Excerpt #14 from Of Dreams & Angels

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Welcome back, Dear Reader!  If you’ve read the first thirteen (it is a novel, after all!) excerpts, feel free to skip this preamble to the meat a few paragraphs down.  If you haven’t, well, thanks for joining me!

These are exciting times for your ol’ pal Jerry – after talking about it for most of my life, I finally put the proverbial money and mouth together and started my first novel, Of Dreams & Angels, in the fall of 2019.  I’m working on the second draft now, but in the meantime thought it would be fun to start putting pieces of it (and thereby my entire soul, don’t you know!) out into the universe.  Maybe you’ll get caught up in the intrigue and start following along too.

The synopsis – well, before we get to that, Stephen King, in his memoir On Writing, wrote that many of his stories can be expressed as a What-if question, and after reading that, my imagination (as it pertained to story ideas) started framing situations that way.  Of Dreams is this question: What if a man started dreaming about a woman he’d never met, but who actually exists; falls in love with her based on what he sees in the dreams and sets out to find her?

Don’t ask me where it came from, and believe me when I say I’m just as shocked as you are that my first idea for a novel – ok maybe not the first idea in the grand scope of my life, but the first one to make it to fruition – was a fantastical love story.  But as soon as I thought of it, *I* wanted to know what would happen, which made me think others might want to, too.

At all rates, here you have it, Dear Reader (also a not-so-subtle borrow from Mr. King, who as you may know refers to us as “Constant Reader”) – another excerpt from Of Dreams & Angels.  In this excerpt, we find our good friend Joe in the most unlikely (for him) of situations: receiving a reading from a medium.  He’s desperate to make sense of the dreams–either to find out the reason for their occurrence, or put a stop to them.  He’s seen his doctor for sleep aids.  A therapist to find out what kind of underlying psychology might have produced the dreams.  Now—simply because he passed her shop in between errands—he finds himself talking to Sondra, the psychic.  And finding out a lot about himself in the process.  Enjoy!

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There had even been a dubious—and the epitome of desperate—impromptu session with a Medium.  The hiking store was downtown, nestled between shops of various goods and services, and on an afternoon when Joe couldn’t find parking nearby he’d finally located a spot a few blocks south.  On his walk over he’d seen a tiny window alight with an almost Vegas-abundance of neon; the shop within purporting to purvey seeing, communicating, reading, and finally—Joe’s irresistible mot-de-jour as of late—answers.

Though his eyes had been pulled to the window during the walk to the outdoor-goods store, he’d resisted it, but the draw was too strong on the way back.  On at least one front, he couldn’t argue: the price.  Fifteen dollars for a fifteen minute reading.  I waste more than that on meals sometimes, was the thought.  That ended up being all it took to make him jaywalk through afternoon traffic, and open the metal-framed door for a spontaneous meeting with Sondra, the Medium.

A bell sounded over the doorway, and Joe was once more greeted by a shop not all that dissimilar from Kemp’s of a few weeks before.  Here was less about commercial goods for sale, however, and more in the promises-of-solutions and making-sense-of-the-madness type.  Sondra was hocking hope for the seekers in life, and Joe was once again overcome with myriad prejudices.  The internal cynic told him that everyone who walked through the door was most likely of the cat-lady variety, looking to connect with lost loved ones, or lost love, period.

The shop was small and simple; half a commercial bay nestled between a Starbucks and a printing company.  The waiting room was adorned with two 70’s-style upholstered chairs set against one wall, painted a crimson red.  A well-worn leather couch sat against the opposite wall, this one coloured in a deep purple accented with hand-painted swirls and designs (surely of some significance, he assumed, but of what, he had no idea) in gold.  A third wall towards the back of the shop—this one painted a sunny yellow—housed a single doorway, upon which was painted “Reading Room”.  Joe was almost disappointed it wasn’t a frame adorned with a bead curtain, and just as he was picturing this in his mind’s eye the door opened.  A stout woman with long, curly brown hair and deep lines in her face appeared, draped in a shawl and leading with an impossible-not-to-reciprocate smile.

