She lay nestled between the sheets, her face toward the open window. Her mind was calm and peaceful and yet sleep eluded her. Again. In the distance, she heard the wail of a siren hurrying toward someone else’s tragedy and she wondered, briefly, what it might be. A car accident, a house fire…someone’s life changing for worse…sirens always meant for worse. But she was safe and comfortable in her own bed, in her own home that was not burning, and her inability to court slumber seemed suddenly insignificant.
Susan slid back the sheet and sat up, resting at the edge of the bed, the tips of her toes grazing the floor boards as she dangled her legs, her mind wandering out the open window. Sitting up was an admission of defeat which she accepted with a sigh and stepped from the bed, padding barefoot toward the balcony door.
It was the balcony that had sold her in the first place. When she saw the apartment she’d imagined herself sitting there, enjoying coffee and bagels for breakfast, and yet she’d found herself more often sitting there in the moonlight with Sam, the neighborhood cat who’d adopted her when she moved in. He appeared in the alley below and leapt easily to the top of the fence before joining her on the balcony. She reached to greet him, scratching him behind the ears then running her hand along his back as he raised his tail in appreciation. He purred and twined himself around her legs, rubbing the soft fur of his face against her, hoping to win more of her attention.
“What’s new, Sam?” she asked quietly. There was much, of course, he could tell her of the neighborhood goings on if only he could speak. Instead he purred a little louder and leaned into her as she stroked him, her mind drifting out across the sleeping city.
Joe tossed and turned fitfully in his bed, once again tormented by a dream. There she was…long legs and blonde hair, sitting quietly alone and reading to pass the time. What was she reading? The book was worn, its cover bent and the corners of its pages rounded over with age. What was the title? He couldn’t quite make it out. She held it in one hand, its pages splayed open with her thumb. No ring. Her free hand rose slowly from her knee and reached to turn the page, and in that moment her eyes lifted, glancing out over the top of the book to meet his own. Panic shot through him like an electric shock. He’d been staring and was caught. Her eyes returned to the page, the slightest smile dancing at the corner of her lips. The book blocked her face from view, but in the dream… he knew.
Tuesday began with a jolt from the alarm clock and proceeded quickly. Strangers gathered reluctantly for their morning commute, separated by inches and pretending not to notice one another, their faces buried in newspapers or intently studying cell phone screens in hopes of carving out a sense of privacy and personal space. One lone soul sat near the back, paying attention. His eyes scanned the crowd when he boarded and now he sat quietly, his gaze hopeful as the train pulled in to each station and the doors slid open, and a little less so each time they closed. It slowly began to occur to him that her appearance on the train that day may have been a onetime occurrence, and as disappointment began to settle in, Joe suddenly realized he had just missed his stop. Shit!
Susan sat quietly at her desk and unpacked her lunch. A granola bar, an apple and a piece of string cheese…all that had been within easy reach as she hurried out the door this morning, late again. She was more tired, though, than hungry and she laid her head down on her desk and closed her eyes. Her phone vibrated and she felt the rattle through the desktop on the side of her face. It was a text from Jane.
Meet me after work?
Susan groaned and ignored the message. Her phone rattled again. Jane didn’t give up easily.
C’mon. U cancelled last time. U owe me 1.
This was true, but it didn’t make Susan any more eager to go out tonight. It had been a week since she’d gotten a descent night’s sleep and the insomnia was beginning to take its toll. Her phone vibrated a third time.
Dinner/drinks @ Angelo’s. My treat.
Jane was persistent, always ready for a good time, and usually got what she wanted. Tonight, it was Susan’s company that she was after. The thought of Angelo’s vodka pasta — delicate, ricotta-filled purses with garlicky bits of chicken – made her mouth water. Susan looked at the sad excuse for lunch that sat in front of her.
Fine, she texted back. Meet me in front of the library at 5.
