The next thing I was aware of was that my eyes were still closed. I inhaled deeply through my nose; the air first cleansed my throat, then my bronchial tubes, then my lungs, all the way down to each individual alveoli. My hands, already in my lap, fingered the soft, lightweight fabric of my dress. My skin emitted a healthy, warm glow from the sun’s rays—from rays that did not burn—as if the ozone were newly formed and perfect. I didn’t need my eyes open for me to know I had been here before—many times.
My arms lifted behind my head as I stretched. The fabric of my dress moved with me, fitting my form flawlessly. I finally opened my eyes to find a familiar scene: a courtyard with smooth, crescent moon stones underneath my bare feet that made up a gorgeous circular mosaic. Benches of polished wood and curved legs encompassed it. It was the most beautiful park you could imagine. Suddenly a young girl with tanned skin and dark brown hair appeared in my peripheral.
“Sister,” she began, “we are waiting for you.”
The hibiscus flower behind her ear nearly fell out. I reached forward and straightened it. The child’s eyes, dark brown, looked offset on her face. They looked too wise, too old, too serious; not like they belonged to a girl whose age begged innocence.
She had a very distinct smile. Small, milk-white teeth, juxtaposed with ancient eyes. They were the last thing I saw before I was wrenched out of my dream.
I was lying on my stomach, my legs spread-eagle. The covers hung precariously off the couch. I was confused for a second and then remembered: it was a couch. Stephen’s couch. A stranger’s couch. Well, it didn’t kill me during the night at least.
As soon as I sat up I felt a headache coming on. More often than not, they become migraines and create a very painful kind of pressure behind my eyes. They tend to happen when I wake up suddenly.
Each of them have real faces and distinct voices. The dreams were like watching a movie reel terribly out of order; sometimes in the first person, sometimes in a godlike third person, and many times just a montage of images containing the same people. One thing stayed consistent: they were vivid—full of color and three-dimensional, rather than abstract and indefinite, like my other classic Freudian dreams. I’ve had them for as long as I could remember. And I also knew that normal people don’t have dreams where they watch people walk, talk, eat, dance, write, laugh and sleep with little to no context. There have been times where I thought something was very wrong with me.
Still, in spite of myself I wanted to learn about them. Who were they, what did they stand for exactly, how were were related to me? Throwing logic out the window, might they be real? Am I a medium or a psychic—am I seeing dead people? I was utterly lost until I made the mistake of telling my school psychologist, Mr. Carpenter, two months ago. At first he seemed concerned about my mental wellness and asked if I had started to think the dreams were real. I told him that I didn’t know. He advised me to refrain from telling anybody else what was going on but him.
Particularly, this girl with the ancient eyes has appeared in my dreams for an especially long time. I don’t know her name, but she’s the one I dream of most. None of them I feel like I know as well as her.
But this time . . . she called me her sister. That’s never happened before. Somehow it made things clearer even though that was completely illogical. I’m an only child. How could I have a sister? Did I create a sister in my subconscious, like an imaginary friend—was I really that lonely? Or, once again, am I insane? She doesn’t even look like me. I have wavy, dirty blonde hair and pale green eyes, far from her olive-skin tone and deep, dark brown eyes.
Stephen appeared from the hallway as I sat cross-legged on the couch, busy massaging my temples.
“Morning. So, I’m about to make some coffee, would you like some?” He paused as he noticed my stance. “Or perhaps some Tylenol?”
I half smiled, half grimaced. “Both would be great.”
When I left yesterday, it’s because it was the perfect opportunity to leave Diane. I was going to do it eventually, anyway. But there was another reason. It had to do with suspicions about my dreams—and Dirk Carpenter. I thought he was helping me at first but our sessions soon became . . . complicated.
“Blake, what does your gut tell you? Right now I’m going to ask you to throw logic out the window and tell me what you think the people or places in your dreams are.” He rests his elbows on the table, never breaking eye contact with me. I’m sitting across from him. My hand are clasped fiercely in my lap.
“I . . . I don’t really know. The places I go are more than dreamlike—they’re simply amazing. I don’t think anything in existence could be like that.”
“And the people?”
“The same thing. But the thing is, they all have distinct personalities, and I know this because I see them all multiple times, and their personalities never waver, at least beyond reason. That makes me feel like. . . .” I sigh very deeply. “Like they’re real, somehow. They appear realistic, like actual, tangible, imperfect people.”
“So you believe they’re real? ‘Somehow’?”
I bite my lip. “I really try not to but . . . yeah, I think I might.”
He leans forward. “Blake . . . you might not be as out of reason as you think you are. You might be getting onto something.”
A dumb moment goes by. My stomach drops onto the floor. My hands and feet go numb. What did he just say?
“Do you prefer cream and sugar?”
I jumped slightly. Right, coffee. “Yes, and don’t be afraid to go heavy on the cream.”
He hands me a hot mug and two white pills, and sits on the recliner across from me. “I hope you slept okay. I completely understand if this feels totally weird or uncomfortable but I hope you were able to feel safe enough to at least sleep.”
I felt a surge of warmth through me. I did trust him. I realized how lucky I was to come across him when I did, otherwise God knows where I would have slept last night.
My eyes were beaming as I said, “I meant to say yesterday, your shop is incredible. Books and food, two of my favorite things, in one place.”
“Does it just blow your mind?” he said with a grin.
“To be honest it totally does,” I replied with a matching grin.
We talked about books for a while and realized we liked, or at least had read, a lot of the same books. He had some great insight into books I had never thought about, and vice versa. He was extremely intelligent. I hadn’t felt that engaged talking to someone in a long time.
I guiltily thought of Tori. She and Jake had no idea I left, but they’d notice soon enough when I didn’t answer any social media or show up to school. I didn’t have the time to tell them before and I had gotten rid of my phone. I’ll buy another one when I get the chance. But undoubtedly, if she were here with me, she’d tell me how very attractive Stephen was in his t-shirt and plaid pajama pants, and pester me to make a move on him. And when I wouldn’t, she’d tell me, “Blake, you can get any guy you want but you’re never interested! For the love of God, give one of them a chance or I will actually smack you.”
Perhaps I would, if the circumstances were different.
I excused myself to use his bathroom. I took a warm shower that massaged my muscles and helped soothe my headache. Then I brushed my teeth and tried to make my hair look tame. While I doubted it, I also double-checked that everything inside my bag was still accounted for.
When I reached for a hand towel, for a wild second I was straightening the girl’s hibiscus behind her ear. I shook my head and commanded my brain to stop thinking about her for right now.
When I came back, feeling a lot better, I asked Stephen if he had a computer I could borrow. He came back with a MacBook Pro and let me surf the web for train tickets and research the stops upstate. The farthest, easiest place to get to was to the Hudson Valley. At least it was a start.
He tried to make it subtle but I could see him sneaking peaks at all the places I was checking out. Then he’d shift his eyes back to the TV. I probably confirmed his suspicions that there was never any gig. That I was looking to go somewhere far away from here.
We ate amazing everything bagels for breakfast and laughed at The Big Bang Theory between internet searches. I felt bad I couldn’t tell him the truth.
Or could I? Maybe he wouldn’t judge me . . . too harshly. Maybe he would have empathy.
I debated it in my head until I decided I liked him too much to get him involved in my problems. They could be potentially dangerous. And maybe, a little part of me liked him so much I was afraid of his judgement and ultimately, his rejection. So I left him in the dark and grabbed another bagel.