“Good afternoon, young man.  Are you here for a reading?”

Joe cleared his throat, feeling embarrassed not only by being asked the question, but of the answer to follow: “Um yes, I suppose I am.”

“Great; I’m just with another client but we’ll probably be finished in another ten minutes or so, if you don’t mind waiting.”  Her voice was raspy, vocal chords layered by the smoke of a hundred-thousand cigarettes, Joe assumed.  While she looked the part in many ways, he also for a split second wondered what he might presume if he passed this woman in a grocery store or a library: would he automatically surmise she was a purveyor of the possible (or impossible, more likely)?  A seller of mystical secrets?  Or would he assume she was of the retired-bookkeeper variety, just your regular novel-reading grandmother?  Maybe she’s all of the above, the kinder, ambassador-of-hope member of his internal committee suggested.

“I don’t mind, thank you,” he said, feeling the heat in his cheeks he prayed wasn’t noticeable.  The thought was followed by his internal cynic: There’s still enough time to get the hell out of Dodge, once you’ve come to your senses.

“Wonderful!  I’ll be with you shortly, Mr…” she left the word hanging; that infectious smile never leaving her face.

“Uh…. Riley.  Joe Riley.  But please, call me Joe.”  I can’t just cut and run, the hope voice said.  The cynic followed with: Yeah, she could be relying on that fifteen bucks for her dinner.  And shouldn’t she have known your name, if she’s a psychic?  You might as well pull out that ten-and-fiver and light in on fire with one of the four hundred candles in here.  Then the mediator between the two: What on God’s green earth is the matter with you?

“Very well, Joe.  I’m Sondra.  Looking forward to our chat.”

She closed the door, and he continued his half-daydream, half-inventory of the shop.  A small counter with an ancient cash register stood in front of the neon-adorned picture window.  Two Ikea-style glass display cases stood on either side, filled with tarot cards, beads, essential oils and incense, the latter items creating a potpourri of scents that greeted him as he walked through the door.  A bookshelf ran perpendicular along the maroon wall Joe sat against; he stood to survey the collection for sale.  Titles on philosophy, communicating with spirits, astrology, religion.  All the answers in a six-foot by three-foot shelf, the cynic suggested.  Laugh it up all you want, chuckles, because you’re the one who walked yourself over here, the mediator replied.  She didn’t call you, or beg you to come in.

Unwilling to listen to any further debate continued examination of the wares might exasperate, he plunked back down in the chair and began sorting through his bags from the hiking store.  He was desperate for distraction, desperate to indulge the simultaneous urge to run, and the need to stay.  The need to hear what Sondra—the professional voyeur of visions—might make of his own brand of “seeing”.  To answer why he was both driven to spend every minute absorbed in the thoughts and meaning of Claire and the dreams, and yet wishing for relief from the unending preoccupation.  Relief from the paradox—and perhaps even the situation—itself.

He surveyed the dehydrated meals he’d purchased; on normal excursions with more lead-time, Joe would have prepared most of the meals himself.  It would have been a fraction of the cost, but the combination of the quick turn-around and pervasive exhaustion that kept most of his waking hours in (an ironically) dreamlike fog, he hadn’t the energy nor the inclination to spend his evenings in front of the crock-pot and dehydrator.  He couldn’t reconcile this either: the need to be distracted, but the want to keep his thoughts turned toward her.

In the midst of this mire he was startled when the Reading Room door popped open.  A young woman with puffy eyes from recent tears emerged, spotted Joe, and quickly averted her gaze.  She was followed by Sondra, who walked the client to the front counter.  In hushed tones, they continued whatever discussion had begun in the room, while Sondra rang up their session (not without a few add-ons from the Ikea cases, Joe’s internal cynic made certain of interjecting).  The better part of Joe attempted to remain distracted by his hiking purchases.

