The next morning Marc was sleeping beside me, beautiful in his dreams. Gretchen was gone again for the weekend, leaving us the luxury of privacy. I lay there for a while looking at him. His handsome brows, thick and arched, his dark eyelashes on skin made medium brown in the sun. There were just a few of the tiniest freckles. His beard was light, grew slowly. His jaw was relaxed, his lips slightly parted. I had the urge to touch him, but I let him sleep. He was too beautiful to disturb.
I slipped out of bed, picking my oversized cotton T-shirt and shorts up off of the ground where I’d left them the night before. I slipped them on and went down the hall to the bathrooms. The dorm was quiet. Lots of girls had gone home for the weekend. It was nice to have the bathroom to myself.
I splashed my face with water, thinking about the dream.
Sickening, remembering it. It didn’t seem possible. It had to be a fabrication of my subconscious mind. What did they say? We work out the things that are on our minds at bedtime when we dream?
Staring at my wet face in the mirror, I thought about that.
I hadn’t exactly been asking myself if Mr. Verdano was sexually abusing his girls last night when we went to bed. I smiled at myself in the mirror, checking to be sure my teeth were clean.
No. Definitely not. I’d had other things on my mind. In fact, the thought had never occurred to me. It just didn’t seem possible. Perfect, brilliant, handsome, sophisticated Mr. Verdano. The art-collecting psychiatrist. Philanthropist. A domestic abuser pedophile? Looking in the mirror, I shook my head at myself. No, Rowan, no.
Couldn’t be right.
But something told me that the night before was one of my psychic dreams. I had them every once in a while. Premonitions. Or, in this case, a postmonition. Maybe. Maybe.
I splashed my face again, taking deep breaths.
What had Eva said in the dream? I was going to tell them something for her. That was it. Them, who? The authorities?
Drying my face, I considered that. It would take a lot more than a dream for me to accuse anyone of anything so disturbing and heinous. Even the guy who was suing my father. I couldn’t very well run into a police station claiming I’d had a dream they should investigate, could I?
When I got back to my room Marc was awake, still in bed.
“Good morning,” he said happily.
“Good morning,” I replied, shaking off the dream as best I could to match his happiness.
I leaned down and kissed him. He pulled the sheet back, dragging me toward him. He was still warm from sleep.
“Come back to bed,” he said, kissing me. “Please.”
The morning went on, a Saturday with no obligations. The bed a twin, we laid close together, keeping each other warm. The sound of a ticking clock hung alone in the air. I laid beside him lost in the memory of my dream of the night before.
Watching me, he said, “Okay, I’ll bite. What are you thinking?”
Jolted back to the bed, the warm sheets, his skin. “Oh, nothing,” I said in a tone that meant I was thinking something but he was going to have to do better than that if he wanted me to share it with him.
He sighed. “Rowan, you’ve got that look on your face. Like you’re about to do something.”
I looked at him, grinning and bugging my eyes out. “Me? Do something?” I said in my most exaggerated tone.
“Yes, you. Planning a crank call to Mr. Verdano to accuse him of being an underhanded, untrustworthy rat bastard? Something like that?”
That struck close to the truth, whether he’d intended it to be a joke or not. I looked at him, my surprised expression giving me away. “Oh, Christ!” he said, dramatically holding his right hand against his head. “What now?” he pretended to go limp under the weight of whatever I had up my sleeve.
“No,” I said, a mild pout on my face. “Just thinking about a bad dream, I guess.”
His expression changed. “Another one of your dreams? What happened in this one?” he asked, his tone a little more serious.
“In the dream someone was abusing Eva,” I said carefully, trying to communicate my meaning without making the statement explicit.
“Abusing? Like how?” he asked, running his hand through his hair and looking worried.
“Sexually abusing her,” I said.
He took a deep breath, his mouth hanging open, and stared at me, but he didn’t speak for a few moments. His eyes were resting on mine, seemed to be considering me, what I’d said, the possibility it could be true, any or all of it. Crazy, dramatic girlfriend. Poor Marc.
Finally, he spoke. “Do you think there’s anything to it? Have you ever had any indication, even the slightest notion, that her Dad was doing anything like that?”
