Nick: 8 Years Old
I was only eight the first time it happened. Mom tucked me in to bed and kissed my forehead like she always did. She said ‘Good night, Nickolas, sweet dreams.’ She messed up my hair, turned the light off and left the room. That was how it was every single night for as long as I could remember. Sometimes I would lay in bed for a long time before I actually fell asleep, and I would think about the things I did during the day, but I must have been tired that night. I must have fallen asleep fast.
“Ouch! Stop it Sophie!” I grunted.
“Hey,” a soft voice whispered close to my ear as a small finger poked me hard in the arm again. “What are you doing here?”
I opened my eyes just a little. It was a girl, but not my sister! I jumped up and quickly backed away from her. “Aah! Me? What are you doing in my room?” I said kind of loud.
She stood and came toward me again, looking at me really closely. She was about my age. She had long brown hair tied in a ponytail, she was missing one of her front teeth, but she was pretty and she was still poking me for no reason. “Why are you poking me like that?” I asked, rubbing my arm.
“Oh! Sorry,” she said with a giggle as she pulled her hand away. “Is this your room? Why haven’t I ever seen you here before?”
I stopped staring at her and looked around. This definitely wasn’t my room. I was sitting on the floor in a place I’d never seen before. I was still in my pajamas though and that girl was still looking at me. I was glad I wasn’t wearing the pajamas with the dinosaurs on them that my mom liked, they might have been cool for a five year old, but I was eight now and they were just embarrassing. I was wearing the nice blue flannel pants and a thermal shirt. They looked like real clothes. But she was wearing pajamas too, and she didn’t seem embarrassed about it.
The place was pretty strange. I felt sort of like I was walking around inside a cloud. Everything looked soft and white. It was big and empty. I didn’t see any doors or windows, so I don’t know why it seemed like a room, but it did. I got up to look around, but there was really nothing to see. The girl was following me. Neither of us said anything for a few minutes, but she was looking at me like I had just done a magic trick or something really cool, and I sort of liked that she was looking at me, but it was embarrassing too.
“So, is this your room?” She asked again. “Do you get to come here whenever you want?”
“No, my room is a regular bedroom, you know, with a bed and stuff.” I answered, shaking my head. “I’ve never been here before. Where are we? How did I get here?” I wondered out loud.
“Hmm. That’s amazing!” She was looking at me like I was something better than just an eight-year-old boy, but she just couldn’t figure out what. “I think I might have brought you here. I’m not sure.” She said at last.
“How could you bring me here? You don’t even know me?”
“Well, maybe you should tell me who you are, and then I will know you,” she laughed.
“I’m Nickolas. Nickolas Rossi.”
“Nickolas,” she repeated, smiling. “I like it. Is that what everyone calls you?” She asked tilting her head to the side and looking at me like my teacher did when I answered that hard science question in class last week.
“Almost everyone. My grandma calls me Nicky. I hate that, it sounds like a girl’s name. But my grandma is really nice and I don’t want to tell her I don’t like it and hurt her feelings.”
She nodded. “That’s nice that you are kind to your Grandma. I want to call you something different too so you’ll remember me. Can I call you Nick?”
“Yeah,” I shrugged. “That’s okay, I guess. What’s your name?”
“I’m Valerie,” she said swaying a little and stretching the word out in a singsong way.
“Valerie Porter.” She said it very matter-of-factly like she expected me to already know that about her. I felt a little dumb, like when you miss a day of school because you have a cold and when you go back, everyone else knows what’s going on but all you know is that you’re going to have extra homework.
“Can I call you Val?” I asked.
She bit her bottom lip for a moment and looked at me like it was a very hard decision she had to make. Then she nodded. “You can. Nobody else can, only you, okay?”
“Okay, Val, do you know what this place is? Can you tell me?” I asked for the second or third time.
“I’m not sure what to tell you. This place is sort of magic. You can wish for things while you are here. My granny brought me here the first time and she said I could see the future in here but I don’t actually know how to do that. I come here a lot, though, and when I am here, this place will give me almost anything I ask for so I can sort of do anything.”
Val nodded. “Anything. I just have to think about it.”
“Think about what?”
“Whatever it is I want!” She answered emphatically. I looked at her blankly. She started to laugh. Then she waved her hands in front of me like she was erasing everything she’d just told me. “You know what? It would be easier if I just showed you. Just watch. Ready?”
“Yeah,” I said slowly, though I had no idea what she was talking about.
