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                                                                CHAPTER ONE

         The beeping was driving me crazy.

         It cut through the thickest part of sleep, leaving about one blissful second for me to drift back away before beep again.  I would have given anything, absolutely anything, to stay in that deep, black unconscious state. If that was what death was, bring it on.

         But no -  beep…beep…beep…

         I batted my hand out in the direction of the sound but the movement felt heavy and went without contact or landing.

         Wait, where was I?  I don’t even have an alarm clock!  I use my phone now, a gentle piano trill to pull me back into the world, not some old school LCD alarm. 

         I tried to open my eyes.  God, it was hard.  Like they were glued shut with Krazy Glue.  That happened to me once.  I was trying to put a mug handle back on and got a sudden, violent eye itch and went to touch my eye without thinking of the glue on my fingertips.   You think it’s annoying when you glue your thumb and index finger together?  Try your eye!  Nightmare!

         I try again, and slowly light and color filter into my brain.  My head is pounding.  God almighty, I haven’t been this hung over in years.  My head hurts, everything is achy to the point where I feel like I can’t move, my mouth is as dry as cotton, even the top of my hand hurts – what did I do?

         The beeping starts to fade.  Thank God.  Got to love an alarm clock that gives up. 

         I blink and squinch my eyes and the room begins to come into focus.  There’s a red LED readout across the room that says 11:28.  The room is light, so it must be 11:28 a.m.  Where the hell am I that I – or somebody - needed to set an alarm for nearly noon?

         My eyes rest on the door.  The familiar full-length mirror on the back of it, reflecting the familiar dresser, with many instantly-familiar colors and patterns on tee shirts and clothes that are hanging haphazardly out of the drawers.

         I blinked again.  And again.

         What?

         I close my eyes, breathe deeply, try to quiet my pounding heart, and take a deep breath before opening my eyes again.  I look to the left.  I’m expecting – fully expecting – to see the red walls, the black accent paint, the simple lines of my hotel room, but instead I see the little rose print Laura Ashley wallpaper of my youth.

         And, there on the bed next to me, was the achingly familiar sleeping, grey-muzzled face of my long-gone golden retriever, Zuzu.  

         My exclamation roused her, those sleepy brown eyes, with what my mother always called “Cleopatra eyeliner” around them, opened for a moment, took me in, and closed again, as she stretched, groaned and was immediately back in a deep sleep.

         “Zuzu…” The word drifted from me, and the dog didn’t move.  She was used to me.  I’d sighed her name so many times in teenage angst that she usually waited until the third or fourth repeat before actually believing me and responding.

         I wanted to reach out and touch her but I was frozen.  This was a dream, obviously, but it felt so real that I didn’t want it to end.  I wanted to look around and memorize every detail, I wanted to take in the smell, the sound of the neighbor’s lawn mower in the distance (it felt early to me, but, come on, noon is a fair hour to be making noise, even if today was Sunday, which I had no idea about). 

         So I rolled over onto my side and watched the dog breathing for I don’t know how long.  It seemed so real.  Tears burned my eyes.  Zuzu was the last dog I had.  After she died when I was twenty-one  (nineteen years ago), I was too busy with my career to take care of a dog, even though I was every inch A Dog Person and wanted one badly.  I was a Real Dog person, I liked big, bouncy, happy retrievers and those were not easy to tote to work at the brokerage firm.

         That’s what I do, by the way, I’m a financial advisor.  Third generation.  It’s an awful lot like being a third generation psychic or something because my family has a weird gift for predicting the market.  Not everyone liked my style, of course, it’s risky to put your money down on someone else’s hunches, particularly when they didn’t appear to make good fiscal sense, but over and over again I was right, and I made my own fortune as well as that of several of my clients.

         I thought of that, lying in bed and looking at the crystal clear dream room of my past.  If I really were time traveling, to just about any time in which I’d be lying in this bed with this pup, this would be a really excellent time to invest in Apple.  And to start watching out for Google.  Those two stocks alone, could have turned a token IRA contribution into a fortune in two decades.  I had to smile at the very idea. 

         But this was a dumb time to think about work.  This was obviously a time for remembering.  Briefly “re-living” a carefree, happy time.  I saw my perfume bottles sitting on the dresser – the dark red square bottle of Lauren; the thick sphere of Poison; the tall rectangle of etched glass with old time White Shoulders in it.  Each one of them carried specific memories.  I wonder when I last had them and what made me abandon them so completely.  If nothing else, they could have made interesting aromatherapy.  Though, come to think of it, I don’t think they make that Lauren anymore.  If I could take that bottle out of my dream and sell it maybe I’d get a pretty penny from some collector. 

         Well, maybe twenty bucks.

         I surveyed the rest of the room, and even though it had been twenty years since I’d last inhabited it, I was surprised how well I knew every inch of it.  I knew what the closet door knobs felt like in my hand, the cool, thin brass of the doorknob, the tiny hard-to-reach switch inside the reading light by my bed, and even the way my bed squeaked every time I rolled over.

         As a teenager, I’d had to be very careful about those squeaks sometimes when my boyfriend, Pete, was over. 

         I sighed at the memory and rolled over to go back to sleep.  Or, rather, to wake up.  It had been a pleasant dream but I had things to do.  Only two more days in the keys and then I had to go home and get back to work.  I was determined to rest as much as possible before that, given that everyone I knew was telling me I was stressed beyond capacity and was acting like a bitch, so I wasn’t going to give them any more ammunition.

         I yawned and stretched, hitting something sharp with my upper arm.  I reached up and retrieved a book,  Shanna by Kathleen Woodiwiss.  Ah.  Good one, dream mind.  I hadn’t thought about Kathleen Woodiwiss, and her torrid romance novels, in years.  Man, I loved those.  Shanna was my favorite.  Something about an island, and water all around, and a handsome, tanned, romance hero…  Maybe this was a portent of good things to come.  Maybe when I woke up and went back out on the boat, my own romance hero would finally come to me…

         But when I woke again, it was not to the perfumed breezes coming in my Florida hotel room, but to my mother bursting in the door.

         “Ramie, what in the world is wrong with you?  I’ve been calling you for ten minutes!  You have two days of school left.  Two days.  You’re not skipping them!”

         I watched, amazed at the realistic details of my dream, as my mother – a couple of decades ago – bustled through my room, yanking the closet doors open, and digging through clothes I remembered even from the distance of across the room.

         My mom’s dress was familiar too, though I hadn’t thought about it in years.  A straight pink linen shift.  She’d sewn it herself, as she did most of her clothes as well as mine, after she’d found the fabric on sale at G Street Fabrics.  It was still more than she’d wanted to pay but she said she’d ‘never seen a more perfect ballerina pink’ and she couldn’t resist it.  With her lightly tanned skin, it really did look great. 

         That made sense, I guessed.  She said there were two days left of school, so that would mean it was June. 

         Dream June.

         “Do you hear me?” She turned to look at me.  “You are not missing another day.  Do you really want to risk not getting credit for your senior year because of yet another unexcused absence?”

         That was bunk, of course.  I knew it now.  She always used to make those threats when I wanted to stay home.  Summer school, being put back a grade, not graduating and watching all my friends go off to college while I stayed home and began a scintillating career in fast food…

I vaguely wondered what would happen next, what I’d say to that.  Probably something sulky like, “Okay I was just tired and wanted to get some sleep.  I don’t have to be there for half an hour!”

         But I said nothing.  That is, Dream Me said nothing.

         And Dream Mom glared at what felt, for all the world, like Real Me.

         “Can’t be bothered to answer?”

         I tried my voice.  “Me?”

© 2021 by Beth Harbison