Dreamwaker Saga, Books 1-3 (Exclusive E-Book Bundle)
Dreamwaker Saga, Books 1-3 (Exclusive E-Book Bundle)
Be careful who you dream about... They could unleash hell.
Book 1 - Lucid Bodies
All through high school Wynter dreamed of having her own boyfriend. And on a warm July evening, she discovered she had the enviable power to make herself one: a perfect boyfriend, created from dreams, encompassing all her desires in physical form. A dreamwaker. But Jezebel, Wynter's sworn enemy, steals the boy for herself and uses her bad-girl charms to turn him against Wynter.
The power to create a dreamwaker has rules. Now with Jezebel involved, Wynter's world quickly spins out of control. Every day separated from her dreamwaker weakens Wynter and navigating between dreams and reality is harder than it looks. The fight to get Wynter's dreamwaker back may leave her a prisoner of her own mind.
Book 2 - Lucid Revenge
With no access to her dreamwaker, Wynter discovers new ways to use the power of dreams to wage a war of wills.
But no plan is perfect, especially when Jezebel doesn’t get what she wants. And Jezebel is a lot better at being bad than Wynter could ever hope to be.
Book 3 - Lucid Fate
Time is running out and Jezebel holds Wynter's dreamwaker, and Wynter's life, in her hands. Plus Jezebel plans to make Wynter disappear permanently.
But Wynter has one last hand to play... and it's a hand she must win in order to survive.
Take a trip into the past, where the line between dreams and reality blurs, friends become lovers, and the consequences can be deadly. Raise your fists because these villains deserve a punch in the face. Download books #1-3 in a convenient 1,120 page e-book bundle.
This bundle is an online exclusive, sold only on this store and readable on ANY e-reader device or app.
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BOOK DATA (for book nerds like you and me)
BOOK DATA (for book nerds like you and me)
Publisher: Frankenscript Press
Audience: Trade/General (Adult)
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Look Inside the Dreamwaker Saga (Book 1: Lucid Bodies)
That Was Yesterday
July 10, 1986
At that moment under the car, it was hard to tell what was worse, the acrid smell of burning rubber or the searing heat blasting from the engine’s undercarriage. Somehow Wynter had escaped the wheels of the black car as it barreled over her.
With her cheek pressed to the hot asphalt, she watched the car’s taillights burn red as it screeched to a stop. Wynter looked back and saw the boy again, blond and blue-eyed, but this time he was running, or trying to. The road moved under his feet like a treadmill. He was always too far away and going nowhere.
The boy finally reached toward her just as the car’s wheels began to squeal once more. Wynter returned her gaze to the car to see billows of blue-gray smoke pouring out from the back wheels, the car accelerating in reverse toward her. She tried to move but her body refused to obey. In her mind she screamed as the car rolled back over her a second time.
The impact of the rear tires jolted Wynter awake. Thankfully the store was empty. If word of her sleeping on the job had gotten back to Vinny, she was sure he’d fire her on the spot. She pushed aside the issue of Popular Photography that she had been reading and wiped away the sleep drool that had collected on the display case.
Her dreams had felt increasingly more real over the past few weeks, more visceral. And they left a lasting hangover that was an unwelcome and stubborn companion today. She rubbed her temples to soothe the relentless pounding behind her eyes.
Wynter had awoken that morning to a clammy sweat, her nightie stuck uncomfortably to her body, her mind still heavy with vibrant leftover images. As the day had pressed on, the morning dream faded and mixed with this latest one, but the pain lingered.
Maybe, somehow, it was real.
Of course, that was impossible and Wynter shook off the thought. She’d be injured or more likely dead. But the pain was real. She worked her fingers to the back of her neck and ran her fingertips through the roots of her red hair to try to bring some relief. It did not.
Shooters was the only camera store in Newhaven and her shift would soon be over. She imagined crawling into her cool bed to sleep off the rest of the day. Or at least until dinner time. But that meant she might dream again.
Wynter had briefly considered going home early but that meant she’d have to call and ask permission from Vinny, never a pleasant task. She could already hear his reply.
“What’s in it for me?” he would say as he wiggled his eyebrows, a lascivious grin spreading across his thin, greasy lips. Vinny was the brainchild behind the store’s logo, a sloppily drawn rip-off of the Hooters owl with a pair of binoculars to its eyes and a camera with a long telephoto lens dangling around its neck. Cheap and obvious. In a way it was genius since it captured his personality perfectly.
Vinny may have been a horrible boss, but his saving grace was to rarely show his face around the store. Wynter often wondered how someone with such limited business acumen could keep a photography store profitable, particularly in Newhaven, North Dakota, population 2,328. People weren’t exactly beating down the door for camera equipment and supplies.
Stedford Plaza, Newhaven’s one shopping mall and home to Shooters, had been deader than usual for a Thursday.
Wynter loved photography and being paid to be around equipment that she could only hope to own someday was certainly a highlight when the days were long and boring. And some of the equipment was top notch. She most coveted the Pentax A* 135mm f1.8 telephoto lens, nicknamed “Speedy Gonzales” due to its fast aperture. Wynter had drooled over it ever since Vinny had brought it into the store, but he refused to let her try it on her old bargain K1000 SLR. With a price tag of over $1,000, she’d likely never get a chance. Vinny didn’t believe in “try before you buy.”
After rearranging the photography magazines and checking the levels of film stock for the third time that day, Wynter sat on a stool behind the front display case. Locked in front of her was good old Speedy. She hoped the lens would never sell because she was going to buy it some day.
Wynter laid her head down on the glass top. Its cool surface soothed her skin, and her head began to feel a bit better.
“Sleeping on the job again?” a voice said from behind. “Wait ’til Vin hears about this.”
Wynter lifted her head to see Daytona in front of the stockroom door with her arms crossed. Her skirt and Shooters T-shirt, both black to coordinate, hugged her body and left little to the imagination. With her straightened long blond hair, she could have worked at Hooters for real if she wanted to. That’s probably why Vinny had hired her. “Yeah? And what have you been doing?”
Daytona’s boyfriend Hunter appeared behind her, his hair sticking up at odd angles. “Doggie-style!” He howled like a wolf.
Daytona whacked his lean chest with the back of her hand. “We’ve been organizing the back room.”
“We’ve been organizing something.” Hunter laughed.
Why Vinny had hired these two remained a mystery. Wynter had long suspected hidden cameras in the stockroom to record Daytona and Hunter’s sexcapades. “How many times does the back room need to be organized?” Wynter gave Daytona a sideways look. “I’ve been keeping track.”
Daytona narrowed her eyes at her instead of answering the question. “I got to go to the bathroom.” She trudged out into the main concourse of the plaza, tripping the optical customer alert across the entrance. A soft ding-dong sounded inside the stockroom.
Hunter slid up beside Wynter at the counter. “Don’t be mad. She won’t tell Vinny anything. I’ll make sure of it.”
Wynter nodded. “I know. Sometimes it’d be nice if you guys did a little work around here.”
Hunter smiled. It was one of his best features and made up for his god-awful mullet. “If you had the choice, would you rather be working or... organizing?” He motioned to the stockroom.
Wynter shrugged, a delicate shade of pink mixing with her light brown skin. “It’s time to lock up.”
Hunter gave her a playful shove. “You’re hilarious, Wintergreen.” That was Hunter’s nickname for her. Wintergreen. It didn’t make any sense. “Got any plans for the weekend?”
“It’s still Thursday.”
“Doesn’t mean you can’t have plans.”
Wynter closed her eyes. The ache in her head was building again. “I just want to get home. Got a wicked headache.”
“Good thing it’s almost quitting time.”
The clock in the corner of the store read 5:10 p.m. and Wynter could hear the echoes of Daytona’s black Converse on the concourse tile.
“Your queen approaches.”
“She sure does.”
Daytona stepped into the store.
“Ready to go, Babe?”
Hunter hopped over the counter like an eager puppy.
Daytona directed her gaze at Wynter. “Lock up for us?” She didn’t wait for a response.
Hunter ran up and gave Daytona a playful slap on her behind before picking her up and throwing her over his shoulder. “Let’s go organize somewhere.” She pretended to protest between her giggles.
Before the two of them were out of sight, Hunter called back, “Make some plans!”
Deal with this damn headache, Wynter thought. That’s my one and only plan. And if Daytona and Hunter could leave early, so could she, just this one time. After balancing the register, she turned out the lights, pulled the security gate closed, and locked it.
As Wynter approached the exit doors of the plaza, she thought she heard the Shooters phone ringing. Whoever it was, they’d have to try again tomorrow. Her throbbing head took priority now.
She secured the strap of her purse over her shoulder and began her walk home. She couldn’t help but wonder if the dream would come back.
Newhaven, flat and unmemorable, sprawled smack in the center of North Dakota, divided in half by Interstate 94 and connected on both sides by the Main Street Overpass to the east and the 19th Street Bridge to the west. Both structures crossed the highway, but the Main Street Overpass boasted four lanes instead of two and held the on- and off-ramps to the highway.
To the north lay residential homes and the business center of town, anchored by Stedford Plaza. FoodXpress Supermarket shared the plaza’s parking lot along Main Street with Pizza Zip and Golden Palace. Beside the parking lot, Finn’s Gas N Go, one of two gas stations in Newhaven, consistently won “Friendliest Full Service” in the annual Newhaven Register “Best Of” poll.
The south end of town was a stark contrast to the north. Smaller, cheaper residential homes peppered the area and the only business laying claim across the great Interstate divide was the Starlite SuperSkate roller rink. That arrangement was a match made in heaven since most of the rink’s customers were southies anyway.
Wynter wilted under the summer heat. The plaza parking lot was deserted. With an average summer temperature of eighty degrees Fahrenheit, both northies and southies loved to escape to the plaza and its air conditioning even if they had no intention to buy. It was usually Newhaven’s gathering place. But not today.
Why wasn’t Stedford packed?
It was a question that did not stay in Wynter’s head for long. Home was fifteen minutes away. She quickened her pace even though it made her head throb more.
She followed Main Street as it curved through the town’s business center. Ahead was the overpass. A bridge. Wynter despised bridges. The edges always pulled at her like a magnet to iron. In her mind she’d see herself flying off the edge to certain death in hundreds of ways.
Wynter closed her eyes and took a fortifying breath. Reopening her eyes, it was a surprise to see someone walking toward her, a black hoodie shrouding their face. She stepped onto the overpass’s one narrow sidewalk and made sure to stay as far from the outer railing as possible. She could feel the pull of the overpass’s edge already.
As the distance between them diminished, Wynter realized the person was close to her age and height. A boy. Curly blond hair poked out of his hoodie. Their eyes met for a second, his blue eyes intense, as they passed each other at the midpoint.
Wynter felt a shiver move through her body.
Do I know him?
She continued to walk across the overpass.
Should I look back? Is he looking back at me?
The overpass’s hold on her faded, replaced with intense curiosity and longing. By the time Wynter reached the opposite side of the overpass, she could stand it no longer. She turned to look back.
The boy with the blond curly hair and eyes like blue sapphires stood on the railing of the overpass, his arms slack at his sides.
“Hey!” Wynter found herself running back towards the boy, her concern for the overpass’s edge forgotten. “What are you doing?”
The boy locked gazes with Wynter but said nothing. His left foot stepped into the void.
“No! STOP!” Wynter pumped her legs as fast as they would move her. She reached out with her left hand, open and ready to grab the boy’s hoodie and pull him back to safety. But she was too late.
The boy stepped off the railing and plunged toward the highway traffic below.
If only I had turned around a few seconds sooner, I could have...
Wynter grabbed the railing and scanned the busy highway, steeling herself for a horrific spectacle below. But there was nothing. No boy. No aftermath. Nothing. The boy was all in her head.
Am I going crazy?
From behind, someone yelled at her. Wynter’s thoughts melted away. She pushed herself back from the railing, all at once aware of the overpass’s edge, stumbled off the curb of the sidewalk, and sat down.
She may not have recognized the boy—or did she?—but Wynter knew that voice anywhere. “Quinn?”
Quinn Benoit and Wynter had been best friends since middle school. Quinn worked at the FreshWhip stand at the plaza’s food court, practically a stone’s throw from Shooters. They had been inseparable all through middle and into high school, but after finishing 11th Grade Wynter had noticed a growing independence in both of them. It was strange and cool at the same time.
Quinn ran up the sidewalk, squatted, and stared back at her with the exotic eyes of her mixed-race parents. She wore a goofy grin behind glasses in rounded tortoise-shell frames and fine black hair cut in a bob. She still had her FreshWhip uniform on, a pink short-sleeved polo top with black shorts, and she held one of their signature drinks in one hand. As her voluminous black leather satchel slid off her shoulder, her grin changed to an expression of concern. “Hey, Bug. You okay? You were supposed to call me.” Quinn set her drink down on the curb and helped Wynter to her feet. “What’s going on?”
Wynter looked at her and tried to process both Quinn’s questions and what she had just seen. “I don’t know.” She stepped up with trepidation to the railing and looked over the edge. Still nothing but highway traffic below.
Quinn instinctively placed her arm across Wynter’s chest as if to prevent her from jumping. She knew Wynter had a history with bridges. It was weird, but hell, everyone had something weird about them. It was the weird things you remembered. “Whoa, girl.”
Wynter’s eyes cleared as she faced her. “I’m okay.”
Quinn grabbed her satchel, picked up her drink, and took a sip. “Want some? It’s orange-strawberry.”
“I just need to get home. My head’s killing me.”
“I got just the thing. Hold this.” Quinn handed Wynter the drink and began digging through her satchel.
The cool condensation felt good in Wynter’s hand. She closed her eyes, raised the cup, and ran cold droplets across her forehead.
“You’re supposed to drink it.” Quinn raised a brow. “What’s gotten into you?”
“Tastes better.” Quinn found what she was looking for. “Got it! Now this is good shit.” She held a small beat up aspirin tin, barely recognizable from all the scratches and dents. She popped the tin open to reveal half a dozen small white tablets and removed two. “Here. Take these.”
“What are they?”
Quinn smiled. “Don’t worry. It’s just generic Tylenol. And it’s not poisoned.” Even though it had been almost four years since tampered Tylenol had killed seven people, a rash of recent copycats had kept the public nervous.
Wynter popped the pills into her mouth without a moment of thought and washed them down with a swig of Quinn’s FreshWhip.
“Come on. I’ll walk you home.”
“But you’re a northie.”
“So? You’re my best friend, Bug.” Quinn shoved her satchel out of the way and hooked arms with Wynter. “Besides, we’ve got much to talk about.”
Wynter shook her head gently. “I have no time for boys.”
“Screw that. We need boyfriends.”
“Besides the obvious...?” Quinn smirked and raised her brow.
“I hear enough of the obvious at the store. Hunter and Daytona are at it all the time. I end up doing all the work.”
Wynter laughed. “Yeah, right. He’d probably join in.”
Both girls looked at each other and laughed. “Gross!” they said in unison.
“Hunter is hot, though,” Quinn said.
“What? Um, no.”
“But he is.”
Wynter rolled her eyes. “If you go for guys with nothing but air between their ears.”
“It’s not what’s between their ears I’m interested in.” Quinn sighed. She looked to the sky and a small smile curled her lips.
“You’re having a fantasy right now, aren’t you?”
Quinn answered with a suggestive grin.
“You work with him every day,” Quinn said. “Doesn’t he make your knees weak?”
Wynter shook her head. “Honestly, no. And even if he did, I can’t compete with Daytona.”
Quinn stared at her in disbelief. “Hell no. You got the body and the brains.”
“Change of topic for one hundred, Alex.”
“Someone in this go-nowhere town has to pop your cherry.”
“Ugh. Stop.” Wynter rubbed her temple.
Quinn relented. “Okay, okay. But I’m going to keep my eyes open for both of us.”
“Whatever floats your boat.”
The two girls traversed the overpass and continued down Main Street, straight into southie territory.
Wynter gave Quinn a friendly nudge. “You’re on the wrong side of the tracks now, honey.”
“Ooo, I’m shaking in my boots.” Quinn wiggled her finger at her.
No question about it. Wynter was feeling a bit better. The pills, plus Quinn’s energy, had begun to work their magic.
A whoop-whoop sounded from behind. Both girls turned to see a white Chevrolet Suburban following slowly behind them, the Newhaven Police Department logo boldly displayed on the side panel.
Quinn faced Wynter and smirked. “Speak of the devil. Sheriff Hotpants.”
“Don’t embarrass me, Quinn. I’m serious.”
“Have you ever imagined what Anson looks like naked?”
“What? He’s like twice our age. And he’s practically my uncle.”
