Several more classes, an evening study session, more than a few gaffes, and one death-courting car ride found Vince finally back at home as the sun began to dip below the horizon. The lights from the kitchen twinkled in dusk’s fading glow, illuminating his father scurrying about and getting dinner ready. He would have gotten off shift about an hour ago; during non-finals time Vince would have beaten him home. He knew that to be true, yet he also knew that his father had seemingly died in a fire when Vince was thirteen. It didn’t matter that one was a dream anymore. Something in it still felt real, which meant Vince needed to deal with it.
He dropped his backpack in the front hallway then headed into the kitchen where he was greeted with a symphony of scents, all combining to form the unmistakable odor of baking lasagna.
“Hey, kid,” his father greeted. “Just got it in the oven a few minutes ago, so you’ve got some time before dinner. How’s the head?”
“Tired,” Vince replied, taking a seat at the table. “And a little confused, to be honest.”
“Anything serious?” His father stopped fiddling with the salad bowl he’d been filling full of greens to face his son.
“Not in a medical way, no. I’ve just been having this weird experience where I mix up things from my dream last night.”
“The one where everyone had superpowers?”
“That’s the one.”
“Huh, it would seem like that would be pretty easy to separate from reality.”
“I’ve been getting better at it through the day,” Vince replied. “But it’s more what happened in it that’s bothering me. Or, I mean, the way certain people acted in it. Including you.”
His father set down his tongs and went to the fridge, pulling out a pair of sodas. He placed one in front of Vince and took the other to his seat, directly across from his son.
“Sounds like you need to talk.”
“I do, but it feels crazy trying to sort out how I feel about things that didn’t happen.”
“They happened to you. Even if it wasn’t real, you still have memory of those events,” his father pointed out. “So let’s deal with them. You can talk to me about anything.”
Vince hesitated, then the temptation grew too strong and the words started tumbling out. He didn’t tell his father everything - the dream had been far too expansive and detailed for that - but he made sure to hit the high points involving the faked death, the kidnapping attempt, the accusations about Globe, and the shock of discovering it was all true. He talked halfway through the lasagna’s cooking time, which he could tell by the slow-moving timer perched atop the stove. When Vince was finally done, his father took a long sip from his soda before responding.
“Man, I sound like kind of a jerk in your dream.”
Vince snorted a laugh, almost spitting some of his own drink in the process.
“So that’s what’s bothering you? That your subconscious would put me in the role of villain?”
“Yeah. I don’t know why it would do that.”
“Well, it didn’t. Not really.” Vince tilted his head in confusion, spurring his father to continue on. “Think about it: in your dream all your actual experiences with me sound a lot like that ones we really have. We talked, shared openly, and had a darn healthy father-son relationship, which I feel like is a good summary of how things really are.”
“I completely agree,” Vince said without hesitation.
“Now, as to all that villain stuff, it seems to me every bit of that came to you second-hand. People told you about the things I’d done, people told you Globe was a bad person, but you never actually saw me do anything particularly evil.”
“I saw you fake your own death,” Vince pointed out. “Plus break the man who kidnapped Mary out of jail.”
“Okay, I’ll give you those are valid points. Doesn’t mean there aren’t possible explanations behind them. If I were a betting man, I’d say your dream was trying to teach you that sometimes you have to make a choice about what you’re going to believe. You can trust what others tell you, or go with the things that you know to be true. Maybe the solution for the dream version of you is to still accept my actions for the crimes they are, but trust that the man committing them is still the same father who took you in from the streets. You know some of what he’s done, but none of the why behind those actions.”
“Doesn’t sound easy.”
“Doesn’t sound like your dream-self does anything the easy way, which matches up pretty well to the real one,” his father said, reaching across the table and squeezing Vince’s hand. “All I can tell you is how I interpret it. If that doesn’t work then keep turning it over in your brain until you find a way to look at it that feels right.”
“Thanks. I know the whole thing makes no sense, but I feel strangely better.” It was true; the continuous weight in his stomach seemed to have been alleviated. In fact, with every passing second, Vince was having more and more trouble remembering what had made him so upset.
“Any time. You know that. Now how about you go grab a shower before dinner? I think a hot water submersion will clear away the last of those mental cobwebs. Also, not to be rude, but I can still smell the fear-sweat on you from riding home with Nick.”
“Sure,” Vince said, heading for the stairs and taking them two at a time.
His father got up and began messing with the salad again, pausing to put a pot of coffee on the burner. He did love a good cup of mud after a heavy Italian meal. The salad was finished by the time he heard a light knock on the front door. Not bothering to take off his apron, he walked to the door and pulled it open, revealing a somewhat awkward Mary.
“Good evening, Mary. What brings you to our home this evening?”
“I just wanted to check on Vince. He still seemed a bit out of sorts at lunch today.”
“Aren’t you a good friend? He’s doing fine, but since you’re here I insist you come have dinner with us.” Vince’s father hustled her into the kitchen and pulled out a seat for her at the table. “Would you care for anything to drink?”
“Tea would be great, if you have it,” she replied distractedly, her focus busy as she looked around the house. It was like it was the first time she’d ever been here.
“If memory serves we should have some of your favorite, lavender tea,” he said, digging about in the cabinet. Discovering the bags, he laid them on the counter and set a teapot on the stove to boil. Before sitting down he poured himself a cup of coffee, then rejoined Mary at the table. The girl he found waiting for him was in a very different mood from the one he’d brought through the door.
“How did you know that?” Mary asked, her usually cheerful face suddenly quite severe.
“My dear girl, you’ve lived four houses down since you were a child. I think I can at least remember your favorite tea.”
“Except that until a few months ago I drank oolong, and I doubt Vince ever knew that. I’m positive I didn’t tell him that I made the switch to lavender.”
“Well, my boy might not be very perceptive on the details; however, I make it a point to be,” he replied, sipping a bit of his coffee.
“That’s not the point. The point is that Vince didn’t know that bit of information, so there’s no way some assembled memory of his father could access it.” Mary’s hands were growing numb from gripping the table, a rising sense of uneasiness making the temptation to panic increasingly stronger.
“Oh, come now, Mary, I wouldn’t be a very good father if I didn’t do a little research on the people my son spent all his time with.” Globe set the mug of still-steaming coffee on the table and treated her to another small smile. “And as to the question you’re trying so hard not to ask, don’t tell me it never occurred to you that you’re not the only one with the power to travel into someone’s dreams?”