Being back was like someone had lifted all my skin just far enough away from my body to slip a layer of black pepper beneath, then tugged it back on so tight that it was all I could do not to claw myself bloody to get out. The hotel ballroom’s doors were decorated with flashing lights and a hand-painted sign that read TIME MACHINE, but stepping inside was less like traveling twenty years back, and more like being pushed twenty years closer to my inevitable death. It was the worst paranoia of a pot high mixed with the uncomfortable disorientation of being just this side of browning-out drunk, only without the positive side effects of either condition, and I was hit with a wave of panic so fierce that I might have bolted right then and there if a pair of tiny hands hadn’t spun me around and slapped the left side of my chest.
“I think it’d be good for you to start painting again.”
Navid didn’t answer, keeping his eyes fixed instead out the window. It was raining hard now, and the wind pushed the drops nearly sideways into the glass, giving a view of the grounds as though from behind a waterfall, everything distorted and distant. The IV in the back of his hand itched; he didn’t like it there, but Dr. Lin had told him after he’d pulled out the last one that it’d be a good idea to give the vein in his elbow some time to heal. Everyone in the clinic had lots of good ideas to share.