This reality ain’t big enough for the both of us
It’s always silent in the house. Peter has grown accustomed to the soft sighing of the wind and the scuffle of his mother in the kitchen. Sometimes he can hear his father in the study, turning page after page after page. Other times Peter hears nothing at all and dreams of a better place.
At first, Peter had written it off as sleep deprivation. When it happened again—multiple agains—Peter felt real fear seize him. The effervescence of a woman that crossed through their basement to the window never interacted with him, but she was there. Her skin, although washed out, was a soft gold. Her eyes were thin but held a joy that burns in the heart of one who has found their place in life.
Peter had taken to calling her Joy and he sits on his cellar stairs, watching her cross the cold and cluttered cellar to the cobweb infested window. Then she disappears like a dream drifting into waking.
It’s almost been a year when Peter says something. The words are thick and heavy and muddied in the air. They are made of what thoughts are made of and cannot travel very far alone—other thoughts must push it, help it. The words drift across the cellar and Joy pauses her trek; her warm small face turns towards him. Her brow creases somewhat.
He repeats: “Why do you go to the window?”
Joy suddenly startles as her warm chocolate eyes catch the outline of a teenage boy on the stairs, black hoodie bunched by his shoulders and too big jeans cascading on the steps. His dark hair is mussed and there are circles under his eyes. He glows faintly to her and sounds as if he’s speaking through the wall.
“Are you a ghost?” Joy asks, mystified. Then she blinks rapidly and staggers a few steps. “You’re the Evans’ boy!” She exclaims. Peter nearly jumps to his feet because he is indeed Peter Evans. “But I thought—oh no, did you get killed in DC?! I knew your parents were worried about you taking the internship in DC, but I never thought that you would really get into trouble working for the government and all…”
Peter shakes his head, all his thoughts jumbling and scrambling together. He had considered applying for an internship this summer—at the Pentagon for STEM field intended students—but he had decided against it. His mother had convinced him it would be too dangerous. His father had convinced him that it’s better to do that sort of thing in college. Peter’s blue eyes lock with Joy’s.
“And you took my place? When I left?” he asks. This time the words are clearer and Joy is becoming more defined. A thin scar below one eye and redness in her hands can be seen through the dissipating haze.
“No,” Joy says, confused: “I live in the downstairs apartment.” Peter looks around: all he sees is loose wood and old clothes intended for goodwill and some unfinished projects. What Joy sees, though, is a finished bedroom with an attached bathroom. The carpeting is gerber and the walls are a dark blue. Joy sees the basement that had been redone five years previously. Peter sees the basement the Evanses had forgone redoing.
“Oh,” Peter allows.
Joy nods, confused but allowing as well. “I have to go.”
And then she leaves, through the cobweb ringed window.
Over time, they develop a bond. Neither quite understands the situation entirely; Joy is almost convinced that Peter knows how to Astral project and Peter believes that Joy is just a rather confused spirit. In their exchanges, Peter learns about this other life of his. How he had chosen to take the internship in DC that summer. He volunteers at the ASPCA on the weekends and he’s dating Emma Babson. In fact, it’s these tales that convince Peter that Joy is not real; there is no way he could ever be that cool: Emma Babson hadn’t given him the time of day since she asked to borrow a pen in middle school.
Then, while at the grocery story, Peter meets a petite asian in the produce aisle. She looks precisely like Joy—not her real name as he had learned but continues to call her anyway—and so he can hardly stop himself from walking up beside her. The same, compassionate face looks at him. “Suellen?” he asks and the chocolate brown eyes widen in astonishment.
“How do you know my name?”
It’s then that Peter knows there is an alternate universe—one with Cool Peter and this one with Lame Peter. He never tells Joy his theory because then she might think he’s crazy and stop talking to him. Rather he keeps his new found knowledge quiet and slowly squeezes all the information he can about Cool Peter out.
Slowly, he tries to make himself like Cool Peter.
He cuts his hair shorter, which he finds does suit him. He dresses differently and begins reading science fiction, which is gold and why hadn’t he read more of this stuff sooner? He works harder in school and aims to be friends with the people that Cool Peter is said to be friends with and that works. Then, when it’s time to apply for colleges and Joy mentions where Cool Peter is applying, Lame Peter does, too (with a few of his safety schools on that list as well).
When April rolls around and both Lame Peter and Cool Peter make it into UC Berkley; they both say yes.
And that’s really when it all went to hell.