The sandy ocean floor was clearly visible through the clean sunlit water. Fish of all colors could be seen swimming this way and that. The rays of the sun, as they penetrated the water’s surface, heated the water to a very comfortable, relaxing temperature.
A boy, in the prime of his adolescence, took advantage of the water’s salty buoyancy. With his hands clasped behind his head, he lay upon the water’s surface as upon a soft bed, gently rising, gently falling. Occasionally, one of the sea’s more curious fish rose up to investigate the half submerged body. The touch of the fish tickled the boy, but he fought his natural reflexes and remained still upon the water.
“Hey!” a voice called out loudly over the sound of the crashing waves upon the sand.
“Hey, Dylan!” the voice cried out again. “Over here!”
Dylan, for that was his name, lifted his head from his watery bed to locate the source of his name being called out. Just as he saw a pair of arms waving back and forth, a large swell rose up between himself and the shore. He heard dozens of delighted screams as the swell was noticed rushing in to the land. Suddenly, the large wave began to break upon the shore, crashing down upon dozens of happy, soon to be sunburnt beach-goers. The seashore became quite chaotic as people struggled to discern up from down. Some had scraped themselves upon the sand and were analyzing their wounds. Others screamed in sheer joy at the wild ride they had just enjoyed. This would be one of the few waves of this size this day, the beach being generally quite calm during the summer months.
Dylan could now see his friend clearly looking for him, the wave having disrupted his sight of him. Reluctantly, Dylan decided to heed his friend’s beckonings and leave his favorite place in the world, its beauty unknown to all but himself, or at least he hoped. Hundreds of people visited this beach everyday, but most of them were either weak swimmers or visitors that were fearful of sharks or strong currents and were content to stay near the shore. Occasionally, a visitor would swim out and see the beauty that was there, but the spot was relatively inaccessible compared to the numerous tourist traps in the nearby cities. Dylan fervently hoped that his secret place would remain a secret, or at least quickly forgotten by those that saw it.
With a quick intake of breath, Dylan dove down beneath the surface of the water and swam quickly in the direction from which he had seen his friend waving. He knew his friend would still be looking for him after that last big wave. Let him worry, Dylan thought, still a little annoyed at having to leave earlier than planned. Almost two minutes later and deeply in need of a breath, Dylan stood up in the shallow water, forcing himself to suck in the air slowly, putting on a show of calm.
Actually, he would have preferred to drop to his hands and knees and gasp erratically for breath, but he would not give his friend the satisfaction of seeing him weak and suffering. Swimming and diving were what he did. The ocean was his playground, or so he liked to tell himself.
Just a few feet away on the sand with his jaw gaping was Dylan’ friend. “How…how did you do that?” he stammered.
Dylan took a few more breaths through his nose, trying to calm his beating heart, before trusting himself to answer.
“Hi, Chad,” he answered after a few moments. “You are so not dressed for the beach,” Dylan remarked, looking pointedly at Chad’s jeans and tennis shoes.
“Yeah, but…” Chad’s eyes were still kind of wild after seeing his friend floating out beyond all the other swimmers, disappearing for what seemed a very long time, and then popping up out of the knee-deep water just a few feet away.
“Ugh…Never mind,” he said, giving up on trying to understand. “Anyway, um, actually your brother wanted me to come and find you.”
Chad took a few steps backward, willing Dylan to follow him away from the water. Dylan took the hint and followed him up the beach toward where he had thrown down a towel earlier.
“What does Garrett want?” Dylan asked as he shook out the sand from his towel and then stuffed it in his school backpack, which had been laying on the towel to keep it from blowing away in the wind.
“Actually, your Dad called. He said something about babysitting and something else. I don’t know. He talked to Garrett.” Chad looked just a bit flustered, which was quite normal for him. Chad was always getting flustered or upset over the smallest things. Recently Chad had been spending a lot of time with Dylan’ brother, Garrett, playing video games or watching movies on television. He wasn’t very interested in the beach and so the two friends had drifted apart somewhat during the summer months.
Dylan realized with sudden clarity how Chad must have felt abandoned by him recently. He hadn’t meant to avoid his friend, but the ocean held such power over him that he could hardly resist its pull. Even now, he wanted nothing more than to turn around and throw himself back into the sea’s warm embrace. Just a few more weeks and it would be back to school for all of them, with very little time for swimming and relaxing on the ocean’s surface.
Dylan let loose a sigh and then instantly regretted it as he considered his friend’s feelings. “Well, let’s go then,” he said resignedly. Maybe I’m just not very nice, he thought. I just don’t care right now. He retrieved his T-shirt and sandals from the sand and held them in the crook of his arm. “Come on.”
Silence hung awkwardly in the air as the two teenagers walked from the sand up to the road overlooking the beach. Chad must be able to feel my irritation, Dylan thought. Oh well, I’ll make it up to him once school starts again.
Stepping onto the sidewalk from the sand, Dylan brushed off the sand from the soles of his feet and put on his sandals.
“I’ll see you later,” Chad said abruptly. “Tell Garrett I’ll come over tomorrow to finish the game we were playing.”
“You’re not coming back with me?” The situation was worse than he had thought.
“Nah. I got stuff to do at home. Have fun babysitting, or whatever.” Chad turned right and started to walk away from him down the road.
“Okay, well, maybe we can hang out a bit next time,” Dylan called out to the swiftly retreating shape of Chad’s back. Chad raised his hand and waved without comment and without turning his head. Have I just lost a friend without knowing it, Dylan wondered to himself.
Garrett loved the feeling of water dripping down his back after a relaxing shower. His thick hair supplied a steady drip for at least fifteen minutes if he didn’t use a hair-dryer. He was far too self-conscious, however, to walk back to his bedroom without a shirt on, so he dressed fully before leaving the bathroom, careful to put his shirt on without touching his wet hair. As soon as he entered his room, he shut and locked the door behind him and then removed his shirt. He slid a comb through his hair, moving the water to the back of his head so that it could drip down his back and not his face.