Joe hurried toward the elevator. It was ten past five and he still had a fair chance of making the 5:30 train if he could just get out of the building. A crowd was gathered, waiting and watching as the numbers above the elevator doors lit up in descending order. Finally, they opened to reveal a space already filled to capacity. A few more attempted to insert themselves and Joe was one of them. He slid in sideways; uncomfortably close to a woman he thought he remembered worked on the 8th floor but whom he’d never actually met. She smelled of strawberries and crisp linen and a week ago he would have counted himself lucky for this fortunate encounter but his mind was preoccupied, determined to make the train on time.
It was the 5:30 he’d seen her on last week and that was the only thing he knew about her. He was still kicking himself for not talking to her. If only he had a second chance…just one more chance to learn her name, to get her number, to see her again. He’d dreamt of her every night that week and searched his dreams for any detail his subconscious might have picked up while he was busy just hoping she’d put her book down. One more chance, that’s all he wanted. The elevator jerked to a halt, having reached its destination, and the doors opened and Joe quickly extricated himself, pushing through the crowd in the lobby and making his way to the street. There was still time, although not much. The sidewalk was congested and the crowd seemed to shuffle even slower than normal toward the station. Joe’s impatience grew with each passing minute and by the time he reached the train and slipped inside the car he was nearly at his end. There were no seats left and it was difficult to see through all the people and he would have to wait until the crowd thinned to have any chance of spotting her. Or perhaps she was already on the train, in another car. There was no way to know. It was chance that he had seen her at all that first time…he’d just have to trust chance to bring her back.
“About time,” said Susan, slipping into the passenger seat and shutting the door. The car behind them honked impatiently.
“Uh…thanks for the ride and dinner Jane???”
“Sorry. You’re right. Thanks for the ride and dinner Jane. It’s just been a really long day.”
“Well relax. We’ll eat, we’ll drink, we’ll talk…it’ll be a good night.”
The horn blared from behind them again.
“Relax, buddy…the light’s red anyway!”
Susan smiled. She knew Jane, and the honk-happy man behind them in the Honda would be well advised to back off before he pushed her any further. The light turned green and traffic started to move. A man, pushing his way through the crowd on the sidewalk jumped the Don’t Walk sign and darted across the street in front of her. It was Jane’s turn to lay on the horn.
“Idiot!” she screamed, nearly clipping him as he hurried past.
Unphased, he disappeared down the stairs to the train station on the other side of the street.
Dinner at Angelo’s was delicious, as usual, and Susan found herself truly thankful for having accepted Jane’s invitation. She had a blissfully full sleepy feeling going and hoped to ride it all the way home and into bed, finally able to get some rest. But Jane was far from done and prattled on about her boyfriend, her job, and assorted other annoyances until they’d finished off the bottle of wine they’d ordered with dinner.
“Anything else I can get you ladies?” the waitress asked. “Some dessert perhaps?”
“Oh God no,” said Jane. “Dinner was wonderful but I’m stuffed. How ‘bout you?”
“No I’ve had plenty, thanks,” said Susan. “I just want to get home and crawl into bed. I’ve been up since 2…just can’t sleep lately. “
“You know what they say,” said the waitress, leaning across the table to clear their plates. “When you can’t sleep at night it’s because you’re awake in someone else’s dream.” She winked at Susan and placed the check at the corner of the table before retreating to the kitchen.
“Oooh Sue…who’s dreaming about you?” This felt too much like gossip for Jane to ignore and her eyes lit up and she leaned in closer. “Maybe it’s the cute guy from the deli. Or Jerry. Or your new neighbor, maybe it’s him. He was looking at you pretty hard when he was moving in last weekend.”
“Don’t know. Don’t care. Can we go now? I really just want to be home.”
“Party pooper!” Jane reached for the check and Susan thanked her again for the dinner and 15 minutes later she was finally home.
Joe sat alone in his apartment, nursing his disappointment with a beer and the tv remote. It had been a full week and he hadn’t seen her again. If she only rode the train on certain days, he’d covered them all now and was losing hope. He’d seen a thousand beautiful women, so why her? Why couldn’t he get her out of his mind? He struggled with that question every night and for his own sanity he had to find her and figure out what it was about her. But how? It was too much to think about. He grabbed another beer and flicked through a dozen stations before settling on an old episode of The Twilight Zone. A few hours later and he was asleep on the couch, dreaming himself into the episode playing in the background.
