“I live in the in between. Between yesterday and forever. The way forward haunts me. The gap I must cover daunts me. And hope beckons, ‘Run to me,’ but I just learned to walk.”
After a lifetime of abuse, the Vanderbilt siblings flee their home, finally free to pursue new dreams while running from yesterday’s nightmares.
Once bed-ridden Jesse navigates the Chicago streets, concealing his identity and planning revenge. A chance encounter in the rain
introduces a girl who offers Jesse a glimpse of a sunnier future, but how will he weather the growing storm inside himself?
Separated from her Post-it note prince, Talia hides at a safe house for survivors of domestic violence while her father turns the city upside-down to find her. Surrounded by women fighting their own demons, Talia faces her past at every turn.
I call my characters my friends. Simply because friendship is defined by trust and I need them to know that I trust them. And they can trust me. That’s the only way they will share their secrets with me. Funny thing is, they often whisper their best closet hidden truths in my dreams. Here’s a little dream I had the other night. Met Talia and can I just tell you, she was more beautiful and more terrifying than I ever imagined. I suppose when you’ve been through what she’s been through, you’re bound to have that affect on people.
I hear the words, but my eyes are glued to another dream, so I push off the words and roll over.
“Wake up,” the voice says again, urgency lacing the female voice that I seem to know from somewhere.
As I reach back to move her hand off my shoulders, to tell her she should find some other dreamer to bother, my fingers brush the rough and scaly feel of her arm. And then I know. Talia. Has to be.
“Is it really you?” I sit up in my dream and rub the last adventure from my eyes. “Talia? Why? What? Are you doing here? I finished writing your story. Go away.”
“It’s not that.” Her voice sounds gentle now. Sad. “I just. There’s something I forgot to tell you. Something. One thing. You forgot to write.”
Now she has my attention. I rise out of my hammock swinging between stars and step into the moonlight. So I can see her better. Talia. Just as I imagined. Yet. Different. Sure, she’s wearing green and her long brown hair falls down her back save a few strands she twirls and strings across her lips. Even with her finger teetering over her mouth, I can see her lips. Broken, like someone ripped stitches out of them. But her eyes—they mesmerize me. The hazel green reflects the stars all around us, but the longer I gaze into them, the stars begin to fall. Leaving a trail of star dust tears behind. One after the other.
“So as I was saying…” Talia blinks, giving me a chance to remember this is just a dream. Or is it?
“Right,” I say, looking away. “You wanted to tell me something.”
“Not here,” Talia says, and before I can protest, she sweeps my arm and pulls me in the direction of earth.
“But I’m not ready to wake up yet,” I say, foolishly grasping for the last dream by closing my eyes. Doesn’t work, so I open them again so I can see where she’s taking me.
We’re hopping from cloud to star to cloud back to star, the most wonderful spiral staircase I ever did descend. Okay, more like the only spiral staircase I ever stepped on.
Right before we hop from a low cloud to the top of a tree, she turns to me and says, “Promise me you won’t cry.”
“Why?” I am so confused, but the rain in her eyes tells me she knows me well. I’m a cryer.
“It’s the only way.”
“Way for what?” I want some details before I make a promise I’m pretty sure I can’t keep.
“It’s the only way the dream will stay on.” She lets go of my hand and wipes a tear from her own eye, but it’s made of stardust. Then she blows the sadness over my head. “This should hold you together. But it doesn’t work on everyone. I can only hope it lasts long enough to show you what I came to show you.”
“No more questions,” Talia shushes me. “We’re running out of time. I don’t even know if she’s still where I left her.
I stop myself from asking who and slide down the branches of Talia’s waterfall willow until my feet land on the soft prickle of freshly cut grass.
“Is this? Are we at…”
Talia shushes me again, lowers her voice, and says, “It’s not the place I want you to pay attention to.”
She parts an opening in the willow branches, just wide enough to peek in. A girl, maybe ten or eleven is playing with a doll. Next to her is a baby bathtub. And next to the tub is a play kitchen set.
I want to ask where all this came from? How did the girl create a play world under the tree? And where are her parents. But when I look at Talia, so focused on the girl, I bite my tongue and turn my attention back to the child.
“Time for your bath, Bubbles,” says the little girl, roughly peeling the sleeper off the doll and placing her in the empty tub, the doll arms tucked by her side. “I’ll be right back.”
Then she puts a teakettle on her play stove top and looks at her wrist, no watch visible from my angle. When the kettle hisses, the little girl takes the teapot by the handle, walks over to the bathtub, kneels down, and pours the steaming water over her doll. I don’t see any water. But I do see steam. I don’t hear the baby doll cry, but I hear the sizzle of plastic. I don’t bite my lip, but my eyes begin to water.
“Why?” The single word leaves my lips and I know the dream is over. I cried. Tears end the dream. Talia said it would be so.
But as a gift perhaps, or maybe just an echo of her final words to me as I drift up the tree, over clouds and stars, past the moon and back into my bed, I hear Talia say, “I thought if I watched her, the doll could teach me how. I just want to make it one time. Just one time without crying. Ya know?”
I know now.
Rajdeep Paulus studied English Literature at Northwestern University and lives in New York with her husband and four princesses. She’s the author of YABooks, Swimming Through Clouds and Seeing Through Stones, and Chip MacGregor is her agent. Visit her website or connect with her via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram.