It was a perfect summer’s day when Zoe and Jodie decided to go to a local county fair. And the reason for that decision was that that particular fair had recently introduced camel-rides. Neither of the girls had ever seen a camel in real life.
‘Drive carefully, won’t you?’ Zoe’s mother, Lynette, stressed.
It had been only a few weeks since Zoe got her driver’s licence. She was sixteen and wanted to drive a car, so Lynette bought her a small second-hand yellow hatchback from a friend.
Zoe did drive her car carefully, well at first she did, until she went over the speed limit and ended up getting a speeding ticket.
‘Mom’s gonna kill me for sure,’ Zoe grumbled.
‘I told you, you were going too fast, didn’t I?’
‘Shut up, Jodie,’ Zoe retorted.
All the same, they arrived at the fair safe and sound and the first thing Zoe did was to buy a pink cotton candy. Then the two of them happily made their way to the camel section, where Zoe bought a ticket and they got a fifteen-minutes’ camel-ride. They were on their way to another ride, when they passed a pink-and-red-striped tent with a sign at its entrance that read:
Have your palm read by Madam Selina.
10 minutes reading for $10.00
20 minutes reading for $20.00
30 minutes reading for $30.00
‘I’m gonna have my palm read,’ Zoe said cheerfully, then ducked her head inside the tent to see a red-haired woman, dressed as colorfully as the tent, sitting at a small table, reading a book.
‘Are you Madam Selina?’ Zoe asked.
‘Yes, I am,’ replied Madam Selina.
‘I’d like to have a ten-minute reading of my palm.’
‘Sure, come on in,’ Madam Selina said, waving her in as she closed the book and put it aside.
Excited, Zoe smiled and went inside.
Madam Selina smiled back and gestured for Zoe to come and sit at her table, but then her smile gave way to a thoughtful frown when her gaze settled on Jodie for a moment or two.
‘Right hand or left?’ Zoe asked, showing her palms.
‘If you are right-handed, then right,’ Madam Selina answered with a slight hint of hesitation, which did not at all register with Zoe.
‘Tell me everything,’ Zoe said, giving her right hand to Madam Selina. ‘I want to know everything, the good and the bad.
‘I shall do my best,’ Madam Selina returned measuredly, studying her. Then she ran her forefinger along Zoe’s lifeline and headline. ‘You have a very good imagination, but you must be careful not to be carried away by it too much.’ She then paused briefly as she eyed Jodie who was standing behind Zoe. ‘You are what is called a sensitive,’ Madam Selina continued, lowering her eyes back to Zoe’s palm, ‘this is a good trait, very good trait, if you learn how to use it.’
‘What do you mean by sensitive?’ Zoe asked, looking somewhat confused.
‘It means that you can see things others can’t,’ Madam Selina explained, glancing up at Jodie again.
‘Really?’ Zoe said, giggling.
‘Yes,’ Madam Selina said.
‘So what else do you see for me?’ Zoe asked.
‘You can be at times very reckless, so you must take care that you don’t become too reckless, otherwise you could end up spending a considerable length of time in some sort of confinement.’
‘I know what that is,’ Zoe shrieked, widening her eyes. ‘Mom’s gonna ground me for getting a speeding ticket.’
Madam Selina regarded Zoe for a long moment, then released her hand. ‘I am afraid, that is all I can tell you. You’re still very young and your lines are still forming.’
‘Oh!’ Zoe protested. ‘But you haven’t said much...’
‘Then you don’t have to pay me much. Five dollars will do.’
Zoe shrugged and as she got up she noticed a small basket on a round little table by the side of the tent. The basket seemed to contain some kind of trinkets.
‘What’s in that?’ Zoe inquired, indicating the basket.
‘Rings.’ Madam Selina got up and they both went to the table for Zoe to see the rings. ‘I sell charmed rings.’
‘Charmed!’ Zoe exclaimed. All the rings had the same exact design: two interlocking hearts. ‘How are they charmed?’ Zoe asked, half convinced, half wondering.
‘To wear them is to meet your perfect match,’ Madam Selina said without either conviction or enthusiasm.
Zoe picked up a ring and examined it. ‘Is this real silver?’
‘Yes,’ Madam Selina confirmed.
Zoe slipped the ring onto the forefinger of her right hand and saw that it was a perfect fit. ‘How much is it?’
‘I’ll buy it,’ Zoe said and handed Madam Selina twenty-five dollars for both the ring and the reading.
‘Take care now,’ Madam Selina said as the girls turned to leave.
‘What a weird woman!’ Jodie exclaimed, once they were outside the tent.
‘She was, wasn’t she?’ Zoe admitted, giggling.
‘Let’s go to a shopping mall instead of catching another ride,’ Jodie suggested.
