September 19, 2001
I had never seen brighter sunlight than I was seeing at the moment. Staring over the horizon, it was all I could do not to cover my eyes to shield myself from the golden rays. Instead, I looked down to my surroundings on the ground. This wasn’t much help in determining where I was; all I could see was a slew of sunflowers as tall as I was, stretching on for what seemed like miles. I turned around in confusion, almost feeling as if the flowers were swallowing me whole. It appeared I was in some sort of field.
When I turned back in the opposite direction, I was surprised to find that most of the sunflowers had vanished. In their place was a round stretch of grassy land. And in the middle of the bright green circle sat a girl.
I approached her slowly, unsure of what might await me. The absence of noise suggested that this might have been the buildup to a nightmare. The fact that I couldn’t see the girl’s face was awfully reminiscent of a horror movie. Though her shiny black locks and flowing white dress made her seem elegant from behind, I had no proof that she wouldn’t turn around to reveal the face of something horrible, with red eyes and sharp teeth.
In the end, though, my curiousity got the best of me. Carefully, I placed one shaking hand on her shoulder.
I wasn’t prepared for what I saw when she turned around. Though she didn’t turn out to be any sort of demonic being, I still felt as if I had seen a ghost.
For one thing, she wasn’t a girl: the person in front of me was very much a woman, already having grown into herself quite gracefully. Her dainty pink lips curved up into a smile as her eyes connected with mine. I recognized the contrast between those pairs of eyes; mine, dark brown with flecks of mahogany, hers, the clearest silvery blue. Fire and ice.
Without even trying, her name crawled up my throat. “Amy?”
She nodded, taking my hand in hers. Her pale skin was surprisingly soft and warm. She felt real. She felt alive.
“It’s good to see you again, April,” she spoke. Her voice was exactly as I remembered it. Hearing the familiar melody of it caused a wave of emotion to swell within my chest.
Much to my disappointment, she tore her eyes away from mine to look down at my body. The mischevious grin that I had seen so many times surfaced on her face. “Nice dress.”
I looked down, only for my stomach to drop. I was dressed in the black dress I wore to church as a teenager. God, I hated that thing. I had hoped that I’d never have to look at it again, let alone wear it.
Then again, the amusement Amy was currently getting from it made up for the distaste I had for it. I couldn’t help but smile as the sound of her laughter filled my ears. I never thought I’d hear her laugh again.
Once a comfortable silence began to settle between us, I spoke again. “How are you here? I thought you were–“
“We’re not talking about me,” she interrupted. The same wistful smile she wore earlier appeared once again. “I heard that you have a guest.”
I was clueless what she was talking about until a collection of snapshots from the day before appeared in my mind. I skipped right past all of the drama of the Mulligan’s incident, back to the one thing that mattered. Grant.
I nodded in response.
Her smile widened. She looked pleased. “I’m glad you kept him with you. I think he’s what you need right now.”
That last sentence confused me. Wouldn’t it be the other way around? “What do you mean?”
She didn’t reply, pausing to pick at the grass at her feet. When she looked back up, she changed the subject. “Don’t you think it’s about time you get away?”
I stared at her blankly, my mouth open. I was disappointed that all she seemed to be doing was asking me questions. If anything, I’d think that she should be offering me answers. “I have gotten away, haven’t I?” I asked. “I mean, I don’t work at Mulligan’s anymore.”
She shook her head. “You aren’t fooling me, April.” She made eye contact with me again, her face more serious than I can remember seeing it before. “I know that you’re still stuck in one place. Very much so, in fact.”
I sighed and reached up to run a hand through my hair, becoming annoyed. “Is there anything I can do about it?”
She waved her finger at me like I had suggested something brilliant. Just when I hoped that she was finally going to start helping me out, though, she squashed those hopes by opening her mouth. “I’ll let you figure that out.”
I groaned. “Amy, please.” I looked up at her with pleading eyes. “Can you not tell me anything about how I can be better?”
She rolled her eyes as if I were inconveniencing her. “Fine,” she said. “I’ll give you a little hint.”
As soon as these words fell from her tongue, I began to feel dizzy. My vision began to blur at the edges, slowly going dark.
Unaware of this, Amy continued to speak. “Remember, April…” she said. “Life moves pretty fast…”
Those were the last words I heard before everything went black.
