Beth sighed. “You recognize it.”
“I drew it. Years ago. After you gave me this.” He slipped his index finger through the ring, watching the late afternoon sunlight catch and slide along the curve.
Beth looked up at the twisted branches. Jack followed her glance, but looked away as a wave of vertigo gave the carpeting of leaves beneath a tug. He staggered, concentrating on his feet. He was upright, his feet were on the ground. He sucked in a deep breath.
“It’s okay. I just felt dizzy for a second.”
“Sit,” Beth said, guiding him towards one of the ‘legs’ of the tree. The trunk was forked, with a bit of a depression between the trunks. Roots spread out among the leaves like spindly toes.
“I don’t want to sit under this thing,” Jack said, glancing up at the tree. Again, the ground tilted away, and he wound up sitting despite himself.
He glanced up, away from the tree, to find Beth’s green eyes fixed on his, a small frown creasing her forehead. She tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. The afternoon sunlight slanting through the trees made her hair look as if it gleamed around the edges. Motes of dust — probably from all their tromping through the leaves — danced around her, as if the bits of gold in her eyes had somehow escaped.
Beth ducked down, settling on the toes running from the tree leg opposite Jack.
“You Dreamed about it, didn’t you?”
“I don’t know. It was more like… somebody else was dreaming it and I was just… sort of… there.”
Beth stared, not at Jack, but through him, it seemed. “This tree, and the church. Have there been any others?”
“Tell me,” she said.
Jack shuddered. Something in the way she said the word caused the details to crystalize in his mind, as if he’d just dreamt them. The edges time had worn away sprang back into sharp relief, as Jack told her about the dreams, details he hadn’t noticed the first time springing to new light as he spoke.
Beth leaned forward as Jack spoke, her eyes intent on his own. She didn’t speak, but would nod when he paused, or cant her head to one side or the other slightly, as if struck by a sudden thought.
She leaned back when he finished, bumping her head against the tree trunk. She wiped at her eyes, running her fingers slowly through her hair. Moisture shone on her cheeks when her hands finally slid clear, and she dabbed at the corners of her eyes.
“I’m sorry, Jack. You shouldn’t have dreamt those things.”
“It’s not nice to—“ he started, automatically.
“No, you shouldn’t have.” Beth put extra emphasis on the word. “You have no business being anywhere near those dreams.”
“But… I dreamt them. I fell asleep, there they were. It’s not like I meant to. I don’t even know where they came from!”
“Jack, those are my dreams. Those are all my places. My house, my church. This is my tree.”
“But… It felt like the house was my house,” Jack said. “And… you called me ‘Jack.’”
“You have a very strong sense of who you are, Jack.”
“How did you think I knew your name?”
Jack had wondered. But the feeling always faded after he’d awakened, and he never thought to ask while he was actually dreaming. There always seemed to be running, and then he was awake…
“So… here, let me show you. Take off your ring, and hold it in your hand.”
Jack slipped the chain over his head, and cupped the ring in his palm. Beth reached over, wiggled her fingers in between his, and pressed her hand firmly against his, her fingers clenching.
“Here we are, our dreams intertwining,” she said, squeezing just a bit harder. Her hand was very warm, and soft. He didn’t feel the bite of the ring until Beth slipped her hand from his.
“And when we wake up… see that?” She held her hand up, showing Jack the red, indented “O.” “You had my dream, but left your own mark on it.”
Jack stared at his hand, watching the redness fade. “I… guess it makes sense. I never really thought about it. It sounds like you’ve thought about it a lot, though.”
Beth smiled. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about these kinds of things.”
It wasn’t a happy smile.