“Can you tell me the answers to the test?” Penny asks.
I sigh, not even looking up from my textbook. “It doesn’t work like that and you know it, Pen.”
“But are you sure?”
“I think I know how my own...weird thing works.”
She looks at me over her glasses. “You mean psychic visions.”
My mouth instinctively twists at those words. There’s so much baggage attached to them, socially and personally. All I can think of is the psychiatrist who told me psychics were all delusional narcissists. And the neurologist who said my visions were probably just seizures. Then I get to gleefully recollect all the taunts and names and anger that’s followed me since I started seeing bloody ghosts. Life as a “sensitive” person has never been easy.
“They’re only dreams most of the time,” I mumble.
“And you haven’t dreamt the answers?”
She sighs and leans against me, arm winding around mine. “Sorry, Si. I’m nervous.”
“I know. Wish my...thing could help, Pen.”
“It’s okay.” She pats my hand with a brilliant smile. It always makes me feel better. “It’s just one review quiz. I’ll survive.”
“Not sure I will,” I sigh. “Was half this stuff even in the lecture? How does she expect us to remember shit after one class?”
Penny shrugs, something usually reserved for me. I just grumble and go back to revising. Well, I try. But after unpacking a bunch more boxes in Penny’s room (mostly books), I’m bloody knackered. And we’re outstretched on my new bed. And it’s so comfy...
Before I know it, I’ve slipped into sleep.
A gunshot rings through the air.
Silver glinting in the moonlight.
Tears down cheeks.
Screaming and screaming all the damn screaming.
Pain pain blood so much blood and it’s everywhere.
“Mum! Mummy, wake up! Please!”
I bolt upright with a huge gasp, heart racing so much it bruises my rib cage. I press my hand to my chest and Penelope’s falls on top of it.
“Breathe, Si, breathe,” she says slowly. “It was just a dream, okay?”
“Just a dream,” I repeat, “just a dream.”
We breathe together slowly until my pulse goes back to normal. Penny keeps holding my hand. She’s gotten good at this over the years. Even when she thought they were just nightmares, she’s always taken them seriously. After learning what they are (what I am), she started asking an extra question.
“Wanna talk about it?”
I shrug, leaning back against the headboard. “Not much to talk about. There wasn’t a specific moment or person. Just...pain, blood, screaming. More a bunch of feelings than an actual event.”
Penny frowns in contemplation. (She does that a lot). “Is it a ghost trying to communicate?”
I shrug again. “Dunno. Maybe. Could just be bad energy floating around from a living person or the area. I can’t make heads or tails of it either way.”
“That sucks. Well, wanna get some supper?”
I look down at my slightly glitching digital watch. “I slept for over three hours? Why didn’t you wake me up?”
“You needed a nap after all your hard work today.” She pinches my cheek like some doting grandma. “Plus you just looked so cute.”
“Oh shut up.” I bat her away. But I am smiling. “Let’s get food, please.”
“Gladly.” She grabs my hand and pulls me off the bed to follow her. I’m still not exactly sure how my “thing” works (it’s not like I was born with a manual), but it seems when I’m around someone for long enough, their thoughts and feelings become less shocking. They don’t mentally slap me in the face like a new person’s can. But I can still feel the glee and care radiating off Penny. It’s an invisible warm blanket around me. Sometimes this “thing” has its benefits. Sometimes.
“Hurry up, Si!” Penny yells from the foyer.
“Coming!” I reply, scooping up my school stuff. But something is missing. “Pen, where is my knapsack?”
“In the kitchen!” I dash into our tiny sitting room, which is currently filled with a labyrinth of moving boxes. “Come on, we’re going to be late for the second class!”
“It won’t be the end of the world if we’re late, right?” I riffle through the boxes and clutter in the kitchen. It takes me throwing a lot of tea towels to find my backpack. (Ms. Bunce seemed to think we’re going to be drying a lot of dishes.)
“Don’t care, let’s go.”
I dash to our front door, which has its own twin towers of boxes framing it. We may have finished bringing in boxes yesterday but unpacking them is a whole different story. We’ll get to it eventually. After we settle into uni life a little more. Penny’s arms are crossed and her foot is rapidly tapping against the hardwood floor. She’s made to be some sort of cross school teacher, I swear.
“Let’s go,” I say with a gleeful smile.
“Finally.” Penny throws open the door and I quickly follow behind.
Watford University is an absolutely beautiful campus. Nestled in the English countryside, there’s lots of rolling hills, a small forest, and even a river running right through it. Best of all, it’s small and quiet. That’s why I picked it. It’s a great school, yeah, but it’s also far away from a lot of people. Less people means less chance of ghosts or weird feelings, hopefully.
That’s all I can think of as Penny and I walk across Watford’s lush green lawns. This is a fresh start. I can live here. I might even have a little peace for once.