“So? Last I checked fantasies aren’t illegal.” Quinn snuck a peek at Anson. “He’s wearing short sleeves. And those sunglasses.” They were Ray-Bans, the same style worn by Tom Cruise in Top Gun.
Wynter whispered through clenched teeth. “Control yourself.”
The four-door police SUV rolled up next to the girls. Anson slid his sunglasses down to look over the rims. “Hey there, Wynter, Quinn. Do you need assistance? A ride home perhaps?”
Anson Jacobs had led the McLeod County Sheriff’s Office and Newhaven Police Department for the past ten years and worked as a deputy ten years before that. Due to the low crime in Newhaven, Sheriff Anson acted more like a concierge for the town. He knew everyone by name and tried to be as helpful as possible to the citizens of his jurisdiction.
Quinn brought her head close to Wynter’s. “Anson wants to give us a ride,” she whispered. “It’s our lucky day.”
“I’m almost home anyway,” Wynter whispered back.
“But he’s so hot.”
Anson rubbed his trimmed beard, his biceps flexing. “Did you hear me, ladies? I got places to be, so...”
Wynter shook her head at Quinn.
Quinn licked her lips. “We’d love a ride, Anson.” She dug into her satchel, brought out a tube of lipstick, and gave her lips a quick refresh. “Want some?” Wynter declined and followed Quinn into the front bench seat of the SUV.
“I’ve got a bad headache,” Quinn said. “If you could take me home first, I’d really appreciate it.”
Wynter pulled Quinn close and whispered into her ear. “What are you doing? I’m the one with the headache.”
“Giving you more time with this fine specimen.”
“I didn’t ask—”
“Want something for it?” Anson asked. “I’m sure I’ve got some painkillers in the first aid kit.”
“Actually, I’ve taken something already,” Quinn said. “It just hasn’t kicked in yet.” She exchanged a glance with Wynter. “Um, it’s totally legal, if that’s what you’re wondering. A generic brand of Tylenol.”
Anson called in the ride, pulled a U-turn, and headed back into town toward the northern subdivision of Newhaven. “Don’t worry, Quinn. I believe you.” He locked gazes with her for a moment. “You’re not high. I’d know it if you were.” He winked at her.
Quinn turned to Wynter and mouthed “Oh my God.”
“Careful.” Anson motioned at Quinn’s drink. “Spilling FreshWhip in a police vehicle is a felony.” His eyes crinkled at the corners as he regarded the blue sky for a moment, before returning his attention to the road ahead. “Beautiful day it turned out to be. Hot.”
“Totally hot.” Quinn glanced at Wynter and stifled a giggle.
Wynter gave Quinn a playful whack.
Quinn spotted two boys ahead, walking on the gravel shoulder of the road. “Isn’t that—”
“Cash and Jake?” Anson nodded. “I passed them a few minutes before passing you.”
Quinn leaned over Wynter’s lap and hooked her elbows on the SUV’s open passenger-side window. Wynter covered her eyes in preparation for an embarrassing display.
“Oh no you don’t.” Quinn pulled Wynter to the window to join her, their hair mingling in the wind. “Hey Cash! Jake! We’ve been arrested. You going to bail us out?”
Cash and Jake scrunched their brows in confusion as the police SUV drove by. “What?” Cash said. “What are you talking...” His voice faded out with distance.
“Want me to stop?” Anson had already begun to slow down.
“God no,” Quinn said. “They’re nerds. At least Jake is. We don’t want them to get the wrong idea.” She leaned close to Wynter’s ear and whispered, “They’re probably virgins too.”
Wynter looked back at the two boys. Cash, with his short blond hair, blue eyes, a keen fashion sense, and dimples to die for, raised his hand to wave. Tiny butterflies fluttered in her stomach. Cash had always had that effect on her. She had wanted to ask him out on several occasions but always lost her nerve.
Jake on the other hand didn’t concern himself with coordinated clothes. Give him jeans, a T-shirt, and a Nintendo baseball cap, and he was good to go. His long brown hair snaked and curled around the hem of his cap.
Cash and Jake made a good pair. They kept each other’s styles in check.
Anson glanced at Quinn. “I take it you two already have boyfriends.”
“No,” Wynter said.
“We’re playing the field.” Quinn straightened her posture, her reaction almost defensive. “Keeping our options open.”
Wynter sat back and watched the reflection of Cash and Jake shrink in the SUV’s side mirror. She wondered what Cash was thinking.
“I see.” Anson chuckled. “You could do a lot worse. Cash is as reliable as the day is long. I don’t know much about Jake, except he’s a whiz with technology. If he’s a friend of Cash’s, that’s good enough for me.”
Anson turned onto Hobbs Avenue, lined with lush trees and finely manicured lawns. Some yards were separated by the quintessential white picket fences. Every garage could accommodate at least two cars. He turned into the driveway of a raised rancher with white siding and a red brick foundation forming the lower level. A baby blue Volkswagen Bug sat on one half of the driveway. “This is you, right?”
Wynter opened the passenger door to let Quinn out.
“Take care of that head of yours,” Anson said.
“Thanks. I will.” Quinn rubbed her forehead before stepping almost nose to nose with Wynter. “Enjoy the ride home,” she whispered with a wink.
Anson radioed into dispatch before reversing back into the street.
Quinn waved, “Call me later, Bug!”
Wynter raised a “thumbs up” in response.
Anson navigated back to Main Street. “Why ‘bug’?”
“Short for shutterbug.”
Anson nodded and settled into the drive. “Quinn didn’t have a headache, did she?”
“No.” Wynter spoke quietly.
“Why would Quinn want to lie to me?”
“It’s nothing, Anson. We were just joking around.” Wynter paused. “She thinks you’re hot. So we—”
“Okay. I get it. Enough said.” Anson endured an awkward silence until, “Tell her I’m flattered.”
“You’re the one with the headache.”
“It feels a bit better now.”
Anson gave her a concerned once-over. “You know you can call me for anything, right? Your mom and I have an agreement.”
“I know. Thanks.” Wynter propped her head next to the open window. The breeze played with her red hair. “How’s Mercy?”
“Pretty great actually.” Anson sported a wide smile whenever he talked about Mercedes. “She’s thinking about starting her own salon soon, maybe out of Halston.”
Mercedes “Mercy” Meadows had been sculpting nails at the Bombshell Salon ever since moving to Newhaven eight years ago. She had been Anson’s plus one for the past seven. Apart from her skill with nails, Mercy was known for her always-changing hair color. At the moment it was bleach blond with strawberry tips.
“When are you two going to get married?”
Anson balked. “Soon.”
“She’s not going to wait forever, you know.”
“Yeah,” Anson sighed. “I’m working on it.”
“Maybe you should—”
“Maybe we should keep our romantic lives to ourselves.” Anson crossed the highway into Newhaven’s southern, less affluent suburb. Rows of small homes built in the 1950s lined the side streets branching off Main Street, not an attached garage to be seen. “How’s that head of yours? Any better?”
“Sure you’re okay?”
Wynter almost spilled the beans about the blond boy who was there, then wasn’t. She stopped herself at the last moment. Anson would never have believed her anyway. He dealt only in tangible evidence.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she said.
Anson turned into the long entrance of the only home Wynter had ever known. She heard the buzz of the neon sign before seeing it.
Sven Dwarfs Trail’r Park.
The neon tubing in the first “e” in “Seven” had been burnt out for as long as Wynter could remember and removing the “e” from the word “Trailer” had never made any sense to her. “Dwarves” was spelled wrong, one could only hope by mistake. At the base of the sign was an old, beat up pay phone. She had no idea if it worked. In all of her sixteen years, she’d never had a reason to use it.
Welcome home, illiterate trailer trash.
Wynter began to giggle.
Anson raised an eyebrow at her. “What’s gotten into you? You’re really acting weird today.”
“I’m just super tired.”
Sven Dwarfs was laid out in a circle, with mobile homes lined up perpendicularly around the outside of the central ring road. The inner circle was reserved for recreation, but the grass was knee-high. Maintenance was a low priority.
Anson angled the police SUV next to pad #7 where a beige single-wide trailer sat, a wind chime hanging next to the front door. “Say hi to your parents for me.”
“I don’t think anyone’s home yet, but I will. Thanks.” Wynter climbed out of the SUV and closed the door. Anson scrutinized her as she went. “I’m fine. Really.”
“Alright. Later.” Anson waited for Wynter to unlock her front door and step inside. He reversed and followed the ring road out of the trailer park, a dusty cloud clinging to his bumper.
The trailer was empty and stifling. Wynter’s mother Madeline hadn’t yet returned home from her shift as a cashier at the FoodXpress and her father Nolan commuted to the Halston Public Library where he worked as a librarian. He wouldn’t be home for at least an hour. It was a perfect time to catch a nap.
Wynter opened the small windows in both bedrooms, the living room, and the kitchen to get a cross-breeze going. However, the weak breeze was warm too. It would have to do. She locked the front door and headed to her bedroom.
Wynter pulled off her work clothes, threw on a tank top and shorts, and flopped onto her bed. Catching some sleep before dinner would be a good idea. Usually sleep came easily to her, but after today she wondered if it would ever be easy again.
Wynter wanted to live in a larger trailer someday, or even in a real house. Nine-hundred thirty square feet seemed like a lot at first, but when the trailer measured sixteen feet on one side, everything inside was squeezed together, especially for three people. Privacy was in short supply.
Madeline and Nolan’s bedroom terminated one end of the trailer, with the kitchen on the other. In the middle sat the shared bathroom, Wynter’s bedroom, and the living room, connected with an “open plan” hallway. Although their respective bedrooms were small, they were comfortable and did not share any common walls.
But the walls were thin.
Occasionally, on the nights when she couldn’t fall asleep fast enough, Wynter had the pleasure of listening to her parents shake the trailer. She knew it was a normal thing, but not her normal. The sounds had inspired images in her head she would not soon forget, if ever.
Her bed was pushed into the corner of the room, leaving access to the small open window. Her mother had wanted to replace the threadbare curtains of her childhood, but Wynter had refused. She wasn’t ready to let them go.
Against the adjacent wall to the window sat a small corner desk. Keepsakes and books, more nonfiction than fiction, many on the subject of lucid dreaming and photography, lined the two shelves above.
A narrow half-length mirror hung on the wall between the bedroom door and a small closet just big enough to be functional. Wynter hung some of her clothes there but used most of the space to store her slowly growing collection of photography equipment.
Sandwiched between the closet and her bed sat a small dresser that doubled as a bedside table and held a reading lamp and a cheap clock radio. The wall above the head of Wynter’s bed was her shrine. It featured a large corkboard with a poster of the Sheyenne National Grassland, a map of North Dakota, and dozens of photographs. She had used pins to mark the map with her favorite locations to take photos.
The room was cramped with very little floor space, but it was her own space. That made up for a lot.
Despite her mounting exhaustion, Wynter ran her fingertips over the spines of her small selection of books and pulled out her favorite, Eyes Wide Dreaming by Dr. A. X. Gardner. She flicked on her reading lamp and opened the book.
Her plan was to reread the section on dreams crossing over into reality, but her body had other plans. She set the open book on her chest and closed her eyes.
That was all it took. Within the sanctuary of her bedroom Wynter’s weary mind succumbed to sleep. And as her sleep state deepened, the summer sun headed for the horizon, tracking a stretched yellow square of light across the remaining books on her shelf.
Wynter faced a wide expanse of grass and trees, lush and green, stretching as far as her eyes could see. The gentle wind caressed her hair and left it warm and sweet like spun sugar.
She stood in the middle of a road. A white sundress, so light on her skin it felt as if she was naked, billowed around her. The painted yellow center line passed between her legs, the asphalt beneath it crumbling into dirt until overtaken by vegetation.
“What is this place?” Wynter thought, but instead heard her own voice as if she had spoken.
A sound rose up behind her. She turned to see the boy, the one with the blond curls and black hoodie. He, too, walked barefoot.
Wynter was at the Main Street Overpass again, except it wasn’t. The overpass and the highway beneath had somehow been transported to the middle of the grasslands. The traffic had come with it but made no sound.
The boy stopped and pulled back his hoodie. Tousled by the wind, his hair danced across his forehead.
Wynter took tentative steps toward him. “Who are you?”
The boy gazed at her with his clear blue eyes and said nothing.
“What’s your name?” Wynter took another few steps.
The boy turned to look at the never-ending stream of traffic below. He grabbed the railing and began to climb. In three steps his feet reached the top. He turned his stance to face her.
“Not again.” Wynter’s feet gripped the asphalt as she propelled herself toward the boy. Her dress floated on the wind like a cape. “Stop! Don’t jump!”
She could feel his eyes on her, feel his urgency, despite their distance. Wynter hiked up the hem of her dress and ran, bridging the gap between them as fast as she could manage.
The warm air turned hot in her throat and she could now hear the traffic noise below. Just a few more feet and she’d be able to pull this mysterious boy to safety.
The boy’s body arced toward the highway below, slowly at first, until gravity took hold. This time he reached forward with one hand.
“He wants to be saved.” Wynter was close enough to detect a hint of a smile on his face. She maintained her speed even though the asphalt burned her feet. But the distance between them was too great.
Wynter stretched forward with her hand. An eighteen-wheeler from nowhere barreled down Main Street across the overpass, its horn shattering her thoughts.
The boy fell out of sight below the overpass. Wynter had no chance to witness the aftermath. The eighteen-wheeler was already upon her.
Wynter awoke with a jolt. Her mom sat next to her on the edge of the bed, stroking her hair with a cool, comforting hand.
“There you are, honey,” Madeline said. “You were crying out. Hope I didn’t scare you.”
Wynter let out a breath of relief. “No, Mom.” She reached out and gently squeezed Madeline’s hand. “Thanks.”
“Must have been some dream.” Madeline picked Eyes Wide Dreaming up off the floor.
“I guess books like this don’t help much.” Madeline held the book on her lap.
“Actually, they do help. Sometimes.” Wynter sat up and swung her legs off the bed. “What was I saying? Just before you woke me?”
“I don’t know for sure.” Madeline paused to think. “Mostly gobbledygook. But there was one part where you said ‘wants to be saved’ or something close to that. Do you remember anything?”
Wynter shook her head and lied. “No.” But she had remembered, every part of the dream, every detail.
Her dad knocked on the door and poked his head into the room. His eyes registered the book on Madeline’s lap but did not dwell on it long. “Everything okay?”
Madeline glanced at Wynter, then back at Nolan and nodded. “Right as rain.” Madeline faced Wynter again. “It’s almost eight o’clock. You must be starved.”
“We fixed you a plate,” Nolan said. “Rotisserie chicken from the deli, baked potato, and corn on the cob.”
Wynter’s stomach growled as if on cue.
“Plus freshly baked sugar cookies for dessert.” Madeline smiled and placed Eyes Wide Dreaming on the bed. “Come on, Wynnie.”
The three of them moved to the kitchen. Nolan transferred a plate of food from the fridge to the microwave and reheated it. Piles of sugar cookies cooled on racks beside the oven.
“I guess using the oven on a hot day like today wasn’t the greatest idea.” Madeline picked up a cookie, took a bite and offered the rest to Wynter. “What can I say. I had a craving.”
Wynter sat at the kitchen table and popped the cookie into her mouth. “Mom, your sugar cookies are the best.”
Madeline waved her off. “Help me ice them later? After they’ve cooled?”
The microwave beeped its completion and Nolan carried the plate of food to the table.
“Thanks, Dad.” Without another word, Wynter dug in. She loved the rotisserie chicken from FoodXpress.
Madeline and Nolan watched their daughter eat. Nolan, who was part Standing Rock Sioux due to his grandmother marrying outside of her tribe, placed his lanky arm around Madeline’s shoulder. She took his hand and kissed it.
Wynter noticed their gesture and smiled.
Nolan stood six-two, thin but strong, his face narrow and angular as if it had been carved from sandstone. He wore his long black hair tied back in a ponytail.
Madeline rocked a fuller figure and stood a few inches shorter than Nolan. Her curves complemented his angles. Her laughter was infectious, and it wouldn’t take her long to convert a crowd of strangers into friends. She preferred to keep her black hair natural and short. “If God had wanted me to have straight hair, I would’ve been born with it,” Madeline would say.
Wynter was struck by how perfect her parents looked together. “How did you guys, like, know you were meant for each other?”
Madeline looked at Nolan. “You take this one.”
Nolan strolled to the kitchen table and took a seat. “As you know, your mother and I met at Woodstock. That’s a story in itself, half a million people of all colors and races, coming together to celebrate peace, friendship, and music.”
“Don’t forget the love.” Madeline smiled and took a seat next to Nolan. “So much love.”
