All day, they waited for the night

“I could see why sleep deprivation was used as torture.” 


The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg. © 2020 by the author and reprinted by permission of Flatiron Books.



From The Insomniacs, Chapter 4


From my large street-facing window, there were three houses I could see well: the Moore-Tagawas’, the Loves’, and the Kaplans’. From the smaller window on my right, I had a side view of the Smiths’, or what I now thought of as the abandoned house, partially obscured by a cluster of live oaks. When all the strings had finally broken on my Roman shades, my mom hadn’t bothered with a temporary paper shade for that window. The side of the house was much more private. But for all I knew, the family that had lived there could have been as attuned to my habits as I was to Van’s.


It had become part of my bedtime routine to check if Van’s bedroom light was on. Then, I’d think about him—what he’d worn that day, if he’d glanced my way in class—for about five whole seconds before I fell asleep. It was the one dumb thing I did. Everything else in my life had a purpose.


I turned to my beat-up leather backpack that lay on my desk, folders and books perfectly organized, homework complete even though the teachers had said I could turn everything in late. As I sifted through some of the work, I realized I didn’t remember doing it. It was like a monster had taken over my body. That’s exactly what it felt like in those moments over the past few days when I’d swayed on my feet because I was so incredibly tired. I could see why sleep deprivation was used as torture.


Seated at my desk, I swiveled back and forth, avoiding my bed and the stress I was beginning to associate with it. The doctor had said to take naps, to set a fixed bedtime schedule because, most of all, I needed to rest and heal. I stared up at the peeling stars I’d once stuck to my ceiling and wondered what to do next.


A movement, a flash of light in my peripheral vision caught my attention. I turned my head slowly. Then I froze.


Through the tree branches, I caught a glimpse of a light on in the house next door.


I blinked.


Then it was gone.


I second-guessed myself. My eyes were so sandy and dry from not sleeping, scraping against my lids. But there had been a light on in that window. I wasn’t hallucinating. I hadn’t been awake that long.


Very carefully I rose to my feet. I flipped on my small desk lamp. I wanted to get a closer look from the window.


As I made my way across the room, I trailed my hand on the wall to steady myself and inadvertently caught the flimsy paper shade I had hastily taped up when I’d returned from Van’s. Now it fell to the ground and, like the big reveal in a magic show, Van’s window appeared.


My eyes adjusted.


Van stood framed in his bedroom window, every light turned on in his room. He was staring out, a shoulder leaning against the window frame, his arms loosely crossed.

It took me a second to realize I was just as visible in my room, backlit by lamplight.


I leapt out of the way.


I squinted to see what he was watching. What was it? I allowed myself to sway into view, and then I realized what Van was looking at.


He was looking directly at me.



The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg. © 2020 by the author and reprinted by permission of Flatiron Books.


Marit Weisenberg has a master's degree from UCLA in Cinema and Media Studies and worked as a film and television executive for a number of years. She currently lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two daughters. Her previous titles include Select and Select Few.