The water began to drip down his back, at first quickly, and then more slowly. Garrett loved the gentle feeling on his very sensitive skin. For this reason, he was also very ticklish, but he worked especially hard to keep this bit of information a secret. As he sat on the edge of his bed, Garrett looked at his reflection in the full-length mirror that doubled as a sliding door to his closet. He was just beginning to develop some noticeable muscles in his upper arms. He was an average size for his age, he thought – not too fat and not too puny. A bit sturdier perhaps than average, he thought. He had inherited his father’s heavy bone structure, but without the fat. He flexed his muscles, admiring the small bulge that was produced. Maybe he should start swimming more like his brother, he thought. Dylan had a body to be admired. Well, someday maybe, he thought, lost in his own reflection. After all, he was only eleven and his brother Dylan was a full four years older.
Well, that’s enough vanity for one day, he thought, putting on a clean t-shirt. His friend Chad could be back any minute with his brother, Garrett. Truthfully speaking, Chad was not his friend exactly, although he was as close to a friend as he had ever had, being far too shy at school to have made any friends his own age. Why do I have to be so shy, he thought angrily to himself. He didn’t like being a loner, but that seemed to be his role in life. In just a few weeks, school would start up again and Chad would go back to being his brother’s shadow, following Dylan everywhere and enjoying the quasi-popularity that came with associating with Dylan. It’s not fair! He threw himself down backwards on his bed, feeling suddenly overwhelmed with emotion. His eyes began to sting as tears threatened to leak out from the corners of his eyes. Having Chad spend so much time with him the last month and a half had made Garrett realize what he had been missing out on.
Ahh! This is no time to cry. Dylan is going to be here any second, anxious to know why he had to come back early. Garrett sat up and took several deep breaths, trying to regain his composure. Dylan isn’t going to be happy about having to baby-sit tonight, Garrett thought. He switched on the small black and white television in his bedroom and tried to drive the troubles from his mind with brainless entertainment.
Footsteps. Click, click, click. Were those high-heels on the cold tile floor? A small head peeked out from behind the kitchen island counter.
“There you are!” exclaimed a tall woman wearing a flashy pink dress and high heels.
“Aah, I shouldn’t have put my head out,” said the small blonde haired girl disappointedly as she stepped out fully from behind the counter.
“Well, why are you hiding from me anyway?” the woman asked with a smile.
“I was just playing a game. I was trying to walk through every room in the house without anyone seeing me,” she said plaintively. “But I heard your shoes and thought it was a stranger, so I had to look. I never saw you wear those shoes before,” the young girl said with the question clear in her voice.
“I’m going out with one of my coworkers tonight. Your babysitter should be here any minute to look after you while I’m gone. John has other plans this evening and can’t look after you.” John was her Aunt Gwen’s younger brother who took care of Jenny while Gwen worked in exchange for a place to stay. “You’ll be good, won’t you?” Gwen asked.
“It’s not Mrs. Carter again, is it? She’s really mean, and ugly too!” she said with a heavy scowl, remembering the aging Mrs. Carter with clear distaste. “And really boring too,” she threw out, desperately trying to dissuade her guardian from choosing the unpopular old woman. And then lowering her voice as if telling a secret, “and I even saw her picking her nose once, last time.”
“No, Jenny. It’s not Mrs. Carter, although you should be more respectful when talking about her. She was a good friend of your mother’s for many years, so you should treat her with respect, if just for your mother’s sake.”
Feeling somewhat rebuked, Jenny looked down at the floor. “I’m sorry, Aunt Gwen. I shouldn’t have said those things about Mrs. Carter. I forgot she was Mom’s friend.”
Jenny’s mother had passed away five years previously, and other than a few faded images in her mind, Jenny could hardly remember her. She never knew anything about a father and as far as she knew, she never had one. Aunt Gwen had become her guardian, although she wasn’t sure how they were actually related. Whenever Aunt Gwen referred to Jenny’s mother, it was always as “your” mother. Certainly, they had been friends at least, for Gwen never spoke about Jenny’s mother without love and respect.
“Cheer up, sweetie,” Aunt Gwen raised Jenny’s chin gently with two fingers, and then said with a smile, “The coworker I’m going out with tonight has two sons that will be staying here while I’m gone. The older one works at an after-school program, although he’s not working during the summer. During the school year, he works at Kirkwood Elementary School. You know…where Gloria goes to school.” Jenny nodded her head slowly with understanding. “She has to attend the after-school program because both her parents work. I’ve heard her say good things about her leaders there while we were at church. She said they play lots of games and have lots of fun. Maybe he’ll play some games with you.”
Jenny gave a weak smile at her guardian’s attempt to calm her worries, but then frowned again as she suddenly remembered something. “You said two boys are coming.”
“The other boy is about eleven years old. His Dad doesn’t want him staying home alone at night, so he’ll be coming here with his brother. I’m sure he’ll be friendly, so don’t worry.” Aunt Gwen looked at her watch with a worried look of her own. “They should be here by now,” she said, walking into the front room to peer out the window.
Jenny, meanwhile, walked down the hall in the direction from which her Aunt Gwen had come, heading toward her bedroom. Lying down on her bed, she contemplated the rest of her day. Her Aunt Gwen had asked her if she would be good for her babysitter, but she couldn’t recall giving a response. Not that she was a bad or naughty girl by nature anyway, but not answering that question meant to her that she did not have to be as good as she might otherwise have been. Try as she might though, she could not think of anything to do. She had never told her Aunt, but she was somewhat scared of boys, especially teenage boys. They seemed to be okay once they became men, but there was something scary about that in between age, between adulthood and childhood.
