I inhale the perfume of lilacs, and watch the horses grazing among the vines. Then I remind myself that it’s October, and there aren’t any horses on the grounds anymore.
That’s how I know I’m still dreaming.
I’ve been a lucid dreamer since I was little, capable of controlling my consciousness at whim while asleep. It’s the one Greyson-like talent I’ve been blessed with, and it’s not even that interesting.
A burst of laughter calls my attention to a couple drinking champagne on the patio. I approach them. They ask if I’m wearing that to the party, and it’s not until I notice how they’re dressed—her in a silk blue wrap dress with ruffles, and him in a fedora and striped jacket—and the way their silhouettes dissolve slightly into the air around them, that I realize they aren’t just stand-ins manufactured by my dream engine.
They’re ghosts. My mom tried describing them to me, but it’s one thing to hear about something and another to actually see it with your own eyes.
Ghosts don’t look the way you might expect, all white-sheeted and billowy. Neither do they resemble rotting corpses. They look like shimmery versions of regular people. A little fuzzy around the edges, maybe, but otherwise normal.
The clamor of horn-heavy music playing elsewhere on the estate coaxes me to step barefooted into the grass. I make my way toward the sound. Sure enough, there’s a party in full swing in the grand foyer. I peek through the windows at the crowd of ghosts having a grand old time, drinking, laughing, and dancing.
I stay and watch for a while and listen to the band play, until a man in a waistcoat comes up behind me and asks if I have an invitation. I run into the field, glancing over my shoulder to make sure I’m not being chased.
A woman in a white dress watches me from a second-story window. I’m not a hundred percent certain, but I’m pretty sure she’s watching me from the room I’m staying in. She’s too far away to note the details of her face, but her hair is long, dark, and straight, like mine. I blink and she’s gone, and her absence unsettles me and sends me galloping further into the grapevines.
The sky hasn’t changed since I awoke into the dreamscape, giving the vineyard a sense of timelessness. Now that I’m away from the house, I make my way down the rows of vines slowly, skimming my fingers over the leaves.
This place isn’t so bad without Edward and his awful relatives making me feel unwelcome. It would’ve been even nicer to have come here with my mother; I could’ve listened to her tell her own stories.
A crow soars overhead and then drops into a cluster of trees. That’s when I spot the man standing with his back to me among the vines.
“Hello,” I call out, moving a little closer. He turns his blond head slowly, like he’s not sure if he heard me. I call out again, “Hello, sir?”
When our gazes meet, I stop advancing. His eyes are so blue they’re almost turquoise. I’m already lost in them, and I just got here. He studies me curiously, like he’s never seen a girl in a Blind Melon tee shirt before.
“Did you say something to me?” he asks.
“I said hello.”
The man looks around, like he’s making sure I’m not actually talking to someone behind him. He’s a pretty big guy, fit and brawny. Maybe he’s the ghost of a laborer, I think, though his clean shirt and fair skin would suggest he’s not one for toiling in the sun. I’d guess him to be somewhere in his mid-thirties. I wonder how long it’s been since he passed on, then remind myself he isn’t real. This place looks like the vineyard, but it’s not the vineyard. There’s no reason my mind couldn’t dream up ghosts just as easily as it cooks up impatient servers.
“How long have you lived here?” I ask. Mom also told me that ghosts sometimes forget they’re dead, and when they do, it’s best not to remind them. Nine times out of ten, whenever there’s an aggressive haunting, it’s because a ghost is confused, or hasn’t yet come to terms with their situation. This man appears lucid enough, and his silhouette is surprisingly crisp, but I figure it’s better to play it safe.
His lip curls slightly. “I’ve been here much longer than I’d like to be.”
“Oh. That sucks.” I’m not sure how else to respond.
Two rows of vines separate us, but even that distance and a coating of golden scruff aren’t enough to mask the fact that he’s handsome. His face is angular without being pointed, his lips full, yet defined. The longer I look at him, the faster my pulse starts to race. Heat floods my face as I force myself to stop gawking at him like some wannabe groupie.
“I’m just visiting my dad,” I say, hoping he won’t notice the tremor in my voice. The man says nothing. When I allow myself to glance his way again, he’s no longer standing in the same spot.
He’s right beside me.
I stagger back a few steps.
“How did you do that?” A dumb question, considering ghosts don’t have to follow the laws of physics in the real world, let alone the nonexistent rules in my dreams.
I hold my breath as the man reaches out to touch my cheek. Somehow his eyes are even bluer this close up.
“How is this possible?” He strokes the sides of my face.
“Anything’s possible in a dream,” I say. He shakes his head in disbelief, like I’m the ghost in his dreams.
“This is why he wants you,” he says, and I have no idea what that means.
“Who wants me?”
His gaze lifts over my shoulder, in the direction of the house.
“It’s time to wake up, Mariah.”
“Why?” And how does he know my name?
“You have a visitor.” He grasps my shoulders firmly enough to pinch and shakes me.
I’m jolted awake, for real this time.
It takes me a second to recall where I am—in bed, in the guestroom, at Red Cliff—and half a second more to realize that I’m not alone.