Chapter Nineteen

Carly kissed her husband as he headed out the door for work. Not just a peck on the lips and a "have a good day" kiss, but a long, sensual "something to remember me by" kiss. It had been a wonderful weekend. She didn’t know if it would last, but she thought maybe now they had a chance, quite the opposite of what she had thought only a week ago. Jerry still appeared a little confused and shell-shocked from the sudden affection Carly had bombarded him with all weekend as he turned towards the car, but he certainly hadn’t complained. He even managed a smile and a wave to Carly still leaning against the door frame watching him go as he backed the car out of the garage. The grizzly bear had at least temporarily gone into hibernation and the cuddly teddy bear Carly had married appeared to have resurfaced.

So far so good, Carly thought with a sigh as she watched him leave. There was still a lot of work that needed to be done to get their relationship back to where she felt it belonged, but she had taken control of her fate.

She smiled at this thought and thought of Chris. It had been her talks with him that had steered her in the direction she was now headed. She couldn’t wait to talk to him, to tell him of her taking control of her fate, to thank him. Now if only she could figure out a way to help Chris regain control of his life, too. But his was a different story altogether.

It was 7:30 a.m. She knew Chris didn’t usually sign on until close to noon. She’d have to find a couple of hours worth of chores around the house to keep her busy until the kids woke up demanding her attention. Laundry was always available and vacuuming was necessary after their weekend romp in the park down the street. Even though she had the kids remove their shoes upon returning home Sunday afternoon, they still managed to leave sand from the playground throughout the house. Of course, some of it probably came from Jerry who hadn’t removed his shoes even though he had spent some of his time in the sand pushing the swings. But she wasn’t complaining. It had been a lovely day. The messy house was just a reminder of what a wonderful weekend it had been. It meant she had been doing something other than trying to keep busy with chores…and trying to stay out of Jerry’s way.

At 11 a.m., she fixed some lunch for the kids and then got them settled down with coloring books and crayons in front of a Disney movie, The Little Mermaid. They’d seen if at least fifty times but never seemed to tire of it. They knew all the lines by heart and sang along with all the songs.

After cleaning up the lunch dishes and looking back into the family room to make sure the kids were keeping their crayon work in the books, she sat down in the den where she could still hear her young crooners singing and signed on to her Internet service. Chris wasn’t online yet. It was 11:45 a.m. She knew he would be along very soon.

She wasn’t disappointed. Not five minutes had passed before she saw F8meNOT magically appear on her buddy list with the sound of a door creaking open. When one of her buddies from her list went off line, her computer would accompany it with the sound of a door slamming shut.

LorettaC: POUNCE!!!!
F8meNOT: hey Carly…how’s it going
LorettaC: good…very good actually…how was your
F8meNOT: you first…I’m still trying to figure out
where to start
LorettaC: really? Now you got my curiosity up
F8meNOT: so you had a good weekend?
LorettaC: gonna make me wait anyway, eh…ok
I’ll start…
LorettaC: you know how we said we control our
own fate and shouldn’t complain about
our lives if we don’t take the initiative
to change them? Well I took some
F8meNOT: that simple? I wish
LorettaC: that simple…at least so far. I just did
everything the way I wished it would
be done and things kinda fell into place
…namely Jerry
LorettaC: but the result was a very nice family
weekend…and all I had to do was have
F8meNOT: so you think if I start having fun in my
graveyard it will get easier to deal with?
maybe I could ask the Priest if he wants
to go out for a beer after the guest dies
LorettaC: rough weekend, eh?
F8meNOT: yeah…sorry…I am very glad you had a
great weekend, Carly, really I am
LorettaC: I couldn’t wait to tell you about it…but
my very next thought was a wish to help
you find some peace, too
F8meNOT: you are so sweet, Carly…but you know,
I was going to ask you for some help
today…if you are willing, that is
LorettaC: of course I am willing! I would do
anything to help you out. you know
that…don’t you?
F8meNOT: Things got pretty weird this weekend
LorettaC: as if they weren’t already pretty weird?
F8meNOT: weirder…Carly I can’t think…we need
to talk…I need your input, some ideas,
and some help…something happened
this weekend
LorettaC: what is it?! you want to call me?
F8meNOT: actually, if you can swing it, I would like
to meet with you, if that isn’t breaking
any rules. this is some deep shit
LorettaC: no, I mean yes, I’ll meet with you, of
course. no, it’s not breaking any
rules…we don’t need rules any more,
Chris…you are a friend, a very good
friend. did you want to meet today?
F8meNOT: as soon as possible…my head is
LorettaC: well I need to find a baby sitter, but I
have a neighbor who is usually willing…
let me check with her and I’ll be back in a
few minutes
F8meNOT: I’ll pay for the sitter
LorettaC: don’t worry about it…she won’t charge
she has three little ones, we help each
other out when ever we can, you know
sit for each other, our kids get along
great together, they make it easy…
I’ll go see if she’s home.
F8meNOT: okay, great thanks Carly I’ll be here
LorettaC: brb

