Author’s Note: At this point, I’m hoping Luna makes more sense, but I don’t know anymore.
He stayed near the shop, unable to accept what her father had said and stay away. Luna was upset, yes, but she was not wrong and not crazy, and if he could only prove that to her—maybe he’d have to prove it to her father as well—but he knew that he’d get her back to that same Luna he’d first known, the one who challenged him and taught him and smiled when he got things wrong. That Luna was not incapable of taking care of herself. She was strong and vibrant and full of life.
When he saw her next, though, she seemed more like one of the hive, obeying commands that did not come from her, nodding in a numb manner as though she neither saw nor comprehended anything around her, including what her father was saying.
That man never left her alone, but he did not see what he was doing to her. He’d destroyed her. Luna was supposed to be eccentric and wild and artistic and even strange. That was what she was. That was what made her so compelling.
He didn’t like seeing her like this. Her father had to be stopped. He could do it with a touch, but he didn’t want to kill the man, just make him understand. If he could get Luna free, then he didn’t care if her father ever accepted what he was. He just wanted Luna back the way she was supposed to be.
He waited for her father to leave and walked into the store, finding her back behind a shelf, stacking books over and over again. “Luna?”
“Go away. I’m not supposed to talk to you.”
“Just because your father doesn’t think you should doesn’t mean that you should listen to him. I think he is very wrong.”
“You’re not real. You don’t get a say in this. Stop talking to me. I can’t be talking to you.”
“I am real. I admit, the facade that gives me a human-like appearance, that’s not, but I am real.”
“No. That facade is how my brain explains a person that I created in my drawings who never looks the same twice and never gets seen by anyone else and who can’t touch me and I can’t touch is real. You convinced my brain, but it has screws loose.”
He shook his head. “No. I’m what you humans call an alien, and I’m a child of the vortex so I can’t touch, and I don’t know how I look because mirrors don’t work for me, but I am real.”
Her eyes shifted to him, and she shook her head. “Stop it, please. You need to go away. The drugs were supposed to make you go away. No more delusions. Luna gets to be sane again.”
“You were never crazy. You don’t need to be medicated.”
“That is what we humans do to the ones who are crazy. It keeps the others safe.”
“You never hurt anyone.”
“Yes, I did. I hurt Dennis and everyone before him, letting them think I cared about them when I didn’t. I hurt my mother. I told her she was stupid and wrong, that she didn’t have any right to be in my business and should just die.” Luna shook her head. “She used to be the one that encouraged my art and understood me, but she stopped. She kept assuming things that were so off-base and so…”
“Terrible. I took an art class, and she thought I had an affair with the professor who was married. I sold a painting for a lot of money, and she thought I stole what I bought with the money. She thought I was taking drugs.”
“Now, yeah, because the shrink gave them to me, but I didn’t do them then, not the kind she thought I was doing. She said I had to be high to paint what I was painting.”
He studied her. “Do you think you somehow… killed your mother by telling her how mad you were? By your angry words?”
“Ha ha. Even in my delusional state I know I’m not that powerful. I have convincing delusions, sure, but I’m not a goddess who can smite those I choose with cancer. I’d have done that to my third grade teacher if I could have. I hated that woman. She smelled funny, and she stole my drawings.”
“No one should steal your drawings. They’re good.”
“Go away,” she said, putting her hands to her ears. “I can’t talk to you. Can’t listen to you. Ever since I hit puberty and had those weird mood swings every time a certain time of the month came around, they’ve had me on medication, and if I tried to go off it, I’d do something that scared them, and they’d get me back on them and make me act normal for a while, but Luna’s always been a lunatic. Mom got sick, and I just went right over the edge.”
“No,” he said, reaching forward to pull her hands away from her ears. “You’re not crazy. Oh, no, what did I do?”
He dropped her arms, backing away from her and hitting the shelf, knocking down the books. He looked at his hands and at her. She didn’t seem hurt, but he didn’t understand. How could he keep touching her without hurting her? “Luna…”
“Great. Now I’m imagining that you can touch me.” She rose, walking away from him, and he rushed after her. “Stop following me. You’re not real. Alvin’s not real. Stay away. Just let me go back to what used to pass for normal.”
He got in front of her, blocking her from going into the back rooms. “I can’t go away because I know you’re not crazy. It sounds as though you had a… hormonal imbalance, but that’s not insanity. That’s just a body disagreeing with itself, and I know more about that than most people, what with that hunger that would destroy everything. Please. I didn’t mean to hurt you or upset you, but I can’t let you go on like one of the hive. Your father is wrong. You have seen things you shouldn’t have, and I’d show you more of them if I thought it could bring back the smiles and the laughter and the way you teased me when I first came here looking at books.”
She did laugh then, but it came out as a choking sound, strangled and twisted, as tears moistened her cheeks. “You don’t get it.”
“Tell me what I don’t understand. Let me understand.”
She closed her eyes. “I think—No. That’s stupid and impossible and I won’t say it. Just get out of my way and don’t come back. I need to be sane. Dad thinks he needs to take care of me—he’s transferred so much of his issues with Mom to me, needs to do all those things for me that he used to do for her—”
“So maybe he wants you to be a drugged invalid, but that doesn’t mean that you should be or that you should listen to him.”
“Stop it. Leave me alone. I can’t do this. I can’t be with you. You’re not real.”
“You can’t love what isn’t real,” she said, pushing past him and going into the other room, slamming the door shut behind her.