Chapter Thirty Six
Endless kilometers of salty, warm ocean water lay above Steven. What was once sweet, sugary and inviting, was now salty and bitter. Though it was still warm, he was quickly growing used to the temperature as it soon felt cool, stale and infinite.
No fish swam in these waters, nor could he see the sandy, seafloor. Instead, bobbing in a sea of eternally deep waters, he was utterly alone. Only, somewhere far and out of reach, there floated the glowing ball of light.
Swimming upwards, he stretched out his hand, hoping to simply touch the light. Just as a moth is drawn to a flame, so he was attracted to the mysterious, comforting ball of radiance.
However, he noticed that instead of growing larger the more he swam, it only seemed to recede. With every stroke of his arms and legs, the ball of light shrunk and shrunk.
"No!" His voice came out warbled and distorted. Warm, salty water gushed down his throat, causing him considerable pain. Unlike before, it now hurt to breathe in the water.
Exhaling, he closed his mouth.
Yet the urge to breathe was too strong and he forced himself to take in another breath.
Pumping his legs and arms, he kept staring at the ball of light, willing it to come to him. Swimming with all his might, he coursed upwards, yet never drew a centimeter closer to the luminous orb. Taking in a ragged breath, he dropped his arms to his side.
His muscles ached and groaned from the physical excess.
He started sinking back down, away from the light, away from any hope of escaping the waters. "What have I done?" He thought to himself, misery and loneliness descending on him like vicious predators. "What have I done? I don't want to dream! I don't want to dream! Please, if you can hear me," he stared up at the ball of light, pleading with it in a warbled, pained voice. "I want to leave! Please, get me out of here, I don't want to dream! I don't!"
All the light did in response was shimmer brightly, while it continued to drift away.
"No! Come back! Please! You have to come back!" He reached out one more time with his hands, stretching his fingertips towards the light. "I don't want to stay here. I was wrong, okay? I was wrong to want to dream again! I just want to leave, please!" Although he was sure the glowing ball of light was unable to respond, he continued to beg it, asking to be freed.
Freed of what though? He'd always known this was going to happen-entering the dreams. Julia had warned him, Markus had warned him, he'd been warned by himself, the hooded gunman. Still he so stubbornly held to his promises, desperately wanting Julia, unable to let go.
Steven shut his eyes; his hands began to fall back to his side.
There was nothing more he could do.
There was nothing left to say.
Just as the last remnants of hope fled his heart, as he began to sink farther and farther from the light, a hand broke the surface of the water. Delicate, thin fingers, attached to a long, pale arm dove into the water, found Steven's arm and wrapped around it. Pulling upwards, Steven's eyes snapped open.
The water, which had been warm, was now freezing cold. When his head broke the surface, all he could see was a dark, starry sky above him. Gasping for breath, coughing out buckets of water, he grabbed the hand that was around his arm.
"Steven! I have you, hold on," Julia's firm, reassuring voice hit his ears like a wet, passionate kiss.
Sputtering, he let go of Julia's arm, finding the edge of a metal canoe. His fingers clung to the edge, while he attempted to pull himself over.
The canoe started to tip as he put his full weight on the side of the craft. Julia cried out, trying to balance out the canoe before it completely tipped over. "Don't worry," he heaved himself half onboard, while his legs draped over the edge. Swinging those over, he plopped inside, sopping wet and freezing.
Shivering, he sat up in the canoe, trying to get back his breath. More water dripped from out of his mouth, down his chin and onto his utterly soaked shirt.
"Julia, dear God, what are you doing here?" He wondered if it really was her, but he couldn't tell in the dim light. "It is you, isn't it?" Drawing closer, he tentatively reached out his hand, stroking her face gently.
Her smooth, cool skin was familiar, comforting.
"Of course it's me," she laughed, her voice shaky and scared. "For a second, I thought I'd lost you for good." She reached out, taking his hand and holding it in her own. "What happened in Edmonton? Did you see my family?"
Steven nodded his head, rubbing her hand soothingly. "I saw your father, but that's it. I didn't get to stay very long; I'm already back in Winnipeg."
