In Your Dreams
By T.S. Lowe
His Lamborghini’s seat conformed to my body as though it were made for it, as a billion dollar car’s seat would. The contours of the interior were lost on me, however, as my attention was too the man sliding into the driver’s seat next to me. We had a destination. A bank? Either way, there we had a mutual friend who had arranged a meeting with us.
Somehow, with sheer, stagnant memory, I knew why.
“Mary’s lost a bet, so she’s going to force you to marry her,” I said, smirking.
Because the man starting up the ignition, even as he gave me a flat, disinterested side glance, would have had any woman ready to be his bride. Against the vague background of a black leather and blue interior, I saw his face clearly, or rather, the serious, sharp sky blue eyes perfectly framed by dark, styled bangs.
He turned back to the road, already driving down streets that blurred at the edges of my attention. He rarely smiled, and his straight mouth straightened even more, unamused.
“Or rather, she’s going to be forced to marry you, as an excuse, though quite happily” I said, and I knew, just as I knew his straight mouth never smiled, that he saw how distasteful he really was beneath the beautiful face.
After all, that’s how all the stories went. No man could be so successful, so brilliant, so beautiful, and still be unspoiled underneath.
The square, gold rimmed bank building rose like a whale from the ambivalent city streets. He pulled to the other side of the street and parked. A part of me wondered why he wasn’t driving away or fighting back. He didn’t like these people. He didn’t like anyone. So why were we still meeting with these friends?
Wait…why were we friends?
My heart gave a warm throb.
“Personally,” I said, keeping the smirk on, keeping it casual, afraid of scaring away this fearless god of a man. “I think you’re OCD prudeness is hilarious.”
Because a memory had come to me from the abstract, just as the bank had risen from the gray city.
A doorman at the front desk of one of his companies with a ruffled shirt, had sneezed straight into his face. Despite his apologies, my handsome companion stiffened like an English nanny faced with a room of disobedient, muddy children and said leave and never come back.
But, somehow, as though I had been watching TV, I then saw the cruel CEO at the roof of his building, leaning against the giant A/C units, pale and lip bit at the thought of what might have happened should he let such a worker stay. Any sane person would have said someone with a cold wearing a wrinkled shirt ruining a company almost too big to fail was laughable. But this man, the one with the unsmiling mouth and sharp blue eyes, he panicked over little things like that. He panicked, and ran to the roof of skyscrapers to regain his demeanor in order to control the paranoid insanity that was him.
And he stared at me now, as though seeing the same footage playing in my mind’s eye. The sculpted face had gone slack, his sharp eyes widening.
“You think I’m…funny?”
The words were an impression. I heard, yet whether his voice was low or high, I didn’t know, as was often the case with my dreams.
I couldn’t help my smirk from widening into a full blown smile.
“Incredibly.” I kicked back and put my feet on the dashboard, hoping to irritate him enough to be a tease. But even as I did it, I could see he didn’t notice. Somehow, the OCD god could care less.
I couldn’t help but adore how fragile this impregnable being was.
“Come on, Basil,” I said. “Let’s blow this taco stand.”
He flicked on the turn signal and pulled back out onto the empty street.
I had long ago given up trying to be invisible as I made my way to the ‘special’ classroom. The rest of the high school flowed past, as they always did, only aware that another idiot was making their way to the room for those whose brains hadn’t formed right.
The colorful, elementary school-like decorations didn’t help. Even so, I found myself blowing out the tension from the hallway walk as I closed the door behind me.
Wyatt saw me first, as he always did, and greeted me with a wide, toothy grin. A small head brought out his large ears, though his face and jaw hadn’t followed with the rest of the program, remaining normal sized, making the smile seem as large as the room.
“Tenny!” he crooned.
“Wyatt!” I crooned back. Here was someone who wouldn’t think me an idiot. He probably never even had a thought to differentiating idiots and non-idiots.
There were four other students in the special education room. A girl sat in one of those full body wheelchairs, barely able to move with floppy, doll-like limbs strapped into place, but who flipped her head around to give me an equally bright, goopy smile.
I waved to her. “Hi Beth.”
“Could you wipe her face for me, Tenny?” asked the teacher, Jessica, who had her attention on another boy. “Mary isn’t here yet and I’m a bit overwhelmed.”
Which I could see, as the other two boys, both with facial features that broadcasted their mother’s liberal use of alcohol while pregnant, had their faces screwed up at each other and the computer screen between them. The boy Jessica had her attention on had down syndrome and had somehow tangled up his fingers in a bunch of yarn and was in tears.
I did so, using the ever present rag on the arm of her chair.
“Tenny, how’s your math going?” asked Wyatt.
“Better. I actually managed to pass my final.”
I tried to look as happy as him. “Thanks.” Then, unable to help it, I sighed and returned Beth’s rag to her chair’s armrest.
Beth frowned at that and wagged her head between the cushioned braces of her chair.
“What’s wrong?” Wyatt asked.
“Even though the teacher gave me a vocal test, I still only got a C. Barely.” I plopped down in the chair besides him at the ‘crafts’ table, where yarn boy and Jessica struggled.
“But I want to be better.”
I had to be. A ‘C’ grade wouldn’t make up for all the D’s and F’s of my assignments, and I could tell the teacher was ready to give up on me and push me back into the special ed classroom for good.
My vision got all blurry. I didn’t fight the tears. Wyatt and Beth wouldn’t judge. The twins at the computer never cared what others felt. And Jessica and Henry, the down-syndrome boy, would probably benefit from the distraction from their own trials with the yarn.
Wyatt’s finger wiped at my cheeks the moment tears appeared.
For the umpteenth time I wanted to wail that I wasn’t stupid, but I couldn’t say that surrounded with kids like these. I couldn’t call Wyatt stupid.
“It’s okay, Tenny.” He stroked my cheek, even without the tears. “Good girl, Tenny. It’s okay. You’re smart.”
See? Wyatt thought so.
“But I use math all the time at work! Why does it—“ I sniffed. “Why can’t I still not…algebra’s stupid. Why do I even need it?”
“Well, there’s your answer,” said Jessica as soothingly as she could above the growing wails of Henry. “I doubt you use the order of operations when you change out car parts. You’re not stupid, dear, you’re just very hands on. It’s a reflection on him as a teacher at this point, because I know you’re not—oh, Henry!”
The boy had suddenly slammed his tied up hands on the table, knocking her glasses to the floor. As she dived to catch them, I got up and made my way to his side.
“He got some glue in there,” I said softly, picking at the first, white encrusted knot. If Jessica had been able to use scissors this would have been solved by now, but Henry was deathly afraid of anything sharp.
The moment he saw my fingers on the knots, Henry calmed.
“Tenny, why you sad?” he asked.
“Pay attention,” snapped Wyatt. “Her teachers are jerks.”
“Oh,” he said quietly, becoming enrapt as I undid the first knot with ease.
Teacher Jessica puffed a sigh from her nose and checked her glasses in the light. “If I had just asked you to do this from the beginning this would have been over by now. And after I said you were good with your hands and everything.”
Within a minute, the yarn was undone and Henry was free. He let out a cheer and hugged me.
“Tenny’s smart!” he cried.
“I already said that,” said Wyatt irritably. His moods switched easily, like lightning. Came with the territory of his disorder.
“Wyatt’s jealous,” said one of the twins suddenly, flashing a diabolical, lopsided grin. His brother took advantage of his distraction to monopolize the computer.
A short, tense battle ensued where Wyatt and the twin did a fair bit of yelling that, of course, would have alarmed any normal classroom, but was part of the game with ours. Then Wyatt had another mood switch and went to a corner to brood over his English assignment, which was a graphic novel of the Odyssey. Unlike me, he could read, albeit slowly and only when accompanied by pictures.
Despite knowing he’d rather be left alone, I wandered over and squatted alongside him.
“Could you read to me?” I asked quietly. I hated asking that question, but, more than anything right now, I needed a story.
Without hesitation, he started to read out loud in his slow, halting way. I didn’t mind. Not at all.
Jessica tried to involve me in a science lesson with the others, but since I was several levels higher than the others, she didn’t push it, and I was allowed to spend the rest of the day with Wyatt’s imperfect, but steady, reading.
We could go anywhere now, Basil and I. The Lamborghini ate up roads like a kid eats fruit roll-ups. We flew from the faceless gray city to the high mountain deserts, where the rocky hills and sagebrush never ended and the tan and red sand cut swaths in the earth. The blue sky bleached gray from sunlight—but no, it was twilight. The Lamborghini had eaten up the day as well.
A day filled with chatting, or rather, me chatting at the taciturn, stiff driver. I couldn’t recall all that we said, or rather, I recall in blips his knife like gaze softening, or the corners of his stiff mouth turn.
“I hate the Odyssey,” I had told him. “Idiot is kept from his wife for ten years, sleeps with some pig-turning slut, and then his wife is just, what, happy and still single to see him again? A man wrote that story, you just know it.”
“Did the woman who held him captive turn men into pigs?” he said, in that measured way of his. “I thought that was another woman, before that one.”
“Oh, so you read common folk classics? Tut tut, that’s beneath you.”
His mouth corners staid straight as ever, but he did not seem angry. His eyes rarely left the road, ever moving on before us.