Most of Jenny’s experience with teenage boys came from the community swimming pool. There, the boys were terrible, running around yelling at each other, bragging, showing off, pushing each other into the pool; True beasts they seemed at times, using words that if she were to use would bring about severe scolding from Aunt Gwen. She didn’t even know what most of the words meant, just that they were bad. They didn’t seem to mean much at all, she had decided, because if you left out all the bad words, the sentences still made sense. Except for sometimes when what they said made no sense at all, with or without bad words, as if they were speaking another language. She wasn’t sure she wanted to understand at those times, however, certain that whatever they were saying was absolutely horrid.
At least the boys usually kept to themselves, she thought, oblivious of her presence. Sometimes too oblivious, she noted sourly to herself, remembering all the times she had been splashed in the face as a result of all their horsing around.
At church, the boys were different, but that hardly counted, she thought. Everybody talks softly there. They’d be scolded if they didn’t. Fortunately, the children were all divided by age group there and she didn’t have to get too close during the Sunday school, so she hardly thought about them there. This afternoon would be her first occasion to actually interact with one of those strange creatures. She wondered if her babysitter would be like the boys at the pool and she would need his brother to interpret for her, or more like the church boys that were quiet and almost invisible to her. And with that final thought there was a knock at the door.
Garrett and Dylan walked as quickly as they could to the address their father had given them. Unfortunately for Garrett, his legs were not as long as Dylan’s and he was not in nearly as good shape, so he had to jog half the time to keep up. The house was about four blocks away on the opposite side of Garrett’s Elementary School. At a regular pace, it would normally take him about ten minutes to walk to school, so Garrett figured they’d probably reach the house in about the same amount of time since they were walking at least twice as fast as what he was accustomed to. After just two minutes of walking, Garrett felt a sharp pain in his shins and stopped walking.
“Hey, Dylan. What do you say I just meet you there? My legs are really hurting.” He leaned over and rubbed his shins as he made his plea.
“Yeah, that’s okay, I guess,” Dylan conceded. “Are you sure you remember the address?”
“I took the message, remember?” Garrett said. “The question is, do you remember?”
“605 Jasper Street, right?” Dylan asked.
“You got it. Better hurry…I’ll see you there.” Garrett gestured with his hands for Dylan to go on without him.
“Don’t take too long,” Dylan admonished as he started off again, this time at an even faster pace.
Garrett sat down on the curb and watched Dylan walk quickly away and around the corner. I wish I had legs like his, he thought, as he rubbed his own, very sore legs. After a minute or two, Garrett stood up again and began walking in the direction of the house where he would be staying until several hours after the time he usually went to bed. His father had not shared with him his plans for the evening, only that he would come to pick them up around midnight. They must be going into town, Garrett thought with just a little bit of envy. The drive into the city was an hour each way when there wasn’t any traffic, so usually, it was more than that. The distance meant that he was only able to go into the city a few times a year.
Although he was extremely shy, Garrett loved to be surrounded by people. He loved to watch strangers as they went about their various routines, imagining their life stories and guessing their current thoughts. Garrett had become quite expert at understanding facial expressions, subtle body language, and the feelings behind the words that people spoke. As he observed passers-by, Garrett would imagine the conversations that he might have with them about their lives, ambitions and troubles. And although when face to face with a stranger, he couldn’t bring himself to say a word and would stutter and stammer if he tried, in the spacious halls of his mind, he was the most fluent of speakers with wisdom abundant to be poured out upon the willing listener. How Garrett ached to be like his brother, Dylan, without being confined to the prison of his mind! Freedom was the desire of his soul, and with that freedom, the capacity to ease the pain of so many suffering individuals. For this is what he had learned in all his observations of mankind – everybody suffers and no one is exempt.
Garrett knew he was not like other boys his age. He loved to watch the boys as they played soccer in the field at the edge of town. He had been asked a time or two if he wanted to join in, but in each instance had declined. At these times, Garrett hated himself. He hated the way his mind said yes, but his lips invariably said no. All he wanted was a normal childhood, but soon, his youth would be over. Already, he felt more connected to adults and especially to the elderly. I feel old already, he thought miserably to himself, and I haven’t even reached adolescence yet! He sympathized then with the loneliness of so many elderly people in his community and in the world.
In other ways, however, Garrett was obviously still a child. Despite his feelings of age, his character and personality were still in flux. Garrett recognized this and so held hope for himself that things might yet change. He might still become the individual that he so desired to be. Oh God, Garrett cried out in his heart, unlock these chains that hold my soul captive. Let me be me. There is so much I want to do in life and so much I want to be able to say to people. The pain is almost too great to bear. Please God! Help me! Tears began streaming down his face then. Garrett wiped his eyes quickly with the sleeve of his shirt, hoping that nobody was watching to witness this display of emotion. Deep breaths, he told himself, struggling to once again gain control over his emotions for the second time that day.
Garrett looked around, temporarily confused about where he was as a result of his having been lost in thought for the past several minutes. It was impossible to stay lost for long, however, in their small little beach community of no more than a few thousand people. Backed by very mountainous terrain, it was impossible to develop into a larger town, and so had reached the extent of its growth. There were plenty of little towns like his all along the coast. The city where most of the people worked was located on a high plateau in the midst of the mountains to the northeast, the same city to which his father would likely be going with his date.
Garrett could see the familiar mountain ridge directly in front of him so he knew that he was walking north. It would be a simple matter to just keep walking until he reached a corner that would have the street’s name posted. Another two minutes and he was at a corner. Jasper street, he read. “Ha,” he laughed quietly with a single exhalation of breath. I must have been walking on autopilot. Looking around briefly at house addresses, he found the house he had been looking for directly across the street from where he was currently standing. It was a large two-story white house, with a spacious yard in front and a two-car garage to the side. I hope they have good food, he thought, feeling his stomach begin to rumble.
