by Kaye George
She stretched with delight. What a great dream that had been!
"Hey, honey," she called. He’d already showered and started the coffee, as usual. She could smell it. Clark was a great husband. Really, he was.
"Come and get it, sleepy head," he called and she jumped out of bed and padded into the kitchen. "Dreaming your life away?" he asked.
"I like my dreams, hon. They feel so real."
"Sometimes I think you live there instead of here." He smiled when he said it, but ruffled her hair a little too hard.
"Easy," she said, and almost added Nate doesn’t do that. She stopped herself, though. She had once told Clark about the boyfriend of her dreams and he’d gotten huffy, thinking she actually wanted a boyfriend.
"You’re my soul mate, Clark," she’d told him. "How could I want anyone else?"
"It’s just the way you talk about him, Angela, like he's a real person."
Sometimes Angela worried about herself. Was it normal to look forward to dreams the way she did? This morning she shrugged the question away, gulped down her coffee, and hurried to get dressed for work.
On the bus into town Angela reviewed the papers she’d taken home to grade. She realized she'd forgotten to kiss Clark goodbye. But he hadn't thought of it, either. She shrugged. He was probably planning his route for his client. There was a lot of money in residential real estate and Clark took home his fair share. Enough to buy them a lovely older home just outside town with two acres. They talked sometimes about how their future children could roam the small wooded area, maybe build a tree house, be healthy outdoor kids.
Her charges were the difficult kids, the ones who’d been banned from their junior high classes for behavior problems. She found that each needed a lot of attention, and she gave it to them. It was a gratifying job. Most of them appreciated her efforts, blossomed under her care, and some even brought her little gifts. Jared had shyly handed her a blue plastic bracelet yesterday.
"It matches your eyes, Ms. Corrigan," he’d said. Angela had given him a pat on the shoulder. She wanted to hug him, but knew that wasn’t a good idea. Besides, it was against the student-teacher rules, and for good reason, she knew.
Life was easier in her dream world, even if she didn’t have as many worldly goods. There, she was a veterinarian’s assistant and could hug and cuddle her charges all she wanted. If the pets had behavior problems they were almost always the fault of their owners. The pets didn’t want to make trouble, they only wanted to please. Unlike some of these kids. A few of them spent a lot of time scheming of ways to make the lives of those around them harder. Angela shook off that thought. This was her real world and, except for sometimes preferring her dream mate, and maybe her dream job, she told herself that she enjoyed her life.
Lindy stretched and reached for her boyfriend. What a great dream she’d had! The smell of paint came from the next room. Ah, her sweetie had gotten up early to work. He seemed to have to pounce on his inspirations before they escaped. They didn’t come that often lately, so she was glad he was creating again.
The skylight in their loft apartment let in wonderful morning light, perfect for painting, he always said. But only until about 10:00 in the morning.
Her job required her to be at the clinic early, so she was usually up before him, and always made breakfast for both of them. She had a late day today since the head vet was conducting an online seminar until noon.
She tiptoed past him—he was so intent on his canvas he wouldn’t have heard her if she stomped. Lindy frowned. Her mate in her dreams paid more attention to her than Nate did, got up and made the coffee, and made lots more money, too.
She loved her job, but sometimes thought about how much better her dream job smelled. No paint, no animals.
But her breath caught when she saw what he was working on: a portrait of her. She tilted her head. The nose was a little off and her hair wasn’t nearly that red, more brunette with some slight red highlights. But it wasn’t finished yet.
"I’m not quite that pretty, sweetie," she whispered, and kissed his neck.
"Oh yes, you are, angel." He didn’t turn around, but brushed her portrait cheek with a delicate blush.
How odd that he always called her ‘angel’. In her dreams her name was always Angela.
Angela came home early, for a change. She had forgotten it was an early release day. Usually she stayed at school and put plans together after the kids left on those days, but she was caught up and prepared for the next week or so. And she was tired. Those vivid dreams of hers wore her out sometimes. As wonderful as her dream world was, she felt she was up all day and all night when those dreams came.
She walked up the block from the bus stop, clutching her purse and her briefcase full of papers to grade. They would only take a half an hour, forty-five minutes tops and she could do those before Clark got home from his last showing. She’d noticed he had one about this time when she’d peeked at his schedule.
But Clark’s car was in the driveway in front of the house. Why was he home this early? And why was a red convertible parked behind him? Was he having a business meeting at the house?
Angela mounted the porch steps carefully, close to the bannister, so they wouldn’t creak. It’s a business meeting, she told herself. Then why did she have a sick feeling in her stomach? And why was the nape of her neck prickling?
As soon as she cracked the front door open she heard moaning. And grunting. And exclamations that had nothing to do with real estate.
“Oh, baby! More, baby!” That was a female voice.
The grunting sounds like Clark. He did that just before he climaxed, as she well knew.
Angela dropped her purse just inside the door and the contents spilled out. They scattered on the hallway runner, not making much noise. She scooped everything up, crammed it into her purse, and backed out. As she closed the door silently, her tears started.
She stood on the porch for a moment, letting her breathing and heartrate slow, and her brain start operating. Her body still felt numb, but her mind raced. She walked to the rear of the convertible and noted the license number, then hid herself in the tall, bushy lilacs that had needed trimming for months. It was possible that she might recognize the bimbo from the holiday office parties that Clark’s real estate company threw.
