The fact of the matter is that I’ve never actually felt unrested. It doesn’t matter if I sleep for one hour or twelve; I’m always just as awake. It’s one of the perks of being the plaything of a demon.
It’s when I’m asleep that the demon visits. They let me see them at the start; they’re an amalgamation of writhing tentacles with polka dot eyes, mouths where mouths have no business being, and dark laughter. They give me their “gift,” their side of this fucked up contract I never made. Doctors call these “gifts” fever dreams, a psychic might call them visions, and my family calls them nightmares. Honestly, they’re all right.
My demon shows me probable futures, possible outcomes based on my decisions. They show me answers and conversations, injuries and when to side-step, people and places and how to harvest good fortune. I’ve never failed a test, I’m never caught off-guard, I’m only late when I choose to be, and I don’t know what surprise feels like.
“Vicente,” my professor mumbles and I half-raise my hand. My professor finishes with roll and announces a surprise three-question quiz. Half the class groans, but I just put away my notebook, pen and paper already out. I had known, of course, that this was coming. I also know the questions that’ll be on the quiz, and their answers.
Nothing surprises me.
I eat lunch outside the union and a protestor screams that “the gays” are going to hell and women who get abortions will be haunted by their unborn babies. I chuckle mirthlessly at his word choice. “Haunted.” He wouldn’t know what haunted means if it bit him in the ass. I knew he’d say it, of course, but I still think it’s half-funny. Unfortunately, most humor requires not knowing the punchline, which I always do.
Nothing surprises me.
At home, María and Alejandra argue about ownership of a skirt over dinner. Madre is too tired to separate them and I’m always too tired for their antics. Padre isn’t home yet. María pounds a fist on the table and accidentally launches her spoon, which I casually dodge. Madre snaps at them, then, and asks if I’m alright, which I am.
After all, nothing surprises me.
At three in the morning I fall asleep at my desk. My demon greets me with a thousand devilish grins, their undulating limbs quivering with anticipation.
“Hello, my beautiful brown-eyed boy,” they say in a round. Their secondary and tertiary mouths echo their primary mouths, making an unholy cacophony that fills my skull and trickles down the back of my neck to leave slimy sound in my spine. I sigh and tell them to just hurry up and show me what they want me to see. They laugh and the nightmare begins, but I’m prepared.
Nothing surprises me.
“Vicente,” my professor mumbles and I half-raise my hand. I roll my neck again, trying to get the kink out of it. Falling asleep at my desk had been a bad decision. I spend the rest of roll call rubbing at the painful spot, irritated with myself.
“Alright class, everyone wave hello to Patrick O’Conner; he just recently joined us.”
My head spins so quickly my neck pops. I don’t even notice that the kink in it has snapped out of existence because I’m too busy staring. My demon hadn’t shown me anything about this guy. He’s six-feet-and-tall-inches, with wild copper hair and laughter in his eyes, waving friendlily at the class.
My classmates notice. Hell, my instructor notices. I, the senior who has only ever emoted a vague aura of pissed-off, am surprised. The surprise surprises me as well, since it’s an entirely foreign feeling to me. One of my classmates whispers to the new guy- Patrick? Is his name Patrick? I’ve literally never had to work to remember someone’s name before. All my fever dreams get burned permanently into my mind; memorizing is something I’m unfamiliar with.
She whispers to Patrick and he glances at me. We make eye contact and he grins, dashingly charming with an air of playfulness. I glance away from him for the first time in what is apparently twenty minutes, but my eyes return. He has a starry sky of freckles all over his face and exposed shoulders. His tank top is tucked into very loose pants that scrunch into folds under his belt and poof out around his boots. He has a scarf thrown carelessly over his shoulders. He’s slender and looks like he has the muscles of a dancer.
The entire class passes without me noticing, but that’s fine since my demon has branded the lecture into my brain anyway. I at least have the decency to glance away whenever Patrick looks at me. When everyone starts packing up I’m a beat behind them, something I’m unused to, and I’m still in such a state of shock that my fingers fumble with my backpack’s zipper.