As soon as the darkness set in, blinding light took its place. Of course. The one thing about the past two days that I had hoped was real turned out to be a dream. That was just how my luck went, it seemed.
I convinced myself to get out of bed as I usually did, even though I didn’t have anywhere to be at this point. I turned to my alarm clock. The offending object’s obnoxious screeching being what had woken me up, I pulled its plug from the wall. It was no longer needed.
I padded out of my bedroom into the hallway. Peeking around the corner on my way to the bathroom, I checked to see if Grant was still on the sofa. To my surprise, he was still snoring. Ironically, he seemed to be more exhausted than I was. Considering the previous day’s events, this should have been surprising. Knowing my sleeping habits, however, it wasn’t.
I walked into the bathroom and brushed my teeth before deciding not to bother with my hair. Lazily running a brush through the long black strands, I decided to brave looking at my reflection. Oddly enough, I looked better than I did the day before.
Maybe I should just stop trying, I thought.
When I came back out, I walked into the kitchen. Seeing the mountain of half washed dishes that Grant didn’t get to finish the previous morning, I decided to attend to those.
Putting the dishes he had managed to wash off to the side, I thought about the dream as I ran warm water over the ones that remained dirty.
It wasn’t like I hadn’t dreamed about Amy before; I had, many times. It was just that they were never so vivid, nor so strange.
Before, Amy was always just as she was in real life: just out of reach, mostly a figment of my imagination. I had never seen her so close, let alone touched her.
That was another thing. Though I had seen a lot of things in my dreams, I had seldom felt things like I had felt Amy. The feeling of her skin on mine was so obviously there: warm, real, living. Either she was there, or I was going insane. Judging by the fact that she wasn’t in the room with me when I woke, I was leaning towards the latter.
I forced myself to move past the physical aspects of her to the things that she had said.
Apparently, she knew about Grant, probably even more than I did. If there was any doubt after the night before that he’d be staying with me, it was gone now. Apparently, I needed him.
Now, the things she had said about something else that I needed were considerably less cut and dry. From what she had told me, I took it that Amy thought I was stuck. What she meant by that, I had no clue, but it seemed that she thought I could get myself out of it if I tried.
I mulled this over as I sat the now-clean dishes out to dry. From there, my attention turned to the refrigerator.
If Grant was part of what would get me out of my life-altering slump, he at least deserved a homemade breakfast.
I opened the fridge and took out a carton of eggs and a package of bacon, preparing a frying pan for each. I continued to think about the things Amy had said as I cooked.
When the bacon was about halfway past raw, the pieces of the puzzle seemed to connnect.
Perhaps Amy didn’t mean that I was stuck in the literal sense. That’s why the fact that I was no longer tied down to my job meant nothing to her.
Maybe what she meant is that I was stuck, metaphorically, in a rut. Like I wasn’t living like I could be. That I wasn’t getting out there enough, doing and seeing as much as I should have been.
Which was where Grant came in.
Speak of the devil.
I turned around to see Grant standing behind me, still slightly bleary eyed with sleep. His newly-washed hair was wrecked with something resembling bedhead, stray strands standing up haphazardly on the side of his head.
Quite frankly, he looked like a mess. But he was an endearing mess.
I smiled at him. “Morning.” I selected a spatula from the cup of kitchen tools I kept next to the oven and pried the eggs and bacon off of their respective frying pans, dropping them onto a plate. “I made us breakfast.”
“Great.” He approached the place I had sat his plate down, picking it up gratefully. Once we were close enough to each other for our elbows to touch, he stopped. “Are you alright?”
“Uh-huh.” I scraped the other egg onto a plate for myself. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Well, for one thing, that girl was really horrible to you last night, and I think it’s terrible that you got fired over it.” He looked up from his plate to my face, bright green eyes appraising me. “And for another, you’re different. You’re being really… nice, this morning.”
I simply smiled at him. “Maybe I was only being not nice because of the stress I was under at work,” I said, dropping a piece of bacon onto my plate. “And trust me, there was a lot to the incident at Mulligan’s last night.” It was all I could do not to laugh, remembering raising my middle finger right in Zoe’s face. “Some of it you didn’t see.”
