It was just like trying to walk down a steep mountain. Impossible. The forward momentum forced me to run or tumble. I chose to run. Especially since I’d spent so much time in a wheelchair the past two days. I needed to run. Needed to feel my legs work. Fell the blessing of walking. Running. The wind in my hair was warm and soothing.
The bubble gum colored swirls dimmed into starlight as the terrain leveled off. My feet were thudding down onto wooden planks. I could see trees. And the lookout tower. I enjoyed a huge sense of peace, understanding that I was in my happily ever after again. Finally. On Make Believe Island, where the future is much better than the past.
And there he was. The tall, blond bearded man grinned. He alluringly beckoned me with one long strong finger. In his low English intonation, he invited me. “Hey you, step back in to our dream.”
I marched over to him. He grabbed my waist and swung me around as we kissed. Oh what a kiss. I just loved the way his soft whiskers tickled/abraded my skin. And the length of his tongue. Wow. This guy was the best kisser ever.
He set me down. “Well, Cinderella, how’d it go?”
“Momma and Mike died.”
“I’m sorry love.” He hugged me tightly. “How did the reunion with your brother and sister turn out?”
“Horrible. As usual. Why would it be any different?”
“Oh people can change love, given the right incentive and twists of fate. I’m sorry it hasn’t happened for those two yet.”
“So am I back now?” Please say yes.
“For now, yes.”
“Do you mean I don’t ever get to stay?” My voice trailed into a whine. “That week we had together was so so so sublime. I thought it was forever.” I searched his big brown eyes, with long thick lashes.
“I’ll promise you paradise love. But paradise comes in its own divine time. It’s not for us to decide when we want it.”
I sighed with resignation. “So, in other words, I’ve still got work to do in the mortal world. Things to discover. Clues to assemble and deeds to make right before I get to my happily ever after?”
“Yep.” He smiled and touched my nose. I felt engulfed in serenity as my dream lover took my hand and we strolled off the weathered dock, onto the moonlit beach. I enjoyed the waves lapping the hem of my white gauze dress. I hiked it up. Much more appropriate for the tropics than the synthetic mourning suit I traipsed around in earlier in my waking world.
“Ashley, so what else is there I need to do? I’ve already solved my father’s murder. Doctor Payne’s. Momma died, so she doesn’t need me to take care of her. And her friend, Mike— by the way, she told me he was my real father. Isn’t that romantic? And so wrong? I’m really mad she kept him a secret my whole life. I had to live as that pathological lying sociopath’s kid for thirty-nine years! Mister Puppet Master. He manipulated my reality. I have no idea if my whole life was a complete illusion. Did I just go through the motions in smoke and mirrors? “
Ashley squeezed my hand. “He loved you very much.”
“I know that. Everything he did, he did because he thought it was the best thing for me. All of us. But for his own bizarre twisted reasons that I’ll never understand. And now he’s gone. I always had thought he’d outlive me, just so I’d have a completely sucky life. Do you know how much it hurt when friends would tell me how much they looked forward to seeing their relatives, going to the beach on vacation with them and how wonderful their visits were?”
I noticed the red lights of a tanker ship anchored well offshore for the night.
Ashley pointed to the sky. “Look at the rings around the moon, Love.”
I glanced up at the orange and yellow halos. “I’d smile and nod, but actually had no idea how they could possibly look forward to that. I dreaded seeing my relatives. I always came away insulted, dejected and with my gut twisted into a knot of woe.”
“Cinderella, that’s enough. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Move on.”
“I can’t believe you said that to me. Momma always told me to stop feeling sorry for myself. And now you too.” He’s supposed to love me no matter what. Why can’t I feel sorry for myself once in awhile?
“Don’t waste time on that sweetheart. Nobody can make you feel trivial, unless you allow them too. And most of those people are gone now.”
“You’re right. I’ve just got Tammy and Perry left now.”
We slinked around Mike’s bungalow and peeked in the back window. By the glow of a kerosene lamp, I spotted a partially eaten wedding cake. And a marriage certificate.
“So Momma and Mike were married. What, was she a bigamist?” My stomach churned.
We plodded to the front of the house and observed them sitting on the porch. A young Mike and Chloe.
My dream weaver whispered, “Listen.”
Momma Chloe said, “One week into our honeymoon and you have to run off to Mexico City for your next assignment. And I have to take a crash course in nursing for my next deep undercover job. Whey did we ever think two secret service agents could marry and live happily every after?”
Oh no. Damn it. I hear the Donna song. They’re pulling me back again. I tried to tippy-toe up to kiss Ashley, but the music got louder and the stars swirled. I heard Norma Jean smacking her lips. And Tammy saying, “Wake up Oh-Donna. Oh-Donna. Wake up.”