There was a wide slab of sunlight on the bedroom wall when Efrim woke up, bright as freshly rolled paint. Dust motes like wayward stars, drifting constellations, and the morning was silent. That wasn’t right. He looked at the clock — it was already past eight — and realized the morning was different. The sunshine wasn’t different, or the dust, or the bedsheets, or the walls. Everything was different. It was a feeling of loneliness, not just the aloneness of stumbling out of a deep sleep. He was used to alone, the solitude in his head when things felt hurried or loud. Loneliness was something else entire, of being isolated and invisible, a quietness that drown everything out, even the good sounds like Elani’s laughter, or the wind pouring through the eaves in a storm, or the hiss of steam coming from the kettle. They were good sounds, with heft and meaning. The absence of sound was scary because it felt permanent, like a white sheet that covered everything. It was a part of who he was, and he knew it would be the man he would become. He would make peace with it as best as he could, but it felt harder when he woke up, when everything in him was soft and vulnerable. It was easy to imagine a landscape filled with nothing but himself, shuffling in the blank loneliness, searching for something to anchor him.
He heard Elani, outside, laughing, and the loneliness drifted away like the dust motes: scattered and shapeless. He knew that she was his anchor, and his heart was lighter.