He’s stopped staying up until two every morning watching Netflix on his iPad.
He never calls her Dani anymore.
He wants her constantly, and it’s like their first time every time.
He looks at her with a smoldering intensity that reminds her of the way new lovers stare into each other’s eyes when there’s still so much mystery and uncharted territory to discover.
These thoughts, all these tiny realizations, accumulate in the back of her mind as Daniela stands in front of the mirror next to Jason.
It’s morning, and they’re getting ready for their respective days.
She’s brushing her teeth, he’s brushing his, and when he catches her staring at him, he gives a toothpaste-foamy grin and winks.
Does he have cancer and isn’t telling me?
Is he taking a new antidepressant and isn’t telling me?
Lost his job and isn’t telling me?
A sick, hot feeling erupts in the pit of her stomach: is he having an affair with one of his students and it’s her that’s making him feel and act like this brand-new man?
No. None of that feels right.
The thing is, nothing is obviously wrong.
On paper, they’re actually better. He’s paying her more attention than he ever has. They haven’t talked and laughed this much since the beginning of their relationship.
It’s just that he’s…different.
Different in a thousand tiny ways that might mean nothing and might mean everything.
Jason leans over and spits into the sink.
He turns off the faucet and steps around behind her and puts his hands on her hips and pushes up gently against her.
She watches his reflection in the mirror.
Thinking, What secrets are you keeping?
Wanting to say those words.
Those exact words.
But she keeps brushing, because what if the price tag on that answer is this amazing status quo?
He says, “I could just watch you do this all day.”
“Brush my teeth?” She garbles the words, the toothbrush still in her mouth.
“Uh-huh.” He kisses the back of her neck, and the shiver goes down her spine and into her knees, and for a split second it all falls away—the fear, the questions, the doubt.
He says, “Ryan Holder is giving a lecture tonight at six. You want to come with me?”
Daniela leans over, spits, rinses.
“I’d love to, but I have a lesson at five thirty.”
“Then can I take you to dinner when I get home?”
“I’d love that.”
She turns around and kisses him.
He even kisses differently now.
Like it’s an event, every time.
As he starts to pull away, she says, “Hey.”
She should ask.
She should bring up all these things she’s noticed.
Throw it all down and clear the air.
Part of her wants to know so badly.
Part of her never wants to know.
And so she tells herself that now isn’t the time as she plays with his collar and fixes his hair and sends him off into the day with one last kiss.
AMPOULES REMAINING: 44
Amanda glances up from the notebook, asks, “You’re sure writing it down is the best way to go?”
“When you write something, you focus your full attention on it. It’s almost impossible to write one thing while thinking about another. The act of putting it on paper keeps your thoughts and intentions aligned.”
“How much should I write?” she asks.
“Maybe keep it simple to start? One short paragraph?”
She finishes the sentence she’s been working on, closes the notebook, and rises to her feet.
“You’ve got it all in the forefront of your mind?” I ask.
“I think so.”
I shoulder our backpack. Amanda crosses to the door, turns the handle, pulls it open. Morning sunlight enters the corridor, so blinding that for a moment I can’t see a thing outside.
As my eyes adjust to the brilliance, the surroundings fade into focus.
We’re standing in the doorway of the box, at the top of a hill overlooking a park.
To the east, emerald grass slopes for several hundred yards, down to the shore of Lake Michigan. And in the distance rises a skyline like none I’ve ever seen—the buildings slim, constructions of glass and steel so reflective they border on invisible, creating an effect almost like a mirage.
The sky is filled with moving objects, most crisscrossing the airspace above what I assume is Chicago, a few accelerating vertically, straight up into the deep blue with no sign of stopping.
Amanda looks over at me and smirks, tapping the notebook.
I open it to the first page.
I want to go to a good place, to a good time to be alive. A world I’d want to live in. It isn’t the future, but it feels like it….
I say, “Not bad.”
“Is this place actually real?” she asks.
“Yes. And you brought us here.”
“Let’s explore. We should give ourselves a break from the drug anyway.”
She starts down the grassy slope away from the box. We pass a playground and then hit a walking path that runs through the park.
The morning is cold and flawless. My breath steams.
The grass is blanched with frost where the sun has yet to touch it, and the hardwoods that border the park are turning.
The lake stands as still as glass.
A quarter mile ahead, a series of elegant Y-shaped structures cut across the park at intervals of fifty meters.
Only as we draw near do I realize what they are.
We ride a lift up to the northbound platform and wait under the heated overhang, now forty feet above the greenway. A digital, interactive map emblazoned with Chicago Transit Authority identifies this route as the Red Line Express, linking South Chicago to Downtown.
An urgent female voice blares through a speaker overhead.
Stand clear. A train is arriving. Stand clear. A train is arriving in five…four…three…
I glance up and down the line, but I don’t see anything approaching.
A blur of incoming movement rockets out of the tree line.
A sleek, three-car train decelerates into the station, and as the doors open, that computerized female voice says, Please wait to board on green.
The handful of passengers who detrain and move past us are wearing workout clothes. The panel of red light above each of the open doors turns to green.