Jenny and Dylan
Upon hearing the knock at the door, Jenny walked back down the hall and into the kitchen. She hid again behind the counter from which she had a good view of the front room, while still remaining mostly hidden. Aunt Gwen had already let the boy in – just one that she could see – and was giving him some last minute instructions. Then suddenly, they both began walking in her direction with Aunt Gwen in the lead. Jenny moved around the corner, trying to stay hidden.
“Okay. Here is my cell phone number,” Gwen said, pointing to the list of phone numbers that were hanging with magnets from the refrigerator door. “Don’t hesitate to call if there’s any problem. And here are all the emergency numbers, just in case,” she pointed lower down on the same sheet of paper.
“Jenny!” she called out with a loud voice. “I have to go now. Come meet your babysitter.”
And then, turning back to Dylan, “She really is a very well-behaved girl. You shouldn’t have any trouble with her.” Dylan just nodded his head without saying anything.
“Jenny!” she called out, louder than before.
“I’m right here Aunt Gwen. You don’t have to shout.” Jenny stepped out from behind the counter resolving to face her fears.
“I’m sorry, Jenny. I didn’t know you were there,” she apologized.
“Dylan. This is Jenny,” she said placing her hand on top of Jenny’s head. “And Jenny, this is Dylan, your babysitter.” And then with exaggerated emphasis said, “and I have to go.”
She looked around herself quickly, grabbed her purse from the kitchen counter, and walked quickly toward the door. “Bye now. Be good and have fun.”
Jenny and Dylan watched Gwen until she exited the house and then both turned simultaneously to face each other. Dylan’s mouth stretched wide in a big smile and said, “Well Jenny, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” He held out his hand expecting her to shake it.
Jenny took a step back and said, “I know you want me to shake your hand because sometimes my Mom’s friends at church come and shake my hand, but I don’t know you and my Mom doesn’t even know you. She just knows your Dad. So I don’t think I should let you shake my hand until I know you a little better.”
Dylan laughed then – a very friendly and genuine laugh, but Jenny didn’t take it that way. “You shouldn’t laugh at other people,” she said crossly. “It isn’t very nice.”
“I’m sorry Jenny. You’re right. I shouldn’t have laughed.” He pulled back his hand and crossed his arms across his chest. “So. If you won’t let me shake your hand until we know each other better, what do you suggest we do?”
Jenny’s stared up toward the ceiling for a moment as she considered his question. “Hmm. Well, we could ask each other questions,” Jenny suggested.
“Would we have to tell the truth,” Dylan asked with a sly look on his face.
“Of course!” Jenny exclaimed. “Lying is bad!” Jenny felt shocked that he could even ask such a question.
“Well, what if you ask a question that’s too embarrassing?” Dylan asked.
“Just say you don’t want to answer that question,” she said without even stopping to think. “That’s what Aunt Gwen says. If someone tells you to do something you don’t want to do or that’s wrong, just say no.”
“Your Aunt is a wise woman,” Dylan said sitting down on the floor with his back against the wall. “Can I go first then?” he asked.
“Okay,” said Jenny as she also sat down, cross-legged on the carpet.
“Do you like me?” Dylan asked.
“What!?” she asked, pretending shock at the question. “I don’t even know you! Anyway,” and she smiled up at Dylan, “I don’t want to answer that question.”
“Good answer,” he said, nodding his head with approval. “Okay, your turn.”
Without giving it a second thought, Jenny returned the question to Dylan. “Do you like me?”
“Oh yes, definitely,” Dylan said quickly and without hesitation, having expected the question. “You’re not shy. You’re very pretty. You have a very clear sense of right and wrong. And I think we’re going to become very good friends.”
Jenny blushed fiercely as she heard his answer to her question. By his words, she became suddenly shy, though he had just complemented her on not being shy. Thinking that, she said, “I am shy sometimes.”
“Everybody is, sometimes,” Dylan said.
And so it happened that Jenny began to have her first crush on a boy at nine years old.
“Hey,” Dylan said rising to his feet, “my brother is going to be here any minute. Would you like to wait for him outside with me?”
“Okay!” said Jenny enthusiastically, her shyness fading away as quickly as it had come. “So was that your question?” she asked – but then went on without waiting for a response. “My next question is what is your name. I forgot.”
“Dylan Christopher Green,” he said stately in a British accent and giving a small bow. “At your service.”
Jenny was helpless to hold back the laughter that came forth at that time. She tried to suppress it, but failed miserably as air escaped noisily from her mouth and nose.
“Are you laughing at me?” Dylan asked with bright smiling eyes, reminding Jenny teasingly of her previous accusation. At that moment, with Jenny suppressing even more laughter and Dylan smiling widely, he opened the door to find his brother on the porch, just about to ring the doorbell.
“Garrett!” Dylan said joyfully. “We were just coming out to wait for you.”
Garrett looked at the two very cheerful people standing in front of him and felt his heart ache. Dylan couldn’t have been in the house more than ten minutes and already, the girl was clearly wrapped around his finger. How does he do it? Garrett thought angrily to himself, remembering how upset Dylan had been about giving up his evening plans for babysitting. He didn’t want to come here. I’m sure he doesn’t want to be here, and still he wins the affection of everyone he meets, despite the circumstances.
“Are you okay,” Dylan asked with concern written clearly on his face.
“Yeah,” Garrett said, already feeling guilty about his negative feelings. “I just need to eat something. The walk here wore me out.”
“Wow dude, you need more exercise.” Dylan made a weak attempt at appearing sympathetic, but Garrett could see that Dylan did not accept his explanation. Ahhh, he yelled in his mind, cringing at the force of the emotion trying to break free and display itself publicly.
Dylan, hoping to save his brother some embarrassment, turned to Jenny and asked, “How ‘bout it? Do you want to help me prepare some supper for the three of us?”
