Prologue

Peculiar was glad to have the extra time to wake up, to get oriented before Jake and her parents arrived. It was still raining, but not as hard as it had been when she had laid down for a nap. Her peace lily, the one her neighbor had given her, looked good, strong. She took that as an omen that things would go well that night.

But before she could find her glasses her head began to throb and her stomach started to rumble. Five minutes? Already? She wondered what it must be like to live more than five minutes at a time, to be able to ignore time, to have a body that did not remind you, with overwhelming nausea and unbearable migraines, that time was master.

She got her glasses on just in time, and when she did her head stopped pounding and her stomach stopped twisting, which meant she had made it, that she would be spared the embarrassment of being sick just before everyone arrived.

And in that precise instant, everything in her bedroom farther than five feet away began to become indistinct, then completely blurry, as if someone had ratcheted her eyes like a camera lens to deliberately throw everything out of focus. Peculiar smiled. Her new glasses, specially designed, had created the distinction in distance she required every five minutes to avoid becoming overwhelmingly and disabilingly ill. They had worked. At least this time.

One of her doctors had tried to attach a name to her condition, Aphakia, but that had been for her mother’s benefit, not hers. The doctor must have thought Peculiar a fool, or forgotten she knew how to read, because it had taken her less than five minutes online to learn that she would have to be missing at least one lens for Aphakia to be the cause. Her research had also helped her discover that Strabismus, caused by weak muscles around the eye, was not the problem.

In fact, Peculiar knew there was nothing wrong with her eyes, although doctor after doctor insisted they start there, back at the beginning, as if the five or ten specialists who had preceded them had never attended medical school, or were somehow insufficiently skilled to properly diagnose her.

Peculiar always explained in short distinct sentences that she hoped would not confuse her highly-educated doctors.

I can read the eye chart fine. The problem is I can’t focus on anything farther than five feet away for longer than five minutes without getting sick.

And then, as if she were not there, or as if her condition also made her speak in indecipherable and irrelevant tongues, the newest doctor would begin testing her eyes.

Peculiar had given up hoping for a cure a long time ago, long before college, even long before high school, but not nearly long enough to escape the never-ending ridicule that had turned her into an almost complete agoraphobic.

Her name, of course, was not Peculiar. Her name was Elizabeth. Elizabeth [None] Overbeck on her birth certificate, because her mother did not believe children needed middle names.

If only that had been all. But children are cruel, quick to point out the smallest deficiency, and Elizabeth had always known that her shortcoming was anything but. That they had called her peculiar hadn’t hurt her feelings nearly as bad as them stopping. If only they had called her peculiar as they had invited her to join their games, if only they had described her as peculiar while they had laughed with her, if only after all the ridicule someone had opened their arms and invited her in they could have called her anything.

Now she had been thinking of herself as Peculiar for so many years that she even introduced herself that way, signed letters that way. On her birthday the year before, she had introduced herself to Jake that way, her first, her only.

And now, exactly one year later, on the threshold of a birthday so significant she had no words to describe it, Peculiar wondered what it was going to feel like not to be so.