When I was little I had a few close friends in school. I thought we’d be “Best Friends Forever”, but the “forever” part only turned out to be till we were ten. Mom was a single widow by then and she had to go where the jobs for a research chemist were available. My friends and I promised that we’d write and keep up with each other but it didn’t last. I guess we just weren’t that close.
Without them, I sort of floundered through middle school. I didn’t feel betrayed by my friends; I was as much to blame for not keeping up with email as they were. At the time I didn’t think it had anything to do with losing my Dad, but in retrospect I have to wonder if my apathy towards making new friends was driven by the accumulated belief that I couldn’t count on the people I cared about to stay in my life.
Whatever the case was, everything changed in my freshman year of high school. That’s when I met Way and a whole new set of friends. Becoming a dream lord destroyed the girl I’d been. That wasn’t a bad thing though. In fact, I was luckier than words can express. From the ashes of who I’d been I was able to call forth a new me and get to work on becoming the person I wanted to be.
That’s why it felt so uncomfortable to be wrestling with the same old fears and worries in terms of being parted from Way. I’d thought I was better than that.
“I’m not sure about the apprenticeship yet.” I told my Mom.
“Oh? Did something come up with it?”
“No, but it’s kind of a long commitment. And I’d need to be away from home for most of it too.” I said. Dream worlds don’t have actual distances between them – they’re not ‘real’ in regards to each other. That said it could still take a dream lord time to move from one to the other. Kind of like how it can take time to shift mental gears from one activity to another, only a bit more difficult since, to enter another world, you need to sync yourself with what it means to be real in that world. I was a stage magician on Earth-Glass because that was the closest I could come to who I really was. By making “The Amazing Jin” similar to plain old “Jin Smith”, I could ‘travel’ between Earth-Glass and my homeworld faster. In truth I wasn’t traveling at all, I was in both worlds simultaneously, but adjusting my awareness from one to the other felt a whole lot like I was moving between worlds.
Part of the apprenticeship program was that our mentors would take us to worlds we’d (literally) never dreamed of. Attuning to alien landscapes was difficult enough that ‘commuting’ back home every night wasn’t an option. That’s why Way and I couldn’t simply meet up in our dreams as we normally did. We’d be so “far apart” conceptually that we wouldn’t even be able to grasp where the other would be.
“I remember being worried about the same thing when I was your age.” Mom said.
“You had to choose between living on an alien world for years or staying with…” I paused and came up with “…your family?” instead of what I’d been thinking. Mom’s expression told me my “expert” rating for deception skills did not apply to her in the slightest.
“You could say that. When I left for college, my parents seemed to think California was as far away as the Moon. I knew I was going to need to do post-graduate work to have any success in my field too so I knew I wouldn’t be coming back home for years and years.” she said.
“Did you have to leave anyone behind? I mean aside from Grandpa and Grandma? Anyone special?” I asked.
“I thought so. My boyfriend was a year younger than me. He promised he’d come out to California once he graduated.” she said.
“Two weeks after I left he started dating your Aunt Susan.” Mom said. Whatever pain that had caused her was long since gone leaving only a sardonic smile as the ghost of her anger.
“That must have been a fun Christmas.” I said, imaging the epic battles I’d heard my Mom and her younger sister engaging in.
“I don’t know. I didn’t come home for a year after that. And then I met your Dad. Who I must say was much more handsome and charming and in every way an upgrade. So it worked out for the best I suppose.”
“Wait, didn’t you dye Aunt Susan’s puke green hair while she was sleeping?” I said, remembering a story I’d overheard while they were reminiscing.
“Yes, but that was just because she was Susan. We hadn’t quite outgrown our childhood rivalry by then.”
“Weren’t you like twenty five when you did that?”
“Well, your Aunt Susan managed to avoid me for several years. But we’re past that now.”
“Because you got the last licks in?”
“Because we both have children, so there’s no need for more insanity in our lives.” she said and flicked a small cloud of flour at me.
“So what do you think I should do?” I asked. I could be far wiser and more mature than my eighteen years would normally allow. All I had to do was channel a version of myself who was old and wise. This didn’t feel like a problem for any of them though. This was my problem as “Jin Smith”. Part of hanging onto her, of hanging onto who I’d been, was to live my regular life as her. It wasn’t always fun or easy, but that’s what made it real.
“Well, I went to college and fell in love and learned more than I ever would have imagined. But that’s what worked for me. I think you might have rearranged the order on those.” she said. She put aside the ingredients she’d been working with for the pineapple upside cake and came over to hold my hands. Looking into her eyes I could see understanding and patient acceptance.
“I don’t know…” I began, feeling uncomfortable under her all-too-knowing gaze.