Sondra and the departing client finished up their conversation; the medium came from around the counter and wrapped the smaller woman in a (wonderful, Joe heard a thought whisper) hug of reassurance and care.  Sondra placed her hands on the sides of the woman’s face as she released their embrace, meeting the younger woman’s eyes with the kindness of her own, and a smile that creased her face in a thousand wrinkles.  Before the cynic had a moment to offer whatever Stadler-and-Waldorf commentary it was certain to spew forth, Joe felt a momentary twinge of—was it envy?  Longing?—and basked in the transmuted comfort of their embrace instead.  Understanding the true value of the fifteen dollars that had just changed hands: someone to say “I got you.  I see you.  I understand you.”  A sentiment more valuable than any scientific answer, or well-drawn map.

The other woman left the shop and Sondra turned to Joe, clasping her hands in front of her maroon and bejeweled (but somehow not too ornate, somehow tasteful) shawl.  “Well, young man?  Shall we step into my office, so to speak?”

Here goes nothing, one of the internal committee members said.  “Sure,” was all his actual voice could muster.

The room was as brightly coloured as the rest of the shop.  Celestial patterns were hand-painted along one wall, in the same gold as the adjacent room; these set against a dark blue backdrop.  The wall behind the medium (where the seeker of secrets would face) was adorned in a simple green, presumably to evoke calm.  This place is just as deliberate about its colours as the head-shrinker’s office, he thought.  A plain wood table sat in the center of the room with chairs on either side; decks of cards piled along the edge; bottles of essential oils; lit candles along the opposite edge.  Sondra motioned to one of the chairs, and Joe eased into it as though there were invisible push-pins spread along its surface.

“So what brings you in today, young man?  I don’t believe we’ve ever met before, and unless I’m mistaken, I would guess this is your first time at something like this?”  That warm smile spread from ear to ear again.

He managed a tentative smile of his own.  “Is it that obvious?  Or are you able to read my mind?” he asked with a half-chuckle.

“The former, darling.  I can’t read your thoughts any more than you can read mine or anyone else’s.”  You’d be surprised, was Joe’s first thought.  And thank goodness you can’t, was the second.

“I see.  But yes, you’re correct.  I have no idea how this works.”

“Well, it can work in a couple of ways.  If you like, you can tell me a bit about why you’re here.  If you’re concerned that will prejudice anything I say, I can do a couple of readings—your palm, and we can use the deck,” she said, motioning to the stacked cards to her right.

“Let’s start with a reading, I guess.  I’m interested to hear what you pick up, without me saying anything.”

“Okay darling, give me your hands.”  He slowly eased them above the table.  “It’s ok, Joe, I’m not going to latch onto them like a cobra,” she laughed, in her big-but-gentle, beautiful way.  The sound of it nearly disarmed him completely, as he placed his hands in hers.  “Before we begin, I’d like us both to take three deep breaths,” she said, closing her eyes.  After regarding her for a moment—and in a Herculean effort at willingness—Joe followed suit and inhaled, though his eyes remained open.

Following the breaths, Sondra lifted her head and regarded his palms for a moment.  She wrapped her hands around his and closed her eyes once more.  “You’re incredibly tense, Joe.  Don’t worry, I’m not here to steal state secrets.  This is all about listening.  So why don’t you listen with me.”

He finally closed his eyes, the dryness of them from his caution and adrenaline nearly producing tears the moment his lids lowered.  He saw Claire’s face, immediately.  This had become the norm, it seemed, anytime he turned off from the exterior world—though in his waking hours it wasn’t the real-time, dream-reflections he saw through her eyes.  This was more of an imprint; a shadow visage one might see behind their eyes after looking at a bright object.

Sondra continued holding his hands but shifted her grip ever so slightly here and there, making “hmm” and “mmm” and “okay” sounds with each movement.  Joe cocked one eye open and saw her deep in some kind of trance-like state, gently rocking back and forth, variously moving her head up, down, and to the side.  It was as though she truly conversed with ethereal beings in the room (or perhaps outside—way outside, he thought).