Jenny, oblivious to the undercurrent of tension replied, “Okay. Can we have macaroni and cheese?”
Dylan groaned inwardly, but outwardly he smiled and said, “sure.” And then, turning back to Garrett, who was still fighting back tears, he said “Why don’t you go lay down on the couch for a while. We’ll wake you when the food’s ready.”
Grateful for this respite, Garrett said, “Okay. Thanks.” He walked into the large sitting room and plopped down on one of the several, very comfortable looking sofas. The sofa was out of sight of the kitchen and so he dared to indulge himself in a quiet tear session. He could still hear Dylan and Jenny chatting amicably in the kitchen, but he drowned them out with the screaming of his heart. All I want is a friend, he cried silently to himself. What’s wrong with me? If only I could be more like Dylan, he thought. He’s smart, good looking, and isn’t bound in the way I am. He isn’t afraid to talk to people and everyone likes him. Even I can’t help liking him, he thought, wishing he could hate him. Someday, I will be free, he declared to himself. Finally, emotionally exhausted, Garrett fell asleep with the sound of Jenny’s gurgling laughter echoing in his head.
The girl walked toward him out of the fog, her body becoming more and more substantial, the closer she came. She looked around from side to side as if she were lost. “Can I help you?” Garrett asked.
“Yes. I’m looking for my dad,” she said with downcast eyes. “He was just here a minute ago. I was following him and he just disappeared.” The girl then lifted her head and locked eyes with Garrett. “Will you help me find him?” she asked.
“Yes, of course,” Garrett said, pleased to have an opportunity to help someone in need. “Perhaps if we go up to the top of that mountain, we will be able to see him.”
The girl looked around to find the mountain and Garrett followed her gaze. Where before only fog had been visible, a mountain formed. At first it was a mountain made of fog, but it quickly solidified and became a mountain with which he was quite familiar.
“Come on. Let’s go,” Garrett said, taking the girl’s hand and starting up the mountain path. Then, in what seemed like hours, but had actually only been a moment, the two youngsters were standing on top of the mountain’s tallest peak.
“But I don’t see him,” the girl cried.
“It’s okay,” Garrett said, putting his arm around her shoulder. “We’ll find him. Let’s keep looking.”
The girl moved away from Garrett and walked closer to the edge, peering down, looking all about on the valley floor. “There he is!” she yelled happily. “Daddy! I’m coming!” And with that, she flung herself over the edge.
“Nooo,” Garrett cried out in horror. Without giving it a second thought, Garrett followed the girl with a flying leap. Suddenly the mountain was much taller than it had been, and the fall equally so. “I’m coming,” he yelled at the girl’s falling form.
Garrett maneuvered his body so that he was falling headfirst and gaining speed in the direction of the girl. In moments he had caught up with the girl. He reached out his arms and caught her there, holding her against his chest.
“Daddy! I’m coming!” she yelled, which Garrett thought was a ridiculously cheerful thing to say. “And I’m bringing a friend!” she called out happily. Garrett’s heart filled with warmth upon hearing these words. The warmth in his heart seemed to heat the very air around them.
Looking down, Garrett noticed that a river was flowing beneath them. “Can you swim?” Garrett yelled to the girl in his arms, the wind whistling past their ears making it difficult to be heard.
“What? She yelled back.
“Can you swim? We’re about to fall into a river,” Garrett shouted.
“I can swim a little,” she yelled, “but don’t let go of me.”
“You can trust me,” he yelled. He thought he heard her try to say something else, but suddenly they were in the water. My muscles have gotten bigger, he noticed, as he swam toward the riverbank with the girl in tow. I didn’t used to be able to swim like this. Am I dreaming? The thought crossed his mind for the first time.
“Garrett!” a voice called from the riverbank. “Over here. Take my hand.” A young man that appeared to be in his mid-twenties and that had a vaguely familiar face knelt by the bank of the river and reached out a hand toward him.
“Take the girl,” Garrett shouted, pushing her toward the man who he somehow knew was a friend. The man took hold of her hands an pulled her easily from the water. For a moment, Garrett thought he had slipped further downstream, but suddenly he found himself standing on the riverbank beside the girl and facing the man that was looking more and more familiar to him.
“Hello Jenny,” the man said with an odd expression on his face.
“Daddy!” the girl screamed, as though she had not recognized him previously. She threw her arms around him and said, “I missed you so much Daddy.” The girl then looked at Garrett and said, “Thank you for helping me find my dad and thank you for saving me and thank you for being my friend.”
“I see you’ve met my daughter, Garrett,” the man said with an expression on his face that Garrett recognized as being an odd mixture of pleasure and pain.
“This is your daughter?” Garrett asked, not quite believing him for some inexplicable reason.
The man looked at the girl and smiled gently and as he did so the girl seemed to freeze in place. Even her hair did not stir in the wind. “No. Not this exactly, although she is a remarkable likeness. You have quite an eye for faces, Garrett.”
“I am dreaming!” Garrett decided, having become finally convinced.
“Well, of course you are. Do you really think you could have fallen from that high mountain and not have come to a terrible and untimely death?”
“No, not now that I think of it,” Garrett admitted.
“Be careful not to think too much just now. Thinking too much can make you wake up and I’m not ready for you to wake up yet. I have a present for you.”
“Who are you?” the boy asked the mysterious young man that seemed so familiar to him.
“Now that you’ve met my daughter, it’s time to share with you a secret, but you must swear to me that you won’t share this secret with others. I know you better than you know yourself and I trust your words to me. Will you keep the secret?”
“I’ll keep your secret as long as it won’t hurt others to keep it,” Garrett said.
The young man smiled then and said, “My name is Ashling Welsh. We have met many times over the past few months, though you have never remembered from one time to the next. I am what I like to call a dream walker, which means that although I appear to be part of your dream, I am as real as you. My gift to you, which must also be kept a secret, is your memory.”
