"Say you'll remember me standing in a nice dress. Staring at the sunset, babe."
The waves lapped at the store.
“We have plenty of time.” A voice noted, it was bright and pleasant. She turned from the shore to see a boy sitting with a single knee propping his arm. He had a smaller body than she. But he seemed bigger.
She stared at him, he had a very even white smile. The kind of smile you’d see on a Colgate commercial.
Nico stared for a second. Unsure.
“Shall we walk?”
The boy in front of her was a dream, surely. The boy with the sweet white smile. The boy with the kind squinty smiling eyes. The boy who had one hand reaching back for hers. She made her decision in that small second.
She slipped her hand into his.
They walked in silence for hours. At least, that’s what it seemed. Blissful eternity, hand in hand with a beautiful boy.
“What’s your name?”
The boy startled, his happy confidence faltering for the first time since he asked for her hand. “I’m not sure. I can’t remember.”
“Can you remember anything?”
“Can you?” he shot back, in jest.
Nico slowed their already relaxed pace to a stop. “I asked you first.”
“You did,” the boy beamed, “I don’t remember a thing.”
“Is this a dream?”
The boy tilted his head, “Does it feel like a dream?”
She felt herself go shy for some reason. “Yeah, it does.”
The boy tugged at her hand so that they could continue walking. “Me too. You are very pretty. Too pretty to be real, for sure.”
Her face flooded with heat. Suddenly she wanted to rip her hand away, sure that it was clammy with nerves. If it was, he didn’t seem to care or notice. She kept her hand clasped to his. “As are you.”
The boy smiled another Colgate smile, “Do you remember anything? Your name?”
“My name is Nico. And I remember a little.”
“Ni-co,” the boy sounded out, looking delighted. “That’s a beautiful name! It suits you.”
There was no way on Earth that boy could be real.
“What else do you remember? Hobbies? Family?”
“None of that. None of anything that matters.”
“I’m a little jealous that you have a name and I don’t.” The boy said it matter of fact, no spite in his tone. Just the fact of it. “I think I’d be more upset if you didn’t have a name though.”
“Give yourself a name.”
She shifted her hand in his, he swung their clasped hand. Starting up with a jog, tugging Nico along. “Do it for me, will you? It would mean a lot more.”
She wasn’t sure how long they ran. Nico couldn’t remember much but she remembered that he never cared for running. And they must have been running for hours. But even as they slowed, neither were tired.
Definitely a dream.
“Let’s sit,” she cajoled even though she had no doubt that he’d agree if she as much as hinted at wanting to sit.
He let go of her hand, to her disappointment, and sat himself. She watched him get comfortable. He laughed and patted the sand next to him, “All dry, I promise.”
She laughed too, for no real reason other than that he did. “Okay.”
Nico sat next to him, a few inches between them. He shuffled closer so that his shoulder pushed into hers before his arm wrapped around her waist. Standing he was shorter, but sitting as they were, they were about the same height. And they were perfectly aligned when they pressed their heads against each other.
“Are you real?”
She hadn’t realized that she said the question out loud until she heard him inhale, sharply. Scared. Unsure. “I don’t know.” A moment of silence, where his finger traced innocent shapes on her arm. “I feel real though. I do, don’t I?”
It was hard to swallow her smile as she leaned into him, closer. “Very real.”
“...I know about puppies. And kittens. They are cute.”
“They are,” Nico hummed before realizing that the boy meant that as in he remembered the existence of those animals. “What do you think about penguins?”
“Savage little creatures, aren’t they?”
“But they are cute.”
The boy laughed merrily, further relaxing into her side. “Yes, they are also very cute.”
“Any other cute creatures?” she whispered.
He turned his head to look at her then, “Humans. Humans can be very adorable.”
Something warmed in her chest, “You...you are-. I don’t know what to do with you.”
“You can hug me.”
She did. And he leaned into her embrace too. So soft and willing and she felt fifteen again.
How could this be a dream?
Something sad sparked in her at the idea of not remembering when she woke up.
It was sudden. The permanently sunset sky flashed white. Only for a second.
But that second had the boy pulling her to her feet and pulling her away from the water. Desperate almost.
“What? Where are we going?” She asked as she pumped her legs faster, trying to keep up with the beautiful boy. “What’s happening?”
He stopped and she stumbled to a stop too. He cupped Nico’s face, his dark eyes were wide and scared and loving. “Did you think of a name for me?”
“Jamie,” she said. She said it randomly, spit out the first name she could think of. But it suited him well. And he must have thought so too since his smile returned to it’s Colgate state.
“Jamie,” he repeated. “I like that.” He brushed his fingers across her cheekbones. “Do you trust me?”
“Yes.” This was a dream, right? She was allowed to trust this stranger. This boy. Jamie. “I do.”
“I lied.” Jamie said almost at the same time. “I wanted to talk to you and thought that the only way was to convince you that we’d be here for long. I wanted this to be real. I really want us to be real. I want to be real.” His words were rushed, like he had to get it out in the open immediately or he’d die. “We were never going to make it.”
Make it? Make what?
She wanted to ask but Jamie looked like he wanted to kiss her.
“Can I kiss you?”
She nodded mutely and let him press his lips to hers. Eyes falling shut. And then- there was another flash of white.
Cold crisp air was sucked into her lungs. She sat up quickly, regretting it when a dizzy spell hit her, and thumped her fist to her chest.
When she finally stopped coughing and opened her eyes, she was met with a roar of applause.
And she remembered everything then. How she volunteered to be the lab rat for an experiment she’d been leading. Sleep stimulation. Using complex code to mimic emotion in AI’s. To communicate with them in their sleep.
It was supposed to tie up any loose ends in someone’s mind.
It was supposed to make people happy.
But all she could do was desperately try to remember what his smile looked like exactly and what color his eyes were. She barked for everyone to clear out and scrambled for a pen and paper. Writing down everything and anything she could remember.
Pretty, he had called her.
“I’m a little jealous that you have a name and I don’t.” He had said. “I think I’d be more upset if you didn’t have a name though.”
And then he asked for her to come up with his name.
“I lied.” Jamie had confessed. “I wanted to talk to you and thought that the only way was to convince you that we’d be here for long. I wanted this to be real. I really want us to be real. I want to be real.”
His rushed desperate words tightened something in her throat.. “We were never going to make it.”
A sob wracked her body.
Then too many to count.
“We were never going to make it.”
"I want to be real."
Me too, she thought, as she tried to write down more of what he had said.
- How terrifying. To not be as real as you feel. How terrifying.