‘Yeah okay, but I don’t have much money left to do any actual shopping.’
‘We’ll just do window-shopping then.’
Zoe nodded and they both walked to where Zoe’s car was parked.
While driving to the mall, Zoe started singing sweet dreams are made of this.
When she finished singing the song, Jodie advised that she should enter a talent quest.
‘Mom thinks that we should make a video of me singing and put it on YouTube.’
‘That’s a brilliant idea. Do that,’ Jodie encouraged. ‘If I had your voice I sure would want to become a singer. You have a fabulous voice.’
‘I’d like to become a singer too someday, but Mom says that I lack discipline.’
‘Well then, you have to get some, won’t you?’
Zoe giggled. ‘From where? I’m the most undisciplined person ever,’ she said, dragging out the ever.
‘Who am I to disagree?’ Jodie sang, though not at all amused.
‘Are you giving me attitude?’
‘Just drive,’ Jodie returned tightly.
The lights up ahead were still green and Zoe put her foot on the accelerator to avoid getting stuck in the red light.
‘Slow down! You already got one ticket,’ Jodie warned.
‘Oh, no, no, no, don’t!’ Zoe shouted at the lights. ‘Shit! It’s yellow now…’
‘Shut up, I can make it.’
‘It’s red for crying out loud!’
Zoe stopped the car suddenly and the car behind her ran into her.
‘Shit!’ the girls screamed in unison as their heads bounced forward first, then backwards.
Zoe got out of the car to confront the driver of the car that hit her.
The driver of the car too got out to check the damage.
‘The lights were red,’ Zoe cried, pointing at the lights.
‘I thought you were going through it!’
‘What, through the red light, and you were gonna follow me?’
The driver had nothing to say to that, except that he was sorry.
Zoe eyed the driver and his car. The driver was as good-looking and as sexy-looking as his red convertible. Well, maybe even better looking – he was gorgeous. He had to be very rich too, driving that car.
The driver introduced himself as Blake Jordan and said that his insurance will pay for all the damages done to her car.
The damage to the car was very minor – a small dent on the bumper. Shaken, but perhaps not too dreadfully stirred, Zoe got into her car and drove home. Going to the shopping mall after having a car accident, no matter how minor, might not be the wisest of decisions. Her mother would surely not appreciate it.
‘I told you to slow down,’ Jodie reminded her.
‘Shut up, Jodie,’ Zoe retorted in her usual way.
Lynette was more relieved than angry when she heard about both the accident and the speeding ticket. Zoe was safe and sound and nothing serious had happened, thank God. Though, she knew that Zoe would wake up in the morning with a terrific pain in her neck. Right now she was okay because her body was warm, but come morning, the whiplash would make her neck scream with pain and stiffness. She sighed and sighed, but bit her tongue at the thought of saying a harsh word to Zoe for getting a speeding ticket. Maybe this car accident would teach her to be more careful on the road in the future.
As Lynette expected, Zoe woke up with a stiff sore neck and a stiff sore body. But just as she was complaining, the phone rang.
Lynette answered the phone.
‘Who is it?’ Zoe asked, seeing a look of surprise on her mother’s face.
‘It’s Blake Jordan,’ she mouthed.
‘What’s he saying?’ Zoe mouthed back.
Lynette held up a hand for Zoe to be quiet, as she told Blake Jordan about Zoe’s whiplash. Then after listening to his response, Lynette grinned and thanked him profusely before putting the phone down. ‘He said that all your medical costs would be covered by his insurance. And that goes for Jodie too.’
‘If only his insurance could take away this pain right now,’ Zoe complained, while pouring milk over her bowl of cereal.
‘Be grateful to that pain. It is teaching you a lesson, you know,’ Lynette said by way of chastisement.
Zoe was wincing and moaning with every spoonful of cereal that she was putting in her mouth when the doorbell rang.
‘Who could that be this early in the morning? It’s not even eight o’clock yet,’ Lynette wondered aloud as she went to answer the door. Her jaw dropped when she opened it. A huge bouquet of red roses was being delivered. For whom? For Zoe. And there was a card.
Dazed, Lynette read the card as she walked back to the kitchen.
Beautiful roses for a beautiful girl. Sorry that I hit you, but if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have met you.
Zoe stopped her wincing and moaning at the sight of the roses. She was as thunderstruck as her mother was.
Lynette quickly got the biggest vase she could find, filled it with water to put the roses in, then sat admiring them. Mother and daughter were still in a state of disbelief when the phone rang again. Lynette picked up the phone and again her jaw dropped. It was Blake. He had organised for Zoe to see his doctor and his physiotherapist.
‘My God!’ Lynette exclaimed. ‘This guy must be very rich.’
