Pearlescent had spent the better part of three class periods suffering from a nagging feeling of normalcy. The feeling was reinforced by each passing moment in which the world remained as it had been the moment before. The nagging sensation wasn’t a particularly unpleasant one; Pearlescent was just uncertain what to do with it. The world was so quiet, and predictable. She couldn’t help but to relax even while she grew certain that something awful had occurred.
“What’s your next class?” Anya asked her.
“History. How about yours?” Pearlescent asked. The two of them went to the same school. They always had, despite the fact that when they’d walked in the door this morning Anya was in college and Pearlescent was in middle school. The class they were walking out of was a high school Math class, specifically sophomore English.
“History too, but it’s a study period. Ms. Oswald is out today.” Anya said.
“Should we have study periods?” Pearlescent asked. “I mean ones we can actually make it to.”
“That does seem different doesn’t it?” Anya said. “Maybe it’s in Tibet?”
Pearlescent pointed across the hallway to the classroom that was starting to fill with their fellow History students.
“We’ve got enough time to go back to our lockers even!” she said.
“That’s ridiculous. Try that and you really will end up in Tibet.” Anya said.
“I don’t think so. Something’s different.” Pearlescent said.
“You’re not going to try are you?” Anya asked. The idea was shocking, almost scandalous.
“I think I have to.” Pearlescent said. Against her better judgement, against her experience and even against her common sense, she found herself walking away from the classroom and down the hallway that lead to her locker.
The hairs on her arms tingled, waiting for the sudden change that would prove that she’d been an idiot. The hallway would lengthen out of sight around the horizon, or a horde of rats would come pouring out of the classrooms that she was passing. Something would shift or alter and the world that she was experiencing would be magically different.
Step after step though, the hallway remained a hallway. There were no rats, no sudden change of scale, nothing but a hallway where teenagers were trying to move in great numbers.
“This is impossible.” Pearlescent said as she reached her locker.
“I’ve been accused of that a few times.” the new girl, Jin, said.
In her utter astonishment at having reached her destination, Pearlescent hadn’t noticed that the transfer student had taken the locker next to hers.
“I don’t understand.” Pearlescent mumbled. She fumbled with the padlock that kept her textbooks and other belongings secure.
“Did you forget your combination?” Jin asked.
“No. I remember it.” Pearlescent said. Unbelievably, the lock opened on the first try. And there weren’t any giant squids waiting inside.
“Looks like you’re in good shape then.” Jin said.
Pearlescent stood still. Was she in good shape? Everything felt normal. More than that, everything was normal. Just not her. She felt like she was made of spun glass. Like if she moved in the slightest bit, she was going to shatter and fade away.
“I’m not.” she said. Tears from nowhere and for no reason were welling up in her eyes. Nothing made sense, or rather, everything made sense and that was the problem.
“This is too solid. I can’t be here.” she said. She wasn’t looking at the new girl. She was staring into her locker. Watching it for the signs of home. Her locker was created from her, a dream of a dream. It should be even less stable than she was. For it to be so unchanging meant that she wasn’t changing either, but that was impossible. Solidity wasn’t a part of who or what she was.
“You can be. And you are.” Jin said. “What happened before was a mistake.”
“What do you mean? What was a mistake?” Pearlescent asked. She turned to face Jin and gasped that she’d been able to move without breaking. It felt natural, but something about it was wrong.
“Nothing. The memories of that other place are going to fade away. I’ve brought you back.” Jin said.
“Back where! What have you done?” Pearlescent demanded.
“You’re not going to remember this once I leave but maybe it’ll help you until then.” Jin said. “The place where you were? It wasn’t real. Not fully anyways. I fixed that, so you won’t be wandering around in dreams anymore. You’re back in the real world now.”
“Back? But, I’ve never been in the real world. I can’t be!” Pearlescent said.
At that statement, it was Jin’s turn to look confused.
“Of course you’re real. You’re not just a dream.” Jin said.
“I know that. I’m not a real girl or a dream girl. I’m a Never Were. That’s why I can’t be here!” Pearlescent said.