“You feel very, very lost, Joe,” she said, the sound of her voice shocking him out of his own meditative state he had slipped into without realizing.  She opened her eyes and met his.  “I could sense your skepticism the moment I laid eyes on you—and that’s perfectly all right.  It doesn’t matter if you believe, Joe, so much as if you’re willing to believe that I believe.  But in any case, I’ll word all of this gently.  So much of a ‘reading’ involves listening, as I said before, and reading energies.  Yours is blocked, somewhere, somehow.  It’s like you’ve deliberately shrouded it in a cloak, so that nobody—maybe even yourself included—can take a look.  Does that sound about right?”

He had to concede that much.  “That’s not far off the mark.”

“I can tell you don’t want to cough up too much in the way of information—skeptics never do—so let’s see how close I am to the bullseye in other ways.”  She hadn’t released his hands, but once again fully enveloped them with her own and closed her eyes.  Joe kept his open this time, regarding her closely.  “Something has disrupted your normally ordered life.  Severely disrupted it.”  She ‘hmm’d and ‘mmm’d some more, gently swaying back and forth in her chair.  “Nobody has died—recently, anyway.  And this isn’t a lost love—exactly.  Hmm,” she trailed off.

Joe sat for a moment, locked on her face, where she was still in the midst of looking with her eyes closed.  The urge overwhelmed.  “Hmm?”

“Hmmm… but there is… someone.”  She frowned.

He let the silence build, hoping she would elaborate.  She continued to frown, her head lowered.

“Someone how?” he finally asked.

She opened her eyes and looked directly in his, her irises dancing between his own, as though searching for something.  “This is different,” she finally said.

“Different?”

“There is someone there, there is someone who is with you, but it’s not like the—how do I word this…” she smiled again, looking to reassure Joe in the event his established defenses were beginning to fortify further.  “Normally when I sense someone that strongly, it’s a family member.  A dearly departed.  But with you, it’s different… somehow.”  She kept closing her eyes as she said this, as though peering deeper into whatever she saw behind that veil.  She sat for an interminable amount of time without saying anything, and Joe started to shift in his chair.

Her eyes reopened, this time glassy and working to pull focus.  She regarded Joe for another small eternity, her face in stern concentration this time, having lost some of the earlier warmth.

“I’m not sure what to make of all this,” she finally said, searching his eyes once more.  “This has a different feel, a different energy, than what I’m used to reading.”  She reached forward to take his hands again, this time in a gesture of comfort, of reassurance.  “Do you want to tell me what’s going on in your life, Joe?  I mean no offense, honey, but you look like you could use a friend.”

He inhaled an extended breath, feeling as though he had been without oxygen for longer than he could remember.  “I don’t know,” he said, pulling one of his hands back and running it through his hair, pausing to scratch the back of his head, followed by his eyes.  “I don’t know, Sondra.  I mean no offense in return—you seem nice enough, caring enough—but I’m really in uncharted territory here too, on so many fronts.”

She reached back, took his hand once more.  Not afraid of intimacy, this one, he thought.  “It’s been my long experience, Joe, that quite often it’s easier for people to discuss uncharted territory with someone they don’t know, so on that front, I’m offering my services.  And this part of the session,” her voice almost losing the store-display quality of it, becoming relaxed and informal, “is on the house.”  She stood up, quickly shuffling out into the adjacent room to switch the OPEN sign on the door to its counterpart, and turning the lock behind her.

Joe’s eyes darted between hers, the tabletop, the walls on either side.  Finally they landed on hers again, and he let out another breath he hadn’t realized he was holding.  “Well, there is someone.”

“That’s very apparent, yes.”

“But she’s not a dearly beloved, recently deceased, or recently departed.”

“I got that too, yes.”

“In fact, I have no idea who—or what—she is.”

“Okay…”

“Other than a wildly detailed and imaginative conjuring of my subconscious, that is.”  His eyes once again left hers, and he fidgeted with the buttons on his shirt.

