Two days after Pearl turned thirteen, her mom woke her in the middle of the night, gently shaking her nearest shoulder. The teen reluctantly opened her eyes and sat up, pushing the sheet and comforter down a bit before stretching her back in an arch.
“Mom?” the young girl yawned, reaching over towards the nightstand and twisting the tiny socket knob on the lamp. The bulb brightened, dimly lighting the room. The shadowed outline of her mom disappeared behind the light and was replaced with clear visibility of the woman’s face. She was seated on the edge of the bed, torso and upper body twisted and angled inward.
“Something bad happened, honey.” The adult’s features seemed to droop with a soured look of concern.
“Huh? Wh-Where’s Dad?” Pearl pushed up a little higher, kicking the covers off completely. She rubbed her eyes with her knuckles, then blinked several times. “What’s wrong?” Fear and panic began welling up as her chest tightened.
“He’s already at the hospital with his mom. Listen, honey. Mammaw had a heart attack. I know this is unfair, but I need you to make a grownup decision. I have to be there for your father. Do you want to come with me or stay here?” She reached over and swept Pearl’s messy hair from her face, tucking the short strands behind her ears.
“Will Mammaw b-be okay?”
“We’ve always shot straight with you. We don’t believe in sugarcoating or holding things back. This looks bad, honey. Just in case she doesn’t make it, you might want to try and see her one last time.” Her mother’s voice cracked. “But it will be absolutely fine if you don’t want to. You can stay here with the doors locked and security alarm set. We’ll be home as soon as we can.”
“No, I need to be there for Dad. He’d want me with him. I can handle it.” Her lip quivered as she sniffed back the threatening deluge.
“You’re so strong, Pearl.” The woman leaned in and kissed her daughter in the center of her forehead. “Put something else on. Lay-around clothes will do. We’ll leave in ten minutes. Oh, and don’t worry about track practice. I know you’ve dedicated your summer to increasing your personal record, but you can skip just this one. It’ll be fine, I promise.” With that, the petite woman stood and left the room.
Pearl hopped up and made her way to the bathroom to splash water on her face. The cooling sensation served its purpose in sending a cascading wave of energy through the girl’s body, increasing her wakefulness. She stared into the mirror for a moment, looking at the worried face that glared back. Her short-cropped, brown hair looked like it had been slept on, with a messy tangle at the very top of her head. She ran fingers through it several times, attempting to smooth it down and get it to a presentable place. The girl’s mind was reeling; she didn’t know what to expect at the hospital, she only knew she had to be supportive of her dad and see her grandmother.
Pearl left the room and found herself in front of the dresser on the far side of her bedroom. She opened a couple of drawers, locating a pair of gym shorts and a long-sleeved tee with a sport’s logo in the center. Changing from her pajamas, the brunette dressed herself for the trip.
During the fifteen-minute ride from their house to the hospital, not much was said. The radio was kept low in the background on some adult alternative station her mom always seemed to listen to.
In the dark of night, Pearl only saw a few cars on the road with them. She stayed up after midnight before but couldn’t remember ever leaving the house at that time. Other lights from streetlamps, buildings, and houses near the highway zipped past in yellow and orange streaks as the vehicle passed.
Finally, they arrived at the hospital and got out of the car. Pearl followed closely behind her mom as they approached the entrance. The girl had been pulling away from her parents a bit as of late. Being a ‘big teenager’ now, as she called it, she was discovering a sense of self-realization and freedom. But when she walked into the bright, white building at that moment, she grabbed hold of her mother’s hand and held it like she was a three-year-old again crossing the street for the first time.
The woman spoke with someone behind a desk just on the other side of the automatic glass doors. The young brunette heard words and phrases such as ‘ICU’, ‘not much time left’, and ‘hospice’ but was unsure what it all meant. As soon as a room number was provided, the pair zigzagged through the building, making their way to as specific elevator with a sign on the adjacent wall reading, North Tower . Luckily, the elevator was sitting on their floor as if waiting for their arrival.
To Pearl, it felt like they were navigating through the labyrinthically placed hallways and chambers heading to some far away and unknown land of despair. She’d never been inside a hospital before. It smelled similar to the nurse’s office at her school, like a big Band-Aid. Everything was so white and clean.