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “None. I’m not sure why I dreamt that. You’re probably right, there’s likely nothing in it at all. He’s suing my father. Maybe it was just a nightmare I had because I’m angry at him,” I said, not really believing it. But it was a possibility. After all, I was angry. I had a right to be angry. Someone I felt close to, if only by association, someone sophisticated and respected in our hometown community, was attacking my family. It wasn’t out of the range of possibility that my mind would invent a disturbing, violent scenario during dreamtime. I had heard theories that our minds represent aspects of our selves with the figures in our dreams.
“I didn’t say your dream was wrong, just improbable,” he said thoughtfully. “I don’t want you to jump to any conclusions because of a dream,” he added. “It could be true, and it could be untrue. Do you mind my asking what you saw? What was happening?” His tone was gentle.
“I heard a voice demand that she give him some special care, and when I opened the door to the room, I saw Eva kneeling in front of him.” I said quietly.
“Kneeling? As in … ?” he looked at me, his intense gaze all astonishment.
“Yes. But it was just a dream,” I added. “A graphic, disturbing dream. But a dream. Or a nightmare.” But something else was on my mind. In the dream, Eva’s father had called the abuse a family tradition that had started even before her mother. Started where? With who?
Marc laid back in the bed and pulled a pillow up over his face, saying, “Why can’t things just be easy?”
We hung around in bed until five minutes before the dining hall was due to close, decided we needed sustenance, and made our way across the quad, a vision of boy girl bed head and denim, arriving just as they were emptying the breakfast bar. Toast, warm orange juice and the last of the coffee. Yum. And then it was back to Randall Hall and my cozy bed.
We arrived back at the dormitory holding hands to find Venus waiting outside of my locked room door. I caught my breath in surprise, and looked at Marc who was returning my surprised gaze, a smile playing lightly on his lips. “Well, well, well, what have we here?” he whistled, his voice low, as we approached.
She sat against the wall outside of my room, a book propped on her blue-jean clad legs. Her appearance this morning was decidedly different from the sophisticated, chic visage she’d presented the night before.
“Hi, Venus,” I said casually as soon as we were close enough to greet her. She looked up, her green eyes coming to rest appraisingly on us.
“Hi, Rowan,” she said, and looking at Marc, “Hi.” She stood up.
“How are you guys?” she asked politely.
“Okay,” we both chimed, wearing matching smiles that I was sure would betray last night’s sighting. But she didn’t seem to notice.
“I heard Celeste was here the other day,” she said casually, brushing her pants off and standing aside for me to open the door.
“Yeah,” I said, “she took me out for lunch. It was nice.”
“Good. That’s good,” she said. It was obvious she had something on her mind; she’d come for some specific reason. I wondered if finding Marc with me was throwing her agenda off.
I opened the door and stepped back for Venus to pass. She did, leaving a faint trail of gardenia. We followed her in.
When I closed the door behind us she spoke.
“Rowan, I came to find out what you and Celeste talked about the other day,” she said. Her polite tone was gone. She was all business.
“I need to know what she said to you.”
I wasn’t sure how to answer her, or even if I should. I looked at Marc. He shrugged and rose to leave. “I’m going to take off for a while and leave you two to talk. I’ll be back this afternoon around 3:00, okay?” he picked up his keys, kissed me, and left, closing the door softly behind him.
She smiled, looking satisfied with his departure. Her gaze came back to rest on me.
Then her smile disappeared. I felt a little like a rabbit caught by the ears.
“So, what did she come to talk to you about?” she asked, leaning back against the chair she was sitting in. Her red hair was styled in a layered cut around her face. She had small delicate lips and sharp, very intelligent green eyes. There were some light freckles around her nose. She was slim, swaddled in a big hooded sweatshirt. And she was wearing rings on three of her fingers. One of them appeared to be a ruby with two diamonds on either side. The other might have been an emerald. I wouldn’t have known a real stone from a faux stone, but her rings looked expensive. They made an odd accessory for her casual sweatshirt.
I regarded her, trying to decide how open I should be in my response. “Do you mind my asking why you can’t ask her yourself?” I asked, looking at the ruby ring.
She looked very directly at me, her eyes narrowing slightly before she spoke. “I can’t ask her, Rowan. She’s been hospitalized. She tried to kill herself yesterday.”
It was like being hit by lightning.
I stared at Venus, who, sitting across from me, didn’t show any emotion. Rather, her manner was crisp, as if she’d just told me Celeste was out of town and couldn’t be reached. “She tried to kill herself?” The question spilled in a squeak from my mouth, panicky and stupid sounding.