“Hey bro!” someone says. The greeting is friendly and encased in an Irish accent as thick as potato soup. I look away from my stubborn bag to see Patrick sitting backwards on the desk in front of me, his boots resting on the chair portion. I blink dumbly and his grin turns saucy.
“Bíonn ciúin ciontach,” he says, and I blink mutely once again, uncomprehending.
“I said, ‘cat got your tongue?’” he says in English. I steadfastly refuse to acknowledge how hot my face is. Bless my dark, Mexican complexion. May it continue to prevent me from turning white-person red whenever I blush. Actually, if I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever blushed before. Shit, this is so weird.
“So when’s your next class?” Patrick asks, persistently charming. I mean friendly.
I have to glance at my watch before my brain lets me answer, “One-thirty.”
“Hey, me too!” Patrick exclaims with a laugh, “Do you want to get lunch with me?”
I quickly decide that I am too gay for this. I’m not even gay, I’m bisexual, but I’m too gay for this.
“I can’t go into the dining halls. I live here in Lincoln so I don’t have a meal plan.”
“Me neither,” he says with an exaggerated shrug, the shitty fluorescent lights of Andrews catching on his bouncing curls, “I was just thinking of getting something from the Union.”
This conversation is entirely unscripted, so I have no other excuses prepared to turn him down with. I force my backpack shut and follow him, staring at his backside, watching how his hair moves with each step and how his shoulder blades slide underneath his skin as his arms swing lightly back and forth. He’s never heard of Runza before so I tell him about how it’s only in Nebraska and has the best fries. I stumble over my words. I’ve never stumbled over my words before; I had no idea how humiliating it is to stutter.
“So, Patrick O’Conner, right?” I ask when we’re both seated, aiming for small talk. He nods and bites into a fry. “Were your parents just shooting for the most stereotypical name possible?” I ask. So that’s what it feels like to put my foot directly into my mouth. He just laughs it off, though, and I bite into the apple I brought from home. I bless my Mexican complexion again and decide that embarrassment is literally the most loathsome emotion ever invented.
I’m out of my depth, so he ends up doing basically all of the talking. He tells me that he and his parents had recently moved here from Killeshandra, Ireland. Apparently the whole population is just over a thousand people, and he thinks Lincoln is huge.
At one-twenty I find out that he’s going to Burnett as well, and then I learn we’re in the same class. He sits next to me and I spent the next fifty minutes internally screaming. Two. Two classes. I share two classes and lunch with him, and my demon had shown me nothing.
“Hello, my beautiful brown-eyed-”
“What’s the deal with Patrick?” I interrupt my demon’s nightly greeting. My demon seems caught off guard and two thousand eyes blink in waves.
“Patrick! The new guy you never showed me anything about!”
They blink again, then squint, and a thousand mouths pull taught into frowns. The thin tips of tendrils wrap around my wrists and my demon hisses.
“Is Patrick… Irish?”
Now it’s my turn to squint. “Yes?”
They hiss louder and I’d cover my ears if it weren’t for the fact that this form is just a projection. “Rid him from your life,” they order, and the fever dream begins.
“That answered exactly nothing!” I shout. My demon doesn’t answer.
I stare at Patrick all through my English course again. Occasionally he’ll look at me and smile. One of those times he sends me a wink. I refuse to feel flustered. Not me, no way. For lunch, Patrick goes to the Imperial Palace and I pull my food out of my bag. He’s halfway through messing around with chopsticks, trying to figure out how they work, when I break.
“What does being Irish have to do with demons?”
He looks up at me, surprised. His green eyes are wide and from this distance I can make out his gorgeous eyelashes. I do not acknowledge that I just thought that.
“You mind repeating that, bro?” His favorite American colloquialism is adding “bro” to everything he says and I do not find it stupidly endearing. I prop my elbows up on the table.
“What does being Irish have to do with demons?”
Patrick blinks. “I mean, my family’s Catholic?”
