He fakes a smile and then turns to unlock the door.I follow him inside; he stops me at the kitchen island. “I found it right here.” He points to the countertop.“You found what right where?” I ask, feeling my face scrunch up in bewilderment.“The crossword puzzle from today.” He pulls it out of his pocket. “I found it here when I was making breakfast this morning.”“Wait, you didn’t get it in the mail?”“I’m sorry; I thought I mentioned that.”“No,” I say, holding back from whacking him in the head. “I think I would’ve remembered if someone had broken into your apartment.“I’m sorry,” he repeats, and then lets out a stress-filled sigh.“So, someone broke in here last night while you were asleep?”“I’m not sure. I was thinking that, too, but then . . . what if I just didn’t see it last night when I got home?”“Are you sure you didn’t set your mail down here, maybe even for a second, and then leave this piece behind?”“What difference does it makes?”“It makes a huge difference.” My voice gets louder. “The difference between someone breaking in or not.” I peer around the kitchen and living room, trying to see if anything looks off.“I don’t know.” He reaches for a box of cereal. “I mean, I’m pretty sure I would’ve noticed getting another puzzle in the mail, especially since we’ve been talking so much about this stuff.”“Who has a key to your apartment?”“No one that I know of.”“None of your friends? Did you leave a spare under the doormat, maybe?”“No, and no.”“Then what?” I ask, completely frustrated.“Look,” he says, running his fingers through his shaggy brown hair. “I don’t have all the answers. That’s why it’s a puzzle.”“This isn’t funny,” I tell him. “Someone’s sending you threatening notes, writing twisted messages on your door, and possibly breaking into your apartment. Worrying isn’t an option. It’s an order.”“So what do you order me to do?”“Call the police.”“And tell them what? That someone’s sending me crossword puzzles? That I got an angry message on my door, but I didn’t even feel the need to save it? They’ll give me a Breathalyzer test and ask me what I’ve been drinking.
I shake my head, knowing that if it hadn’t been for me, Ben wouldn’t have been there in the first place. I try to tell him that, but he swats my words away with his hand and says he wants to show me something.“Sure,” I say, wondering if he’s really as nervous as he seems.He clenches his teeth and hesitates a couple of moments; the angles of his face seem to grow sharper. Finally, he motions to the pant leg of his jeans.There’s a tear right over his thigh.“I know you saw it in the hospital,” he says, exposing the chameleon tattoo through the torn fabric. “I felt you . . . looking at it. Anyway, I wanted you to know that I did this back home, before I ever came to Freetown. Before I ever met you.”“So it’s a coincidence?”His dark gray eyes swallow mine whole. “Do you honestly believe that?”“No,” I say, listening as he proceeds to tell me that a few months before he got to town, he touched his mother’s wedding band—something that reminded him of soul mates—and the image of a chameleon stuck inside his head.“I couldn’t get it out of my mind,” he explains. “It was almost like the image was welded to my brain, behind my eyes, haunting me even when I tried to sleep.”“And you got the tattoo because of that?”“Because I hoped its permanence might help me understand it more—might help me understand what it had to do with my own soul mate.”“And do you understand now?” I ask, swallowing hard.“Yeah.” He smiles. “I suppose I do.”I take a deep breath, trying to hold myself together, desperate to know what he’s truly trying to say here, and what I should say to him as well. I close my eyes, picturing that moment in the hospital when I held his hand and wondering if he would’ve recovered as quickly as if it hadn’t been for the connection between us—the electricity he must have sensed from my touch.
I hope you don’t mind that we’re crashing,” Wes says. “I’m trying to escape a hunting expedition. No joke. Dad thinks I’ll be more of a man if I can blow a rabbit’s head off. And my response? ‘Sorry, Dad, but as tempting as it is to obliterate Peter Cottontail first thing on a Sunday morning, I promised Camelia I’d swing by her house, because she’s been begging to abuse my body for weeks.’”“And speaking of being delusional,” Kimmie segues, “did I mention that my plan to reunite my parents was totally dumb?” She leads us into my bedroom and then closes the door behind her. “They could smell the setup before their water glasses were even filled.”“How’s that?” I ask, taking a seat on my bed.“The violinist I arranged to serenade them at the table might have been a tip-off,” she begins. “Either that, or the wrist corsage I ordered for my mom. I handpicked the begonias and had the florist deliver it right to the table.”“Don’t forget about the oyster appetizer you preordered for the occasion,” Wes adds.“Because, you know what they say about oysters, right?” An evil grin breaks out across her face. ‘I know, I know.” She sighs, before I can even say anything. “I may have gone a little overboard, but what can I say? I’m a dorkus extremus. Hence my outit du jour.” She’s wearing a Catholic schoolgirl’s uniform, a pair of clunky black glasses (with the requisite amount of tape on the bridge), and a cone-shaped dunce cap.“Yes, but you’re a dorkus extremus with a nice set of begonias,” Wes teases.
