The room next to mine was now occupied. The boy at the beach had been put in our care, no doubt a ploy by my parents to get Mick and I closer together.
He told me his name was Jacob, and that was all he could remember. During meals, I made sure to sit across the table from him. I liked to study his face; there was so much behind that blank expression that I wanted to learn.
His black hair was unruly and long. His skin was a light mocha, and his eyes were basil. He had a wide nose and mouth, and a stubble-covered chin.
Once we were all in the living room and Mick was bent over his computer, trying to write a report for his law internship while Jacob lay on the couch, deep in thought. I sat on the floor, reading an old book about an orphaned boy who found out he was a wizard.
I decided to give up on my book, annoyed with the idea that there was a magical world, hidden away from everyone else, with a whole group of people living happily behind a magical veil. I put the book down and decided to go off to bed. But then I noticed something.
Both Mick and Jacob wore the same expression on their faces. Brows crumpled and eyes intensely concentrated, I found it amusing, since they looked nothing alike otherwise. Mick's brown hair was neat, short and spiked at the front. His skin was tan, with a straight, narrow nose and a small mouth. His eyes were brown and slightly slanted.
I looked from one to the other with great interest. After my amusement wore off, I got up. "Goodnight," I said to no one in particular.
"Goodnight, Gemma," Mick replied, not looking up from his computer.
For some reason, I expected Jacob to say something. Feeling oddly disappointed, I made my way to my room.
When I stopped to open the door, I was startled by Jacob, standing beside me.
"You don't sleep with him," he said. He stood there, too close for comfort, looking at me.
I felt naked, like he was boring into my soul, reading my thoughts, undressing my mind with his eyes.
He was so close I could smell him; he smelled like the ocean: spicy, salty and misty. I breathed deeply, becoming slightly more lightheaded with every breath.
Then he spoke again. "Goodnight."
He walked into his room, and I was left in the hall, staring at the spot where he had stood.
I knew what was happening to me, and I knew it was going to be trouble.
Mick left early for school one morning. He was already gone when I woke up, so I didn't bother making breakfast. I wasn't hungry anyway. I sat down at the computer and decided to manage our bills online. Somer's online connection was very handy. I never had to leave the apartment to pay bills, and the money Mick's and my parents' sent registered instantly on our online account.
As I was logging on, I began to think about the online connection that had existed before the world war. They called it the World Wide Web. Well, it was still worldwide, except there wasn't much left of the world anymore. Just Somer. Then I remembered. There WAS a "rest of the world." We were just hiding from it. At that point, I went to check on Jacob.
His door was open, so I walked in. The bed was made, and the curtains were drawn, the morning rays spilling into the room.
"You're up early."
I spun around, and Jacob was standing behind me.
"I was just wondering if you were hungry…" I lied. Truth be told, I wanted to ask him questions about the world outside.
He nodded, and I turned to leave. I guess I was still making breakfast. I was halfway down the hall when he called after me, "There is a world out there. A very big one. And the war has been over for a long time."
I stopped and looked at him, realizing that for him to have said that, his memory must have come back.
"My name is Jacob Call and I'm a student," he said as he wolfed down the chocolate chip pancakes I had made.
"What are you studying?" I asked, watching him chew.
He gulped and replied, "Geology. I'm the student of the great Richard Mark, discoverer of the Nuclear Energy Harness." What on earth was a Nuclear Energy Harness? I looked at him, and tried to picture everything he was remembering about the outside.
"It's this machine," he said. "While the different world governments were at war over fossil fuel, Richard Mark created a machine that controls the flow of nuclear energy. Now everything is nuclear-powered…." He went on about molecules and atoms, but I wasn't paying attention. I was trying to picture it in my head, the world from which he came. And then I forgot about that and started staring at his mouth.
His lips moved slowly, as though he savored every word he said, every bite of pancake he took. It formed into different shapes, and I had this strange urge to lean forward and kiss him.
And then he stopped talking. I realized he was looking at me strangely; he had caught me staring. I could feel my face turning red, so I busied myself with clearing up the table. He stayed where he was, and the whole time I could feel his eyes following me as I put the dishes in the sink.
As I washed the plates, he grabbed me by the shoulders and turned me around.
"I'm sorry," he said.
Before I could ask why, he kissed me.