“Don’t look up,” Beth said, as she steadied Jack.
“It’s like I feel like I’m falling every time I look at it.” He blinked, waiting for his stomach to settle. He didn’t look back at the tree after they started walking again.
“I’m sorry,” the girl whispered.
“It’s not your fault.”
“But it is, Jack. I think this is a… a side effect of my visiting your dreams.”
“So it’s visiting when you do it, but trespassing when it’s me?”
Beth stopped. Jack took another step, then turned to look back at her. She was biting at her bottom lip, her head tilted as if she were considering something. She took a deep breath and set her shoulders.
“I want to say I didn’t know I had entered your dreams, Jack, but that’s not true. You’ve seen the ones I came from. I needed shelter. Your dreams… they were calm, peaceful. I shouldn’t have trespassed, Jack, and I’m sorry. I didn’t know it would lead to… all this. And now….” She sighed.
“Now I’m just afraid it will all begin again.”
“Afraid what will begin again?”
“It’s nothing,” she said, and started walking again. “It’s my problem, I’ll deal with it.”
Jack grabbed her hand as she stepped past him. “No,” he said, squeezing. “It’s not your problem. Not any more. It’s our problem.” He wiggled his fingers between hers. “It’s like this, now.”
Beth looked down at their hands, then back up, into Jack’s eyes. “You don’t… hate me for this?”
“It’s all confusing. Sure, I’m a bit scared, but—“
“You do hate me,” she said, trying to slip her fingers free.
Jack tightened his grip. “Beth, I don’t know what happened before, but it’s not just your problem this time. I’m scared, but that’s just because I don’t know what’s going on. It’s like… the tree. I keep losing my balance when I look at it. But I haven’t fallen over, have I?”
She frowned. “That’s just because I keep holding you up.”
Jack brought their hands up between them. He smiled. “Exactly.”
The frown eased from the girl’s forehead, and she tried a smile of her own. A happy smile. Jack thought it was like the sun coming up from behind a cloud.
* * * * *
They walked in silence back towards the edge of the woods. Beth hadn’t let go of Jack’s hand, so he just kept holding hers.
Jack had tried a few times to continue their conversation, but Beth had squeezed his hand, shaking her head. Jack decided not to press. She lived next door, he would see her every day. It wasn’t like they wouldn’t have plenty of time to talk things over.
Intertwined dreams. A sudden thought occurred to Jack.
“Beth…” he began, again, as they walked along the wooded edge of the stream.
She gave a shiver, blinking. “Hmm?”
“What about Ellie?”
“What about her?”
“She Dreams.” The word tingled on Jack’s tongue as he spoke it. He was suddenly aware of the weight of the ring against his shirt.
“It’s not a problem,” Beth said. She didn’t say it, but Jack heard a ‘yet’ echoing in the silence between them.
“She won’t have… dreams like I do?”
“Has she said anything about them to you?”
“No, but I just thought…”
“Jack. She practically worships you. If she was having bad dreams, she would tell you about them. But she won’t.”
“Because you guard them.”
Beth gave another shiver. Her shoulders tensed, then relaxed. “Yes,” she said. “I’m also teaching her,” she said, after a pause.
They crossed the stream at the narrow bend, still hand-in-hand.
“Things I’ve learned. So she won’t make the same mistakes I did.”
“Trespassing,” Jack said. He didn’t mean to say it like it was something bad, but Beth flinched at the word.
“That’s… one of them, yes.”
Jack stopped. Beth tugged at his hand before she stopped, too.
“I have to know,” he said. “And you have to tell me.”
She cocked her head.
“Is it dangerous?”
“It could be,” Beth said. She squeezed Jack’s hand when he glanced towards his house. “But, wait, Jack. I won’t say it isn’t, but it doesn’t have to be. I mean…” She sighed. “It really isn’t up to me. It’s everyone else.”
“What they think. Or what they would think, if they knew.”
“That she could walk through their dreams if she wanted to?”
“It’s not just that, Jack. She’s starting to catch Glimpses.”
“Okay, now the ground is starting to tilt again,” Jack said.
“Glimpses,” Beth repeated. “You know, like when you see a flash of something out of the corner of your eye?”
“So… she’s seeing things out of the corner of her eye… in her dreams?” Jack connected the dots.
The girl nodded.
“And… she’s seeing…?”
Jack knew the answer, as Beth’s expression crumbled a little bit with his question. She bit her lip again. When she spoke, it was barely a whisper, barely even a breath.
“That’s not….” Jack started, then stopped. Possible?
Beth smiled, but it was touched with sadness.
Jack had to laugh.
“Jack? I don’t think it’s something to—“
“To laugh at?” He did it again. “You’re right. But I suddenly thought ‘What am I going to tell my mom?’”
“You can’t tell her about this!”
“I can’t not tell her about it. You said it could be dangerous. Ellie is my sister. It’s my duty to protect her.”
Beth wrenched her hand away from Jack’s. “No, Jack. It’s my duty. She’s my responsibility!”
“I’m her brother!”
“And you wouldn’t be if it weren’t for me!” Beth shouted. Tears spilled from the corners of her eyes.
She may as well have lowered her shoulder and charged into him. Jack couldn’t catch his breath, and the ground tilted away. He suddenly found himself sitting down hard in the tall grasses.
He heard the rustling of the grass, further away. He blinked the last of the white blooms from his eyes, looked up, half expecting to see Beth standing over him, a hand extended to help him up.
But she was gone.