“I can’t do this anymore.” I clenched the notepad in my fist. “I don’t want to this anymore.”
“What do you mean? You’re the one who always pointed out the beauty of it, this Thread or whatever the hell we wanna call it.”
I let the crumpled paper drop to the floor, pencil clattering with it. “It’d be different if I had control, some way to figure this out, but neither of us has that.”
Adam tilted my chin up. “So what? You’re saying you just want to give up?”
“I’m saying I don’t know what else to do. It’s like everywhere we turn something else comes up.”
“What’s your point? You’ve dealt with everything fine so far.”
I sank down to the floor, leaning up against the bedroom wall. “I responded to everything as it came up, but I don’t know how to deal with it.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? We could’ve-”
“What, taken a break and let something else happen?”
Adam offered his hand to help me up. “I wish I would’ve known. I could’ve helped.”
“How? You can’t help yourself with this let alone taking on my problems.” I pushed his hand away, leaning my head back to close my eyes.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“I mean you have enough on your mind without taking my burden.” I huffed as he dropped to his knees in front of me. “I wanted to be strong for you. When you told me about the Thread, you were so afraid of everything, and… you needed me.”
“I still do. I always will.” He settled beside me, leaning against my shoulder. “We’ll figure this out.”
“I don’t have the energy for it. I’m tired, Adam.”
“What do you want to do, then? Do you want to sleep or…?”
I shook my head. “No, no. You don’t understand. I’m tired. All the time, no matter what I do.”
“Let’s take a break from it. Leave it be for awhile. Put everything away and not think about it.” Adam hooked his fingers under mine.
“I wish it were that easy.”
I picked myself up, wandered down the hall to the next bedroom, shut and locked the door. I pulled the curtains closed, turned out the lights, and collapsed on the bed. Footsteps echoed in the hall, but I shut my eyes, clamping my hands over my ears. Echoes of voices floated to and from the space beyond the door.
“She’s locked in her room.”
“I found her sitting in the dark again.”
I listened, waiting for comments to end. I buried my head in the pillow, squeezing my eyes shut with my hands crushing my ears beneath them. Anything to drown them out. Why can’t I shut it all off? Even silence screamed at me. I couldn’t tell them. What would Mom or Dad be able to do to help, load me up with pills, have some stranger pry his way into my life? The voices faded, and the pressure on my head relented. Soon, my body lightened and drifted away, and for a few hours, I felt nothing.
“Is there anything I can do?”
I opened my eyes and turned to face him. “I don’t know. I just feel like shutting down.”
Adam stood, helping me to my feet without a word. He led me to the doorway, draping my jacket over my shoulders.
“Where are we going?”
“Don’t worry, just get in the car and try to sleep. I’ll let you know when we get there.”
My eyebrows quirked, but I nodded, stepping into my shoes and out the door. We slid into the car, and I put my seat back, laying my arm over my eyes as the car coughed itself to life. My body drifted with each of the car’s movements, but nothingness swallowed all of it in minutes, letting me go into numb sleep. My body floated in a sleeping void until the car jolted to a stop.
“Come on. I’m sure he’ll be happy to see you.”
My eyelids fluttered. I blinked the haze away and rubbed my arms when the passenger door opened. I flailed as a blur of slobber and fur thrashed on top of me, making us both tumble out of the car onto the driveway.
“Off, Bear. Let her get up.” Adam pulled the dog away, letting me sit up and wipe the slime away from my face.
“What are we doing back here?”
“Well, I am going inside to chat with my parents, but I think Bear could use a new playmate.”
He barked at Adam who held up a tennis ball for him to see. Adam launched it across the yard.
“You’re leaving me out here?”
He chuckled. “Don’t worry. Bear doesn’t bite, much.” Adam winked as he walked in the house, leave Bear to bound toward me.
The German shepherd butted his head into my legs as he dropped the ball. I cringed at the saliva dripping from his mouth, picking the ball up with two fingertips. I flung it across the yard and watched his chase it down, turn around and sprint back for round two. Instead, I plucked it from his mouth and tossed it in the air. He rose up on his dark hind legs, catching it in his maw. He dropped the ball in the grass, and I teased him, pretending to throw the ball as I hid it under my arm. I laughed when he ran a few feet then turned back around, barking at me.
“Alright, go get it.”
This back and forth continued to a chorus of “good boy” and “nice catch” until we wore each other down. Bear tackled me with the last throw and laid on top of me before I pushed him off to my side. He settled there, insisting on resting his head on my belly. I smiled and laid my hand on his head.
Adam loomed over us. “Having fun?”
“We were until a certain someone showed up, isn’t that right?”
Bear panted, letting his tongue loll out of his mouth in a canine smile.
“Very funny. Ready to come in? Mom’s got food.”
Bear’s ears perked and he ditched me, running toward Vincent in the doorway. I pushed myself to my feet, yawning as I strolled up to the door.
“How are you feeling?”
I paused just before we got inside. “Better, I think. But let’s not decide too soon.”
Bear chowed in the corner of the kitchen, switching between lapping up water and chomping on kibble.
“You’d think he was a vacuum, the way he goes through it.” Dana chuckled at the sight.
I nodded, smiling at the shepherd. “Full of energy. Thank you for having me over again.”
“Of course. Couldn’t let you leave on a bad note without making it up to you.” Vincent nodded toward the table. “Dig in, there’s plenty.”
Adam grinned as we sat down, passing dishes of potato salad, ham sandwiches, fruit salad, tortilla chips, and salsa. Everyone filled their plates as Bear finished, squirming his way under the table.
“You didn’t have to go through all this trouble for us.”
“It’s no problem. We love cooking, and if nothing else, you are the guinea pigs.” Dana winked as she scooping fruit salad for herself. “You’re welcome anytime as long as you try a little of everything, deal?”
I grinned. “You got it.” I paused before taking my first bite. “I never got into cooking. I mean, it seems almost pointless with one or two people, doesn’t it?”
“Not at all, it’s like any other art form.”
I raised my eyebrows. “How’s that?”
“Lots of trial, error, accidents… but once you get something you like, you can’t stop.” Vincent grinned. “My mother taught me as a boy, and I tried to impress Dana on our first date. I’ll never forget it.”
I talked between forkfuls of food, watching Adam slip scraps to Bear. “What is it about it, though?”
Dana sighed, smiling at me. “For me, it’s the memories. When you make something your parents used to make or make the same recipe over and over for this one.” She gestured toward Adam.
He shook his head with a mouthful of potato salad, blushing as he set his spoon down to switch to his sandwich.
“It takes a lot of time, doesn’t it?”
“Not always, but it can. It’s worth the time if you enjoy it. You make time for the things you love.”
“And if you fail, it’s a waste, the food I mean.” I batted a stray blueberry on my plate.
“Well, you salvage what you can, or if you have to throw it all away, you know what not to do next time.”
“And it’s that simple. Don’t you ever frustrated?”
Vincent grinned, nodding. “Oh, sure. After you end up with a brick of charcoal for the hundredth time, you’re ready to settle for store bought anything.”
“Then after about a week of eating out of a box, you’re more than willing to try making something better. And that’s how it goes.” He scooped up a spoonful of fruit. “Of course, if you have a book or a chef, then you probably don’t have to worry as much, but what’s the fun in being perfect right away?”
I poked the berry with my fork, pushing more food onto my fork, hiding my mouth with my hand as I spoke around sweet mush. “Would you mind cooking lessons?”