Adir’s sweet cologne filled Hydee’s nose, and he sat down cross-legged next to her and Lynne. He held out a glass of Bailey’s: two fingers of drink with three ice cubes, precisely as Hydee liked it. Hydee accepted it and sipped.
“Talking is in order?” Adir asked. He took Hydee’s hand.
“We’re worried about you,” Lynne added.
Hydee held the chocolaty-sweet liquid on her tongue until she couldn’t taste it anymore. She swallowed. “I’m just… I can’t…” She floundered.
“Which dream was it?” Lynne asked gently. “That you had last night?”
“The one where we’re on the steps.” Hydee sniffed and wiped her nose on her arm.
“Holding hands?” Lynne asked.
“Yeah,” Hydee answered.
“That’s a good one.”
“A really fucking good one.”
“Usually the happy ones don’t—”
“I know.” Hydee took a deep breath. She counted to ten. She breathed and started over. She often said that emotions left inside too long got bottled and the pent-up angst would make an unrelated situation far worse than it needed to be. “Let emotions flow through you as they appear on your horizon
,” she would say. That was the whole philosophy behind Changing Day, after all. Clear the shop of accumulated juju and other people’s energies. Shake up the routine. Let the emotions flow out the windows and the doors so everybody and everything could breathe easier. Hydee tried to live by her own advice, but right now, she couldn’t help but wonder what she’d been letting gather inside her with no outlet in sight.
“A crush,” Hydee said. “A little…stupid—”
“Your mother doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” Lynne said. “She never has.”
Hydee stared at the pile of pillows at the base of her wall. “I remember the first time I dreamed of him.”
Lynne and Adir inched closer. “Yeah?” Lynne said. “Tell us.”
“You’ve heard it before.”
“I like the dream stories,” Adir said.
Hydee drew a long breath and blew an even longer sigh. “It’s not the earliest life on our timeline, but it’s the first one I remember seeing. I think we were in Africa, and it was a long time ago. In the dream, we met as kids. We were part of the same village by the water. Everyone fished, and he was showing me how he could stab one in the water with the spear his father had made him. We were small and thin and hungry. We wouldn’t live past our early twenties, but I would live those years with him. We had children of our own, and he made our son a spear.” Hydee drank and tried to center herself. “The first time I had that dream, I didn’t even know it was Theo Monk.”
“I know,” Lynne said. “Your mom called him your little dream boy.”
“Oh yeah. Harmless, those dreams. No big deal.” Hydee felt herself smile without mirth. “Then one day Mom and I were in the living room…” Hydee trailed off because she’d recounted this story so many times, she wasn’t sure she could get through it again.
“Go on,” Lynne said when she knew Hydee’s will was faltering.
Hydee closed her eyes. “I was nine, and I was drawing in a notebook and sitting on the floor. Mom was at the table by the front door, smoking next to the open window. It was raining. The TV was on. We had a little thirteen-inch thing that picked up four channels on good days and one on bad days. It was a bad day. So Mom was watching a soap opera.”
“The Dawning Light
,” Lynne said.
“Yeah, and then he was there. The person in my dreams knocked on the door to some woman’s house on the show, and she opened it, and I knew him.”
“It’s the eyes,” Lynne said softly. “You say it really is something about the eyes.”
Hydee nodded. “The soul looking at me through them is always the same.”
Lynne picked up the story. “So then you did what any kid would do. You pointed at the screen and said, ‘Mama, look! It’s the man I’m going to marry.’ And Glenda’s like”—Lynne mimed taking a drag off a smoke and rasped in a two-pack-a-day voice—“‘Yeah, honey. Me fuckin’ too.’”
Adir laughed a little, as though he wasn’t sure he should, and Hydee ran her hands over her face. “It’s always been way more than a crush.”
“That’s because it is
more than a crush,” Lynne pointed out. “You bound your soul to another soul in some magic ritual of the gods some ten bazillion years ago or whatever, and now you dream about you and your soul mate together in every lifetime you’ve ever lived. That’s not a crush, that’s destiny.”