I roll the covers back up over him and take his hand, noticing how well our palms fit together and thinking back to just after the last time he saved me—when he took my hand and told me that we’d always be together.I lower my head to his chest and continue to squeeze his palm. Tears fall onto the bedsheets, dampening the fabric just above his heart. “I’m so sorry,” I tell him, over and over again.A few moments later, there’s a twitching sensation inside my hand. Ben’s fingers glides over my thumb. ‘Sorry for what?” he breaths. His voice is raspy and weak.I lift my head to check his face. His eyelids flutter. The monitor starts beeping faster. And his lips struggle to move.“Don’t try to talk,” I tell him, searching for the nurse’s call buzzer.“Please,” he whispers, his eyes almost fully open now. “Don’t let go.”“I won’t,” I promise, gripping his hand even harder.
I sit by his bed and pull the covers over him. In doing so, I accidently brush against his thigh.And that’s when I feel it.That same electrical sensation I got the first time I touched the spot—in my room, when I begged him to stay the night. The feeling radiates up my spine and gnaws at my nerves. It’s like something’s there, marked on his leg.I run my fingers over the spot—through the blanket—almost tempted to have a look. I close my eyes, trying to sense things the way he does—to get a mental picture from merely touching the area. But I can’t. And I don’t.Still, I have to know if I’m right.I peer over my shoulder toward the door, checking to see that no one’s looking in. And then I roll the covers down.Ben’s wearing a hospital gown. With trembling fingers, I pull the hem and see it right away: the image of a chameleon, tattooed on his upper thigh. It’s about four inches long, with green and yellow stripes.And its tail curls into the letter C.I feel my face furrow, wondering when he got the tattoo, and why he never told me. It wasn’t so long ago that I told him the story of my name—how my mother named me after a chameleon, because chameleons have keen survival instincts.
After Ben leaves, I head back upstairs to my room, only to find Dad in the kitchen. He has his back toward me, sneaking a bag of Bugles from one of the baskets above the cabinets.“Caught you,” I say, switching on the light, making him jump.“Shouldn’t you be in bed?” he asks, keeping his voice low.“Shouldn’t you?” I give him a pointed look.“Probably, but your mom actually feel asleep tonight—probably the first night all week. Meanwhile, I’m too hungry to nod off.”“So, where does that leave us?” I ask, eyeing his bag of Bugles.“Can you be trusted?”“That depends. Are you willing to share?” I smile. “Good hiding spot, by the way. Nobody ever uses those baskets.”“That’s what you think.” He gazes down the hall to make sure the coast is clear and then snags a bag of Hershey’s Kisses from one of the other four overhead baskets.We park ourselves at the kitchen island and rip both bags open. Five full minutes of lusty devouring pass before either of us speaks.
Ben stands just behind me, and we begin to wedge out a fresh piece of clay. I try my best to concentrate, to ignore the fact that my heart is beating at five times its normal speed. I watch his arms as he kneads the clay—almost a little too hard—and as the muscles in his forearms flex. “That’s good,” I say, in an effort to stay focused. I dip a sponge into a bowl of water and squeeze the droplets down over his hands to keep things moist.After several minutes, Ben lets me take the lead. I place my palms over the clay mound and close my eyes. Meanwhile, Ben’s chest grazes my shoulders, and his clay-soaked fingers stroke the length of my arms.“You’re doing great,” he whispers in my ear.We continue to sculpt for another hour, working the mound down into a flattened surface—until we have a total of four tiles.And until I can no longer hold myself back.I turn around to face him.“Camelia?” He squints slightly.I bite my lip, wishing that he could read my mind, and that he would kiss me until my lips ache. “What are you thinking?” I ask, slipping my hand inside the waistband of his jeans and pulling him closer.
Wes knocks a couple of times, but Adam doesn’t answer. “Jackpot,” he says, kneeling down to examine the lock. He takes the bundle of wire from his pocket and proceeds to make a key of sorts.“You’re not going to break in?” I ask.“Well, um, yeah. Kimmie rolls her eyes, as if the answer’s completely obvious.Wes sticks his key into the lock and starts to jiggle it back and forth. A moment later, the doorknob turns. Only, Wes isn’t the one turning it.Piper then whips the door open. “Oh, my god,” she says, smacking her chest like we’ve scared her, too. “We were looking for Adam.” I peek past her into the apartment.“He isn’t here,” she says, glaring up at Wes, no doubt annoyed that he’s attempting to pick the lock.“Would you believe that I dropped the contact?” he asks, before finally getting up.“Not likely, since you’re wearing glasses.” Kimmie bops him on the head with her Tupperware purse.