“Wouldn’t it be fun to have a big trampoline?” Val yelled out enthusiastically.
I was not expecting that! I was confused I thought she was going to show me something. I was looking at Val waiting for her to explain. “What are you…” I started, but Val pointed and when I turned a huge trampoline was just waiting in the space that was empty a second ago. “Oh!” I gasped.
Val laughed out loud. It was a wonderful happy sound. And she ran over to the trampoline. I followed her and we both climbed on to it. She bounced high then landed on her bottom. I jumped hard and made her bounce and fall over. We both started to laugh. Then she came over to me and held my hands in hers as we bounced together. I never held hands with a girl before, well, except for my mom and my little sister, but that was different. I liked when she was holding my hands, she was nice and she smiled at me a lot. “You said you might have brought me here. How did you do that?” I asked.
She let go of my hand and she bounced away from me. I didn’t mean for that to happen.
“When I got here, I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do. I was talking to
myself, I guess, but the room listens and I said I wanted to see something important, something really special and then suddenly you were there, here, so you must be important, Nick.”
“I haven’t ever done anything important!” I laughed.
“Maybe the important thing hasn’t happened yet. Maybe the important thing starts here!” Val said excitedly. “Tell me what you like to do.”
“I like riding my skateboard. I like to play basketball. I like to build stuff…”
“Like with Legos?” She asked.
“Yeah,” I said a little sheepishly. “I have a lot of Legos. But I like to build forts and tents and stuff like that too.”
“I like to do that too!” She squealed excitedly.
Val was still bouncing. Her ponytail holder slid out of her hair and her long brown hair flew into the air and crashed over her with every jump. I sat and watched her. She did a front flip and she could land a back handspring. She thought I was important.
“Nick, what’s your favorite thing in the world?” She asked me.
“In the whole world?”
“Yup, in the whole world.”
“I don’t know, Val. I’ve never been to a magic place before. I think right now my favorite thing is being here with you.”
“That’s a really nice thing to say,” she smiled and she blushed a little. “Tell me something else.”
“I like when my mom makes sugar cookies, she makes them big and puts rainbow sprinkles on them. They’re really good.”
“Ooh, ask for those!” Val gasped.
“Ask my mom?”
“No, silly, just ask out loud!”
“Um, I wish I had some of my mom’s sugar cookies with sprinkles on top.” I asked cautiously. I said please for good measure, I didn’t know if the magic room required good manners. But just like that, cookies appeared.
Val laughed and clapped her hands as she bounced over. “It listens to you too!” She said as she took a cookie off the plate. “These are good!” She smiled as she munched the cookie and the crumbly edges fell from her fingers and disappeared into the room.
We slid off the trampoline and finished the cookies. Val twirled around and did cartwheels, her face was pink, her hair was messy, her smile was missing some teeth, but I thought she was the best thing I’d ever seen in my life. I mean, it was kind of weird to think that since I didn’t really like hanging around with girls. My little sister Sophie was an awful girl who kicked me all the time, and the girls in my class said boys had cooties and they just ran away screaming whenever a boy tried to ask them something. But Val was different.
She took my hand again and said, “I wish we had a giant pillow big enough for both of us!” And she leaned backwards as though she would just fall to the floor, and she pulled me with her. I gasped a little as we fell, but a giant pillow caught us and swallowed us in its big fluffy softness.
“Thank you!” Val called out with a gleeful little laugh as she snuggled into the soft place and sighed. She closed her eyes for a moment and I thought maybe she was going to sleep but then she flung a pillow out from beside herself and whacked me good! She laughed out loud as she jumped to her feet.
“Hey! Where’d you get that one?” I complained.
“I asked for it, of course!” She said with one hand on her hip like it was the most obvious answer in the world. Then she hit me again.
But there was a pillow beside me also so we chased each other around, we swung and hit and laughed until suddenly Val stopped.
“Oh no.” She said wide-eyed.
“Wait! Nick wait! Promise you’ll come back! I want you to come back here again! Nick!” She begged.
“I promise!” I yelled back, but she was gone and as I looked around I was sad to find myself in my own room again where my mom was shaking me gently and telling me it was time to get ready for school. I didn’t want to get up. I spent the night in a magic place and I wanted to go back to sleep. I wanted to see her again. It was probably just a dream. But it didn’t seem like it was a dream. When she was holding my hand it felt as real as my mom waking me up felt.
And Val thought I was something important.
