“Well, look what the cat’s dragged in,” said Jack’s dad, as the three approached the station wagon.
He reached out, took Ellie’s bag of candy from Beth, who was carrying it because Jack was carrying Ellie.
He held out a hand to shake Beth’s, then thought better of it and gave her a somewhat awkward one-armed hug.
“Welcome back from wherever it is you were,” the man said.
“Just how does that work?” Jack asked. “Do you, like, remember everything now?”
“Things started coming back right about when the sun went down,” Jack’s dad said. “It is the darndest thing.”
They didn’t say much on the ride home. Ellie sleepily showed off her blue ribbon, and was almost asleep by the time they pulled up the gravel drive.
Charlotte merely looked up from a bag of popcorn she was munching on, gave a wave, and turned her attention back to the horror movie on the TV.
Hannah ran upstairs for her camera, admonishing Beth not to disappear again because she looked so cute as an angel.
Jack’s mother had the girl sit, and checked her ankle, checked her eyes, under her tongue, and took her temperature and blood pressure.
“Beth, will you be all right on the couch?”
“Mrs— Margaret,” she blushed, at calling Jack’s mother by her first name. “I think I could lay right down on the floor and be happy just to sleep again.”
Charlotte’s last movie finally ended, and she retreated up the stairs to get ready for bed. Jack’s mother produced extra blankets and pillows from the upstairs hallway closet, where she’d also stored away Beth’s duffle.
“Beth, dear, I nearly gave all your clothes away to the Goodwill.”
“I’m sorry for the trouble,” she said, shaking out a blanket along the length of the sofa, still in wings, gown, and halo.
“Now, Beth, you consider this your home, like we said before. Only now, that goes double.”
“Yes sir. And thank you both very much, again.”
“We’re just glad to have you back. Poor Jack was beside himself.”
His dad glanced at his watch. “Son, it’s past your bed time. Head on up.”
His mother kissed his cheek, his dad clapped him on the back. Beth gave him a little wave, and a smile.
“Good night, Jack. Pleasant dreams.”
“I guess we’ll see,” he said, and headed up to bed.
* * * * *
Sleep would not settle in, no matter how he tried. Jack tossed and turned. He stared at the dreamcatcher. He even tried counting sheep. He was just too keyed up from the night’s events, even now, after all the hubbub had pretty much died down.
Frustrated, he got up. He’d opened the door just as Beth was about to tap on it, and she gave a squeak of surprise.
“Let me guess. Couldn’t sleep?”
Jack closed the behind her, and sat across the bottom half of his bed, indian style. Beth took the desk chair, both feet up on the seat, chin on her knees. They stared at each other a long time, but every time Jack tried to meet her eyes, she would slide hers away.
“What’s bothering you?” he asked. “C’mon. Spill it.”
“Are you mad at me?”
“What? No way.”
“You’re not… mad that I ran away?”
“No. I mean, yeah, sort of. That you disappeared. But not at you.”
Beth chewed at a corner of her lower lip.
“I was afraid. The whole time I was gone, I was afraid you hated me. That… if you did remember me, you wished that you had forgotten like everyone else.”
“Thats crazy! I was scared that I would forget like everyone else!” He leaned over, fished a notebook out from between his bed and the bookshelf under the window that doubled as a nightstand. “I wrote down everything I could think of about you, in case I did start to forget.”
Beth’s eyes fixed on the notebook. “You… Really?”
Her eyes started to shimmer. She sniffled.
“Oh, no, not again with the waterworks,” Jack said. He handed her the half-empty packet of tissues from his nightstand.
She blew her nose. Dabbed her eyes. Blew her nose again. Yawned.
“I’m going to need the dreamcatcher.”
“Well, it is yours. I was just borrowing it.” He reached towards it.
“Its fine where it is,” she said.
Jack lowered his hands.
“And… I need another favor.”
Something in the waver in her voice sent a tingle through Jack.
“Promise you won’t—”
“Beth, just spit it out.”
“I need to sleep here tonight.”
“See, that wasn’t so bad. Okay. I’ll just grab some of the pillows from downstairs and sleep on the fl—”
“Jack. You have to be here too.” Her breathing was starting to pick up.
“Okay, Beth. Okay. It’ll be like that other night.”
“No, I don’t think it will be.” She slipped from the chair, settled beside him on the bed, leaning her head on his shoulder. She was shivering. Her hand found his, and she interlaced their fingers. Her grip was shaking, but firm.
“I broke rules Jack. There are going to be consequences.”
Jack felt a hot pinprick at his shoulder. Beth was crying again.
“When I fall asleep, they’re going to try to take me back,” she whispered.
Jack put his free arm around her, leaned his head against hers.
“You could have just said that to begin with.”
He closed his eyes, matched his breathing with hers. Her hair smelled of sunset and the bonfire.