“I had been at the festival for a day already, enjoying the music and people. It was the second day, Saturday, maybe around dinner time?” Nolan paused to think. “It was evening, close to sunset. Canned Heat had just gone on stage singing ‘I’m Her Man.’ ” Nolan smiled sweetly at Madeline and kissed her forehead. “I saw your mom standing in the crowd and we just connected. I’m looking at her and she’s looking at me and it’s like the people all around us just faded away. I knew right then that your mom was the one. We spent the rest of the festival together.” Nolan’s eyes misted up. “I remember it like it was yesterday.”
Madeline reached for Nolan’s hand and squeezed it. “A week later we were married and you, our red-headed wonder, arrived nine months later.”
“And that was a shock,” Nolan said. “Thankfully the doctor told us a red-headed child was genetically possible from a mixed-race couple, but the odds were extremely rare.”
“You are indeed one of a kind.” Madeline smiled.
Wynter finished up her meal. “So you just knew? Just like that?”
Nolan nodded. “Pretty much.”
Wynter alternated her gaze between her two parents. “You do realize how romantic that story is, right?”
“Our story, and the music, is the romantic part.” Nolan looked at Madeline and started to snicker. “Remember the biffies?”
“Lord, do I.” Madeline’s body shook with laughter. “Some genius thought six hundred portable toilets would be enough for all those people. It was nasty.”
“Imagine a million shits over three days. The Port-O-San guy had his work cut out for him.”
“Port-O-San! That’s right. Pew!” Madeline waved her hand in front of her nose. Nolan headed to the living room, kissing her cheek as he went by.
“Okay, stop.” Wynter held up her hands and shook her head back and forth. “Too much information.”
Nolan parked himself on the living room sofa and turned on the television. Muted sounds of sitcom laughter rose from the set.
Madeline calmed her laughter. “You’re right. That trip down memory lane spun out of control rather quickly, don’t you think?”
Wynter answered her with a stare.
Madeline tried to match her seriousness, but the odd giggle still slipped out.
“Family Ties is starting,” Nolan said.
Madeline looked at Wynter. “Family Ties or icing sugar cookies?”
Wynter grinned and swept her hair away from her eyes. “Sorry, Alex P. Keaton. I choose cookies. No contest. Besides I haven’t had dessert yet.”
“That’s right.” Madeline began collecting ingredients to make royal icing. “Best we get cracking.”
As Wynter helped Madeline ice sugar cookies, her mind drifted, wondering when and where she’d meet “the one.” And if he’d be blond with blue eyes.
Nolan finished brushing his teeth and slipped into bed. Madeline had the covers pulled up to her chin even though the summer heat still hung heavy in the trailer.
Their bedroom was a little larger than Wynter’s, able to accommodate a queen-sized bed. A closet ran the length of the room, divided by two separate doors. Madeline had planned to use each side to separate her clothes from Nolan’s but discovered her collection of clothes vastly outnumbered his. But as long as Nolan had some hanger space, he was content with the dresser beside the bed.
Opposite the closet, under the only window in the room, ran one short long bookcase. It held all their favorites. Nolan read quickly and would bring new books home every few days, exchanging them with ones he had finished. Near the foot of the bed was a second entrance into the bathroom. With a teenager in the trailer too, privacy was a precious commodity.
He picked up The Bourne Supremacy by Robert Ludlum and opened it to where he’d left off.
Madeline looked at him and sighed. “I’ve been thinking.”
Nolan closed his book. He knew that reading would not be on the agenda tonight. His gut churned. He had a feeling he knew where this was going. “This is about that book, isn’t it?”
Madeline returned her gaze to the ceiling.
“Maddie. It’s just a book.”
Madeline propped herself up on her elbow to face him. “Aren’t you worried? You of all people should know about the dangers of certain books.”
He looked at her. “No, I’m not worried. It’s a book about dreaming, not fascism.”
“You don’t think those books are harmful, putting thoughts in her head?”
“Any book can make you think. But dreams aren’t real. If they were, I’d be in prison for sure.” Nolan chuckled.
“You didn’t see her, when I went into her room.” Madeline’s serious eyes held him. “It was like she was struggling or fighting against something. And she was talking.”
“What did she say?”
Madeline rubbed her temple with her free hand. “It didn’t make sense.”
“People have nightmares. It happens.”
Madeline slumped back into her pillow.
“Look, Maddie. I’m not trying to shut you down,” Nolan said. “I just think this looks exactly like what it is. A nightmare.” It was his turn to face her. “Do you remember when we went to see A Nightmare on Elm Street in Halston a couple years ago? Did you have bad dreams? Because I sure did.”
“But that’s different.”
Nolan looked toward the bedroom door and lowered his voice. “It’s not. Even though that movie gave me bad dreams, the dreams weren’t real.”
“The movie was fictional. The books she’s reading are not.”
“I’d call them creative nonfiction,” Nolan said. “I know there are many people, credible people, who claim to be able to control their dreams. But there’s little definitive proof that it’s actually possible. It’s anecdotal. You have to take them at their word.”
“What about your grandmother? You’ve heard the stories.”
Nolan laid his head back on his pillow. “That’s all they are. Stories. No one can verify what she was able to do.”
The two of them lay in silence for a moment.
“I’m still worried,” Madeline said finally.
Nolan rolled over and kissed her. “Okay. We’ll keep an eye on her.” He gently pushed Madeline’s hair away from her face and gave her his lop-sided smile that she loved so much. “Could I interest the lady in a mattress dance?”
Madeline laughed and pulled him on top of her. “Is there a money-back guarantee?”
“There is...” Nolan laid kisses across her neck. “But you’re not going to need it tonight.” He disappeared under the covers.
After finishing icing sugar cookies, Wynter had joined her parents for an episode of Knots Landing, a show that had become a Thursday night family tradition since she had turned fifteen. Homework had to be completed first, but it was summer now, no school, the best time of the year. CBS ran reruns of Knots Landing during the summer and that meant Wynter could watch episodes she had never seen before. After she had dozed off for the third time, Madeline suggested she go to bed early. Wynter needed no convincing.
Sleep found her quickly. It always had but tonight was quicker than most. The raucous vibrations from her parent’s bedroom currently moving through the trailer did not wake her. Instead, her eyes ping-ponged beneath her eyelids like she was watching a tennis match on fast forward. Eyes Wide Dreaming described the action as rapid eye movement, or REM, a signal to the waking world that she was dreaming.
Wynter found herself back on the sidewalk of the Main Street Overpass, her white sundress hanging limp at her sides. Facing her, just out of reach, stood the blond boy in the black hoodie, his blue eyes probing hers.
“God, those eyes.” Again, her thoughts vocalized.
She took a step toward him but the distance between them did not change. “Who are you?”
The blond boy opened his mouth as if to speak, then closed it again.
Wynter bolted toward the boy, but whatever force that was keeping them apart adjusted just as fast. She broke into a sprint. Nothing moved except her feet, sliding on invisible ice. Still, she continued to sprint, hot breath in and out, her legs working at a furious pace.
The boy smiled... and nodded? Did he just nod? Wynter was sure that he had. He boosted himself onto the railing of the overpass.
“Don’t jump. Please.” The distance between them began to decrease. Wynter was sure of it. “Please stay.”
She couldn’t maintain her pace forever, but every moment brought her closer to this mysterious boy. She could catch him if she kept going.
He rocked back and forth on the rounded railing. It was then that the world shifted into slow motion, everything except Wynter’s feet.
She reached for the boy, so close her leading fingertips brushed against his. A spark of electricity arced between their fingers and she could sense his body heat. But the boy careened backward off the overpass toward the traffic below.
“NO!” Wynter stretched and grasped, again too late. She watched in horror as the boy fell, away from her and toward the highway. He didn’t appear concerned despite plummeting to his death.
She gazed at the oncoming traffic. An eighteen-wheeler sped toward the boy below. And she would witness the whole thing.
“No.” She turned, squatted with her back against the railing, and closed her eyes. “NO!” Her yell echoed. When she opened her eyes, darkness surrounded her. It took a moment to realize she was back in her room.
She reached up and turned on her bedside lamp, its orange light revealing a drawstring in her hand.
From the blond boy’s hoodie.
It had to be. She didn’t own anything remotely similar to a black hoodie. There was no other explanation.
I brought it out of my dream?
Wynter examined the cotton cord, rolling the frayed ends between her fingers. She held it to her nose. It smelled clean and fresh, like a summer day.
She rolled onto her back. “This is impossible,” she whispered to the room. But there it was, the drawstring black as night, coiled in her hand.
Wynter tilted her bedside lamp to the side. The plastic base that had been painted to resemble brass was hollow underneath. Objects in plain sight made the best hiding spots and this was one of her favorites. A year ago, she had discovered the cover on the bottom of the lamp was removable. She had used it to hide a joint that she planned on smoking with Quinn. The concealment was successful but instead of getting high, they had coughed themselves red in the face.
A small four ounce metal flask slid out of the lamp’s base.
“Forgot about you.” Wynter glanced around the room as if expecting to see someone watching her. She unscrewed the cap, sniffed the spout, and took a sip. The heat of Southern Comfort trickled down her throat. After a sputtering cough, she took one more pull from the flask and twisted the cap back on. Even though the alcohol burned going down, it did give her a sense of relaxation.
She coiled the drawstring around the fingers of her right hand and held it under her nose. The fresh scent made her nose tingle. Wynter laid the flask on its side, placed the coiled drawstring on top, and slid both back into the lamp’s base.
The Southern Comfort radiated heat from within her, but she didn’t feel like sleeping. In the lamp’s low light, she scanned her room, over her desk and the shelves above. Her eyes settled on the spine of Eyes Wide Dreaming.
Wynter drew back the thin covers from the bed and padded over to face the books on her shelves. She had read every single one.
Which one would put me to sleep quickest?
She pulled out a few books, one by one: Great Photography Made Simple, An Illustrated History of the Sheyenne National Grasslands, Lucid Dreaming: A Case Study. None looked interesting enough to read at four in the morning.
Wynter had a brainstorm. Music. She shelved the books and pulled out the top drawer of her desk. The odor of pens, wooden pencils, and rubber erasers floated to her nose. Tucked into the corner of the drawer, right where it was supposed to be, sat her beloved red Sony Walkman WM-75 that her parents had bought her for her fourteenth birthday. The portable cassette player was like magic to her. With auto-reverse turned on, never-ending music helped transport her to places beyond the confines of Newhaven. She hated to imagine how many double-A batteries she had gone through since.
Wynter grabbed the Walkman, the headphones next to it, and crawled back into bed. With headphones unfolded and snugged up against her ears, she pressed play. “That Was Yesterday” by Foreigner began mid song. She closed her eyes and imagined Lou Gramm serenading her from the corner of her room. Her celebrity crush had started as soon as she saw him sing in the music video for “Waiting for a Girl Like You.” Her thumb found the volume control by touch and she turned the music up.
The next song to play, “I Want to Know What Love Is,” was one of her favorites. She had played the entire Agent Provocateur album countless times and was amazed that the tape hadn’t worn out and snapped yet.
Music carried Wynter to sleep, leaving yesterday behind. And if that was yesterday, what would today bring?
Take On Me
Wynter woke to an empty trailer. The clock radio on her dresser read 8:08 AM. She noticed that her Walkman and headphones were set beside the base of the reading lamp, the headphone’s cable in a careful coil. Nolan must have moved it there. Habitually organized cables were one of his calling cards.
The black spiral of headphone wire reminded Wynter of the drawstring she had pulled out of her dream the previous night. She reached for the lamp, then stopped and cocked an ear.
“Mom?” She waited a moment. “Dad?”
Silence answered back. Satisfied that the trailer was empty, Wynter flipped open the bottom of the reading lamp. The silver flask slid out but there was no drawstring. She took a closer look but there were only wires leading to the lightbulb inside.
Was I dreaming it all?
Wynter looked behind the dresser. Nothing but dust and derelict spider webs. She dropped to the floor and peered under the dresser and bed. Nothing.
She couldn’t have dreamed it. Wynter grabbed the Walkman, plugged in the headphones, and pressed play. “Stranger in My Own House” sounded in her ears. Side two of Agent Provocateur. She had started on side one before she had fallen asleep again.
Wynter stripped off her clothes and hopped into the shower, her mind abuzz. Either Nolan found the drawstring and did something with it, or it had never existed. But its scent still left an echo in her nose. It had to have existed. Or maybe she was hallucinating.
After drying off and pulling on her work clothes, she came to one conclusion. There was no explanation. And she couldn’t wait to tell Quinn.
Wynter looked at her watch. Twenty minutes to nine. She had just enough time to grab some breakfast and meet Quinn before the plaza opened at nine-thirty. She grabbed her purse, locked the trailer door, and was off like a flash.
Finn’s Gas N Go wasn’t only the town’s number one choice for gas. Local teens and tweens had chosen Finn’s as their local candy and junk food stop, Wynter included. The small business had its finger on the pulse of everything young people craved.
Wynter could see Finn’s sign, with its stylized handwritten neon letters, burning in the distance even before reaching the Main Street Overpass. She focused on Finn’s as she hustled across the highway, content to leave the overpass behind for at least eight hours. She had seen enough of it over the past day to last a week.
She was close enough to see the other reason she’d chosen Finn’s: Cash worked the register. Wynter gave her still damp hair a toss before strolling toward the store.
A car’s horn caught her by surprise. She turned to see Anson pulling his police SUV into one of the two gas bays.
Through his open passenger window, he called out, “Feeling better?”
Wynter stopped and nodded. “Just getting some breakfast.”
Anson raised a brow. “No offense to Finn, but you’d get a better meal at Lucy’s.”
“Running late.” Wynter waved him off and turned to see that Cash had been watching her interaction with Anson the whole time.
Oh God. Adults can be so inconvenient.
She straightened her top and strolled into the store. Cash leaned against the back wall behind the counter, his arms crossed against his chest. On the counter was a can of ice-cold Coke and a Hostess Fruit Pie. Blueberry. Her favorite.
“The usual?” He grinned.
Wynter pushed aside her nerves as best she could and smiled back. “Am I that predictable?”
“As far as gas station fast food goes, yes.”
Finn O’Connor shuffled into the store from a back door, grumbling something under his breath. His greasy coveralls did little to conceal his stocky stature. Beside the door hung a baseball bat he lovingly called Ciara. “For the bastards that try to cross me,” he had said.
Finn grabbed a dirty and stained coffee mug from under the counter and walked back to the coffee machine. He glanced back at the food on the counter. “That stuff’ll kill you.”
“People say the same thing about coffee.” Wynter popped the top of her Coke and took a sip.
“Kids.” Finn huffed and wandered back into the garage.
“I should make T-shirts of Finn’s one-liners.” Cash tapped the keys to the register. “I’d probably make a killing.”
“Yeah, probably.” Wynter paid for her items and Cash handed her some change. She tried to look at him but couldn’t carry the weight of his gaze.
Cash took out a pack of Wrigley’s Big Red gum, slid out a stick, and unwrapped the foil.
Wynter looked at her watch and turned for the door. “I’m going to be late, so...”
“Sure. Later, Wynter.” Cash placed the stick of gum in his mouth. “Hey, wait.”
Wynter paused at the door, wanting to stay but not wanting to be late. Quinn would not be denied her gab time.
“Doing anything tonight?”
“Uh, no. Why?” Wynter’s stomach fluttered.
An awkward silence fell between them.
“Okay. Well...” Wynter pushed open the door. “Got to go. See you.” She passed Anson on her way out.
Cash gnawed his gum. “See you,” he called back but she was already out of earshot.
Anson observed Wynter’s hurried exit as he entered the store. He made a beeline to the coffee machine, filled his thermal travel mug, and stepped to the counter.
Cash rang in the gas charge on the till, his eyes still on Wynter in the distance.
Anson dug out his police department credit card and handed it to Cash. “You should ask her out.”
“What?” Cash processed the credit card and handed it back.
Anson smiled. “Fortune favors the bold, my young friend.” He stepped out of the store and back to his SUV.
As Wynter strode toward Stedford Plaza, she replayed her conversation with Cash in her head, trying to imagine how it could have gone better. She couldn’t do it. Every version sucked.
Her watch read just after nine when she pulled open the doors to the plaza. Quinn would be waiting in the small but adequate food court.
Tables and chairs filled the common area of the court, with the FreshWhip stand like a refreshment island all on its own in the center. Quinn didn’t mind it. She liked being in full view.
“It’s better for business.” That was her mantra. “Exposure from all sides.”
Wynter had thought it was creepy. “What about all the pervs that watch you, then go to the bathrooms and jack off?”
“I got no problem with them as long as they wash their hands before buying a drink,” Quinn had said. “Besides, everyone knows everyone in Newhaven.”