In the earliest lifetime Hydee dreamed about, she was priestess in a temple built to worship the gods of the earth. Part of that worship involved a fertility ritual. A male consort was to drink some potion so the god of the earth could embody him, and then he and the chosen priestess were to get it on so they could make more priestesses for the temples or sons to sacrifice to the gods and make the earth stronger.
In that dream, Theo was the consort, one of the village sons, and he and his family had a touch of the same magic coveted by the temple. When he’d confessed he’d seen priestess Hydee on festival days and had fallen in love with her, she had agreed to do the equivalent of a marriage ritual so he’d feel better about having sex with a random priestess and hopefully knocking her up.
Lynne was convinced the ritual worked and now they were fated to be together for the rest of their lives. She even thought the reason Hydee always knew her soul mate but not the other way around was because Hydee had been the one who had actually performed the ceremony. Hydee didn’t doubt her friend’s theory, but it was Lynne who needed such explanations. Hydee wasn’t sure she did. To her, it mattered less when or why or how she was bound to Theo than what to do about it in this life.
Or that what she had tried and was doing wasn’t getting her anywhere. Hydee made a fist, opened it, and flexed her fingers. She could sit there and make her hand obey her mind all day but at night, she was helpless. The dreams took control. Anger was on her horizon again. “So where do the dreams end and I begin?”
“I think you’ve found that balance,” Adir said. “Or seem to have found it, to me, anyway.”
“Yeah, see, I’m not so sure, anymore.” Hydee got up and went into her kitchen, but when she got there, she couldn’t remember why she’d gone in the first place. She stood in the middle and slowly spun, eying the coffeemaker, the fridge, the counter, the cutting board…
“Hyacinth?” Lynne and Adir had followed her, and Lynne sounded truly concerned. They both were. Hydee couldn’t help but think they should be. Beneath the frozen lake of false calm where she was trapped, Hydee was starting to panic.
“Do you know I kiss him good night and good morning?” Hydee couldn’t face her friends, so she spoke to the greeting cards stuck to the refrigerator. “I’ve kissed dozens of men in my life, but none of them feel as real as stupid pieces of paper. The men who’ve shared my bed haven’t been as real to me as the man I’ve only known in photographs.”
“Real is relative,” Adir said.
“No,” Hydee said firmly and matter-of-fact. She spun and put her glass on the counter. “Real
is you and me, flesh and blood, bone and bodies. Real is getting to date and wondering if it’ll work out to be better than you ever imagined, not eating dinner with a guy you know is never going to measure up because he’s not in your head every night catching you fucking fish in a village that’s been dead for hundreds of years.” Mania bubbled in Hydee’s bloodstream, and she started to shake. Lynne began to come closer, but Hydee held up a hand.
“She thinks I don’t try,” Hydee said, her heart thudding so hard it made her chest rattle. “But she’s wrong. I do try. I have. But I’ve only ever had bad dates. I’ve only ever had relationships that I knew would never work. Because I don’t have fantasies, I have memories. I remember what he’s tasted like for thousands of years. I could draw you how he looks when he’s sad and how he smiles when he’s laughing. I’ve seen the same expressions on hundreds of faces, and those moments, those dreams, are the only times I’ve ever felt whole. Ever.”
It was Adir’s turn to try. “Silver, why don’t you come over to the couch and we can—”
“I don’t want the fucking couch.” Hydee scratched at her arm. She rubbed her neck and tugged her braid. She felt solid, but at any moment, she would disintegrate into atoms and scatter all over the house like so much unwanted dust. “I want to stop being so fucking sad. What I do, who I am, it’s… I’m…” Hydee met Lynne’s eyes. “I used to look at him and see the man I love. But now…now do you know what I see when I look at him?”
Lynne shook her head.
