Grasping at Clouds
You dream of her a lot now, after the storm has passed. It was completely unexpected, but you aren’t complaining, since it keeps most of the nightmares away. But it is odd, and you aren’t sure what to make of it. The dreams are varied, but they have one thing in common: Rachel is always there.
You don’t remember all of them. Sometimes you wake up with her face burned into your mind, but no sense of what actually happened. There are a few that have stuck with you days, weeks, even months later. It seems arbitrary which ones you remember, but you can’t stop thinking about them.
In one, you’re simply walking down a sidewalk with her. Everything beyond the sidewalk fades into white, though if you squint you think you can see Blackwell’s silhouette to your left. The two of you are talking, but all the words are muted. You watch her as you talk, watch the way a smile spreads so easily across her face and the way her eyes crinkle with it; watch the way her hands move as she tells a story you can’t hear; watch the irregular way she walks to avoid cracks and lines in the sidewalk without even looking.
She’s fluid, dynamic, a force that could tear the world apart but chooses to build it up instead. And though you can’t hear her words here, you feel you’re learning more and more about her. You find she’s kind, and lighthearted, and more than a little superstitious.
And so the dream goes, for as long as a dream does, until Rachel stops suddenly and points to your feet. Her voice rings out, loud and clear now.
“You’re doing it too.” You realize you’ve been dodging the imperfections in the concrete in perfect time with her without even realizing it, and it makes you smile.
The apparition laughs and you awake.
Another dream, as you’re dozing against the glass in Chloe’s truck–this time you’re in a clearing in a forest, with a doe and her fawn grazing serenely nearby. The deer don’t spare a glance for either you or your ever-present companion. You watch them for a moment, because you’ve always had a fondness for deer, then turn to see what Rachel has in store for you this time.
She’s stiller than she normally is, no movement besides a subtle rocking from heel to toe. She’s got a look on her face like she wants to tell you something important, so you wait expectantly. And because Rachel is Rachel she takes your hands and leans in close, despite the fact that the two of you are alone here.
She takes a breath, opens her mouth to speak, but she doesn’t. A mysterious, mischievous grin spreads slow over her lips and her breath ghosts over your face, knocking yours right out of your lungs.
You could swear she was leaning in again when you wake up.
Some of them aren’t quite so cheerful. Some of them aren’t muted laughter or whispered secrets. Some of them leave you with a hollow feeling and tears on your eyelashes.
But Rachel is still there.
The junkyard fades into view from the abyss–or some of it does. It’s missing chunks, torn out like a drawing someone’s gotten frustrated with. When you look up, there are no stars in the sky; just the moon hanging low and somber and seeming far too dim for the amount of light around you. Then you look down and find your toes hanging over the lip of a shallow grave.
You want to back up, pull yourself away from it, but you can’t. You’re rooted to the spot by lifeless hazel eyes. A sick feeling starts in your stomach, pushing up your throat, but you bite it back and try to ignore your watering eyes. You could have saved her, a voice in the back of your head tells you. You don’t know if that’s true, honestly, but you can’t help but think it. With powers like yours, what was stopping you?
You stare and stare at her, unable to move, until you find you can’t stifle the tears anymore and a sob rips through you. Her blue lips part so slowly you don’t even notice through your blurred vision, but you definitely hear her when she speaks.
“It’s not your fault, Max.” Her voice, in these dreams, is different from how you’d imagined it, but it sounds so right to you. “You did all you could. You made good choices.”
And that’s it, the validation you’ve been craving since you chose your best friend over Arcadia Bay and all its residents, and part of you feels so much relief. But mostly…mostly you feel an overwhelming sense of failure. Good choices don’t get people killed, you want to tell her, but your mouth is just as immobile as the rest of you. And anyway, you know it’s just your own brain trying to compensate for what you’re not getting in the waking world.
The tears, at least, are real.
Your favorite dream you’ve had, by far, starts off with you laying on a blanket on the lawn in front of Blackwell’s dorms. Your friends and classmates are scattered across the grass as well, frozen in place as they point to the stars. Above you, celestial bodies gather in galaxies and constellations, of which you only know a few–there’s Orion the hunter, and Leo the lion, and the big dipper. But after only a few moments of studying the heavens you get the strongest urge to turn your head to the side, and you don’t fight it, because you have a feeling you know who you’ll see.
And there she is, looking right back at you like she has no interest in the stars at all. Her gaze freezes you in place again, but this time you don’t mind. You don’t want to say anything, to break the moment, though you think there’s something sitting in the back of your mind that you should tell her. You don’t, because you’re not even sure what exactly it is, or how to put it into words, but it feels like something she needs to know.
She smiles, like she knows what you’re thinking; like everything is going to be okay; like she’ll always be there–and you think you believe her. You’re the only two not looking at the stars, but watching her watch you still feels like stargazing. Her fingers brush lightly across your cheek, tuck a strand of hair behind your ear, and in that moment everything feels so real that when you wake up you’re disoriented and lost, whispering Rachel’s name as you sit up in the cheap motel bed.
When you look around, there’s no one but Chloe, still splayed carelessly across her own bed, deep in slumber. You go to the window and pull back the curtains, looking up at the scant few stars visible despite the light pollution, and a longing ache blossoms in your chest.
Later that day, as you and Chloe are pulled over at a rest stop somewhere in Colorado, you watch her and think about how she felt about Rachel and how much sense it makes now. If your dream girl is anything like the real Rachel, you’d have fallen twice as hard as she did. But as you’re staring, she turns to you with this look that you haven’t seen in a long, long time.
“Are you okay, Max?” Chloe has concern etched in the furrow of her brow and the down-turned corners of her mouth. You nod, like you always do when someone asks, even though you’re not sure it’s true.
“Why do you ask?” She stares out the windshield intensely, even though the car isn’t moving.
“It’s just…you’ve been sleeping so much lately, and I know that’s, like…a symptom of depression. Or whatever. I wanna be here for you.” Now neither of you are looking at each other, and you’re quiet for a long time.
“I guess there’s something in my dreams that I can’t find anywhere else. I miss…I miss it when I’m awake.” You almost say her, you miss her, but you catch yourself.
Chloe doesn’t question you, and you spend the next four hours staring out the car window and thinking about Rachel Amber until you fall asleep again.