It was a lazy summer afternoon. A perfect blue sky, lightly spotted with clouds, reminded Andrew of calm waters in the deep sea. He loved Port Sevlyn. He just wished it was located on the seashore, rather than two hundred leagues inland up the Laraka River. He closed his eyes and imagined he could smell the salt air and hear the soliloquies of the screegulls as they glided in the cool breeze. Leaving the scent of the river behind, Andrew meandered slowly up the street toward his favorite port of call, the Lazy Madame Inn.
Andrew walked into the common room, greeted by the sights and sounds of friends and neighbors enjoying each others’ company. George Kilgreen sat back in his chair, his guard duties a distant thought while he sipped mead and chatted with Smitty the blacksmith. Tom McFarley and Old Kabula sat in the corner playing at cards with a quiet restraint, in contrast to their usual fervent competition.
The windows in the tavern were wide open, with dust swirls floating in the sunlight and the breeze. Despite the room being half full of patrons, the noise of the tavern was low: no one wanted to disturb the peaceful relaxation of the afternoon. Sandy’s red hair and bright smile greeted Andrew from the other end of the bar. The waitress was the only person in the Lazy Madame who was displaying any energy. But even her movements between the tables, refilling mugs and clearing plates, had a lackadaisical air. Andrew made his way to an empty stool at the bar, and waited for her.
Sandy returned from the floor with an armful of plates and mugs, which she deposited onto the bar. “Hey, haven’t seen you in a couple days,” Sandy said. She leaned over and gave Andrew a hug.
“Been workin’,” he replied.
“Well, I thought I might see you today. I had a dream about you last night.”
Andrew smiled. “I knew you’d come around.”
Faster than he could react, Sandy drew her weapon — the dish towel she kept at her waist — and whacked his shoulder. “Not like that,” she added. Kenneth, her father and the owner of the Lazy Madame, entered through the door behind the bar, the scents of his cooking following him in from the kitchen.
“Afternoon, Andy!” Kenneth greeted him and shook his hand. “Draw you an ale?”
“Well, I wasn’t planning on one yet,” he replied. “But I suppose I could be convinced — it being such a beautiful day.”
“Seems like a lot of people have that thought,” Kenneth said, and nodded at his patrons. “Hot summer day, and instead of being in the fields or at the dock, they’re coming in here and enjoying an ale.” Kenneth smiled. “I love my job.” He placed his large, aging hand on the tap and slowly pulled back, drawing beer into the mug for Andrew.
Andrew turned to look at Sandy. “So, you had a dream.”
“Yes,” she replied. “It was very nice … it was like the old days, before the war. You and Driftwood … going swimming in the river and building a fire at Coleman’s field. And that time he stole the lyre from the bard who stayed at the inn? And you told him he couldn’t have it back unless he came out to Coleman’s and played in the moonlight.”
Kenneth looked wide-eyed at Andrew. “You two did that?”
Andrew just smiled with the memory. “Yeah. But he got us back. While we were sleeping, he stole a cow and herded it back to the camp. We woke up to the insistent boots of the guard, who were very interested in talking to us.”
Sandy smiled. “Well, anyway … that’s why I thought you’d come by, today.”
“So now you’re a sage, predicting events with your dreams?” Andrew smiled.
“Memories is all it was,” Kenneth piped in.
“But that wasn’t one specific time we shared,” Sandy replied. “That dream had elements from several days we spent together.”
“Then jumbled memories, which is even worse,” Kenneth replied.
“Is that all dreams are?” Andrew asked.
“Sometimes they’re wishes.” Sandy replied. “Part of me certainly wishes I could relive those days.”
“So do I,” Andrew softly added. She had promised to marry him, once.
“Useless is what they are,” Kenneth put in. “Just a waste of time. Although sometimes they’re fun,” he added, with a far away look in his eyes. “Entertaining. But generally useless.”
“I don’t know,” Andrew replied. “Perhaps they remind us of things we would otherwise forget.”
“Or tell us lies,” Kenneth countered.
Later in the evening, as the fire flickered slowly to its end, Andrew and Sandy stood by the door. The cool air carried the sounds of the river through the night.
“You know,” he said, “one of the reasons I keep hanging around here is because Driftwood and I promised each other we’d watch over you. We were very much in love with you.”
“And I loved both of you,” she replied. She looked up at him then, and timidly asked, “And the other reason?”
He hesitated, gathering his nerve. “Because I’m not quite over you,” he confessed.
He met her gaze then, and suddenly his whole vision was encompassed by those dark eyes. His breathing became shallow and rapid, and his throat went dry. He reached a hand out to stroke her cheek. His stomach knotted. His eyes studied every facet of her face: her cheek bones, her lips, her chin. He imagined the warmth of her breath, the intoxicating musk of desire. But when he looked back into her eyes, he did not see desire. He saw fear.
He looked down, and then at the door. When he turned to her again, he avoided her eyes. His voice shook as he spoke, “I should be getting –”
“Yeah, I’ve gotta finish … ” she said, taking the towel from her apron. Suddenly, the bar needed to be wiped.
When he closed the door behind him, he heard her bar it.
Sunrise found Sandy and Andrew in the common room, as Kenneth made breakfast in the kitchen.
“How’d you sleep?” Andrew asked. “Any dreams last night?”
“No,” she replied. She still couldn’t look Andrew in the eyes. “I didn’t sleep all that well.”
“I slept wonderfully!” Kenneth exclaimed as he came in from the kitchen. “Never slept better! No dreams, though. Not as I could remember, anyway.” Kenneth placed two plates of eggs on the bar. “But you know dreams, they disappear like a spring fog at sunup, and all you’ve got are scattered memories at best. How ’bout you, Andrew?” he asked as he stepped back into the kitchen.
“I dreamed,” Andrew replied softly, so softly that only Sandy could hear. Finally, she met his gaze. “Last night I dreamed I tried to kiss you. I very much wanted to. But I finally understood that you don’t love me … not like that.” He paused. “And I knew, quite suddenly, that you would never be mine.”
“What’s that you’re saying?” Kenneth asked as he returned from the kitchen.
“Maybe dreams are sometimes lessons,” Andrew replied. “They show us a part of reality that we refuse to see for ourselves. And while the images may fade with the morning sun, the memory of the lesson lingers, and we learn by it.”
“In that case,” Kenneth conceded, “maybe dreams are useful after all.”