We go to the main hall, a place weirdly named White Chapel, where our Psych 101 class is held. Other students file in with us, all so different yet similar. I can feel the wisps of eagerness off of some, the dread of others, and definitely a lot of worry. But it’s not as overwhelming as crowded London streets. Just normal teenage anxiety about uni classes and this stupid pop quiz. Fuck, I hope I don’t fuck it-
“Bloody hell!” The person shouts as we both hurtle down toward the floor. Sharp pain shoots up my spine, making my head spin. But once the world starts to slow down, I get a good look at the guy I walked right into. And my breath stops.
He’s objectively pretty. Sharp cheekbones, wavy black hair, beautiful grey eyes, dressed in a sharp button down and black slacks. But that’s not all I see. No, my brain gets bombarded with a tidal wave of feelings, thoughts, and images, so fast and strong I can barely sort through them. I see this man’s face scowling, grinning, pouting, laughing, crying, sleeping, even some possibly X-rated expressions that threaten to make my cheeks heat up. Moments flash before my eyes in a lightspeed slideshow. We’re wrapped in each other’s arms and swaying together in a kitchen. My head rests comfortably on his lap as we watch telly. He’s carrying a moving box into a flat I don’t recognise. We’re kissing on a beach, under some mistletoe, in a king sized bed, and at a flower covered altar, matching gold rings on our left hands. And those are just the ones I can understand.
I can feel a callused hand laced together with mine. For some reason I know it’s his. And for some reason I know we fit together perfectly.
“Hello? Are you there? You didn’t hit your head, right?” His voice snaps my back into reality. It’s just as pretty as the rest of him. I’m still reeling from all the things I saw and felt just looking at him for the first time. And the words are out of my mouth before I can stop them.
“We’re gonna get married,” I blurt out.
I can feel my face turn the brightest shade of scarlet. Of course, the guy looks at me like I’m absolutely mental. And unfortunately he’s probably right. Being like this, I’ve always felt sort of insane. Now I also feel like I want to crawl into a hole in the ground and never come out.
“Simon!” I turn to see Penny rushing towards me from inside the classroom. “There you are! You okay?”
“Y-Yeah, I’m fine.”
Penny grabs my arm and helps haul me to my feet. “What happened?”
“I ran into-” I turn back to where the pretty guy was, but all I see are the ends of black hair going into the classroom. Well. Shit.
“Ran into what, Si?”
“N-Nevermind. I’ll tell you later, Pen.”
She still looks concerned, but Penny has long learned to not push me when I don’t want to talk. Plus we do have a review quiz to get to. Nothing could get Penny to ignore schoolwork. So we just go into our class, but when Penny tries to get us to sit where we did last week, I pull a bit more to the left.
“What are you doing?” she hisses.
“Uh, these seats look better,” I say.
“They look the same.”
“No, no, they’re better.” I conveniently don’t mention that they’re right behind the black haired bloke. A few rows away of course, I don’t want to be creepy. “See? Better.”
“Whatever you say, Si.”
We sit down. Penny takes out her pencils and notes, but I’m looking a t him. No new images or feelings show up. At least none that aren’t just my own. I’m feeling a lot of things. Worry, surprise, confusion, and maybe even a little bit of excitement? I’m not sure.
If what I saw was right, I’m going to fall in love with this guy. This guy is going to fall in love with me. I can’t even fathom it. He’s so gorgeous and put together looking and I’m just...me. How could that ever happen?
“Si, stop staring,” Penny hisses, snapping me out of my wondering. “I don’t think that guy likes it.”
Oh shit. She’s right. The guy is glaring and scowling at me with barely concealed malice. I can almost feel his anger towards me, with tinges of disgust and anxiety. I immediately look down and away, face burning. Of course he’s weirded out. I ran into him, announced our future matrimony, and have now stared at him creepily twice.
So my future husband already hates me. Great...
“So let me get this straight.” Penny rubs just under her glasses’ nose piece. “You bump into this guy, and you instantly know you two are going to be together?”
I shrug, head lowered a bit. “I mean, unless we’re BFFs who kiss and look at each other with dreamy eyes, then yeah. We might even get married.”
She sighs deeply and moves her fingers to her probably aching temples. “Only you would literally bump into your future spouse. Have you done anything besides stare at him creepily?”
“Have you even talked to him yet?”
“Define that, please.”
I slip further down into my jumper. “I, uh, may have said something about us getting married one day...right after I bumped into him...”
“It just came out!”
She sighs in that very particular way she can. Where she sounds both disappointed and loving. That’s something I adore about Penny; no matter how much I fuck up, she’s still here. I’m not sure what I’d do without her and I don’t want to think about that.
“Well, let’s hope your future husband stays your future husband. You may have scared him off, Si.”
My heart aches in worry. I frown at Penny. “But I already saw it happen...”