“My memory?” Garrett asked confused.
“Take this,” he said, handing Garrett a small metal box with intricate designs all around and on the lid. The box, which fit comfortably in the palm of Garrett’s hand, had a small keyhole in the front.
“Inside this box is your own innate ability to disperse the mists that cloud your mind when you wake up from sleep. With it, you will be able to remember your dreams – past, present, and future.”
“But it’s locked,” Garrett said, looking down at the small keyhole.
“This is your mind Garrett. You can open it if you want. In fact, there is very little you can’t do, here in your inner world. But open it quickly. I can feel you are about to wake up.
Garrett stared at the box, trying to conceive of a way to open it. He could feel himself beginning to wake up as the dream world around him began to appear less and less substantial. He tried to pry the box open with his hands, but the lid to the box remained firmly locked. By now, everything had become dark as when awake with closed eyes, but he could still feel the box in his hands. He could hear his name being called, as if from far away, but he forced himself to focus on the task at hand.
“Open! You stupid box!” he yelled, not knowing what else to try. The feeling of the box faded from his grasp and he began to hear a girl’s laughter, but he didn’t concern himself because he knew he had succeeded – the effect was immediate.
Like a wave washing over him, his mind was flooded with the memories of forgotten dreams. “Oh, wow!” he exclaimed. He could remember past dreams as clearly as he could remember his waking past. More recent dreams were more clear than older dreams, and most clear of all were his memories of a young man, who had appeared in the majority of his dreams for the past several months. Garrett Jacob Green had a friend, and his name was Ashling Welsh.
Dylan and Jenny finished preparing their dinner and even set up the table for the three of them. Then, with Jenny following, Dylan went to wake his brother.
“Garrett,” he said. “Dinner’s ready.” There was no response. “Garrett,” he said more loudly, “Come on. Wake up.”
Dylan looked down at his brother with a worried expression on his face. “That’s weird. Usually he’s a very light sleeper.”
“Maybe we should just let him sleep,” Jenny suggested.
“Yeah, maybe,” Dylan considered, “but he said he was hungry. I think he would want us to wake him up.”
“Open! You stupid box!” Garrett shouted suddenly.
Dylan and Jenny looked at each other with raised eyebrows and Jenny started to laugh. “Does he always talk in his sleep?” Jenny asked.
“I don’t know,” Dylan admitted, “We don’t sleep in the same room.”
“Oh, wow!” Garrett said loudly.
“Maybe he got his box open,” Dylan joked.
“Try to wake him up again,” said Jenny.
Dylan leaned over Garrett’s still body and was about to shake his shoulder when Garrett sat up, fully awake and smiling broadly. Dylan, startled by the sudden movement, jerked backward and tripped over the edge of the coffee table. “Aaah,” Dylan cried out.
“He was just pretending to sleep,” Jenny said crossly.
“Sorry about that,” Garrett said sincerely to Dylan who was trying to get back to his feet.
“I see you’re feeling better,” Dylan said with a smile that was half grimace and half a display of genuine amusement.
“Much better,” he replied, his smile undiminished.
Dylan, Garrett, and Jenny ate their dinner of macaroni and cheese along with a small watermelon that Dylan had found in the refrigerator. The evening passed quickly for Garrett, who, though much improved emotionally, still preferred to maintain his solitude so as to be able to ponder on those things he had recently heard and learned.
Dylan was not blind to his brother’s abnormal behavior, but chose to ignore it for the time being until he could converse with Garrett in private. Jenny had become his living shadow and Dylan had to expend a great deal of effort to hide his annoyance with her. Unlike his brother, Dylan was well able to hide his emotions. He had become quite accomplished in being different things to different people. Unfortunately, this skill sometimes meant that even Dylan wasn’t sure who he was. In all his interactions, Dylan rarely felt that he was acting or putting up a false front, although he often thought he might become an actor one day. Instead, Dylan felt that he was simply tapping into various aspects of his own personality. What others see is part of who I really am, he thought.
At times like this, however, Dylan began to feel that he was being fake. It was too difficult to fall into the role he had been placed into – too unnatural. Also, at these times, Dylan worried about the opinions of those that were close to him, of those that knew him best. If Dylan could feel his own falseness, he was sure others could sense it as well, especially those like his brother, who knew him better than anyone else. Is this the cause of Garrett’s recent strange behavior? Garrett is so much the opposite of me, Dylan thought. All his feelings and emotions show up so clearly on his face. Actually, that’s not true, Dylan adjusted his thought. Garrett’s good at hiding his feelings, but with those he’s closer to, he just doesn’t bother.
Where is Garrett now, Dylan wondered. Immediately after dinner, Garrett had wandered off to some other part of the large house to be alone again. That’s another way we’re different, Dylan thought. I like to be alone, but rarely am and Garrett wants to be with people, but hardly ever can because of his shyness. We’re both trapped in a way, he realized. Garrett had once confided to him the idea of being bound with chains and Dylan felt that he understood that feeling now. I guess we’re all bound with some sort of mental chains, Dylan thought.
“It’s your turn,” Jenny said, trying unsuccessfully to keep the impatience out of her voice. Dylan shook his head, trying to focus again on what he was doing. Jenny had recently learned to play chess and so had wanted to practice with Dylan. It is not good to win too fast in such a situation, so Dylan made his moves quickly and without any concentration. Jenny, on the other hand, thought long and hard about each move, leaving Dylan’s mind free to wander.
“Where did you move?” Dylan asked, scanning the board, but not seeing any change.
“You’re not paying attention!” Jenny complained. “I moved my bishop over here,” she pointed to the moved piece.
“I’m sorry, Jenny. I guess I’m just a bit tired. When’s your bedtime anyway?”