We were going to Washington. We had discussed it, and yet hadn’t. The words had been in that communal omniscience that was prevalent in dreams.
“You’re parents aren’t going to miss you?” he asked.
“Oh, my mom will flip.” I watched a too large moon slide from behind the craggy hills. “But this is a dream. Or I’m five and a half months from turning eighteen. Either or, I’m practically free.” I turned to look at him. “Aren’t you?”
That actually gave him pause. “I have work.”
“We better blow that taco stand too. Let’s find a place to stay for the night, I’m starving.”
“There’s nothing out here.”
But as soon as he said that, a sign came up from the distance proclaiming some nameless town and lodgings. At the same moment, a yellow low-gas light pinged on the Lamborghini’s digital display.
“Ha!” I said. “When was the last time you filled up? This things a ten-cylinder, gas inhaling beast.”
“I thought I had meant to…” but even saying such uncertain things, he sounded certain. Basil the great was never uncertain. He was always what he meant to be.
In the swift, blinking way of dreams, next thing I knew we were walking into a hole in the wall Mexican restaurant, and I was joking up a storm about the irony after all the mentions of taco stands. Nuclear catastrophes of pico de gayo and man-eating guac. Maybe we could make a pipe bomb in the kitchen sink?
“Will you watch what you say?” he said. “They’re going to think you’re a terrorist.”
“Look, you got your OCD issues, I have my diarrhea mouth.” We wandered over to a table. No waitress came to lead us, and half the tables hadn’t been cleared yet. For some reason, he went to sit down at one particularly messy. Very unlike him.
“Wouldn’t you rather that one?” I pointed to a clean one from the window.
I sensed more than saw the confusion on his face as he noticed the uncleared table and the clean one I pointed out.
Then we were there, we had tacos, and the consciousness of the restaurant, consisting of the waiter and patrons, went at ease that we had food.
The tacos were weird, square, pita pocket things.
“You look so out of place,” I told him.
He raised an eyebrow in question, which I more sensed than saw as his styled bangs hid that particular side of his brow.
“’Cause of that face of yours. It screams ‘I eat at five star, red carpet restaurants and nowhere else, so where’s my caviar and snail shell tacos’?”
And had he always worn that posh white suit? It made the severity of his beautiful eyes grow bright and rich as diamonds and clashed with the clay red walls of the restaurant.
“I can’t help what I was born with.” But I thought I saw a corner of his mouth twitch as he took a bite of the pita pocket taco.
“I’m surprised you can eat that,” I said.
“If it doesn’t have to do with my businesses, the quality doesn’t bother me,” and he sounded surprised, as though having just learned that himself.
I leaned my chin on my folded hands, my heart throbbing with warmth. “Then I guess we’ll have keep a few taco stands intact, won’t we?”
We ate on for an indefinable time, though not long enough for me to have my fill. I pointed out a short patron whose spiked blond hair and sharp lines put Basil’s severe gaze to shame.
“I love him,” I said. “He’s so short and serious—like some anime character, it’s great!”
Said scary short man shot over a killing glare. Wonder where his tacos were. He was just standing there.
“Tennessee,” Basil said my name with the same snap he used on that floorman with the cold.
“No really! Unique peeps like him are the kinds I love to use in my stories.”
Dangerous looking midget forgotten, Basil straightened. “You write stories?”
And in my hesitation the sheer glory and class of this man overwhelmed me. Handsome, intelligent, cool, confident, and so adorably messed up.
I didn’t want him to think badly of me. I wanted him to like me.
But then I came to reality. This was me we were talking about. Illiterate, stupid, poor, ugly me raised in the dumps and who hardly knew how to do her own hair let alone put on makeup or dress nice. Me, the grease monkey, who had to work to help my mom afford the brown, outdated apartment filled with roaches.
The omniscient ether had already filled me to the brim with the knowledge that this man had never once been enraptured with a woman, let alone a grungy girl like me. The closest thing he had were middle school crushes, before his apparent genius shot him forward in the world too quickly.
So there was no use hiding the truth. No use putting on airs for him. Heck, it hadn’t even occurred to me to put on someone other than myself from the beginning of all this.
After all, this was just a dream.
“I can’t read,” I said trying to seem less pathetic by smiling, but knowing it came out sad. “No matter how hard I or anyone else tries. But the dear Lord gave us audiobooks and I think up storms of stories like a freaking boss while I’m at work.” I looked down at my half-eaten dough taco. Hadn’t I been hungry? “Stories no one will ever hear.”
“Why not?” he wiped at his mouth with a napkin I hadn’t noticed we had.
I raised an eyebrow at him. “Be real. I’ve never even read a book, what makes you think I could write one?”
“That wasn’t a sneeze,” ah yes, there was that infallible stiffness of him. “I didn’t think I was dealing with an idiot here. Have you never heard of voice dictation? Or even thought of having someone type down the story as you told them?”
A jarring pain rent through my chest.
Somehow, the restaurant grew darker.
“When would I have the time?” I said, but my mouth had become harder to move. “I have work whenever I don’t have school.”
“Not that you do much there but cut bits of yarn and wipe up drool,” he said.
For the first time, that flat, cutting tone of his, the tone he always had, hit me. For the first time, I fell against the harshness which kept the world cringing from his fingertips. I was the sick employee with the wrinkled shirt. I was the shameless fan girl who’d never hear his apology. I was the commoner watching a celebrity from a distance.
And he just kept going. Usually so sparing and careful with his words, now they came out like a waterfall.
“I hate people who let themselves rot away in self-pity like this. All I hear is ‘I’m too stupid, no one will teach me right, I can’t do it no matter how hard I try, I have to take care of my mom—‘ you’re mother’s a damn adult and can take care of herself, all you’re doing is enabling her. You see yourself as useless and ugly without even bothering to brush your god damn hair or even use the talents you have, and trust me, you have talents—“
“—you think I got where I am because it was just handed to me? It doesn’t matter who you are, you can’t get anything worth it in this world without hard work and sacrifice, and I’m not going to last the thirteen hours or whatever we have left to Washington with yet another lazy wallower like you.”
Suddenly, the cool looking anime shorty appeared at our table, a hand on my arm.
“You don’t need this,” he said. “Tell your story with somebody else. I’ll hear it.”
But I ignored him and looked at Basil, even as I felt my insides cracking and bleeding. Everything he said was true. Why should I run from that? I didn’t want to be a coward.
And strangely, through the pain that flooded my face with tears, I found I wanted this. I wanted that sharp edge to cut away all the crud cramping in on me. I wanted him to stab the self-loathing for what it was, slice away the F’s and D’s that meant so freaking much to me, bleed out the weakness that made Wyatt have to wipe away my tears.
I wanted to be more.
So I nodded. “Okay.”
Something in Basil seemed to turn to ice. He was going on the defensive, ready for pandering. “What?”
“Get me something that can do that voice dictation whatever. I’ll tell my stories while we drive. We have a long ways to go, after all.”
He snuffed a disbelieving puff from his nose. “What, you’re letting me bully you?” Yes, he was afraid of me now, though he’d never show it.
“No. I’m listening to you.” And even as I dried my face, my arms free since the weird Goku shorty had magically vanished with my resolve. “Because I know who you are, and I know you’re just as pathetic as me, hiding away somewhere so you can return to believing the lie that you don’t hate yourself and aren’t scared of living.” I smiled a smile that made me feel like kind, poor pin-headed Wyatt. “It’s okay, Basil. You’re strong. You’re the strongest guy I know.”
The decade old Nissan above me had guts eroded tight with the greasy rust of a millennia driving on salted roads. Everyone in the shop knew just by hearing that the thing needed new bearings on both of its front wheels, but getting the damn parts off to get to that point was going to be a pain.
Thus they had sent me, the grunt, to start scrubbing.
Streams of rust, grease, WD-40, and cleaner dribbled onto my safety googles and dampened the white mask I wore, but I was more worried about my arms falling off from the strain than being poisoned by grease air.
After a half hour of gross, drippy torture, I gave up.
“Try her now, Jim!” I shouted out, too sore and tired to even roll myself out from under it.
“You gonna come out first?”
“Nah. I’m getting some zen time with this girl’s neither regions. Don’t kill me, yeah?”
“I doubt anything’s gonna come flying, but best to be safe.”
“Alright, alright.” I dug my heels in and rolled out from the front. God bless rolly mechanics benches.
At the sight of me, Jim, a graying man with gristle from his scalp to his toes, whistled.
“Well ain’t you a right mess.”
“That’s what happens when you try to scrub somewhere no one’s cleaned since they bought the poor thing.” I slipped my goggles to my forehead and blinked hard to adjust to the new light. The filth had created a sort of film that could have been used for UV protection.
I let my arms hang like pieces of meat that had nothing to do with me while I watched Jim set the impact wrench to the bolts and let loose. The motor of the wrench squealed, but those sticky suckers gave way and we had ourselves the bare innards of the wheel bearings.
Jim plucked out a few of the tiny steel balls from the fractured case and rubbed them between his greasy forefinger and thumb before handing them out to me.
“Check these little suckers out. Only half of them made it.”
I accepted the little steel balls, and the car grease along with them. “Dang. No wonder it was making all that noise.”