Penny gives me a look over her glasses. “Weren’t you the one who told me that not everything you see comes true? That sometimes it’s only one possibility, or even just a metaphor?”
I sink into my chair even more, my chin nearly touching my chest. “Stop using my own words against me.”
“Don’t make it so easy then.”
She goes back to her quinoa salad thing, while I just push the remaining cafeteria pasta around my plate. Our uni meal plans obviously don’t guarantee quality food. It’s not bad, but it’s not good either, just sort of meh. Like how I feel right now. I’m stuck in this weird middle where I know the guy I’m apparently supposed to love but I have no idea who he actually is or, how I’m supposed to make our relationship happen. Destiny is too confusing.
I stuff the leftover napkins in my pocket (old habit from the group homes), then pick up my half finished linguine and walk towards the compost. For once, I’m not that hungry. All I can do is worry about him. Fuck, I don’t even know his name and he’s already consumed my thoughts. How could I even start asking him-
“Hey!” I stumble backwards, luckily saving my pasta plate from falling to the ground. Unfortunately, some sauce does get on my collision partner’s sleeve.
“Oh my god, I’m so sorry! I-” I look up, and my face goes red. “Oh, it’s you.”
Future Husband scowls deeply at me. “Yes, it’s me again. Do you ever watch where you’re going?”
I naturally shrink away at the venom in his voice. “I’m sorry, I just get lost in thought sometimes...”
“Doesn’t mean the rest of us have to suffer.” He looks at his sleeve with utter disgust. “Bloody hell. This better come off”
“Uh, it should. It’s just alfredo sauce. Here let me-” I get a napkin from my pocket, but when I almost touch his sleeve, he backs away.
“Piss off!” he snarls. I step back from the sheer force of his anger.
“I-I’m sorry, I just wanted to help...”
“You’ve helped well enough, you bloody weirdo.”
Memories slam into me like a truck. The group homes, the older kids’ taunts, crying alone in my bed almost every night, wishing I wasn’t so weird. My blood instantly starts to boil. “Hey! You don’t get to talk to me like that, arsehole.”
He glares at me harshly. “You’re the one staring at me in class and blurting out bloody proposals upon our first meeting. Excuse me if I give you an appropriate moniker.” I gape at him for a second, trying to gather my thoughts. He scoffs. “What, cat got your tongue, you numpty?”
His voice is just dripping with utter contempt. I can feel it radiating off him. And his ridiculously posh accent just makes it sting even more. Once again, I’m the poor orphan scholarship kid being picked on by the rich pricks at school. All that old pain gets dredged up and fills my body with pure anger. I fucking see red.
“Fuck you!” I shout, making sure to check his shoulder before stomping to the compost bin. I keep stomping out of the cafeteria. My emotions are so tangled up and confused. How could this guy and the guy in my visions be the same person? How could I ever fall in love with such an annoying posh prick?!
“Simon! Hey, Si, slow down!” I can hear Penny but I don’t stop. I keep stomping pashing against doorways when I can. (Anyone who says stomping and bashing things doesn’t help hasn’t stomped or bashed things enough.) Eventually though, she gets in front of me, hands on her hips. “What the fuck is going on?”
“Don’t wanna talk about it,” I grumble, scuffing my trainers against the wall next to me.
“Tough toenails, Simon. What’s wrong?”
I cross my arms tightly. “Bumped into him again. Pretty sure we’re not getting married ever.”
“You don’t know that-”
“He just called me a weirdo and a numpty! Why would I ever want to be with him?!”
Penny sighs, tapping her foot. “That does put a hitch in things for the two of you.”
“More like a screeching halt. He’s a total fucking posh arsehole. Where does he get off talking to me like that?!”
“Well, you did open with a declaration of future marriage, Si.”
“It was an accident!” I scowl more and kick a wooden pillar. “That’s never going to happen now, anyway. Like hell I’d want to be with that tosser!”
I lift my hand to punch the wall, but Penny grabs it in time. Her touch calms me down. Penny has almost always had that effect on me, her calm flowing directly into me. She tugs my arm down, and I slowly follow, the remaining anger seeping out.
“Let’s go back to our dorm, alright?” The way she says it tells me I don’t have much say in the matter. I don’t mind. She’s taking care of me like she always has. I absolutely love her for it.
“Okay,” I sigh. I wrap my arm around Penny’s shoulders, hugging her to me. She holds my waist in return. Thoughts of my now former future husband are pushed down. I don’t need him. I’m a newly minted uni student, ready to learn, ready to start my adult life. One posh arsehole won’t ruin that. Visions won’t dictate my life, dammit. I’m fine.
His name is Basilton. What a stupidly posh name. He sounds like a bloody Downton Abbey character.