After pushing a button on the side panel, the doors shut. “Pearl,” the adult began as the elevator began ascending, turning and bending her knees to squat in front of her daughter, “we’ll only be able to see Mammaw for a few minutes.” She placed hands on both of the girl’s shoulders, looking her directly in the eyes. “I want you to be ready. She’ll be hooked up to machines when we get in there and won’t be able to talk. Be brave, honey.” The weight of her words crashed in on Pearl as she began to feel a stinging sensation behind her eyelids. She cut her eyes to the side to avoid releasing the hurricane of emotions that were clawing inside her, desperate to get out.
“It’s outside of normal visiting hours for the ICU, so we have to be quick.”
Pearl nodded at about the same time the shiny, silver elevator doors parted in the center with a ding. Her mother stood and clutched her hand, leading the girl around the corner to an open waiting area with a few other people scattered around the room. Between every few seats, small, dark-wood tables held lamps and devices on top. One man was snoring in the corner with a coat spread across his legs and his head propped between the wall and the chair’s headrest.
As they continued to walk through the room, a door swung open to reveal the familiar face of Pearl’s father. The girl’s heart warmed to finally see him, but the pleasant feeling quickly faded as she noticed the somber expression on his face. She’d seen the man’s reaction through a litany of experiences, but something about this look shattered her heart like glass falling hard onto a stony floor. The tears started to form again, but she swallowed hard and fought them back once more.
As they approached in the center of the room, Pearl’s father wrapped his arms around his family. It didn’t last long, as he pulled away and turned towards the door he had appeared from.
“This way,” he said, voice stern and scratchy. Pearl heard him speak with that tone before, but it was usually after yelling from the stands during one of her track meets. She could always hear him over the crowd while she ran, and it created a burst of energy within her to push harder. This time, however, his voice sounded deflated and defeated, heightening her uncertainty.
The trio wound through the corridors leading to a room where the man stopped and turned back to face his family. “Pearl, I’m sorry you have to see this. Guess there was bound to be a point when you’d experience this, seeing someone you love at the end of their life.”
The words echoed through her head: “someone you love at the end of their life”… “someone you love”… “end of their life”… “end of their life”… “END OF LIFE”…
She couldn’t resist any longer. A tsunami of tears were released and she buried her face into the warmth of her father’s torso. Even in that moment, she didn’t want to disappoint her dad. She attempted to muffle her sobs as best she could, quieting them in the man’s wrinkled, plaid, button-down shirt. Her mom closed in behind her and tenderly rubbed Pearl’s back while smoothing her hair down in a petting motion.
Suddenly, a high-pitched machine tone screamed out from the room.
“Shit, a flatline,” the man whispered, a look of desperation replacing the strength in his eyes.
A strange, pulsating energy scattered through Pearl’s extremities. She pushed past her parents and busted into the room. A woman in blue scrubs was standing beside the bed-like gurney with a clip board and pen in her hands. She looked up then down again, alternating between the clock on the wall and the paperwork she was completing.
“Time of death, 1:24am…”
Pearl’s eye widened and she sprang onto her grandmother’s body, feet leaving the ground, flopping onto the gurney and pressing herself against the older woman’s frame. She squeezed her Mammaw tightly, releasing every emotion she’d been bottling up.
“Young lady!” the hospital staff member reached out.
“Pearl!” The girl’s parents ran in after her.
The old woman abruptly took a deep, wheezing breath and threw her eyes open. The vitals monitor returned to a normal heartbeat rate.
[beep… beep… beep… beep… beep… beep…]
Everything was still.
The nurse gasped. “It’s a miracle!”
“Mother!” Pearl’s dad exclaimed, quickly making his way to the side of her bed. He pulled his daughter down and wiped the tears from his face.
“Wh-What’s happening?” the patient confusingly asked, looking at the hoses and tubes attached to various spots on her body.
Pearl’s mom moved her into her chest and hugged the young teen.
Several moments of adult conversation took place but Pearl was too deep in her own thoughts to make much sense of the commotion. She and her mom were sent out as doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff took notes and spoke to one another as well as her dad and grandmother.
The mother-daughter pair held tightly together, sitting in the waiting area. Finally, her father appeared and sat down next to his family, on the opposite side of their teen.
