I’m in my sleep compartment.
I feel around, trying to find the door handle and remember there isn’t one.
Through the wall I hear Penny crying herself to sleep in the compartment next to mine.
“Penny?” I say. “Penny!”
She doesn’t hear me. She’s still crying.
I bang on the wall and yell some more. She does not answer.
The sound of her crying rips into me. Penny shouldn’t be crying. She’s the cheerful one. She’s the one who cracks the jokes in the meal room. She’s the one who’s always smiling, though none of the other girls can figure out why or how she does it.
“Penny! I’m here! It’s okay Penny!”
The crying gets worse. She’s outright bawling now. Wails of misery waft through the compartment walls. I claw at them to get through, but can’t.
I hear sounds of a beating. Penny whimpers and cries out in pain.
I claw at the wall, chunks of it come off in my hands. It rips away like fabric. More appears behind it. I can’t get through. I claw and claw.
Penny cries out in agony. The beating turns savage and Penny screams. I hear the pounding of fists upon flesh.
“I’m coming Penny! I’m coming!”
I shriek in frustration, pound the wall.
I woke up screaming.
I was drenched with sweat and someone was holding me.
I choked on a sob and clung on.
“It’s alright,” Dr. Bennett said. “You’re okay. I’ve got you. Wake up, Naya. Open your eyes.”
I struggled to catch my breath and opened my eyes. My cheek was pressed against Dr. Bennett’s chest, his hot cheek was against my forehead. I felt him breathing into my hair. My fingers dug into his arms, which were wrapped around me. His heart beat into my ear.
I dropped my arms and he pulled back slightly, brushed my hair out of my face and rested his hands on my shoulders.
“You awake now? You alright?”
“Yeah, I just…Bad dream.”
“No kidding,” he said. He dropped one hand from my shoulder onto the bed, and pushed my hair behind my ear with the other.
“I never had dreams until I got out.”
Dr. Bennett clenched his jaw. His hand that had pushed back my hair went back to my shoulder. He patted me softly. “Defensive mechanism,” he said.
I nodded. I couldn’t look at him. I didn’t want to see that look again. Like he felt sorry for me.
We sat for a moment while I caught my breath.
“Who’s Penny?” he asked.
Every muscle in my body went tense. “Penny?”
“You were calling out to her. She from The Line too?”
My eyes craned up. “She’s my only friend. She’s still there…”
“She’s not your only friend,” Dr. Bennett said.
I shook my head. “You don’t get it.”
He took his hand from my shoulder and put it on my cheek, pulling my face up to make me look at him. His eyes were misty, and a brilliant shade of green. “No. I don’t think you do,” he said.
He did not look sad. He was looking at me a different way. Like he knew. Like he knew every thought that had gone, and was going to pass through my twisted mess of a head. Like he understood me completely, and I didn’t have to say a word.
My eyes filled with tears.
How I wished it were true.
He moved forward.
I felt his breath on my face.
His lips were millimeters from mine.
His body generated so much heat I started to sweat.
All I had to do was lean forward. One slight movement and his lips would be mine. One motion and I would not be alone.
My lungs clenched. Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe. My skin revolted and I flailed my arms into the air, sending Dr. Bennett back and my hands to my face.
I saw his look of shock and hurt and I sobbed.
I could hardly catch my breath and gasped noisily for air.
It was a thousand degrees and my clothes were soaked.
I crumpled on the bed and bawled, shaking.
“I’m sorry,” I heard Dr. Bennett mumble. “I…”
He got up from the bed and the door closed behind him as he left.
I could not watch.
When I was finally able to look up, I was glad he was gone.Then I cried some more because I wasn't.