“No.” I run a hand through my hair, agitated. “I mean- I- ugh, look. I have a demon, okay? Some dumbass ancestor of mine made a contract with a demon and since I’m ‘90% genetically identical’ to him my demon’s stuck that contract on me.”
“It really is. Anyway, I see the futures. Future. All possible outcomes. I- why is talking so hard!” I close my eyes and take a deep breath. It’s surprisingly helpful.
“Anyway, my demon didn’t show me anything about you, and when I asked them they said it’s ‘cause you’re Irish. So what does being Irish have to do with demons?”
“Okay, so just for clarification, you’ve only been staring at me because you didn’t see me with your future vision?” he asks. I nod. My face is not hot.
“Oh, okay then.” Patrick shakes his head slowly, his hair loathsomely distracting. “I have no idea, bro. That sounds like a mess though, so… luck of the Irish to ya.”
I huff. “The luck of the Irish is, historically, terrible.”
Patrick winks. “That’s why we wish it on others!”
I laugh. I realize that I’m experiencing genuine humor; I hadn’t seen the punchline coming. I learn that I snort when I laugh, like Madre and Alejandra, and it’s an ugly noise but it startles Patrick into laughing too. His laugh, like the rest of him, is beautiful.
“Vicente!” Madre stops me halfway up the stairs, like I had foreseen the night before.
“Sí Madre?” I know, of course, that she’s going to remark on how I need to sleep more. Maybe if I do I’ll eat less and I might lose a little weight. Despite my ability to feel well-rested regardless of how little sleep I get, I have unyielding bags under my eyes.
I’m not prepared for when Madre remarks on how happy I’ve seemed these last two months. I grin and duck my head reflexively. María yells from her room that I have a novia and I yell back that I do not. Alejandra, drawn to all and any drama, emerges from wherever she hides when she avoids doing chores. I suddenly have three nosy family members prying into my life.
Unaccustomed and flustered, I lose my composure and tell them about Patrick. I make sure to only mention him as a friend. I tell them about how we’ve been hanging out a lot, how he’s an art major, how he goes to ballroom dance club on Tuesdays and juggling club on Sundays and Wednesdays. I do not mention how easily he laughs or how soft his hair is or how his freckles look like galaxies. I do not mention the fact that I want to kiss every single star.
That night I tell my demon that they can’t even see my family when it involves Patrick. I like the fact that they can’t see Patrick, but I don’t like almost outing myself to my family.
“That’s because he’s Irish!” my demon hisses, and I groan in frustration.
“When are you going to explain that to me?” I yell.
My demon fixates two thousand eyes on my projection and a chill informs me that I just might regret asking that question.
“You want to know? Fine. Demons can’t affect the Irish. We’ve never been able to. Want to know why Ireland has such a terrible history? It’s because we cursed the land they live on! We send their environment every plague we know because we can’t curse them and it pisses us off!”
If my projected form was physical I’m sure my ears would have bled when they shrieked that last part. As things stand, I wake from my nightly fever dream with a splitting headache.
“You okay, bro?” Patrick asks before English. “You look even more tired than usual.”
“I’m not tired,” I answer. I’m not. I just have a migraine the size of a Hawaiian island. “Just had a little scuffle with my demon last night.”
“Bro, we need to get rid of that,” Patrick expresses, sounding irate.
“Yeah, sure, just lemme research exorcisms real quick, they won’t get pissed as hell at that.” I rub my temple and wish that pain medication could affect demonically-induced headaches. The professor starts class and I mentally recite the lecture along with him. My head is throbbing and my tongue feels like it’s made out of cotton. My mouth also tastes like Redhots and stale coffee. Does my sternum hurt? I think my sternum hurts.
Halfway through the lecture Patrick taps me on the shoulder and leans in close. “What if I research exorcisms for you? Your demon can’t see me, right?” I’m still as stone as Patrick leans back into his chair. My professor turns into white noise as I turn over his words. My demon can’t see him. If he could find out how, we could get rid of my demon without their knowledge.
