Clarity

The alarm’s piercing shrill cut through the darkness, as it did on so many mornings before. The sun wasn’t yet out; while this had been normal as recently as three days ago, now it seemed to make a mockery of everything that had happened. She was tangled in sheets and entirely shaken from the rude interruption of what must have been a wonderful, if disarming, dream. The murmur of Delfine’s waking signalled that it hadn’t entirely been in her head.

Her head. It throbbed with each blare from the evil mechanical herald of a new work week. Rubbing her eyes, Megan groped blindly for the light switch. The stark whiteness cast a dreary reality on her situation; after all this, after everything she’d learned and felt over the past days, she still had responsibilities. A life to live, a diner that needed coffee made, a shuffling set of loyal customers waiting to greet their day with her smile. It disgusted her to think of returning to that mundane grind.

Megan pawed through her closet, searching for some clothes to put on for the day. While the cloak’s wonderous shapeshifting was a fantastic feature, it didn’t seem right to wear for a day’s work. She dressed as Delfine watched from the bed, slowly rising and wrapping herself in her own magic garment.

“I’ve got to go to work,” Megan said, her words dragging with obvious distaste. “Are you, um, staying … here?”

Delfine chuckled. “I’ve got a life, same as you. I need to get back, too. Fortunate for me that it’s … well, I’ve got a few hours yet, let’s just say it like that. Don’t worry. Lock up when you leave, I won’t need to go that way.”

“Wait, you’re … of course you’re leaving,” Megan replied. “I’m sorry. For, like, all of — I don’t know. Thank you for coming here. I, uh…” her words fell to pieces in her mouth, unsure of what she should — or could — say.

“I’ll see you again, Meg,” Delfine reassured her. “This is only the beginning. At least, I hope it is. For all our sakes, I guess.”

“When? Will you come back here? How am I supposed to learn if – if you’re not, you know, here?”

“You worry too much. Just go. You’re expected, and the last thing we need now is anything that draws more attention from — from Harris, and whoever sent him. Keep your guard up, newbie. Don’t be afraid, but don’t close your eyes now. I’ll see you … later.”

Megan cast a vicious look at the clock; it was time to leave. She hated the idea, but not having a home to come back to because she walked out on her job to chase some mystical wonderland was an even worse fate. She grabbed her coat and was off, locking the apartment behind her. By the time she arrived at the diner, the resentful feelings had started to ebb, replaced with something very different that continued to tug at her mind as she went about her day.

Maybe it was the act of going through the motions at work. Maybe it was the way everything so monumentally normal. Maybe it was the faces, the people coming in and out of the diner, all the same as they had before. As they would continue, unaware of what had begun here. Had she lost her goddamn mind? She’d just spent two nights — shared her bed! — with a total stranger! Megan’s thoughts ran in circles, winding around and around, locked in orbit around the very notion that she, on some lark, had taken a dose of god-knows-what, landed in some kind of fairy tale, and spent a night in bed with someone she didn’t even know.

What the hell had she been thinking? Is this how normal people, well-adjusted adults, lived their lives? She’d practically stumbled through the entire weekend, caught up in some fantasy that — while entirely satisfying, mind you — had absolutely no business existing. What was this connection she felt with Delphine, really? Sure, she was pretty. No, that wasn’t the word; she was more than that, but even so, people didn’t just have that kind of instant … whatever it had been.

Megan wondered if Lillian was somehow responsible. Delphine had said she couldn’t make people act against their will, but did that mean she wasn’t able to have any impact on them? Maybe this mysterious woman had somehow manipulated her, planted false memories that had been the reason Megan knew each of them by name. Hell, maybe none of it had even happened the way she remembered. Waking up wrapped around someone else like that was a sure sign that something had happened, but who’s to say that she wasn’t some passing friend of the ones who’d left the pill, come to take advantage of a hallucinating local? And if that’s what had happened, she’d fallen for it entirely. Hell, she’d even —

“Shit!” Every head in the diner turned toward Megan in an instant. She was nearly as surprised as they were at the sudden outburst from remembering a key detail; whoever Delphnine was or wasn’t, she’d left her alone in her home. Who the hell does that with someone they’ve known for all of a weekend?

“Cammie, I’m sorry, I — I gotta take lunch a little early, I just remembered something at home.” She waited for the nod of approval, and tore out of the diner like her life depended on it. She thought about calling the police, but decided to wait until she’d arrived home to see what the damage might be. She muttered a string of profanities that lasted from the diner to the parking lot of her apartment. Scrambling for her keys, she finally managed to unlock the door — at least it had still been closed, so maybe her stuff was still here. Hell, maybe Delphine hadn’t even left yet.

She stepped inside. Nothing had moved. Well, nothing except the bottle; if that was here, maybe she hadn’t made it all up. She scoured the place, going room by room and then back again, checking every closet and cabinet just to be sure. Delphine wasn’t here, nothing was missing, and — wait, what was that smell? It reminded her of an open field after a rainstorm, or maybe the scent of seaweed on an ocean breeze. Wet. Earthy. It seemed strongest in the bedroom, but a thorough inspection found nothing out of place, down to the last haphazardly-tossed sock that had found its way under the bed.

She breathed in, trying to calm herself as she threw a burrito into the microwave for lunch. If she was here anyway, may as well make the most of the time and actually eat something. Had she eaten anything while Delphine was here? It was all a blur, from the moment she’d opened her eyes on the beach to the ear-splitting squeal of the alarm this morning. Surely, she’d at least done that much; people just didn’t go for days without eating anything. She must have.

She scanned the room again, waiting for the beep to signal that her food was ready. As her eyes traced every detail of the living room, they caught something she’d missed in her hasty entry. Tucked below the bottle sitting on the coffee table was a folded piece of paper. She crossed the room, forgetting hunger for a moment, and pulled it out. Hesitantly, she unfurled it and read the note scrawled inside.

Meg,

I hope you find this soon. I’m sorry I hurried you out the door. I’m sorry I couldn’t stay.

I’ll see you soon. I promise.

– D

Behind her, the microwave announced the end of its task. Her stomach turned at the thought of eating; without so much as another glance towards the kitchen, she returned to the cold and started the drive back to the diner.

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