The blanket twisted over me as I rolled into a sitting position. I was inside my bedroom, but…there was a door hovering in the air with a thin line of light beaming through the cracks around the framing. I threw the covers back and slipped out of bed.
Crossing to the door, I walked slowly. It was floating in the air two feet above the ground. Timidly, I lifted my hand and pushed it open. It creaked as it swung back and spilled bright light into the room. I stepped through the threshold and landed on a set of stairs. I looked up. David was sitting on a step ten feet above me, smiling.
“Hi,” I answered, smiling back. “This is nuts!”
My eyes swept the stairwell. It stretched up and down as far as I could see. Doors lined the walls on either side. One was glowing brightly.
David followed my gaze and said, “That’s Isaac’s door. I just checked on him to make sure he wasn’t having any nightmares. Would you believe he’s dreaming that he’s the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboy’s football team?”
“Really?” I shivered and surveyed my clothes. Thank goodness I didn’t change into my pajamas. That would have been embarrassing. As it was, my jeans were wrinkly and my t-shirt was stretched out around the neck.
“This door right here…” David pointed to another blurry door that was putting off a haze of gold light. “This belongs to the Fallen Angel who’s just manifested…” David scrunched his face in thought. “Or maybe they’re about to manifest, I don’t know. Anyway, I’m waiting for it to unlock. Whoever’s behind it has to fall asleep and enter a dream state before I can get inside.”
“So…are we just going to hang here inside the stairwell?” I asked, dropping onto the step beside him. This was really strange.
“No. No way.” David grinned broadly. “Come on, I’ll take you to my door.”
“But…will you know when…the door unlocks?”
“Yep. I can’t miss it, not when it belongs to someone that’s more supernatural than human.” David stood and started climbing.
I followed, chewing over his words. More supernatural than human? Did that describe me?
David stopped before a door with his name marked across the framing. His door didn’t glow; it appeared the same as all the other doors lining the stairwell. I wrapped my arms around my chest and tried not to feel nervous.
“I don’t have my own dreams,” David explained with his hand on the doorknob, “When I let my mind slip into a dream state, I always wind up here inside this stairwell. But I found this door once, when I was wandering around bored out of my mind. It’s always unlocked. The first time I opened it; there was nothing but blackness behind it. It doesn’t belong to anyone.” David shrugged. “So I claimed it and eventually figured out how to build my own dream worlds inside of the darkness.”
“Huh?” I paused as David walked inside. My heart lurched, I thought he would plummet into the blackness, but he stood firmly in place, as if he was standing on a floor made of thin air.
“Come on, I’ll show you.” David encouraged. “I thought we could have a little fun, lighten the mood.”
Suddenly, a mischievous smile covered his face and his aqua blue eyes sparkled. A rippling carpet appeared in the dark space beside him.
“Wanna go on a magic carpet ride?”
I laughed out loud. “You can do that?!”
“You can do anything when you dream. Anything you can imagine. So what do you say?” David bent down and patted the rug with his hand.
“Well…there’s nothing to hold on to.” I eyed the carpet with a bit of dread. “I could just fall off the sides. I think I would be too nervous to enjoy it,” I said without forethought.
My heart sank. What was I thinking? Why didn’t I just say yes and hop onboard?
David groaned, but I could tell it was merely in jest. “I’ve always heard that women were hard to please.” He glanced at me and winked. “How about this?”
The carpet immediately transformed into a gleaming white, antique convertible Bentley. The top was down and a wispy stream of exhaust floated into the air.
My mouth fell open. I clamped it closed quickly. “Alright,” I agreed with a smile.
David jogged around the car and with each step he took I was sure he would fall into deep space. He popped open the passenger door and bowed like a chauffeur. I held my breath and stepped through the threshold, flinching. When I was sure I wasn’t zooming into the black pit, I took a deep breath and started walking very carefully. I climbed into the Bentley and exhaled in relief.
David hurried back to the driver’s side and settled into his seat. He reached down and turned on the radio—the very beginning of Plumb’s “In My Arms” started playing. David honked the horn for pleasure and started beating on the steering wheel as if it was a drum. “Okay, let’s see…You’re a girl. I think it’s safe to say you’re a girly girl at that. So…girls enjoy things like fairies and butterflies and unicorns, right?”
I didn’t even have a chance to respond. The blackness around us popped into a gorgeous sunset with ribbons of amber and rose. The enormous sun hovered over the horizon like a ball of golden fire. David revved the gas and we flew off into the clouds.
“Seat belt.” David said, nodding at the buckle.
I slapped my belt into place. “Where are we going? We’re not going to crash, right?” I started to wonder if this was a good idea after all. I was a little tired of being high in the sky. Heights had never scared me before, but they were starting to now.
“No way. Just relax and enjoy,” David said, stretching his arm casually across the back of the seat. “We’re in dream land. And I’m a Dream Catcher. So I control what happens,” he said as we plowed through a fluffy white cloud, sending little puff balls in every direction.
I was grinning like a kid on Christmas morning.