I feel like I could kiss him. But not literally! I would probably ruin our friendship if I did and also he’s way too attractive and interesting to ever feel that way about me. I don’t even want to kiss him that way, I’m just delighted that he might have a solution for a lifelong problem of mine and… Okay, yeah, I’m really into him. His face is so fucking pretty and it’s not fair.
Since it’s fall and Patrick is easily my best friend, I suggest that the two of us go to Vala’s Pumpkin Patch. I haven’t been there since I was little and all I remember of the place is going on a hayrack ride, getting a pumpkin, and sitting in front of a gigantic bonfire.
His parents let him borrow the car and he picks me up. María says goodbye to me at the door, which I knew she would do. Her eyes are a little too sharp, which I hadn’t seen coming. I swallow nervously and rush out, eager to get in the car. On the road I am gifted with the knowledge of Patrick’s taste in music. I can say with full certainty that his taste is shit, it’s absolute shit. Who let this boy have working ears? Why does this music exist?
He laughs when I all but fling myself out of the car on our arrival. It’s a weekday, but it’s still Vala’s so we’re parked out relatively far. I do not hold his hand as we walk past rows of cars, that would be stupid, but I kind of want to.
“Hey bro, how do you cheer up ghosts?” he asks, and I can feel the bad pun in his shit-eating grin. “You put them in an elevator. To lift their spirits!” He shoots double pistols at me and I snort loudly with laughter.
“Nice,” I say when my chuckles die down, “but I think skeleton jokes are more humerus.” Now it’s his turn to laugh, beautiful and loud like laughing’s a sport and he’s going for gold. I join in, even though it was my joke, because a laugh like his shouldn’t sound on its own.
“Vicente,” he says, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving the sound of my name in his accent, “you have the most beautiful laugh I’ve ever heard.”
I snort. “It’s ugly and I’m glad you’re the only one who ever hears it, but thanks.”
He rolls his eyes and presses his lips together, like he always does when I put myself down. It’s ironic how my best friend can make me so much harder on myself. It’s just that he’s so perfect and I am but a modest jelly bean. It’s why he can’t possibly mean it when he playfully flirts, or compliments me. He can’t be attracted to me.
Of Vala’s attractions, the first Patrick wants to attend is the Pumpkin-Eating Dragon Show. Then we catch the last Pumpkin Chunkin’ Air Cannon show at 6:15. It’s loud and oddly fun, and the sun is just barely starting to set. Patrick’s hair and freckles do well when surrounded by warm colors, but seeing him with the backdrop of a fall sunset is almost too breathtaking.
We take the hayrack ride out to the pumpkin patch. On the way there a child across from us whines that she’s tired. I snort quietly at the kid, who looks about four. “Looks like someone’s ready to head home after this,” I say to Patrick, who nods in agreement. The whole hayrack watches the father get up so the kid can sit on a hay bale.
“Here, bro, you can have my spot,” Patrick offers, standing for the older man.
“You sure?” he asks, and Patrick smiles charmingly.
“Yeah! I’ll just sit here!” With that, Patrick proceeds to sit on me. I get half of “fuck” said before I remember that I’m around small children and hiss “shit!” instead, which is no better but at least it’s quiet. Patrick, the ass, laughs at me. God he’s so awful.
“Kid, you okay?” the man who took Patrick’s seat asks. It’s too much effort to be fully irritated at him, but I don’t like being called a child.
“I’m not a kid, I’m just short and fat,” I inform him.
“Yeah, and you look tired as heck,” he says. I wave at him vaguely, my arm falling over Patrick’s lap in a loose hug afterwards.
“That’s just my face. I always look like this.” The man looks at Patrick, but when I follow his gaze Patrick’s hidden away whatever expression he was making and is smiling at me.
Neither of us is too invested in getting a pumpkin- what would we do with it?- but Patrick squats down and helps little kids carry gourds half their size. He also trips me, twice, but he swears the second time my foot actually just caught on a vine while he was nearby. His sunset laughter belies him, though. I don’t have the heart to be angry at him for it.