‘He is,’ Zoe confirmed. ‘He is super rich. He is the CEO of Jordan, a big pharmaceutical company.’
‘Yup. I googled him last night.’
‘Did you now?’ Lynette said, lifting a brow, looking amused. ‘How old is he? Do you know?’
‘I guess you googled his age too?’
‘Yup,’ she said, nodding, then winced in pain.’
‘We’ll get to his doctor today. In the meantime, try not to nod!’
Blake Jordan had Zoe and Lynette stumped. How could a guy like him be interested in a girl like Zoe? They couldn’t figure it out. He was twenty-six; she was sixteen. He was rich; she was poor. He was gorgeous; she was average. So the answer had to be the charmed ring. How else could any of this be explained! A perfect guy, rich and handsome, had entered Zoe’s life as if by magic. Well, perhaps the entrance was a bit too bumpy, since he ran into her and caused her a few weeks of discomfort, but wow, she couldn’t really complain about it.
And Zoe had fallen in love with him so hard that she wanted to announce it to the world on the top of her voice from every rooftop.
‘But he’s so much older than you,’ Jodie said in disapproval, when she came for a visit.
‘He’s not that old,’ Zoe retorted.
‘He’s twenty-six for crying out loud and you’re sixteen. He is a grown man and you are just a teenager,’ Jodie argued.
‘That doesn’t matter. In our state I’m of legal age and I can be with whomever I want to be. And I want to be with Blake. I love him. Do you understand? We are in love with each other. Wait till you fall in love and then see how you’d feel if someone criticised your relationship!’
‘Zoe, all I’m doing is trying to point out some obvious facts,’ Jodie returned.
‘Well, I’m not interested in your obvious facts. Nothing will stand between Blake and me. We’re inseparable.’
And they were.
Of course, Lynette was too wrapped up in Blake’s good looks and wealth to have any sort of sensible opinion about the relationship. She was a single mother and never had much money. She had to work really hard just to put a humble roof over their heads. So if her daughter was lucky enough to find a guy like Blake, she would have to be a fool to put a stop to it. Yes, he was older than Zoe; and yes, some people did look askance at the whole thing, but she approved of it. Blake was right for Zoe. He was a positive influence on her, not to mention that he did not interfere with her schooling. In fact, thanks to Blake, Zoe’s grades jumped from C to A.
‘Princeton. Go to Princeton University. That’s where I went,’ Blake encouraged Zoe.
‘What about my singing career?’
‘You can pursue that too. You can do anything you want in life.’
Zoe smiled brightly. Her future was a dream too good to be true.
At the prom night, Zoe was the envy of every girl when she brought Blake as her date. And on that same night, when they were dancing alone outside beneath a starry sky, he went down on one knee and proposed to her, placing a huge diamond ring on her finger.
That night Zoe came home and began singing I could have danced all night from her mother’s favorite movie My Fair Lady.
And Lynette joined in and sang along with her. So happy she was for her daughter.
‘It was the charmed ring that brought Blake into my life,’ Zoe said to Jodie, the next morning.
‘I don’t think so,’ Jodie returned, shaking her head dejectedly.
‘Why do you say that?’ Zoe asked, frowning.
‘Well, I have the same ring, but do you see me having my perfect match?’ When Zoe started dating Blake, Jodie went to Madam Selina and bought a charmed ring from her too.
‘You never know, you might meet him at my wedding.’
‘When is the wedding?’
‘What soon?’ Zoe returned. ‘We’ve been together for two years now.’
Jodie sighed. ‘So who’s gonna be your bride’s maid?’
‘Who do you think, silly?’ Zoe shrilled, her eyes twinkling.
‘Me?’ Jodie squeaked, placing a hand on her chest, feigning surprise.
Zoe laughed and punched Jodie in the arm playfully. ‘Don’t give me that look as if you didn’t expect to be my bride’s maid!’ She then threw her hands in the air dramatically and added, ‘We’ve been friends forever, so whom am I gonna ask to be my bride’s maid, if not you, my BFF?’
Jodie grinned. ‘It’s gonna be a huge affair, your wedding, with Blake being rich and all.’
‘I know, right? All his family will be there,’ Zoe said, giggling.
‘So, where are you going for your honeymoon?’
‘Paris,’ Zoe cried excitedly. ‘We gonna go to Paris first and then to Rome.’
‘Wow! I bet your mom is happy.’
And Lynette was. In fact, Lynette was the happiest mother in the world because she had nothing to worry about. Her daughter was marrying a very handsome rich guy and was going to have a charmed life – the life of a princess.
‘But she is so young, Lynette. Zoe is only eighteen. Are you sure about this marriage of theirs?’ asked Carol, Jodie’s mother.
