giving her a taste of something I can never give her again. For filling up and then breaking her heart.

“Promise me this isn’t the end,” she whispers, as I take her in my arms one last time.

But the words get caught in my throat and I can’t say them, instead I swallow them away. I file the unspoken promises away and press my forehead to hers. I kiss her one last time and I walk out the door.

It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I run all the way back to Brittany’s house, making it up to her room just before midnight. I leave Brittany a post-it on her nightstand, two simple words written in her own handwriting to find in the morning. Thank you.

_____

day 8,170 (may 20, 22 yrs old)

I wake to a familiar face.

Lord Tubbington is purring at my ear.

I am still Brittany Pierce.

I scramble for the cell phone resting at the bedside table, wondering if somehow yesterday was a dream. But it wasn't. Today is a new day. Somehow I’m still here. I haven’t jumped.

I run to her house still in pajamas.

Her eyes are swollen and red as she opens the door, and she gasps. “What-”

“It’s me.”

And then I’m kissing her.