Oneironautics, also referred to as dream telepathy, is the purported ability to communicate with another person while dreaming. Parapsychological experiments into the phenomenon have yet to produce replicable results.
“But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the LORD; and be sure your sin will find you out.” —Numbers 32:23
Allison’s fingers picked at what was left of her napkin. As another white flake fell beside the other flurries on the table’s scratched surface, she let out a big breath. Her stomach rumbled but only partly out of hunger.
Across the restaurant, a clock bearing an outdated Pepsi logo indicated two minutes had passed since her last glance, confirming the awful truth: he was a full ten minutes late.
What if he doesn’t show up?
She pushed the thought away, forced a smile, and took another sip of half-diet, half-regular. When she put the drink back down, she noticed a piece of the napkin was stuck to the side of the perspiring cup. She quickly pulled it off and brushed the rest of the scraps onto the floor.
What if he does come?
Ever since moving to Philadelphia a year ago, Guido’s had felt like a second home. It was more comfortable than her cramped apartment. The less-than-fresh décor and good-but-not-great food appealed to her appetite for a little adventure, while the reasonable prices satisfied her malnourished bank account. Guido’s wasn’t a dive, but for the first time, she felt self-conscious about its quaint charm.
It wasn’t a blind date—not really—and yet meeting Eben outside of work was an awful lot like introducing herself for the first time. There was so much he didn’t know about her. As the seconds ticked by, her doubts continued to multiply.
How did I let him talk me into this?
A fresh gust of garlic from a neighboring table made her stomach protest the unfairness of inconsiderate men. Yet she couldn’t help but smile as she took another sip of cola.
“Inconsiderate” didn’t really describe Eben. He had been one of the first to make her feel welcome, and after eight months on the job, she considered him a true friend. No, more than a friend, considering the many weeks of flirting and that first wonderful kiss. He wouldn’t stand her up, not after how much he had fought for the lunch date.
The tinny jingle of the bell above the door made her jump. She craned her neck to get a better look at the entrance, half hoping and half fearing it was him. Though she wasn’t used to seeing him in civilian clothes, there was no mistaking Eben, especially since he stood at least a head taller than anyone else in the restaurant.
Yes, he was tall and, thanks to a strong chin and flawless cheekbones, very handsome, but unlike the fairytale stereotype, he wasn’t at all dark. His short-cropped hair was so blond it was nearly white. And apparently his pale skin and the sun weren’t well acquainted. Allison could relate.
For a moment, he just stood in the doorway, and even though she knew she should wave him over, she froze.
This was a mistake.
A waitress walked up to Eben and said something.
We’ve been so careful not to blur the line between work and our personal lives.
She couldn’t make out Eben’s reply, but she recognized the low timbre of his voice.
If I run, I could sneak out the back door before he even sees—
Too late. The waitress, a new girl whose name Allison hadn’t learned yet, led Eben to her table. She quickly looked down, resisting the ridiculous urge to hide her face behind her menu. When she looked up again, Eben was situating himself in the chair across from her. Her eyes passed over his black, wooden walking stick and up to his eyes, which were covered with dark glasses despite the overcast day.
What, is he trying to look like a spy?
The waitress took his drink order and disappeared, leaving the two of them alone. Their simultaneous “hello” was followed by a long silence. Allison’s liver and pancreas performed a series of do-se-dos.
“I hope you didn’t get lost or anything,” she said, quickly adding, “not that I care that you’re a little late. I mean, you’re not even that late.”
Eben smiled, and she hated herself a little for how much the gesture made her want to smile too.
“Please accept my apology,” he said in that oh-so proper British accent of his. “I underestimated how long it would take to make the trip.”
“I’m surprised you ordered a soda,” she said suddenly. “I expected you to ask for a spot of tea.”
She didn’t know why she said it and immediately regretted the lame joke.
But his smile widened. “Never touch the stuff.”
As silence enveloped them again, Allison realized he hadn’t stopped staring at her since he sat down. She felt naked, despite the practically new peasant top and her favorite skinny jeans. She had even scrounged up an old tube of mascara—as if that would make much of a difference! It was impossible to read his expression because he still hadn’t removed those silly, secret-agent sunglasses.
Allison reached for her napkin only to find it completely shredded.
“OK, you’re obviously too polite to bring it up,” she said, “but you’ve got to be thinking it. I mean, I know I look a lot…different…here. Maybe I get a little carried away in the…at work, but so what if I exaggerate my height and cheat a little on my figure? It’s just part of the gig. Anyway, I’m pretty sure Guido’s has a no-stilettos policy. And even if I wanted to dress like I do at work in my own neighborhood, I probably wouldn’t be able to pull it off…not in real life.”
She took a deep breath, bracing herself for his reply. Her short, petite stature—not to mention the smattering of freckles on her cheeks and nose—made her look more like a teenager than a twenty-three-year-old. After spending so much time with her sexy alter ego, how could Eben not be disappointed by the sight of someone so…ordinary?
Since the napkin hadn’t miraculously reassembled itself, she wrapped her fingers around her cup and took a long drink.
For the love of Pete, say something!
Finally, after a few more seconds, Eben said, “When you say ‘a no-stilettos policy,’ are you referring to the shoes or the weapons?”