That reason wasn’t good enough for Wynter. Just the thought of Vinny watching her at work gave her the willies. She’d never let it happen. She’d quit first.
Around the exterior of the seating area were four other fast food outlets. Despite Newhaven’s small population, all businesses enjoyed brisk trade all year round. Great American Donut served a variety of donuts and pastries, made fresh daily. Pepperia specialized in pizzas that celebrated a fusion of Italian and Mexican flavors. Hot Twists had mastered the Bavarian-style pretzel, salty and guaranteed freshly baked. The Cast Iron Skillet skewed to an older customer, serving more substantial breakfast and lunch entrées.
Wynter spotted Quinn before Quinn spotted her. She was wiping down the FreshWhip countertop. “Sorry I’m late. I... I slept in.”
Quinn gave Wynter a sideways glance and paused her prep work. “What’s wrong, Bug?” She stepped out from behind the counter and led Wynter to a nearby table. They both sat. “Something’s wrong. Tell me.”
Quinn had an uncanny ability to read people. And when someone needed help, she dropped everything. That was one of the positive qualities of her impulsive nature.
Wynter began. “Have you ever had the same dream, over and over.”
“A few times.”
“Well, I keep seeing this boy—”
“Oh.” Quinn raised her brows. “It’s one of those dreams?”
“No. It’s not. I wish it was.” Wynter took a breath. “This boy keeps jumping from the overpass and I can’t save him. I’m never fast enough.”
“Do you recognize him?”
Wynter shook her head. “I’ve never seen him before, but I feel like I have. It’s weird. But it gets weirder.” She took a sip from her Coke. “Remember yesterday when you saw me stumble on the overpass?”
“And you had that headache.”
“Yeah. Well just before you arrived, that boy, the same one in my dreams, jumped off the overpass for real.”
Quinn gave Wynter a sideways glance. “Wait. For real? What do you mean? There wasn’t—”
“I mean I wasn’t asleep.” Wynter locked gazes with Quinn. “He was there but he jumped before I could reach him.”
“You know that’s impossible, right? There would have been cars crashing all over the highway.”
“I know it doesn’t make any sense but that’s what I saw. He was there and then he wasn’t.”
Quinn squeezed Wynter’s hand. “You’re scaring me, Bug.”
Wynter either didn’t hear Quinn’s concern or had chosen to ignore it. She scanned the food court, leaned in, and lowered her voice. “Something else happened last night.”
Quinn was all ears, still concerned but equally captivated.
“I dreamed of him again. We touched fingers. And...” Wynter drifted like she had lost her train of thought.
“And? Don’t leave me hanging, girl.”
She settled her eyes back on Quinn. “I had the drawstring to his hoodie in my hand. When I woke up.”
Quinn blinked. “What?”
“His drawstring from the dream. It was in my hand.”
Quinn slumped back in her chair. She wasn’t buying it.
“It was as real as, like, you and me.” Wynter held her gaze. “I swear.”
“If I could make my dreams real, me and Rob Lowe would be married and living happily ever after in the Hollywood Hills.”
Wynter sighed. “You don’t believe me.”
“Come on, Bug. I mean I want to believe you, but—”
“I know. It sounds crazy.”
A silent moment passed between them.
“Show me,” Quinn said. “The drawstring. Show me.”
Wynter felt a headache coming on and closed her eyes. “It wasn’t there when I woke up. I think my dad might have taken it but I’m not sure.” She looked at her watch. Nine-fifteen. “Look. I got to go set up the store.” She stood and ran towards the plaza’s main concourse.
Quinn rarely addressed her by name unless it was important. Wynter wiped a tear away with a quick twist of her wrist and faced her.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” She held Wynter’s Coke and unopened fruit pie. She smiled and walked it over. “I’m sorry.” She stepped up and hugged her, careful not to spill. “If you say it happened, it happened. I believe you.”
Wynter let go a breath of relief as she took the soda and pie. “Thanks.”
“See you at lunch?”
“You know, we need to cut loose tonight.” Quinn smiled. “Dream boys are good and all, but real boys have their advantages too.” She flashed her brows. “Starlite tonight? What do you say?”
The two girls parted. Wynter hurried down the concourse and around the corner to Shooters. She unlocked the security gate and slipped inside.
Quinn had worked her magic, even though she didn’t know it. For the first time in a while, Wynter’s thoughts were on something other than the mystery dream boy.
And Wynter had plans. She smiled to herself and got to work setting up the store for the day.
Wynter faced the mirror in her bedroom. She wore a long white T-shirt, the hem concealing a pair of denim shorts underneath. Her rainbow knee-highs which she reserved only for rollerskating were pulled to the top of her calves.
She glanced at the clock radio on the dresser. Quinn would be picking her up any minute and she hated the way she looked. Wynter dropped to her knees and began digging through her dresser.
“Knock knock.” Madeline stood outside her bedroom door. “May I come in?” When there was no immediate answer, she knocked softly and opened the bedroom door a crack. “Wynnie?”
Wynter stomped to the door and flung it open. “What?”
“Oh! You look adorable.”
“Stop it. I do not.” Wynter ran back to her dresser, the floor around it strewn with clothes. “Why don’t I have anything nice?”
Madeline raised a brow. “We can have that discussion some other time. Right now we—”
“Look at me.” Wynter glanced at herself in the mirror with disgust. “I look like a pillow with legs.”
The familiar sound of Quinn’s Volkswagen rumbled to a stop outside.
“Shit, she’s here.” Wynter looked to her mom, her eyes pleading.
“It’s just Quinn. She isn’t going to care.”
“It’s not just Quinn.”
Madeline suddenly understood. “It’s everyone else.”
Wynter nodded. “I haven’t gone skating in a while.”
Madeline drew her into a hug. “Oh, honey.”
A knock sounded at the trailer door. Wynter could hear Nolan and Quinn’s voices but not their words.
“Everything will be okay.” Madeline let go of Wynter, kissed her head, and rubbed her shoulders in an attempt to reassure her.
Quinn caught Madeline’s gesture. “Hi, Mrs. LaCroix.” She poked her head into Wynter’s bedroom. “Hey, Bug. Ready to get your skate on?”
“I’ll make myself scarce.” Madeline closed the bedroom door.
Wynter sat on the edge of her bed beside her rollerskates. “I look like a frump. I mean, look at you.”
Quinn’s face flushed pink. She wore Levi denim shorts with a matching cropped denim jacket and a snug red T-shirt underneath. Red Nike knee-high socks and black Vans covered her feet. A brand girl through and through.
“You’re hot. You just need a reminder.” Quinn smiled. “Let’s have a look.” Wynter stood and Quinn spun her around. “You’re eighty percent there.”
Wynter gave her a sideways look of doubt.
“Seriously. Would I lie to you?”
Madeline knocked on the door and stepped halfway in. “This might help.” She held a ceramic bowl full of fashion accessories.
“Thanks, Mrs. LaCroix.”
Madeline set the bowl on the bed and beat a hasty retreat, closing the door behind her.
Quinn began sorting through the pile. “Your mom’s got good taste, but this might be tricky. Try this.” She held up a thin red belt and continued digging.
Wynter pulled the belt around her waist and cinched it up.
“Looser. You don’t want it to cut you in half.” Quinn pulled out a black plastic T-shirt clip and set it aside.
Quinn stood back, eyed the belt, and went back to the bowl. “Take a look. What do you think?”
Wynter eyed herself in the mirror. “I don’t think it works.”
“You’re right. Take it off and try this next.” Quinn handed her the T-shirt clip. “Wait. I forgot to ask you the most important question.”
Wynter threw the belt on the bed. “And that is?”
“How much ass do you want to show?” Quinn raised the hem of Wynter’s T-shirt. “Those jean shorts are working for you. How much of it do you want people to see?”
“Um, all of it?”
“Not necessarily.” Quinn gathered the front hem of Wynter’s T-shirt and held it over Wynter’s navel. “This accentuates the front, leaving the behind to imagination.” She gathered the sides and drew them together. “This exposes your heinie in all its glory.”
Wynter giggled. She could see the possibilities.
Quinn gathered the T-shirt to the side. “You could go for half-and-half. What do you think?”
Wynter took the T-shirt hem and tried out the variations in front of the mirror. “I think exposure from all sides.”
They looked at each other. “Better for business,” they said in unison and broke into laughter.
Quinn pinched Wynter’s T-shirt hem at the sides and pulled them together in the center. She gave the fabric a twist and looped it into a tight knot, exposing a small diamond of brown skin.
She grinned slyly. “Such a knotty girl.”
Wynter blushed. “You think so?”
“You’re hot, Bug. Don’t ever forget it.” Quinn glanced at the accessories on the bed. “Turned out all you needed was a little naughtiness.”
“Ha ha.” Wynter placed her arms around Quinn’s neck and rested her forehead on hers. “All I needed was some of your fashion sense.”
“What are friends for?” Quinn looked toward the bedroom door. “Shall we?”
“Walk or ride?”
Wynter gave Quinn a knowing smile, her anxiety and frustration of earlier long forgotten.
“Blue Belle awaits.”
Quinn revved Blue Belle’s engine, let the clutch out, and left Wynter’s trailer park behind. She turned down Jones Avenue. Starlite SuperSkate was minutes away. KROK 92.9 FM blasted “Crush on You” by The Jets.
She glanced at Wynter, content in the passenger seat with a small purse and rollerskates on her lap. Madeline had thrown her a black scrunchy as they were leaving, to “keep her hair out of her face.” Quinn wasn’t a scrunchy girl, she didn’t have the hair for it, but it looked great in Wynter’s fiery locks.
“Don’t get mad, okay?” Quinn spoke carefully and kept her eyes on the road ahead.
“What?” Wynter’s smile faltered. “What did you do?”
“I was getting gas at Finn’s earlier and I might’ve mentioned to Cash that we were going rollerskating.”
“Okay. I did mention it.” Quinn looked at her best friend. “Are you mad?”
Wynter’s lips pursed in thought then curled into a smile. “Thanks to you, I don’t look like a giant marshmallow.”
“I take it that’s a ‘no.’ ”
Both girls laughed. Quinn slowed for a four-way stop. The Starlight SuperSkate’s neon sign flashed in the distance.
“You know what that means.” Wynter’s eyes widened. “Jake will be there too. They’re joined at the hip, kind of like us.”
“But Jake’s a nerd.”
“He’s sweet. I’ve seen the way he looks at you.”
Quinn could feel the intensity of Wynter’s gaze without looking at her. “Great. A lovesick nerd.”
“Admit it,” Wynter said. “You like him.”
Quinn drove Blue Belle into the parking lot of Starlite SuperSkate. “We’re here.”
“You like Jake. Say it.”
“The lot’s half full already. The rink’s going to be packed.”
Quinn found an empty parking space and killed the engine. “Sexy Wynter sure is annoying.”
“Alright. Enough.” Quinn faced Wynter. “Is Jake hot? Moderately. Not Cash-level hot, though. He needs a dose of style. Do I like him? He’s nice enough. Do I want to fuck him?” She hesitated. “No. Happy now?”
“You had to think about it.”
“There’s nothing to think about.” Quinn grabbed a compact purse and her rollerskates from the back seat. She retrieved a tube of lipstick and refreshed her lips using the mirror in the purse’s flap. “Want some?”
Wynter applied the lipstick and returned the tube. “Does it work with my skin color?”
“You’re totally kissable.” Quinn threw the purse’s string strap over her shoulder. “Let’s go.”
Both girls ran toward the flashing rainbow neon of Starlite’s entryway where a dozen other people were already standing in line.
Quinn and Wynter sidled up to the admission window, just across from the Starlite Arcade. A dozen stand-up video games glowed inside the dimly lit alcove and pumped out a dizzying mix of music and sound effects. Zain, who Quinn once described as a landlocked beach bum, worked the cash register and handled rollerskate rentals. In his mid-twenties, he stood six feet tall, with broad shoulders, shoulder-length bleached hair, and eyes that held fun and mystery behind them.
Last year Quinn had been obsessed with Zain, visiting the Starlite two or three times a week. It was part crush, part fact-finding mission. No one knew Zain’s last name. He was just Zain. Or Zany Zain. If his last name ever got out, he’d have teenaged girls calling him out of the blue from across McLeod County. The unintended result: Quinn had become a skilled rollerskater.
“Hey, Queenie.” That was Zain’s nickname for her. He smiled and Wynter saw Quinn crush on him, just a little, hues of pink rising on her cheeks. “It’s been a while. You too, Wynter. Nice to see you both back.”
“We’ve missed the place.” Wynter went for her purse as Zain punched in their admission fees.
The sound of the register brought Quinn out of her daze. She placed her hand on Wynter’s purse. “I got it this time, Bug.”
“Thanks.” Wynter gazed around the main foyer abuzz with rollerskaters young and old. A small smile curled at the sides of Wynter’s lips. It had been too long.
Quinn handed Zain a twenty. “Anything new since we were here last?”
“We’re serving nachos now.” Zain handed back Quinn’s change. “We also got a Donkey Kong machine. Finally. Only took five years.”
“Jake’s going to love that,” Wynter said to Quinn.
Zain laughed. “Jake already knows. He knows everything about that game.”
“We know,” Wynter and Quinn said in unison. The two girls weaved their way into the crowd.
Wynter leaned in close. “Queenie? What was that? Anything you want to tell me?”
Quinn shrugged. “We’re just friends. Nothing more.”
It was the emphatic “nothing more” that got Wynter’s gears turning. They talked often about boys, who was hot and who wasn’t. Quinn followed the “love the one you’re with” mindset. Wynter wanted everything to be just right, which was a big reason why she was still a virgin, but she wasn’t one hundred percent sure that Quinn was too. It had been a while since they had talked openly about it. Things may have changed. Independence could get in the way sometimes.
They found a padded bench beside a vacant locker, removed their shoes, and laced up their rollerskates. After throwing in their shoes, Wynter inserted a quarter and secured the locker door, depositing the key in her pocket. She caught a glimpse of her bare skin under her knotted T-shirt and smiled to herself. She did look sexy.
Across the foyer a small kitchen served up tasty and unhealthy food: soda, ice cream, hot dogs, burgers, fries, and now nachos. The carpet and bench upholstery all bore the same colorful frenetic patterns, like glitter and ribbon got together and exploded on everything.
“I forgot how much I love this place.” Quinn sat watching the hustle and bustle of people entering and exiting the rink. “If I didn’t have the Starlite, I think I’d go crazy.”
Bananarama echoed the synth beat of “Venus” through the rink. A rotating mirrored ball hung over the center of the rink and cast a million rainbow-colored stars across the floor and walls.
“Yeah. It doesn’t get much better than this.” Wynter said.
“But it does.” Quinn pointed to the admission window. Cash and Jake stood in line to get in. “Let’s hit the rink so we can make an entrance.”
Wynter watched Cash talking to Jake, laughing with a bright smile.
“Come on.” Quinn tugged gently at the knot on Wynter’s T-shirt. “Before they see us.”
They maneuvered to the rink entrance and joined the circling crowd. Quinn had lapped Wynter by the time she found her feet and let muscle memory kick in. Soon the two of them were dancing to the beat of the music.
“Stop here.” Quinn pulled Wynter to the sideboards, furthest from the rink entrance. “Let’s watch for them.”
The line of rollerskaters waiting to get in snaked outside and around the corner of the building. Jake craned his neck, scanning the mingling crowd. “Do you see them?”
“Be cool.” Cash was on high alert too but made sure to be more discreet. “Quinn said they’d be here.”
Cash wore jeans, a pristine white V-neck with a pair of sunglasses hanging from the collar, and a jean jacket with the cuffs rolled midway up his forearms. It was an obvious attempt at Miami Vice cool, but it worked.
Jake, on the other hand, was wearing the same thing as yesterday, complete with a few new food stains. He had tried to cover it up with a plaid button-up. He wore a Casio digital watch on his right wrist and as always, his Nintendo baseball cap rode front and center on his head. He looked toward the entrance to Starlite Arcade.
Cash noticed Jake’s displaced attention. “We talked about this. No video games tonight.”
Jake huffed. “Donkey Kong’s seeing great action, right there at the front.”
“How many times have you played that game already? You could have been spending that time with girls.”
“I’m in no hurry. Nothing compares to gameplay on a stand-up.” Jake gave Cash a once-over. “Besides, look at you, Sonny Crockett. Got a girlfriend yet?”
“That’s kind of why we’re here.”
“This better not suck,” Jake said. “Otherwise, I’m going to go help Mario save Pauline.”
Cash and Jake advanced to the admission window where Zain exchanged a handful of bills with two receipts for rollerskate rentals.
“Okay. Let’s size up.”