What’s the verdict?” Kimmie asks, peering back at me.I stare down at the jumble of words. “I can’t quite tell yet.”“Give us a clue,” Wes says. “I love puzzles.”“That’s because you are one,” Kimmie jokes.I read them the list of words: ARE, ALONE, YOU, NEVER, EYE, WATCHING, ALWAYS, AM.Not five seconds later, Wes has the whole thing figured out. “YOU ARE NEVER ALONE. EYE AM ALWAYS WATCHING!” he says, making his voice all deep and throaty.“Wait, seriously?” I ask, completely bewildered by the idea that he’d be able to unravel the message so quickly. I look at the individual words, making sure they’re all included, and that he didn’t add any extra.“What can I say? I’m good at puzzles.”“Are you good at making them, too?” Kimmie asks. “Because it’s a little scary how you were able to figure that out so fast.”“Do you think it matters that the “eye” in the puzzle is the noun and not the pronoun?” I ask them.“Since when is it a requirement for psychos to be good in English?” Wes asks.“Only you would know.” Kimmie glares at him.“Plus, it’s a puzzle,” he says, ignoring her comment. “You have to expect a few quirks.”“I don’t know,” I say, still staring at the words. “Maybe there’s some other message here. Maybe we need to try unscrambling it another way.”“Such as ‘EYE AM NEVER ALONE. YOU ARE ALWAYS WATCHING,’” he suggests. “Or perhaps the ever-favorite. ‘YOU ARE NEVER WATCHING. EYE AM ALWAYS ALONE.’”Kimmie scoots farther away from him in her seat. “Okay, you really are starting to scare me.
Hey,” I say, taking a seat on an island stool. “Did anyone call for me?”“Your dad and I had a great day; thanks for asking.” Mom smirks.“How was your day? Did anyone call for me?” I smile.She dumps a gob of coconut oil into her raw-ful mixture. “Anyone meaning Ben?”“Am I that transparent?”“It’s just that I was sixteen once, too.”“Right,” I say, shuddering even to think of her pre-forty, pre-me, pre-Dad, when it was just her hippie self, burning incense, going braless, and dating poets.
P.S.” Kimmie continues, nodding toward my sculptor of Adam’s lips, the assignment was to sculpt something exotic, not erotic. Are you sure you weren’t so busy wishing me dead that you just didn’t hear right? Plus, if it was eroticism you were going for, how come there’s no tongue wagging out of his mouth?”“And what’s exotic about your piece?”“Seriously, it doesn’t get more exotic than leopard, particularly if that leopard is in the form of a swanky pair of kitten heels . . . but I thought I’d start out small.”“Right,” I say, looking at her oblong ball of clay with what appears to be four legs, a golf-ball-sized head, and a long, skinny tail attached. “And, from the looks of your sculpture,” she continues, adjusting the lace bandana in her pixie-cut dark hair, “I presume your hankering for a Ben Burger right about now. The question is, will that burger come with a pickle on the side or between the buns?”“You’re so sick,” I say, failing to mention that my sculptor isn’t of Ben’s mouth at all. “Seriously? You’re the one who’s wishing me dead whilst fantasizing about your boyfriend’s mouth. Tell me that doesn’t rank high up on the sik-o-meter.”“I have to go,” I say, throwing a plastic tarp over my work board.“Should I be worried?”“About what?”“Acting manic and chanting about death?”“I didn’t chant.”“Are you kidding? For a second there I thought you were singing the jingle to a commercial for roach killer: You deserve to die! You deserve to die! You deserve to die!
To my complete and utter surprise, the writing on his door is gone.Vanished.“What happened?” I ask.It takes him a second before he realizes what I’m asking. “I washed it off,” he explains.“You what?”“I wasn’t going to, but I didn’t want the super to give me a hard time. Plus, I thought it might freak out some of my neighbors. You have to admit, death threats on doors can be pretty offensive, generally speaking. Not to mention the sheer fact that it made me look like a total asshole—like some old girlfriend was trying to get even.”“Did you take pictures at least?”“Actually, no.” He cringes. “That probably would’ve been a good idea.”“But Tray saw the writing, right?”“Um . . .” He nibbles his lip, clearly reading my angst.“You told me he was with you last night. You said you called him.”“I tried, but he didn’t pick up, and I didn’t want you to worry.”“So, you lied?” I snap.“I didn’t want you to worry,” he repeats. “Please, don’t be upset.”“How can I not be? We’re talking about your life here. You can’t go erasing evidence off your door. And you can’t be lying to me, either. How am I supposed to help you if you don’t tell me the truth?”“Why are you helping me?” he asks, taking a step closer. “I mean, I’m grateful and all, and you know I love spending time with you, be it death-threat missions or pizza and a movie. It’s just . . . what do you get out of it? What’s this sudden interest in my life?”My mouth drops open, but I manage a shrug, almost forgetting the fact that he knows nothing about my premonitions.
I’m just really glad to hear that things are going well.”“Wait, you’re not getting ready to hang up on me, are you?” he asks. “We’ve only been talking for a couple minutes.”“Well, I don’t really have much else to say.”“Are you kidding? The possibilities are endless. For starters, you could tell me that you’ll call me again. Or, better yet, you could ask me out for coffee or a slice of pizza. Of course, letting me know that I can call you whenever I want is always a good possibility. Or, if you’re feeling really generous, you could tell me that you miss me, too. I mean, I wouldn’t even care if it was a lie.