“You okay?” Felicity asks, her gaze concerned and rueful as I struggle to button the shirt. I’d prefer a dress, but someone decided that this shirt, along with the rye pattern suit, would be perfect for the wedding ceremony: not too flashy, not too discreet. I’m the mother of the bride, after all.

“Sure,” I say, as I fasten the last button and fix the collar. Meanwhile, Felicity reaches for my ear and clips on my other earring—they’re amber, which goes well with the outfit.

“Sit tight,” she says, and lifts my chin. With a wide brush, she applies powder to my cheeks and then some mascara on my lashes—they were dark once, but after years under wet cotton pads they’re drained of color, nearly dissolved, resembling fishing line. “Great!” she announces, after giving me a final once over, grinning with pride as she always does. I’ve known her from the very beginning, and we have a lot in common: she barely changes, much as I maintain the same look , attitude, and temper. Everything consistent.

We met for the first time when I arrived. Felicity helped me out of the civilian clothes into which my husband had somehow packed my wadding-soft body, jelly-like and supine. He’d dropped me by the registration desk, waved goodbye, and disappeared before he could change his mind.

“I’ve got to get back to Tani,” he said, excusing himself. He pulled too hard on the handle of the door, unintentionally making it bang loudly against the wall. I nodded. Tani was the main reason I was here. That’s what Felicity said back then, anyway. That we were doing this for my daughter, who’d been three years old at that time. She’s twenty-three today.

When I got permission to leave here twelve years ago, she didn’t recognize me—of course. She’d always known that she had a mother, but had no idea where I’d been—Nate and I had decided that she shouldn’t know about Dream On. He told her that her mom was working, and had made up e-mails from me and sent Tani gifts that I supposedly bought for her . Tami believed him—small kids adapt quickly to just about anything. She hardly even asked about me, but when they discovered a new pill that they swore would work, Nate and I decided that I should come back from my endless—and fictional—mission in Asia and settle back at home. Back then Nate still believed in me.

So I came back, but it became clear after a while that the medicine wasn’t doing anything. I plunged into a depression where no one could reach me, into a deep, dark shaft. Nate and Tani tried to help me climb out, but I couldn’t get a grip on their hands. Tani cried and Nate was flustered, so in the end I returned to Dream On, hurling myself into Felicity’s welcoming arms of, and she once again took care of me, laying me down and helping me fall asleep, and in sleep I could dream dreams that anyone would die for—and all the while Nate and Tani and I waited and hoped for a scientific breakthrough.

Since then, I’ve come home twice, making today my fourth time, but this time I’m only going for the ceremony. I’ve learned my lesson—no pill is going to help me. I should be put down, but I’ll probably just keep dreaming. Nate won’t let me die. He still loves me, despite taking on a lover or two—not that I mind.

He finally turns up and welcomes me, though warily, and I remind him that I won’t stay long. He seems disappointed and relieved at the same time. We argued about the last time I was taken out of the pod, when I visited him and Tani, who by then had started college. I begged him not to sign another consent ever again—never, under any circumstances—because I could feel that I was heading toward a crash already, my epic depression just days away. It wasn’t good for Tani. It wasn’t good for Nate, either, tearing both of their hearts apart, I could see their desperation and feel their palpable guilt at having failed, at having let me down.

“Nobody can help me,” I whispered to them. “Take ma back, back to Dream On! I don’t want to hurt you anymore! Or else you have to…”

“Stop!” Nate barked. “And don’t talk nonsense! You have stay alive so that one day…” He couldn’t finish, choking on his own hope as Tani started to cry.

We agreed, though, that he’d wake me up when Tani got married, which she’s doing today. I wonder how she looks, my dear Tani, whom I see in my dreams as a teenager. What will she wear? What will she say to me? What…

“We’re here,” Nate cuts into my thoughts—I hadn’t even noticed that I’d been daydreaming about Tani. I grunt and straighten my suit.

“Sure.” I smile and get out of the car and Nate offers me his arm. It feels good to hold him—the dreams are just dreams, no flesh, no warmth, no fragrances. I inhale deeply.

The ceremony itself doesn’t really matter—the things that come afterward are much more fun. Tani demanded that I stay for them, and my heart did a somersault, but Nate said no.

“Tani, it’s a bad idea!” he growled.

“Nate, don’t be cruel!” Frank warned. This was the groom, tall and steadfast.

“What do you know?” snapped Nate at him. “You’ve been in this family for five hours, but you want to put in your two cents? What the hell do you know about our situation for Christ’s sake?” Nate voice was rising, and I was getting angry. In hindsight, I think he was the only sane person in the room, though. There hadn’t been any new procedures or medicines released. I’d tried out everything available at that point, even the most painful treatment, which involved needles and heat. Nothing had helped, and Nate reminded Tani of that.

