Part Three: My Dream Collapses
Chapter Twenty Four
Dear Grandma and Grandpa,
I'm sorry that I couldn't tell you this in person. A lot has happened to me that I simply cannot explain. No words can explain what I'm going through or provide a good enough explanation for why I'm leaving so suddenly. Just know that I love you both and I have to thank you for all that you've done for me as my dad is fighting cancer.
Thanks for being there for me.
I'm going to Alberta, where in the province, I cannot say, but just know that I'll be safe. I wont be gone long, perhaps a day or two. I've arranged everything. Do not panic, please, I know what I'm doing.
I love you both.
If he passes before I come back, let him know that I love him so much…
In the early morning, Steven took the letter he'd written in his messy scrawl and came up to the fridge. Using an alphabet magnet he once played with as a kid, he stuck the letter to the fridge so his grandparents would see it when they came for their breakfast.
He walked quietly back into his room, taking extra time to stare at the familiar halls and pictures that adorned its walls. Somberly, knowing that this could quite possibly be the last time he walked down this hall, he soaked in the nostalgia. Every place in the hall held memories of his mother, father, family and friends that had walked on the soft, clean carpet.
When he walked up the stairs, he paused to glance down at the door to his father's room, which had been firmly shut. He remembered as a kid how he'd keep his eyes locked on the door when he went down the stairs, early in the morning.
He would sneak downstairs towards the kitchen, where cookies or muffins usually sat in containers on the counter. If he was quiet enough, he would be able to snatch some before his parents awoke. When he'd grabbed several, he would steal back into his room, always watching the door to his parent's room.
If the knob began to turn, he would bolt up the stairs, hide under his covers and pretend to be asleep.
Smiling, Steven stopped halfway on the stairs, hoping this time that the knob would turn. His father would step sleepily out of his room, asking why Steven was up at such an early hour.
Only, the door remained closed, the knob kept still.
Steven continued walking up the steps took a turn and sauntered down the hall to his room. Inside, a packed suitcase with clothes, toiletries, headphones, a book, a wallet and some medicine lay on his bed. He took out his wallet, which was stuffed with twenty dollar bills he'd withdrawn from the ATM at 711.
Last night, after visiting his father with his grandparents, he'd gone to 711, got out a lot of money and then got his airplane ticket online. Since this trip could possibly save his life, he didn't mind taking out a couple hundred dollars for a plane ticket.
Money meant very little if he couldn't spend any of it.
Frowning, he put his wallet in his sweater pocket and went into the bathroom. After brushing his teeth, he put gel in his hair, ruffling it so that it was back to its messy style. Unfortunately, the mirror still refused to show his reflection.
Staring at the mirror only served to remind him that there could be very little time until he was sucked completely into the dreams. That previous night, he'd dreamed with Julia again.
He'd woken up in a warm, empty city. After exploring his surroundings and admiring the incredibly tall, sky-piercing buildings, he called out for Julia. When he found her, she was sitting at a park bench, staring at a massive, green-leafed tree.
Sitting beside her, he decided not to tell her about what had happened when he'd been washed overboard in their last dream. Instead, putting an arm over her shoulder, he told her that he had everything prepared for his trip to Alberta.
She'd smiled at him, telling him that was amazing news. However, there was a doubt and uncertainty cast in her eyes. It seemed that she only smiled for his benefit. He recalled how she had refuted his claims that he could resist the dreams.
Though she apologized repeatedly for causing all this to happen, he told her he'd forgiven her completely.
"Why?" She asked, her expression confused and surprised. "Why would you forgive me? I know you love me, Steven, but look at what I'm doing to you." Her eyes became downcast while she turned her face away. "I can't even forgive myself."
Steven had gently put a hand on her face, turning her around. "I love you, Julia. You made a mistake, but I still believe that I can fix it. Even if I can't, getting to know and love you has been all that I've ever wanted. You're the one I will fall in love with and marry, Julia. Life is too short to care."
Her large, round eyes met his, she gulped nervously. "What if love can't save us, Steven? What if going into the dreams is more then you can take? I remember how my father anguished over my mom's passing into the dreams, he'd cried for weeks, months. He tried everything to save her, but couldn't. In the end, he gave me up, Steven. He shot himself in the jaw a few days later, police found his body in his apartment, he'd left a note.
"It read that he had killed what was most precious to him-that the dreams had taken the one person he loved the most." Her eyes went downcast, while she leaned against Steven's shoulder. "I don't want to do the same thing to you."
"You haven't," he tapped her nose, smiling sadly. "I'm still here Julia." He was tempted to kiss her again, but instead grabbed her hand. "Will you fly with me?"
"I will." She couldn't bring herself to smile, but took Steven's hand. Holding one another firmly, they began to rise into the air. Rising higher then the trees, higher then the skyscrapers, and up into the clouds. Even higher they flew, hand in hand, until they began to rise above the world itself.
From where they floated, the last edges of earth's atmosphere collided with the cold, unfeeling nothingness of space. Below them, the planet was a swath of blue, green, white and brown. To their right, the sun was sinking into the horizon, though much larger in appearance and with blinding, brilliant rays of light.