In the car, I hide the AUX cord and silently enjoy watching him look for it.
“Bíonn ciúin ciontach,” Patrick says, and when I make a questioning noise he says, “It means ‘the quiet are guilty.’” I grin, but refuse to give him back the AUX cord until I get home.
“Hello, my beautiful brown-eyed boy.”
I sigh and curse myself for falling asleep so early. I had planned on attempting an all-nighter, unwilling to let go of the giddy joy from the evening at Vala’s.
“My brown-eyed beauty,” they whisper sharply. I pay attention to them. “Are you not going to brag about your pretty Patrick?”
“I can do that. I can definitely do that.”
My demon hums thoughtfully. I feel their appendages crawling on my back. “Good. Otherwise I might think you’re up to something.” I feel a cold rush of terror. “I might think you’re plotting against me.”
I mean, I am, but that’s not why I was avoiding them. “What, no, of course not!” I say.
If my demon had eyebrows, they’d arch a thousand of them. I have never in my life hidden my contempt for my demon or my desire to get rid of them and these fever dreams. I discover that I am a terrible liar without a script.
The next morning my head feels like it is actively being pushed through a meat grinder. My mouth is made entirely of needles and cardboard and my tongue has the taste of blood and the inside of someone’s shoe. I feel like I’m bruised at every single joint in my body. My finger and toe nails are twenty blazing scales of hot iron. I have to focus on manually forcing air in and out of my lungs.
I have to call in sick. Madre gives me pain medication and I swallow it, wishing it could help. I’m a naturally mellow and lazy person, but I almost never call in sick, so everyone readily believes me when I tell them I’m in agony. Actually, it’s pretty amazing how chill I am, considering how boisterous and energetic my family is. María is in two sports and is class president, Alejandra is in three sports, and my cousins are all similarly active. My parents yell more often than they speak and I have never seen an aunt or uncle sit still for longer than twenty minutes. I am the odd one out in a family of motion.
The next day Patrick texts me and tells me that he missed me in English. Apparently the class isn’t as fun without me, which I find hard to believe since I contribute approximately nothing. I tell him about how my demon is tormenting me and he sends his sympathy, which shouldn’t be as comforting as it is. He then suggests that we get together on Halloween.
“Were we not going to anyway?” I ask. Though if my demon continues pitching a fit…
“I have a surprise for you, bro!” He sends a smiley immediately afterwards in a text of its own, which makes me smile weakly. I regret it immediately, though, because my head is a fat sphere of agony and all movement hurts.
Over the next five nights I try bargaining, begging, yelling, threatening, and more begging. Nothing convinces my demon to stop torturing me. Madre is ready to take me to a doctor or hospital, but Padre says I can wait it out. I half wish I could tell Madre the real reason for my agony so she’d stop worrying so much, but I remember how well that went over as a kid. School counselors, a child psychologist, angry reprimands over “fairy tales.” Madre had often called it a phase that I would grow out of. I think, secretly, Padre believed me and still remembers that I have a demon. Or else he’s eerily helpful when it comes to demon bullshit.
Patrick shows up at three-thirty on Halloween, when my family is out at María’s… thing. I think it’s a party. My voice is unusable so I type to Patrick on my phone and hold it out to him, all my joints and knuckles still feeling like giant bruises.
“I can barely walk to the bathroom, what do you think is gonna happen here?” He smiles and tucks my phone into my gross sweatpants for me. Then he catches me off-guard, like he always seems to do, and hoists me onto his back. I laugh, and the sound is like glass shards in my throat, but I shrug it off and wrap my “bruised” limbs around his neck and hips.
A short car ride and a shorter piggyback ride later, the two of us enter a brick church. “St. Patrick’s” is carved into the beige stone over the door, and I’d snort if it wouldn’t hurt. Patrick is taking me into St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.
“Hey, bro!” Patrick shouts to someone who is undoubtedly a priest. He’s wearing the robes and everything. The two share a happy exchange that is entirely in Irish and Patrick carries me into what I believe is the chapel and sets me down on a pew.
