How is everyone’s summer going? We are all well. However, I am finding that children at home means very little is getting done here. Okay, that is not exactly accurate. Messes are being made, battles between siblings are being waged and my sanity is slipping. My adorable offspring have not been idle! Seriously though, we have been having a wonderful summer but it does make carving out time to work a bit difficult.
For those of you who have been following this story (the Introduction and Chapter One are posted) you may notice changes in the pieces that you have already read. This is because as you all have been sending me suggestions I have been going back and updating my writing accordingly. I am very grateful to everyone who has emailed or commented. Many eyes are better than one set! A huge thank you to my brother-in-law Fred and my dear friend Miriam who are my special guinea pigs. They have been very helpful and patient!!!
It was early evening when Tim’s truck pulled into my gravel driveway. Alex had left in the mid-afternoon to get ready for the dinner rush at his restaurant. I felt a little guilty about the amount of time my brother was spending on my house, but I knew he had his own agenda for helping. Alex wanted me to stay home in Calistoga like he had. I wasn’t sure yet where home was for me.
Watching Tim open the white gate and come up my walk was unsettling. Coming back to my childhood haunts after years of being away was surreal, to say the least. Everything was exactly as it was, but nothing would ever be the same again. Tim was Tim. Yet, everything was different; he was different. Ten years had gone past. Time had betrayed us. We had grown up.
He was still the Tim I remembered: the wide smile, the crinkles in his face when he laughed, a twinkle in his hazel eyes at a joke and the spring in his step. If there were more wrinkles around his eyes than before, if the laugh was a bit slower in coming, well, I had changed, too.
I could tell from the set of his shoulders and the way he moved that he was worn out. Even so, his weary smile was infectious. I was dead tired from stripping wallpaper and sanding all afternoon, but I could not help grinning back.
“Oh, the day I’ve had,” he started, but I held up one hand to stop him.
With a sudden inspiration I pointed to the porch swing and I ordered, “Sit! I’ll be right back.”
I ran to the kitchen and grabbed a few essentials. I whisked these back to where Tim waited. Then I dragged over the little outdoor table from the chairs on the other side of the wide porch. I put down a basket of tortilla chips and a bowl of my homemade salsa. I opened two beers and added lime wedges to each of them. Handing a beer over, I raised my own bottle and clinked it to his. “Salud.”
“Corona, with fresh lime? You remembered. Wow, is that your grandma’s special salsa recipe?”
“Yep, made it yesterday. You look like you could use a little Friday pick-me-up.”
Tim squeezed the lime and pushed it into his beer bottle. Then he took a long swallow. Letting out a sigh he raised his bottle in turn to me. “You, my dear Siobhan, are a goddess.”
“Oh sure, I bet you say that to all the girls.”
We sat in silence for a moment. The beer was cold, the breeze was picking up and it was nice just to be. “This is great,” said Tim.
I raised one eyebrow and munched on a chip. I waited to see which way this was going to go.
Tim looked at me and then at the salsa, “I’m scared to try it,” he admitted. “What if it isn’t as wonderful as I remember?”
Our eyes met for a minute. “Oh please, Tim, you never had it so good.”
Tim gave me a mischievous grin and scooped a chip full of the salsa. His eyebrows lifted in delight and he slapped one hand on his knee. “Better than I remembered! When will you let me have this recipe?”
I shrugged, but basked in his enjoyment.
“Here you are, young lady, legally allowed to imbibe alcoholic beverages at last.”
“Right, like that extra year you have on me gives you so much moral high ground in this area.”
“You bet your life on it.”
“Hard to believe that the last time I saw you, you weren’t of legal drinking age,” he said. “Not that it ever stopped you.”
“Just a few months shy,” I muttered. This was about as far down memory lane as I wanted to go.
Tim’s eyes narrowed and he seemed to be assessing my mood. He shifted gears. “So, you’ve come home at last?”
I looked at him, a hundred memories in my head, and wished it was that simple. Was this where I was meant to be? All I said was, “I guess you could say that.”
“Better late than never.”
“Of course, you always were late to everything.”
I didn’t know how to answer so I contented myself with a smile and another sip of my beer.
“Right, then,” he said. “I believe you need some work done?”
I gave him the tour of the house showing him the fruits of my sweat and calloused hands. He was a good sport and acted impressed, which I appreciated. I hated steaming off wallpaper almost more than anything. Still, the bedrooms that Alex and I had finished did look nice. I had a guest room done in light, cheerful yellows and whites. We had just finished my office, a corner room in moss green with two huge windows. One wall held a Murphy bed and the other had my desk and computer.
I showed him the bathroom adjoining the master bedroom and the torn-up kitchen. Both were definitely works-in-progress. I appreciated the fact that at no point did he laugh. He even seemed optimistic that someday soon I would be done remodeling.
We finished our beers and Tim sighed. “Well, Tessa will be waiting for me and I’m late already.”
“Your significant other?”
He grinned. “Yep. She’s got the most beautiful brown eyes you’ve ever seen.”
My pulse increased and I felt a dozen conflicting emotions pass through me all at the same time. I hadn’t seen a ring and Alex hadn’t mentioned a girlfriend. I blinked. “You’re married?”
I realized Tim was watching me. “Nope, but I’ve got the most beautiful girl in the world. She’s crazy about me, too.” Then he winked, adding, “And she’s got legs that won’t quit.”
Darn him. I knew he was telling the truth. I wondered how much my face was giving me away. Tim had always been good at reading me. It was hard to say what I was feeling right now.
Tim shook his head and looked amused. “She’s my dog, Siobhan.”
“No one else?”