“What are you talking about?” Jin asked. She narrowed her eyes and examined Pearlescent closely. She tipped her head from side to side, clearly puzzled by what she saw.
“I’m not real. I’m someone’s dream. I’m the daughter my father never had. That’s what a Never Were is. I exist but I never really was.” Pearlescent said.
“But part of you was real. That’s why I brought you back here.” Jin said.
“I don’t know. Maybe a little. Maybe that’s why we can stay around from day to day, even when we’re not being dreamed about. But we’re supposed to live in dreams.” Pearlescent said.
“Why?” Jin asked.
Pearlescent started to answer and came up short. She hadn’t thought of a reason for it.
“It’s just how things are.” she said. She knew the assertion to be true, even if she didn’t understand it.
“But it’s not how they have to be.” Jin said. “I think I see what you were, and what I did wrong. I saw that you were stuck in a dream realm but had a bit of reality left in you. So I rushed in to save you before the little spark you had faded away. I didn’t know that it wasn’t going to fade, or that you were at home where you were.”
“Well, actually, it will fade. It happens to all of the Never Weres. If we’re not dreamed about, if people forget us, we blow away.”
“Not anymore.” Jin said.
“I don’t understand.”
“You’re not what you used to be. None of you who were in that school are. You’re real now. Fully, completely, real. You won’t blow away unless a tornado hits you or something.” Jin said.
“Can you change me back? Change us back?” Pearlescent asked, remembering Anya.
“That would be impossible.” Jin said.
“I can’t be real though. I don’t have a life here. I don’t have anywhere to go.” Pearlescent said. The bell rang signalling the end of the day. For a moment she felt like she was back at home, with time running at its own crazy pace. When she checked her cell phone though she saw that it was time to leave. She’d been standing in shock and then talking all through the History class study hall.
“There’s at least one person who would like to see you. We should go outside.” Jin said.
Together, they packed up their books and made their way into the press of students eagerly try to escape from their day of classes.
Outside, in the parking lot, Pearlescent saw the buses that would take some of her classmates homes and the cars driven by parents who would handle the rest. Fourth from the end of the line, was the car that she knew was hers.
“Why do I know that car?” she asked Jin.
“It’s part of integrating you into this world. You have a life here, you just haven’t met it yet.” Jin said.
Pearlescent approached the car with the same sort of fright she’d experienced on approaching a dragon-shark hybrid. It was empty, but it represented the promise of something that scared her to the marrow of her bones. She wasn’t sure if it was the promise of a new life or the possibility of rejection that was terrifying her the most though.
“This is odd. I think I’m here to bring you home. Just like we always do.” a man said from behind her. She turned and saw eyes that looked like her own. Cheekbones that looked like her own. Even his hair where it wasn’t yet grey resembled hers.
“Its odd because it all feels very new.” he said. He was staring at her as though he almost recognized the girl before him.
“It is very new. This is the first time you two have met, and you’ve also know her for her whole life.” Jin said.
“That doesn’t make a lot of sense.” the man said.
“It doesn’t need to. You’re not quite in your own world at the moment.” Jin said.
“Where are we?” Pearlescent asked.
“This spot, the school, is a borderland for the moment. As long as I’m here, both reality and dreams can intermingle. Once I leave they’ll snap back apart.” Jin said.
“And I’ll go back to living in dreams?” Pearlescent asked.
“You’re a special case.” Jin said.
“Would she be able to stay here?” the man asked. “To stay with us?”
“That’s up to you two.” Jin said.
“You are my daughter, aren’t you?” the man asked Pearlescent.
“Not really, or not before. Now though? Maybe? But why would you want me? You’ve never known me before today.”
“I’ve always known you. In bits and pieces I think. Maybe across a thousand scattered nights. You could never be a part of my life before, but you’re here now. Something tells me this is a chance I’ll never get again, and never have anywhere else. To see my daughter from today forward. It’s a scary thing to embrace, but I don’t think it makes sense to throw away the future because of things that were missed in the past.” the man said.
“What if I’m a terrible daughter?” Pearlescent asked.
“Then you’ll fit right in. We’re all terrible here. And crazy. And awesome.