“You don’t know if you’ve learned more than you ever imagined you would? What have they been teaching you at that Parliament of yours?” she asked.
“No, I mean…” I squirmed and felt even more uncomfortable. I talked to my Mom about all sorts of dream world related things. And she knew Way and I were close. I’d just never told her how close.
“Oh you don’t know that you’re in love with Way then?” she asked. Because, apparently, I didn’t need to tell her that for her to figure it out.
“No, I know that too.” I said, not quite able to meet her gaze. I felt a blush spread to my cheeks.
“Then do you know that she loves you?”, she asked gently.
“Yes.” my voice was just above a whisper. One of the things about the dream speech that Way and I shared was that we could communicate what we were feeling without the need to put it in clumsy, limited containers like ‘words’. So we didn’t bother to very much. I felt her tenderness and her joy at being with me directly. Saying that she was my girlfriend felt, I don’t know, redundant? Saying it to my Mom, even having my Mom openly aware of it, felt even weirder somehow.
“Then maybe you should talk about this with her.” Mom suggested, her voice still gentle.
“But I don’t want her to give up on this just to stay with me. I mean, it’s a really good opportunity and she’ll be so great as a Guardian.” I said. It was easier to tell Mom that than it would have been to say it to Way. I could talk to Way about anything. I trusted her. I just didn’t trust myself. I knew if I talked to Way about what I was feeling I’d wind up as a tangled mess of wanting her to stay and hating myself if she did.
“You think the time apart will help you both to grow?”
“I don’t know. I can’t see the future. Which sucks.” I complained. I was whining. I knew I was whining, but that’s one of the things Mom’s are good for. Acting as a sounding board for their daughter’s insanity.
“I’ve spoken with a number of precognitives. It sounds like much less fun than you’d imagine no matter how they manage to see the future. Either way though, I think this is a decision that you need to work out for yourself. There are a lot of ‘right’ answers here, only you can decide which one is right for you.” Mom said.
I sighed. Sometimes the right answers don’t help at all.
“You know what would help?” I said, shoving my worries down into the back corners of my heart.
“Cake batter!” I said with a big smile. Uncooked cake batter is terrible for you and also so very delicious.
“This was all a ploy to get the bowl when I’m done with it wasn’t it?” Mom asked, returning my smile.
“Yep, all’s fair in love, war and Mom’s cooking!” I lied. It was easier to pretend to be happy than to mope on something I couldn’t do anything about. At least for the moment. And I was still hungry.
“You haven’t eaten anything yet today. You need some real food. Get me the frying pan and I’ll make you some scrambled eggs.” Mom counter offered.
“Cake batter has eggs in it though!” I pointed out.
“The frying pan.” Mom said, pointing at the cabinet it was kept in. It wasn’t a debate I was going to win, though if I was lucky she’d set some of the batter aside for me for later.
I spent the rest of breakfast catching up on what she was involved with. The sewage treatment plant design (not the best breakfast topic, but also not the worst we’d ever shared) was a modular design. She’d be traveling all over the world for the next few years to supervise the treatment plants’ construction so that they would mesh with the eco-systems they’d be installed in. Each would be custom designed to take advantage of the local conditions and be easy to maintain given the environment. That would mean a lot of onsite work but, unlike me, she’d be able to “commute” thanks to being Gaia’s Chosen champion. The upside to being unable to leave the Earth was that she could appear anywhere on it she wanted to in seconds.
Our conversation drifted through a handful of more mundane subjects as I ate my scrambled eggs and toast. We were talking about her plans to expand our living room (I’m not the only one in the family who can multi-task) when I noticed Way kiss my forehead on Earth Glass to “wake me up” there. I felt a little bubble of delight at that as well as a sinking drop of despair at the thought of the lonely years to come.
“I need to get back to work.” I told Mom.
“Ok. Say hi to Way for me.” she said and flipped her holo-computer display back to the sewage plant designs.
I tromped back up to my room and stretched a bit before getting back into bed. Breathing and stretches didn’t do much to make my tension go away so I cast a spell of “Repose” as I settled into the mattress. It was essentially a “Sleeping Beauty” spell. I fall asleep just fine without the aid of magic, but it was handy to leave my normal body in a light state of suspended animation so that I wouldn’t need to attend to any biological functions on my homeworld while I was otherwise occupied on Earth Glass.
The “trip” back to Earth-Glass felt like I was rising up through the clouds only to go plummeting down into the bus where I was sleeping beside Way.
“Are we almost there?” I asked, blinking my eyes open.
“Not yet, but I think we need to change our plans.” Way said.
“Why’s that?” I asked.
Way pointed out the window. We were descending down one of the hills that lead to the bridge over to Fairbanks Island. On the far side of the bridge I could see the apartment building that we’d rented a room in.
It was engulfed in flames.