“She’s going to… make a full recovery.” The man seemed stunned, speaking slowly with odd pauses between words. “It’s like… she never even… had a heart attack. They don’t know… what to make of it.”
“I’m so happy, dear,” Pearl’s mom smiled through tired eyes.
“They’re… keeping her overnight for observation. But… yeah, I don’t know what to say.”
“She’s alive, Dad. That’s all that matters!” The thirteen-year-old snapped. She stayed mostly silent since arriving at the hospital but didn’t know what happened back in the ICU room. She couldn’t quite understand why the adults were so puzzled.
A new thought seemed to snap her father out of a daze. He turned and focused on his daughter still sitting to his left. “Sweetheart, life is full of crazy mysteries. Mammaw is strong and wasn’t ready to go yet, I figure. It might be a little confusing, but, yeah, you’re right. Who cares what happened; she’s still with us. I love you two so much.”
He stood from his waiting room seat and kneeled directly in front of the women. Stretching his arms out widely, the man reached around and hugged his family.
Awareness phased in and Des sat up from her sleeping position on the couch. A strong sense of urgency nipped at her mind, increasing the rapidity of her thoughts. She pushed the cover down and shifted her body. Looking towards the kitchen, the biker noticed the microwave read 5:30. It was still a little early but she needed to wake the sleeping girl in the other room. Getting the two of them safely away was her top priority, and she needed to do it as quickly as possible according to the Watcher.
As far as Des could see, she only had two options for what had to happen. The first involved being completely transparent and revealing the secret her family hid from the world for many years. Des had no idea how Pearl would respond, but she feared the truth about her power could push the athlete away. The other option was trickier and was far from ideal. She could grab Pearl, travel to Rachel’s realm, and somehow pretend she was unaware of what was happening.
Ultimately, she knew she couldn’t lie to Pearl. As weird as it felt to give it much thought, in her heart, she wanted to be around the girl for a long time. She didn’t want to begin whatever their relationship was going to become with dishonesty, though the idea of revealing her powers terrified the red-streaked blonde. Her moms hadn’t even told her grandparents nor their closest friends. Now, she was about to open up to someone she had only really been around for the past day or so. On the other hand, she’d known the brunette since they were little girls in school. She was conflicted.
Des hopped up and stretched out her arms and back. Her friend was right. The couch was relatively comfortable. Though, she wasn’t sure if she’d rested well. Being in the dreamspace, she didn’t know if her body was properly resting during her slumber.
She switched on the kitchen light, used the restroom, then located her leather jacket. After she slid her arms in and adjusted the collar and cuffs to fit more comfortably, she fingered the inside pocket. The item she retrieved from Kate the day before was still securely resting inside. She had forgotten about the recording and still wasn’t quite sure why her mom needed it. But even though plans had deviated from when she agreed to obtain it, Des still intended on eventually bringing it home.
Finally, she tiptoed to Pearl’s bedroom door and pushed it open a few inches.
“Hey, silly lady.” The girl’s raspy voice both startled Des and made her smile. “Come in here.”
Des nudged the door open, causing soft, dull light to peek inside. “Hey, Pearl. I didn’t know you were awake.”
“Yeah, I couldn’t get back to sleep.” The brunette’s arms were behind her head under the pillow beneath. She shifted from her back to her side, propping her face on an open palm. “Will you come lay down with me?” The girl’s enticing queen-sized bed looked soft and comfortable.
Des clumsily glanced down at her feet. “Well, we sorta need to…”
“Please,” Pearl broke in, an impish smirk on her face. “Don’t be nervous. I won’t bite. Unless you’re into that kind of thing.” She slid over and patted a spot with her hand beside her.
Even though the ceiling fan was cooling the room at what had to be the highest setting, Des felt her face growing warm. Her heart was thumping harshly in her chest. The cool air grew noticeably thick all around her. She searched for the appropriate words to say but everything seemed a jumbled mess in her head. Despite wanting this more than anything she could recall, irrational thoughts of self-doubt squirmed at the back of her mind.
“We’re already to the biting phase of our relationship?” Des awkwardly responded. She felt goofy hearing herself speak.
To her surprise, Pearl just giggled. “You know what? You remind me of a dragonfly. I don’t know what to expect. You hover for a moment then… your flight pattern just seems random.”