“Hopefully there’s no damage to the wheel shaft because of it.” He yanked a few more out. “Whale of a job, that one.”
Whales made me think of the gray city of my dreams, where the bank had shown out gold and brown. I had never met the girl inside who had been ready to ensnare Basil, but I knew Mary. Mary, the second of my special ed teachers and beautiful to boot. Her patience and kindness made her more than worthy for Basil…
“I’ve been having these weird repetitive dreams lately,” I said, keeping my hands out to accept more of the ball bearings. “Can I keep these?” They felt like super-heavy marbles and were fun to roll around my palm.
“Don’t see why not. My wife would say there’s something major in your life or subconscious that needs seeing to. What kinds of things you keep seeing? I’ll pass them along to her.”
Jim’s wife wasn’t a therapist or psychologist, by any means. But she did get part of a degree in psychology and was a nut for dream translations and how they reflected on the subconscious. Thus, why I had mentioned it to Jim.
“A lot of driving. It’s like a big road trip. But there’s always this same guy with me.”
“Ooo, what kind of guy?” The wheel shaft gave a loud crunch. “Am I going to be privy to the nitty sticky teenage details?”
I snorted. “I’m sure you’re loving your part of the creepy old man right now, but you’re out of luck. There isn’t any nitty gritty. Just… talking. It’s like we’re on this big road trip together. We even stopped for food and stuff like that.” I frowned. “He is pretty cute though. Like…out of this world, almost too good for TV cute. No, cute isn’t the right word for it. He’s too shark-like for that. But he’s also a jerk with the funniest case of nerves I’ve ever seen.”
“Weird you can remember so many details on him.” Jim grunted. “Gonna need you to go back under there, Tenny. Jinxed myself and now the wheel shafts giving me issues.”
I dropped back on my red-padded wheely board and kicked back under. It only took a few pokes here and there for me to find the source of the problem.
“It’s not the shaft. It’s the brake cables. Somehow they got loose and stuck in the crack of the bearings case.”
“Thank god. Get’m out and go tell Jeff.”
I did so, then came back with a little tin to hold all the retired tiny bearings that would come plinking out like rain.
Since I was technically still being trained (on the charity of Jeff, who was a cousin of my mom’s), I was allowed to watch as Jim took apart whatever connected the wheel to the axel and made it spin, then put back the shiny new parts. I loved new car parts. Especially those around the brake drum. So shiny. I often played with the idea of swiping an old one, polishing it up, and using it as a mirror in my bedroom. Would be so rad.
As he worked, he listened to me ramble about whatever I could remember of my dreams as I went through the usual fluid check and maintenance in the Nissan’s engine compartment. Unlike the wheels, the engine hadn’t been neglected in the least, which made my job easy. The radiator had a tiny leak, but that just came with age and hot summers. I reported it to Jeff, just in case.
Eventually I was directed away from Jim and the Nissan to a new car that needed the basic flushes and tune ups, but my brain still followed along the desert road to Washington of my dreams, dredging up more and more details that I had forgotten on wakening.
Like that the Lamborghini had that black and dark blue leather interior, highlighted with sci-fi looking, neon blue lights. Through the windshield, the hood had been black.
What a boring guy, I thought to myself. Out of all the colors in the world to make his rich, fancy pants sports car, he chose black?
But then I corrected myself. Why would my subconscious choose to make his car black? It wasn’t like this guy was real or anything.
But, then, what did these dreams say about me?
A long shift later, greasy and dirty and tired as all get out, Jim and I clocked out and more like ooze-ambled to his car. He was nice enough to give me a ride home every night. He said it was because his house was in the same direction, but I had long ago figured out that lie. But he was a good guy, Jim.
“I’ll ask my lady about the dreams,” he said, even opening the door for me. He was old fashioned like that.
“That’d be great.”
“Just to warn you, though, she tends to get, uh, over excited about these sorts of things. She loves people asking her to interpret her dreams. Probably makes her feel like a right ol’ Joseph in Egypt.”
“She’s welcomed to it. Egypt away.”
Jeff’s shout made both Jim and I jump.
“Come ‘ere. Need a word with you before you go.”
I slipped around Jim, a heavy sinking in my chest telling me I’d much rather stay under the Nissan for the night than face what I’d done wrong now.
Jeff waited at the other end of hydraulic lifts and tire spanners, arms folded across his chest and shoulders straight back like the cadet he once was. His bald, oiled scalp reflected back the white lights of the shop perfectly.
I did my best not to look like a dog that was in trouble, even if his face said I very much was.
“You put W-35 into the Volkswagon Jetta. Would have blown completely if Benny hadn’t taken it for a test run and seen the temperature sky rocket.”
It was like getting a knee to the gut.
“I’m so, so sorry, I know better, I just—”
“Got the letters screwed up.” He sighed. “Look, I know you can’t help it—”
“I was sure—”
“No, stop, let me talk.”
Lips superglued shut. I’d never speak again if he wanted me to.
Jeff rubbed his eyebrows so hard, the hairs prickled up like angry hedgehog quills.
“Look, Tenny, I’ve told you multiple times now to have your numbers double checked by someone else before you go through with a repair, no matter how busy we are. All you had to do was ask Jeff if it was 35 instead of 60—how’d you even get 35?”
Fives tended to appear when H’s were nearby, but I didn’t tell him that. Glued lips wouldn’t allow it.
“You’re talented, Tenny, and I know how hung up you are for a job, but if you can’t follow simple instructions, there isn’t anything I can do for you. Volkswagon engines are expensive to replace, and if this becomes a habit…”
He met my gaze and held it like falcon claws to a little robin before closing them and shaking his head.
“Last warning. Got it? Double check.”
He turned from me without another word.
Basil waited for me next to his black Lamborghini. Even as I looked at it, the color seemed to dull, eating up whatever light the gas pump alcove tried to shine on it.
“It’s like the batmobile.”
“It’s dark blue,” he said. “Not black.”
“Looks pretty black to me. Hey, is that…”
He followed my finger to an approaching shape in the distance, which blurred with rainforest trees and desert sagebrush. What once was a black smudge in the distance suddenly broke through the leaves as a great monstrous head with teeth.
“HOLY T-REX!” I screamed.
Titan claws slammed down where I would have been had I not dove through the conveniently open window of the ‘batmobile’ and cowered against the center console. Basil had done the same.
T-Rex teeth scraped against the windshield. A great roar of dinosaur, engine, I didn’t know, and the Lamborghini shot backwards on the asphalt road quickly turning into nothing more than a game trail.
“When the heck did we turn into Jurassic Park?” I cried.
“Just get down!”
I was about to ask why when a branch as thick as my whole body crashed through the windshield and slammed into me.
I flew, head over heels. Tree, sky, muddy road, batmobile, sky, sky, sky—
I flopped somewhere like a doll, dazed. My brain told me my body should not work, that I was dead, that I should stay where I was. The storyteller part of me struggled to explain why it wasn’t so as well as why I could still see that blue sky between the dappled canopy. I wondered at the thunder rumbling through the earth as T-Random Rex rampaged through the forest—weren’t we just in a desert?
The black, half-smashed Laborghini skidded to a stop besides me, raining me with more dirt than I already had on me. Basil came crashing out from the door.
“Tennessee!” His hands fluttered above me, at a loss, before throwing all caution to the wind and scooping me up like a child.
The warmth startled me. The touch. Had I ever been held like this? Close to someone’s chest? Limbs all floppy and pointless?
“This—this isn’t happening. This doesn’t make sense.”
“You’re right,” I said, almost lazily. “It doesn’t.”
And I sat up in his lap, unintentionally bringing my face close to his.
Here we would kiss, wrote my brain.
I kissed him. I’d never kissed a boy before. I didn’t think boy’s mouths could be so soft, especially not one who looked as hard and sharp as Basil.
My mind split then. One half went back to the car, back on the road, where nothing had happened. We were still on our way to Wyoming—it had been Wyoming, right?—and I was talking my story into the slim silver laptop in my lap as Basil listened. The other half remained in his lap in the desert-jungle hybrid, my breasts rising to his chin, his lips shivering with fear and elation.
This would never happen.
And that half disappeared, leaving only me in the car with Basil. I couldn’t see the landscape we drove through. I hadn’t bothered to look. But something soft and country played on the radio.
“Why did you stop?” he asked.
I wanted to hide. I wanted to open the door of the car and jump out. All of my efforts to be casual and unaffected by him, to not be a fool, all wasted. I had written a story where I had kissed him. Wait, had I? Didn’t the characters have different names? Still, I had just told something that made little sense. It had just been what I wanted.
But what man would ever kiss someone as broken and stupid as me?
So I started over, this time up in a mountain with a golden lamp that flared up whenever I was around danger. Magic popped at my fingertips, but its effects fizzled despite my efforts to take the dream by the horns.
Oh. I had forgotten. This was a dream.
“Basil, we should stop somewhere for the night.”
The dream heeded me. Outside it was gray.
“I’d rather keep driving,” he said.
“Why? Aren’t you tired?”
“Doesn’t matter.” His fingers slid down the wheel to hang off the bottom. “I stop, I’ll have to face them again. In here, going at ninety miles an hour, no one can reach me. Maybe if I’m lucky we’ll drive off a cliff.”
“I’d rather not be murdered.”