"Well what happened is my father doing okay?"
"Your father's alright," although Steven didn't have the heart to tell her that her death had ripped the family apart. Her parents were separated, both of them seeking divorce.
"And me? Did you visit the hospital?"
Steven opened his mouth, unsure if he could really tell her the truth.
Their canoe, drifting lazily on the lake, was the exact same one they'd been on during their final night together. The night when they'd gone to the island, spending nearly the entire night there, laying in one another's arms, before sneaking back before the morning sun rose into the sky.
The night that Julia had given him the dreaming ability through that fateful kiss.
The night Steven had promised to love her forever. Despite the distance that separated them, he swore that he would wait for her. It was his dream, his little fantasy that both Julia and him knew was nearly impossible to keep. Not even love could mend the bonds that being separated for so long cut.
Only thing was, Steven hadn't expected the dreams. Although it would ultimately destroy him, Julia had been too overcome by love and desire for the strange, amazing boy from Winnipeg. She knew better, had seen the dreams ruin lives, but went against reality and kissed Steven anyways. She gave her heart to Steven, knowing in the back of her mind it would only take his life.
Now that Steven knew what would happen if he didn't let go, why did he find it so hard to do so? Staring at the striking, amazing girl before him, he only wanted to envelope her in his arms. Hold her so tight, kiss her passionately and spend their final moments in bliss.
Then he would surrender his life, slip away into the dreams.
"Steven?" Julia gave his hand a tight squeeze, her face coated in concern. "Did you visit the hospital?" Moving closer, her eyes widening, she let go of his hands, sensing something was terribly amiss.
Sighing, Steven knew that no amount of memories or promises could save them now. No amount of love could keep them together, it was time to stop this madness, to stop this dream and finally say goodbye. "Julia, you weren't in the hospital."
"Where was I then?" She let go of his hands, her mouth slipping into a frown.
"I-" Before he could continue his sentence, the dream around them began to change. Gone was the dark, freezing lake; in its place was an expansive, green field. Leaves blew over the field, which was now gated in by a black, iron fence. Headstones rose out of the ground, popping out into long, numerous rows.
Where a dark, starry sky had once been, now was a blue, cloud-filled one.
A stiff, chilly breeze blew over Julia and Steven, who were standing at the foot of a freshly made grave. Multiple flowers rested on the fresh, brown soil. On the grey slab of stone, it read: "Julia Chelsea Ryte, 1995-2012, with love, we held you, with tears we let you go".
"I don't understand." Julia stared at Steven. "I'm dead?"
"Almost. Julia, I've been keeping you alive in these dreams. At first, I couldn't let you go, I mean, how could I? I promised to love you, no matter what. And to be honest, I still do." He took her in his arms, holding her warmly. "But I have to let you go. I can't keep pretending that none of this is false. I'm so sorry, Julia, I really do love you."
"If you love someone, let them go. Is that it?" Julia stepped out of his embrace, kneeling beside her own tombstone.
"No. My love is what kept me holding on. I'm letting go because I have to, not because I want to. Trust me, if there was a way, I would never let me go. But that's the thing with life, sometimes, you just can't get what you want. Sometimes, you do have to give up your dreams."
Julia sighed, tears coming to her brilliant, incredible turquoise eyes. "Steven?" She bit her lower lip, which was trembling visibly. "I-" It was all she had time to say before a thunderous explosion sounded overhead.
Steven was held in place as the sky above them began to collapse. Chunks of blue, cloud-filled sky plummeted to the ground. Trees swayed back and forth, while the gates and tombstones collapsed on the grass.
"Julia!" Steven reached out his hand, seeing that his lover was beginning to disappear.
"I love you." Their fingers brushed up against one another, while she faded away completely. In mere seconds, there was nothing left of the one person he'd given his entire heart to.
Steven whispered, "I love you more," while his countenance fell.
He stared up at the collapsing sky, his heart feeling a rush of sorrow… and freedom. It was done. The dreams-they were over.
Closing his eyes, he took in a deep breath.
Then he opened them once more.