They worked their way through the crowd to the rental desk. Jake returned his eyes to the Donkey Kong machine while Cash scanned the circling skaters in the rink.
The clock above the rental desk read nine-thirty.
Wynter and Quinn should have been here by now.
Cash had wanted to hang out with Wynter many times before but always chickened out when it came time to ask. He vowed to make tonight count.
Quinn pointed at the rink entrance. “There they are. You ready?”
Wynter had been awkwardly practicing a simple walk-in-place dance move to the beat of the music in an attempt to ease her anxiety. It wasn’t working and her confidence had been waning as time wore on. “I guess.”
“Don’t worry. You look hot. Haven’t you noticed all the guys checking you out?”
Wynter perked up and gave Quinn a sideways look. “Really? Who?”
“All of them!” Quinn grinned and grabbed Wynter’s hand. “Come on.”
Cash and Jake ambled into the mix of rollerskaters at the entrance of the rink. Jermaine Stewart’s hit “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off” played from the speakers hanging from the arena rafters.
“It’s like the deejay is reading our minds.” Quinn laughed. “Let’s skate up behind them and surprise them.”
The two girls held hands and pumped their legs, gaining speed and closing in on Cash and Jake.
“Ready?” Quinn smiled ear to ear. She was in her element. “Three. Two. One.” She skated up behind Jake. “Boo!”
“Yikes!” Jake flinched and lost his balance. Cash grabbed his arm, but his own inexperience and instability caused a chain reaction. Both boys hit the smooth maple hardwood and slid to a stop on their butts next to Jake’s upturned baseball hat.
“Oh, shit!” Quinn placed a hand to her mouth to hold back a laugh. “Are you guys okay?”
Wynter leaned into Quinn and whispered, “Be nice. You like Jake, remember?”
Cash’s eyes were glued to Wynter as she spun around to face him. As she held out her hand to help him up, they locked eyes. She felt the heat of his gaze.
Quinn watched Wynter help Cash up, her eyes giving him a once-over as well, then remembered Jake on the floor. She stuck out her hand in an attempt to appear sincere, but her gesture ended up looking like an afterthought.
Jake snugged his baseball cap on and took Quinn’s hand. After a couple rolling fumbles, he stood and sunk his hands in his pockets. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” Quinn stole a glance at Cash, then redirected her gaze to the floor, other skaters, the disco ball, anything but Jake.
“Yeah, he’s the handsome one.” Jake wobbled on his feet. “And I’m the nerd. But I’ll be running the world in twenty years. You’ll see.”
“Oh-kay,” Quinn whispered to herself.
“Thanks, Wynter.” Cash brushed himself off and steadied himself on the rink’s sideboard. “As you can see, I don’t skate much.” His eyes flicked across her outfit. “You look super nice.”
Wynter’s cheeks blushed pink hues. “You—”
“What am I?” Quinn placed her hands on her hips. “Chopped liver?”
“You look nice too, Quinn,” Cash said.
“What about me?” Jake alternated his gaze between the three. “How do I look?” He waited for the girls’ responses but was met with silence.
Cash hooked his arm around Jake’s neck. “Looks like you need help rollerskating.” His eyes pleaded at Wynter and Quinn. “Help us?”
Wynter nodded and shared a smile with Quinn. She hooked her arm with Cash’s and motioned at Quinn to do the same with Jake.
Quinn widened her eyes in mock protest and grabbed Jake’s arm.
The girls flexed their legs, propelling the four of them forward. Cash and Jake kept their feet stationary and rolled along with them.
“Hey, you got to actually try to skate,” Quinn said.
Cash took a rolling step, then another. Jake did the same. Soon all four of them were rolling along, experience encouraging inexperience.
Jake saw the end of the rink approaching. “How do we turn?”
“Just lean into it, leg over leg.” Quinn crossed her leading leg and stepped into the turn.
Jake tried to mimic Quinn’s move, but his right toe-brake clipped his left skate and he lost his balance. Cash let go but Jake pulled Quinn down on top of him.
The two of them slid to the sideboards, Quinn sitting askew on Jake’s legs.
Quinn narrowed her eyes at him. “You did that on purpose.”
“I didn’t. I swear.”
She examined his reaction and thought she saw a subtle smile.
“But if I had to choose someone to fall on me...” Jake offered a small grin.
Quinn popped herself upright with ease and stuck out her hand once again to pull Jake up. “Let’s go, hot shot. But no help this time.”
The deejay’s voice echoed from the speakers. “Okay ladies and gents, girls and boys. Switch directions.” The pounding drums and base of “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins fired up the crowd as everyone’s trajectory flipped. Career skaters weaved around the newcomers.
Wynter and Cash rolled up to meet Quinn and Jake.
“You fell at just the right time.” Cash’s smile gleamed.
“I feel the need...” Quinn took Wynter’s hand and pulled her away from Cash. “The need for speed. I bet you slowpokes can’t catch us.” The two girls took off like a shot.
Jake blinked at Cash. “She just quoted from Top Gun. I think I’m in love.”
Cash laughed and tapped his shoulder. “Let’s go. They’re getting away.”
The energetic music fueled their game of cat and mouse as Cash and Jake chased the girls, their confidence building with every lap.
After half an hour, the four stopped for a snack break. Quinn, Jake, and Cash rolled to a vacant picnic-style table near the concession.
“I want to try the nachos.” Wynter looked around the small table. “Sound good?”
Jake gave an enthusiastic thumbs up. After taking their drink orders, Wynter rolled to the counter to order.
An awkward silence passed between the three of them.
“So Quinn, you like Top Gun?” Jake took off his baseball cap to smooth out his hair, then returned it to his head.
“It’s got Tom Cruise in it,” Quinn said. “What’s not to like? He’s, like, so hot.”
“Uh, yeah.” Jake shot a look of panic at Cash. “I guess.” He let his gaze drift to the Starlite Arcade. There was still a crowd surrounding the Donkey Kong machine.
Cash thrummed his fingers on the tabletop to the beat of the music. “You’re a good rollerskater. How long have you been... rollerskating?”
Quinn perked up now that Cash was talking to her. “Since I was... eight? But I got really serious last year. How long have you been rollerskating?”
Cash craned his neck to find a clock. “What time is it?”
“Ten-fifteen,” Jake deadpanned.
“I’ve been rollerskating a whole half hour.” Cash raised his brows, sincerity crossing his face. “How am I doing?”
“Not bad for half an hour.” Quinn sighed and laid her forehead on the tabletop. “But this conversation sucks hard. Save me, Wynter,” she whispered to herself.
“Hold up, guys.” Jake motioned to the entrance. “Here comes trouble.”
Standing at Starlite’s main doors stood Jezebel, Roxy, and Monty, three bad seeds arm in arm.
Jezebel and Roxy had enjoyed a reign of terror over those their age and younger ever since Jezebel had moved to Newhaven five years ago. Like Wynter and Quinn, Jezebel and Roxy were inseparable, but the nature of their connection was quite different. Jezebel led the way and Roxy followed her every move like a lost puppy. Both were dressed to skate, wearing gold shorts with blue hosiery underneath, red halter tops exposing their midriffs, and cropped black leather jackets. Their rollerskates hung from their shoulders.
Apart from Roxy being shorter than Jezebel by six inches, they expressed their individuality through their hair. Jezebel crimped her long brown tresses to the extreme, giving her a prickly, electrified look. In contrast, Roxy curled back her short bangs and side layers, framing blond shoulder-length locks parted down the middle. Hair spray kept everything firmly in place.
Next to Jezebel and Roxy stood Monty, ten years their senior. He didn’t care much for fashion, with the exception of a black, well-oiled leather jacket. Worn denim and a faded Motörhead T-shirt suited him most days. He wore mirrored sunglasses twenty-four hours a day no matter where he was.
Monty loved money and he wasn’t here to skate. Weed, coke, heroin, speed, quaaludes, valium, whatever you needed, Monty could get it. He was well connected. Monty wasn’t his real name either. He had given himself the nickname ever since seeing Al Pacino play Tony Montana in Scarface.
Zain spotted the trio in the line to get in. He pointed at Monty. “Out! You’re not welcome here.”
Monty pretended not to hear.
Zain closed the admissions window, walked around the rental counter, and approached Monty. “Walk back out or I call the sheriff.”
Monty smirked and turned up his hands. “I’m not botherin’ anyone.” He addressed the people standing nearby. “Am I botherin’ you? No. How about you? No. No one’s bothered.”
Zain pushed Monty backward. “Out. Now.”
Monty puffed up his chest and flexed his arms. “Get your fuckin’ hands off me. Or I’ll fuckin’ cut ’em off.”
Not wanting things to escalate, Zain turned to Jezebel. “Get your goon out of here.” He leaned closer and lowered his voice. “No drugs, Jezebel.”
“I ain’t no fuckin’ goon.”
Jezebel shot Monty a look, then turned to Zain. “Monty leaves, we get in for free.”
Zain scowled. “How about I call the sheriff.”
Jezebel shot an annoyed look at Roxy. “How about this.” She faced Zain once more. “Monty leaves, we get in for free.”
For the sake of keeping the peace, Zain relented. “Alright. Get him out of here.”
Jezebel motioned at Monty to leave. She got what she wanted and Monty got his free advertising. Word spread through the arena quickly. He would hang outside the Starlite and deal to anyone interested. Some even followed him out.
Zain leaned close to Jezebel and spoke softly. “Sheriff’s going to get a call from me anyway, so your goon better not be hanging around.”
“Zain, you talk too much. And he’s not my goon.” Jezebel pushed past him into the main foyer, Roxy close at her heels. She spotted Wynter grabbing napkins and straws to go with a tray of nachos and four drinks. Jezebel turned to Roxy but kept her eyes on Wynter. “Look who’s here.”
Roxy narrowed her eyes and smirked. “Whiner.”
“Here’s what I want you to do.” Jezebel cupped her hand and whispered into Roxy’s ear as they made a beeline for Wynter.
Wynter placed a wad of napkins and four straws on the tray next to the plate of nachos. The warm scent of melted cheese sauce, sliced jalapenos, and corn chips floated to her nose. She lifted the tray and rolled back to her friends at the table.
She cast her mind back to earlier in the evening, holding hands with Cash and racing around the rink. It had been wonderful. As a smile crossed her lips, she noticed Quinn in her periphery. She was waving her hands and pointing.
Wynter furrowed her brow in an attempt to figure out what she was going on about. “What? What are you—”
Quinn gripped the tabletop. “Behind—”
A heated argument rose up from within a nearby crowd of rollerskaters.
“Fuck you!” Roxy moved backward through the crowd, retreating from Jezebel.
“Too late.” Jezebel pushed Roxy backward hard, sending her crashing into the back of Wynter.
Her tray flew forward, hit the carpet, and exploded in a mixture of soda, melted cheese, and shattered corn chips. Wynter lost her balance, her feet rolling out from underneath her, and landed face first on the mess of food.
Quinn stood up from her chair. “Bug!”
Cash craned his neck to see around Quinn.
“What’s going...” Jake turned his head, taking in the aftermath. “Oh shit.”
Roxy picked herself up and dusted herself off, none the worse for wear. She cast a look at Jezebel, a sly grin on her face. Jezebel nodded back with smug acknowledgment.
“Oh my God, are you okay?” Jezebel shifted her eyes from Roxy to Wynter, feigning concern. “It was an accident. I’m so sorry.”
Quinn caught the exchange. “Those bitches. They did it on purpose.” She rolled toward Wynter who lay sprawled on the carpet, a small crowd forming around her. Cash and Jake followed.
Jezebel knelt down beside Wynter and spoke in a whisper. “Enjoy your nachos, Whiner.” She gave Wynter an extra push into her spilled food.
Quinn fell to her knees beside Wynter and glared at Jezebel. “Get the fuck away from her.”
Jezebel raised her hands and backed away, her lips in a subtle smirk. “Hey, it was an accident. I swear.”
“Like hell it was.” Quinn placed her arm around Wynter in an attempt to shield her from the collecting spectators. “Bug, you okay?”
Wynter tried to kneel but there were two angry rug burns on her knees. She fell backward onto her butt. Her T-shirt had become unknotted and it was covered with melted cheese and soda. She hid her face behind her arms and began to sob.
Cash exchanged a confused look with Jake. “Did you see what happened?”
Jake shrugged. “No. I was facing the wrong way.”
Cash lowered himself, maintaining balance on his skates, and placed a gentle hand on Wynter’s back.
Quinn spun around to face him, eyes on fire like a mother bear protecting her cub. “No offense, but you need to back off. Right now.”
Cash nodded and did as asked.
“Okay, everyone. Clear out.” Zain dispersed the crowd. He kneeled down to Quinn’s eye level. “How’re we doing?”
“It was Jezebel and Roxy.” Quinn’s eyes blazed with rage.
“Of course it was.” Zain glanced over his shoulder to where Jezebel and Roxy were lacing up their rollerskates without a care in the world. “I should ban them.”
“Yeah, you should.” Quinn leaned in close. “Bug? You think you can stand?”
“I’m going to help her to the bathroom and get her cleaned up.”
Quinn supported Wynter as she stood up, her legs still wobbly from shock. Her arm snugged around Wynter’s waist as they rolled with slow strides across the foyer and around the corner of the arcade to the bathrooms.
Zain stood and stared at Jezebel and Roxy. Cash and Jake rolled next to him.
“Take a picture,” Jezebel said. “It’ll last longer.” Both girls laughed.
“I already did.” Zain crossed his arms. “Everyone here is on video.”
Jezebel and Roxy glanced at each other, their smiles suddenly gone. “It was an accident,” Jezebel said. “It could have happened to anyone.”
Jake raised a brow. “What kind of cameras are you running?”
Cash poked him. “Jake, this isn’t the time.”
Jake shrugged. “I was just curious.”
Jezebel sent a condescending wave. “Later, boys.” She rolled to the rink. Roxy blew a kiss and followed.
“The Heat Is On” by Glenn Frey piped through the arena speakers.
Jake glanced at Cash. “I could burn Roxy’s house down.”
“What? Are you serious?”
“It’d be easy. She lives just down the street from me, remember?”
“No.” Cash watched Jezebel and Roxy make the rounds in the rink, a half dozen guys following and skating circles around them. They waved at him as they passed by. “We’re smarter than that, Jake.”
“Want to hit the arcade?”
“We’d have to return our rollerskates.”
Jake raised a brow. “You think Wynter’s going to want to skate after this?”
“You got a point. Let’s go.”
The two of them headed to the rental desk to return their skates and get their shoes back.
Cash looked back at the corridor that led to the bathrooms, watching for Wynter with concerned eyes.
Quinn helped Wynter to the counter in the women’s bathroom. She stepped to the three stalls and pushed the doors open one at a time. They were all empty.
“Bug? Can you scoot up onto the counter?” Quinn noticed pooled water on the countertop. “Wait.” She pulled out a stack of paper towels and used a couple to wipe away the water. “Okay. Now you’re good.”
Wynter lifted herself up and slid back on the counter. Her hair hung shrouding her face. What had been red springy curls when the evening began were now limp, soaked with soda and stuck together with clumps of cheese sauce. Tear tracks had dried on her cheeks.
Quinn hunched down to look Wynter in the eyes. “Let’s get you cleaned up.” She grabbed more paper towels, soaked them under cool water, and rung them out. “Okay, this might sting a bit.” Quinn placed the paper towel on Wynter’s knees. “How’s that?”
Wynter nodded. “Feels good.”
“Hold them there.” She took a paper towel and ran it around the sodden strands of Wynter’s hair. It absorbed the soda but spread the cheese sauce around more. “Maybe Cash has a comb.” Quinn turned to go but Wynter stopped her.
“I don’t want him to see me like this.”
“He won’t see you.” Quinn saw fresh tears well in Wynter’s eyes. “Okay, a hot shower when you get home will have to do.” She folded a fresh paper towel and placed her free hand underneath Wynter’s T-shirt. “I’m not trying to feel you up, I swear.” Quinn winked.
Wynter laughed and wiped her tears away. “I’m not worried.”
Quinn wiped the front of the T-shirt with the folded towel, using her other hand behind the fabric for support. It wasn’t working.
“I don’t know what’s in this stuff, but it’s like glue.”
“Don’t bother,” Wynter said. “It’s going in the trash when I get home. At least my socks and shorts are okay.”
Quinn’s jaw tightened as she took a step back. “Jezebel’s a fucking bitch. She should pay for this.”
Wynter shook her head slowly. “She’s not worth it. Neither is Roxy.” She drew in a shaky breath. “I think I just want to go home.”
“Okay.” Quinn slid off her cropped denim jacket and handed it to Wynter. “For the ride home.” She slung her purse back over her shoulder.