The gorgeous vista nearly took his breath away.
"This is one reason why I don't regret dreaming-moment's like these, that I can spend with you." They melted into one another, staring down at the stunning view that they were afforded from their elevated position.
However, as Steven thought back on that marvelous dream, he recalled how swiftly it had come to an end. No sooner were they kissing, did he find himself back in bed, wrapped not in her arms, but blankets and sheets.
Now it was the next morning and Steven was quite ready to go on his late morning flight to Edmonton, Alberta. Unfortunately, he wouldn't be able to straight to Camrose, where Julia lived, instead, he would have to take a taxi to a greyhound bus station, then take the bus to a few smaller cities, before ending up in Camrose.
Steven left his washroom, flicking off the light and closing the door.
He grabbed his suitcase, putting it on the floor while he made his bed. When he was done, he picked up his bag and heard noises coming from downstairs. Footfalls sounded on the steps as one of his grandparents was making their way up to the kitchen.
He was already on the main floor, standing near the kitchen when his grandma came up the stairs. She looked right at Steven, then to the counter and fridge. Frowning, she hobbled over to the fridge, snatching off the letter.
"I'm sorry, Grandma." Steven began, letting go of his suitcase and leaning it against the wall.
She held the paper in her hand, while she placed her glasses on her wrinkled face. "You're leaving right now?" Her hand trembled, she dropped the paper and it glided to the floor. "I don't think I can allow that."
"I know, Grandma. But I'm going anyways."
She studied him, her old, wizened eyes narrowing. "Is this about the young woman you met at camp? Your father told me on the phone that you met someone there. Are you really going to leave to see this young woman?"
"I am." He couldn't lie to her. "But it's much more then that. I'm sorry that you have to find out like this." His eyes lowered, as he wondered if he should just make a run for it before she got grandpa involved.
Putting his hands in his pocket, he saw a glowing ball of light form over his grandma's head, before drifting away towards the ceiling. That old, familiar voice filled his head, whispering his name.
The hallucinations weren't relenting, but growing stronger.
"Steven," his grandma began, "I can't allow you to leave. I have no idea what you're up to, but I can't let you go." With a sigh, she placed the letter back on the fridge. Shuffling back to the stairwell, she smiled ever so slightly at her grandson. "Which is why I was never awake. I don't know why you're doing this, I can hardly condone it, but you're a young man now, a time will come when all decisions are yours to make."
She hesitated, her mouth opening to form more words, yet she kept silent. Then, her eyes fixed on her grandson, she finished what she needed to say. "Your father always knew that he hadn't prepared you for life as an orphan, which he knew was approaching. If I were to stop you, I would be teaching you nothing. Life is yours to make Steven, choose wisely. And know that no matter what, we'll be here for you. Just come back to see your father off." A tear formed at her eyes, then rolled down her cheek.
Steven went right up to her, enveloping her in his arms. "Thank you."
"Be careful, Steven." She held her grandson close, then reluctantly let her go. "I always thought this generation was about texting and Facebook. Why do you so badly want to see her?"
"It's not like that," before he could explain more, his grandma had already turned around and was heading down the stairs. He could hear his grandpa stirring downstairs, so he hastily went to the front door, zippered up his sweater and grabbed his suitcase.
School was still closed, as the city struggled to unbury itself from the city's worst snowstorm in decades. Unfortunately it wouldn't closed Thursday, which was tomorrow, so when he came back late that night, he would miss some school.
Of course, that was a petty fact if he didn't find a way to stop the dreams from enveloping him.
He ran to his car, shivering as the wind was bitterly cold. Once inside, he turned it on, waited a few minutes for it to warm up and pulled out of the driveway.
Before he went to the airport, he had two stops to make.
Steven knocked on the metal, screen door.
Behind him, the sun was rising over the treetops, sprinkling him with warm, radiant light.
Flakes of snow drifted in the air, flying around Steven as he pulled his sweater tighter around his body. In his hand, he held a single rose.
On Monday, he'd received her first text to him since she'd kissed him at the park. At first, he was worried that he'd hurt her badly by not kissing her back, but when she finally responded, he learned differently. She was falling for him.
He was coming here to tell her that they simply couldn't be.
When she reentered his life, he realized just how much he still liked her. His old feelings and emotions lit up inside him so incredibly strong that he was shocked by how potent they were. It was if not a day had passed since they'd parted ways four years ago.
If not for Julia, he wouldn't have fought off the love building inside.
Taking her to the park, Steven had every intention of kissing her, and by doing so choosing her over Julia. However, he just couldn't bring himself to doing so.
He could only think of Julia, who was lying in a hospital bed, stuck in a coma. How could he possibly betray her? No matter how strongly he felt for his beautiful, brown eyed neighbor, he couldn't do that to Julia.
Steven knew that loving Julia was incredibly hard, since she lived so far away and all that kept them together were dreams and memories. Cerise, on the other hand, was nearby, falling for him and incredibly beautiful. They had a history together, he trusted her and unlike Julia, had been friends long before falling for her.
