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"What do you think about the stuff he was saying?" My dad asked me, in a distant voice.
"I think I'd like to try it. I studied the way he told me to today, and I was able to ace the quiz at the end of the chapter."
My dad studied my expression for a moment, then slowly started to smile.
"This is the first time I've seen you excited about anything in a very long time. That alone would be reason enough for you to continue with this. But to top it off, you may even be able to overcome your concentration problem."
I thought about what he was saying and realized that, in his own way, he was telling me how important my happiness was to him.
The realization came over me that as my daydreaming had become more frequent, I was enjoying less and less of each day.
I couldn't find the words to express the joy I was feeling, so I did the only thing I could think of to let my dad know just how happy I was.
I know he was surprised by the move, since I hadn't hugged him, or really had any type of physical contact with him for years.
When I finally felt his arms engulf me, I found myself in a place of safety and security that I hadn't visited since I was a child.
"Is everything okay?" My mom asked hesitantly from the kitchen doorway.
I felt an automatic, almost instinctive, urge to pull away from my father, to hide the fact that I was showing affection for him.
But before I could retreat from his embrace, another part of my mind seemed to awaken and question the logic of my intended response.
"We're fine. I think we're both relieved that we may be seeing an end to a very difficult time in Doug's life."
I pondered my dad's choice of words.
Even though I agreed with the sentiment of what he was saying, there was a part of me that reeled against it.
Every fiber of my being seemed to be screaming at me, saying that this wasn't an end, it was a beginning.
"Dinner's almost ready. Why don't you two go get washed up?" Mom said with a gentle smile at us, then retreated into the kitchen.
"You heard the boss." My dad said, as he guided me to his side, then started to walk with one arm draped around my shoulders.
* * * * *
As we reached the bathroom door, I was unsure of what he intended me to do.
I mean, I know that we were there to wash our hands before dinner, but somehow it seemed wrong to go into the bathroom with him.
I suppose it could be because the last time I could remember us being in the bathroom at the same time was when I was four or five years old.
I didn't realize I was hesitating until I felt my father's arm around my shoulders, urging me forward.
As I walked into the bathroom, I felt my father's arm drop away.
"Do you remember when you were little and we used to do this?" My dad asked quietly.
"Yeah. I'd hold my hands over the sink and you'd wash them for me... I always loved that." I said with a smile as I turned on the water.
"You depended on me to do everything for you back then. I kind of miss those days."
"Do you want to? For old time's sake?" I asked, as I held my hands over the sink.
"That's just silly." My dad said dismissively.
"So what's wrong with being silly sometimes? I think we could both stand a little more silliness in our lives. Come on, Mom's waiting." I said, as I continued to hold my hands over the sink.
Without another word, my dad took my hands into his, then moved our hands under the water.
Happy memories of my childhood rushed back into my mind for the first time in years.
I felt the gentle touch of my father lathering my hands and the sensation was coupled with such beautiful feelings that I could barely believe it.
"You've grown." My father said under his breath, as he moved our hands under the running water to rinse them off.
"I'm sorry." I said, then puzzled over my automatic response.
My dad turned off the water, then took the hand towel from beside the sink and started to dry my hands.
I thought that he might not have heard me, but then he whispered, "Don't be sorry."
I looked into his eyes in time to see him look away, then down to his own hands as he dried them.
When he finished, he reluctantly looked up to find me watching him.
"I'm not sorry that you grew up." My dad said as I searched his eyes.
"I'm just sorry that we lost the closeness that we used to have. I didn't even realize it, but for the past few years, every time I've talked to you, it was to put more pressure on you to improve your grades." My dad said distantly, then hung the hand towel back beside the sink.
He looked me in the eyes and quietly said, "I don't know how you turned out to be such a great kid with me behind you, trying to force you into a mold that obviously wasn't designed for you."
I considered his words for a moment, then said, "I'm not sure I understand what you're saying."
My dad put one arm around my shoulders and guided me out of the bathroom as he said, "All this time I've been pushing you to do more and work harder. I tried to force you to change yourself into something that you're not."
He took hold of my shoulders and turned me to face him as he continued, "I really thought I was encouraging you to go in the right direction, when in truth, I was telling you that you weren't good enough and unless you change to become what I wanted you to be, you'll never be good enough in my eyes."
