So, um, I missed a few days. Mr. Dork and Things 1 & 2 were moving in, I was editing a book, and working on a few websites, while working the new job (with the longer hours and no additional pay), and getting a book launch organized. So, um, yeah. I missed a couple of days. And I’m okay with that.
So, today marks the first day of historical/fantasy romance. The key word here being “romance” because I’m not really good at that. But, anyway. Here it goes.
Her gut fell as the glass and metal elevator lifted her to the upper floors. Bess sighed, knowing what would be on the other side of those doors depending on the floor it stopped on. If it opened in the basement, she’d be stuck in a maze of rubble, following cries of people she thought she recognized, but could never find. If they stopped on the fourteenth floor, she’d get a promotion, a big cake, and Godzilla tearing down the building. She’d wake up falling, having been tossed out the window of the skyscraper.
The sixteenth floor had a band of wild monkeys tearing up the engine room of the spaceship taking her away, as far away from Earth as it could. But shortly after the doors would open, and after only a few frantic moments of trying to re-wire the engines, chill would sink in, and she’d awaken frozen and unable to breathe.
This was the elevator to her nightmares. Which one would it be tonight?
With a quick frown of surprise, she checked the numbers at the top of the elevator cab again. She twisted behind her to look out the glass. A wide, green, hilly landscape went on for as far as the eye could see.
That was the sign she was safe.
But this was the elevator to her nightmares. She was never safe in her nightmares.
The elevator dinged at her, but the doors didn’t close.
She needed to gather all the symbols she could so she could write them down when she woke. Bright beautiful suns, a large, blue moon, blue sky, green hills. Singing trees. Fuzz balls in the rainbow colors of her yarn collection floated in the air.
She narrowed her eyes and turned to the door as it dinged again.
Her mother, Jean, stood in front her, looking so young. Her blond hair fell almost to her lower back. Her green eyes danced with mirth as if she’d just heard a fantastic joke. Her large bosom was covered in a many-flowered shirt that fell well-past her wide hips. She cupped Bess’ cheeks and whispered, “Bess.”
Bess jerked and swallowed. When her mother had passed away, they hadn’t been the best of friends. They hadn’t liked each other at all, practically. She didn’t dream of her mother. Ever. She’d sided with Aiden when they’d split. She’d told Bess to give up on her girls, to find a new life.
Sure. She might have meant well, but she hadn’t realized what she was advising or what she was telling Bess. She’d basically told Bess that she wasn’t good enough, that Aiden would be a better father than Bess would be a mother. Sure. He had the better job. Sure. He had a great support system in his family, and by great, she meant scary good. But she’d had her mother and her brother.
She’d taken it as a personal affront. She’d lost her daughters. Her heart had been ripped out of her chest, and to add salt to the insufferable, agonizing wound, her mother had told her point blank that she wasn’t a good mother.
So why was she here providing love now?
Her mother didn’t offer any answers. Sunlight glowed, shining a halo through her hair as a soft breeze played through it. Her green eyes softened and she took a step back. “I’ve come to tell you to get on the boat.”
“You told me to leave my children, to get therapy to make it easier, to get a new life.” Tears of anger and betrayal and hurt surged to the surface as Bess balled her hands into fists, her voice rising in level, lowering in tone. “You helped him take my children. You lied in court!”
Jean flinched and looked away, her lips flat.
“Why—why would I do anything you told me to now?”
“Bess.” Her mother raised her face to the sun and drew in a Jeanp breath through her nose. “I was wrong not to believe in you. You were wrong to listen to me instead of to yourself.”
“I was alone! And terrified out of my mind!” Bess’ nails dug into her palms as she fought to keep her emotions under control. “You said you’d be there! You said you’d help me, and then . . . ” A chest-wracking sob stopped her words.
“I know,” her mother whispered. “I know.”
A tear-filled giggle escaped Bess’ lips. “You know. After all this time, you come back from the dead to say ‘you know’.”
“Bess, get on the boat.”