LorettaC: back…she said give her a half hour and
bring ‘em over…where do you want to
F8meNOT: anyplace convenient for you…I really
appreciate you doing this
LorettaC: not a problem, really, dying to see what
you really look like anyway…hee!
LorettaC: there’s a cute little coffee house/deli just a
few blocks from where I live…called ‘X’,
corner of Lyndale and 42nd N. in north
Minneapolis. you know of it?
F8meNOT: no, but I can find it
LorettaC: big brick building, back side off 42nd Ave
has couches and coffee tables and comfy
chairs instead of booths…like being in
someone’s living room…all the local
starving artists hang out there…cool
F8meNOT: sounds nice…I’ll buy you lunch
LorettaC: I just ate…but they have the best hot
chocolate in the state…you can buy me
one of those
F8meNOT: deal…give me about an hour, I’m down
in Eagan
LorettaC: I’ll see you then…xoxo
F8meNOT: thanks Carly…kisses

Carly heard the door slam shut as Chris’ screen name disappeared from her screen. She couldn’t help but smile and felt guilty for it since Chris had obviously been quite distraught about something. "Serious shit," as he had put it, and it must have been because he rarely swore. She hoped she could help. She liked Chris a lot, probably more than she was even willing to admit to herself, and it pained her to know he was in pain. She couldn’t imagine what might have happened this weekend to cause this need of his to see her. But then she knew she’d know in an hour so she didn’t need to try to imagine what it could be.

She called to the kids and told them they were going to get to spend some time with the Claybourns next door this afternoon. Johnny cheered and Sasha got excited because her big brother appeared excited. She got Johnny to go potty and changed Sasha’s diaper and put together the diaper bag for Nancy Claybourn in case she needed more. Then they all walked next door where they were greeted by three more excited children under the age of five.

"Thank you so much, Nancy. I owe you big time for this one on short notice," Carly said as Nancy opened the door and Johnny and Sasha ran inside.

"Don’t worry about it, Carly. My pleasure. Your kids are never a problem," Nancy smiled genuinely. "Take your time and have a good afternoon, Carly."

Carly wondered from Nancy’s smile what she thought Carly was doing with her afternoon. She had told her when she asked if she could watch the kids that she needed to go see a friend who was troubled and in need of talk. Hardly the setting for "a good time." Nancy knew things had not been the greatest between Carly and Jerry over the last couple of years. Carly had seen she hadn’t believed the door story when her nose had been healing, but Nancy hadn’t challenged it. Judging from her somewhat sly smile, Carly didn’t think that she was buying her story now either.

But that didn’t matter. And besides, she was planning on having a good time. She was very excited to finally be meeting her newest and best cyber-friend f2f. She wished it could have been under a less stressful situation, at least in Chris’ case, but she was looking forward to it all the same. He had helped her, now he was asking for help.

A great weekend with her hubby, and now getting together in person with a best friend in need of her help. Yes, Carly thought, life was definitely on an upswing.

* * * * *

Chris pulled into the gravel parking lot behind ‘X’ and walked around to the entrance door. He would never have noticed this place if he hadn’t been told it was here. A plain glass door on the back side of an old three-story, red brick building that looked like a rundown warehouse. ‘X’ occupied a large space on the ground floor in the back of the building. A little hand-painted sign that read ‘X Deli and Coffee’ was above the door.