I stared in disbelief at my dad, who had never talked to me about his thoughts or feelings before.
I guess I never considered what his motives were when he was pushing me to do better in school.
It wasn't until I felt a tear running down my cheek that I realized that I was crying.
"Doug, that's all over now. If the things that Mr. Le Plant suggested work for you the way they're supposed to, then maybe you'll be able to get a good education and have a better chance to create the type of future you want for yourself." Dad said quietly.
I nodded absently, still overwhelmed by these new revelations, hitting me out of the blue.
"But even if it doesn't work for some reason, I'm not going to push you anymore. I'll still want the same thing for you I always did, I want you to be a success. The difference is going to be how we define success."
"How do you want to define it now?"
"I'm not sure yet. How about we think about it and decide together?"
"Yeah. I'd like that." I whispered as a knot of tension deep inside me seemed to release.
"Will you two get in here? Your dinner is getting cold!" Mom said harshly, as she poked her head out the kitchen door.
Dad smiled at me, then guided me to walk into the kitchen at his side.
* * * * *
"So Doug, why don't you tell us what went on at school today?" Mom asked, as we all started to fill our plates.
"You already know most of it. I drifted off in class. Miss Burney caught me and sent me to the office. Then I met Mr. Le Plant and he figured out how to help me."
"Would you like some dressing for your salad?" Mom asked as she looked at my plate.
"No, I think I'll have it plain." I said absently, then continued, "I thought the way Mr. Le Plant was telling me to study was really strange until I tried it. It ended up working so well that I can't wait to try it again."
"So is that what you're planning to do after dinner?" Dad asked curiously.
"No. I thought I'd look through the boxes in the garage to see if I could find my Star Wars stuff first. After that, I'll take some time to study." I said in a considering voice.
"Wouldn't it be better to study first?" Mom asked in a leading tone.
Before I could answer, Dad jumped in and said, "Let's let him do it his own way. Maybe after a long day of school, Doug needs a little downtime before he dives into the books."
Mom seemed to be dubious about the suggestion, but finally agreed.
"If you'd like some help looking through the boxes, I don't have anything planned after dinner." My dad offered with a slight smile.
"Yeah. That'd be great." I said, then took a large bite of meatloaf.
As I chewed, the flavor registered and I thought I was going to choke.
"Is there something wrong?" My mom asked with concern.
I grabbed a paper napkin from the middle of the table, then spit the meatloaf into the napkin as discretely as possible.
"I don't know what it is, does the meatloaf taste right to you?" I asked as I continued to taste a sourness in my mouth.
"Perfect as always." My dad said frankly.
Mom took a small bite of her meatloaf and considered it carefully before saying, "It tastes fine to me."
It seemed strange, but finally I shrugged and said, "I guess my taster is off today. Do you mind if I just have salad?"
"Go ahead. I made plenty." Mom said hesitantly.
"If you start feeling sick or anything, let me know, Okay?" Dad asked seriously.
I was surprised by Dad's request and hesitantly said, "Sure, but why?"
"Sometimes food tastes wrong to me right as I'm getting the flu. Just be on the lookout so we can catch it early if that's what it is." Dad said seriously.
"I'll keep that in mind... but I really feel fine." I said, as I looked into his concerned eyes.
"Does the salad taste alright to you?" Mom asked curiously.
"Yeah. It tastes great." I said, then to emphasize the point, I helped myself to another serving.
Mom and Dad shared a concerned look, but didn't say any more before returning to their meals.
* * * * *
"I found some Star Wars books over here." My dad said from a few boxes away.
"Oh good. Would you set that box aside for me? I think I'll probably want to read all of them again." I said as I continued to look in one box after another.
"You've read all of these?"
"Yeah. At least twice." I said, as I dug past some crumpled up newspaper to see what was inside the next box.
"I never noticed that you enjoyed reading..."
"That's what I was doing most of the time when I was hanging out in my room... what did you think I was doing?"
I really wasn't implying anything, I was just kind of curious to know.
"I guess I never really thought about it." Dad said quietly.
I could see that my dad was really bothered by the fact that he didn't know that I like to read.
It made me uncomfortable to see him so torn up about it, so I said, "I guess I've never really thought about what you like to do to relax either."
After a moment to consider my words, Dad looked over at me and smiled.
"Maybe it's time we did something about that." He said with a grin that made me a little bit uncomfortable.
