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Authors: Nicholas Sparks

Dreamland: A Novel (11 page)

BOOK: Dreamland: A Novel
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Despite the lateness of the hour,
Beverly wasn’t tired. She was bubbling with steady, nervous energy—probably because she’d been thinking about Gary—so she left the rocker and returned to the kitchen. Spying the cans of yellow paint and primer, she felt her spirits lift in spite of her memories. The kitchen would be so cheerful when she was finished. She turned on the radio, keeping the volume low so Tommie wouldn’t wake up, but the music began to work its magic, drowning out her previous thoughts.

Now, with the world black beyond the windows, she remembered Tommie’s smile while catching tadpoles and let herself believe that everything was going to be okay. Yes, there were challenges, but everyone had those, and people needed to learn to not sweat the small stuff, right? For the present she had food and shelter and safety and anonymity, Tommie was in school, and she’d figure out what to do about the money. She was smart and capable, and there was always someone who needed cleaning or cooking or babysitting or someone to read to them because their
eyesight had declined with age. And Tommie would adapt. Even if he hadn’t mentioned any new friends yet, he’d meet a boy or a girl in his class soon enough and they’d play at recess, because that’s what little kids did. Little kids weren’t caught up in who was who or what someone did or even if they wore the same clothes day after day. Kids just wanted to play. And Peg?

She laughed aloud at how silly she’d been as she exited the store, laughed that the idea had taken root at all. Not that she’d let her guard down, of course. Gary would have gotten the word out through government channels by now, distributing a suspect report or most-wanted listing, but it wasn’t as though he could personally speak to every police officer or sheriff in the country. For the time being, she was just a name and an unfamiliar photo on a poster hanging on the wall of the post office or in some email inbox, along with images of terrorists or white supremacists or bank robbers. In a world where crime was rampant and people did awful things every single day, it simply wasn’t possible for anyone in law enforcement to keep up with individual names and faces and descriptions from everywhere in the country. It was hard enough trying to keep up with the bad things that happened locally.

What had she been thinking?

“I’m just making sure we’re safe,” she whispered.

She wished again that she’d brought more clothes for her and Tommie. In her closet…No, she corrected herself. It wasn’t her closet, not anymore. In her
closet, she had a beautiful pair of Christian Louboutin pumps, with gorgeous red soles, the kind that celebrities wore at fancy galas or movie premieres. Gary had bought them for her birthday, and it was one of the few gifts she’d received without violence precipitating it. She’d never owned another pair like them. She probably could have squeezed them into her backpack, and maybe she should have. It might
have been nice to slip them on every now and then, just to stare at them, like Dorothy in
The Wizard of Oz
with those ruby slippers, but then again, not really. It wasn’t exactly the same, now that she thought about it, because the last thing she wanted was to return to the life she’d lived before. This was her new home, and she was standing in her new kitchen.

“And tomorrow the walls will be yellow,” she whispered.

They needed another cleaning, though, so grabbing the same rag she’d used earlier, she began scrubbing again, taking her time, making sure the primer would stick. Cleaning and scrubbing, while the music sometimes made her feel like dancing. She could already imagine how pretty the kitchen would look when morning sunlight filtered through the windows.

It was late by the time she finished. Really late. For some people, it might even be considered morning, and because Beverly wanted to make sure she heard Tommie when he woke up, she lay down on the couch in the living room. Somehow she dozed off, like her brain simply decided to shut down, but she was awake even before she heard Tommie coming down the steps.

Gone was the relief from the night before. She didn’t feel like she had after waking from the dream about the pirate or even when her mind had begun tumbling after Peg mentioned that she looked familiar. Rather, there was a low-level sense of dread, like an unpleasant hum, one that hinted she’d missed something important in her escape.

Gary would have found her identification and phone in the house, signaling her intent to stay off the grid. Without ID, she wouldn’t be able to fly anywhere, so Gary’s first stops would be the train and bus stations. She’d already known that, though, which were the reasons for her precautions. She’d also known there were a dozen buses headed in different directions that morning, and Gary would learn that, too, but since he had no
idea when she’d left, she would be more difficult to trace. What would Gary do next?

