by Ellie Robins
Ailee struggles to cope with an alternate reality.
I’m dreaming again. The year is 1710. It’s sunny. He’s there. They’re all there. The trees dance and sway along with the daffodils that line the dirt roads leading up to our home. There’s a picnic set up under the oak tree with the wooden swing attached. That’s always been my favorite tree. I smile in my dream. The sun shines softly on my pale, rounded face, it’s warmth pressing into me. All is right in the world. My long white dress sways in the slight breeze as he calls my name. I run to him and we embrace. My tightly coiled honey brown curls begin to unravel as he lifts my feet off the ground and swings me around. I close my eyes. The smell of pine and hardwood overwhelms me. He says my name again. I open my eyes. I go to touch his face. My hands are different. They’re crumbling. They’re falling apart. No. Not this time. Not again.
“Come home,” he says to me gently, “Come back.”
“I can’t,” I whisper into his dirty blonde hair, “I love you, all of you. I’ll come back, I promise.”
I jerk awake. I’m in a cab, stuck in traffic. Mom is shaking me. A tear still flecks my eye and I brush it away. No need to smear perfectly done mascara. I won’t cry over this again, not in front of Mom anyways.
“Ailee,” she says, “Are you okay? It happened again.”
“I’m fine,” I mumble, but I’m not fine. I’m mad at her for taking me away. For taking him away.
“This is the third time this month Ailee. I’m taking you to the hospital. Dr. Landry clearly isn't helping enough.”
“I said I’m fine,” I say.
A minute passes. Two minutes. Half an hour. Silence.
Finally we’re home, or at least, what they want me to call home. To me, it looks nothing like it. Home has white shutters and three stories. Home lies at the end of a dirt road with the ocean in the background. Home is where they are. Home is where he is. Home is not here.
“Be careful walking inside Ailee,” my mom says, finally breaking the silence.
I don’t respond. My head hurts.
Dad and Jimmy are asleep. I try to be quiet so as not to wake them. I don’t need Dad’s disappointment until tomorrow. If I’m still here tomorrow.
My steps make a tiny thud with each step. I count them one by one, just like I do every night.
1...2...3...I have to get to them...4...5...6...They need me...7...8...9...He needs me...10...11...12...I don’t belong here...13...14...never hurt this bad...15...16...closer...closer…
At last I reach my room right past the top of the steps. My head pounds. I fling myself onto the bed before my legs give way. I take in the familiar pattern of my ceiling. The lavender scent of my room. A smile tugs at my lips. I’m coming. My eyes flutter closed. They don’t open again. Not for a long time.