I had this journal. My teacher gave it to me at the end of the school year last year. She told me it would be good writing practice to keep a journal of things I liked to do. My mom thought that was a good idea too. I didn’t. I never wrote in it. I mean I liked skateboarding but writing about skateboarding was boring. Writing about really cool new tricks I could do on my skateboard made them seem boring too. So the pages were all still empty even though it had been seven months since I got it. That morning, I needed it. I dug through my dresser drawer, I found a pencil on my floor and I wrote down everything I could remember about the Wishing Place and Valerie Porter. That was what I called it, The Wishing Place. I wanted to remember everything, like what her hair looked like all messy as she bounced on the trampoline and what color her eyes were. I could remember that her smile was missing some teeth and that her pajamas were purple. And I wanted to go back and see her again.
I wished that the day would fly by, but the awake world didn’t work like that. I was even ready for bed early and I didn’t fuss at all. My mom thought I might not be feeling good. She checked my forehead because I always put up a fight at bedtime, but I was fine, I just wanted to get back to sleep. I lay there in the dark whispering “please take me to the Wishing Place. Please take me to Val.” And I fell asleep still saying her name in my head, but she never appeared. Maybe I wasn’t important anymore. Maybe the special thing was just that one time. Maybe she wasn’t even real, just a dream. But I didn’t want to believe that because she felt real, and for that little while, I felt special.
Valerie: 8 Years Old
I went back to the Dream Room the very next night.
I waited for Nick.
He didn’t come back.
“Granny said you could show me the future!” I shouted a little angrily. “Show me. I want to see it.” But nothing happened. I just stayed sitting in the plain white emptiness all alone. I guess I didn’t have the same kind of power my granny had. I probably could have asked nicer too, but I was mad and sad.
I thought about what happened all day the next day. My granny told me that whatever I saw in the Dream Room was real. She believed that. But this was different because except for the couple of times my granny brought me there the Dream Room was always empty. Maybe I was only dreaming about the Dream Room. Maybe Nick was just a dream. He seemed as real as I am, though. He felt real when I held his hand.
I didn’t know anything about riding a skateboard or playing basketball, so I don’t think I made up the things he told me. I wanted to believe he was real. I wanted to see him again. But he didn’t come back. Maybe he couldn’t get back there unless I asked for him again. “That has to be it!” I told myself. “I’ll just ask for him again next time.”
I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about him, even in school. He had the bluest eyes I’d ever seen. He even said that being there with me was his favorite thing in the world. No one else thought that, not since Granny died anyway, but he made me feel happy for a while and I wanted to be happy with him again. Still, I was a little afraid to want to see him so much because even though I didn’t want to admit it, he was probably just a dream; real boys weren’t like Nick at all.
I couldn’t get back to the Dream Room for two whole weeks. I don’t know why. Sometimes it was just like that. Sometimes I went to bed and I just slept. Sometimes I really wanted to go there, especially when I went to my dad’s house and his horrible girlfriend would send me to bed early. Those nights were the worst, because I could hear them together in the other room and I could never just shut my ears and fall asleep. But the Dream Room just wouldn’t take me away from there no matter how hard I wished to go somewhere, anywhere. I hated that.
Finally, one night, I found myself in the there again. I was so happy that I laughed out loud and I twirled around in a little happy dance. In my head I wished for Nick. I couldn’t say it out loud, because it would have been too disappointing if he didn’t come. But I was in my special place and my happiness could not be contained.
“Quiet down, Sophie, mom’s going to hear you,” he mumbled.
I spun around quickly. He was sleeping on a pillow on the floor. I ran over and threw myself down beside him. “You came back!” I said happily.
He opened his eyes. They were so blue.
“What?” He started, sitting up quickly. “Val! I couldn’t get back here, it wouldn’t let me or I guess I didn’t know how. I’m sorry! I’m really sorry.”
I threw my arms around him. I don’t really know why, but he just seemed so serious about wanting to be here with me and he made me feel so happy. He was back, and that was all that mattered. “I can’t get here every night either. Sometimes I can come here four or five times in a row, but then sometimes, like this time, I couldn’t get here for two whole weeks.”
“How do you get here?”
“I just go to sleep and then I am here.”
“Yeah, that’s what happened to me too.”
“Let’s do something fun, Nick. The time goes by really fast when I am here.”
“How did you know I was about to leave last time?” He asked.
“I would like a giant Lego maze, please!” I shouted. “We can play Hide and Seek all night long!” I said squeezing his hand excitedly. Giant walls of huge colored plastic blocks sprung up all around us. There were openings into other colored passages; some were tall enough to walk through, others we had to crawl through or over.
