Even In Dreams I Could Not Betray You
"Surely you must be joshing, sugar. I was the greatest cashier to have ever lived," you managed to say between sips of your sweet tea. "Speed, accuracy, winning smile--I had it all."
You watched your companion, with retaliation on his mind, shake his head vigorously. He had brought up the subject only minutes earlier of how much he had loved his previous job at the bookstore and how he was widely recognized as the best cashier to have ever taken to the floor. You had taken in his devilish grin in stride, watching him bask in the light of his former glory. With his every word you had noticed how much fondness his memories of that job held. You let him finish his stories, let him have his say.
Then you stole his thunder.
"I may not have worked in the paradise of Crown Books, but I'm telling you that Jean & Hall was a good place to work as well. It was fun."
"But come on, Breanne, how many customers could you have gotten in a day?" you heard him ask.
"You'd be surprised. You would be surprised. Hell's bells, there were some days around the holidays where it seemed like the customers were multiplying like gremlins."
"What with all the water around the flowers and plants."
You both laughed sheepishly. You were both having lunch in the middle of Geno's East. Although the place was normally busy, you were both there in the middle of the week just after the lunch rush had ended. The dinner rush wasn't going to get rolling for another few hours. You two had the dining room almost all to yourself. Any laughter above a whisper would have called attention to yourselves even more than the sight of two people obviously not dressed for Chicago weather already had. There you were, in a red sundress on the windiest of July days, hair rent all asunder, and there he was, dressed in t-shirt and jeans that screamed out-of-towner. You both had noticed early on how everyone was dressed more upscale, more refined in Chicago. Only the vacationers were treading lightly in their pastels and khakis and what have you. As your daddy would have said, the two of you were like two hounds running in a wolf pack.
Yet all of that seemed to matter very little to the both of you. You were having fun and, hell's bells, you were on vacation. You didn't have to answer to anyone's perception of y'all. What they thought of you and yours was their business. All that mattered to you was that, so far, you were having a good time. The pizza there was amazing--as was the food everywhere else you had gone--and lunch was turning out to be yet another great memory to add to the list of great memories you had been making since you both had arrived in town. Patrick was being quite charming. From arranging to take you dancing on one of the first nights you were in town to acquiescing to every request you made so far, he was laying on thick the fact this trip was an attempt to shore up the connection you two had shared for over half of your life. The city was amazing. And, for the first time in a long time, you were beginning to forget what life as married Breanne was like. You were remembering what life was like as young, vibrant Breanne instead. You were starting to remember how bright the whole world used to seem, especially when you didn't have to be at the beck and call of somebody else's whims.
"At any rate they always stuck me on register because that was my strong point. I could upsell a customer before he even knew what was hitting them."
"You want to talk about upselling, Breannie? I not only used to talk people into certain books. I used to talk people into falling in love with authors. I was selling people on entire serieses--is that even a word?"
"I understood you."
"Well, that was me. I think I was just born to recommend crap to people, specifically crap that I enjoyed and that I felt people should enjoy right along with me. Flowers can't compete with that. Nothing can."
"You'd be surprised at how much joy a simple bouquet can bring to someone."
"As much as a good book?"
"Different kind of joy. I ain't saying books don't have a place in people's lives, but there's something to be said about coming home and seeing something as simply breathtaking as fresh cut flowers arranged in the most pleasant fashion. I believe there's such things as food for the soul and seeing something that uplifts your spirit is like feasting on nature itself."
"Well, when you put it that way, I can see that."
"I knew you could see things my way, Eeyore," you said while taking another sip of your sweet tea.
"But I was still a better register jockey than you," you heard him say as a parting shot before shoveling another bite of sausage pizza into his mouth.
The rest of the afternoon was still up in the air. The two of you hadn't really planned daily activities for the trip. Naturally, you wanted to partake of some of the better museums in the country while you were here. He wanted to catch a game at both Wrigley and Cellular Field. And, of course, you both wanted to sample as many restaurants as possible with the short time you'd been given. However, if he wanted to wile away the rest of afternoon sitting there and talking, that would have been more than okay with you. You didn't have anywhere specific to be. You didn't have any plans. You didn't have anyone else to meet. The focus of the day was reconnecting with an old friend, as was the focus of the entire trip.
Just then you caught him looking your way in that certain way he has when he wants to ask you something but isn't sure of your response. It didn't make a difference that you two had just been talking about bookstore and florists; his mind tended to wander like an orphan cat with the afternoon off. Whereas you tended to hone in on one subject and could whittle away at it for the whole day, his mind tended to flit from one subject to the next--funny to serious and back again. Right then you could tell you were in store for something more serious in nature, probably about the state of the two of you.
"I had a dream about you, Breanne."
"When? Last night?"
"No, the other week. Before we flew out here."
You felt him reach for your hand atop the table. You readily grabbed it without thinking. The routine had already been established. He didn't just say things to you; he made announcements. That was one thing you'd always admired about the boy. He spoke his mind, damn the consequences. It mattered little that this had the effect of making him seem like a drama queen, spouting his thoughts as if every situation was dire. All that mattered was that he was earnest in his proclamations. When he told you that you were funny, you felt like you could make the world laugh. When he told you that he was sad, you hadn't heard of anyone else who had faced such sadness. And when he told you that he loved you, you felt like you didn't deserve such affection. So what if he was prone to melodramatic gestures and posturing? It was a small price to pay to find someone who told the truth in all its ugliness and in all its beauty.
