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Authors: Nicholas Sparks

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BOOK: Dreamland: A Novel
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“Anyway, we’ll see how it goes,” she said, dismissing the subject with a wave of her hand. “Now I want to hear the song you wrote.”

I opened my case, taking a minute to tune my guitar and recall all the changes I’d made earlier. When I was ready, I launched into the opening stanzas, injecting additional energy to the chorus as I sang to her.

Morgan stared at me, a rapt smile playing on her lips. Watching her sway unconsciously in time with the music, I realized again how much she’d inspired the song. Not just the lyrics but the music itself; there was a bright energy and momentum to the song’s driving chorus, much like her.

When I finally silenced the guitar, she leaned toward me. “That was beautiful,” she breathed. “You’re amazing.”

“It still needs work,” I said. I’d never been comfortable receiving compliments, but I already knew it was a song that I would eventually add to my rotation, if only in honor of my memory of her.

“What was that one you sang last night? The one about feeling lost?” She hummed a fragment of the top melody. “Could you sing that one, too?”

I knew the song she meant; the lyrics had come to me after a particularly hard day on the farm, and it was full of angst and uncertainty. It was also a crowd favorite, something I could probably play in my sleep, so I went right into it. After that, I rolled into another song that I’d written years ago—one with echoes of
Lady A—then kept going. Morgan would sway or tap her foot in time to the music, and I found myself wondering whether she’d finally ask me to play something that she’d be willing to sing.

But she didn’t. She seemed content to listen, and I felt myself drawn into the music in the same way she seemed to be. Each song carried with it a memory, and with the moon bathing the shore in its milky glow and a beautiful woman sitting across from me, it struck me that there was no better way to end the evening.

When I finally set my guitar off to the side, light applause drifted down from the hotel. Turning, I saw six or seven people clapping and waving from the deck.

Morgan tilted her head. “I told you your voice was special.”

“It must be an easy-to-please crowd.”

“Did you write all those songs yourself? Without anyone?”

“Always.”

She looked impressed. “I’ve tried to write my own music, and I can put together really good bits and pieces, but I usually have to partner with someone else to finish it.”

“How many songs have you written? On your own, I mean.”

“Twelve or so? But I didn’t start until a couple of years ago. I’m still learning.”

“Twelve is still pretty good.”

“How many have you written?”

I didn’t want to tell her the whole truth, but I offered part of it. “More than twelve.”

She laughed, knowing exactly what I’d done. “While you were singing, I kept thinking about you in your high school band days. I find it hard to imagine you with long hair.”

“My aunt and uncle weren’t too fond of it. The few occasions when my sister saw it on FaceTime, she absolutely hated it. More than once, she threatened to drive back home and cut it all off
when I was sleeping. And the scary thing is, I was afraid she was actually going to do it.”

“Really?”

“When she gets something in her head, it’s sometimes impossible to change her mind.”

Just then, I heard someone calling Morgan’s name. Glancing up, I saw Stacy, Holly, and Maria stepping off the low wooden deck onto the sand, making a beeline for us.

“I think they think they’re coming to rescue me,” Morgan whispered.

“Do you need rescuing?”

“No. But they don’t know that.”

When they reached us, I watched them quickly assess the situation, no doubt still trying to figure out why a girl who was as pretty as Morgan would have left with a guy like me.

“Were you just singing out here?” Holly asked.

Morgan jumped in to answer. “I insisted. He wrote a new song and I wanted to hear it. How did it go at MacDinton’s?”

They gave a unified bored shrug. “It was all right,” Stacy said. “Once the band took a break, we could actually hear ourselves and that was nice, but then they started up again, so we figured it was time to call it. It’s getting late.”

There was something almost parental in the way she said it, and when Morgan didn’t respond right away, I cleared my throat.

“I should probably get going, too.”

I started to put away my guitar, regretting the end of the evening. If Morgan and I had more time alone, I might have tried for a kiss, but Morgan’s friends seemed to read my mind and had no intention of allowing us a final moment of privacy.

“That was fun tonight,” Morgan said.