I looked at my dad cautiously, not sure what I had just opened myself up for.
Dad started to laugh and I looked at him quizzically.
"I could see it written all over your face... 'Oh God! What did I just do?'." Dad struggled to say past his laughter.
I couldn't help but smile at his accurate interpretation of what had been going through my mind.
"Once we get all the boxes dealt with, maybe I'll show you what I enjoy doing for fun."
"Okay." I said in a low voice that ended up coming out as more of a whisper.
Even if it turned out to be something horrible and boring, it'd still be worth it because he was sharing it with me.
When I opened the next box, I had to dig past some ribbon tied bundles of old Christmas cards before I found out what was really inside.
"Were you still wanting your CDs in the living room?"
"Yes. Did you find them?"
"Yeah. All of them, I think." I said as I dug deeper into the box.
"What was the box labeled? I've been looking for them for a month."
"It just says 'Christmas'."
"If we have to move again, your mother will not be allowed to label the boxes."
"It's not her handwriting, it's yours." I said with a chuckle.
"No..." My dad said disbelievingly as he moved to my side.
After a moment of looking at the label, my dad finally said, "Well, it's probably for the best. Whenever I tell your mother that she's not allowed to do something, I usually end up sleeping on the couch."
I chuckled to myself as I moved to the next box.
"Here it is." I said with triumph.
"What is it labeled?"
"Star Wars Stuff."
"And it took you a month to find it? I guess maybe it runs in the family." Dad said with a teasing smile at me.
"Actually, I just started looking for it about half an hour ago. You've been looking for those CDs for a month. I don't think it runs in the family, it just runs with you."
"That does it!" Dad said, then grabbed me and started to tickle me under my arms.
Within a few seconds, my knees gave way and I was convulsed with laughter.
"What in the world are you two doing in here?" Mom bellowed into the garage.
"He did it!" My dad said as he backed away from me.
I was still trying to catch my breath, so I was unable to say anything in my defense.
Mom shook her head as she said, "I have one who hasn't finished his first childhood and another one starting his second."
Dad winked at me, then picked up the box of CDs and followed her out of the garage.
I picked up my 'Star Wars Stuff' box and made sure I knew where the box of books was before I followed.
* * * * *
When I walked into my room, I sat the box of 'Star Wars Stuff' on the floor at the foot of my bed, then took a seat in the chair at my desk.
I had originally planned to go through the Star Wars things, then take a little time to daydream before I studied, but I could feel my mind wanting to wander, almost 'craving' a daydream.
After a moment to make sure that I was seated comfortably, I let out a slow exhale of breath and concentrated as I had done with Mr. Le Plant.
* * * * *
The orange light was the first thing that I noticed as I walked out the front door of my house. I shifted my backpack full of books as I looked up at the sky. I was surprised to see that it was hazy and endlessly orange. No clouds, no sun. Just infinite orange in every direction. There was a sort of metallic tang in the air that I couldn't quite define. There was no wind at all, not even the hint of a breeze.
As I began to walk down the sidewalk, just like I had done every day since we moved to this house, an icy shiver started to work it's way up my spine. I stopped suddenly and looked around, trying to see what was so horribly wrong. Then I realized, it was silent.
There were no cars.
No kids playing.
The sound of my own breathing was the only interruption to the endless silence. I felt my heart begin to race as I realized that I was alone. Completely alone.
Panic overtook my ability to reason and I began to run. A small voice in the back of my mind was telling me that I should go back to the house and check to see if my parents were there. But I continued to run, certain that I wouldn't want to verify what I was already suspecting.
* * * * *
As I walked up to the school, a fresh chill ran through my body. There it stood, still and silent. The school seemed to look somehow clean and fresh without the presence of people to detract from it's architectural majesty.
I slowed my pace, but continued into the school. The main hallway was dark, the sounds of my footsteps being the only thing to break the silence. Orange light was filtering in from all the classrooms. I felt myself trying not to breathe, afraid that I would miss the sound of another being in the seemingly deserted school. As I came to my first period classroom I walked into the room, just to verify what I already knew. The sound of a door closing in the distance drew my attention.
I ran to the hallway, then froze in place and held my breath to try and hear something, anything that would tell me where the sound came from. After a moment, the sound of another door closing came from further down the hall. Without thought, I began to run toward it.
