Every Soul a Star Read online

  She shrugs. “He never asked.” She reaches down to pick up her huge pocketbook from the ground. I offer to take it from her and she hands it over.

  “Well, he’s going to be glad you’re found.”

  “I always knew where I was.”

  Even though I’m not too fond of the guy, I suddenly find myself taking his side. “He was worried. Maybe you should let people know if you’re going to go off, like, from now on.”

  “Yes, Dad,” she says with a wink.

  I redden. I guess I did sound like a dad. I’ve never had anyone to look out for before.

  “Who’s your friend?” she asks as the three of us head back through the maze of hallways. We only have ten minutes left now.

  “I’m Pete Goldberg,” he says proudly. “I’m six. I helped find you.”

  “I wasn’t lost, I simply —”

  I nudge her on the arm and she sighs and says, “Yes, you did, Pete. You found me.”

  We head toward Stella’s room but run into her son pacing in the lobby. He doesn’t even thank me, just starts yelling that she shouldn’t wander off like that in a strange place. Now I feel like I should stand up for her, but honestly the guy scares me a little. Pete backs away, and I steer him to the check-in desk so I can get an extra key to my room. I hope I don’t have to pay for it because I didn’t bring my money.

  The card turns out to be free, I just have to promise to return both copies later.

  I almost trip over the licorice when I step into the room. Pete drops to his knees and grabs two pieces that had fallen onto the carpet when the box fell. Before I can stop him, he sticks them in his mouth. Now I’m an eat-off-the-floor type of guy, too, but who knows what has been on this floor? “Hey, don’t you know the two-second rule?”

  He shakes his head, chewing happily. I take the second piece out of his other hand. “It means you have two seconds to eat something that has touched the floor before it gets all covered in germs. This has been here for a lot longer than that.”

  “But I’m allowed to eat licorice, see?” he holds out his arm and pushes up the sleeve of his Disney World sweatshirt. A bracelet dangles from his wrist. I hadn’t noticed it before. He brings it up to my face. There are symbols of a peanut and a fish, each with a red line through it. “See? No peanuts, no fish. Nothing about no licorice.”

  “Okay, well, it’d be really helpful if you threw the rest in the trash so I can finish packing.”

  Pete dutifully tosses the licorice one by one into the trash, missing every other time. I run around the room making sure I don’t leave anything behind. Good thing it’s a small room.

  When we get down to the bus, Pete’s mom is in the front, handing her last suitcase to the bus driver to store underneath. I toss mine in after, and see for the first time that the whole middle compartment is packed full with telescopes. At least I think that’s what they are since they’re all wrapped up, some in a silver foil-type material, others in blankets or long boxes.

  “He wasn’t any trouble, was he?” Pete’s mom asks, putting her arm around his shoulders.

  “I helped solve a mystery!” Pete says. “And I had some licorice!”

  “Did you, now?” she says, amused. “Sounds like you had a busy fifteen minutes!” She thanks me for watching him, and they join David on the bus.

  “There you are,” Mr. Silver says, waving me up the stairs. He makes a little check on his clipboard and then stashes it in his briefcase. I guess I’m the last one.

  “I’d like to finish our conversation from yesterday,” he says, climbing up behind me. “Why don’t you come down to talk to me once we’re underway?”

  “Okay.” I’m glad he didn’t ask me to sit up front with him. When I get halfway down the aisle I’m surprised to see Stella sitting next to her son, with the daughter-in-law across the aisle. She rolls her eyes at me and says loudly, “Gotta sit here so the warden can keep an eye on me. Goodness knows what kind of trouble I might get into in the back of the bus!”

  “Very funny, Mother,” Mr. Daniels says, his lips drawn tight.

  I tell Stella I’ll see her at the lunch stop and keep making my way back. I get more and more tired with each passing row. After the morning’s excitement, the lack of sleep is catching up to me. I settle into the window seat, close my eyes, and the next thing I know I’m on the floor in our den at home. I’m about to reach a new level in Super Mario Bros. 3 on my Game Boy when the lights on it start going all haywire. Instead of helping Mario to leap over a bottomless pit, every time I press a button a Madonna song starts playing. The fact that I don’t KNOW any Madonna songs, coupled with the fact that my game is malfunctioning in this crazy way, alerts me to the fact that I’m dreaming. I know I’m not really at home. I know I’m sleeping on a bus right now surrounded by cornfields and cows. But I’ve done this enough times that the realization doesn’t wake me right up, the way it used to.

  Without hesitating, I turn the Game Boy into a hot dog with sauerkraut, ketchup, and mustard. Lucid dream food always tastes better than real food, in the same way that the colors are brighter. Once I scarf down the hot dog, I’m ready to take off. I bend my knees like Superman does before a takeoff, and sort of float up into the air, through the wall, and outside. When I was younger I used to get caught in the wall sometimes. SD3 explained it to me. He said part of my brain still wouldn’t accept the fact that a wall in a dream isn’t a real wall, and I’d get convinced that I couldn’t pass through it. I’ve had to learn to let go of that or else I get stuck and have to fight my way out, usually waking me.

  But now I glide right through, feeling that same freedom and joy that I feel every time I do this. The grass is so much greener than real grass, and without any effort at all, I can make the blue sky orange. Sometimes I’ll pretend I’m in a football game and I’m the star player. But mostly I just fly around, watching the landscape change beneath me, and trying to hold onto lucidity. I can usually only make it last a few minutes. I feel it slipping away from me now, like the environment is getting harder to control. I feel the real dream world creeping back over me, so much duller than this.

  When I wake up, I’m alone. How much time has passed? I turn toward the window and see we’re parked in front of a Burger King. The eclipse chasers are straggling out toward the bus. If this was lunch, I must have been out for hours.

  Mr. Silver is the first one back. He heads down the aisle toward me and I remember we were supposed to talk once the bus left the motel. Oops!

  He hands me a take-out bag and says, “I thought you might be hungry.”

  My stomach growls in response. “I’m sorry I fell asleep. I didn’t sleep very well last night.”

  “You looked so peaceful no one wanted to wake you.”

  I’m thinking more likely no one noticed I was sleeping back here, but I don’t argue with him.

  “Eat your lunch and then we’ll talk, okay?”

  What I’d really rather do is eat and then sketch in my book. I nod though, one hand already reaching into the bag. Fries and a Whopper. No drink, but I still have a can of orange soda in my backpack. I eat the burger so quickly I barely taste it. It’s good, but pretty bland compared to the dream hot dog. If only dream hot dogs filled me up. I’d take up less space in this seat, that’s for sure.

  The last fry disappears as the bus pulls out. I wouldn’t mind using the bathroom, but Pete broke it yesterday by sticking the toy from his Happy Meal down it. Nothing to do about it but wait till the next rest stop.

  I make my way down to the front, wishing I hadn’t drank all that soda. Stella is knitting her red scarf again, and Pete is absorbed in a book. I don’t remember if I could even read at that age. Mr. Silver is on his cell phone and motions for me to sit in the empty seat across the aisle.

  “We’ll need thirty-three pairs,” he says into the phone. “Yes, the ones with the alpha-screen.” He holds the phone away for a second and says to me, “Those are the ones that let you see sunspots as the moon is crossi