Inside was just as Carly had described it, couches and La-Z-Boy chairs with coffee tables and end tables instead of booths and counters. Floor lamps of a wide variety, no two alike, were sporadically spaced around the seating areas and atop end tables. A deli counter and a cash register along the right-hand side wall were the only things resembling a business. The rest of the walls were decorated with an assortment of art by local artists, many of whom probably hung out here with their work. Each piece hanging on the walls had a small business card stapled to the plaster underneath it naming the work, the artist, and the price it could be purchased for.

There were half a dozen patrons in the quaint shop, none of whom appeared to have made it past their twenties yet. Two were lounging sprawled out on a couch reading books, coffees on the end tables next to them. Another had papers spread out on a coffee table, deep in concentration, sandwich crumbs sprinkled over his papers. A very young-looking couple on the couch furthest from the door were making out, untouched pastries and coffee growing cold on the table in front of them.

Chris spotted Carly seated in an old-looking overstuffed chair with a rip in the arm rest. She hadn’t recognized him as he walked in the door. She was still looking past him at the door expectantly until she noticed he was heading her way. A smile stretched across her face as he approached her and she stood up to greet him.

"Chris?" she asked as he rounded a couch towards her chair.

Chris thought her picture online, though she appeared pretty in it, hadn’t done her justice. She was very pretty, very down to earth in her blue jeans, white blouse and tan sleeveless vest. She wore no make-up on her round face. She certainly didn’t need it. Her reddish hair had been cut since her picture, sweeping the tops of her shoulders, parted on the side now instead of the middle as it was in her online pic. Her nose and cheeks were lightly spattered with faint freckles not picked up by the camera’s eye. She was pretty, even beautiful, he thought, and also very girl-next-doorish cute too, all at the same time. He still had no problem recognizing her despite the changes. He had spent many hours looking at her pic while chatting with her on the computer and her soulful brown eyes he would have recognized anywhere. He also noticed her nose had changed a bit since the pic, probably thanks to Rocky, he figured.

"Carly. Hi," Chris said, holding out his hand for her to shake. "Thanks for coming."

Carly looked at his hand but rather than shaking it, she took a step closer to him and slung her arms around him and gave him a squeeze. She was a full eight inches shorter than he was, standing at 5’6" compared to his 6’2" frame, and her head rested comfortably and naturally at the top of his chest just below his chin. He hugged her back, soaking in her warmth and a feeling he missed more than he had realized.

"No problem. I’m glad you asked me for help, though I don’t know that I will be of any," she said, looking up at him, releasing the hug and sitting back down in the chair.

"Can I get you one of those hot chocolates you raved about?" Chris asked.

"That would be wonderful," she said. Her smile was radiant. Her eyes shined.

Chris walked over to the counter where a young white kid in dreadlocks and a tie-dyed tee-shirt with several holes in it, as well as a few holes in his face where he had multiple piercings, asked for his order. He ordered two large hot chocolates and returned to Carly. Handing Carly her drink, he took a seat on the couch next to her chair, a putrid green threadbare but remarkably comfortable three seater, propped his feet up on the coffee table in front of him and sipped his hot chocolate. It was every bit as good as she had said.

"You sounded awfully stressed when you IM’ed me today," Carly said after a sip of her hot chocolate. "So what happened this weekend?"

"I met someone that is appearing in my dream," Chris told her.

"Live and in person?" she asked, her big brown eyes getting even bigger.

"Yeah. Just this morning."

Chris then told Carly about his first dream when Kimberly had appeared, how she had responded to his first attempt at explaining his presence in her dream, or her in his, he still wasn’t sure which was more accurate. Then he related the sighting while delivering his papers and the following meeting at the gravesite earlier that morning.

"I know we kinda concluded that I was nothing more than a spectator, that I probably couldn’t save anyone, but what if I can? She’s here in town. I’ve seen her. What if she doesn’t have to die? She’s scared, Carly. I saw it this morning in her eyes. She believes me, and she’s scared. I have to try to do something."

"But what can you possibly do?" Carly asked, knowing he couldn’t answer. "Literally anything could happen."

"I know," Chris said, staring into his cup absently. "But I have to try."

"I have a question," Carly said cocking her head and waiting for Chris to look back up at her. When she had his attention again, she continued, "This doesn’t seem to make sense. You saw her running this morning, then you went to bed and met her in your dream again. It must have been mid morning by then. She goes to sleep after jogging? Wouldn’t that be unusual?"