Susan kicked off her shoes and headed for the bedroom, shedding her clothes and reaching for her most comfortable pajamas. In the bathroom she pulled her hair back into one long, blonde ponytail, washed her face and brushed her teeth. She watched herself in the mirror, the waitress’s comment still floating through her mind. It creeped her out to think her neighbor might be dreaming of her. Or that anyone was dreaming of her for that matter. If they were, she surely didn’t want to know about it. All she wanted was to get some rest.
Flicking off the light, she walked to the bedroom, moonlight illuminating her path. Perhaps she should close the curtains, she thought, but decided against it. Afraid to commit to the idea of trying to sleep, she laid sideways across the bed, her arm curled under her head, gazing out the window at the stars. The moonlight was just bright enough to be comforting, and as her eyes adjusted to the relative darkness, more and more stars appeared to her. Within minutes, she was fast asleep.
Wednesday arrived quietly, followed quickly by Thursday and Friday, each blurring and blending into one another until the weekend arrived and woke everyone up. Having shed the suits and heels and leather cases, the natives came out in softer clothes, making eye contact with one another and strolling replaced rushing on the sidewalks in the city. Susan usually made her way to the park on weekends, meeting Jane for a run before lunch. But this Saturday she’d agreed to cover for Wendy at the library, a move she was regretting after yet another sleepless week. Well, that’s not entirely true…there was Tuesday. But one good night’s sleep in two weeks just wasn’t enough, she thought to herself as she shuffled toward the shower.
Stardust. He saw it, the title of the book she’d been reading, and now he just had to hold on to it long enough to find a pen before it faded from his memory as dreams so often do. His hand fumbled urgently through the drawer of his nightstand, his fingers feeling for anything that might serve his purpose. Finally, yes, the nub of a pencil…that would do, and he jotted it down on the back of a random receipt that lay next to his wallet. His dreams of her took many forms, but they always started on the train, just as he’d actually met her. Well, he’d never actually met her, had he? Not properly. Not at all, really. But she haunted his dreams none-the-less, and the more he dreamed of her the more intrigued he became and the more desperately he wanted to find her. He stared at the small slip of paper in his hand and wondered how much he could trust the details from his dream. Was this even a real book? He switched on his laptop and did a quick search…several books of that title appeared. Which one? Did it matter? Probably not. But as it was Saturday and he had nothing else to go on, Joe got dressed and headed toward the library.
“Stardust, hmmm. Ok, we have three copies here. Which one were you interested in?”
“Which author? There are several with that title.”
“Oh. Yes. I don’t know really.”
“Well, what do you know about it? Perhaps we can narrow it down that way.”
Joe knew nothing of the book except that it had appeared in his dream and that it was being read by a woman on the train that he couldn’t seem to get out of his mind. And as he contemplated how to explain that without sounding crazy, he noticed a woman making her way towards him from across the room. She was tall and blond and quite beautiful and he had the oddest inkling that somehow he knew her, although he couldn’t quite place her face. She smiled at him, a tentative smile, and, realizing he’d been staring, he dropped his eyes. It was then that it hit him. Those legs…he’d know those legs anywhere. He’d dreamed about them most every night for the past two weeks. Oh God…it was her.
Susan approached the information counter where Joe stood and placed an armful of books on the desk. She had been pulling some favorites to add to the Librarian’s Pick table in the lobby when she was overcome with a sudden urgency to look toward the door and a compulsion to go to the man who had just walked in. It was embarrassing, really. How was she going to do this without sounding crazy?
“Excuse me,” she said, tapping Joe on the shoulder as he looked at the floor, desperately trying to gather himself. While he’d hoped and even dreamed of finding her again, he suddenly realized that he’d never planned what he’d do if he did and he found himself utterly unprepared.
“Excuse me,” she said again. And he lifted his eyes and looked into the face that was no longer blocked from view by a book.