“Okay, then.” His eyes dropped to the space between us. An awkward silence began to cloud the room, causing me to wonder what, exactly, he was looking at so intently.
“The third thing,” he said, “was that you didn’t get either of us forks.”
I looked down at the drawer. Oh.
I laughed nervously. “Guess I should get those, huh?” I bent down, motioning for him to move. Patient as ever, he stepped aside.
A few seconds later, I emerged again, this time with two silver forks. I handed one to Grant. “There.”
I stood back up, dropping the other one onto my plate. Picking up the plate, I offered Grant a smile.
“Now,” I said, “shall we dine on the couch?”
We did just that, polishing off our eggs and bacon next to each other on the well-loved seat.
Afterwards, Grant pushed his plate away with a look of satisfaction. “That was great, April,” he said. “I don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve had someone cook my breakfast.”
“Good.” I grinned, standing up. “Now, on to our next task.”
“Task?” Grant sat up, watching me curiously across the room. “Are you gonna put me to work?”
I laughed. “That isn’t exactly what I had in mind.” I bent down in front of the bookshelf next to the TV. “Although it will involve some moving around.”
“As you should be.”
I ran my finger across the spines of the books, lined up neatly in a row. I wasn’t quite sure why I had so many. I hardly ever had the time to read, and, when I did, literature was usually the last thing on my mind.
Finally, I found what I was looking for. Pleased, I pulled the book from its place on the shelf. Once it was in my hands, I took a moment to admire it.
The vintage atlas had been a gift from my father. He had given it to me along with a few other books aboout five years back, presenting me with a very small portion of his extensive library. He beamed as he handed me the stack of old volumes. “For your studies,” he had said.
Even then, I admired the jewel tones of the covers before thanking him for them.
Since then, the books hadn’t done much other than collect dust, the gold lettering of their spines gleaming in the sun as the days passed, remaining unread as the time flew by. I could barely even remember what all of them were at that point: I was pretty sure the bare necessities were the atlas, a dictionary, a thesarus, and an encyclopedia, along with the collected works of three famous writers. Looking back, I believe they were Poe, Emerson, and Whitman.
I blew the dust off of the atlas’ cover before taking it to Grant, picking up a pen along the way.
Once I sat down, I opened the book, flipping to a map of the United States. Briefly examining the expansive two-page guide, I handed the ink pen to Grant.
I held the book in front of my chest, showing it to him.
“Now,” I started. “I want you to draw a line from here in North Carolina to the places you think you might have come from. Got it?”
He nodded as I sat the book down in front of him, clicking the end of the pen.
I watched as he carefully lowered the pen to the paper. Slowly, he began drawing a line. He held a remarkable amount of focus as he worked, jaw set and brow furrowed. Despite the concentration he seemed to put into it judging by his face, the rest of him seemed to visibly relax. His work seemed to come naturally, is if what he was doing was simply second nature.
He soon pulled away from the book, pushing it towards me. I picked it up, examining what he’d done.
A curved line snaked its way from the bottom of the state, all the way up north. Starting in North Carolina, it climbed up through Virginia and Washington D.C., slowly running back through Pennsylvania and New Jersey before eventually stopping in New York. I traced the line with my fingertip, creating our path.
Slowly, I lifted my gaze from the book, sitting it back down between Grant and I. My eyes remained fixated on the line. I tried not to think of how my father would react if he knew I had allowed someone to deface his book.
“That’s good,” I said. I looked back up, my gaze now focused on Grant’s face. “Now how would you like to take a little trip?”
He froze, mossy eyes sparking with curiosity. “To where?”
I couldn’t help the grin that began spreading across my face, climbing easily from ear to ear. “Perhaps we could use the line you just drew to make our map.”
He considered this for a moment. Finally, he looked at me. His face was considerably less serious than when he was drawing a few moments ago, eyebrows raised and lips curved into a smirk. Amused. “You’re serious?”
I smirked back. “Dead serious.”
His smile changed, going from a testing smirk to a shy grin. When he opened his mouth, a single word left his lips, quieter than he had been since we first met.
Though I couldn’t see my face, in that moment, I can swear it lit up.
“Thank you,” I laughed. “Thank you thank you thank you, Grant. You won’t regret it, I swear.”
As far as I know, he never did.
I’m not sure he ever got the opportunity.