“So what?” she shrugged. “Time heals all wounds. Maybe this time mom will make it.”

“Not likely,” Nate snorted, making me momentarily insane with anger. All of a suddenly I couldn’t stand the thought of not being here, of being back in dreamland.

“Why can’t we at least try?” Tani demanded, crying. Frank held her and gave her a squeeze.

“Because it’s pointless. And dangerous. Don’t you remember what she…” Nate stopped.

“I know what happened,” Frank said, shrugging. “I know it’s risky.”

“And destructive! For all of us! If there was any chance that we could cure her…”

“There is!” Tani said, shaking of Frank’s arm and grabbing my hand. “Isn’t there, mom?”

“Yes,” I said, but only because I couldn’t stand to say anything else. Nate pointed out that he was the only one who could sign the consent, but Frank reminded him that Tani was now old enough to do it as well. And so I moved into Tani’s new apartment—Nate didn’t want me around.

“You’re an egotist!” he said angrily, striding out of the restaurant.

For a month or so I felt fine. I went regularly to Psychiatrics Anonymous. It felt good to be reminded that there were others like me, and even people whose life was worse. The tragedies of others can be a balm. But after a while I could tell that it was coming, slowly sneaking toward me behind the rows of tulips on Tani’s balcony, waving to me from a living room cabinet, or rustling under the chairs and tables with its serpentine body.

I didn’t tell Tani, but I think she could see what was going on. She became anxious. She loved me too much to admit that I was falling, failing all over again. Day by day I slid lower and lower. I stopped eating, stopped washing my hair, stopped going to PA. Refused to visit my shrink, refused to go out, claiming that it was too dangerous. Danger was everywhere.

I hid in the wardrobe. Tani prayed that I would come out, and Frank tried to lift me out with his mighty arms—to no avail, I bit him. They called Nate, and he tried to talk me down, tried to convince me to take some antipsychotic drops, but I said he was trying to poison me. Later, I calmed down a little, left my hideout, and acted like nothing had happened, so Tani and Frank decided to let me stay—again and again we went through the same cycle, and Nate lost his patience with them. Nate, the only wise one among us.

“When will you get tired of this and understand that this isn’t the time for her to be out? Why can’t you wait for a proper treatment? Don’t you realize that she might end up killing herself if she’s like this? How will you feel knowing that she’s dead because of you? Let me tell you: worse than you feel about her sleeping away at Dream On!” He was bellowing, but Tani—despite becoming more and more exasperated with me—wouldn’t give in.

“It’s going to be okay, she just needs some time. We can’t keep her in the pod forever! It’s unholy!”

“Unholy is what you’re doing to her right now. And what you’re doing to me, and to Frank, and to yourself!”

It was Frank who found me—the only good thing to come of this whole pathetic situation. He called Dream On and someone raced over to pick me up—their ER is the best in town. As soon as Tani found out what had happened she showed up, her eyes swollen and mouth tight.

“Are we going home?” I asked, worried.

“No, mom, we’re not.” Tani sat down and leaned her head against the bed.

“Should I stay here for a day or two?” I asked.

“No, mom.” She straightened up and looked at me.

“A week?”

“No.”

“Longer?” My voice shook.

“Yes, mom. I think you should stay here… longer. Come back here and wait…” She squeezed her eyes shut, but a couple of tears escaped and ran down her face anyway. “They’ll come up with a cure. And when they do,” she sniffled. “Then, it’ll be better for all of us.”

I waved my hand. I understood. It was a good decision—the decision she should’ve made a long time ago. I’m a hopeless case. Or at least a complicated case, waiting for salvation to come from brilliant minds and their glamorous medicines.

So here I am again, back at Dream On, Felicity waiting for me at the gate to the enormous bedroom where all the poor things like me doze. We all hope to get out of here one day and get back to our lives. If I didn’t keep that hope alive, I’d opt for a more extreme solution. But I still hope, and I hate that I do. I still feel the responsibility—I’m still not selfish enough to abandon Tani and Nate. I try not to think about the fact that it might be easier for them if I were six feet under. Maybe I am selfish, getting back into my comfy bed to dream the days away, enjoying every moment?

“Felicity, what should I do?” I ask, as she wrenches my arm to pull on the sleeve of the pajamas. She pants with effort—it’s very tight.

“What?” she grunts.

“What do I do?” I sigh. She finally looks me in the eye.

“Just get into bed, Fallon,” she smiles. “Everything’s gonna be allrighty”

“When?” I sit down. The bed is soft and smells of jasmine.

“One day, I promise. Just wait here and don’t let hope fade!” She pushes me firmly back, and I sigh and fall asleep.

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