Penny told me to avoid him, and I’ve really tried but it’s absolutely impossible. Basilton and I not only share two classes and a tutorial group, but we live in the same dorm building. He’s on the other side of it, sure, but I run into him all the time in communal spaces. The cafeteria, lounge, study rooms, the bloody hallway. Everywhere I go, there he is. Maybe the universe is trying to tell me something. The universe can be a real prick sometimes. Or I just have the worst luck ever.
“What are you doing, Si?” Penny asks.
“Taking notes,” I say, glancing up to the board again, “like I’m supposed to.”
“Then why do you keep staring at him?”
I frown and hunker down over my desk. “I’m not.”
Penny makes a “hm” noise but doesn’t keep going. I wasn’t staring at him. Just...looking over for a second. He’s still beautiful, of course, not a hair out of place. It’s infuriating. How can a person be so perfect? It’s not fair. He can’t actually be like that.
Finding his Instagram is easy enough. There aren’t a lot of Basiltons in the world, thankfully. However it’s exactly the opposite of what I want. Turns out Basilton is a photographer, and not one of those shitty pretentious Insta ones. He’s really fucking good. He seems to like nature, lots of sunlight in the tree branches and fields of flowers. He makes use of every bit of the photograph’s space, drawing my eye to various points.
“Even his selfies are amazing!” I groan and hang my head off of the couch. “How can such a prick be so good at everything?!”
“Do your homework,” Penny says for the third time tonight.
I keep scrolling down his profile. He seems to have a few friends. There’s a red haired bloke and a guy who looks a bit like him, maybe a cousin or something. No sign of a partner, so I don’t know if straight or...not straight. Not that I care. Whatever future I saw between us is long gone, or wasn’t even real to begin with. Prick can be with whoever he wants.
“He went to Greece for summer break! He must be rich, I knew it!”
He wears silk dress shirts. What kind of uni student wears silk fucking dress shirts?! And they’re alway perfectly pressed too. Does he do it himself or does he have a maid who does it for him? Rich prick probably has a whole staff or something.
I’m sitting across from him during our tutorial group. He’s making some comment about the first rise of digital media art. He’s making gestures with his hands as he talks. Half of what Basilton says is through hand gestures. He’s got long bony fingers like a zombie or something, but they move all graceful and shit. Maybe he plays piano. He would, the pretentious twat.
The tutorial ends and we all make our hasty escape from the stuffy classroom. Basilton scoops up his book bag and turns around in one fluid motion. I fumble with my own rucksack before doing the same. He walks down the hall with a slight swing in his hips, like he’s a fashion model or something. He could be. Definitely got the face for it. I can almost picture his sharp cheekbones and wavy hair gracing the cover of Vogue. He wouldn’t need a lot of makeup either, he’s pretty much perfect already.
“Are you following me?”
I stop just before running straight into Basilton. His perfect face is twisted in a deep scowl, fists clenched at his side.
“N-No,” I manage to get out, “I’m going to my dorm. We live in the same building...”
He narrows those stormy eyes at me, and I feel like a bug under a microscope. Every muscle in my body is so fucking tense. But eventually, he scoffs and looks away.
“I’m going to the library.”
He struts away, nose in the air. I flip him off from behind his back.
“What are you doing here?” I growl. Basilton doesn’t even show me the courtesy of looking up from his book.
“Last I checked I’m allowed to go where I want in our dorm building.” He takes a long sip from his mug like some dramatic Bond villain. I roll my eyes.
“Yeah, but you’re never in here. I thought we had an agreement that the west common room was mine.”
He quirks up one eyebrow. (How can he do that so perfectly?) “I never agreed to anything of the sort, last I checked.”
“It was unspoken.”
“And also imaginary, apparently.”
I growl as I shove the coffee pot into the machine. I may need the entire pot. My dreams have been getting worse lately. They’re still not coherent, mostly just a lot of blood and a general sense of anguish, but the intensity is ratcheting up. I’ll jolt awake up to three times a night. Something awful happened, and that sucks, but I really want one full night of sleep. Is that too much to ask for?
“It seems I’m here for the same reason you are,” Basilton says smoothly. (His voice is so melodic and it’s so fucking annoying.) He lifts his mug a little.
“What,” I scoff, “you can’t get coffee anywhere else?”
“Can’t you?” He shakes his head, crossing one long leg over the other. “Not my fault if you need to stay up all night revising because you don’t pay attention in class.”
My blood boils to a fever pitch. I scowl incredibly deeply at the stupid bastard. “I pay attention!”
“Hm, if you say so.” He keeps looking at his book nonchalantly. My fists clenches so hard it hurts. Basilton is so good at calmly ripping me apart. It’s the absolute worst, because I have no idea how to counter it. My mouth feels like it’s filled with cotton now. I can’t think of what to say. He wipes out all my defenses.
The coffee is done, so I just slam my mug on the counter and pour my cup. And I make sure to slam the door on my way out. I hope his perfect fucking teeth rattle from the force of it.