Bankal woke in a familiar bed. The plaid quilt was something he dreamed about even when he was not here. Just for a sanity check, he lifted the blankets to see the able seventeen-year-old body. This body was called Brian.
Brian’s parents finished the basement into a bedroom just for him. It felt like freedom. A rite of passage bestowed on him because he was trustworthy and old enough.
Goosebumps freckled his chest and arms. Brian quickly covered himself back up, scanning the room for some clothes to wear. Remembering where Bankal put his clothes in one life was difficult enough, but managing to find a shirt and pants in a dozen lives was almost impossible.
Gritting his teeth, Brian threw the blankets aside and hopped off the bed toward the closet. His gray hoodie and soft jeans were hanging there. It was a good day when his favorite clothes in his favorite life where clean and ready.
There was only one thought on Brian’s mind as he threw open the door and sprinted up the steps. Anadel. As he reached the top step, he turned, pursed his lips, and sprinted back downstairs. After a good tooth-brushing, Brian made his bed and stacked his favorite books on his nightstand. Clicking the light off, he flew back up the stairs, past his mother and almost made it out the front door before she halted him.
“I know where you are going, but aren’t you forgetting something?” She said and pointed to her cheek.
“Mom, I am too old for this.” Brian crossed his arms.
“Too old for paying me for making lunch for two?” She said, revealing a picnic basket. “One sandwich for each of you. In fact, I think it may be her favorite,” His mom smiled. “Now, give me a kiss, and I will even let you take credit for such a thoughtful meal.” Again, she pointed to her cheek.
“Mom, you are the best!” Brian blurted out, hugged her, and placed a quick kiss on her cheek. He snatched the basket, winked and shot outside. The screen door swung shut behind him with a crack. Before she could scold him, he called out an apology.
The bell in the clock center rang out twelve times by the time Brian reached the river. She was already there.
“You’re here! I was starting to think you weren’t coming,” Anadel said playfully. Her short, blond hair framed her lightly tanned face. She stood, wiping her hands on her blue jeans and turned to him. The sun caught her light brown eyes.
She was beautiful.
“What do you have in the basket?” Anadel asked.
“My mom packed us lunch,” Brian said with a smile. “She told me to pretend I made it. I don’t trust myself with a knife, though.” He winked at Anadel.
“God knows If you fell asleep while spreading mayonnaise, my sandwich could have been ruined.” She laughed and took Brian’s hand.
To her, he just fell asleep. To him, he traveled. In the past, Brian told her of his journeys, and she joked with him about it. He was not sure if she believed him or not, but it didn’t matter.
“Text your mom and set your timer,” Anadel reminded him, as she stood and waited. The tank top she was wearing was one of his favorites. It was white and outlined her frame perfectly. She had broader shoulders than most girls her age, mostly because of gymnastics and probably some good genes.
“@ the river. Going 2 willow tree.” He texted his mother and set his timer for twenty minutes. It was the safest way for him to travel. If he did fall asleep, Anadel could drag him back home, but it made more sense for his mom to help.
His mother never seemed to mind going to get Brian, regardless of the time it took out of her day. His mom could have easily kept him home. Instead, she let him be free. She wanted him to have a life so their arrangement was that he would text her often. She even had an app on her phone that she could use to locate him in an emergency.
Brian and Anadel paused on the wooden bridge and snatched a few flat stones. He made a wish and chucked a stone, side-arm. The rock skipped once, turned, and angled off to the side, landing in the woods to the edge of the river.
“There goes that wish. I hope it wasn’t a good one,” Anadel said. She held her hands together and closed her eyes.
“I never wish the first time. That stone was far too light, anyway,” Brian said and held up a stone toward her. “Blow on this one.”
The smell of her minty breath wafted past him. He yearned to reach in and kiss her. Brian turned to the river, smiled and paused. He closed his eyes and made his wish.
I wish to stay with her forever.
He wished the same thing every time. Brian launched the stone, and it hopped and hopped. It was a perfect flight, low and parallel to the river. It had skipped twelve times before it settled into its watery home.
“I counted more than ten!” Anadel exclaimed and held up her hand for a high-five.
“Twelve,” He confirmed and smacked her hand.
“Well played, sir. Same wish?”
“Same wish.” Brian winked at her.
“Someday, you should tell me what makes that wish so special.”
“You know I can’t do that.”
“Sure, you can. I didn’t ask what it was, only what makes it unique,” Anadel said and held out her hand to Brian.
He closed his fingers around hers. Turning to her, he said, “You will know someday when it comes true.”
Their boots echoed off the wooden bridge. It was made mostly from railroad ties. Below, he could hear the smooth ripples of the stream. It was one of his favorite sounds. It meant he was here.
The path on the opposite side wound up a gradual hill through a field of tall green grass. It was spring. Tiny white daisies peppered the hillside, sending their aroma through the cool air.
At the top of the hill stood a weeping willow. Its large branches reached down to the ground creating a perfect enclosure to relax. They laid back in the grass near the tree, basking in the warmth of the sun.
Anadel held Brian’s hand and pointed to the sky in the north. “That cloud looks like a turtle.”
“Good eye. What about that ov-” he started to say. His eyes fluttered. He grasped her hand tighter and closed his eyes. His hand fell limp to his side.
“Brian? Did you leave me?” Anadel whispered. He didn’t move. “Please, don’t leave me yet.”
He felt her hair touch his cheek and he snapped his eyes open and planted a big kiss on her lips. For the slightest second, she kissed him back. Anadel pulled away with a surprised look on her face.
“The boy who cried sleep,” She said and laughed. “One day, I’m not going to believe you. You just might be left in the woods.”
“I couldn’t resist,” Brian said and looked down and away from her. “Every time, I wonder if I will come back.”
“You mean never wake up?”
“Do you believe me when I say I go to places bigger than just dreams?” Brian looked at her, searching her eyes for the truth.
“I don’t disbelieve you,” Anadel said. “I think it is your world and your reality. It is hard to wrap my head around things I don’t understand, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.”
He placed his hands on her cheeks and said, “I don’t ever want to be in a world without you.”
“Nor I without you,” she said and kissed his forehead. “Now, eat before you really fall asleep. Text your mom again, too,” she said and passed him his tuna sandwich wrapped in a wax paper.
As usual, his mom’s lunch was delicious. Potato bread with golden brown grill marks, Jarlsberg cheese, with just the right amount of mayonnaise and her secret spices. Each bite excited his taste buds. He salivated for more.
“Damn, this is good!” Anadel said with a mouthful of tuna.
“I know! Mom is a magician in the kitchen. A Ka-gician!”
Anadel laughed and said, “A M-itchen! Maybe she would be willing to come over and teach my mom some magic, too. God knows she could use the pointers!”
“Just ask your mom to make breakfast. I mean, how can you mess up breakfast?” Brian said.
“There is a reason why I have not invited you over in the morning.”
“Oh, come on. It can’t be that bad.”
“You would be begging for sleep to take you away.” Anadel smiled at him.
He finished his lunch and laid back, looking at the clouds in the sky. The long grass flowed around the two of them in the warm breeze.
Brian closed his eyes and sighed loudly, basking in the warmth of the mid-day sun. In the distance, he could hear the ripple of the stream. He was happy. “This is the best day of my life.”