“So this is my cousin, Connor! He’s been an official priest for like, a year now, and I convinced him to come visit me an’ my folks so he could banish your demon!” He beams at me.
The priest- Connor- smiles docilely, flips open a book, and reads something Irish out of it.
Everything after that is a mess of odd pain, like my leg falling asleep but instead of my leg it’s my whole body and instead of asleep everything is sharply, frighteningly awake. When I regain awareness of my surroundings I find that the light of a sunset is filtering in through the stain glass windows. I’m leaning on someone- Patrick- and that is so embarrassing he must-
He looks spooked.
“You okay?” I ask. He frowns.
“I’m not the one who had an eldritch horror crawl out of my mouth, bro, are you okay?”
“Fine,” I say, and move my limbs experimentally, “never been better.” Then I notice Connor sitting on the pew next to Patrick, looking even more spooked. “Are you okay?” I ask.
He crosses himself before turning to me and offering a weak smile. “I, well,” he has to pause to compose himself some more, crossing himself twice before he starts talking again. “You know, I had thought Patrick just wanted me to visit America because he missed me, and that this whole demon thing was a prank. I’m very easy to startle, so the younger cousins like to pick on me. I didn’t actually expect to see or exorcize a real demon.”
“Sorry,” Patrick and I both mumble. Then Patrick drives me home, and it’s a terribly awkward car ride. I feel bad for Connor, but don’t have anything to say. At home, I make myself a mountain of food to make up for the last week of being unable to eat. Then I sleep.
My night is fever dreamless.
Life becomes a circus act and I’m the clown with a pie in my face. All social interactions are unscripted, I have to actually focus in class and study in order to retain anything, and my reflexes are all shit. Patrick, bless his heart, soul, and gorgeous face, sticks with me through all of my bumbling. I am a mess of panic with one foot constantly in my mouth, and when I complain about my inadequacies he can only shrug and say that most people learned this stuff in first grade. I learn that I’m actually just as energetic as my family; I had just never felt well-rested in my life. Goddamn demon and their consumption of my soul energy.
I can’t stay closeted now that my demon is gone. I come out on accident, tripping over my words, and Madre pitches a fit. She doesn’t believe bisexuality exists, so despite how frequently I tell her I’m bi she still refers to this new information as my “gay problem.” She blames Patrick. Padre takes the news far better than she does, and María doesn’t act at all surprised. Alejandra is blindsided by the news, but adjusts quickly and asks how long Patrick and I have been dating. Nobody in my family believes me when I tell them we’re just friends.
It’s early December and the Christmas decorations are out in full-force before I’ve adapted to my new lifestyle enough to function. Not even to function properly, just to function in general. It’s terrible and hard as hell, but I’m learning every day. Patrick and I take the bus to East Campus so he can go to the Dairy Store. God knows why he wants ice cream in winter, but he’s perfect and amazing so he’s going to get it and I’m only going to complain a little.
We wander while he eats. Dead leaves occasionally crunch under our feet. The air is cold and Patrick’s nose is bright red. A girl with peppermint coffee walks past us and the smell lingers. I figure now is as good a time as any to ask my question. I don’t know what Patrick’s response will be, but then, I never do with him, so I blurt out the words before I can talk myself down.
“So do you wanna go on a date with me sometime?”
Patrick’s head whips around so he can look at me, his green eyes wide and chapped lips parted. “Like… on a date date?”
I hunch my shoulders awkwardly. I fucked up, I fucked it up, of course he doesn’t like me that way. Why the hell would he? I totally just ruined the best friendship I’ve ever had over some stupid crush and-
“Yeah!” he says, smiling incredulously. I stop breathing, then let the air out slowly.
“Yeah, bro! Let’s go on a date!”
I laugh a little, disbelieving, then laugh a little louder and he laughs too. Oh God, his laugh could outshine as many stars as he has freckles.
“Can I hold your hand?” he asks, and of course I can’t say no. His fingers are like ice cubes threaded together but that’s just fine. I’ve never felt so warm.