“Go on, Joe, it’s okay.”  She reached her hands forward again, not in an effort to clasp his, but in a gesture of openness, of safety.

“I get to the point where I’m almost ready to talk about it—where I feel compelled to talk about it—but as soon as it nears my lips, every internal voice starts screaming ‘You can’t let this out!  Do you have any idea how crazy this sounds?’”  He offered an uncertain smile and looked downward again.

She let out a small laugh.  “Joseph, do you have any idea the kinds of things I hear, sense, and say in this room?  You’d have to drop quite a doozy to shock me in my shorts.”  These little sprinkles of patois were bringing involuntary smiles to his face, helping to disarm.

“All right, well here goes nothing,” he said, taking another deep breath inwards.  A pause again, as the internal committee shouted it’s parliamentary-style objections.

“Joe, really, it’s okay.  Just say it, whatever it is.”

“I dream…”  His fidgeting went into overdrive.  “I dream about a woman.”

Sondra waited a moment to see if he would elaborate on his own.  When he didn’t, she offered: “Okay… well on the scale of ‘normal-to-batshit’, that’s fairly benign, Joe.”

“No, I know that, but as you sensed, there’s something different about this.  I see through her eyes.  It’s as if I am her.  But all at once I’m not.  She’s an entirely different human being, a unique human being, and nothing about her life resembles mine.  She’s English, first of all.”

“Okay, go on.”  Sondra had settled into her duty of coaxing him forward.

Joe, for his part, eventually settled into his part of releasing the story.  The committee members continued their plight to remind him from the sidelines how insane it all sounded, but he spoke over them, and slowly their voices were replaced with ones resembling something like relief.  Freedom at finally releasing—in an unvarnished capacity—what had plagued his waking and sleeping hours these past weeks.  Throughout his retelling he felt himself continue with the deep breathing, as though he had been holding a dwindling supply of oxygen for weeks.

There was something easier about telling this particular stranger, in this particularly strange environment.  He’d felt similar when he’d danced around the subject with William, though at the time it had still been too fresh, too uninitiated, for him to know how to quantify what was happening—other than a new novelty of vivid dreaming.  When it had been his physician, or the psychologist, somehow his internal guard had redoubled, even though the answers he told himself he hoped for might be rooted in something resembling science.  But here he sat, with this odd woman and her little idioms, her ornate shawl and pervasive scent of patchouli throughout, and he felt palatable relief at the idea this might be someone who understood.  He knew now for certain why the last patron—regular or not—had hugged Sondra before leaving.

For her part, she listened intently, listened with the skill of someone practiced in the art of actually hearing human beings for the things they actually said, and not listening merely for subtext (though she was equally skilled in that, Joe thought) as it might relate to some textbook pathology or psychological paradigm.

When he finished, she looked at him intently awhile longer, and said: “I don’t know what it is that’s happened with you, Joe.  I believe deeply that there is meaning in our dreams, and I suppose we could say your visions of Claire mean any number of things.  But I guess what I really want to ask, is…” her voice trailed off, as her irises danced back and forth between Joe’s.

“Yes?”  He fidgeted in his chair, finally breaking her gaze and looking back at his hands.

“Do you believe she’s real?”

Joe considered this for a small lifetime before answering.  He’d known the question was coming, and despite the full-time commentary of conflicting voices within, he hadn’t actually formulated an answer.  To have pre-packaged a response would have been to actually—consciously—consider the question, and while it had danced along the edges of his awareness since the earliest dreams, it had seemed too outlandish, too unreasonable to consider.

“Joe?”  She finally broke his micro-meditation as he’d continued to twist his palms and fingers together in every conceivable contortion.

“Um.”  He cleared his throat, the sound from his mouth feeling foreign, as though he’d swallowed gravel.

She reached across the table once more, tugged on the sleeve of his right arm to bring his hand above the table, which she clasped in the warmth of hers.  “It’s ok, honey.  It really is.”

