Sleeping was always my escape. Whenever life felt overwhelming because of my gift, when my mind refused to focus and it felt as if every breath I drew in took all of my energy, whenever I needed to find peace, I knew that in sleep I could leave it all behind for a while and reset. I didn’t dream often, and when I did, I rarely remembered what I dreamt, but this time was different. This time as I slumbered, my dreams brought me here. I was on the ground, beneath our tree, the sunlight illuminating the leaves above me, the array of bright autumn colors comforting me with a bitter-sweet nostalgia. Small rapids rushed over rocks and the brittled leaves bristled in the cool fall breeze. I lay still, letting every muscle in my body relax, fully submerging myself in the melody of mother nature’s sound machine.
This was a good dream.
Closing my eyes, I inhaled deeply, breathing in the calm and the beauty, until my lungs felt they might burst.
“Charlotte?” The question came from a voice I hadn’t heard in so long but knew so well. I froze, holding my breath in, keeping my eyes shut, wondering if I’d really heard him, or if I was only imagining it because my dreams had brought me here—to our place.
“Charlotte,” he called again, the sound of his dog tags jingling under his shirt. “Open your eyes, baby girl.”
My heart felt as if it might leap from my chest and run toward him. I knew this was only a dream, my subconscious reaching its desperate and hopeful hands for him, but it was so good to hear his voice.
All of the air leaked from my lungs in a long whoosh.
It was Ike.
“Charlotte…what are you doing here?”
With my eyes still closed, my lips danced on the edge of a smile. “I’m dreaming,” I explained.
The sound of dried leaves crunched under his feet as he took a few steps toward me, but I didn’t open my eyes. I was too afraid if I did, he wouldn’t be there. “Charlotte,” he repeated. “What are you doing here?” His tone held an edge.
Relaxing my smile, I kept my eyes squeezed tight, confusion whispering its delicate fingers against my thoughts. Why was this feeling off? It was a dream…why did Ike sound…concerned? “I’m dreaming,” I reiterated, though my answer sounded uncertain, as if I wasn’t sure.
Something gripped my wrist tightly making my stomach clench, and my eyes reflexively popped open.
That dark, perplexed stare met mine, the slightest indentation between his brows as he watched me.
My heartbeat thrummed in my ears as joy and sorrow pumped through me. He was as awing as I remembered him.
And he was touching me.
My mind halted with that thought.
Snapping my gaze from his to where his hand still firmly gripped my wrist, reality finally dawned on me.
He. Was. Touching. Me.
But it was a dream. Maybe he wouldn’t have been able to touch me as a spirit when I was alive, but in my dreams…he could. That made sense.
“Charlotte…you’re not dreaming, baby girl.”
Jerking my stare back to his, I opened my mouth to speak, to question him, but the words remained stunted, heavy and unmoving on the edge of my tongue. Our stares were locked as he moved his head up and down, confirming my thoughts.
“Charlotte…you’re on the other side.”