“Definitely,” I agreed.

She turned toward her friends. “You ready?”

“Don’t forget your boots.”

She seemed amused that I’d remembered, offering up a brief wave before starting toward the hotel with her friends. I waited for them to reach the deck, where Morgan retrieved her boots, slinging them over her arm. In time, I heard their voices fade as they disappeared into the hotel.

Once they were gone, I headed in the same direction but quickly realized my mistake. The door was locked—it needed a room key to unlock—so I went back to the beach and eventually found a small path that led around the side of the hotel, then finally to the parking lot.

On the drive back to the apartment, I thought about Morgan. She was rich, classy, intelligent, driven, popular, and obviously gorgeous. Like her friends, I wondered what she could possibly see in a guy like me. On the surface, we weren’t alike in the slightest. Our lives were entirely different, and yet, somehow, we just seemed to click. Not necessarily in a romantic way, but spending time with her had been easier than even my comfortable routines with Michelle.

Later, while lying in bed, I found myself wondering what Paige would think of her. I suspected they’d hit it off—I was pretty sure Morgan got along with everyone—but Paige always had uncanny instincts about people. It was clear why I was attracted to Morgan, but I kept coming back to the mystery of why, despite our vastly different lives, spending time with her felt almost like coming home.

When she was young—eight or nine,
she guessed—Beverly and her mom rode the bus to New York City. Most of the ride took place at night, and Beverly slept with her head in her mom’s lap, waking to the sight of buildings that were taller than anything that she’d imagined. The bus station was thronged—more people than Beverly had ever seen at once—and that was just the beginning of a trip that remained vivid in her memory despite the passage of time. Her mom wanted the trip to be special, so she arranged for
Things to Do.
They saw
The Starry Night
by Vincent van Gogh at the MoMA, which was an
Important
Painting by a Famous Artist,
and afterward each of them had a slice of pizza for lunch. In the afternoon, they visited the American Museum of Natural History, where she stared at the re-created skeletons of various creatures, including a blue whale and a Tyrannosaurus rex that had teeth larger than bananas. She saw craggy meteorites and diamonds and rubies and they visited the planetarium, where she stared upward at a computer-generated sky with lines that depicted the constellations. It was just the two
of them—a
Girls’ Trip,
her mom had called it—and it had taken her mom more than a year to save up the money to do the things that rich people did when they went to the
Big City.
Though Beverly didn’t know it, it would be the only trip they would ever take together. There would come a time when Beverly and her mom didn’t speak at all, but on that trip, her mom talked practically nonstop, and Beverly found comfort in the warm palm of her mom’s hand as they left the museum and walked to Central Park, where leaves flamed in oranges, reds, and yellows. It was autumn, the temperature more winter than summer, and the chilly breeze made the tip of Beverly’s nose turn red. Her mom carried tissues in her handbag, and Beverly used them one by one until they were gone. Afterward, they had dinner at a place where the waiter was dressed as though he were about to get married. The words in the menu made no sense to Beverly. Her mom told her it was a
Real Restaurant,
and though the food was all right, Beverly wished she’d had another slice of pizza instead. Later, to get to their hotel, they had to walk almost an hour. Standing near the lobby entrance were two shifty-eyed men smoking cigarettes, and once they were inside, her mom paid cash for the room to a man in a dirty T-shirt who stood behind the counter. Their room had two beds with stains on the covers and it smelled funny, like a sink that had backed up, but her mom remained as excited as ever and said it was important to experience the
Real New York.
Beverly was so tired she fell asleep almost immediately.

They spent the following day at Times Square, which is where the
Tourists Went.
Beverly stared up at flashing electric signs and massive billboards. They watched people dance and saw some dressed in costumes like Mickey Mouse or the Statue of Liberty. Theaters advertised shows, but the only one Beverly recognized was
The Lion King.
They couldn’t go, because the tickets were priced for
Rich People,
so instead they spent much of the day
browsing in stores that sold knickknacks and souvenirs, without buying anything except a single packet of M&M’s, which Beverly split with her mom. They each had two slices of pizza for lunch and hot dogs from a food cart for dinner. On one of the side streets, Beverly thought she saw Johnny Depp, the movie star, and there was a line of people taking photographs beside him. Beverly begged for a photo with him, as well, but her mom said that it was a wax statue and wasn’t real
.