“You won’t,” he said, still in that flat way of his. “You’d fly off. Straight through the glass, like the dream you are. You can’t die anyways. People have heard your story. They want to hear the end.”
And in the weird shifting way of dreams, I began to hear voices. Reviews of my stories. Readers begging to hear more, thanking me for writing, telling me I brought relief to them from a bad week, that I had written something specially designed for them.
That they heard me. That they could relate.
In the forest, I pulled back from Basil, terrified, T-Random-Rex forgotten, only to find Basil’s mouth chasing me down for more breathy kisses.
I hugged my laptop to me. “What the heck. Let’s find a cliff. I bet this thing will fly anyways.”
He flashed me a raised, perfect eyebrow. I returned it with a pursed smirk.
“It is the batmobile, after all.”
“It’s navy blue. I made certain it would be.”
Of course he would have. OCD till the end. He had a paranoia about the psychology of colors, and dark blue was suppose to incite impressions of professionalism, control, and leadership.
“Then go, blue batman! Let’s go fly!”
We didn’t fly. We ate pita Mexican tacos and ran up the stairs to the top of a sky scrapper we’d never reach. We jumped over file cabinets, dodged faceless workers, and when we found a silver elevator to hide in, my storytelling part of my brain made another branch dream where Basil pushed me up against the side and bit down on my shoulder.
“In public? Really? These things have cameras.” I said.
Then the mainstream dream clicked in, and Basil was staring at me in confusion, nowhere near enough to bite me.
But his confusion suddenly vanished to be replaced by one of his kosher straight lipped smiles.
“Oh. So that’s what you want.”
Even as he came for me, not a made up storyline to my own dream, more memories sped across the awareness of my mind. Memories of him.
A cold world of suits. An ocean of numbers, fake smiles, names—names were key. A person’s name was like a spell that gave you power over their soul. Names and faces, friends, they said. Friends for business, learning—all the better to convince you with, my dear. Odds. Stocks. The blur of hours staring at a computer screen doing work that really didn’t go anywhere, but was the stagnant mire one had to wade through before seeing even a glimmer of success. He had done eons of wading to collect the specks of gold he had.
And yet, no matter what he did, Basil could never convince himself that anything he sold did any good at all. He was a schemer, a salesman, no matter the size of his desk or the agreements he made.
Those paradoxically soft lips stopped short of my shoulder.
“I could never be like batman.” He whispered.
The elevator kept going down. Neither of us wanted it to stop. I could tell. It was my dream, after all.
I brushed my cheek against his ear.
“And I can never be useful.”
A hot breath, somehow hyper effective in warming my entire self, puffed across my neck and shoulder, which had become suddenly bare.
“Useful to who?”
I didn’t like that my mom and the school had a talk without me about setting up my own standards for graduation rather than giving me the normal diploma for everyone else who didn’t have a messed up head. Essentially, I’d be getting the same piece of paper as Beth strapped to her chair, unable to do more than drool, smile, and point.
I felt bad for thinking that about Beth, since we were all in the same boat. To think I was less because I was in the same group as her couldn’t be fair to Beth, but…
I could do more. I wasn’t stupid. I just couldn’t read or keep numbers from flipping places on the page. I could do math just fine, and I could remember science and history just fine enough to do oral tests. I could run, I could dance, I could fix a freaking totaled car with no problem!
But it didn’t matter. Jeff had already made it pretty clear that I had the job at the car shop no matter what happened with high school and my degree, as long as I didn’t make anymore oil screw ups. I had a job. I had a future. And it wasn’t like I hated fixing cars.
Even so, as I hung my head off the side of my bed, my heels up the wall between a Porsche poster and a long picture of Benedict Cumberbatch, I drifted through the memories of my dreams with Basil. It was rare to have a reoccurring dream, right? With a reoccurring person who you somehow just knew. Mostly I daydreamed about the stories I told the computer in my lap as we drove, with few comments from Basil.
‘Yeah, that’s not cliché at all.’
There’s no such thing as a completely original story, I had said to his puddy-thick sarcasm, only an original spin on said stories. He’d grunted and let me continue.
But in the time-warping, mind bending way that dreams flowed, hours could have passed as minutes, the stories came in clumps or by a word at a time, and often I would get a taste of what it was like to be in the shoes of those characters, even while half my attention was to my own body cradled in the seat Lamborghini.
Or my dream would branch into the story, replacing lovers with Basil and me.
I closed my eyes to see it clearer, desperate for the dream to ease the ache in my chest.
Basil appeared in my mind’s eye. Tall, handsome, blue eye’s shark-like beneath perfectly styled dark hair.
The corner of my mouth twitched as I thought how my subconscious had some powerful good taste in men. Especially unattainable men. The kinds of guys who wanted girls as stupid as me, after all, weren’t that high up on the food chain of desirable mates.
After a while, my feet started falling asleep and my knees were aching from being straightened out like a plank for too long. So I rolled to my side and worm wiggled my way upright on my bed. I cracked my neck, rolled my shoulders, then flicked on my tiny tube TV, because homework for the stupid club was finished with people who could read.
The high whining gave way to a cartoon channel. I flicked through, not really paying attention.
I clicked back, heart taut at my throat.
Dark hair. Sharp features. A straight, no nonsense smile.
And sitting back in a black chair as though he owned the place as a talk show host flashed his million dollar smile and prompted him to speak.
“—And that’s all there is to it, isn’t it?” the host was saying, still somehow being able to show his white teeth while speaking.
The dry look Basil gave him was the same one he had given me so many times.
“Business is as complicated as medicine,” he said. “Not because of buying or selling or any trick routine you do in the morning. It deals with people. Lots of people. And you can never accurately predict what will sell when it will sell because of all those different people, and then there’s the people who work for you and their individual tastes and work ethics. You even have to deal with ethics and the fallout of nonexistent integrity and greed.” Basil sighed and leaned the line of his jaw against his knuckles. “Writing a book for a general audience on how to be successful in business is a waste of time. At least, for me it is. Only a few would even get help from it, if any at all.”
I barely processed what he said. My body had gone hot and my breaths short. The aching in my chest started by the whole diploma issue of the day grew to an all out throb that reverberated into every organ and bone.
I let out a low, long whine.
I watched on, hardly hearing, always looking to Basil, hoping he was just a face that my subconscious had picked up from somewhere I couldn’t remember. But the talk show host verified that his name was Basil—Basil A. Wright.
Basil’s expressions, however, captured me. They were so familiar. So…so him.
An ad broke through my reverie and I slapped the television off.
“This can’t be healthy,” I said to myself.
I went downstairs to scrounge for food, putting as much distance between me and my TV as possible. Mom had yet to come home, and she wouldn’t be until after dinner, so I figured I might as well get started on that.
“You’re afraid of me.”
Basil stated it just as I pulled away from him. I could feel a subtle tension to my surroundings, a room mixed between a gypsy tent and a study, complete with computer, as though responding to my reluctance to go with the flow.
I hesitated. “I saw you on TV.”
The hidden eyebrow raised. “You mean you haven’t before?”
“I thought you weren’t real,” my mouth said, even as my heart trembled with confusion. Wasn’t that just a dream? Hadn’t the TV just been a part of my dream where Basil hadn’t been.
“None of this is real,” he said stiffly, folding his arms across his chest. “I’m wasting my time, aren’t I?”
I wilted, though did my best not to show it. He shouldn’t know how much I wanted him. It was dangerous enough that I even knew him, was in the same room as him. Someone as weak and unappealing as me might just get the idea I had a chance.
“You have something to do?” I asked, cool, casual.
“I always do,” he turned to look at the computer and silken walls. “Or, at least, I feel like I always do. I’d much rather be blank if I can’t settle myself on what it is.”
I shrugged and flipped a hand in the direction of the computer, which wasn’t unlike the computers in the wooden study stalls in the special ed classroom.
“Don’t let me stop you,” I said.
But he didn’t make a move. Just looked at me, eyes hoping from feet and up as though reading me like a ledger.
I didn’t want to know what that ledger told him.
“You’re afraid of me,” he said again, this time with a full blown scowl.
“Newsflash, most people are afraid of you. You like it that way.”
“You weren’t before,” he said, as though that explained his irritation more than enough.
“Why do you care?”
His eyes narrowed. So sharp. If a look could cut.
“You thought I was attractive before,” he said, and I sensed a sort of measured carefulness to words.
I rolled my eyes. “You know you’re attractive. You don’t need me to confirm that.”
“Don’t you like it?”
I wanted to cave in on myself. Find somewhere to hide. Even as I thought so, I felt the fabric walls cushion about my back. I could slip through one, hide in the darkness.
Because Basil didn’t look or sound like he was flirting. There was nothing but cold accusation and meticulous observation.
“It doesn’t matter whether I like it or not,” I said, putting as much strength as I could into holding my chin up, though I couldn’t meet those cutting edge eyes.
“Is this more of your self-pitying?”
I flinched. “No, this is me being realistic. You’re, like, a level ten and I’m like a level negative 2.”
“But this isn’t real, so why should that matter?”
And just as I took a handful of the curtain walls to hide in, he crossed the space between us in one, dream-blurred stride and took hold of my jaw in his hand.
He had big hands.