Wynter crumpled the towels from her knees and threw them in the garbage bin. She hopped off the countertop, put on Quinn’s denim jacket, and turned to the mirror. “Now I know how Cinderella felt when the clock struck midnight.”
“Let’s go get our shoes.”
Wynter hesitated. “What about Cash?”
“Don’t worry about him. He’ll be fine.”
“But I smell gross.”
Quinn sniffed, then whispered into Wynter’s ear, “Guys love nachos. You’ll be irresistible.” She pulled open the bathroom door, letting in the cacophony of music, video game sounds, and chattering voices.
Quinn and Wynter swapped their rollerskates for their shoes. Between lace twists, Quinn kept her eyes on the rink, narrowing in on Jezebel and Roxy with every pass.
“You’ll get yours, bitch,” she said in a low whisper.
Zain strolled up and squatted. “Hey. Glad I caught you two before you left.” He sighed. “Look, I’m so sorry about what happened earlier.”
“Thanks,” Wynter said.
“You going to ban those assholes?” Quinn held Zain’s gaze.
“I’ll review the video. If it was planned, then yeah. I’ll ban them.”
Quinn shook her head. “They’re too smart for that.”
“Maybe so.” Zain presented a voucher to Wynter. “I comped your food. Redeemable any time, hopefully sooner rather than later.”
Wynter’s eyes bugged out. She showed the fifty dollar voucher to Quinn, then made a move to return it. “Zain, this is way more than I paid.”
Zain stopped her. “Don’t worry about it. Just come back. When you’re ready of course.”
Wynter offered a small nod and a smile. “Thanks.”
All three stood.
“I hope you find what you need on your video tapes.” Quinn hooked a thumb at Wynter. “I got to get Cinderella home before she turns into a pumpkin.”
Wynter laughed. “I don’t think that’s how the story goes.”
“Well, something turns into a pumpkin and you’re, like, already turning orange, so...”
The two girls headed for Starlite’s exit.
“Wynter?” Cash stood at the entrance to Starlite Arcade. “You okay?”
“Yeah, but I’m going home.” Wynter assessed herself. “I’m kind of a mess. Sorry.”
Cash took a step, hesitated, then bridged the space between them to give Wynter a firm quick hug. He released her before she could reciprocate. “Talk to you later.”
Wynter nodded and followed Quinn out the door. It was almost eleven o’clock and the cool summer air mingled with the warmth of the asphalt under their feet.
They hopped into Blue Belle and were soon on their way toward Sven Dwarfs. A commercial finished up on KROK, followed by “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper.
Wynter closed her eyes. “I love this song.”
Quinn glanced at her best friend, a survivor of humiliation from Newhaven’s worst bully.
Wynter, you’re a warrior but don’t know it yet.
Blue Belle rolled up to pad #7. Quinn killed the engine but let the song finish.
“Thanks.” Wynter opened her eyes, her lashes misty. “For everything.” She leaned across the gap between seats and hugged her.
“No prob, Bug. Now go have a hot shower.”
Wynter kissed Quinn’s cheek and stepped out of the VW. “Oh. Your jacket.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll get it later.”
Wynter nodded and walked to the trailer’s front door.
Quinn started Blue Belle’s engine. A bluish-gray cloud of smoke burst out of the tailpipe. She stuck her head out the driver’s side window. “Call me later.”
“I will.” Wynter unlocked the door and opened it a crack. She waved at Quinn as she backed out. Quinn waved back and sped off. Wynter stepped inside and closed the door.
Madeline and Nolan sat snuggled on the sofa watching an episode of Moonlighting. Madeline shot a look of confusion mixed with mild concern at Nolan. “You’re home early. We weren’t expecting you for at least another hour.”
Wynter walked briskly past her parents. It was obvious that something was up.
“Wynnie? Hon?” Madeline furrowed her brow when there was no answer. She got up to follow her.
“Maddie.” Nolan spoke softly. “Go easy.”
She nodded and stepped to Wynter’s bedroom door, her slippers slapping at the heels of her bare feet. Madeline knocked. “Wynnie? You okay, honey?”
The door opened. Wynter stood with her damp, sticky hair and cheese-encrusted T-shirt on full display.
“Oh, Wynter. What happened?”
“Things didn’t go as planned.” Wynter’s lips trembled as she fought back tears. “I’m going to have a shower and go to bed.”
Madeline took Wynter in her arms and hugged her.
“Mom, you’re going to get it all over...”
“Shh.” Madeline rocked gently side to side, rubbing Wynter’s back and letting the silence of the moment do its work. “You leave your clothes for me. I’ll get them soaking.”
Madeline stood back and held Wynter’s shoulders. “Whatever happened tonight, it’s over. Tomorrow’s another day.” She gave Wynter another quick hug and kiss.
“Thanks, Mom.” Wynter closed the door and stripped out of her soiled clothes. The smell of corn chips and sour cheese rose from the pile. She grabbed her robe and walked to the adjacent bathroom and started the shower. The inescapable odor of nachos followed her. Wynter gazed at herself in the mirror and cried until the steam clouded her view. She stepped into the shower and pulled the curtains closed. The warm water cascaded over her, washing away the remnants of Jezebel’s cruelty.
Wynter tried to picture Cash’s face in her mind but couldn’t complete the image beyond his blond hair and blue eyes. “Time After Time” floated back into her mind and she began to recite portions of the lyrics.
She stepped from the shower clean, refreshed, but exhausted. Wynter hastily dried her hair, pulled her robe back on, and returned to her room, closing the door behind her. Beside the lamp on her dresser was a cup of hot chocolate and a few sugar cookies.
Perfect. Thanks, Mom.
The hot chocolate, now pleasantly warm, went down fast and easy, as did the cookies. She turned out the light, laid her damp hair on her pillow, and was asleep in seconds.
Cash stood at the entrance to the Starlite Arcade, pretending to be interested in Jake’s game of Donkey Kong. Jake had amassed a small group of spectators, some placing their quarters on the bezel for a chance to play next. He glanced at the clock above the rental desk: quarter past eleven. The players in the arcade were thinning out but the rink was still packed. Heart belted out “These Dreams.” After everything that had happened to Wynter, it was just too much.
“Hey man, I’m going to split.”
Jake sent Cash a quick glance before focusing back on his game. “Just a bit longer? I’ve almost beaten my record.”
“Nah. I’ll call you.”
Jake looked at the quarters lined up on Donkey Kong’s bezel, then back at Cash leaving the building. He turned to the small gathering around him as a barrel hit Mario and knocked him off the scaffolding. “Who’s next? I got another life. Take over my game.” He ran after Cash, leaving the crowd to argue about who would take over the controls.
“Hey.” Jake jogged up beside Cash. “Want to crash at my place? Watch some satellite TV? My parents are probably asleep.”
“Tempting,” Cash said. “But I got to work in the morning. Finn let me leave early tonight in exchange for coming in early tomorrow.”
Cash shrugged. “It’s not that bad. Plus, I’ve been saving up for a car. And for college.”
“Yeah, I guess I should think about that. But it’s hard to when there’s another year of school left.”
“Get on it before it’s too late.”
An all too familiar rumbling echoed from down the street. Cash and Jake glanced behind them to see the headlights of a black 1970 Barracuda approaching.
Jake exchanged a look with Cash. “Shit.”
The Barracuda slowed to their walking pace and Jezebel stuck her head out the driver’s side window. “Hey, boys. Want to play?”
“Keep walking.” Cash spoke quietly from the side of his mouth.
“You deaf as well as dumb?”
“Get lost, Jizz-ebel.”
“Jizz? Oh, that’s original.” Jezebel turned to Roxy. “We got a comedian.” She revved the Barracuda, causing the front of the car to rise and dip, and pulled onto the sidewalk. “What would you know about it anyway? You sucking each other off?”
Cash placed his fists on the roof of the car. “What you did to Wynter, that was fucked up, you psycho.”
Jezebel’s smile exuded pure evil. “It was an accident. Everyone knows it.”
“Not according to Zain’s security video.”
Jezebel’s eyes flickered uncertainly, but just for a moment. “You’re lying.”
“I know what I saw. It’s called assault.”
Jezebel’s jaw tightened and her smile morphed to a scowl. “Get your fucking hands off my car.” She threw the Barracuda into reverse.
Cash stepped back, the tires narrowly missing his feet. “Looks like someone’s running scared.”
Jezebel raised her left middle finger out the window. “Fuck you, virgin.” She floored the gas and laid a strip of smoking rubber on the street.
Roxy leaned out the passenger window looking backward and flipped them off using both hands. “Yeah, fuck you!”
The Barracuda sped down the road until its brake lights flared red, tires squealing. The car made a U-turn and accelerated.
“You’ve seen the... oh shit.” Jake’s eyes widened. “Is she going to try and run us down?”
The Barracuda’s bright headlights burned into their eyes, making Cash and Jake squint.
“Yeah, I think so.” Cash watched the car’s approach, analyzing its speed. “When I say so, break left.”
“Oh shit.” Jake rocked back and forth on his feet. “Oh shit oh shit oh shit.”
The Barracuda barreled up onto the sidewalk about five hundred feet away. Cash stood his ground, but Jake was losing his nerve.
“Come on, Cash. Don’t be crazy.”
Four hundred feet away.
Now two hundred feet away, Cash could see Jezebel’s white toothy grin through the windshield.
“Now!” Cash stepped left, grabbed Jake, and pulled him along. “Jump.” The two of them flew into the bushes next to the sidewalk.
Jezebel tried to steer into them, but her speed was too great. There was no time.
Roxy leaned out the window. “MOTHERFUCKERS!”
The Barracuda narrowly missed Cash and Jake and slid across the grass next to the sidewalk. The car shuddered for an instant before Jezebel regained control. She drifted back onto the road and laid a second strip of rubber, this time disappearing into the distance for good.
“Ho-ly shit.” Jake wiped sweat from his brow.
“What a couple of assholes.” The smell of burned rubber drifted past them, burning their noses with its acrid smell.
Jake took long, heavy breaths. “You’ve seen the surveillance video?”
“Nah. But looks like ol’ Jizz-ball believed I did.” Cash surveyed the road. “Maybe you should burn Jezebel’s house down.”
“I could make it look like an accident.”
“I’m kidding.” Cash raised a brow at Jake. “You’re kidding too, right?”
“Yeah.” Jake grinned as he caught his breath. “I’m kidding.”
Cash narrowed his eyes at him. “Somehow, I’m not convinced.”
“I’m kidding,” Jake said. “For real.”
The two teenagers continued walking.
“So you’re in love with Quinn, huh?”
“What? No.” Jake gave Cash a playful shove. “That was a joke.”
Cash laughed. “Well, the sparks sure were flying.”
Jake cast his mind back. “She’s easy on the eyes, though.”
“I knew it,” Cash said. “Finally there’s something more important than video games in your life.”
“Hey, man. Whoa. It’s not like I’m going to marry her or something.”
Cash looked back at the Starlite SuperSkate in the distance, its neon sign flashing its glow into the night. “Hey, on second thought I think I’ll crash at your place for a while. Your parents have any beer?”
“I can arrange that. Plus Skinemax, if we’re lucky.”
The two friends high-fived each other and headed north, toward the Main Street Overpass and Interstate 94, the highway that never slept.
Wynter leaned against the railing of the Main Street Overpass. The warm wind of a July afternoon teased her hair and caressed her bare legs. She reached up and ran her fingers through it and found the dampness gone. Her white sundress, light and soft as silk, moved effortlessly over her skin. Below, bumper-to-bumper traffic moved east and west along the paired double lanes of Interstate 94.
Instead of vehicles inching forward like in any other traffic jam, they moved at full speed. If there had been an accident, the fallout would have been horrific. But there was something else odd.
No revving of engines, no horns honking, or drivers yelling out of frustration.
Wynter closed her eyes and drew in an energizing breath, despite the frenzy of traffic below her. She formed a picture of the highway in her mind, the way it should have looked, with vehicles separated by cushions of empty space.
She opened her eyes to a much different highway, one that matched her vision. Calm. Relaxed. It was then that Wynter felt his body heat next to her.
The blond blue-eyed boy stood with his back to the overpass railing, his black hoodie missing the drawstring. He gazed at her like she was the only thing that existed in his world. Maybe that was true.
Wynter reached out with a tentative hand. He mirrored her until their hands met, their fingers instinctively interlocking. She took one step closer and the boy did the same. And another step. If there was music, she could have been slow dancing with this mystery boy, close enough to count his eyelashes.
“If I fall?” the boy said.
Wynter’s eyes widened with surprise. “I’ll catch you. I’ve been trying all this time.” Her words came to her lips without thought, unlocked, as if his question was the key.
The overpass railing faded, leaving no barrier between life and death. The two of them began to tilt into the void over the highway.
“NO.” Wynter kept her hand clasped with his and arched her back against gravity. Her bare feet slid on the concrete sidewalk, but the pull was too great.
Do I let go?
The boy careened further, his eyes never leaving Wynter’s. A moment of clarity made the decision for her.
Maybe death isn’t down there, but up here.
Wynter reversed herself and flung her body toward his, wrapping her free arm around his broad, sun-warmed shoulders. The world tipped, turning upside-down, as they plunged toward the rushing traffic below.
Wynter and the boy landed with a thud next to her bed, her on top with legs straddling his hips. As exciting and unexpected as it was to be on the floor of her bedroom with a boy, she wasn’t ready to be in a compromising position like this so quickly. Wynter scrambled back to the side of her bed and flipped on the bedside lamp. Her red hair hid half of her face.
The boy scooted back partially into the closet but didn’t share her look of surprise. Instead, his eyes filled with curiosity.
They sat, staring at each other. Breathless. Wordless.
She heard noises from her parents’ room, soon followed by the inevitable knock on her door.
“Wynnie?” It was Madeline, concern present in her voice. “You okay in there?”
Wynter raised her index finger to her lips, signaling the boy to be quiet.
Could he even understand?
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Wynter scanned her bedroom in a panic, stopping on her bookcase. “I just dropped a book on the floor.”
Silence from behind the door. Madeline’s bullshit detector was active. Wynter waited, her eyes locked on the boy’s.
“Okay, Honey,” Madeline finally said. “Don’t stay up too late.”
Wynter waited until she heard her parents’ door close and their bedsprings creak, hoping they wouldn’t use this opportunity to have midnight sex. She’d die of embarrassment.
Wynter wrapped her arms around her bent legs and rested her chin on her knees. The boy did the same. She lowered her voice. “Who are you?”
The boy removed the hood from his head and furrowed his brow. “Wynter?”
“No. I’m Wynter. Wait. How do you know my name?”
“I don’t know,” the boy said. “I just do.”
“What’s your name?”
The boy shook his head.
“Do you know where you are?”
“In your bedroom,” he whispered.
“No, I mean—”
“Newhaven. North Dakota.”
Wynter’s eyes bugged out and she swallowed hard. “How do you know that?”
The boy furrowed his brow. “I know some things. Basic stuff.”
“This is still a dream, isn’t it?” Wynter studied him.
“I don’t think so,” the boy said. “It feels different to me.”
Yeah. It does feel different.
Wynter pulled hair out of her eyes and guided it behind her ear. “Okay. So you don’t know your name?”
The boy shook his head. “I’m not sure I even have a name.”
“We got to fix that.” Wynter’s eyes roamed her bedroom, looking for ideas. Her gaze ended up on the corkboard above the head of her bed and the poster of the Sheyenne National Grassland. Her eye flicked over to the map next to it. The grasslands were located in Ransom County. She smiled. “How about Ransom?”
The boy smiled back. “Ransom. I like it.”
“Okay, Ransom,” Wynter said. “Convince me that this is real, that it’s not a dream.”
Ransom let his eyes roam the closet. He picked up Wynter’s Pentax K-1000 and unsnapped the leather carrying case.
“Be careful with that.”
Ransom smiled. “Is there film in it?”
“There should be.”
He advanced the film lever, held the camera to his eye, and focused. Ransom knew his way around a camera. “Smile.”
Wynter did and Ransom pressed the shutter release.
Ransom snapped the carrying case closed and set the camera back where he had found it. “If there’s a picture of you on here, then this is real, right?”
“I don’t know.” Wynter’s eyes narrowed. “I’ve been dreaming of you for days. I need more evidence.” She thought for a moment, her eyes settling on the plate on her dresser. A scatter of cookie crumbs remained. “You hungry?”
Ransom licked his lips. “Um, I—”
“Let me guess. You don’t know.”
Wynter picked up the plate. “I’ll be right back. Stay here and don’t move.” She eased the bedroom door open and disappeared into the darkness.
