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         It’s late Friday afternoon when Cassie asks me to go to Mack's - the cafe around the block from my school. It’s not a usual frequent for me but Cassie insists we go to watch the basketball game playing on their screens. I know it’s just because she thinks the bartender who works there is cute.

         “Rachel,” she pleads. “Rachel, Rachel, Rachel,” She punctuates my name with three shoulder shakes. 

         So I caved. A part of me hates her for it, a part of me loves her for it. I should be at home. I should go with Cassie. My conscience wars with itself.

         So I caved. A part of me hates her for it, a part of me loves her for it. I should be at home. I should go with Cassie. My conscience wars with itself.

         “Okay, fine,” I say. “Fine, fine, fine,” I tend to imitate her when she gets excited.

         Our walk to Mack’s is quiet. Cassie’s engrossed with her phone, texting someone I don’t know. Beside her, I count my steps, my boots making a soft crunch on the littered autumn leaves. 243, 244, 245, 246. 
         “I think it’s gonna rain,” she suddenly cuts in. I stop in my tracks. 246. 246. 246. Remember it.  
         I look up at the sky. It’s overcast and gray, I notice then that I should’ve packed my windbreaker. Windbreaker. Rain. If it rains she’ll make it–no. No. I force myself to concentrate on something else. The cracks in the pavement. The lint on my pants. The lone bird on the tree. I look back up to the sky.
         I shrug. “Yeah, maybe it’ll rain,” I hope it rains. 
         Cassie’s already walking ahead, head bowed down to her phone once again. I stare blankly at the pavement, my red boots poised to make the next step, to catch up with her retreating figure. What number was I on? My heart thuds painfully as my mind racks the number. 248? 243? Crap. Crap. Crap. How could I forget? I have to get to Mack’s in less than 300 steps. I have to. I can see it already from here, it’s neon lights shining against the gloom of the day. If I don’t make it to Mack’s in 300 steps she’s gone. No. No. No. I pinch myself, anything to distract me from the poisonous fog of my mind. 50 steps. That’s all it’ll take, but my feet seem to be frozen to the pavement. My brain goes into overdrive despite the building pressure in my ear. It doesn’t count if I never make it to Mack’s right? Right? If I don’t go to Mack’s she’ll be fine. Yes she will. Stop. Stop that. Stop. 
         A sound comes out from the back of my throat. An inhuman twist between a gurgle and a choke. I need to go home. I can’t go to Mack’s. I need to go home. If that bird flies away, she’s okay. She’s okay. She’s okay. I watch the bird, willing it to spread its wings and leave the branch. As if it’s sensing my thoughts, its wings give a subtle flutter, beady eyes fixed on me. It’s a crow. I blanch. Crows. Bad luck. Evil. 
         I take a step back, panic crawling up my throat, pricking my eyes. My eyes swivel around, catching on anything, anything. If the next car that comes around is black, she’s still breathing. My eyes blur as I wait for the crunch of car tires rounding the block. Please be black. Please be black. My fists clench and unclench. The world goes still as I wait, breath lodged in my mouth. I can’t look. I refuse to look. 
         “Rachel!” I jump and turn around to come face to face with Cassie. “Rachel, Jesus,” She repeats, her eyes widening as she takes me in. My hollow face, my panicked eyes. I clutch on to her like a vise, my eyes squeezed shut. Please be black. Please be black. 
         “What the hell is going on?” 
         Please be black. Please be black. 
         “Cassie,” I choke out. “What’s the color of the car behind us?” 
         “Uh, it’s blue. Why?” 
         Fear clamps around my heart. She’s gone. She’s dead. So I run. 
         This time I don’t count my steps. I don’t look up at the sky. I don’t watch the birds. My breathing becomes erratic, the stomp of my boots match the pounding in my ears. She’s gone. She’s gone. She’s gone. I can’t shut off my brain. I can’t make it stop. 
         My thoughts come out of my eyes in tears, out of my mouth in whimpers, until I almost miss my house. I stop. The lights are on. 
         The gate creaks as I open it, my woolen gloves catching on the rust, pulling the threads apart. It grounds me. I exhale a breath. She’s okay. She’s okay. I walk in a daze until I reach our door. She’s okay. She has to be. My fingers fumble as I reach for the keys in my pocket, but I never get to put it in the door. 
         I lift my head as the door swings open. Two figures stand, silhouetted by the TV light. One is small and frail, her body hunched in the way only a person who is hurting stands. And the other beeps a steady rhythm; it matches the thud of our heartbeats. My eyes travel to the wires between them, connecting them, and I long to rip it away, to sever it. I hate it. I hate it. But I breathe a sigh of relief because with every wave on the monitor, with every beep, I hear the words; she’s okay. She’s okay. 
         “Rachel,” my mom croaks. “Get in before it rains,”
         And that’s when I hear the steady patter of raindrops behind me. 
         If it rains, she’ll make it. 

i wish i could shut off my brain 

BY Shawna Tan


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