“Let’s do the ‘Cooper faces a fear’ one,” I said.

“I still haven’t thought of anything for that.”

“Yeah, right. I’m convinced you know your biggest fear, you’re just too afraid to tell me. Come on, I’m going to root it out of you.” I stood and held out my hand.

“That sounds painful.”

“I’m willing to make that sacrifice.”

“I meant painful for me.”

“I’m willing to make that sacrifice as well.”

He smiled. “And why do we have to leave the house to do this?”

“It’s part of the rooting.”

He let me drag him to his feet and out the door.

Cooper and I had a spot by the ocean. One we liked to go to that wasn’t overrun with tourists. Most days, there wasn’t another soul there. Mainly because it lacked what most people went to the ocean for—a beach. This place didn’t have yards of sand littered with shiny seashells dying to be collected. It didn’t have a place to anchor an umbrella and build sand castles. Or even a rock-free zone to jump waves as they crashed onto shore. No, this place had to be hiked to. It was secluded and small and pitted with tide pools and obstacles. It smelled like fish and seaweed and salt. But this was where we came sometimes to escape everything else. I’d grabbed my notebook along with my beach bag as we had left the house, and I turned to a clean page and held my pencil ready now.

“I’m conducting an interview,” I said, perched on a rock. One of the many purple wildflowers that grew along the cliff tickled the side of my foot.

“Of who?”

“You.”

“Why?”

“It’s part of the rooting process. I am going to discover your fear. If you don’t know it and I don’t know it, you must’ve hidden it somewhere deep in your subconscious.”

“Okay, hit me.” He leaned back on his palms.

“What is your earliest memory?”

“Easy. Four years old. Clinging onto my uncle as he drove me on a quad. When we got back, my mom told him off.”

“You obviously have strong emotions attached to this or you wouldn’t remember it. So was it fear?”

“Nope. Pure excitement.”

“I could’ve guessed that.”

He laughed.

I jotted a note in my book. “Okay, how about this. You find out tomorrow that you’re going to die. What is the one thing you regret not doing?”

He seemed to consider this for a long moment but then said his answer like it was a throwaway one, like he’d really thought of something else but decided to keep it to himself. “Seeing the world, I guess. What does that have to do with fear, though?”

“I just thought that maybe fear was holding you back from doing something you really want to do.”

“No, that’s more about money and being underage.”

I chewed on the pen cap. “Seeing the world, huh? I don’t remember you ever talking about traveling.”

“Like I said, it’s not possible right now, so why dwell on it.”

“Okay.” I tried to decide what else to ask him. “Do you have any recurring nightmares?”

“Not that I remember.” He tilted his head. “Do you?”

“Yes.”

“Really? What happens?”

“I’m at school staring at the big brick wall by the amphitheater. You know which one I’m talking about?”

“Yes. The one that everyone always tags and the principal gives lectures about every year because apparently he wants it big and blank?”

“Yes, that one.”

“Okay. Do you destroy it? Because that thing is begging to be destroyed.”

“No. I paint it.”

“Of course you do. How is that a nightmare? It sounds like perfection to me so far.”

“Well, I paint it and then the principal tells me to try again. It immediately turns white. I paint the same thing. And again he tells me to try again. Over and over and over.” I’d analyzed this dream, and I knew it all came down to me not feeling good enough. Not good enough for Cooper. Not good enough for his parents, not even good enough for my mom sometimes. And definitely not a good enough artist. It sounded overly dramatic, and that’s why I wasn’t going to admit to that out loud.

“Wow. That sounds awful.”

I shrugged, committing to nonchalance. “It’s not like I dream it every night.”

“I was thinking you meant like monsters or demons, but when you put it that way, maybe I do have one.”

“Yeah?”

“I’m standing in a windowless, door-free room, and I’m the only one there.”

I wrote down his dream in my notebook. “Then what happens? Do you try to claw your way out or anything?”

“No. That’s it. I wake up feeling bad.”

“Scared?”

“Not really.”

I sighed. “You’re hopeless.”

He stretched up to try to peer over my notebook. “Those are the only questions? You’re done digging into my brain?”

“No. One more.”

“Okay.”

I looked him in the eyes. “What are you scared of?”

He laughed loud, throwing his head back. When he stopped, a smile still lingering, he said, “You thought this time I’d know?”

I smiled as well but then sighed. “No, but it was worth a try.”

He toed my bag. “Did you bring any towels? Or treats?”

“Both.”

He held up his hands and I threw him a towel, then a granola bar. He lay back on the rock, wadding up the towel and putting it under his head. “You know, you’re the only person I can sit still with.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I like to be in motion. I get antsy when I’m doing nothing. But you’re so good at it that I don’t mind it at all.”

“So good at what? Doing nothing?”

“That came out wrong.”

“Did it?”

“I just meant being laid-back. It was a compliment.”

I kicked his foot. “You need to work on giving compliments.”

He chuckled and unwrapped his granola bar. “I know.”

I opened my notebook again and started sketching the flowers growing through cracks in the rock. “Why do you think that is?”

“Why aren’t I good at giving compliments?”

“No. Why can’t you sit still?”

“I can. Look at me. I’m a study in Zen.” He took a large bite of granola bar and chewed it slowly.

“Are you afraid to be bored? Afraid of people thinking you’re boring?” I pointed at him. “Ooh. I got it. You’re afraid to be in your own head.”

He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Ah. Here comes the painful rooting-around-in-my-skull part.”

“So yes, then?” I wasn’t sure why I was so intent on finding his fear. I claimed it was for the list and to pay him back for the terror-filled quad ride, but part of me felt like it was something beyond that.

“No,” he said. “My head is the best place to be. There’s a constant party up here all the time.”

I continued drawing. This was a pointless exercise only reaffirming my belief that Cooper had no fears. It was time to change the subject. “How is your sister? Is she still upset about her goldfish?”

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