Still, he'd promised Julia to love her forever. Especially now, with all that was happening in the dreams, he needed to be there for her. To wake her up from the coma, find a way to stop the dreams from taking over his reality.
So why was he at Cerise's house rose in hand?
He intended to say goodbye to her. When she opened the door, dressed in pajamas and a bathrobe, he forgot all about his intentions.
Smiling, she took the rose he handed to her. "Steven!" She wrapped him in her arms, kissing him on the cheek. Moving back, she looked up into his eyes. "You surprised me, I look terrible," she blushed, "what are you doing here?"
"I wanted to see you before I left for Alberta."
"Alberta?" Her brow furrowed, while she folded her arms over her chest. "Why are you going out there?"
"I need to see someone there." He knew that explanation would not be sufficient, so he quickly changed the conversation. "Cerise, I've been thinking about our time at the park all the time now… do you really like me? I mean, like that?" He laughed, feeling like a pre-teen asking out his crush to the dance.
"Of course I do." She giggled, staring up into his amazingly blue eyes. "And you feel the same, right? I mean, at the park, you made it sound like you weren't sure. But texting later, you told me that you did."
"I do, I'm just not sure I should." Julia entered into his mind, but was promptly chased out when Cerise came closer to him. Her hands found his, touching them fondly. He tried to recall what he wanted to say, but found that her brown eyes had purged his mind of the rehearsed lines.
"Can I change your mind?"
"I know you can, and that's why-" Was all he had time to say before her lips were on his. Warm, gentle, she kissed him so fully that his breath escaped him. Instead of letting go, he was taken in by her kiss, returning it as well. His eyes clothed, his mind kilometers in the sky, unable to comprehend how amazing this was.
Minutes or hours, he couldn't tell, passed before she let him out of her hold. With a smile, she breathed, "I really do like you." And she kissed him again, while he kissed her back, moving his arms down her back.
The rose fell from her hands, landing on his shoes, then into a pile of powdery snow.
Beside it was a bouquet of flowers.
Steven sat in the terminal, his suitcase on the floor at his feet. Row after row of plastic chairs filled the long, stretched out hall where passengers waited to board their planes and leave the city of Winnipeg. Most of them were carrying coffee or some other beverage, talking on their cells, or with others around them.
Many of them occupied chairs, doing the same thing as Steven, except they had entirely different reasons for being there. One of them, a tired, haggard man in a business suit stared at his phone, pressing it furiously. "Damn it!" His face went red as he swore loudly, gathering the attention of several nearby.
Steven stared at the man, briefly making eye contact before staring back at the floor.
The businessman put his phone back in his pocket, rubbed his eyes and stared off into space with a lost, forlorn expression. Steven wondered what the man was so agitated by, could it be a business contract fell through. He and his wife were arguing? Was he simply in a bad mood?
This man, as haggard and grouchy in appearance as he was, had a thousand untold stories that everyone in this airport wouldn't be privy too. No one would know why this man was the way he was, or what he was doing.
Just a complete stranger.
So it was for him to everyone else-no one would know that he was on a last ditch effort to save himself from slipping into a dream. Although his story was ludicrous and hard to believe, he wondered if there were others here with just as fanciful, incredible stories.
Steven leaned back in his seat, staring at the businessman with newfound interest. Although neither had spoken a word, or would ever receive that chance, he'd still thought about him. The man had stirred inside him deep, revelatory thoughts.
Perhaps he'd done so in others.
The businessman noticed his stare, returned it with an offended scowl and turned his attention back to his phone.
'We're all slaves to what we give power to,' the words from the hooded figure in his dreams ran through his head.
He'd kissed Cerise, though that had never been his intention, he'd done so anyways. Without warning, she'd kissed him and though he momentarily fought off the urge, he kissed her back.
Afterwards, they'd said their farewells and Steven went back into his car. All he could think about was Cerise, her beauty, her kissing, her eyes… for a second he wanted to go back and spend the day with her.
Calmer thoughts prevailed and he continued his day as planned. Before going to the airport he went to Concordia Hospital to say goodbye to his father. When he made it into the hospital room, he'd been struck by just how deteriorated his condition had become in just mere hours.
Steven had gone to the side of his bed, staring down at him. "Dad?"
The man he'd once called his father, couldn't even respond. Instead, drool dripping from the corner of his mouth, he stared straight ahead. The machines indicated that he was still alive and breathing, Steven's eyes told him differently.
Could this really be the same man that had punished him when he broke the rules? Comforted him when he was hurt? Picked him up when he fell? Raised him up to the man he now was?
All Steven could see was a dying, pale corpse.
"Goodbye dad," he bent over, lowering his lips to his father's sweat-beaded forehead. Kissing it, he stood back up, saw no response and slowly exited the room.
Behind him, the old man lay on his bed.
Steven was called out of his reminiscing by the airport's intercom system. A monotonous, female voice told the passengers that the flight to Edmonton, Alberta was open for boarding.
Picking up his bags, he followed the mass of weary travelers to the boarding gates.