“Is-is that a good thing?”
“Just get your ass over here, Miss Dragonfly.” She repeated the patting motion, indicating a desire for closeness.
Des removed her jacket and folded it on top of the dresser. She daintily tiptoed back over and slowly slipped into the bed beside Pearl. Beginning on her back, she turned her body around on her side, laying face to face with her new favorite person.
“Hey,” the athlete smiled.
“Now, that’s much better. Not a bad first sight in the morning if I do say so myself.” Pearl reached up and touched the messy red streak in Des’s bang with the tips of her fingers. “God, I love the red. Have you ever thought of trying a different color?”
“My mom’s favorite is blue, but I thought about, like, an emerald green. I dunno.”
“Green would look amazing on you. Anything would, really.”
An intimidating bridge of energy formed between the pair, and Des couldn’t help imagining how her first kiss might feel. She’d watched her moms all of her life, who were perfect for each other in every way, make the kissing and love stuff look super easy. She was certain she and Pearl were about to kiss before the crazy ex-boyfriend showed up and ruined their moment. But now, she was even second guessing that experience. She worried she might have been misinterpreting the brunette’s playful nature with something more.
For several seconds, the only sounds Des heard were the thundering of her heart deep inside her ears and the spinning swooshes of the ceiling fan. She could see Pearl’s eyes scanning her face and landing on her lips over and over again. In her mind, she was begging the girl to make a move and lean forward, but she didn’t. She kept playing with the dyed portion of Des’s hair and glancing back at her.
“This is what I want, Des,” Pearl finally spoke. “If I could bottle a moment and live in it for the rest of my life, I’d choose right now. All I want to do is look at you and be beside you. It’s like suddenly nothing else matters. Everything outside of here and now doesn’t exist anymore.” She slid her hand down from Des’s hair and tenderly placed her palm on the side of her friend’s face causing a pleasurable tremor to radiate through the biker’s body.
Des stared back into the girl’s eyes, watching her irises marginally increase in size. It felt like she was connecting to some higher, intangible force that existed both outside of her body and deep within. Just as she was losing herself inside of this transcendent bond, she noticed the whites in Pearl’s eyes growing glossier. It almost looked like they were filling with tears on the verge of being released.
“Is-Is everything alright, Pearl?” After she asked the question, several droplets of clear liquid rolled down the girl’s cheeks. Des quickly reached up and gently wiped them with her thumb. “Hey, hey. Talk to me. What’s going on?”
Pearl sniffled and then began. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt like I was just going through the motions. Wake up, school, track practice, sleep, eat… rinse and repeat. Shitty ex-boyfriend, superficial friends, et cetera, et cetera. Then you come blazing into my life, and…” She paused. Swallowing hard, she choked back her emotions once more. “…and none of that seems important anymore. Part of me hates myself for having these feelings. We sorta just met and I don’t even know how you feel. Ya know? But there’s something magical about you, Des. Even when we were in school together… I felt it. You probably don’t even know. And I’ve put up these walls for so long so I could create this tunnel-vision-like focus on what I thought mattered. But now when I think about my future, all I can see is you. God. I’m sorry. This probably freaks you out.”
If Des were her moms, she imagined, she could find the perfect combination of words to help build Pearl back up, but she had no idea what to say. A billion thoughts were colliding with one another in her mind like rush hour on a crowded New York sidewalk after the white “WALK” hand lit up. Hearing Pearl pour her heart out like that, filled Des with confidence. Some of the things she said helped put words to her own thoughts about the girl. There was definitely some undefined connection, but she worried that this was a make-or-break moment for their relationship. If she couldn’t figure out what to say or do, everything might be ruined forever.
The blonde slid closer. With her hand still on her friend’s soft cheek, after collecting her tears, she tilted her chin upward so their eyes were in-line again. If she didn’t know better, Des could almost hear tiny pleas coming from Pearl’s mind, begging her to push in for a kiss.
The time traveler closed her eyes and craned forward. She could feel Pearl’s warming breath tickling her skin as she advanced. This time, nothing was going to stop her. The magnetic pull was too much to bear. It wasn’t a want, but rather a need to feel the girl’s lips against hers that drew her in. The distance between them slowly shrank until finally their lips brushed together as they sank into a tenderly passionate embrace.