David tilted the car toward the ground and we glided to a forest of lush, tall trees. The earth was carpeted in silken ferns, a thicket of wildflowers, and willowy grasses. Fireflies fluttered in the sunset. Everywhere I looked there were little twinkling lights. They were dancing in the canopies of the trees and winking at me from the grass. The colors were so vibrant and majestic. Everything seemed soft and cozy in the orange glow of the setting sun.
My eyes greedily absorbed my surroundings. I couldn’t say a word, I was so stunned.
Suddenly, I noticed tiny little fairies emerging from holes in the tree trunks, a trail of golden dust following them as they began to circle the car. A little pink fairy zoomed across my face and then returned to hover right before my eyes. She had a lavender glow surrounding her and delightful, glittery wings. I giggled.
A rumble below us caught my attention and I looked down to see a herd of shimmery unicorns galloping through the forest, their beautiful horns glinting and sparkling as if they were made from crystal. Within seconds, we were skimming the grass, driving right beside the ethereal unicorns, which turned their blue eyes upon us.
My gaze widened with awe as the forest began to part, revealing a purple and silver mountain, a rainbow arching into the lake situated at its base. The unicorns slowed to a trot as David pressed the brakes gently.
We sliced through a meadow of butterflies, heading for a cascading waterfall that fell from the mountain and spilled into the sparkling lake. White swans floated on the shimmering waters in small flocks. I heard a faint melody, music in the air. For the first time I spotted an island in the center of the water, and set on it was a stone stage with a player less piano and harp creating music.
This was surreal.
David kept driving as the unicorns stopped to drink from the lake. The rushing sounds of the waterfall filled my ears as butterflies of every color took turns landing in my palm.
“What do you think?” David asked, leaning in to give me a look of mock arrogance.
“This is weak!” I teased, stilling grinning as a gold and orange butterfly flapped its wings in my hand. “I mean, fairies? Come on, it’s cheesy!”
“Oh please,” David laughed, “Don’t even try to pretend you don’t like fairies and butterflies. You’re practically a blinking neon sign that says: ‘I’m a fairy princess’.”
My gaze locked with his as the wind ruffled his hair. I laughed along with him and then quickly broke eye contact. Suddenly, I felt very self-conscious.
David pulled the car beside an intricately carved wooden sailboat tethered to a golden column beside the water. The Bentley stopped to hover in the air beside it. David motioned me to follow him and we carefully slipped down from the car and made our way into the boat.
“This is unbelievable.” I was full of wonder. I slipped my fingers into the water and could feel its coolness.
David raised the sails and we gently moved through the clusters of swans, surrounded by incredible scenic beauty—the kind of beauty made for the silver screen. We enjoyed a comfortable silence, listening to the crickets and frogs as they added a bit of percussion to the tunes of the piano and harp.
When David stretched out to stare at the sunset and watch the twinkling fireflies, I found myself staring at him. My stomach started doing flip-flops. Did I have a crush? Had I ever had a crush? I felt anxious and jittery. The quietness that had befallen us abruptly turned uncomfortable.
“David, what was it like for you growing up inside the Kingdom surrounded by Vampires?” I asked, trying to sound normal.
David glanced at me and chuckled. “Well, I didn’t get tucked into bed at night, that’s for sure. I spent all day with tutors and scholars who were determined to make my life hell. And for about a year, I spent a lot of time locked in my closet—you know, so I’d have no choice but to do my homework.”
“What?!” I spat, horrified. “They locked you in your closet?!”
“For hours!” David laughed.
“Oh my gosh!”
“I know, right?” David shook his head. “Eva was my handler then. Just after I turned thirteen, Lord Dontilicci found out she was locking me in my closet every day after lessons, and he fired her. Phinn—of all Vampires—became my handler after Eva and I’ve hated him ever since.”
“Caretaker. Guardian. Whatever…Although ‘handler’ is the most appropriate title, I think. I had to live with Phinn for three weeks. He was terrible. So I pitched a fit and Lord Dontilicci gave me my own apartment.”
David nodded, still laughing.
“But…who taught you how to cook for yourself?” I tried to imagine Vampires making chicken dinners or even spaghetti, but I just couldn’t.
“Lord Dontilicci gave me a stack of instructional videos one day. He made sure I was provided with a steady supply of various food ingredients. So, I taught myself.”
“Martha Stewart made me a great cook. I’ll have to thank her one day.” David joked.
I smiled down into my lap. “Well, in a way, that’s enviable. I can’t cook unless it’s microwavable. I eat a lot of Campbell’s soup and even more macaroni and cheese. I hope to break the habit soon. I really can’t stand that stuff.”
“I’ll teach you to cook, if you want.” David said quietly.
Biting my lower lip, I felt a sense of intimacy I couldn’t describe. I stared at the ripples in the water, the curving lines of reflection cast by the swans moving around the boat. My friend Tara sprang into my mind.
Tara used to say that you could see your future inside a mirror of water. When she lived at the Jenkins farmhouse, the two of us spent long afternoons searching for a pond or creak that had stilled into flat glass. Once the water had gained the ability to reflect everything above it, we’d just stare into the mirror of water and try to see what was out there, waiting on us somewhere down the road. Truthfully, we never saw anything, just daydreamed.