“I guess—I don’t know—I think…” His mind raced for the combination of words that might somehow feel right leaving his lips, but any sort of syntax continued to elude him.

SPIT IT OUT!  FIRST THING THAT COMES TO MIND!”  She’d said this suddenly, forcefully, not out of frustration but to release whatever words had dammed up at the edge of his mouth.

YES SOMETIMES I WONDER IF SHE IS!” 

Her trick had worked; jolted him from his reticent self-consciousness and doubt.  He’d startled himself, and felt colour rising in his cheeks as he searched her eyes now for any hint of offense.  There was none.

“And do you want her to be real?  Just answer, Joe—only two possible words would have come to your mind as I asked that, so say the first one you heard.  GO!  SAY IT NOW!”

“Yes!”  He paused, pulled his hands back and settled them on his lap, where he also settled his gaze.  “I don’t know why.  But part of me hopes she is.”

“Tell me about the part of you that hopes that.”  Damn, he thought, she’s better than the psychologist was, figuring that in this line of work, one would need to excel at reading people in order to offer believable readings.

“It’s just—I don’t know.  If she’s real, then it means…” he paused, but continued on before she’d offer the prod he knew would come anyway.  “It means there’s some reason for this sudden madness in my life lately.  I have no idea what that is.  I have no idea how—if it’s true, if she’s really out there somewhere—it’s even possible.  But it would at least mean there’s an explanation, even if I have no clue what that is.”

“What do you hope the explanation is?”

He laughed at this.  “Well, that I’m not losing it, for one.  Although I really don’t know what the proverbial ‘they’ would have to say—let alone her, if she’s out there; if we ever met—about a guy claiming to have dreamt about a woman he’s never met, but exists nonetheless…”

Sondra once again picked up her cue to coax him forward.  “What else, aside from ‘not losing it’?”

Joe inhaled deeply, held it, then let out an audible exhalation.  He looked up at Sondra, smiled a half-smile, then looked back down again.  He was about to speak, then laughed again.  “I really don’t know, Sondra.  She seems like a beautiful woman.  I don’t just mean in the face—although she certainly is that—but on a deeper level.  As I mentioned, it’s not that I can hear her thoughts or know what’s going on, exactly, but I can feel her thoughts.  I can feel the essence of who she is, as much as I can feel my own.  It’s like a grasping at the level of the soul, and there’s something beautiful there.  There’s pain, too—deep pain—but when that’s stripped away there’s this beautifully strong, courageous woman.  A wonderful mother.  A committed worker, someone engaged in their passion.  A loving sister.  A kind friend.  A human being carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders, but doing it so beautifully, and with such grace.”  He glanced up, did a double-take when he saw the psychic smiling.  He pre-emptively laughed at himself.  “Good word.  Listen to me, singing platitudes about a figment of my subconscious imagination.  I’d be grinning too, listening to that.”

“That’s not why I was smiling, Joe.”  That trademark forward-lean, again, inviting him into safety.  “Do you really believe that, Joe?  The figment-of-the-imagination part?”

He sat for a moment, holding her gaze, then broke it to stand and began pacing the small room.  “I just—I don’t know what I believe.  I think about what it means if I am just dreaming this.  If that’s all this is.  Just this nightly onslaught of the most vivid, lucid, recurrent dreaming imaginable.  What does it mean if that’s all this is?  What does that mean for what’s happening with me?  How did it start?  How do I fix it?”  He stopped his pacing, leaned his arms against the top of the chair, looking—not without a measure of effort—directly at Sondra.  “But then… what does it mean if I’m not just dreaming this?  What does it mean if she’s out there?”

“What do you think it means?”

He started laughing again.  “You oughta charge more than fifteen dollars for fifteen minutes, let alone pro bono, if that’s still what this is.  I paid a hundred and fifty to a headshrinker and she didn’t even come close to getting me to talk about all this.”

“I’m not getting you to do anything, Joe, I’m merely providing a door for you that I think you maybe wanted to walk through anyway.”

“What does that mean?”

