1: The Puke-Meet

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This is a dual-POV story. 

Dreams weren't real, like the sun that burned my scalp and corneas

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Dreams weren't real, like the sun that burned my scalp and corneas. I needed my brain shut off, not itchy, grating sand wedged in every crack of my body and dried out skin from briny ocean salt. My gray matter wiped clean was better, but those brain cells were essential for college.

I was past all this... I fixed it, and it went away.
Gone, but not forgotten. Two years with no trigger.
Why now?

Nothing here answered that question. More importantly, nothing among the infinite grains of sand fixed my invisible walls of self-preservation. An ant under a magnifying glass, I squinted under the glaring UV rays. Blinding myself wouldn't shut off the inflood of reminders. The prick of pain in my eyes wasn't enough to quell the buzz of overstimulation in my brain. It sizzled as if I splattered it onto the asphalt beneath my feet.

College, Ellie.

College was the solution, the broom that swept away this resurfacing bullshit. But until I could get there, I was stuck. Stuck in my life –stuck in my brain– as much as I was physically stuck in this parking lot, where my hair draped a heating pad over my back and shoulders. A few hot strands tickled my forehead with a breeze. I tucked them behind my ears and lifted my eyes for a seagull check.

"You've gotta be fucking kidding me."

"Pfft, suck it up." A feminine laugh filled my ears, vibrating the back of my neck. Hands grabbed my waist and pushed me away from her car. "It'll be fun."

To her credit, Harper hadn't said a word about my nightmare, but behind her sunglasses, her look screamed 'we will discuss it.' It wasn't that I had a nightmare; I had the nightmare. Two years of defensive walls crumbled when I woke up, sweat-soaked, my heart pounding, and my mind reeling.

Why I had it rattled me as much as the nightmare itself. Last time, I needed fifteen months to remove it from my brain and I was damned determined not to go that recovery route again.

For sure, I needed a distraction. But not this particular one.

Ugh, the beach.

Us here was as much my fault as Harper's punishment, err, solution. Uncertainty stirred in my stomach. The beach would not make me feel better. In lieu of talking, this was her 'fun osmosis.' Scavenging seagulls that soared above with cawed threats to shit on us? No, thank you. Don't get me started on jellyfish and sharks. Or worse, surfer boys.

"Stop overthinking about boys and sharks." She grabbed her bag from the back seat. "It's written all over your face."

The far-off crash of waves washed out my grumbles. As any boy's 'shrinkage' could confirm, those blue waters of deception were ice cold. There were so many preferable alternatives to water frolicking among girls in skimpy bikinis and skin-peeling dad bods.

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