Sure enough, she did. It was the busty redhead who always had one or two too many buttons unfastened on her silk blouse.
If only she were in her dream world right now.
After the redhead drove off, Angela retreated to the ice cream store a half mile away where she and Clark often went. She pondered her options until it was time for her to go home and pretend that everything was normal between them.
Lindy woke troubled. Her dream world wasn’t going well. The handsome Clark was two-timing her. She stewed for a few moments until she was wide awake. And angry.
She almost wished Clark were a real person so she could dream up some sort of retaliation. Show him who was boss. Take him down a peg. She bit off the recital of clichés running through her mind, clenching her teeth until her jaw hurt.
When Nate called out to her, she shook herself and climbed out of bed, feeling stiff. He was up early again, toiling away on that painting. She creaked as she stretched, then balled her fists. If only she could do something nasty to that Clark.
But now Nate was asking if she would make him some coffee. She shuffled to the kitchen to do his bidding. He didn’t glance up when she set his cup at his elbow. The hair on the portrait was still too red and the nose too short. Lindy wasn’t built quite like that either. The painting reminded her of someone else, but she couldn’t tell who.
Why were men the main source of grief for women, she wondered. Why do we need them? I could do without Nate. And my dream girl could do without Clark. Neither guy is perfect.
As Lindy went through her day, avoiding, by a whisker, from getting bitten by a dog whose owner insisted she had never bitten anyone, the back of her mind was plotting.
A ball left at the top of the stairs outside the apartment, to make it look like an accident?
Some obscure poison added to his dinner—something nobody could trace?
A car wreck after she cut his brake line?
Okay, she had no idea how to cut a brake line, or where to get an obscure poison. And what would prevent Clark from seeing a ball on the stairs? Maybe the direct approach would be better. Just shoot or stab him and say an intruder did it. She wondered how often people got away with that. Dare she research some of this on the computer? Maybe the library computer?
She would drop in at the library in the next few days and do some research. She had to help out her dream girl.
Angela’s mind was swirling with murder strategies that morning. She felt she had succeeded in plotting Clark’s murder in her sleep. She had read up on electrocution and was confident she could pull that off. Clark, unlike most men, liked tub baths. She, like most women, kept a hair dryer in their shared bathroom. Their older house was even missing the doo hickeys that prevented shocks. Clark always said he’d get around to having them installed, but was always too busy working.
Just to make sure, she could use the frayed extension cord she had unplugged from the bedroom floor fan the other day.
Nate called Lindy before she left her job at the vet’s to ask her to pick up some hamburger for him to grill out on the balcony. She left early since the last three appointments cancelled, but she kept scheming on the way home, so distracted that she forgot to stop at the store, then drove right past their apartment on the way home. She had to turn around and circle back.
She decided to go in, change her clothes, then go to the store. But when she returned to the apartment house, a strange car was in her parking spot behind the building.
Wait! Which world was this? Her real one or her dream one? Was Nate cheating on her like Clark was cheating on Angela?
She parked at the end of the row where she could see the parking spot. In ten minutes a couple came out of parking lot door, arms circling each others’ waists. And one of them was Nate. The woman looked a lot like her, but even more like the painting he’d been working so hard on, red hair and all.
Lindy’s mind almost broke. This couldn’t be happening. Not to both of them!
She couldn’t use the hair dryer in the bathtub. Their apartment building was up to code, so tenants wouldn’t get shocked if something fell into the water. She’d have to think of something else. If it were dark he’d never see a marble on the top step. Hallway lightbulbs could be unscrewed or even missing.
When she next awoke, she raised her head from a strange pillow. Her disorientation made her head spin and she lay back down, scanning the room for something familiar. She looked for a pile of Clark’s clothes in the vicinity of the closet door, but there was no closet door. This was not the comfortable house she shared with her real estate husband. This was not the bed he had shared with the redhead from his company.
Starting to panic, she sniffed for signs of Nate’s paints. He had been painting a lot lately and the whole apartment reeked of the oils and of turpentine. She gritted her teeth at the thought that he had been painting the redhead she’d seen him with in the parking lot, not her.
She jumped up and sat on the edge of the bed, willing the room to stop spinning. It was a small room with a narrow bed. The walls were pale green and there was no other furniture. She had to figure out where she was. After staggering to the window, she blinked before looking out. There were bars between her and the glass. Outside was a large parking lot, not a place she’d ever seen before. At the far side stood a small guard house next to a gate that obstructed the entrance to this place, whatever it was.
There was a door. She had to get out. But she wasn’t wearing her clothing. She had on a light cotton gown. There were soft slippers beside the bed and a robe across the foot of it. She put those on and turned the doorknob. Locked. She was locked in.
Footsteps sounded outside, sounding like two people coming down a hallway. She put her ear to the door.
“She says her name is Angela part of the time and Lindy part of the time,” said a low woman’s voice. “She doesn’t seem to know her own name.”
“Does she have any recollection of stabbing Jared?” That was a raspy man’s voice.
“No,” said the woman, “although she talks about two other men, Clark and Nate, and cries when she tries to tell me something about both of them. It seems she thinks she killed them, not Jared.”
“Very strange,” the man said. “Shall we see her together?”
“That’s a good idea. It might help.”
She stumbled backwards onto the bed as the doorknob turned.