He’d speak with the ticket sellers, but what would he learn? No one would remember a mother and son. No one would remember a long-haired blonde. After that, he’d probably start interviewing the bus drivers, but with so many possibilities that weekend, it would take time. He might, however, eventually stumble across her driver, but what would he learn? Again, no mother and son traveling together. He would also learn that the driver had been replaced with another and that no mother and son had either arrived at a destination or departed together. Even if either driver had seen her and Tommie sitting together by glancing in the rearview mirror—doubtful, since Tommie was so small—would the second driver remember exactly where and when they’d gotten off? Who could possibly remember such a thing, especially after the passage of time, with so many stops, with so many people getting on and off every step of the way? It would be akin to remembering a random face in a passing crowd.

She was safe, she decided, because she’d been careful. She was safe because she’d thought of everything, because she’d known exactly how Gary would conduct his search. And yet she could still feel the anxiety, inching upward inside her like bubbles rising through water, and when the realization suddenly came to her, it felt as though Gary himself had punched her in the stomach.

she thought.

Oh God.

What if the bus stations had cameras?

In the morning, I
went for a run beneath a cloudless Florida sky. The air was thick with humidity, and by the time I hit the beach, I had to strip off my shirt and use it as a makeshift bandanna to keep the sweat from pouring into my eyes.

I ran in the hard-packed sand near the water’s edge, passing by Bobby T’s and a string of motels and hotels, including the Don, before turning around and making my way back to my place. I wrung out my shirt, shorts, and socks before hopping in the shower to cool off. Afterward, all clothes went into the washer, and only after two cups of coffee did I feel ready to start the day.

Picking up my guitar, I spent the next couple of hours tweaking the song I’d sung for Morgan, thinking again that it was close but not exactly right and feeling that there was something special there, if only I could find it. As I continued to tinker, however, my thoughts kept returning to the question of whether I would ever see Morgan again.

I had lunch, went for a walk on the beach, then continued trying different variations on the song until it was time for me to
leave for Bobby T’s. Because it was Sunday, I didn’t expect much of a crowd, but when I got there, every table was already filled. Scanning the audience, I noted that Morgan and her friends weren’t there, and I did my best to ignore a pang of disappointment.

I played the first set—a mix of crowd favorites and my own songs—then rolled into the next set, and then the third, before I started taking requests. By the halfway point in the show, the crowd had grown. It wasn’t quite the size of the Friday-night crowd, but there were a number of people standing, and more people continued to wander in from the beach.

With fifteen minutes to go, Morgan and her friends showed up. Somehow, despite the size of the crowd, they were able to find seats. I caught Morgan’s eye, and she gave a little wave. When I had a single song left to play, I cleared my throat.

“This one’s going out to those here to have a great time at the beach or pool,” I called out with a special smile for Morgan, before launching into “Margaritaville.” The crowd whooped and began to sing along. Before long I saw Morgan and her friends join in, which ended the show on a high note for me.

By the time I finally
set my guitar aside, the sun had gone down, leaving only a sliver of yellow at the horizon. While I began packing up, a few people from the crowd approached the stage, offering the usual compliments and questions, but I kept the conversation brief and made a beeline for Morgan and her friends.

As soon as I was close, I could see the delight in Morgan’s expression. She was wearing white shorts and a yellow blouse with a wide scoop neck that showed off her sun-kissed skin.

“Cute,” she said. “I assume you were directing that song at me and my friends? Because of what I mentioned they were drinking at the pool?”

“It seemed fitting,” I agreed. The dim lighting at the bar cast her fine-boned face in moody shadow. “How was your day? What did you end up doing?”

“Not much. We slept in late, rehearsed for an hour and a half, and hung out by the pool. I think I got too much sun, though. My skin feels hot.”

“What did you rehearse?”

“Our new dance routines. There are three songs, which is long for us. We’re at the point where we know all our moves, but it takes a lot of repetition to make sure we’re perfectly in sync.”

“When will you film it?”

“This Saturday at the beach. Right behind the Don.”

“You’ll have to let me know what time so I can be there.”

“We’ll see,” she chirped. “What are you doing now? Do you have plans?”

“I was thinking of getting something to eat.”

“Would you like to come with us? We’re going to Shrimpys Blues.”

“Would your friends care?”

“It was their idea,” she said with a grin. “Why do you think we were waiting for you?”

BOOK: Dreamland: A Novel
8.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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