She padded to the kitchen and found the Tupperware container holding the sugar cookies. Wynter pulled back the lid. Sweet baked aroma filled her nose. She refilled the plate and replaced the lid. Leaving the kitchen, she passed the phone on the wall. Then it hit her. The idea was so simple.
Quinn. She would be the proof.
Setting the plate down, Wynter picked up the phone and dialed. After a few clicks on the line, the handset began to trill in her ear.
Quinn’s parents had surprised her on her fifteenth birthday with her own phone on a separate line in her bedroom. It was one of Wynter’s dreams to have the same luxury, but that’s what it would remain, a dream.
On the fifth ring, a groggy Quinn answered. “Bug?”
Wynter hesitated, then lowered her voice. “How did you know it was me?”
“Who else is going to call me at... one-fucking-thirty in the morning? I got to work tomorrow.” Her voice buzzed through the speaker. “Are you okay?”
“Yes. But listen. Can you do me a favor?”
“Yes, I’ll kill Jezebel for you.”
“No.” Wynter squinted at her parent’s bedroom door at the end of the trailer. “Listen. This is going to sound weird, but tomorrow, ask me about Ransom.”
“Ransom?” Quinn’s staticky voice floated in Wynter’s ear. “Have you been kidnapped?”
“No. I’m fine. Just remember to ask me.”
“About Ransom,” they said in unison.
“Yes,” Wynter said. “I got to go now.”
“Okay, Bug. Ransom. Got it.” Quinn hung up.
Wynter placed the handset back on its wall cradle, picked up the plate of cookies, and crept back to her room. Ransom was right where she had left him. After closing the door, she sat cross-legged on the floor and placed the plate between them.
Ransom leaned forward and slid a cookie off the plate. He took a bite. Sugary crumbs cascaded down the front of his hoodie, standing out like stars in the night sky.
“These are good,” he said with his mouth full.
“My mom’s a good cook.” Wynter took a cookie for herself.
It didn’t take long for Ransom to wolf down the rest. “Thanks. I usually don’t get to eat much.”
“Because I didn’t feed you in my dreams.”
Ransom nodded with a smile. “I guess so, yeah.”
Ransom rocked forward to his knees, pushed the cookie plate out of the way, and crawled across the floor toward her. Wynter drew back but kept her eyes on him.
“I won’t hurt you.”
Your eyes are so blue.
His gaze cut through her as he sat next to her. “I could never hurt you.”
Wynter believed him. He had been in so many of her dreams that he seemed like a good friend already. She relaxed, her body shifting so the two of them sat shoulder to shoulder. “Why were you always jumping from the overpass?”
“I don’t know.” Ransom studied her face, memorizing it. “Maybe so I could be here, eventually.”
“Yeah. I still don’t understand how that happened. Are you here forever, or what?”
Ransom shook his head and shrugged.
“You don’t know much, do you?”
“I know you saved me.” Ransom locked his gaze with hers.
Despite the heat working its way up her neck and cheeks, Wynter yawned. “Sorry. It’s definitely not you. I’m just really tired.”
Ransom smiled. His teeth and skin were perfect, unblemished. “Then you should sleep.”
Wynter sighed and climbed up into her bed, pulling a light sheet over herself. Ransom lay on the floor next to the bed, his hands clasped around the back of his head. She leaned to the edge so she could see him.
“How am I going to explain you to my parents?”
“Why do you have to?”
“What do you mean?”
Ransom motioned at the open bedroom window. “I’ll just hop out before they get up.”
“But where will you go?”
Ransom shrugged and smiled. “I’ll make it up as I go along.” He raised his hand to her cheek and caressed it, his finger drawing a line across her lips, never once taking his eyes off hers.
Wynter’s brown skin warmed to his touch and every butterfly she had ever felt woke up all at once, fluttering in her stomach. Her emotions fought for control of her words.
“It must not be very comfortable down there.”
“It’s fine.” Ransom set his hand on his chest.
“It’s more comfortable on the bed, though.”
Ransom sat up. “Are you sure?”
Oh my God.
“Yes,” Wynter whispered. She slid back from the edge of the bed to make room for him. As her backside bumped against the wall, she realized how small a twin bed really was. Wynter remained under the top sheet while Ransom lay on top on his right side, mirroring her.
They stared at each other for what felt like hours instead of minutes. Ransom reached forward with his left hand, his fingertips searching through her hair.
Wynter took his hand and kissed his palm. His smell was intoxicating. She found she couldn’t get enough. Ransom took her hand and ran her index finger across his lips.
“I want to kiss you, Wynter. Is that crazy?”
Wynter shook her head, almost imperceptibly. “No.”
Ransom eased toward her until their lips met. One kiss led to two, then three.
Wynter pulled back, her brain ready to short circuit. “I’ve never done this before. Not like this.”
Ransom relaxed and set his head back on one side of the pillow. “We have all the time in the world.” He ran a finger along her jawline. “We can just lie here.”
“That’s perfect.” Wynter smiled. Even under the top sheet she could sense the warmth of this mysterious boy’s body next to hers. Her initial wariness melted into feelings of comfort and safety, and her thoughts drifted to what her first time might be like. She tried to keep her eyes open, but despite her excitement sleep won out.
When she awoke, Ransom was nowhere to be found. Disappointment mixed with relief fought for space in her head. She was glad she didn’t have to explain Ransom to her parents.
Wynter swung her legs out of bed. She padded to the open window and took a cleansing breath. Saturday morning in Newhaven had already begun. She had turned to get dressed when she noticed Eyes Wide Dreaming sitting on her desk with a Post-It note sticking out from the side.
She picked it up and flipped to the marked page; the chapter on “Summoning.” Her eyes widened as she carefully peeled the sticky note from the page.
Written in neat block letters, the note read: “FIND ME. RANSOM.”
He was real. It was all real.
Wynter threw on her clothes and headed to the kitchen, suddenly famished. She couldn’t wait to tell Quinn.
The sweet smoky smell of bacon hung heavy in the small kitchen. Nolan and Madeline sat at the table, each reading a different section of McLeod County’s small daily newspaper. Remnants of their Saturday morning breakfast littered their plates.
“There’s some pancakes and bacon on the stove for you.” Nolan sipped his coffee without taking his eyes off his newspaper. Pancakes were his specialty. He often bragged that he could make them blindfolded.
“Thanks, Dad. And Mom, for the hot chocolate and cookies last night.” Wynter kissed Madeline on the cheek and skipped to the stove. She placed three strips of bacon on a pancake, rolled it up, and took a bite. “Pigs in a blanket, LaCroix-style.”
Madeline followed Wynter with her eyes. “You’re bright and cheery this morning.”
“I got a good sleep.”
“Speaking of cookies, know anything about where the rest of them went?”
“The rest? Uh, I had a few last night.”
“A few?” Madeline’s newspaper drooped. “What’s your definition of ‘a few’?”
“Well, someone else was hungry last night too. And it wasn’t your father.”
Nolan glanced at Madeline. “How do you know it wasn’t me?”
“Darlin’, you’re a terrible liar. Besides, I’d smell it on your breath.”
Wynter found the Tupperware container on the counter and pried open the lid. Nothing but crumbs remained. She gave her parents a quick side-eyed glance.
“I only took four, Mom. I swear.” Wynter grabbed her shoes and sat across from Madeline. She held the pancake rollup with her mouth like a cigar as she tied her shoes. Once done, she bit off the sodden end. “I’m going to meet up with Quinn.”
Wynter opened the front door and paused. “Dad, thanks for coiling up my headphones the other day.”
Nolan nodded. “It’s my job, sweetheart.”
“Did you happen to see a black drawstring anywhere?”
Nolan scrunched his brows in thought. “Drawstring? Like from a gym bag?”
“From a hoodie. It was Quinn’s. I wanted to return it.”
“No. I haven’t seen anything like that.” Nolan returned his attention to his newspaper. “I’ll keep an eye out for it.”
“Thanks.” Wynter stepped out into the Saturday morning sunshine, the air already comfortably warm. The door swung closed.
“Keep an eye out for those cookies too,” Madeline called out too late. She turned to Nolan. “Did Wynter seem... off to you just now?”
“Like not herself.” Madeline pushed her chair away from the table and stepped to the front door. She opened it a crack to see Wynter receding in the distance.
“No, but you’re acting strange.”
“When was the last time Wynter sleepwalked?”
Nolan set his paper down. “It’s been years. Do you think that’s what happened last night?”
Madeline closed the door and cast Nolan a wary look. “I hope not.”
Wynter arrived at the food court in Stedford Plaza just after ten. Quinn and another staff member served a short line of customers at the FreshWhip. Wynter waved and Quinn smiled and sent her a nod.
Wynter found a vacant table nearby and settled into one of the chairs. On most days she found herself content to watch the goings-on in the food court, imagining how she would photograph the people. This morning she could hardly keep still. Her knees vibrated with excitement.
Quinn ran to the table, her Vans squeaking to a stop. “Deb switched breaks with me. I don’t have long.” She sat opposite Wynter and stared at her intently. “So, what does this mean?”
She dropped a crumpled piece of paper on the table. Scrawled on it in Quinn’s groggy handwriting was “Wynter’s ransom.”
Wynter smiled. “You got my call.”
“Uh, yeah. In the middle of the freaking night.” Quinn sat back and struggled to get a read on Wynter. “What does it mean?”
“He’s real, Quinn.”
“The guy in my dreams.”
Quinn gave her a sideways look. “Drawstring boy?”
Wynter nodded. “And look at this.” She dug the Post-It note with Ransom’s message on it from her pocket. “He wants me to find him.”
“What do you mean?” Quinn glanced at the note and dismissed it. “If he’s real, then he must live here. Maybe he’s a customer or something, and—”
“Quinn.” Wynter took Quinn’s hands in hers. “Ransom came from my head. My dream. I know how crazy this sounds but I grabbed him before he fell, and the next thing I knew we were on my bedroom floor. You know what this means?”
“Your parents are going to send you to the loony bin?”
“Funny. No.” Wynter’s eyes blazed. “We can make our own boyfriends.”
Quinn crossed her arms and returned her gaze. “So where is this Ransom? I want proof.”
“I don’t know.” Wynter deflated. “He was gone when I woke up.”
“Probably a good thing. Your parents would have killed him. And you.” Quinn ran an aggravated hand through her hair. “Now you got me talking like he’s real.”
“He is.” Wynter lowered her voice. “And we made out.”
Quinn rolled her eyes in disbelief. “Come on, Bug.”
“He’s hot.” Wynter raised a brow at her.
That shifted Quinn’s attention. “Hotter than Cash?”
Wynter nodded. “We have a connection. I haven’t felt anything like this before.”
“Okay. You need to introduce me. How are you going to do that?”
“It has something to do with lucid dreaming.” Wynter paused to think. “Maybe I can find him in a dream again.”
“So I get to watch you sleep,” Quinn said. “Sounds like a fun Saturday night.”
“Please, Quinn? I have to try, right?”
Quinn looked back at the FreshWhip stand. Deb tapped her wrist. “Look, Bug, I got to get back.” She stood.
Wynter followed her. “Let’s meet tonight at the park. Ten o’clock? Please?”
“Okay,” Quinn said. “But you are going to owe me big time.”
“You won’t regret it.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.” Quinn stepped behind the FreshWhip counter. “See you tonight.” She smiled and waved but it didn’t feel genuine.
Instead of anticipation and excitement, Wynter left the plaza filled with more questions and doubt. She had to prove what she knew in her heart to be true. Would she be able to find Ransom? Would he look and act the same? Or was she crazy like Quinn thought she was?
Wynter hoped the answers to everything would reveal themselves tonight at Windspeaker Park. Quinn would have no choice but to believe her then.
Madeline snuggled under Nolan’s arm, both of them giggling at an episode of The Golden Girls on television. Wynter sat next to them on the opposite end of the sofa, immersed in her go-to book, Eyes Wide Dreaming. Her right leg vibrated up and down, a subconscious movement she made when anxious. It always happened when she took exams and if she had been paying attention, she would have seen Madeline’s aggravation slowly build.
The TV show’s cheesy credit music caught Wynter’s attention. It was nine-thirty. Time to go. She closed the book with an unintentional slap, startling Madeline and Nolan.
“Oops. Sorry.” Wynter stood and walked to her room. “I’m going to Quinn’s for a while,” her voice echoed back through the hallway.
Madeline glanced at Nolan, grinned, and raised an eyebrow. “You guys got plans?”
“I don’t know. Listen to music?” Wynter popped her head back into the living room, her purse and her camera slung over her shoulder. “Maybe watch something other than sitcoms?” She slipped on her shoes and tied them up.
Madeline smiled warmly at her daughter.
Wynter frowned. “What’s that look for?”
“Seeing you all grown up.” Madeline sighed. “It’s bittersweet sometimes but nothing for you to worry about.”
Wynter strolled to the sofa, leaned down and planted a kiss on Madeline’s cheek.
“Hey. Forget something?” Nolan tapped his cheek with his index finger and Wynter gave him a peck, too.
“Don’t be too late.”
“I won’t. Later, lovebirds.” Wynter stepped out of the trailer, closing the door behind her.
Madeline gazed at Nolan. “What are we going to do now?” They both grinned at each other. Nolan found the TV remote, clicked it off, and took her into his arms.
Wynter waded through the knee-high grass of the trailer park’s recreation field. The grass made her bare legs itch and she thought about going back and changing into long pants. But it was too warm and her parents were probably naked already anyway.
“Wynter!” a voice called out from behind. She turned to see Cash waving and jogging toward her. At any other time she would have been glad to see him. But tonight, meeting Quinn and trying to prove Ransom’s existence, it could get awkward.
Cash did weird things to her brain. Her words were out of her mouth before she had a chance to lie. “Meeting Quinn at the park.”
“Just got off work. Can I come?”
“Well...” Wynter struggled to find a reason to say no.
Cash gave her a sideways look and a shy smile, a combination for which she never had a defense. “Please?”
“Yeah, okay. But I warn you. We’re going to be talking about lucid dreaming. It might be boring.”
“Not if you’re there.” Cash beamed. He was nothing if not smooth. “What does lucid dreaming mean, exactly?”
Wynter smiled. “It’s where you can control your dreams while you sleep. I’ve been practicing all summer so far.”
“Haven’t you ever had a dream where it, like, didn’t go the way you wanted?” Wynter watched Cash with interest as he considered her question.
“I guess so.”
“Lucid dreaming changes all that.”
“Cool. That’d be a handy skill to have.” Cash watched Wynter’s hair sway in the warm breeze as they marched out the trailer park’s front gate. “It’s Saturday night. We should get some beer.”
Wynter looked at him. “How?”
“I’ve got connections.” Cash winked at her. “If you don’t mind passing by Finn’s on the way to the park.”
Wynter knew Quinn was never one to pass up a chance to drink alcohol. Bringing beer would go a long way toward making things better between them.
“You’re on,” Wynter said.
“Alright.” Cash clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “Hey, guess who tried to kill me and Jake last night.”
Wynter’s eyes darkened. “Does she drive a Barracuda?”
“Yup. She tried to run us down, over by the Starlite.” Cash shook his head. “That girl’s psycho.”
Cash recounted his brush with death as the two of them headed toward the Main Street Overpass and the town beyond.
Windspeaker Park sat in the heart of north Newhaven, surrounded on three sides by the winding Sheyenne River. It felt like an island, with 3rd Street and one pedestrian bridge connecting it to the rest of the town. Picnic tables were scattered across the park, and a band shell and concession offered occasional entertainment and refreshments during the summer months. Other park amenities included a kiddie playground, tennis courts, and plenty of trees and foliage to keep birdwatchers busy. Walking paths wound their way through the green space, lamps fitted with wind chimes lighting the way. On breezy days, the park made its own music.
The centerpiece of the park, an open area with a large medicine wheel replica, sat embedded in the well-kept lawn. A ring of interlocking concrete bricks encircled a central marker, with interior lines of bricks connecting the ring to the marker. For hundreds of years Indigenous people had used a similar wheel constructed of river stones. The current wheel had been built in 1976 on top of the old stones to preserve their locations and Indigenous significance. The wheel could track the seasons and the hours in a day. Some believed the wheel held magical powers.
A week earlier had been Newhaven’s 4th of July celebration weekend. Fireworks on Friday evening kicked off a two-day festival of music, art, and dance. There was nothing special about July 12th. At ten o’clock at night, the park was dark and deserted, just as it should have been.
Quinn sat on one of the adult swings next to the playground and pushed herself back and forth in lazy arcs. The sun had set almost an hour ago and cast the sky in rich blues and purples, salted with stars.