“Last time...” he started.
“You just started to fade away.” I told him. “It was like you were becoming invisible.” I said as I skipped down a red corridor and turned a corner.
He ran after me. I think he caught a glimpse of my feet as I crawled through another passage. I could hear him running and I laughed and ran too. The maze was really fantastic, and it just went on and on. I wanted to see all of it so I asked for a lookout tower. Well, I thought it in my head actually, but it appeared a little ways down the passage and I ran toward it.
“Val? Where are you?” He called out. “Wait for me, please! I don’t want you to fade away!”
I stood in my tower and looked out over the maze. It went as far as my eyes could see. Nick was standing two rows away, waiting, and listening for me.
“I’m up here!” I called.
He spun around and looked up. “I didn’t see that before!” He laughed.
“I just made it!” I told him. “You aren’t really getting the hang of this place yet, are you? If you want something, just ask for it!”
He ran toward the tower and he kept his eyes on me so I wouldn’t run or hide from him again. He looked up and down the blue corridor he was in, and finally he shrugged. “Door, please,” he said cautiously. The blocks in front of him disappeared. , “Stay with me,” he said as he reached the tower. “You said the time goes fast, and I want you to tell me about you before we have to go.”
“I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t get to do fun things like ride a skateboard or play basketball. Some people are building a new house on my street, and there’s a big pile of dirt and a front loader that I would really like to go climb on, but my mom won’t let me.” I said dropping to sitting and frowning. “She likes me to stay clean all the time. She’s like completely crazy about that. She always has hand wipes and stuff like that. Clean and pretty are all that matter to her, so she never lets me do anything that I think would be fun.” I said grumpily. “Do you think being pretty is the most important thing?”
“Well, no one has ever told me I was pretty,” Nick said.
I burst out laughing. “I meant, do think the most important thing about a girl is if she’s pretty?”
“I know that’s what you meant. I just wanted you to laugh. No, I don’t think being pretty is too important,” he said and then he stopped. “Wait, I mean, I think you are pretty, probably the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen, but I think you’re nice too. I like being here with you because you’re fun and you make me feel happy.” He blushed a little. “Being pretty is just one thing. But you are a lot of things,” he finished, as he looked down at his feet.
Nick was special. This place was right about him being something important. I squeezed his hand a little and he looked at me again. “So, if we had a huge pile of dirt, and we climbed on it and my face and hands got all filthy, you wouldn’t think it was gross?”
“I would climb with you, you know. I would roll in the dirt if that was what you wanted to do,” he laughed.
“Dirt Please!” I yelled out happily. And there we were, right on my street by that super big pile of dirt where soon there would be a new house with a new family, but tonight it was a perfect play place. Our feet were bare, it was freezing outside and there was some snow still on the grass. But we ran up and down the mountain of soft brown dirt. Nick and I were king and queen of that little mountain. Our hands were black and our faces were smudged, but it didn’t matter. Nick was the best friend I could possibly imagine, and just then I knew he was probably exactly that because I did imagine him. But he started to fade away and I yelled out, ‘I wish we were clean’ so he wouldn’t get in trouble just in case he was real.
Nick: 8 Years Old
Sometimes I woke up in the morning and I had a weird feeling like I had a dream that I just couldn’t remember. I would try really hard to think about it but nothing was left of it in my head, it was just a feeling like something happened and I missed it. I never felt like that with Val. I couldn’t get to the Wishing Place very often, but if I was lucky enough to get there at night, in the morning, I could remember almost everything we did and said. Some things I didn’t pay too much attention to, like it didn’t matter if her hair was in a ponytail or if it was messy and it didn’t matter what she was wearing. But when she told me things, I remembered them. Val liked chocolate milk and Pop Tarts. Her favorite color was purple. She liked to sing and to draw. And I liked her. I would have liked to go there every single night, but the Wishing Place wouldn’t let me and every time I woke up from just a regular sleep it was a little disappointing.
I wondered how she felt. I wondered if she remembered me when she was in the awake world. I wondered if she cared if my hair was messy or what my clothes looked like. She didn’t mind that I was all dirty when we played in the dirt pile, so probably she didn’t care about stuff like that. I wondered if she still thought I was special. She made me feel like I was, and when she laughed it was the happiest sound in the whole world. I wondered if we could go anywhere we wanted as easily as we could get anything we asked for.
I wanted to go back.
I always wanted that.