"Yeah, I thought of that too this morning in the shower after I woke up," Chris said. "I had thought of it before too, but I just figured that I was seeing late sleepers. I mean, most were fairly old, probably retired. The others that obviously had jobs and such, I just figured were in an earlier time zone than me. Made sense at the time."

"So now what do you think?"

Chris took another sip of his hot chocolate, laid the cup on the table and sat up resting his elbows on his knees. "Maybe it’s like I told Kimberly the first night," he said. "It’s more than just a dream. Maybe it isn’t a dream at all. A dream is just our subconscious working while our consciousness sleeps and rests. Maybe I am reaching a level farther, deeper than that. Kind of a sub-subconscious.

"Kimberly was most likely doing whatever she usually does Monday mornings this morning while our sub-subconscious minds were connected." He shook his head as if he was having trouble believing this himself. "Maybe because of my accident I opened up a direct line to that deeper level which allows me to remember it, makes me aware of it at a conscious level. Maybe peoples’ minds are connecting all the time like this but we just don’t know it. Maybe our minds shut it out from us because if we were constantly in touch with the minds of others at this level, it would drive us all insane."

"Or maybe it is your souls communicating," Carly suggested.

"Maybe," Chris conceded. "I suppose at this point I would believe just about anything. But at any rate, I think my dream, or whatever it is, communicates to an inner part of the mind that we aren’t usually in touch with. It would explain how the dream Sherry knew she had internal bleeding but the conscious Sherry didn’t know. The sub-subconscious, or soul, if you want, would be more in touch with the body’s voices than our conscious mind could be with all the distractions of daily life. It’s like, we don’t think about breathing, but we do it. We don’t make our heart beat by thinking about it, but it beats anyway. I think it is at that level somewhere that I have tapped into. But only when my consciousness shuts down. Only when I sleep."

"You know," Carly said, "that almost makes sense."

She smiled, drawing Chris’ eyes back to hers again and leaned forward placing a hand over one of his own hanging off his knee. Her touch felt good. Too good. "You said you wanted my help. Did you have something in mind already?" she said.

Chris explained his idea about her making the initial contact with Kimberly and about her possibly joining the two of them when they first met. "I think she might feel less threatened if you are there," he finished.

"Of course I can do that," she said. "But do you really think you can save her?"

"No," Chris said slumping back into the couch again. "But I can’t not try."

* * * * *

Chris was feeling quite stressed from this new glitch in his dream, the live meeting of his newest guest, not to mention her youth, her beauty and his natural attraction to her. He felt if he failed to save her, he would be letting her down, like he had let down Sherry and Benjamin. He didn’t want to let her down. He wanted so much to beat this thing, this dream, (the Priest?). He pushed the last part of that thought out of his head.

Talking things out loud with Carly over the last three hours, and three cups of creamy hot chocolate, helped ease his tension tenfold. They discussed many theories and doubts and possibilities. Hearing his thoughts out loud, some sounding absurd, others gaining credence, and hearing Carly’s responses and added ideas made him feel so much less alone. Even more so than the many phone conversations, having Carly in front of him here, seeing her belief and the concern in her face as they talked, seemed to lift a weight off his back. Not a lot, but some.

"Have you given any more thought to confronting the Priest in your dream?" Carly asked cautiously. She knew Chris didn’t like talking about the Priest. She figured He was just part of his backdrop, something Chris’ mind thought belonged at a gravesite, and had told Chris so, but she also knew He scared him too.

"All the time," Chris responded to the cup warming his hands. Then looking up at Carly, he almost whispered, "But what if he answered me? I would rather believe he is just my own creation, like you suggested."

"But that’s not really what you believe, is it?" Carly pushed a little.

"I don’t know," Chris sighed. "At least not while I’m there. He seems very real, as real as the people in the coffin. He feels real. But like you said the other day, how can He be? But then, if the people are real, couldn’t He be too?"

Carly saw the shiver run through Chris as that last thought was voiced. He quickly put his cup on the table in front of him as if to avoid spilling it even though it was almost empty. She decided not to push it any farther.

