The summer I realised my dreams were not just in my own imagination but his too was the summer of 77. It was hot down south where we were staying in North Carolina, much different than our rainy Boston. Grandma used to crush ice and pour watermelon juice over it. My cousins and I drank it greedily, never sparing a drop and eating all the cold frost that stuck to the rim of our glasses. It was humid when I went to bed that night and maybe the heat or perspiration was playing tricks on my mind but I saw him, just briefly. I had seen him before, a recurring figure that drifted in my dreams but I never managed to catch his face. Finally that night I saw him and his name floated through the vast expanse of my sleeping mind and I recalled it when I woke. Alexei. I don’t know if he had told me or if it just became clear that this boy couldn’t be anyone other than Alexei.
Alexei wasn’t an extra cast as a school boy playing foursquare in the front of my school yard as the city streets turned and spun. He wasn’t an onlooker to the tragic car accident or a passerby that saw me dance through the puddles in my nightgown. Alexei had feared the crash and Alexei had thought of the rain. My dreams and his folded into each other creating confusing universes and spectacles that we watched together from our beds.
Once I knew he was real and he, me, it was much easier to find him and participate in the fantastical reality together. We would meet in the apple orchard that had woven its way through the office complex with the mint green peeling paint. The roots grew through the floor tiles and the leaves tickled the ceiling.
In Narnia there is a place where whatever you think of, whatever you fear, becomes real. As we walked down the town road and the narrow alleys the ground under my feet started to flood. The rain grew harder and soon a rushing stream crashed through the streets. We held onto street lamps that flickered and fussed as the water pulled on their bolts. Sometimes Alexei’s mind would take control and the water would calm until a thin layer of ice slid under our soles and brilliant white snowflakes would fall from the pale clouds. My favourite nights were those that we laced up our skates and had the empty city as our rink. People appeared here and there as our blades sliced the smooth surface.
I first met Alexei in real life during high school. A group of exchange students attended our busy classes in our hectic city. Knowing him at first sight was the most amazing thing. I saw him and knew that he was the one I had walked the willow tree forest with the night before. We didn’t speak the same language and while fumbling through our introductions we realised how we never spoken in our dreams, our thoughts were just automatically communicated. Still, we found ways to bond. I took him to the town centre which he recognised from our countless nights window shopping in the dark. When we went to sleep just a few halls away we met up in our dreams and discussed the day, photos and sounds flowing together to tell the other how we felt.
In The Great Gatsby after Myrtle is killed, Daisy tells Gatsby to wait outside and watch for blinking lights if Tom tries to hurt her. I told Alexei to watch for the blinking lights as I entered my dorm too late after watching the ballet. I don’t know if he understood but he didn’t need to because nothing ever came of it. Why would it? There was no one there to hurt me.
Alexei had his first migraine when we started college. After we travelled across the sea to the country I now call home. For an hour he locked himself in the attic as I patiently waited for him to appear. With textbooks and papers littering the floor he emerged, face sunk and his mind not the same. They got worse from the stress of classes and the chaotic moving of the tides. Until finally we couldn’t take it. Until finally Alexei lay there on the sky blue sofa for days on end as I tried to quietly travel through our room without waking him. He missed all his lectures and never took a test, they wanted to kick him out but it was all over before they could.
I knew he was still in there because I would see him in my dreams but he was back to being a faceless boy, not a man who wandered the courtyard. I tried to bring him to Boston but he wouldn’t budge from Oxford and every night I would find myself alone in the flooding streets, which had lost their excitement with no one to cling to dear life with. I tried to tell him to bring me back to his home but he never let me see the snowy town and warm fires of his childhood.
When they came knocking at our door ready to drag him out I blocked out the sound of their fists on the wood. I tried to think of a plan, a solution, a lie, or the truth. The truth was that it was my mind that created our last dream. It was my thoughts that forced us back to the apple orchard in the office with water slowly filling the desk drawers and the gravel from the courtyard and the sticky heat from the hot summer night we met. But it was his mind that let the icicles hang from the trees, his last gift before the bullet shot between his eyes and he fell from my grasp. Were there two? Or did the one that pierce him also hit me and lodge in my heart as I held him, the blood mixing with the grey water and the icicles slowly began to melt. I tried to hold one in my hand as the other hand clung to his sinking figure. As the water washed the shining dagger in my hands the windows shattered and the tiny needles twinkled in the water. We waited for the nightmare to end.
When I woke, they had taken him away and the sofa was once again empty. Half the books gone and the papers half as thick.
Years later I sit by myself and read. We Were Liars. I should have seen the migraines as a warning. They are always the first sign that your character is already gone. But would I have had a chance to save him? Now, when people tell me to stop pretending that my fantasy was real, I believe them. I might have killed him but I created him too. Now when I sometimes go back into that other dimension of my youth and walk those lonely streets I can hear faint whispers of the boy. Sometimes his name floats in like the night we met but if my dreams don’t tell me then I can’t remember. I have been told to forget him and I have but sometimes the boy with no name and no face meets me in the orchard.