“Yes. Now perhaps you can understand why I need to know what you talked about,” Venus said.
“How?” I managed, my voice still sounding broken.
“She took some pills. Fortunately, her roommate found her with the bottle in her hand and called an ambulance. They managed to reach her in time. She’s still in the hospital, though,” she said, her eyes staying on me, gauging my reaction to the information.
It would be an understatement to say I was stunned. Celeste was upset when I saw her at lunch, but she certainly didn’t seem suicidal. This news didn’t make sense to me. How did we get from trying to unravel the mysterious appearances of Eva’s ghost to a suicide attempt?
“What time did she do this?” I asked, recovering my voice. I was trying to imagine space between the two states of mind. The state she’d been in when we parted and the state she must’ve been in to do this. Space, time. Some event. Something.
Her expression made clear that she wasn’t here to answer my questions. “Around 4:30,” she said impatiently.
I took a deep breath, trying to collect my thoughts. 4:30. She’d left me well before 2:00. “Well, she came just before lunch and took me over to Nick’s Pizzeria,” I began. “We walked over and she brought up the matter of my psychic impressions. She asked me if I’d seen any ghosts,” I said, another wave of panic seizing me. Was I saying too much? “It was before 2:00 when she left,” I finished, a strong feeling that I should stop talking impressing itself on me.
Venus’s eyes widened for a moment and then she regained her composure and asked, “Okay, and what did you say?”
“I told her that I had,” I answered, kicking myself for having brought the conversation up. “She seemed upset. She said she’d seen Eva twice since the accident happened.” I stopped there, feeling the less said the better. It wasn’t that I had anything to hide from Venus. It had more to do with her manner. Coercive. I would have expected anguish, worry, grief, concern. But Venus wasn’t any of those things.
She leaned forward, interested in hearing more.
“She told you she’d seen Eva’s ghost?” she asked.
“Yes,” I answered, feeling like she was interrogating me.
“What else?” she asked.
“Uh, I told her I’d seen you at a party the other night,” I said, hoping to change the subject and turn the tables a little. “I followed you into a hallway but you disappeared behind a locked door.” I stopped there and tried to capture her with my eyes, gain some ground in the discussion.
She raised an eyebrow, seeming to consider that. But she didn’t speak right away.
Neither did I.
Finally she said, “Were you at the Zeta party last Friday night, then?
“I was,” I said, some disdain in my voice. “Some party.” My tone communicated my feelings. Everything about the experience was disturbing, humiliating, even haunting. I was sorry I went, and happy to make that clear. Perhaps more than anything though, I was embarrassed my boyfriend had needed to come and rescue me from my own bad judgment.
She smiled, seeming to have some idea what I was thinking. “Yeah, those boys can be trouble,” she said, but her expression suggested it didn’t bother her in the least.
In fact, she seemed to find it amusing.
She didn’t have any intention of explaining her disappearance behind the door. That much was obvious. “Venus, why would Celeste try to hurt herself?” I asked, the weight of this news reoccurring to me. “Do you think she wanted to succeed? Do you think she was serious? She seemed fine when I saw her … ” my voice trailed off as I recalled her from the day before. Beautiful, engaged, thoughtful, distressed, perhaps. But depressed? Suicidal? No.
“How should I know?” she asked, some irritation creeping into her voice. “Why do you think I’m here talking to you? You were the last person she saw yesterday before she did this. Did Celeste tell you anything else? Say anything else?” she was agitated, but I could hear that she was disengaging. She seemed to think I didn’t have whatever answer she was looking for.
“No, not really,” I answered. “Where is she? Portsmouth Hospital?”
“Yes,” she said. “But she’s not in much shape for visitors. I think I’d wait to see her, if you’re thinking of visiting.”
“Hmm. Okay,” I said, noncommittally. It occurred to me that Marc and I had seen Venus last night after Celeste’s accident. She hadn’t looked like a girl whose sister had just tried to commit suicide. I thought of her little black dress, her high heels, and her exposed legs.
Not at the hospital with her sister.
I considered Venus.
“Well, thanks for talking to me. How’s your semester going so far? You’re a freshman this year, aren’t you?” she asked, getting up and walking to the door.
“Yeah. It’s going okay.”
But she didn’t want to hear the truth and I didn’t want to share it with her. “Good. Well, I’ll see you around, then,” she said. “Best to Marc,” and she closed the door behind her, leaving me there to gaze after her in confused astonishment.