“Ugh! You’re just like Aunt Gwen!” Jenny scrunched up her eyebrows in a scowl. “When she gets tired she wants me to got to bed!”
Dylan let loose some air through his nose in a half suppressed laugh. “It’s not like that. I’m just sleepy. I can’t take a nap until after you go to bed. You understand that, don’t you?”
“It’s okay I guess,” Jenny said with a somewhat mischievous smile as she looked at the clock on the wall behind Dylan. “I’ll go to bed right after this game.”
Dylan gave a sigh and nodded in agreement, knowing the game could still last for quite a while. Dylan tried to pay more attention so that the game would not last too much longer. He did not want to win quickly so he tried to maneuver the pieces in such a way that Jenny could win the game easily and quickly. Jenny, however, seemed to be under the impression that in order for her to win, she had to capture all the opponent’s pieces before going after the king. Thus, the game lasted for nearly fifteen minutes more, at which point Jenny laughed and informed Dylan that her bedtime had been a full hour previous at eight thirty.
Dylan shook his head while clicking his tongue in mock disapproval. “You don’t need any help in going to bed now, do you?”
“Will you listen to my prayer?” Jenny asked looking up at Dylan with beautiful blue green eyes.
“Huh?” Dylan began putting the chess pieces away in his confusion.
“Come listen to me pray. Aunt Gwen always does before I go to sleep.”
“Uh. Okay. I guess so. Go get ready first and I’ll come in a few minutes.” Jenny skipped away happily, humming to herself. Dylan stood up and placed the chessboard and pieces in the hallway closet. Jenny’s request was the first of it’s kind in Dylan’s young life. He tried to remember if he’d ever heard a prayer in his life, but his mind came up blank. Very few people that he knew ever mentioned God, and fewer still would admit belief in such an entity. Dylan tried to determine his own beliefs in this matter, but decided he knew too little about religious things to have any sort of belief at all. How can you have a belief in something you know nothing about? He supposed that if someone were to ask him if he believed in other beings in the universe with greater intelligence than what existed on Earth, he would say that it would not surprise him if such were the case, but he could not say he believed such a thing. He had no knowledge, no experience.
Jenny probably has a good basis for belief though, Dylan thought. Someone she trusts and respects has told her that God exists, and that is a pretty good reason to believe in anything. No one lives long enough to experience everything personally, so it is necessary to trust the experience and knowledge of trusted others until personal experience proves otherwise. Unfortunately, there was no one Dylan trusted enough to be able to validate for him a belief or disbelief in God. He was still young enough, however, to retain a hope that personal experience might one day answer that question for him.
After a few minutes had passed, Dylan made his way to the end of the hall where Jenny had her room. He found her sitting on her bed, dressed in a sky-blue nightshirt that reached to her knees. She had been watching the door expectantly.
“I’m here.” Dylan announced his presence.
Jenny smiled, slid off the bed and knelt with her hands clasped under her chin and her elbows resting upon the bed.
“Should I kneel too?” Dylan asked, unsure of himself, having never been in this situation before.
Jenny shifted her shoulders from side to side as an expression of the shyness that had now taken her for the second time that evening. “If you want to,” she said timidly.
Not knowing what else to do, Dylan stepped into the room and knelt down beside Jenny, following her example. He turned his head to look at her, but she had closed her eyes and was already about to speak. Dylan closed his eyes quickly and listened to the words of her prayer.
“Dear Father in Heaven,” she began.
I thought she was praying to God, Dylan wondered. Is she praying to her dead father?
“Thank you for this wonderful day that I’ve had, especially that Dylan could come over tonight.”
It must be God that she’s praying to. I doubt she believes her dead father would have the power to give her the day she’s enjoyed or to make me come over to baby-sit. It made him nervous to think that even God could have the kind of power to arrange events that way. It was sweet to know that he had been the highlight of her day, although that hardly came as a surprise. Jenny wasn’t the first one to become enamored with Dylan and he had known it ever since Jenny started following him everywhere.
“Please bless me to have good dreams tonight.”
That would be nice, Dylan agreed inwardly. He had had several unpleasant dreams of late. If God had the power to influence his dreams, he might very well start praying himself. I wonder if it matters that I don’t really believe God exists. If he does exist, couldn’t he hear my praying as well as he could anybody else? He couldn’t help images of Santa Clause coming into his mind, sliding down chimneys and barely suppressed the laugh that had wanted to escape. Dylan had missed much of what Jenny had said while his mind had been wandering and realized that she was coming to a close.
“In Jesus name, Amen” he heard her say as he returned to listening to her. She didn’t say anymore, but didn’t get up either. What is she waiting for, Dylan wondered as several seconds passed. Finally she looked up and whispered loudly, “You’re supposed to say ‘Amen’.”
“Oh. Sorry,” he apologized. “Amen.” Jenny popped up from the floor and threw her arms around Dylan’s neck as he still knelt, surprisingly him greatly.
“Goodnight!” she said and then spontaneously kissed him on the cheek. Just as quickly, Jenny released her hold on Dylan’s neck and hopped onto her bed.
It took a moment for Dylan to find himself again, but as soon as he did, he stood up and walked to the door. “Goodnight, Jenny,” Dylan said briefly while barely turning his head and then plunged out the door. That was awkward, he thought, but sweet at the same time. Smiling, Dylan began his search for his brother, feeling again the need to talk with him.
With her blanket pulled up beneath her chin, Jenny could hardly help humming softly to herself, joyfully remembering the events of the day. Although it had started out as another boring summer day, it had ended quite differently. As the minutes passed before falling asleep, however, Jenny’s thoughts began to be inexplicably pulled to Dylan’s brother. Garrett hadn’t said a single word to her, but somehow, she felt as if he were watching her. Not just when they had been in the same room together, but even now she felt as though he had his eyes upon her. What a strange boy, she thought. And then, as she was passing over the boundary from being awake to being asleep, she thought she heard him laughing, a pleasant, friendly laugh. And she laughed too, throughout the night, for every dream was an answer to her prayer.