“Don’t make me say the stuff you already know,” he growled, and yet, for the first time, I heard something of softness in his tone. “And stop judging me when you hardly even know me.”
And he kissed me. Hard. I could feel his teeth pressing up behind his lips, which were pushing aside mine.
When he backed off to breathe and find another target, I gasped out, “I so know you.”
“Oh?” The blue ice in his eyes had turned to fire.
The burning warmed me, and I couldn’t help but smile, even as my eyes filled with tears.
“You’re hilariously OCD and paranoid, you’re arrogant, you’re rude, judgmental, intelligent beyond relief, hard-working, cool, and patient.”
He grunted. “I certainly don’t feel patient. Stop being afraid of me. You’re better than that.”
“Maybe it’s you who doesn’t know me,” I said.
He snorted and pulled back to give the side of my face a pat. “I know you plenty.”
“You just want me to compliment you.” He scooped an arm behind me, tugging me back from the clinging touch of the curtains. “You want me to make you feel pretty and worth wanting.”
I couldn’t smirk at that, though I dearly wanted to. “And what’s so wrong with that?”
His hot breath puffed over me, and his half-lidded gaze filled my own.
“I don’t state the obvious.”
And his next kiss was less bruising than previous.
Fridays always made me feel like ditching.
Yeah, the rest of the days had their fair share of reluctance as well, but Friday was the worst. The beginning of the weekend and end of the week. Four days of enduring slide show powerpoints I couldn’t read, four days of walking to the special ed classroom after lunch, four days of five hours or more of work after school.
Weekend. Glorious weekend.
Mr. Handson’s class, World History, helped with that. Not only could I remember all those inane facts and stories of the past, but he was more than willing to give me verbal tests on them. He didn’t ignore my problem or pay too much attention to it. Most of classes consisted of him standing up front and telling stories about history interspaced with allegories starring his wife and three kids, who he positively adored. If I had a chance of making it through university, I think I’d want to be a history teacher, just so I could bathe in stories of times when illiteracy wasn’t such a big deal because only the rich learned how to read anyways. I would have been a freaking BAMF housewife or craftman. I could have done anything.
Mr. Handson was also one of my few friends outside of the special ed room and the auto shop. I don’t know why, but I always felt more comfortable with people older than me, especially old men. Old men were the best—like a bunch of grizzly old grandpa’s. My own grandpa had died a few years back, and he’d been the closest to a father figure I had, so maybe that’s why.
“Yo, Tenny. What’s up?” he asked as I approached his desk, where he stood hunched over his computer to enter in whatever secret numbers teachers recorded.
Bald, and nearing his mid-forties, Mr. Hanson had a laid-back, happy-go-lucky way of smiling and rolling his shoulders back when he talked to you that put me at ease. I think it did the same for the other kids as well.
Despite knowing my question wasn’t anything weird, I still felt the back of my neck heat up and my hands get clammy.
“Have you ever heard of Basil A. Wright?” I asked.
His nose wrinkled and brow furrowed.
“That freaky young business tycoon?”
“Uh…besides that he’s freaky young for what he’s got, no. I did hear from my wife that a friend of hers is trying to use pyramids schemes to get rich and catch his notice. ‘Most eligible bachelor.'” He snorted. “Sounds like every other cover of romance novels. Why do you ask? Someone giving you a project on him?”
“Something like that,” I muttered. I didn’t lie well.
“Why’d you think I’d know something google wouldn’t?”
“Because you went to the same university as him.” I didn’t mention that I couldn’t read the results google gave me anyways.
Mr. Handson smirked and gave a low whistle. “Tenny Tenny, never thought you’d be the stalking type.”
I flushed. “Oh, come on, it’s on Wikipedia.” Which I had to have my mom read out loud for me from our dinosaur desktop computer which still ran on dial-up speed. No way was I going any farther than that to find out more, or my mom may end up reading aloud some tabloid and giving me strange looks.
“Then I guess that makes me sound way cooler than I really am.” He flashed his teeth, tone popping with amusement. “Unfortunately, the guy is probably twenty years younger than me, and even if he wasn’t, he graduated from University at an obnoxiously young age.”
Something inside me deflated. It hadn’t been that big to begin with, but still… “I figured.”
He watched me for a few seconds, as though trying to read something. I shifted uneasily, scrambling for the words that wouldn’t make it sound like I was trying to escape him. After all, it was lunch time.
“I did know his uncle, though,” he said carefully, smirk widening. “He taught business and financing. I tried a class with him and, whew, one was all I could take. The man’s brilliant, and I certainly got a lot from him, but he was…” he hesitated, as though searching for the right word.
“Crazy?” I offered.
“No. More like severe. More than one of his students left his class in tears.” He did the usual roll back of his shoulders then as he straightened from his typing. “I’m proud to say I wasn’t one of them. Still, I felt drained whenever I left his classroom. ‘Head full, heart empty,’ as my girlfriend then said. Ended up cheating on me with him,” he added, like a happy afterthought. “What’s up with girls liking mean guys?”
“Oh. Stinker.” What do you say to that. “Sounds like she was just weird.”
“Or masochistic. Anyways, I wouldn’t be surprised if Wright learned everything he knew from that uncle of his. He still works there if you want to take your stalking a step further. His uncle, that is.”
I rolled my eyes. “Even if I wanted to, that’s all the way by Detroit. I may have my license, but not a car.”
“You could borrow your mom’s.”
“Oh my gosh, are you getting a kick out of trying to make me a real stalker?”
A closed mouth grin that made me think of a smug hamster. “Yes.”
I rolled my eyes. “Thanks anyways. See you Monday.”
He lifted and dropped his hand on his desk as good-bye.
I headed to lunch and nibbled on my plastic tasting chicken nuggets as I tried to do something about the brooding, guilty feeling of having asked anything in the first place. Mr. Handson wasn’t far off the mar. I was being a freaking stalker, or worse, like those girls who fall in love with celebrities and build shrines to them in their rooms to them or tear off their shirt whenever they think said start had even a modicum of chance of being in the area.
I shuddered at that thought, then told myself it was impossible for me to be like that. You couldn’t really call that love, and it wasn’t like I would fall in love with the real life Basil. The one in my dreams was just that. A dream.
Still, I found myself pulling Wyatt aside by one of the computers later that afternoon while the alcohol syndrome twins practiced beginners math with Henry and Mary. Jessica was attempting some kind of song with Beth, who wailed/moan in some resemblance of tune.
Wyatt was all too happy to read for me, as he always was.
This time, I happened to find a news article with a picture of him, straight as an arrow, all sharp lines. My heart started to ache.
“Basil Wig-hit was sood for biased practices in the hiring and firing of employees,” began Wyatt in his slow, halting way. “Bro-gh-t to attention by the lay off of a doorman, who had sneezed as the young tycoon was passing.” He laughed.
My guts had done a painful sort of spike into lungs. A breath hitched.
“When was this?” I asked, but found it before he could look. I recognized the screwed up, upside down symbols enough to recognize the name of a month two months previously. “Nevermind, I got it.”
Wyatt went on to read over the next slow hour that several ex-employees of Basil also had claims of being fired for no reason other than the CEO had looked at them at the wrong time. One claimed it was because he was gay, another because he was Native American. There simply wasn’t any other explanation in their minds, for they had been hardworking to a T. But, then, of course they would say that. Wasn’t like someone would tell the news they were a slacker who smoked cigarettes in the mail room.
Despite the effort it took to make out the words Wyatt mispronounced, by the time the bell rang I felt invigorated, as though I’d just chugged down a cool glacier spring first thing in the morning.
Because I had the memory. The memory of the doorman that had sneezed on Basil. The one Basil fired and then fled to the roof to gather his scattered nerves. No one would have ever guessed.
Even though I kept telling myself that the Basil in real life couldn’t possibly be the Basil of my dreams, I couldn’t help but smile and daydream.
Mom did a fair bit of staring when I went to bed early that night.
I tossed and turned that night, much like a child does on Christmas Eve. When I finally did fall asleep, my dreams were fleeting, urgent things full of searching and inquiring from people I couldn’t quite make out.
When I woke up a little before six, I had an image of an empty black Lamborghini, parked in a box of cement.
I also had a killer headache.
Despite being broken in the learning department, my brain didn’t usually bother me in any other way. I rarely got headaches, let alone migraines, and I had the immune system of a war horse.
Even so, I found myself oozing out of bed, cringing at the mere suggestion of light and the sound of mom setting out breakfast downstairs. Wondering if I’d finally gotten a brain aneurism, I made my way down only to end up throwing up what little I had in my stomach down the kitchen sink.
Needless to say, Mom made me stay home. She didn’t panic or act worried, but she did pet my hair back once I’d sprawled out on the couch and told me she’d call Jeff for me. Then she left, and I was alone with the heavy ticking of our Wal-mart grade clock above my head.
I tried the cold rag thing. I’d heard of people doing that. But it didn’t seem to do much other than make my face damp. I had already swallowed as much ibuprofen as the directions allowed laying on the couch in pain got really old, really soon.
Somehow, I dozed off.
Basil stood waiting for me next to a plain wall of stainless steel.
“Tennesee?” he said, then sighed and shook his head. “I must have fallen asleep.”
He shook his head hard, then pinched himself, but he went nowhere. He sighed again.