Carly glanced up and noticed the clock on the wall behind the deli counter. "Oh shit, it’s 4:30 already. Damn. I need to get home and get the kids and start some dinner before Jerry gets home."

"How’d you get here?" Chris asked. "Do you need a ride home?"

"I walked. It’s only about four blocks, but a ride would be nice. I didn’t realize it had gotten so late."

They stood up and headed for the door.

"So when do you want me to make the call?" Carly asked as they stepped outside.

"Not right away," Chris stopped to think. "Too soon and she might put up her guard thinking we’re full of it. She’s not fading yet so I’m pretty sure we have a little time. I’ll let you know, send you an email if I don’t see you online. You know what you’re going to say, right?"

"Pretty much like we talked about," she said, linking her arm in his and walking him towards the parking lot. "But I will probably type it out so I don’t screw it up. I don’t think she’ll freak. Which one is yours?"

"The van over there," he pointed. "Thanks a million, Carly. You really are a true friend, you know?"

"As are you, Chris. But you did lie to me," she said.

"When?!" He stopped in his tracks, looked almost hurt.

"You didn’t tell me you were so sexy looking," Carly winked up at him and tugged him in motion again towards the van.

"You’re such a tease," he smiled. "But believe me, if you weren’t already spoken for…" He left his words hanging there.

"I know, I know. Just my luck. Sexy but with scruples." She stopped in front of the van, stood up on her tippy toes and kissed his cheek. "I forgive you."

Chris walked to the passenger side with Carly, unlocked and opened her door. "Thanks. You’re too kind," he said with a laugh, standing aside for her to climb in.

For just a moment, as she brushed past him into the passenger seat, as he caught a whiff of her hair, her fresh scent, he let his mind wander, to a time and place where she wasn’t spoken for. The look in his eyes did not go unnoticed, or unappreciated, by Carly as he shut the door.

She was smiling as Chris climbed in the opposite side and asked, "Where to?"

"That-a-way," she pointed. "But I think I am going to have you drop me off a block away. You know, just in case."

"Just in case?" Chris raised an eyebrow.

"Not that she would ever say anything, but I think the lady next door, the one watching the kids, was kind of suspicious of my mission here."

"What did you tell her?"

"Just that a friend needed to chat. But she had a sly grin on her face when I left. I didn’t give my ‘friend’ a gender," Carly said with a snicker. "And I don’t have the time or the desire to explain anything to her right now, not that I could even…hee."

"Yeah. Tell her the truth about this one and she’d know you were lying. A block away it is. You say when." Chris started the engine and drove out of the gravel lot.

"Three blocks down, you can drop me there. "Carly pointed again. "Mine’s the stucco place four houses down on the left, around the corner there. You can drive by and peak after you let me out."

Just before reaching the corner, Chris pulled up next to the curb. "Here you go," He said, turning to face her in the passenger seat. "You really are wonderful to help me like this. It’s so weird. Yet you believe. You have no idea how important that is to me. I really needed a friend like you, you know. I can’t thank you enough."

"Don’t worry about it. I am happy to help," she said, opening her door. She reached across the van and touched his hand again before getting out. "We’ll do what we can, okay? That’s all we can do, you know."

"Yeah. I know." He squeezed her hand on his with his other and then reeled both back in, reluctantly, so she could leave. "You take care, okay? I’ll be in touch online." He blew a kiss through the van to her. She caught it with her hand, touched her lips, smiled, and hopped out of the van.

Chris watched as she hurried around the corner and out of sight. Her smile still replaying in his mind, still melting in his heart. A different time and a different place, he thought, wow. It was several minutes before he felt ready to put the van back in gear and then he drove straight ahead, heading home.

* * * * *

Chapter Twenty


Front Desk

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As Fate Would Have It

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty-One
Chapter Twenty-Two
Chapter Twenty-Three
Chapter Tweny-Four
Chapter Twenty-Five
Chapter Twenty-Six
Chapter Twenty-Seven
Chapter Twenty-Eight
Chapter Twenty-Nine
Chapter Thirty
Chapter Thirty-One
Chapter Thirty-Two
Chapter Thirty-Three
Chapter Thirty-Four
Chapter Thirty-Five
Chapter Thirty-Six
Chapter Thirty-Seven