On their last evening in town, they visited the Empire State Building, and Beverly’s ears popped as the elevator soared skyward. On the observation deck, the wind was blowing hard and people crowded together, but Beverly was finally able to squeeze her way to a spot that offered an unobstructed view of the city. Beside her was a man dressed in a pirate costume, and though his lips were moving, she couldn’t hear him.

Far below, Beverly could see the glow of headlights and taillights on the streets; practically every building she saw was lit from within. Though the sky was clear, there were no stars overhead, and her mom explained that city lights washed them away
.
Beverly didn’t understand what her mom meant—how could stars be washed away?—but she didn’t have time to ask, because her mom took her hand and led her to another area of the observation deck, where in the distance, they could see the Statue of Liberty. Her mom told her that she’d always wanted to live in the
Big City,
even though she’d said the same thing half a dozen times already. When Beverly asked her why she hadn’t moved there, her mom said, “Some things aren’t meant to be
.

Beverly could no longer see the pirate, and she wondered if he was still saying words that no one else could hear. She thought about Fran and Jillian, her friends from school, and wondered whether they would trick-or-treat together for Halloween. Maybe, she thought, she could dress as a pirate, but more than
likely she would go as a cowgirl again, just as she had the year before. Her mom already had the hat and the plaid shirt and the toy gun and holster, and Beverly knew if she asked about dressing like a pirate instead, she’d be told that they couldn’t afford it.

Her mom was talking and talking and talking, but Beverly didn’t bother to listen. Sometimes, when her mom talked, Beverly knew that whatever was being said wasn’t important. From another spot on the observation deck they saw the Brooklyn Bridge, which looked small enough to be a toy. By then they had been on the deck for nearly an hour, and when Beverly eventually turned toward her mom, she saw tears on her cheeks. Beverly knew not to ask why her mom was crying, but she found herself wishing that her mom had been able to live in the
Big City.

All at once, Beverly heard screaming and shouting, and she was bumped so hard she nearly fell over. She grabbed for her mom’s hand, and the two of them were suddenly caught up in the movement of the crowd like fish trapped in a strong current. To stop meant being trampled, even Beverly knew that, and they stumbled forward. Beverly could see nothing but the bodies around her—elbows darting, bags swinging. The screaming grew louder, with more people joining in, everyone on the observation deck moving quickly in the same direction, everyone caught in the same riptide, until Beverly and her mom were finally spit out the back and able to catch their balance.

“What’s happening?”

“I don’t know.”

Above the roar, Beverly could hear individual cries of “Don’t!” and “Come back!” and “Stop!” and “What are you doing!” and “Get down!” She didn’t know what any of it meant, just that something bad was happening. Her mom knew it, too; she was on her toes, trying to see over the crowd, and then, just as suddenly, the crowd stopped moving. For a few seconds, everything
was still and no one moved at all, and it was the most unnatural thing Beverly had ever experienced—until the screaming started up again, this time even louder.

“What happened?” Beverly heard someone shout.

“He jumped,” another man shouted.

“Who jumped?”

“The guy who was dressed like a pirate!”

There were barriers and fences, and Beverly wondered if she had been mistaken in what she’d heard. Why would the pirate jump? The other buildings were too far away to reach.

She felt her mom squeeze her hand again and tug.

“Let’s go,” her mom said. “We need to leave.”

“Did the pirate jump?”

“What pirate?”

“The one I stood next to when I first got here.”

“I don’t know,” her mom said. She led them through the gift shop, toward the elevators, where a line had already formed.

“They grabbed for him, but no one could stop him,” Beverly heard the man standing next to her say, and when she stepped into the elevator, Beverly thought about the pirate, and thought about falling, and she wondered what it was like to go down and down, lower and lower, until there was nowhere left to go.

BOOK: Dreamland: A Novel
8.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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