“What’s up?” I asked, ignoring the happy thudding of my heart. The distant, throbbing pain of my head helped.
“I’ve got a deadline,” he said.
“Aren’t you the boss? Don’t you decide the deadline?”
He gave me a flat, unimpressed look. “Being boss just means you have more responsibilities, which means more work, which is why I have to wake up. I’ve got a meeting at two that I stayed awake all night to prepare for.”
I cocked my head at that. Was that why I hadn’t seen him? I didn’t ask, though, one because my head hurt too much and secondly because I was just happy to see him.
In the blurry movements of dreams, I ended up at his feet, snuggling my head against his long legs.
“What are you doing?”
“My head hurts,” I said, nuzzling the silky smooth fabric of his rich boy slacks.
“This is a dream. You can’t hurt. Didn’t you get thrown out of the car by a T-Rex once?”
I let out a bark of laughter.
“That was only a story.”
Whether it was or not, it didn’t stop him from giving a grunt of exasperation and shaking me off his leg. I made the most pitiful noises I could in protest, but I didn’t get the chance to punish him further as he then squatted down next to me and rubbed my head. The gesture tugged my blond hair in all sorts of funny directions and made me wince, but my chest warmed with the awkwardness of his action.
“I’m not a dog,” but I said it half-heartedly.
“Then what animal would you say you were?”
I leaned closer to him, to his chest, banked on each side by his thighs and ‘hmmm’ed.
“Probably an illiterate octopus.”
He gave a short snort of laughter. “An octopus?”
But before I could think of ways to explain that—like how the tentacles could be useful in fixing cars—I woke up with a sharp pang. Clutching my head, I rolled to my side, wishing I could just squeeze out whatever had snuck in to pound about.
I didn’t make it to the sink in time and threw up bile at the old carpet. Just one more stain to add to the many. I managed to get as far as spraying cleaner on the offense before I had to run again, the strong stench of the cleaner burning my nose and coiling my stomach once more.
I tried watching TV after painfully cleaning up my sick (because no matter how old and stained our home was, Mom and I made an effort to keep it pristine), but the instant the screen flicked on I was blinded and hissing. I thought about doing the dishes, but the idea of standing and moving sickened me.
Which left me only one other thing. To close my eyes and daydream of stories.
My daydreams blended into the hazy mesh of half-dozing dreams. Basil did not reappear, at least, not as far as I could remember.
And that made me ache worse of all.
Sunday evening my migraine had yet to go away and I had barely been able to keep anything down. My mom’s usual calm gave way to earnest, wide-eyed fear, and ignoring my protests that I would get better, she helped me into the passenger seat of our ancient, square-eyed Toyota and took me to the hospital.
We didn’t have insurance. We couldn’t qualify for State help either since my mom had a full time job and I had an almost full time job. They seemed to assume that any place that could afford a full-time employee could also afford to get them health insurance. We did have dental and vision insurance, though.
But no eye doctor or dentist came in with the results of the test. He wore green scrubs under the stereotypical white doctor coat and reminded me of Vizzini from The Princess Bride.
“Looks like you got a quick onset of Meningitis,” he said, then went on to explain how it was a bacterial infection of the fluid around my brain and spine. I remember thinking ‘that would explain why my neck is starting to hurt’ then fazing out. A person ability to focus could only handle so much pain after an extended period of time.
The point was, I ended up in a hospital bed, stabbed through with an IV, and pumped full of drugs. The sleep that came then was hazy, painless, and dreamless.
When I woke to sunshine stretching a long, skinny rectangle above the curtains, I wondered why my chest still ached. Basil came to mind, and I curled up on my side.
“He’s not real,” I whispered to myself. “He’s not coming. He’s not real.”
Mom wasn’t around. A nurse came in sometime later to check on me and ask if I could eat anything, but she said my mother had had to go to work. When I asked how much this was all going to cost, she told me not to worry about it and ran off to put my order in.
The doctor came in with my mac and cheese. Unlike Mr. Handson, he didn’t give me the impression of someone laid-back and easy to talk to. Rather, he seemed only half there, as though his real body were somewhere else and I talked to only a psychic projection of him.
“We’re going to have to keep you for two more days,” he said. “Meningitis is as mean an infection as it gets, and it could damage your brain or nervous system if we’re not careful.”
I almost laughed at that. “I think my brain is broken enough as it is.”
Probably thinking that I was just saying that to be cute, he smiled and nodded. “Yeah, we’re all broken to a certain extent.”
I thought of Basil’s paranoid-like OCD and returned the smile.
I couldn’t quite handle looking at the TV for very long, so I found myself bored bored bored. I dozed away once, then woke up in time for dinner, where a kindly nurse offered to play chess with me. Around eight that night, Mom came in, looking as she always did at the end of a shift: wan and pale.
Her cool fingers ran through my hair. I sensed more than saw the anxiety in her touch.
“Are we going to be able to afford this?” I asked.
Her smile stiffened, but it was the nurse that answered, killing one of my knights as she did so.
“The hospital works with a variety of charities to help those who can’t pay for their bill. We already have someone on it for you, so don’t worry about anything other than getting better.”
I gave her a baleful look then eyed my mother for the effects of that. She did seem to relax a little, but the small tone to her words didn’t leave.
It took a lot of humility to accept charity, after all.
She stayed with me that night, though, sleeping in the narrow bed that folded out of one of the cushioned chairs. Having my mother in the same room as me again eased a part of me that had never grown past 5 years old and I fell asleep feeling warm and safe.
My dreams were hazy, drugged things. But through the haze I could make out Basil’s tall figure and hummed with happiness as I felt his large hand atop my head once more. We drove in the Lamborghini again, leaving me to drift through that half-asleep state. After all, one couldn’t really fall asleep in dream, could they?
I woke up in time to watch my mother leave, then fell back asleep, my blood still thrumming with sleepy side effects. When I felt a big, warm hand on my head, I expected to open my eyes to the black and blue interior of the Lamborghini.
The hand vanished the moment my eyes so much as twitched. All I could see at first was blue. A dark, dark blue.
Color psychology. Dark blue gave feelings of trustworthiness, capability, and professionalism.
The T-shirt the man wore, even if designer grade, clashed with the dark blue slacks. Did the man not own a pair of jeans?
“Is dark blue your favorite color?” I asked, voice a little gravely from disuse.
“Not particularly,” said a cool, low voice I’d never heard before, but which sounded as familiar as rain on a tin roof.
“Then why get your car in that color? A brighter blue would have fit you better.” Especially your eyes, I thought as I raised my eyes to his face.
Basil. Clean shaven, smooth skin, sharp features, and brilliant, sharp sky-blue eyes. His stylized dark hair hadn’t a speck out of place, though his bangs had been combed to the other side so I could see when he raised his favorite eyebrow
“How did you know my car was dark blue?” he asked.
Thinking Basil was testing me, I rolled my eyes, which didn’t hurt as much as it use to. “I still think it’s black.”
In the silence that followed I took in the white hospital walls, the linoleum floor, the square of sunlight on the ceiling, my nearly empty IV bag, and the sore ache of my head and back. I looked down at the tape holding the needle in place under my forearm.
Since when had my subconscious have the boringness to dream me up in the hospital? I had to stare at this room enough to not have to dream about it.
I moved to sit up, but Basil’s hand in front of my shoulder stopped me.
“You sure you should be getting up?” he asked.
“I feel fine,” I grumped, pushing aside his hand.
The warmth of it startled me. And it had been damp. I had even felt the creases in his skin.
A shuddering sort of wail started up in the back of my head: could it be? Could it be?
Of course not.
“What brings you here?” I asked. “I thought you always had work.”
“One of the charities I support sent me a line of pictures and names of the people I supposedly helped,” he said in his dry, flat tone that I knew so well. “One of the pictures had a familiar blondy I thought was only part of my overactive subconscious. She even had the same name.” He shifted, as though uncomfortable, and crossed his arms across his chest. If I hadn’t been going insane I would have said his cheeks had even colored up a bit.
“I-I was just checking…because it was interesting…”
“Lo, did the great Basil just stutter?” I said without thinking, grinning so wide it made my ears hurt. “That’s not good for business.”
He gave me a sharp look that was suppose to scold me, but hadn’t the power I remembered it having. There was too much shivering in his eyes, and his flat, unsmiling mouth had started twitching.
“I’m insane, aren’t I?” he asked, sounding light headed. “You’re Tennessee, aren’t you?”
I frowned then. My hands had turned cold and started to shake. I looked around the room once more, taking in the remarkable detail, even the disinfectant smell and the reflection in the black blank of the TV screen.
I gave the IV a little tug. It hurt.
“This…this is just a dream, isn’t it?” I said.
“Seems a little bland for it,” said he. “And any real girl would have seen clearly that my car was a dark blue.”
“And I find the lack of Mexican food and Gokus rather unnerving,” I added.
The twitch of his straight mouth finally curved. “Or the driving forever to Washington.”
“I thought it was Wyoming?”
“And wasn’t there a T-Rex at some point?”
He stared back at me. The smile, however small, transformed his face in a way I couldn’t have predicted. The shark left his eyes, his jaw somehow seemed thinner, and some of the coolness seemed to seep away.