She laughed her hearty laugh.  “Now we’re trading on the meanings of things.  It simply means that there are some things we carry around with us, that are just begging to be set free.  You’ve been carrying this for awhile, unsure of how—or even if—you could let it free, but you clearly needed to.  Even if you haven’t always wanted to.  So tell me, what do you think it means, if she’s out there?”

He let out another nervous laugh, circled back around to the front of the chair and sat.  “I’ll hazard a guess, but I definitely want to hear your thoughts when I’m done.  I thought people came here to get answers from you, not to figure it out themselves.”

“Oh, Joe, honey—the answers are almost always within, and very rarely without.  Like I said before, I’m more of the door-opener.  But yes, I can hazard a guess too, after you’ve risked your own.”

He took another long breath in.  “Well… I guess… if I try to think about this analytically, which always seems ridiculous, I do ask myself Why would I get these visions of her life?  Putting aside where they come from, or from whom, or even the why on a deeper level… Why would an ordinary guy like me have these dreams of someone I’ve never met that lives in a place I’ve never been?  What purpose is that meant to serve?”

“And what have you come up with?”

“Well… doesn’t it mean—uhm…”  He cleared his throat, looked at Sondra, almost hoped for a prompt this time.  She just held his gaze, until the discomfort of it seemed to force the rest.  “Doesn’t it mean I’m supposed to maybe try and find her?”

“Are you asking me?  Or is that rhetorical?”

“Ha.  I guess a bit of both.”  He shifted in his chair, brought his eyes down again.  I can’t believe I just said that out loud.  I can’t believe I’ve said any of this out loud.

“Do you think you are supposed to find her?”

Full laughter left his lungs now.  “Are you sure you weren’t in the head-shrinking field before this?  Because you definitely sound like one now.”

“Just a guide, Joe.  Showing the doorways.  Turning the handles, if I have to.  Comeon honey, work with me here.”  She gave him a wink.

His eyes drifted around the room, in the way eyes will when they’re searching the brain for whatever corner might hold the right answer.  “I think if I presuppose that for a minute—putting aside all other conjecture, that is, and just operating under the premise she’s out there—then yes.  Simply yes.”  This too felt like a weight had suddenly been picked up off his chest, the moment he’d said it.  “I mean, what else could be the reason—the immediate one, anyway—for it?  I can’t logic my way into this, explain a reasonable and palatable notion of why I’m supposed to find her, or what’s supposed to happen if I do, or how any of it plays out… but I can’t logic my way into any other reason, either.

“What am I supposed to do, just continue on having these dreams of another, real-live human being, and that’s it?  That’s all?  Just the dreams, seeing through her eyes like the greatest invasion of privacy of all time, and not do anything about it?”  He brought his focus back to the table, back to Sondra.  Another small, covering-for-nerves laugh left him again.  “Okay.  That’s enough out of me.  Please.  I’m dying to know what you think; this is about as vulnerable as I’ve ever been with another human being in my life—a stranger, at that—so please don’t leave me hanging.  And,” he smiled warmly, reached across the table and grabbed her hands this time, “not another answering-a-question-with-a-question, please.”

Sondra laughed at his reciprocal hand-holding.  “Well honey, as I said earlier, I don’t quite know what’s happening with you.  I’ve heard many different things in this room; felt many different things.  Folks often have dreams where their dearly departed visit them in sleep.  Dreams of ex-boyfriends or wanna-be lovers.  I’ve even heard of third-party dreaming; where they’re dreaming through the eyes of another.  But this is the first time,” she patted the top of his hands, “that someone has told me they’re dreaming this vividly, and regularly, of someone they don’t know.  Someone who could be out there.”  She adjusted in her seat; toyed with the long, beaded necklace draped down across her shawl.  “What do I think?  Well, before I answer that, I do need to ask you another question honey, even though you asked me not to.”  She laughed again, her eyes fixing on his with that penetrating stare that nearly made him squirm each time.

“Okay, go ahead.”