My old life seemed so far away. As I watched the lake ripple and shimmer with the movements of the swans, I wondered what my future held.
I reached down and ran one hand over the white feathers of the swan paddling next to me. Was heaven in my future? I looked around. Was this what heaven was like?
Feeling the need to break the silence, I said, “So what was it like before? You know, before you came to the Kingdom…when you still lived with your parents?”
David scratched his chin. “Well…we lived a lot like humans. But I always knew we were different, too. Even as a kid, I was aware that we had to maintain this secrecy around our family because we had no choice but to lead a double life. We went to regular schools, and churches of all kinds of different religions. Sunday nights, the Fallen Angels in the area met for Legacy worship.” David paused and fidgeted with the button on his shirt. “My parents left town pretty often—to go on missions. I never knew where they were going or what they did when they were gone, but I always knew that the missions were dangerous, because my parents were tense when they…said goodbye.” David stopped talking to swallow. “There was a really nice nanny that used came to stay with us now and then—a human.”
“I had a brother and twin sisters.” David said this softly and turned his head away from me.
“Oh.” Pity swelled within me and a knot formed in my throat.
“Anyway, this is where I come when I’m not busy wandering through human dreams, trying to help the people inside them. Everyone needs a break now and then.” David met my gaze and smiled sheepishly. “When I found a door that I could claim as my own, I started to build these worlds inside the empty space.” David inhaled the fresh air that smelled faintly like jasmine and sage and closed his eyes for heartbeat. When he opened them, he flashed a crooked smile. “This was the very first world I created. I’ve built three so far. What do you think? You’re my first visitor.”
“What?” My eyes grew large. “The first world you…built…was this one? With fairies and unicorns?” A laugh escaped my mouth before I could trap it behind my lips.
Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!
My face burned bright red. I should have thought before I said that out loud. How could I be so mean? What was wrong with my brain?
David just laughed, though. For some reason, this made me feel better and I relaxed. In that moment, I felt like it was safe to be myself. At least with David.
“I thought you might say that.” David ran a hand through his hair. “Actually, I wasn’t planning on telling you I built this place. It’s just ammunition for a lot of teasing. But when I was little—before I came to live in the Kingdom—my mom used to sing me this song: Hushaby Mountain, the one that’s playing.”
I glanced at the piano on the island, the keys moving up and down. The harp was playing, the strings were fluttering in motion.
David said, “I wanted to bring the song to life, to create it as I imagined it when my mom used to sing to me. Anyway, now you have some major dirt on me. I like fairies.”
“I won’t tell,” I promised quickly.
“Ah,” David said, “It really doesn’t matter. I’m actually proud of this place. It’s kind of like my mom’s place. And I get to come here and visit and let all my cares just sail away. You can come, too. Whenever you like.”
“Wow. Thanks.” I pressed my hands into my lap, nervous. “And you have other places? Other places like this?” I asked, as I swallowed a mouthful of yearning. I longed to reach out and take David’s hand. I averted my gaze to the harp strumming on the island. The music was so beautiful as it mixed with the rushing noise of the waterfall.
“Yep. This is my favorite place, though. The other two worlds are just cool creations. This place is alive to me…” David jerked his head away and closed his eyes tightly.
I watched, confused.
“Uh, Shayne,” he said as he turned back to me. “I’ve got to bail on you. Sorry. The door just unlocked so I need to go to work. This was fun, though. See you in the morning!”
I blinked open my eyes and I was back inside my bedroom. The red velvet canopy quivered around me and the air conditioning hummed just over my head.
I felt so energized, so I hopped out of the covers and paced across the stone floor. Did I just go on an actual date? No way. Not possible. There was no lingering gaze with the subtle promise of a kiss to mark the end of the event. Wasn’t that the way dates usually ended?
I couldn’t stand the thoughts running through my head. They felt scary and alien. Somewhere inside of me hope was lingering. Hope that my godforsaken right to be loved hadn’t been stripped from me entirely. Hope was scary because with it came the fear of losing. I’d long accepted that some people are winners and some people are losers. It’s best if we all know our place.
Still, I wondered what it would be like if David loved me. I pushed that thought away as fast as possible and started looking for some kind of action to quiet my mind. I started tossing items into my backpack until it was full. I cleaned up the mess I had spilled on the kitchen floor. The need for mind-numbing activity compelled me to move from task to task in a spastic way. When I couldn’t find anything else to do, I stumbled into the shower, letting the hot water flow over my body.
Showers were incredibly rare back at the farmhouse. At the Jenkins’ home, a strict rotation of bathroom-use had to be observed. So I didn’t understand why I wasn’t enjoying this shower. I should be.
I didn’t notice it at first—not with the water washing away my tears before I could register them—but I was crying.
I slid down the glass enclosure and pulled my knees to my chest.
I should be careful. I shouldn’t forget that sometimes—when you reach for something—you might just get burned.
I looked down at my fingers for a moment. My eyes widened when I realized they were already healed. I pulled myself to standing and turned off the shower, crawling back into bed. I stayed awake until two o’clock in the morning before sleep towed me under.