He nodded. “Must be a dream. Shall we…blow this taco stand?”
I grinned and tore off the tape, taking the IV with it.
“Blowing taco stands is in….oh…” The moment I had tried to stand, black rushed across my vision.
Basil caught me. Had I ever seen him in a T-shirt? He had always been so…done up. And had the floor always felt this cold against my feet?
For a moment, I couldn’t even feel the floor. Then my senses came back, tingling, and last came my clearing vision.
“You really are sick,” he said, sounding, for the first time, very small.
“Meningitis,” I said, taking a ridiculous amount of pleasure from hanging on his arm. “They’ve already pumped me full of the good stuff and—hey!”
He had lifted me, one armed, and dropped me back onto the bed. Only then did I notice the smear of blood in the crook of my elbow.
That was new.
Basil swiveled to the door.
The door all but slammed behind him. A minute later, a nurse scurried in to redo my IV an generally make sure I hadn’t been majorly messed with.
Which I had.
“Why’d he leave?” I asked to no one in particular, then looked at the nurse. It was the same one who had been waking me up from drug induced sleep to eat. “This is a dream, isn’t it?”
“No ma’am,” she gave me a wry look. “Otherwise you’d be Tom Cruise and I wouldn’t have a headache. Speaking of which, how’s yours?”
I didn’t answer, my eyes to the door, my senses running wild. I could take it all: the smell, the slight chill, the light, the vague taste of my own mouth, and the hairs all evenly spread across the nurse’s head.
I stayed awake for the hours, staring at everything and pinching myself, fighting back the sleep, until my mom came in. She jumped over to me at the sight I made.
“Tenny! What’s wrong? Why are you making such a face?” her fingers brushed under my eyes. “Have you been crying? Did the doctor do something?”
What could I say? The man of my literal dreams just walked in then ran for it like I had the plague?
Still, I gave my mom the best smile I could manage.
“Just a bad dream,” I said.
It further solidified reality when I woke up the next morning, having dreamed frivolous dreams of searching, even though part of me knew finding Basil would just hurt me. I asked the nurse if Basil A. Wright were one of the sponsors for charity, and she pinched her lips.
“I wouldn’t know anything about that. That’s the front girls’ business. Though I think they charity organizations keep their donors anonymous. At least, they should.” Her frown deepened and her eyebrows rose. “Was that really Basil Wright that came to visit you yesterday?”
I didn’t say anything, and that seemed to confirm it for her, because stars practically broke across her eyes.
“The Basil A. Wright,” she let out a girlish squeal and clapped her cheeks several times, which made me stare. I thought I was the only one who smacked their face when they were excited. “You think he’ll come back? Lordie, I should have put on makeup.”
“No, he won’t.”
The stars glinted mischievously. “Why do you sound so sure?”
“Because it was just a freak, random visit. He said the charity he donated to gave him pictures and he decided to drop in to the people he’d supposedly helped.” I sighed, suddenly wanting nothing more than to turn over and pretend I had the spare cash to go and buy a really, really big chocolate milkshake.
She wilted. Her mouth quirked as though to call my bluff. But she eventually shook her head.
“There’s no need to look so sad. A celebrity came to visit you! Don’t you feel a little start struck?”
“Why should I?” I asked flatly. “They’re just people. Arrogant, stuck up people at that.”
“Now that isn’t fair to them.”
But I wasn’t in the mood to argue semantics with the nurse. Not while I couldn’t make sense of why my chest felt so hollowed out, like someone had gone at it with a spoon. It wasn’t some new sickness. I’m not that stupid.
I really, really hoped I hadn’t just gotten my heart broken. I hadn’t even done anything.
After being release, I stayed home for the rest of the school week. It wasn’t like my attendance would make any difference to my intelligence level. My math teacher would probably be relieved to know she didn’t have to dumb talk the lesson to me. Biology and history were a sad story, though. Oh, English? You thought I took English? School administration wasn’t that stupid. That’s what special ed was for.
In otherwords, I got a lot of time to mope and think and sleep.
I found Basil in my dreams only once after the hospital. In them, he had become just as rigid and cold as he had been originally, tight-lipped and shark-eyed.
“You’re scared of me,” I said, feeling a big sweep of déjà vu.
“You are evidence that I’m clinically insane. If I can, I’d like to stay away from you forever.”
I stepped towards him, and he took one back. I wasn’t certain of our surroundings. It was the desert, or perhaps just a painting of desert, and people watched us as they ate their pita bread tacos.
“So you kiss every girl in your dreams,” I said.
He snorted. “Like you’ve never kissed a guy in your dreams. Except it’s our brains dicking around with us.”
“Then why not let it?” I thought I might burn with the sudden intensity of heat rushing through my insides.
He gave me a familiar chin ducked down, narrowed glare out from under his perfectly styled bangs.
“And what if it’s real and I wake up to find I’ve just had sex with a girl I don’t know? Or worse, a pillow?”
I felt my mouth smile, but it tightened up somewhere at the back of my head instead. “But you do know me. And is there someone there to watch you do your pillow?” I paused. “Whoa whoa, hang on, you want to have sex with me?”
He drew back and the desert rose up in a carpet of sage and skin colored sand to accept him. It could have been a fantastical sweep of his hands inwards that magicked the land about him, but I know he did no such thing. He simply drew away.
And people couldn’t live in paintings anyways.
But the painting dream itself had inspired me, as art often does.
After a good deal of thought, I approached my History teacher again after class.
“Hey, Tenny,” Mr. Handson said, with his wide, customary smile. “I take it you need help with something.”
I wrinkled my nose. “Oh, wow, jee, glad to know I scream charity case.”
“Don’t give me that. What is it?”
Even so, my face flared like a volcano. But the pounding of my heart would not let me back down, as cheesy as it sounded. I could have made that leap of faith of a cliff just then.
“I need your help writing a story.”
He did his famous single, tall eyebrow that sent wrinkles down his bald scalp. “As in…what, you write it and I fix it?”
“No. As in I talk and you write it down.”
He let out a low laugh that wasn’t humorous at all, but uncomfortable. “Tenny, I have a full time job on my hands. Why me? Is there no one else?”
I felt my face flush again. “I’m not as close to anyone else who has your typing speed.”
He started with confusion. “My typing speed…?” Then understanding dawned. “My power point last week…”
Now I smiled. He had accidentally deleted some pages on the powerpoint. Instead of abandoning the presentation altogether and just going with his stories like he usually did, he sped wrote the entire thing, even as he talked. I didn’t need to read to know being able to talk and type two different things was exceptional.
“I’m willing to pay you,” I said.
“Now that just sounds wrong,” he said. “Though…I guess students usually pay their teachers. How much are we talking?”
“…I can’t go above $100.” More heat in my face. I was drawing from my small family’s pool too much just by saying that. Mom would have to use the credit card next week…
Even so, his eyes went wide. “Crap, what’s in this story? Conspiracy theories? Blackmail?”
“It’s just a story. A gift, actually.”
“A $100 gift…”I rubbed a finger along his jaw. “I can’t say I’m not interested. A girl who can’t read writing a story.”
“I’ve listened to plenty.”
He smiled, and this time it was warm. “I know that, Tenny. Which is why I want to see what you can do.”
We set up a time where we met for an hour after school for the rest of the week, except Friday, and I promised him the hundred on our first meeting. He asked if it would be okay if he brought his young son with him on Wednesday and Thursday, as he had to watch him while his wife was out of town, and I almost hesitated. The idea of a elementary school boy listening on my weird romance story…it was going to be weird enough to say it aloud let alone to a kid who’d probably call me gross or ask awkward questions.
But…then I thought of Basil.
Let the whole school hear, if they must.
I stayed awake Monday night, head brimming with beginning sentences and the words I needed, along with a thorough scrounging of my memory. Throughout the school day I dozed off in nearly every class, but near the end I became wired, like a kid on Christmas Eve.
When I finally came before him, I was too nervous to take the chair he offered me. I could feel sweat trickling from my pits.
It made me think of Basil huddled up on the roof of a skyscraper, trying to control his panic over a sneeze.
“Kay, word for word, starting…now.” Mr. Handson set his fingers to the keyboard imperially.
I took a deep breath.
“I had a dream,” I said. “In it his Lamborghini’s seat conformed to my body as though it were made for it, as a billion dollar car’s seat would…”
Wednesday, near 5pm, I shut my mouth, teeth chattering to continue talking. But I had come up unto this point, and couldn’t say for the future. I would not be so presumptuous.
Mr. Handson waited for a few minutes before looking at me in confusion.
“That isn’t it, is it?” he asked. “Haven’t you had more dreams—”
“My character had more dreams,” I corrected for the uptenth time.
He rolled his eyes. “Fine, your character. Is it just stopping there with him walking out? Saying he never wants to see her again?”
“What a jerkface,” muttered the nine-year-old boy, who had proven to be remarkably good willed and intelligent in the face of my story telling. He had listened to all of it quietly, or at least knew when to get out his DS to pass the time.
“He thinks he’s going mad,” I said to him, feeling the need to defend Basil, the poor, hilariously paranoid genius.
“I’d think it was cool,” said the boy.
“Kids are a bit more accepting of the paranormal,” said Mr. Handson. “Besides, it’s just a story anything can happen in stories.” Though even as he said that, he gave me an odd look. “What next, Tenny?”