Allison laughed and then wished she hadn’t. The soda stung her throat. She coughed so hard tears came of her eyes. Once she could breathe again, she said, “I’m just saying I hope you’re not too…surprised…at how normal I look when I’m off the clock.”
He chuckled. “We wouldn’t have met in the first place if either of us were normal.”
“I guess you’re right.” She picked up her menu, even though she had it memorized, hoping it would prompt him to do the same, but he just continued to look at her. “You know, if you’re going to keep staring at me all creepy-like, the least you could do toss me a compliment. Even if you don’t mean it.”
For the first time, Eben looked flustered. “You look stunning, I’m sure.” He cleared his throat. “But I can’t see you.”
“‘Can’t see me’ as in coming here was a mistake or ‘can’t see me’ because you won’t take off those stupid sunglasses?”
“Allison, I am blind.”
Her menu fell to the table. “What?”
“I have to apologize,” he said with a sigh. “I really ought to have told you ahead of time. Only, I didn’t want you to treat me any differently, and, well, these things are never easy, are they? I suppose I assumed you would have worked it out straight off, and so I was waiting for you to say something, gauging your reaction. I thought you were merely being polite by not mentioning it.”
The dark glasses, the walking stick, his unwavering stare—how could she not have put it all together?
I’m an idiot! This whole situation is just too weird. We’re like fish out of water here, but I can’t back out now, or he’ll think it’s because he’s—
Allison covered her mouth with her hands, but she was too slow to stifle the sudden laugh.
He raised an eyebrow. “Yes?”
“I’m…I’m sorry.” A couple more giggles escaped. “It’s just…this really is a blind date, isn’t it?”
Eben’s lopsided grin returned. “I’ve never heard that one before.”
“I’m sorry,” she said again, but then a new wave of laughter burst out of her.
“No…no, it’s nothing.”
“Come on. Out with it,” he insisted.
“I just realized that you, our official watchman, can’t actually see anything.”
He allowed a soft chuckle, a sound she had found annoying at first until she realized it was the closest thing Eben, with his dry sense of humor, would ever come to a belly laugh. “The irony is not lost on me.”
Before she could finish asking how he was able to do the job with his particular disability, the waitress returned with Eben’s drink and asked if they were ready to order. Eben asked what she, Allison, recommended. She suggested the chicken Alfredo and then ordered the same. For a moment, it was a normal date.
After the waitress walked away, he took a drink—an act he accomplished without any trouble, she noted. “You were about to ask how I lost my sight?”
“Oh, right,” she said, even though that wasn’t the question she had had in mind. But considering how little she knew about his past, she wasn’t about to correct him.
“When I was seventeen, I was…attacked. I put up a good fight, mind you, but I took a blow to the temple, and the back of my head hit the ground quite hard. In a matter of days, my vision was completely gone.” Eben shrugged. “But I’ve had ten years to get used to it, and I think I manage rather well, all things considered.”
He’s twenty-seven…a four-year difference. That’s not so much. I wonder how old he thinks I am.
“Were you mugged?” she asked. “Did this happen in here in America?”
“No, back home,” he replied.
“Well, that’s awful, Eben.” She pressed her luck. “When did you move here?”
An unidentifiable emotion flitted across his face. “About three years ago, but it’s a dull story. Besides, I should rather learn more about you.”
She started to blush but didn’t care. It’s not like he would know. “I don’t think your past could be any more boring than mine. I was born upstate and spent most of my life in a small community with more pigs than people. Nothing exciting ever happened there, which is why I moved here after graduating from college. But even after moving to the Big City, the only interesting thing that’s ever happened to me is that I almost died when my appendix burst. That was only a month after I moved here. Guess you could say I was dying to get away.”
She feigned a laugh at her own joke.
“You think appendicitis is the most interesting thing that’s ever happened to you?” he prompted, his smile growing.
Allison rolled her eyes and then realized nonverbal communication wasn’t at all useful. “I meant before I discovered…my abilities, which, as you know, wasn’t that long ago. When did you first know that you could—?”
The muffled chime of a phone sounded at the exact moment hers began to buzz against the tabletop. She reached for her phone, even as Eben pulled his out of his pocket. He pressed a button, and an electronic voice announced, “12:48 p.m. Saturday, July twenty-first. Message from Odin: ‘Come to Valhalla immediately.’ End of message.”
Allison picked up her cell and pulled open her e-mail. An identical message was waiting for her in an inbox that was almost always empty. She couldn’t decide which was stranger, being contacted by their boss via e-mail or getting summoned on the weekend.
“This can’t be good,” she muttered.
“I suppose lunch will have to wait.”
Allison called the waitress over. A few minutes later, they were standing outside Guido’s, doggy bags in hand. She took another look at his walking stick—his cane—and shook her head at her own stupidity.
Eben cleared his throat. “This is awkward, and I’m sorry if I’m being presumptuous, but—”
“You want to crash at my place,” she finished for him. “Sure, no problem. I live a couple of blocks away. Here…”
She took his box of leftovers, balanced it on hers, and reached for his free hand. A blanket of dark clouds smothered the Philadelphia skyline, threatening to drench the bustling city, but with her fingers entwined with Eben’s, she couldn’t remember a more beautiful day. Allison smiled to herself.
Who would have thought we’d end up sleeping together on the first date?