As I ran, it occurred to me that I might be running toward something dangerous, but that didn't cause me to slow my pace. Whatever I was about to face was at least something.
I don't know why, but I think I could handle facing just about anything better than facing the nothing that surrounded me.
As I reached the end of the hall, I stopped and considered. Right would take me to the gym and left would take me to the offices. I can't say I really had a reason, I just turned left and started walking at a hurried pace. I reached the office door and as I was reaching for the handle, the door opened. I looked up with surprise into the eyes of Mr. Le Plant.
"Doug?" He asked, seemingly as surprised as I was.
* * * * *
"Doug? Are you alright?" My mom asked from my doorway.
I blinked then looked around the room for a moment before answering, "Yeah. I'm fine. What's up?"
"I just wanted to know if you needed anything washed. I'm going to do a load of laundry tonight."
"Um, no. I'm fine."
Mom stood in the doorway watching me with concern for a moment longer before she slowly turned and walked away.
The disturbing 'dreamy' feeling was finally beginning to dissolve and my thoughts started to clear.
I remembered what Mr. Le Plant had told me in the library and began to write down my daydream.
The details were foggy in my mind and seemed like they were becoming more distant with each passing minute.
"Doug?" My dad asked from the doorway.
I sure seemed to have become popular all of a sudden.
When I was in my room, my parents usually left me alone.
"Your mom is worried about you. She says that you were up here asleep with your eyes open." My dad said as he walked into my room and casually took a seat on the edge of my bed.
I smiled at my dad's willingness to be frank with me instead of trying to dance around the subject.
"Yeah. I guess I was. Do you remember the 'dream time' Mr. Le Plant was talking about? That's what I was doing... daydreaming." I said as I looked him in the eyes.
"Dream time." My dad parroted with concern, seemingly not knowing how he felt about it.
"If I'm understanding it right, I'm going to have the daydreams either way. But if I have 'dream time', then I'm not as likely to drift away and have a daydream in class when I'm not supposed to." I said slowly, hoping that I was making sense.
"When you put it that way, it sounds almost reasonable. Let me know how it's working out for you." My dad said, then began to stand.
"Do you daydream?"
I didn't even think about the question before I asked.
I hadn't considered the possibility before, but now it seemed to be a perfectly logical question.
My dad slowly sat back down on the bed and seemed to be lost in consideration.
"I think I used to."
"What happened?" I asked quietly, having the feeling that it might have been something bad.
I continued to look at my dad, silently asking for more of an explanation.
There was a long moment of silence that seemed to hang in the air between us.
Finally he said, "I can't really say when it happened or how... I can just remember when I was young... probably not even old enough to go to school yet... my grandmother would sit me in her lap and we would take these wonderful 'pretend' trips."
I'm sure my expression was enough to tell my dad that I didn't know what he meant.
"We would find a picture in a magazine or a book and we would imagine that we were there... in fact, come down to the living room and I can show you." Dad said as he quickly stood.
I was puzzled by his abrupt change in mood, but was curious about what he was talking about and hurried to follow him out of the room.
* * * * *
We walked into the living room where dad had CDs stacked in little towers all over the floor.
"This painting belonged to my grandmother." Dad said, as he indicated the picture that hung on the wall behind the couch.
I looked at the picture curiously.
Ever since I could remember, the big framed painting had been hanging in our living room everywhere we lived.
It wasn't anything spectacular. It was just a painting of a stream and some trees.
The brightly colored leaves made it evident that the scene was in autumn.
"Sit down with me and I'll see if I can remember how we used to do it." My dad said as he sat down in the wing backed chair, then patted his leg.
I smiled at the gesture and thought for an instant about refusing.
But my dad was about to share something very personal and meaningful to him.
Even though it might go against my teenage sensibilities to sit on my daddy's knee, it would be worth it for the chance to reestablish the connection with my father that we had lost so many years ago.
I sat on his leg carefully, not wanting to hurt him.
He put an arm around me, then with his other hand he pointed at the picture and said, "What we used to do is look into that picture and pretend that we were there, floating down that river."
I looked into the picture and smiled at the feeling of contentment that washed over me.
"I remember that my grandmother used to ask me what I saw after we went past that bend." My dad said with a gentle smile.