My shoulders slumped. “I…I don’t know.”
“Well, what do you want to happen?”
“He comes knocking on her door, begging her to-to-” Handson Jr. stuttered to a halt, realizing he didn’t want to talk about those gross adult things yet, no matter his desire to look grown up.
I sighed and looked to the ceiling, closing my tired, burning, itching eyes for a bit. I hadn’t had a dream because I’d hardly slept at all, and what dreams I did grasp were slippery blips of colors and images and desires.
Someday, this would all seem like a hilarious mystery. Like mistaking a roll of toilet paper under the bed for a monster, or doing Bloody Mary rights on a sleep over.
But even as I thought that, my throat constricted. And it hurt so bad. I couldn’t have spoken if I wanted to.
I didn’t know whether Mr. Handson sensed my despair or not, but he started to talk in his calming, frank way of his that made him such a good teacher.
“I’m impressed so far. You really sound like your reading out a book, and your word choice is phenomenal. Tenny…you’re talented. And I’ve said this before, but freak, you’re smart too. You got something here.”
I sucked in a steady breath, careful to not let them hear the whistle of a gasp.
I was okay. I was going to be okay. I could do this.
But still…I couldn’t very well tell him what to do, could I?
I opened my watering eyes as it hit me.
“Yes. That’s all.”
Mr. Handsen raised his eyebrow tall tall. “You sure? It’s definitely open ended, and we still have tomorrow to work on it.”
I shook my head and made attempts to clear my throat and rub my eyes as though I were just tired and not trying to wipe away rebellious tears.
“It’s meant to be a gift,” I said. “They’ll get to decide the other half of the story. Storytelling is more fun than just reading can be.”
Mr. Handson shrugged and moved his head from shoulder to shoulder, cracking his neck. “If you say so. Just give me tonight to read over it to get rid of typos and mistakes and I’ll have it on a flashdrive for you tomorrow. God knows I have enough to spare, with how many kids have left theirs behind.”
I nodded, not really trusting myself to say more than that, and excused myself.
That night, as though I had hefted the world off my shoulders, I breathed deep and fell fast asleep by the second breath.
I found Basil quickly. He stood like a mirage, hesitating on the edge of my awareness.
I shrugged off whatever plot my dream had been trying to weave me into and ran to him, crying out with every bit of my soul I could reach.
Then, like a click of a light, I had my arms around him.
“I love you!” I wept. “I love you and think you’re OCD is hilarious! Let me come on the roofs with you when you panic! Let me go with you on road trips to nowhere! Let me tell you stories! I will tell them, I swear! I won’t let nothing stop me—I will be strong!”
His arms fluttered by my sides, and through the omniscience of the dreamworlds storytelling, I could feel his aching to just give in.
Just as soon as I heard it, the dream ether shut down and I felt nothing of his state of being. Nothing of his thoughts or feelings.
All my insecurities crashed in on me. How I was too stupid, too ugly, too poor, too…too freaking on the short bus. And this man, this man was high as the stars, gleaming bright amongst them too.
Something like this would never happen.
“I love you,” I whispered. “I love you. Remember that.”
And I made sure the last thing he felt before vanishing into the darkness was my lips on his.
Only one of the twins was surprised by my request in class on Thursday. They had already domineered the computers, as they always at least attempted to do, and had twisted aside to stare at me and the flashdrive in my fingers.
“You want us to…” said one, a little nervously, but then he made a comical attempt to cover it up that only us kids unconnected to society could be.
“You can, can’t you?” I said. “You two are good at computers.”
“Yeah, but I don’t know any reading sites,” said the other brother. “At least not any rich people would read.”
“We aren’t hackers,” said the hidden-nerves brother. It may have been John, but I could never tell Jacob and John apart. They’d always been ‘the twins’ in my head.
Jacob? Look offended by this. “I am too. You just suck.”
I cut a hand between them, hoping to slice the fight in half before it could continue. “Fine, can you find me someone’s email address? Like…the president of a company?”
“Should just be on their contact page or…” John? Turned back to the computer, clicking around. “Who you wanting?”
“Basil A. Wright of Obonics Inc.”
It explained in one fell swoop why I had picked these two when neither of them reacted. Just typed. For how much they fought, their coordination with one brother on the keyboard and one on the mouse amazed me.
Soon a very professional site popped up, and I couldn’t help but smile at the heavy tones of dark blue streaked across it. I tried to find the word Obnics, but as always, the letters wriggled and shifted about one another.
“They’ve got the email people up…”
“No, she wants the big guy. Big guy, man.”
And then, like that, a picture of Basil’s face came across the screen. The clarity and stillness of it caught my breath. This wasn’t like the TV. I could see the carefully cut style of his bangs, the sharpness to his blue steel eyes…
The twins cursed under their breaths.
“Of course it wouldn’t be that easy.”
“Big man, big man.”
One looked back at me. “We can get you the general email for the company peeps who go through everyone’s crap, but his contact info isn’t posted.”
“Too big,” said the other twin.
I let out a painful breath. I should have known. I really was an idiot. But it wasn’t like I was even on the internet often. Reading kind of impaired enjoying that section of the world. All I knew were Youtube and the sites that had free audiobooks that I picked at random.
“Then label the subject of the email to him,” I said. “And tag on ‘with love from a taco stand.'”
John? Jacob? Whatever, Jinglehimer Smith wrinkled his face at the long title, but slowly typed it in as his brother accepted the flashdrive from me.
“Paste it in, don’t attach it,” said the other Jinglehimer. “They won’t open attachments. Viruses.”
“Select all…” muttered his brother, having opened the document. “Copy…”
Five minutes later, I had my flashdrive back and my face into the table.
Why did I have the feeling I had just given my heart to a tired, bored, faceless office worker who could care less what they held?
Either or, it stayed with me for a long time after that. Long after I missed Basil from my dreams. Long after I was comfortable with.
Which was about two weeks.
He didn’t find me, persay, as much as just randomly appeared at my school like a freaking pedophile picking up his girlfriend.
Lo and behold, his Lamborghini was dark blue after all. Can’t see how I could have ever mistaken it for black.
He didn’t look happy. He looked sharp as ever, and irritated.
“You’re lucky a newbie found this,” he said, and pulled out his phone as though it explained everything to me and shook it.
“Found what, mister?” I said, fluttering my eyelashes. “Candy? You got candy, right?”
Humor. The greatest shield for terror or overwhelming disbelief and excitement.
He gave me the flat, droll stare I knew he would, and it delighted me.
“For your information, I’m twenty-eight, and I don’t give candy to strange little girls sending me stalkerish emails.”
“You liked it though, didn’t you?” Of course not, you illiterate imbecile—please say yes.
His eyes twitched to the side, something I’d never seen him do before. It was almost as though he was…uncomfortable. Like, other than the usual discomfort of being a paranoid business tycoon.
“I should be at work,” he said, almost whispered.
“You say that every time,” I said back.
The blues snapped back to me. “Not any time. They were just dreams.”
“Then how ’bout making those a reality?” I took that gamble and reached for his hand. “Hey, Basil, let’s blow this taco stand, yeah?”
His eyes held mine, or perhaps I held his. He didn’t shift away, though he did lick his lips and his hand felt cold and damp in mine.
“Where would we go?” he asked.
“Wyoming, Washington, a weird Mexican restaurant that makes pita tacos, wherever you want.”
He frowned. “Work—”
“I’ll be ditching work too,” I said happily. “Industrious little squirt that I am. I fix cars, did you know that? Please tell me you knew that, it’s like my only redeeming quality.”
“We aren’t going anywhere if you’re going to spout self-pitying crap lies like that,” he snapped, then jerked his chin over the so much bigger, so much bluer Lamborghini. “At least let your parents know where we’re going this time.”
Smiling so wide it hurt my face, I all but skipped to the Lamborghini, totally unaware of the stares we were getting from the kids heading home—kids that had never paid me any mind as I moved through them in the hallway to my special classroom.
The leather interior wrapped about me as it did in my dreams, mostly by feel, as I couldn’t remember this much detail. I sank back into the seat, pinching myself so hard my nails bit through skin.
“Tennesee…” Basil started, softly, thinly, trembling with all his hidden paranoid insecurities.
He hesitated, licking his lips again. Then gave me the closest thing to a baleful look that a shark could give.
“This is real, right? We aren’t going to crash into a T-rex again?”
I couldn’t help it. I laughed in one great, short burst that brought tears to my eyes.
“Beats me,” I said. “It’s your turn to tell the story.”
With a small, straight-lipped smile that reached his eyes more than it reached his actual mouth, he turned the key and pulled us out of the parking lot.
“Seriously, though, tell your parents where you’re going. I’m not having kidnapping on my record.”
“Yes sir. Then candy?”
The straight-lipped smile.
The next thing I knew, he had pulled over with a screech of tires and reached a hand behind my head. I was pulled over a very real, very hard, very knobby console to meet a not so graceful, wet kiss, nothing like the ones of my dreams.
Gloriously, gloriously undreamlike. Really, this was an awful experience of a kiss.
“Stop laughing,” he muttered when he finally pulled away.
“In your dreams, Basil,” I grinned. “In your dreams.”