Twenty-two years later
“Hey,” he said.
He knew he was dreaming, but it didn’t matter.
“It’s been awhile,” Izzy said.
“How are you? It’s good to see you, Charles.”
“You too. I’m okay.”
“You grew up,” she said. They laughed. She looked the same. She looked like she did when he saw her last. She was a little girl. She didn’t look too much older than his daughter. He looked around. The toys still littered the floor, just like they did. They had played here, up in their tree. They ran here that night. And there were details he knew he couldn’t have remembered – he could never smell in his dreams, and it smelled like rain here. And there were scuffs in the wood where they had fought with toy lightsabers. His memory wasn’t very good. She must have been helping him.
“How old is she now?” Izzy asked.
“Chelsea? She’s ten.”
“I missed the birthday. Actually, I missed a few. She was six the last time we talked.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Do you think I’ll remember when I wake up this time?”
“Probably not,” she said. “But I will. And I’ll be there for when she turns eleven.”
He looked out the window. From here he could see where that house had burned down in the summer. It was their lookout spot. “She’s gonna be her age before we know it.”
“Yeah,” Izzy said. She stood next to him and looked out the window as well. He had to bend down, but it was just her height. She came up to his chest. “Do you still think about her?”
“No. Well, not often. I didn’t go to her grave this year. And I’m happy, you know?”
“Yeah. That’s good. That’s good.”
A woman walked by on the sidewalk below, pushing a stroller with twins in it.
“I miss this place,” he said. “Before, I mean. Before everything happened, and – I miss it. We were good kids, Izzy. Don’t laugh, we were.”
“I know. I won’t laugh.”
The wind picked up, and the whole tree house rocked. They had played here through the most wonderful storms.
“Do you ever want it back?” Izzy asked.
“Sometimes. I wouldn’t want to be as short as you, but –”
She shoved him in the arm, laughing.
“Matt was talking about you last week,” Charles said.
“How is he?”
“He’s okay. He misses you a lot, though. I think he’s lonely.”
“He recognize you?”
“Not all the time. He’s getting better, though. You know, he could use a visit from you. He’d love to see you.”
Izzy smiled. “He’s next on my list,” she said. “I’m going over there as soon as you wake up.”
“He used to have such a crush on you.”
“Shut up!” she said.
“He did! He used to talk about it.”
“He’s not the one who kissed me, Charles.”
Charles shoved her back a little bit. “We were kids.”
“Yeah. We were good kids, though.”
“Hey,” she said. “Do you remember after we ran here after Chelsea, and we saw Mr. Marshal on the way home.”
“I guess, yeah.”
“He bent down and whispered something to you. Do you remember what it was?”
He thought back. Honestly, she would probably know better than he would.
“No,” he said. “I don’t.”
“Oh. Want me to tell you?”
“Nah, that’s alright.”
He was okay without it. He was.
“Okay. It was nice, though. It was a nice thing to say.”
They stood together for a while, and took in where they grew up.
“You know,” Charles said, “Matt was telling me he thinks we’re wrong about when we watched the fire. He said it was when he lost his teeth.”
“Nope, he’s wrong. He’s got his springs confused.”
“I know, right? Why do you think he says that?”
Izzy smiled and turned to the corner of the room and pointed to a little patch of wall.
“Come here,” she said. “In real life there are numbers written here. But you never noticed them, so you didn’t put them in your dream. And if you did because I told you to, it wouldn’t be your memory anymore.”
“I don’t follow,” Charles said.
Izzy shrugged, and looked out at the remains of the burned-out house, just where they had left them when they were little.
They stood together until Charles woke up.
She hugged him around the stomach. “Bye, Charles,” she said. “It was good to see you again.”
“You too, Iz. Don’t be a stranger, okay?”
She laughed, and was gone.
When he opened his eyes in bed, he didn’t remember a thing. But he would next time he saw her. It would all come back again.
Close the door and we’ll disappear
Close the book and we’ll disappear