You felt his hand in yours, felt the longing in his touch. You were almost silently whispering him to continue his thought.
"What were you dreaming about?" you asked.
"I was dreaming about us coming here, which was strange because I had no idea what Chicago looked like until we got here. It was my idea of Chicago at the time anyway. We were in the city, visiting various places hand in hand, when you stopped in the middle of the street. You let go right before a red VW rabbit crashed into you."
"I died? Well, that's no fun."
"But that's the thing you didn't die. You just got up and walked in the opposite direction. I tried to chase you, but you ran away from me. I don't know--I must've chased you for fourteen blocks but I could never quite reach you. At one point I think I was chasing you along the canals of Venice and at another point the city started looking like Everwood or something--mountains in the background and everything. But even there I couldn't catch you. I ran until I was exhausted.
"But when I stopped, you stopped too--always out of reach, but always in sight. It was very frustrating. I would call to you. Sometimes you would answer, but other times you just wouldn't hear me. Then when I'd run after you again you would start to jog again."
You half-expected him to ask you what the dream meant. That's what most people did in this situation. Yet he never got around to that part. His aim was clear. This was not a tale that needed deciphering. This was more an airing of grievances. It didn't matter that the grievance was imaginary. What mattered most was the feeling of helplessness, of abandonment, that it elicited. If anything, it sounded like he was waiting for you to apologize.
For a long time before that day that seemed to be the ebb-and-flow of your friendship with Patrick. You would do something ill-advised and he would grow irritated. You'd apologize, tell him that was who you were, that you could only be yourself--no more, no less. And the two of you would make up. You would be good for a few weeks until the process would start over again. Or sometimes he would say something intentionally cruel, designed to puncture your precarious notion your life was perfect as is, and it would be he who would have to rectify the situation. He would write a grandiose letter explaining his unfettered regret. Amends would be made. Then the two of you would be as thick as thieves again.
But then there came one day just after college when the pattern changed. You made a choice that seemingly there was no coming back from.
"Awww, Patrick. That sounds like a horrible dream."
"It was a terrifying dream actually."
'cuz there's nobody like you
You watched his eyes alight upon yours. For the longest time the two of you stared at one another over the table. You could tell he wanted to say it, he wanted to tell you to come back to him. You could tell he wanted to extend this getaway from real life to the rest of your lives rather than the week you had both agreed to set aside for one another. You could tell he was going to break the promised that this was merely going to be a short respite from what had to be. This was going to be the exception to the rule. But the rule of what? The rule of what was proper? The rule of what was acceptable? Perhaps he wanted to tell you that he'd been feeling everything you had been feeling for the last three days, that you were having too much fun with him, here, to ever want to go back home.
He was probably watching your eyes for some sign of complicit agreement. As much as you could read his face like words on a page, he could read yours just as easily. It wouldn't take him long to scan for the smallest weak point in the wall of joviality you were trying to erect. You'd both agreed that this was going to be something casual. You'd both made a point to reiterate that this was going to be a one-time thing. It wasn't fair that his resolve was weakening and yours wasn't. That didn't mean he had to undermine your confidence as well. There was agreements in place. There was a long-standing understanding that the two of you could meet here, have your fun, but that you both weren't allowed to go home with one another. Everything had to go back to the way it was for this week in Chicago to work for what it was intended.
He wanted to ask you if everything you left behind was worth going back to. And if he did ask you, in those certain words, you really didn't have a rehearsed answer to tell him.
Before he could phrase the question that might shatter both your lives, you interrupted him.
"The other good thing about flowers is that you can admire them from afar just as well as you can admire them up close. I can stand in my yard and see my neighbor's garden. Even from there I can admire how bright and cheery his orchids or roses or tulips are. I don't need to be in the same yard. I don't need to own the flowers to appreciate them all the same. I can feel the same pang of joy even from there."
You watched him pause and smile. He shook his head slightly before slowly letting go of your hand.
"And the nice thing about books is that you can still enjoy them even if you hadn't read them for a long time. Once you come back to the story you know you'll find all the familiar smiles and laughs... and even tears waiting for you. Those stories, those great, enduring stories never change. They just get more cherished every time you get a chance to read them."
You smiled back at him, sighing to yourself the relief you were straining to contain. You had come close to breaking something good that could never be fixed again. You had peered at that edge and managed to slowly back away from it. All that was left was getting back to the hotel room to use what little time you had left to show him that all was not lost. You still had time to reminisce about everything you ever were to one another, to go back for one week to the way things used to be and could have been had certain pages not been turned when they had, had certain seeds not been planted where they had. You still had time to be something more of the kids who had imagined growing old together in each other's arms.
But before you could leave the restaurant you just had to say one more thing to him.
"Silly, Eeyore. You should know by now that if ever seem to be running away from you that eventually I'm going to come running right back to you. Even in a dream I can't ever quite leave you behind...."