I felt the daydream wash over me as I imagined moving down that river in the dappled sunlight that sparkled down through the leaves.
I continued to stare deeply into the painting as I felt the daydream come into being.
The sound of the water of the river flowing and lapping at the bank of the river obscured the sounds of everything else.
The taste of the air was so clean and pure that I had to marvel at it.
As I drifted around the bend, I could see an inlet, sort of a small bay.
My dad chuckled as he absently said, "I imagined that there was a big house there, filled with dozens of rooms to explore."
I moved further into the bay and as I approached the shore, I could see the house.
It was something like one of the plantation houses from back before the civil war.
The place looked a little run down with overgrown vines and a little bit of peeling paint, but all it needed was some care.
"We used to imagine that we would go into the house and explore. Each new room we went in to held another adventure." My dad said fondly.
I moved closer to the house, but stopped just outside.
Even though my dad had felt free to explore, I felt like I might be intruding into a place where I shouldn't.
Suddenly, the door opened.
I almost expected to see Mr. Le Plant, but instead there was a woman standing there.
"Jeffy?" She asked cautiously.
I was surprised by the question, then realized what she might mean.
"No ma'am, I'm not Jeffy, I'm his son, Doug." I said hesitantly.
"His son..." She said with a delighted smile, then continued, "My little Jeffy has a son."
"Um, yeah. He's actually with me right now, showing me your picture."
"Why didn't he come here himself? I brought him here enough times, he should know the way."
"I think he forgot how." I said honestly, not wanting to hurt her feelings.
"Jeffy's father wasn't blessed with the gift, so he could never understand. I suppose that after I crossed over, Lyndon did everything in his power to suppress Jeffy's gift so he would be firmly grounded in the 'real' world."
"Yeah. It looks that way. But he remembers you and he told me how to get here. Maybe the gift isn't gone, it just got forgotten for a while."
"I hope you're right. I miss my little buttercup." She said with a loving smile.
"Buttercup?" I asked as I tried to keep from laughing.
"That's right. The most glorious flowers in the spring with their heads held high, declaring their joy for all the world."
"I wish I could have known him when he was like that."
"You can. You can do anything. You've been blessed with the gift."
"Who are you ma'am?"
"Oh, goodness me." She said with a chuckle, then continued, "I suppose that if you are Jeffy's son, that would make me your great-grandmother Loistine."
"It was so long ago. I can barely remember. I just know that it used to be so vivid and real to me." My dad said as his hug around my shoulders increased.
"I think I need to talk to my dad. It was nice to meet you grandma Loistine."
"No grandchild of mine is getting away without a hug." She said firmly as she opened her arms to me.
I hugged her tightly for a moment, then thought to ask, "How do I go back? Do I have to go back up the river?"
She chuckled and said, "No my little dewdrop. You don't have to do anything except want to be back there and you will be."
"Thanks grandma Loistine. I'll come and visit again real soon." I said as I started to move away.
"I'll always be happy to see you dewdrop."
I wasn't quite sure how to make the shift, but I tried to do as Grandma Loistine said and concentrated on being back in the living room with my father.
"I really missed her when she passed away. It hurt for a very long time." My dad said distantly.
I nodded that I understood.
"So I guess that means you come by your daydreaming honestly. I used to do it, and I'm pretty sure my grandmother did too."
"I think that you could probably do it again if you tried."
My dad shifted me slightly away from his side so he could look at me with question.
"I mean, you used to do it. You'd travel to the house in the woods with Grandma Loistine. So that proves that you can. All you need to do is remember how."
"I didn't say it was my grandmother Loistine. I could have been talking about my grandma Claire."
I didn't feel like playing games with my dad, so I shook my head and said, "Grandma Loistine is in there, waiting for you to visit her."
My dad looked at me with indecision, a part of him obviously wanting to believe and another part saying that it was completely irrational.
"She misses her buttercup." I said in a whisper, then got up off my father's knee.
I stopped before leaving the room and saw my dad sitting there, staring at the painting disbelievingly.
Well that was beautiful. I think mentioning Buttercup might have done the trick. Dad is at least thinking about it now. It is really nice to see that Father and Son are becoming closer. I can see that Mom is a no nonsense person, and I hope the guys can find a way to be together and enjoy the dream time, and hopefully they can do it together at least a little bit, without Mom trying to bring them back to reality.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher