(You can find earlier episodes of The Key in the Archives to the right)
The drive to Carly’s apartment was done with unsteady hands and frayed nerves and Robin definitely caught herself making little distraught sounds now and then. The Doll Girl had been almost as frightening as the Beetle Man. Of course, the Beetle Man had changed into a mysterious and attractive young man but there was no guarantee it would happen again. The Doll Girl could have just as easily tried to skin Robin alive and nobody would find out for a long time. All of this was too much and she could no longer be sure of her decisions or her own senses. It reminded her of that one party where she had taken a hit of acid, a memory she had mostly repressed.
She pulled along the curb in front of Carly’s place and wondered for a moment why it was so empty on the streets. Then she remembered that Carly’s side of the street had to be clear for the street-sweeper in the morning which was mere hours away. She almost decided to take her chances before she spotted a space on the other side of the street. She pulled into the spot after only a couple tries. As she reached for the handle to exit, she was gripped violently by overwhelming terror. She shook her head violently. Robin could almost swear that something huge was moving out there in the darkness just out of range of the streetlights. Actually, the streetlights seemed a lot dimmer.
Robin hit the door lock button even though the doors were already locked as lamp after lamp seemed to flicker and then go out. She shut her eyes tight in the darkness and could have sworn the car moved a bit as if something had brushed up against it. Maybe the car was the safest place to spend the rest of the night after all. Besides, Carly would not appreciate being woken up in the middle of the night. Especially not by a half-crazed friend being pursued by demons or ghosts or something. In the morning she would go get breakfast for her and Carly and surprise her then. Then she would discover that the whole night had been a bad dream or her drink had been spiked or she had a parasite. A few minutes more of such comforting thoughts and she lost consciousness.
When she woke up hours later the sun streaked through the windshield into her bleary eyes as if the shadows had never existed. She wondered for a few moments if Other Robin had taken over during the night. She should have taken precautions against this ages ago but had no idea what those precautions might be. She wished for all of those years back when she had been mostly ignorant about Other Robin and wished she had chained herself down or locked herself in. She wished she had done anything to prevent all of this from happening because, as much as she wanted to, she knew that none of it had been a dream. As strange as it had all been, it also felt very real. Too real.
There was suddenly a knocking on the passenger side window but it sounded like fireworks going off and she had seven consecutive heart attacks. This is the moment when Robin discovered her brand new hangover. Funny, she hadn’t felt too bad a moment ago. She turned her head and realized that it was Kim, knocking on the window with a perfectly manicured hand. Kim was a friend of Carly’s but Robin had only talked to her once or twice before. She looked around and then rolled down the window slowly. It was probably safe now that the darkness was gone and even if it wasn’t Robin couldn’t have anybody thinking she was crazy.
“You’re Robin, right? Hi! What are you doing out here?” Kim said with too much perkiness and that barely concealed pity and worry of a mother. Was Kim a mother? If she was, did that make Robin psychic now? It was at this point that Robin realized it was her turn to speak.
“Um, visiting. Carly.” Robin mumbled as if the two words were separate thoughts that she had decided to connect at the last minute. She felt a little embarrassed and found it hard to make eye contact.
“Oh! Yeah, she must have forgotten to tell you about going on vacation.” Kim said. She had either decided to swallow the worry or she was acting willfully ignorant of Robin’s sad state. It was crazy how quickly her smile took over her face and radiated out like a second sun. The real world was just as weird as the shadows sometimes.
“Oh. Yeah. I guess so.” Robin replied half-heartedly as if this was normal and would be a funny story later. She wanted to crawl into a deep, dark hole and fall back asleep. She needed hours more of sweet, precious sleep.
“Would you like to go get some breakfast?” Kim tilted her head to the side and for a moment Robin superimposed Kim with a little corgi dog. She did not want to go to breakfast with this girl who she barely knew. She wanted to go home but she really didn’t want to go home. The Doll Girl was still there. Then her stomach growled which pretty much sealed the deal.
“Sure. Let’s go to breakfast.” She heard herself say. It wasn’t Other Robin speaking but it may as well have been. She stepped rolled up the window and stepped from the car and into the sunlight which seemed way too yellow.
Kim was wearing pink and yellow while Robin was wearing all black. Kim had a healthy tan while Robin was almost as pale as chalk which made her tattoos stand out even more. A picture is worth a thousand words.
Robin tried to stay steady as she blinked in the harsh sunlight. Everything under the sun looked like it belonged to some alien world. She was never up this early and it almost felt stranger than the strange new world she had discovered in the shadows. As soon as this was over with, she was crawling into her backseat and going back to sleep. Ther was nothing she could get done until she rested again.
“What are you thinking about?” Kim asked, choosing an outside table at a cafe before Robin could object. She decided to let it go even though she could almost still see her getaway car from her seat. At least there was an umbrella. She dragged her gaze back toward Kim and smiled. It wasn’t Kim’s fault that this was so awkward. It was time to fake being normal, at least for a little time.
“Just a little stressed lately. I’m trying to figure things out.” Robin responded with what felt like the fakest smile she had ever used. “You know how it is, trying to plan the rest of your day. Right?”
“Oh yeah. Carly told me about your blackouts. That must make things tough.” Kim said casually as if those sentences were somehow allowed and meant nothing. As if that wasn’t deeply personal. Robin fought hard not to wince when the words came and she thought she was mostly successful. She was self-conscious enough about them without a conversation about her medical (or magical?) state.
“Yeah, they’re not fun. I think I’m starting to understand them a little more now.” She replied, trying to be as vague as possible.
“Are you going to Carly’s bachelorette party?” Kim asked in an obvious bid to change the subject to save everybody from a conversational sinkhole. Robin had to fight not to sigh with relief.
“Not at first.” Robin responded. “But the second stop is the bar I work at so I can join you all for the fun after that.”
“Oh good! I’ll bring your goodie bag along with us then.”
“Thank you. That’s really nice.” Robin felt kind of bad for judging Kim earlier but chalked it up to nerves and exhaustion and quickly let herself off the hook.
“Anything for one of Carly’s friends. I want everyone to have a good time.”
Robin felt that maybe Kim wasn’t so bad after all. She was just way sunnier than Robin could ever hope to be even if she wanted that kind of life. That did not make Kim the devil anymore than it made Robin the devil.
The two of them kept talking with Kim doing most of the talking between dainty bites of breakfast. As much as she craved it, Robin abstained from coffee with the intention of going back to sleep. Successful conversation topics were few and far between as the two of them had very little in common. Still, things were civil and Robin felt she could stand the energetic woman at least in small doses.
Of course, that was was when another blackout happened.