“What are you doing out here?”
It had taken him long enough to find her. Holly felt Jacob’s touch on her shoulder but did not turn around. Time was too fleeting. She wanted to revel a little longer in the chill of the dark Spring night, the giggle of the creek below her, the crunch of the grass under her feet. Charlie hadn’t gotten the grass quite right yet.
“I was scolded for talking to the children,” she said. “So I came out to catch fireflies by the water.” She scooped up a lightning bug that had rested on the branch beside her, serenely blinking like an empty street on the day after Christmas. She remembered Christmas, and the little girl who had dreamed about it once.
“Technically it’s not catching when you don’t chase them,” said Jacob.
“Technically it’s not chasing when they wait to be found.” Even after so long, it was ever the argument with them.
“It’s not really a creek,” he said.
“It’s not really night either, but you don’t hear me complaining.” Holly opened her palm and let the firefly escape, leaving nothing on her fingertips but wishes and dew.
“I’m not complaining,” he said. “Just stating the facts.”
“Facts have no business here,” said Holly.
“They rarely do in dreams,” said Jacob. “Is this…?”
“This is not my dream,” said Holly. Like Jacob, she was doomed to seek something that could never be found. “I walk here, yes, but it is not my dream.”
“The woman who scolded you?” asked Jacob.
“No,” said Holly. “Her son. If this were his mother’s dream there would be no creek, and no fireflies, and I would not still be here.” She slipped off her sandals and dipped her foot in the warm water of Charlie’s consciousness. Energy swirled around her ankle and played through her toes. A thin film of steam coated the rocks and eddies. But it was not her steam; they were not her rocks and eddies; they were Charlie’s. She was merely a visitor. And Jacob was intruding. “Why are you here, Jacob?”
“I’m not really here,” was the answer. And it was the truth. Holly let the dark smoke of him surround her like the steam embracing the rocks, and she let herself seek comfort in it. Jacob wasn’t part of the dream, so he had no face, no form. If she strayed too far beyond the creek, neither would she.
“You’re not really here,” said Holly. “And this isn’t real.”
“Neither of us is real,” said Jacob. “We never have been. We are merely players, shadows, extras on someone else’s stage. Why did you run from me?”
“To see if you would chase me.”
“Technically it’s not chasing when you wait to be found.”
Holly smiled. “Touché.”
“I love you, Holly.”
Why should she give him hope if she had none herself? “Technically it’s not love if neither of us exists.”
His presence seeped away like fog cowering before daylight. “No. I don’t suppose it is.” Holly looked down at her own hands and watched them slowly dissolve into the same dark shadow. Charlie was moving on without her, as all dreamers moved on in their dreams until they needed her again. Jacob was moving on too, with his soul that didn’t exist. A soul that held a heart she’d never had in a place that never should have been. “Goodbye, Holly.”
Oh, to hell with the next dream.
She swirled around in his arms and entangled his smoke with hers. “It’s not goodbye if I don’t let you leave.” Fading back into nonexistence, she kissed him.