I shook my head. “Came close with one guy, but it didn’t stick.”
We shared an awkward silence. Tim seemed to be waiting and I didn’t know what to say or how to feel. I stood up and collected the bottles. “I should get some rest. Tomorrow I have another glamorous day of sanding and spackling ahead of me. Besides, you shouldn’t keep that poor puppy waiting anymore.”
He stood up and came towards me. He removed the bottles from my hand and set them back on the table. I looked at him in surprise. For once, he wasn’t smiling. I bit my lip. Tim saw it and the ghost of a smile crossed his face. “You still bite your lip when you get nervous?” he said. “It’s just me, Siobhan.”
He moved closer and pulled me to him. I thought he was going to kiss me, but instead he gave me a long hug. Then he left, promising to see me on Monday.
As I said good-bye and watched him go, I couldn’t decide if I was relieved or disappointed.
That night I dreamed. Oh, I know, experts tell us that we dream every night. Without dreaming our sleep cycles aren’t complete and our brains don’t fully recharge. Still, most mornings I don’t remember my dreams. This time was different.
The time spent with Tim sent me down memory lane. My mind kept going after I fell asleep. My dreams were vivid, disturbing and all about the past.
My childhood after my parents’ divorce had been fairly normal, except for the doctors and my parade of step-mothers. Mom had never remarried although she did have a long-time beau named Ron. They went on exotic trips and fabulous dates, but each still had their own space. It worked well for them. Dad, on the other hand, was on his fifth wife. My father was in love with being in love. Generous, affectionate and loving, he didn’t have a mean bone in his body, but he had a hard time with “ever after”.
When I was twelve, my divorced parents decided to send me to a therapist. I guess they thought it was time for me to put aside childish notions. A five-year-old can have an imaginary friend, but it started to be a problem when the child was twelve and the “friend” was a dragon. By this time my father was newly married to his third wife. My mom and dad had settled into a curiously amicable co-parenting regime. Who knew? They were better apart than together. They agreed: no more dragons.
My first therapist’s name was Helen. At the time she seemed impossibly old. With an adult’s perspective, I know now she wasn’t much past thirty-five. I thought she was an ice-cold bitch. Now I saw she likely meant well. Of course, everything is different through the eyes of a child.
My dream was achingly familiar. Helen thought little of the usual couch used in therapy. I was in her office, curled on a large beanbag. She was in another beanbag across from me. I think the beanbags were blue. Funny, how colors in dreams are sometimes so hard to remember.
“So, a dragon told you that you were special?” said Helen in that calm voice she always used.
I shrugged and looked everywhere but at her. “Yeah.”
“Then this dragon told you she had to go, but it wasn’t your fault?”
“Gracious, I wish all my children of divorced parents had such healthy day-dreams.”
“Wasn’t a day-dream.”
Helen tapped her pen against her notebook. “Oh really? Not a dream, you say? A magical friend appears to a five-year-old who’s confused, who’s hurting and then tells her exactly what any child of divorce desperately needs to hear: ‘it’s not your fault.’”
I glanced around her office, trying to avoid her eyes. I was embarrassed, but I still clung to Daisy. I knew it wasn’t my imagination. The dragon in the garden was real, but I couldn’t tell Helen how I knew. If I told her about my talent, then she’d be like everyone else I’ve ever told. She’d think that I was a freak. Well, except for Alex. He didn’t think I’m a freak even though I was his big sister.
In my dream Helen seemed to grow. She became this huge figure standing over me. At twelve you begin to feel like you are grown up, until some adult cuts you back to size. That’s how it was for Helen and me. I was starting to grow up, but she kept trimming me down.
She loomed over my beanbag and I started searching for some place to hide. I saw a door under her desk, against the wall and I crawled toward it, away from her, away from monster Helen. I could hear her screams of frustration. I could hear her telling me my imaginary friend isn’t real. I just wanted to get away from Helen. I needed to get back to the garden.
I crawled through blackness and slime. I heard wet, squishy things around me, but my mind shrank away from those sounds. I pushed forward.
I emerged. I was in the garden. Then I started to scream. Helen was in front of me. She was in front of the old apricot tree. I started to run. I didn’t want to listen to her.
I had one of those awful dream moments. You know the ones? Those times where you try so hard to run away, but your feet are stuck in tar, and you can’t go anywhere? I tried to run with all my might. I went nowhere. My heart felt like it would beat out of my chest. I couldn’t breathe. She came closer. I screamed. I started to cry.
Before my eyes, Helen changed. Her suit shifted from conservative black to green, jade green. Even her light brown hair seemed to have a glint of green to it. Her eyes sparkled. They were huge and golden. Somewhere in my dream I thought I heard wind chimes.
“Child, why are you sad?”
I blinked. I tried to breathe. I realized I was me again, the adult Siobhan, not my twelve-year-old remembered self.
Helen seemed different, too. Even her voice changed as she looked at me. “Now, child,” said Helen-not-Helen. “I won’t hurt you.”
I exhaled. It was better now. I knew this voice.
“You’ve grown,” she said. She smiled in a sad way.
I focused on her golden eyes. I listened to every word.
“It’s coming, my love. We’re all coming. You need to be ready. You have to be ready.”
“What do I do?”
“Believe your eyes, Siobhan. Believe what you see. You have to believe what you see. You are the only one who can see true.”
“But, not everyone sees what I see?” I protested. “Sometimes people think I’m nuts.”
Not-Helen leaned forward. “You see true, Siobhan. Trust me, we need you now.”
My vision began to cloud. I was in that point of sleep where I knew that I was dreaming, but I wasn’t actually awake yet.
“Keep the garden safe, my dear.”