“I see happiness I can never touch. The real, honest-to-whatever-is-listening kind of happiness. The sort you could build a life on top of and know it’ll stand through the storms. I see a man whom I rationally have no business thinking I know, but who feels, and who always has felt, like a part of me.” Hydee lifted her arm, reaching for an invisible dark-skinned man on stone steps. He wasn’t there, never would be, and she let her arm fall. “And I can’t be with him.”
“We don’t know that for sure,” Lynne said.
“There must be something else to do or try,” Adir said. “Maybe the timing was wrong before, but now it’s right. Lynne could use her Luck, maybe figure out a way to meet—”
“We’ve done that,” Hydee said, her voice heavy and cold. “We’ve tried that. We’ve tried everything. I’ve done all I can think to do to meet him and have a shot of getting to know him, but nothing’s worked.” Hydee laughed, and for a horrible second, she thought she might not be able to stop. She put a fist to her lips and pressed so hard her front teeth hurt. “It’s not like our lives have always worked out.” Hydee wrung her hands. “There’ve been lives where it’s gone catastrophically wrong. But when I’m a woman and he’s a man and we have the chance to meet and talk, we figure out a way to be together, even if it’s only for a little while. Even if it means risking our lives or our reputations or everything we’ve got. The Universe always has our paths cross, and it’s up to us to make it work, despite families or disease or even war.
“But I’ve met him, and you know what happened? Nothing. I mean, I’ve seen us fail for reasonable but tragic reasons. I could handle something like that. Like he up and dies in a car wreck and there I am, in mourning. Or maybe I’m in India in an arranged marriage, or we’re dirt poor on different continents. That shit? That shit I could see.
“But no. This time? This stupid fucking time? I can’t know him because he’s a fucking oblivious, untouchable movie star. A day job and we’re done. It’s got to be some sort of fucking joke. Any day now, the Universe is going to be like, ‘Just kidding!’ and make it right. I want to believe that!” Hydee realized she was yelling and smacked her lips shut. She picked up her drink and drained the last of it.
“It can,” Adir said. “It will happen.”
Hydee pressed her hands to her heart. “I’m just… I’m not sure anymore. I feel like all I do, everything I am… It’s delusional. I’m insane.”
Hydee overrode Lynne. “What I do, what I think, what I believe… It’s not right. It’s not normal. It never has been, and it never will be. I know how strange it is. I know how I sound when I try to explain that I’m this woman who has been in love with the same man for hundreds if not thousands of years. I see him. I know him. I remember him.” Tears erupted from Hydee’s eyes and burned hot trails down her cheeks. She hated the tears as much as she hated knowing she needed to let them go.
“When I go to sleep at night, I go to this place where I’m one fragment of a million pieces, each one a life and each one me.” Hydee’s chest heaved, and pure grief tried to wring the life out of her. “I’m there, and it’s real. I believe it with my eyes closed and have to fight myself from not keeping them closed all the time. Because I don’t dream of some exotic lover. I dream about a living, breathing human being who has always existed and still exists and does it best when he’s with me. It’s like he’s alive at night, but in the morning…when I wake up…a version of him dies. I bury a version of my lover every single day. My graveyard’s the size of Montana.” Hydee looked at Lynne with blurred vision. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to wake up
“Oh, honey.” Lynne was crying too, and Adir had bowed his head.
“But I do wake up,” Hydee said around a sob. “Every day. Because I know I have to keep going. Because there might be a fucking chance, and this isn’t only about me.
I know him
. I know what he needs to be happy. It’s tricky and complex. He’s not a simple man. But I’ve made him happy for eons and could do it now, but I’m stuck here, alone and unable to do for him what I’ve always done. You have no idea how hard it is to be here knowing he’s there and being unable to do anything. Being with him… It’s not a whim. It’s not a longing. It’s what gives me meaning.