Jean bit down on her lips, rolling them out. She held her hands palm out on either side of her. “I wish I could take it all back, but I knew the fight would be too much for you. You’re not a fighter, Bee. You never have been. I knew he would provide a good life for your daughters. I didn’t realize he’d—” She took in a ragged breath and blinked away tears.
“He erased me, made my girls fear me.”
“I’m not following your advice again.”
“Well.” Jean pressed her fingertips against her closed eyes and turned away.
The elevator was gone. Green sprawled around them in waves of tall grass. Blue wild flowers beckoned on a far hill. A long, slender creek wound its way through the grass, vivid blue against the bright green. If this was a nightmare, she’d accept it.
“Don’t.” Jean dropped her hands, desperation shooting from her eyes as she took two steps to grab Bess’ hands. “Don’t. This is a trap. This sense of ‘relief’ or whatever you’re calling it, it’s a trap. It looks great because the pain is gone, but you were so close.”
“Close?” Bess shoved her mother away. “Close? You want to know what my great victory was the other day? Jemma initiated a conversation with me. You call that close? Mom, she’s seventeen! Close isn’t anywhere near where I’m at with her. I’ve lost ten years. Ten years.”
“And you’re okay with just giving up?”
“I didn’t give up, Mom! My dreams were destroyed.”
They’d actually been consumed by a ship that sailed the Sea of Dreams. For two months, I’d moved through life without the heavy weight of all of my failed dreams, dreams I’d never had a hope to attain. They’d all rested on Aiden coming to his senses and allowing me in, allowing me to see my girls by myself, allowing me to talk to them, allowing I-love-yous back into our conversation.
For two months, I’d felt light.
“That is the trap, Bee.”
A rowboat appeared nestled among the grass along the banks of the creek.
“All this is yours.”
Bess shook her head with a puff of breath. “I accept. Sign me up!”
“But where are the people?”
People hurt. Those she’d loved with all her heart had spat her out as if she’d never existed, and to them, she guessed, she probably hadn’t. They brought her out, noticed her, called her when they needed something; money, food, their house cleaned. People used the things you loved most and twisted them so you’d never find joy again.
There was a lot of . . . sunlight in this meadow. Sunlight wasn’t joy, but it could be.
“You’re not the kind of person who can survive by herself.”
“I listened to you,” Bess roared, her blood beating with rage. “You said I was weak. You said I’d never survive. You said I needed help. I don’t, Mom! I don’t! I don’t need anyone ever again. I provide for myself. I keep myself fed, housed, clothed, bathed. I fix everything. I take care of everything. I provide. And I do that while giving half my income to Aiden to support my girls, and I do that while supporting you and your son!”
“I’m dead, Bee.”
“And I’m still paying for you because no one else will.” The rage left as quickly as it rose, leaving Bess spent. Her shoulders sagged as she stared at the soggy earth. “I’ll take this, Mom. This is so much better than anything else I’ve had. The grass is green. The Earth is wet. The water is clear. The sky is bright.” All those symbols meant good things in a dream. Good things. “This is good, Mom. This is better.”
Jean gestured behind her. “Your girls are on that boat.”
Bess leaned to the side to see around her mother. “Really? Because all I see is an empty boat. My boat is always empty, Mom. It will always be empty, and for once, I’m finally okay with that.”
“Your girls are on that boat, Bee.”
Bess shook her head sorrow swimming to the surface of her chest. “They will never be in my boat. I just have to accept that.”
“Your girls are on that boat.”
“Stop repeating that,” she screamed past the pain in her throat. “No one is in the boat!”
The name was like an arrow in Bess’ chest.
A sob ripped its way out as tears filled her eyes.
“Are in that boat.”
“No, Mom,” Bess said around her guilt and sense of failure. “That boat is empty.”
“Get in the boat, Bess.”
She shook her head. “The grass is green here. I’m okay with here.”
Jean grabbed Bess’ arms and shook.
Bess fought, trying to regain some ground.
Jean stopped moving, her green eyes dim.
The sun dimmed.
The ground filled with wriggling worms.
The grass drooped and turned brown.
The water of the creek browned and muddied.
Jean’s eyes lit up as she bared her teeth. “Bess, get in the goddamned boat!”