She dropped the cookie to the floor, heart pounding as Jack smiled at her from around the bathroom door, his blond hair tousled and his stubble thick the way she liked it. His tie was loosened and his white dress shirt was a brilliant bloodred at his middle, but his eyes all but danced. “Don’t ask about things you’re not going to like the answers to, Peri. Questions are bad for your asthma.”
She blinked, hand clenched on the bare needle. She didn’t even remember picking it up, but there it was, set to gouge as she stared at the bathroom. The door was closed. No one was there. Silas was looking at her over his phone as if she had lobsters coming out of her ears. Clearly he hadn’t seen Jack. She was hallucinating.
Oh God, I’m going to MEP. She’d forgotten something so traumatic that her mind was fighting to recover it. If she couldn’t get a clean defrag, the hallucinations would get worse until she couldn’t tell reality from fantasy. She’d go insane by way of daydreams. How long? How long until I can’t function?
Silas retrieved the cookie, setting it down with an accusing snap. “Thirty-second rule.”
“Thank you.” Hands shaking, she smoothed the yarn, not seeing it. She was hallucinating the man she’d killed. She was losing it. Big-time.
Making an appraising “mmmm,” Silas settled across from her, his hands laced over his middle as if waiting for something. “So how’s it going?”
His voice held too much guile to be referring to her knitting. Great. I think he knows. “Fine.” Peri pulled out another row, her fear growing as the two colors tangled. “I’m trying to decide how to access my apartment,” she adlibbed. “Unless I moved it, I have a key downstairs in case I get locked out.” Don’t look at the bathroom. There’s nothing there. Crap, I’m sweating. “What’s the weather supposed to be tomorrow?”
Silas set his phone to vibrate and put it on the table. “How bad are the hallucinations?”
She lifted her chin, refusing to look at the bathroom. “Hallucination, not hallucinations. There is no plural.”
“I thought so.” A thick hand scrubbed his clean-shaven face. “We have a problem.”
“We?” Her heart thudded. “I’m fine.”
His gaze held pity when he looked up. “They’re going to get worse.”
Hating her flush, she met his gaze unblinkingly. “I’ll deal with it.”
“Peri, I can help. Let me try to render something.”
Worried, she looked at the yarn in her lap as if the answer lay tangled there. “No,” she whispered. The last time he’d been in her head, she’d remembered Jack.
“I won’t lead you anywhere you don’t want to go,” he said as he leaned across the table, eyes showing his shared worry. “I know you don’t want to remember what happened, but if you don’t let your mind work through this, it will … impair your ability.”
Peri had a feeling he’d been going to say it would drive her crazy, because if she didn’t find a way to deal with it, it would. “No,” she said firmly, then, “Yes. No.” Her eyes closed.
“What if you have a vision tonight of something that’s not there and make a mistake?” he asked. “At least let me help you untangle any memory knots that might be snarling.”
Memory knots. Shit. He was right, but she was scared, and she stiffened when he stood and moved to stand behind her. “Memory knots are dangerous,” she said, jumping when his big hands landed lightly on her shoulders.
Silas chuckled, leaning to put his face inches from hers. “Only if you ignore them. Now, tell me this isn’t better,” he said as he pressed his thumbs into the tension.
Oh, God. That feels good. “Better,” she whispered, her eyes closing as her head dropped forward over the spilled yarn. “I don’t want to remember Jack.”
“That’s fine,” he said as the strength in his hands eased, and she cracked an eye.
“You’re so full of psychiatric bull.”
He laughed, the sound relaxing her more than his fingers. His pressure on her was familiar, soothing, and utterly professional. Her body remembered this and was clicking over to what it needed to do, taking her mind with it whether she wanted it to or not. “Please don’t make me remember,” she whispered, a wisp of fear coloring her thoughts.
“I won’t. I promise. Just relax.”
She sighed as he found every knot of stress and eased it away. Peri tensed when Jack’s pale face flashed into her upper thoughts, then exhaled when she felt Silas dip into her mind and set it aside. He didn’t fragment it, he set it aside. Impressed, she relaxed more deeply, trusting him. Silas was probably the best in his generation. Why he’d left Opti was a mystery.
“Find your safe spot,” he whispered, and she drowsed, remembering him doing this before. “You can sleep there.” Sleep would be a blessing, and knowing that her “safe spot” would be free of Jack, of Opti, of everything, she turned her thoughts to her grandparents’ farm, feeling herself fall asleep high in her tree, the wind smelling of bees and sun in her hair….
Until she realized it was winter and the leaves were gone. She reached for a dead branch; her fingers were stained with blood. Frightened, she looked down to see Jack lying below her in the yellow fields, the long, sparse grass waving to touch his face creased in pain. A scarf she had knitted was wadded up and pressed to his abdomen, red and soaked with blood. Dagazes decorated it. Panic stirred.