“Where are you, Bug?” Quinn didn’t scare easily, but sitting alone in the park knowing there were only two ways out set her on edge. She could swim if she needed to, but the river was almost 150 feet across at parts. She didn’t enjoy swimming at the best of times and the thought of crossing the river at night sent a shiver down her back.
“Quinn!” Wynter’s voice called from behind. “Look who I found along the way.”
She looked over her shoulder to see Wynter and Cash strolling toward her. Wynter was drinking... a beer?
“I come bearing gifts.” Cash pulled a six-pack of beer with one can missing from a brown paper bag. “Want one?”
“Grain Belt?” Quinn squinted at the cans with a dubious eye. “Is it better than Coors?”
Cash shrugged. “Don’t know.” He pointed at the label. “At least it’s ‘the friendly beer.’ Finn and I have an understanding, so my choice is limited.”
“Maybe later.” Quinn looked at Wynter gulping her beer. “Since when do you drink beer?”
“I thought it would help me relax.” Wynter burped and began to giggle.
Quinn exchanged a look with Cash. They both enjoyed seeing Wynter cut loose a little bit, especially after Jezebel’s stunt at the Starlite the previous night.
“You’re a cheap drunk,” Quinn said. “So maybe it will.”
Cash alternated his gaze between Wynter and Quinn. “What do we do now?”
Quinn raised her brows. “She didn’t tell you?” She chuckled. “You’re in for a treat.”
“What do you mean?” Cash looked confused, a logical response.
“Bug can pull things out of her dreams.” Quinn looked at her. “Isn’t that right?”
Wynter nodded as she swigged her beer.
Cash narrowed his eyes. “Things?”
“People. Wynter says she can pull people out of her dreams,” Quinn said. “We’re here to witness it.”
“And to learn how to do it.” Wynter burped again. “Maybe.”
Cash pulled a can of beer from the bag and cracked it open. “I think I need a friendly beer.”
“Where are we going to do this?” Quinn scanned her immediate surroundings.
“We could try the band shell,” Cash said. “In the back of the stage.”
Quinn shivered, her apprehension clear even in the fading light. “That place is totally creepy during the day. I’m not going in there at night.”
“What about under the slides?” Wynter pointed to the main feature of the kiddie playground: a collection of plastic slides that rose at a common center and slid out in four directions. Under the center was a secluded patch of sand.
Wynter stumbled toward the slide grouping. She stepped to the top, chose a slide, and rode it down laughing.
“It’s going to be an interesting night,” Quinn muttered to herself as she crouched between two slides. The enclosed space was semi-private but still offered a way to watch their surroundings through the gaps between the slides. She sat cross-legged on one side of the sandy vestibule.
Cash helped Wynter underneath the slide structure. She crawled toward Quinn, then pretended to fall asleep. Cash sat against the opposite side of the small space, his long legs crossed at the heels and his sack of beer at his side.
Quinn nudged Wynter’s shoulder. “If you’re going to sleep, at least be comfortable. Come here.”
Wynter crawled to Quinn and flipped onto her back, her head supported by Quinn’s crossed legs. “Grain belt. Grain belt. You ever notice how weird words sound when you say them over and over?”
“Stop talking, Bug.” Quinn ran her fingers through Wynter’s hair. “I don’t want to be here all night.”
Wynter sighed and closed her eyes. “Feels nice.”
“You know what you need to do?”
Wynter returned a small nod.
Cash watched Quinn and Wynter interact and swigged his beer. “Is this really going to happen? Because it’s kind of hard to believe.”
“Apparently,” Quinn whispered. “Now shhh.”
Wynter fell asleep in minutes.
“Jesus,” Cash said softly. “I wish I could do that.” He finished his beer and tossed the empty can aside.
“You and me both.”
A couple minutes of awkward silence passed before Quinn broke the ice.
“She likes you, you know.”
Cash smiled. “I know. I like her, too. Have for years. But...” He lowered his gaze to the sand.
“What are you waiting for?” Quinn stared at him across the small space. “She’s making up her own imaginary boyfriends now.”
The word “boyfriend” caught Cash’s attention. “What do you mean?”
“You’ll see. Maybe. Unless she’s crazy.”
Wynter snored quietly in Quinn’s lap. Wind chimes within the park lights played their metallic music, carried by the noticeably cooler summer breeze.
“How long is this going to take?”
Quinn shook her head. “I don’t know.”
Cash closed his eyes. Soon he was asleep as well.
“Typical.” Quinn glanced at Cash, then at Wynter. “Everyone at the party passes out except me.” She focused on the park’s wind chimes and closed her eyes, only for a second or two.
But it was for much longer than that.
Wynter wore her white sundress and stood center stage in the band shell, escaping the heat of the midday sun hovering directly overhead. The audience wasn’t as lucky, sitting in front of her twenty per row, a dozen rows deep, and bearing the full brunt of the sun’s wrath.
She scanned the audience. “Ransom?”
“Get off the stage!” yelled a member of the audience.
Wynter began to sweat. She had to find Ransom and bring him back. She had to prove to Quinn that she wasn’t losing her mind.
“Ransom? Where are you?”
“You suck!” a voice called out.
“Go back where you came from!” someone else said.
Wynter shaded her eyes with her hands to get a better view of the audience. Hundreds of Cashs and Quinns stared back at her. Soon the entire crowd of clones were throwing catcalls and insults at her.
She took a panicked step backward and bumped into a warm body with an intoxicating scent.
“Don’t turn around.” Ransom’s voice was unmistakable. “Make them leave.”
“Get creative.” Ransom’s breath across her ear sent shivers through her body. “Remember. It’s only real if you want it to be.”
Sink holes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and other disastrous consequences flipped through Wynter’s dreaming mind. But these scenarios didn’t feel right. “I don’t want to hurt them.”
“Then don’t.” Ransom stood behind her and placed his hands lightly on her shoulders.
Wynter smiled. She placed a hand over her mouth. A wave rippled through the crowd of Quinn and Cash clones. Their mouths disappeared, leaving smooth patches of skin and silence behind.
“It worked. I silenced them.”
“Of course it did. This is your dream.”
Wynter spun to face Ransom. “Now I want to show them that you’re real.” She grabbed his hoodie with both hands and pulled him close, planting her lips firmly on his. The warmth of their kiss spread through her body.
The stage of the band shell morphed into a king-sized mattress. Their feet fought to keep them steady on the soft, springy surface. Wynter tilted her body backward, like the trust falls she’d done with Quinn for drama class last year.
Their bodies toppled, linked in a kiss of longing and desire. Wynter landed on the mattress on her back with Ransom on top of her.
The cool feeling of sand on her skin jolted her body awake.
Quinn opened her eyes to Wynter talking in her sleep, her hands twitching randomly. Across from her, Cash slept, his chest rising and falling with a calm, steady rhythm.
“Cash,” she whispered.
He didn’t respond. Quinn surveyed her surroundings. Everything looked the same, maybe a little darker. She couldn’t have been asleep for long.
Quinn picked up a small pebble and threw it at Cash. The small stone bounced off his forehead, waking him at once. She stifled a laugh.
“Ow. What happened?” Cash looked around, groggy.
“She’s been talking in her sleep.”
“Saying what, exactly?”
“Mostly nonsense.” Quinn picked up Wynter’s wrist. Her watch was difficult to read in the dark, but she was sure it was after midnight. “We’ve been asleep almost two hours.”
“Shit, really?” Cash yawned. “Time flies when you’re having fun, or so I’m told.”
Wynter twitched. “Ran-som.” The words floated from her mouth, barely audible.
Cash leaned forward and frowned. “What’d she say?”
“Ransom,” Quinn said. “It’s the name of the boy in her dream.”
“Ran...” Wynter trailed off, her lips moving like she wanted to say something more but couldn’t.
Cash leaned forward to get a better look at Wynter. “This is really—” The air in the small space cracked, as if a large balloon had just popped, buffeting Cash and pushing him back.
Wynter’s whole body twitched and all at once there were four people under the kiddie slides in Windspeaker Park.
“Holy fuck!” Cash tried to propel himself backward in the sand. “Who’s that?”
Quinn saw the boy, too. A blond boy in a black hoodie, white T-shirt, and jeans lying on top of Wynter, his lips locked with hers. Mixed with astonishment, a flash of unanticipated jealousy ripped through her.
Cash moved to the side to get a better look. “What’s he... is he kissing her?” He scrambled to his knees and pushed the boy. “Get off her, man.”
Quinn raised her hand to Cash. “Wait.”
Wynter opened her eyes and gazed up at Quinn’s upside-down face. Then she looked past Quinn’s hand to Cash. Her face went beet-red in embarrassment, a fact hidden in the darkness. She placed her hands on Ransom’s chest and pushed him back.
“That was nice. What’s wrong?” Ransom remained focused on Wynter.
“We’re not dreaming anymore.” Wynter raised herself onto her elbows, then into a sitting position next to Quinn.
Ransom kneeled and sat on his feet. His blue, almost iridescent eyes shifted between Wynter, Cash, and Quinn.
Cash stared back at this strange boy, his jaws clenching in angry angles.
Wynter took Ransom’s hand, fingers intertwined. Cash flinched, as if the gesture had hurt. “Ransom, these are my friends, Quinn and Cash.”
Quinn looked at Cash. “I think I need that beer now.”
Cash reached for the paper bag, extracted a beer, and tossed it to her. Ransom watched her crack the seal and take a sip. Cash swallowed hard, pulled out a second beer, and offered it to Ransom.
“Thanks.” Ransom opened the beer, guzzled it, and dropped the empty beside him.
“Wait, what the fuck?” Cash shook his head in disbelief. “Am I dreaming now? How is this even happening?”
Quinn gazed at Wynter. “I’m sorry I didn’t believe you, Bug.”
“But you believe me now, right?”
Quinn shifted her eyes to Ransom, taking in his perfect face, free of any trace of acne, framed by blond curls. He returned a warm gaze. She could only imagine what he looked like under his clothes. “How can I not?”
Wynter took out her camera, advanced the film, and handed it to Quinn. “Take a picture. For proof.”
“It’s going to be all black,” Cash said. “Not enough light.”
“Bite your tongue.” Quinn drank from her beer. “You’re talking to Miss Pentax 1986.”
“It’ll be fine,” Wynter said. “Got 1600 ISO loaded. And my fifty mil is fast.”
Cash shrugged and crossed his arms against his chest.
Quinn took the camera, pointed it at Wynter and Ransom, and took a picture.
“You didn’t focus. Set your beer down, you drunk, and take it again. But, like, focus first.”
Quinn sandwiched her beer between her legs, snapped a second photo and handed the camera back to Wynter. She raised the beer to her mouth and finished it.
“Cash?” Ransom looked at him with wary eyes. “Can you toss me another beer?”
Cash gritted his teeth and hesitated. He pulled the beer out of the bag. Two cans hung from the plastic rings. He pulled one off and handed it to Ransom but pulled it back. “Wait. Where do you live? I mean it’s got to be close.”
Ransom looked at Wynter, then back at Cash. “I live in her head.”
“Right.” Cash scoffed. “And how does that work?”
“I don’t know. Only Wynter knows for sure.”
“I’ve been able to control my dreams for a while. But pulling things out is new.” Wynter glanced at Cash but couldn’t hold his gaze. “All I know is I was tired of being alone.”
“So is Ransom your boyfriend now?” Hints of jealousy rose in Cash’s voice.
“I guess for now, he is. Yeah,” Wynter said.
“But he’s not real.”
“He’s real enough.” Wynter’s eyes blazed.
Cash had always found Wynter’s determination attractive, but not now. He focused on the beer in his hand. His eyes flicked at Quinn and she returned a look that said, “I told you so.”
Ransom reached forward again. “Beer? Please?”
Cash slapped the can in Ransom’s hand. “When do you go back into her head?”
“I’m not sure.” Ransom opened the beer and took a long pull. “I’m a dream come to life. I guess it has something to do with sleep.”
“So if you sleep, or Wynter sleeps, you disappear?” Cash had balled his hands into fists without realizing it.
Ransom shrugged. “Something like that.”
“That would explain a lot.” Wynter exchanged a look with Quinn.
“The drawstring?” Quinn asked.
Wynter nodded. “My dad didn’t know anything about it.”
“How about if I beat the shit out of you?” Cash vibrated, his jealousy replaced with anger. He grabbed Ransom’s hoodie at the collar and threw him down to the sand. “You think you might disappear then?” He landed a clumsy punch across Ransom’s face, splitting his lip.
“Get off him!” Wynter pulled Ransom back toward her. “Asshole.”
Quinn held Cash’s shoulders. “Let it go,” she whispered in his ear. “Not the time.” He struggled against her grasp. “Cash!” Quinn’s hard stare broke through his fury.
Wynter sat cradling Ransom in her arms and spoke to him in consoling whispers. He wiped a trail of blood from his face and smeared it on his hoodie.
Remorse flooded Cash. He slumped against the opposite side of the alcove, his fists replaced with open hands of apology. He forced himself to look at Wynter, acknowledging the anger in her eyes. “I’m sorry.”
“You should be.” Wynter paid Cash barely any attention, instead choosing to focus on Ransom.
Cash dropped the remaining can of beer on the sand. “I think I better go.” He stood to leave, pausing first to look back at Ransom. “I really am sorry.” He squeezed between the plastic slides and disappeared into the night.
Quinn lay on her side and propped her head up on her arm. “Well that went well.” She picked up the can of beer and reached toward Ransom. “This might help with your lip.”
“Thanks.” Ransom took the can and placed it next to his split lip for a moment, then reconsidered. “On second thought...” He cracked the seal, guzzled the contents, and let loose a belch. “Better in than out.”
Quinn rolled her eyes. “Even dream boys are pigs.”
Wynter yawned and counted on her fingers. “You’ve drunk more than all of us, but why does it feel like I’m the one who’s shitfaced?”
“If he’s part of you, then maybe you feel it too?” Quinn raised a brow.
Ransom smiled. “I’d buy that.”
Wynter waved her hands. “Too complicated.” She looked at Quinn, her eyelids half open. “Want to learn how to do this?”
“You mean make my own hot guys for... fun and profit?” Quinn winked, her lips curling slyly. “Fuck, yeah.” The two girls slapped hands.
Ransom glanced at the gap between the slides where Cash had squeezed through. “I’m not mad at him. He’s known you longer. He was protecting you.”
“Cash is a good guy,” Quinn said. “You just caught him off guard.”
“I’d have done the same thing.” Ransom looked over his shoulder at Wynter, who was slumped to one side asleep again. “Looks like it’s just you and me.”
Real or not, Ransom was Wynter’s new boyfriend. But despite that, Quinn could not deny her flirtatious nature. She gave Ransom her best seductive look. “Don’t get any ideas.” They stared at each other across the darkness, Ransom returning a look of his own, until the heat between them became too much.
“Oh my God,” Quinn whispered as she forced herself to look away. She closed her eyes and inhaled several calming breaths. “What are you—”
Quinn looked up to find Wynter asleep next to her. Ransom had vanished. A brief sweet and pungent whiff of ozone hung in the air before dissipating in the night’s cool eddies.
Quinn nudged Wynter with her foot. “As much as I’d like to let you sleep it off, I’d rather be home in my own bed.”
Wynter snorted, shifted her position, and remained asleep.
Quinn kneeled and placed her lips next to Wynter’s ear. “Bug. Bug-bug. Bugaboo.” She blew across Wynter’s earlobe and cheek.
Wynter continued to snore softly.
“BUG!” Quinn shook Wynter’s shoulder, annoyed and long past caring about the volume of her voice. “Come on. Up and at ’em.” She grabbed one of Wynter’s hands and dragged her out from under the slides.
“Wait.” Wynter formed groggy words. “What’s going on? What are you doing?”
“I’m taking you home.”
“Stop.” Wynter yanked her hand back. “I can walk.” She stood on wobbly legs and steadied herself on the side of a plastic slide. “Where’s Ransom?”
“I guess he’s back in your head.” Quinn placed her arm around Wynter and joined one of the lighted paths curving through the park. “He disappeared a bit after you fell asleep.”
“Did you see him vanish?”
Guilt flooded Quinn, making her feel hot and self-conscious. But her lie came easy. “No. I turned my head for a second and he was gone.”
“Wait. Where’s my camera?” Wynter stumbled back to the slides, returning a moment later with her SLR slung over her shoulder. “Do you think he’ll show up on film?”
“Only one way to find out,” Quinn said. “By the way, can I crash at your place?”
“Of course, if you don’t mind slumming it.” Wynter laughed and hooked her arm around Quinn’s neck.
“A roof and a bed is all I need.”
“We’ll have to share.”
Wynter gave Quinn a playful push.
They both laughed but Quinn was only half joking.
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