“But what if…” Hydee could barely speak. “What if me longing for him is somehow hurting him? Like, he feels the pull and the drive but doesn’t know what it is or where to go? I know for a fact that it’s happened before. If you believe the dreams. If you believe me. If I even fucking believe… And I just…” Hydee looked at her friends, the two people in the world who understood her and who would be the most disappointed in her if she gave up. “I’m sorry,” Hydee croaked in a small, weak voice. “I’m so sorry. But I don’t think I can do it anymore. I think I have to let him go. I can’t… There’s so little to hang on to and…I just… I can’t
Lynne and Adir rushed in and held her. The three of them collapsed onto the floor, and Hydee cried until she thought she might turn inside out. She had no idea when she’d started thinking maybe this life wouldn’t work out for her and Theo, but now that she’d recognized it as a possibility, she wept for every second of every day of every week and month and year they’d not been together.
“We’re here,” Lynne whispered.
“Love you, Silver,” Adir said.
At some point the tears began to abate, and Hydee could think again. She took incredible comfort from her friends, who believed in her even though her fixation with Theo Monk could easily be seen as hand-me-the-straitjacket-please kind of bonkers. The ugly, unspeakable truth, though, was that they spent most of their time not thinking about it. Hydee understood it; they weren’t in her head all the time and by no means should be thinking of the dreams and lives as much as Hydee. Sometimes Hydee even forgot that everybody else went about their business without being plagued by dreams of their lover who had been with them for, oh, a few thousand years. It was surprisingly easy to do: forget that people managed to live life, fully and happily, without knowing they were intrinsically connected to people across space, lives, and time. For Hydee, it’d been a reality she’d worked to understand since she was eight. For other people, it was a reality they were often too scared or too skeptical to admit.
Hydee didn’t blame them. And if she was being completely honest, she’d say that there were plenty of times when she wondered if everybody else was right and she really was off her damned rocker. During those moments, the only comfort she had was that she wasn’t hurting anyone with her Theo thing.
She’d always had such faith in the Universe. When somebody remembered all she did and knew all she knew to be true, wasn’t it her job to believe? To trust in the unknown and the invisible? She had thought so, and she’d tried so damn hard. What did she have to show for it? Dozens of scrapbooks about somebody else’s life that didn’t and wouldn’t include her, and dreams that made her want to go to sleep and never wake up.
It wasn’t a question of fairness or duty anymore. It hadn’t been for a long time. It had become a question of choice. Did she want to live like this? Hoping for someone who simply couldn’t be with her?
Hydee rested against Adir’s chest. He’d resettled them against the pillows and wall next to the kitchen. “I’m sorry,” Hydee said.
“Don’t be,” Adir answered.
“I know I’ve had my moments before about Theo and the dreams, when Mom said exactly the wrong thing to get me going.”
“This is different, though,” Lynne said. “I’ve never heard you like this. I’ve heard you pissed, I’ve heard you depressed, but you’ve never once said you couldn’t handle it.”
“That’s because I always thought I should. Handle it, I mean. I didn’t think I had a choice.” Hydee tried to breathe, couldn’t, and Lynne got up to get her a paper towel. Hydee blew her nose. “Leave it to the happy dreams to make me crack, right?”
“You do have a certain dedication to being different,” Lynne teased.
“What are you going to do?” Adir asked.
“I don’t know.” Hydee sighed. “I think I’m done trying to reach out to him. Short of selling the shop and moving out West, my life be damned, I don’t know what else I could do that we’ve not tried. Besides, I don’t have the energy to try to explain myself to him and sound like an un-crazy person.”
“Your story is sane if you hear all of it,” Adir said. “I’m sure he’d think so.”
“No,” Hydee replied dully. “He wouldn’t. I’ve done that in dreams and seen what happens. He gets freaked out, runs away, or, as it happened in one memorable life, has me arrested and put in an asylum.”
“Oh yes. That life.” Adir kissed her hair. “Sorry, I’d forgotten.”
“It’s all right. Honestly, if I were him, I’m not sure I would do anything short of calling the people with the white coats if somebody told a story like mine to me.”