“I don’t know how to explain to you that I know what I know,” she continued. “I don’t even understand it myself, but I think this belongs to you. I found it in my apartment, or rather my cat found it. Well, he isn’t exactly my cat…but I guess that doesn’t matter does it?”
Joe’s mind was reeling.
“Anyway, he likes shiny things and this caught his eye and I found him pawing at the vent on my bedroom floor. It’s a moonstone, but I suppose you know that already.”
Susan produced a small silver ring into which a white, pearlescent stone was set. Looking at it, it seemed as if its insides were fluid, swirling gently as the light touched it. Joe knew the ring. It had belonged to his mother and his grandmother before her.
“I know, it seems really weird. “
“You found this in your apartment?”
“Yes, a few nights ago. I couldn’t sleep and I was sitting out on the balcony and Sam, that’s the cat I was telling you about, jumped off my lap and started pawing at the vent just inside the door. I guess the moon reflected off the ring and caught his eye.”
“Did you say balcony?”
“What’s your address?”
Susan hesitated. Was it wise to give her address to a complete stranger? But under the circumstances, it seemed appropriate.”
“215 South Cedar Street. “
Joe’s face went white and his legs grew weak and the room spun out of control. “I need to sit,” he said, stumbling off toward a large leather chair in the corner. Susan followed. As he regained himself, Joe sat staring at the ring he held in the palm of his hand.
“That was her apartment,” he said. “My mother’s.”
“You’ll give it to her, then?”
“No, she passed away a year ago. You must have taken the apartment right after that.”
Susan sat now, on the corner of the low table beside the chair.
“I don’t know what to say,” she said. “It’s just so odd.”
Odd didn’t begin to explain it. Across from him sat the woman he’d sought desperately for the past two weeks and all the while she’d been at the place he’d spent every Tuesday night for the past 10 years, save the last. He looked at the moonstone and turned it over in his hand. His grandmother told stories of the power the ring possessed…the power to help you discover the lost and forgotten parts of your soul, the power to bring lovers together, the power to channel psychic energy and dream visions. He didn’t so much believe in things like that, but his mother did and she treasured that ring when it was passed down to her. When Joe was very young she would place it beneath his pillow at night to ward off nightmares and help him sleep. Her passing had been hard on him and he hadn’t thought of the ring in the midst of all that and only remembered it months later when it was too late to do anything about it.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.”
“Nice to meet you, Joe. I’m sorry about your mother.”
“Well, it’s been a year. Thanks, though. Still miss her. I used to have dinner with her every Tuesday, right there in your apartment.”
It felt funny to say that…your apartment. It wasn’t her apartment…it was his mother’s. But it wasn’t, really, not any more.
“Sue! There you are!”
The sudden intrusion startled Joe and jolted him from thoughts of his mother. In front of them stood Jane, the picture of impatience and impossible energy in yoga pants and a bright pink running top.
“Sorry,” she said quickly to Joe before dismissing him and returning her exasperated attention to Susan. “It’s just that I’ve been looking all over the library for you. It’s nearly noon. Aren’t you off in a few minutes? I thought we could still get in a run.”
Joe slipped the ring into his pocket, where it glowed, faintly and unnoticed, having finally brought them together.
“Ok, lights out. That’s enough for tonight.”
“Daaaaad! No! You can’t just stop there. I want to hear the rest.”
“You already know the rest. Your mother is a very persistent woman and she usually gets what she wants and I just so happened to be what she wanted.”
“Well I do usually get what I want,” laughed Jane, “but as I recall you were the one doing the pursuing.”
“Me? Hardly,” teased Joe. “Your mother couldn’t take her eyes off me when we met, you just ask Aunt Sue next time you see her.” He winked at his daughter and reached into his pocket.
“We’ll tell you the rest another night. But for now… sweet dreams my love.” He bent down and brushed the dark curls from her face and kissed her on the forehead. And as his did so, he slipped the moonstone beneath her pillow where it glowed faintly and unnoticed as she drifted off to sleep.
© Kelly Rainey and 500wordsandcounting.wordpress.com, 2015.
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