“Do you think that this life—and the things we see, experience, and can explain—is what there is?  Is all there is?”

“Up to this point of my life, yes, that’s all I’ve ever held with.”

“You struck me as that kinda fella, Joe.  And that’s okay.  Plenty of folks feel the same.  I ask ya only because you need to understand that my answer—to what I think might be going on here—is viewed through the perspective of a woman who deals all day long with the unexplainable.  I didn’t walk through these doors and set up shop here because I had an ‘A-to-Zee’ childhood, if you catch my meaning.  So to me, it’s less of a question of whether her being out there is a possibility, and more whether or not you will accept that possibility.”

“So you think she’s somewhere out there, then.”

“Honey, based on everything I’ve seen, heard, and experienced in my fifty-nine years, I think it’s less of a possibility she doesn’t exist, than the probability she’s out there.”

“And what makes you say that?  Aside from your general experience?”

“Well here’s the part where I need you to—at least for a moment—suspend your notions of how the world operates.  Can you agree to do that for me, honey?”

Joe nodded, and she leaned forward, lowered the pitch of her voice, as if about to confer state secrets.  “Joe, the universe is always trying to communicate with us.  Always.  Sometimes it whispers, and sometimes it has to eventually beat us over the head with something.”  She let loose that gregarious, full-bellied laugh.  “And I think in your case, it knew it was going to have to smack you sideways!”

Though Joe’s mind continued to race in that half-preoccupied, half-attentive state he’d found himself in the past several weeks, her laughter was infectious, and he eventually let loose as well.  “I suppose you’re right.  That’s about the only way it could get my attention.”

“I’m open to the idea—because being truly open means not just a willingness to accept what I hope to believe, but the opposite as well—that these are just dreams.  But to finally answer your question, my dear, I don’t believe for a moment that’s what this is.  Something, somewhere, is trying to get your attention.  And if she’s out there, that same something probably wouldn’t have—as you said before—invaded your sleep like this, unless it wanted you to know her.  To find her.

“The reason for that part of the journey, of course,” she leaned back in her chair, picked a piece of lint off the sleeve of her shawl, her tone adopting a seriousness, “remains to be seen.”

“Do you have any thought as to what that is?  Even speculation?  I mean, you’re a psychic, aren’t you?”

“Of course I do, honey.”  The smile returned.  “But I’m gonna hold onto that one.”

“What?  No!  Comeon, let’s turn the billable clock back on here.  I want your professional, psychic opinion.”  At this, Joe burst into laughter.  Sondra returned it with her own.

“Believe it or not, Joseph, there’s an element of discretion in this job.  In the sense of not leading people too much.  Something tells me why you’re supposed to find her, but that same something tells me that you need to figure out that part on your own.”

“Ahh comeon,” Joe said, leaning back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest, looking past the doorway to the street outside.  Daylight had faded into dark since he’d arrived.  “So you actually haven’t told me anything about my future, then.  You held my hands, flipped some cards… I volunteered a ton of information, and when the moment of truth arrives, you balk.”  He paused, returning his gaze to hers.  He expected to see offense, but there was still none he could discern.  “I’m sorry.  I feel like I haven’t slept in weeks, and it’s led to a lot of distraction, and a little bit of irritability.  I’m normally a lot more measured than this.”

She leaned forward again, reached for his hands; her signature move, apparently.  “It’s okay, honey.  Maybe it’s time in your life to become a little un-measured.

“I’ll return to what I said earlier, Joe.  I’m merely a guide.  I’m not meant to walk the path for you, or anyone else.  You asked me what I think, and on that front I think it’s worth finding out if Claire is out there.  What do you have to lose?”

“My dignity?”

“Well, you don’t have to run around with what you’re doing printed on a t-shirt, darlin.  But I can tell you this much—and this much I knew before I had your hands in mine or heard the words you were longing to say—I can tell you’re going to regret it if you don’t.”

__________

Thanks again for stopping by, Dear Reader!  Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more.

©jaredwrites 2020

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