“Let her go, Garrett.”
Startled, Garrett threw his eyes up toward the empty blue sky, searching for the voice that had called out to him. “Huh?” Garrett called aloud, as he scanned the heavens.
“Let her go. You should not have brought her here.”
“Let who go?” Garrett shouted, confused and also a little scared. “What are you talking about? Where are you?”
“You have pulled her into your dream where she does not belong. You are not dreaming her now. Her mind is really here. You must release her.”
As Garrett heard this, he finally understood. Looking at the girl, dancing about amongst the flowers on the hillside stretched out before him, he tried to wish the girl away, and she vanished as though she had never been there. Just as suddenly as the girl disappeared, a man appeared a few feet in front of Garrett.
“What happened, Ashling? I don’t understand.”
Ashling smiled and put his arm around Garrett’s shoulders, urging him to walk with him along the path that appeared suddenly before them. “I’m sorry I couldn’t explain more clearly. What you did is very dangerous.”
“I’m sorry,” Garrett said. “But I don’t even know what I did.”
“I know, Garrett. It’s okay. I know you didn’t do it on purpose. There’s no way you could have known. While you are here within your own dream, the barest suggestion of a wish can appear before you, seemingly real. With your memories newly restored, your vision of reality is especially accurate. Before your memories had been restored, your dream representation of my daughter was surprisingly accurate, although still obviously a dream figure. Now, with your memory of her clear, you can recreate her here with near perfect accuracy. All dreams are connected, Garrett, and all dreamers. Even when we are awake, a part of us still dreams, maintaining the connection. By desiring her presence in your dream, Garrett, and by seeing her too clearly, you pulled a part of her subconscious directly into your dream. All minds wander, whether awake or asleep, but for you, it’s more literal.”
“So, if part of her mind was really here, could I have really hurt her?” The worry in Garrett’s eyes was plain to see. “What if the image I brought here had died somehow? What would happen to Jenny?”
“Now you start to see the danger.” Ashling nodded his head approvingly. “The truth is, I don’t really know for sure what would happen if she died here. I think her body would still live, but I’m afraid her mind would never be whole again. Much depends on how much of her subconscious you draw into your dream. All human beings have a subconscious mind and I don’t doubt that damaging that would have very serious consequences.”
Garrett face was pale, shocked at the near disaster he might have brought upon Jenny. “What do I do? How can I keep from doing it again?” The two walkers stopped as they reached the edge of a small lake at the bottom of the flower-covered hill.
“Look in the water,” Ashling commanded. “What do you see?”
“I see my reflection,” Garrett said, wondering at the obviousness of it.
“Next time you think to bring someone you know well into your dream, see them in the water first, and then bring only their reflection. There are many ways, actually, of safely bringing representations of people into your dream, but try this first. It worked well for me when I was learning.” A large stone suddenly appeared behind Ashling and Garrett, just the right size for sitting. Ashling sat down and gestured for Garrett to do the same.
Hopping up beside Ashling, Garrett tried with difficulty to imagine Ashling as anything less than completely competent in the dream world. In their many meetings, Ashling had always displayed the utmost skill in everything he did here. “Who taught you all this?” Garrett asked as soon as the question entered his mind.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t have anyone to teach me. In fact, as far as I know, I’m the only one to be able to walk through dreams without someone showing me the way first. Many people are capable of it, but without having a memory that lasts more than a few moments at a time, the means of dream walking can never be learned.”
“How do you know I can learn?” Garrett asked. With his new memories, Garrett could clearly remember talking with Ashling about his one day learning to do the things that Ashling could do, but he couldn’t remember Ashling ever saying anything about how Ashling had found him in the first place and how he knew that he could learn.
“I’ve known since the first time I saw you in dream. You see, you saw me too. Anybody that can see another dream walker peek into their dreams is capable of it themself. Jenny’s mother was the first one I ever found that could see me. Before I met her, I really thought I was alone.”
“So how come Jenny can’t see you too, if both of her parents can, why not her?” Garrett’s swung his legs back and forth over the edge of the large stone. The stone was just the right size for Ashling, but just a little too big for Garrett.
“Well, from what I’ve seen, the ability doesn’t seem to be genetic. No one in my family has the ability and from those I’ve observed, no one in yours as well.” Ashling tilted his head back and seemed to be enjoying the heat from the sun that had suddenly appeared. The lighting didn’t change, but now there was the illusion of a sun providing that light. Garrett could not feel any additional heat though coming from the new addition to his dream.
“Why can’t I tell Dylan?” Garrett exclaimed suddenly, surprising even himself with his ardor. “He’s going to ask. He knows me well enough to know that something’s different about me. I can’t lie to him.”
Ashling pressed his lips together in the barest of smiles. “You will keep your promise, Garrett. I know that much about you. You will keep your promise.” Ashling stood up from his rocky seat and made as if to go.
“You won’t answer me?” Garrett’s voice sounded ready to beg. “Of course I’ll keep my promise. I just want to know why it’s necessary. It’s hard enough to keep things from Dylan even when I do know the full reason. Please, Ashling. Give me something to tell him.”
Ashling turned again toward Garrett. “Soon, you will know more than you ever cared to know. Dream walking is more than just a fun trick that some people can do. Someday, you may even curse me for giving it to you, so enjoy it while you can. The answers you seek will come to you in time. Be patient.” And with that last word, Ashling turned around and vanished from sight, leaving Garrett alone to ponder his words. Any minute, Dylan would be waking him up, begging him to explain what was going on, and so, Garrett began to think and plan his first ever big lie to Dylan.
Later portion of the story – A Touch of Green – Extension