Dream Leaper- Chapter 5
The doorbell chimed through the house. I glanced up from my paper and folded it. Tossing it onto the coffee table, I heaved myself off the couch and ambled sluggishly to the foyer.
I opened the front door. It was Bettie. Dark bags dug under her eyes, dry and red from when she still had the energy to cry.
I felt a knot in my neck.
“Hey Sally,” Bettie tried to crack a small smile.
“Hey. Uh-- you want to come in?”
“I can't, I have to see my lawyer soon. Listen, uh, I need a huge favor.”
“Of course,” I said reassuringly. “What do you need?”
“Well, after Bob got custody of the kids, he also got ownership of the house. You ah, well. You know how kids are with moving.”
This was torture. Bob and Bettie were great friends of mine, but right now I wanted nothing to do with them. That alone felt awful. What made it worse was their kids. I was always staring at my ceiling at night, wondering if the court made the right decision... I mean, I worried a bit about that for all the children I worked with, but this was different. When they stayed with me, I almost felt like they were my own, which is a privilege I'll never have. How they're handling their parents' divorce is a question that bothers me every hour. Up to the moment when Bob picked them up, they were so... distant.
I did this to them. Those words kept pounding in my head, so cold and vindictive. So completely right.
“Anyway, I was wondering if you wouldn't mind helping me move out on Saturday. Are you busy?”
It was the least I could do for her. But I had appointments all day. I looked down for a moment and frowned, and before I could open my mouth I saw her face. It started to fall. Something covered in nails squeezed my heart.
My eyes opened. Something soft held my head. A soft beam of light streamed through my room, which I gazed at sideways.
I was in bed.
I was still for what felt like hours, mentally paralyzed. I had just woken up from a dream, and I knew it, but I was still on that hazy threshold that connected me from dreamland to reality. I've had vivid dreams before, but this was... I couldn't compare it to anything. One thing that always helped me get my head back on straight was remembering the difference between a dream and real life.
Am I a social worker? Do I work with kids?
...Yes, I'm a social worker. Wait, no, I don't work with kids. I'm a marriage counselor.
Who are Milo and Shari, or Bettie and Bob? Do they exist?
Yes. Bettie and Bob are good friends. Milo and Shari are their kids. But wait a minute. In my dream, Milo was a preteen and Shari was close to ten, or something like that. Milo is six. Shari is a year old.
I had to blink hard on that one. What I was now used to seeing and hearing didn't exist yet.
Ah, that's right. Shari is the blue-eyed, garden-variety baby everyone is jealous of. What I imagined as Older Shari was the picture of the strawberry blond girl I end up staring at for 40 minutes when I'm getting my hair colored. Older Milo flabbergasted me. He looked so real. I could easily see him looking like that 8 years later.
Did Milo and Shari ever stay with me?
Yes. They stayed at my house for five days when Bob and Bettie went on a cruise. Milo brought his Xbox over, and Shari and I played with my Paint program for hours on end. We went to the park a lot. Milo often admired the skateboarders.
Are Bob and Bettie divorced?
No. But they've been having problems.
I tossed the covers off and swung my legs over the side of the bed, sitting up, hunched over. I stayed there for a long time, staring at my lavender wall.
That dream was my conscience.
Two years into my first job I noticed Bob and Bettie having some relationship issues. Of course, I figured it wasn't my business, so I stayed out of it. But I often asked one or the other how they were doing. They never had anything nice to say about each other then. Eventually, Bettie caved in and asked me if they could get some counseling from me. I was more than happy to, so I gave her my secretary's number and told her to call when she had a calender. But she said she didn't have the money.
That was another thing wrong with the dream. They had money. Right now, thanks to this economy, their budget is tight.
Bettie was asking me to help her as a friend. She wanted me to come over to their house and talk.
Maybe it was because I didn't know how bad it was. Maybe I was just selfish. For whatever reason, offering a full “counseling period” for free seemed like a bad idea. If I could offer my services for free, people might hear about it. There was no confidentiality agreement if I decided to do this on a personal basis. The last thing I needed were hordes of couples begging me for free counseling sessions. The market was rough. I didn't want to lose my job. So I denied Bettie her request.
That was a month or two ago. Ever since then I've always felt this guilt around them, so I haven't seen them in a while. I always said I was busy when they asked if I wanted to have dinner. That's when it dawned on me that it wasn't just my refusal I felt guilty for. Our friendship was waning.
I took a long, deep breath, and stood up. My feet slipped into the slippers strewn on the carpet. That's when a pile of DVDs sitting on my vanity grabbed my attention. Star Trek Next Generation, Season Two. Dr. Who with David Tennant and Billie Piper. Back to the Future, last sequel. Sitting beside them was a large, opal-like crystal I bought at a museum a week ago. I smiled.
I knocked on the door. A fiery bark sounded from inside. That's right, they have a beagle! Why did I forget that? The door opened and Bob was behind it. He paused, pleasantly taken aback.
“Sally!” he smiled, amidst the barking. “What a surprise! You wanna come in?”
“Thanks,” I said. “It's good to see you too, Bob. But I actually came by to talk to Bettie about something. Is she here?” I wasn't sure if she discussed this with Bob.
“Yeah, sure. Please, come in.”
I walked inside and slipped my shoes off. Their dog, Odie, managed to shove his wet nose into my leg and went silent. The kids were watching Spongebob in the room next to me. Shari was slamming her fist on something colorful and plastic.
“Bettie!” Bob called up the stairs. “It's for you!” He turned to me. “You wanna sit down?” he asked, gesturing to the room opposite from the kids- a living room with showcased china and a family-sized wooden table.
“Uh, yeah, thank you!” I made my way to one of the cushioned chairs and took a seat. I didn't wait long. Bettie appeared behind the corner and walked toward me, looking equally surprised and happy to see me.
“Sally! It's been too long, how are you?”
Bettie took a seat across from me.
My smile was short lived. I sighed. “Look, Bettie, the reason I came by is because... I think I owe you an apology.”
Bettie frowned. It was hard to tell if she knew what this was about already. “For what?” she asked anyway.
“Well, you remember when you asked if I could counsel you for free?”
“Ever since then I kinda... well, I felt bad. I guess that's why I haven't called you in a while. Anyway... I'm sorry. You and Bob are good friends, I shouldn't have thought of it as a service. It's what I should be here for. I want you to be happy. I want both of you to be happy.”
A vague smile stretched Bettie's lips. She looked down at the table and sighed quietly. “Well, Sally, to be honest I was a bit... I don't know. I just wanted someone who Bob and I could talk to, and would still be a good help to us.” Before I could emphasize my apology, she continued. “But I understand why you said no. I'd imagine that it's hard to deal with troubled marriages for a living, and then be expected to do it for free. So I'm not sure there's anything to really apologize for.”
“I feel like there is,” I insisted. “You guys aren't just clients. I don't want this to be an offered service, Bettie. Just a talk.” Then I remembered something. “I wasn't sure if you mentioned this to Bob. Does he know about it yet?”
Bettie let out a long, huffy sigh this time. “Yeah, I brought up the idea and we got into a fight about how much it would cost.” She rolls her eyes. “Figures.”
“Tell you what. What days work for you?”
As the women began to discuss their calenders, a tiny blue woman glittered behind one of the showcased china dishes. She smiled softly, and vanished in a quiet puff of dust.
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