‘I am one hundred percent sure. Blake is the best thing that could’ve ever happened to Zoe. He is such a nice guy. Look at what he is doing for their wedding! The cost is astronomical and he is paying for it all.
‘All right,’ she said with a sigh, ‘I guess, you know best. But I had to air my thoughts.’
‘Noted, Carol, noted, but we know what we are doing. Blake is right for Zoe. They are soulmates.’
‘Whatever you say, Lynette.’
The wedding dress was exquisite, as was the cost at one hundred thousand dollars.
‘Wow,’ Jodie gasped when she saw Zoe in it. ‘My God! You look like a fairytale princess complete with a tiara.’ Jodie squinted her eyes. ‘Are those real diamonds?’
‘Yup. The tiara is a family heirloom.’
‘All the guests have arrived,’ Lynette cried, coming through the door in a hurry. ‘You ready, darling?’
Holding her breath, Zoe nodded. She felt like a princess. She looked like a princess. Surely, this must be a dream. Things like this just didn’t happen in real life. Guys like Blake Jordan didn’t exist in real life. She took a step forward, then another step, one foot after the other. Her knees were shaking. Her body was shaking. She looked at the door. Suddenly, it seemed so far away. She tried to lift her hand, but then noticed that she could only make slight movements of her fingers. Why couldn’t she move her hand? She tried to call her mother, but somehow her tongue felt thick.
Zoe heard her mother speak, but she couldn’t quite make out her face. Her mother’s face seemed suddenly very blurry. What was going on?
‘Come out of it, darling.’
Zoe blinked. Come out of it! What a strange thing for her mother to say!
‘Open your eyes, sweetheart.’
Zoe blinked again.
‘Doctor, she’s coming out of it, isn’t she?’
‘Yes, she is.’
Zoe groaned. Then her eyes blinked open. ‘What’s going on? Where am I?’
‘Oh, honey, honey, you are in hospital.’
‘Yes, sweetheart,’ Lynette said, nodding and crying.
‘What am I doing in a hospital? Where is Blake?’
‘Yes Blake. I want to see Blake.’
‘Doctor?’ Lynette looked to the doctor for answers.
‘Do you remember anything about your car accident, Zoe?’ the Doctor asked.
Zoe nodded weakly. ‘Blake … Blake ran into the back of my car. But the damage was very minor. And I really didn’t get injured. I just got a whiplash.’
‘You got a lot more than a whiplash, I am afraid,’ said the Doctor.
Zoe frowned. ‘What do you mean?’
‘You ran a red light and smashed into a van.’
‘Oh, sweetheart,’ Lynette sobbed, ‘you have been in a coma ever since.’
‘Nearly two years now...’
‘Doctor?’ Lynette looked to the doctor again for answers.
‘It is not uncommon for coma patients to hear people talking,’ the Doctor said.
‘Mom, where is Blake?’
‘Darling, the only Blake I know is Doctor Blake here … Doctor Jordan Blake. And he’s been taking great care of you.’
‘Doctor … Jordan … Blake,’ Zoe said slowly and hesitantly, looking at the elderly man in white coat standing by the side of her bed. ‘No, that’s not Blake.’
‘Honey, I don’t know anyone by the name of Blake, except for Doctor Blake here.’
Zoe’s eyes began to fill with tears and her lips quavered. ‘Find him, Mom. Find Blake. I want Blake.’
‘Darling, I don’t know who Blake is. Is he one of the boys from your school?’
Zoe shook her head and tears streamed from her eyes. It was all a dream. ‘Where is Jodie?’ she finally asked.
‘Yes, Mom, Jodie,’ Zoe snapped. ‘You remember Jodie, don’t you? Where is Jodie?’
‘You can talk with your mother later, Zoe. I want to run some tests on you right now,’ Doctor Blake said.
Zoe opened her mouth to protest but then saw two nurses and an orderly with a gurney enter the room.
‘We’ll talk later, sweetheart,’ Lynette promised, watching the nurses as they put Zoe on the gurney and the orderly wheeling her out of the room.
Once alone, Lynette sat down heavily, thinking.
The disappearance of sixteen-year-old Jodie was all over the newspapers fourteen years ago. No one knew of what had happened to her. The police conducted a thorough search and suspects were questioned, but nothing turned up. Jodie’s parents made an emotional plea on TV for anyone who knew anything of the disappearance of their daughter to come forward, but no one did.
Then one-day Zoe said that she had a new playmate, a big girl by the name of Jodie. But Lynette didn’t pay much attention to it. Zoe always made up imaginary friends, so this one was no different. She certainly didn’t associate Zoe’s Jodie with the teenage girl who had gone missing. It was not until Zoe disappeared that Lynette came to know differently.
Lynette was out of her mind when Zoe went missing a year after Jodie’s disappearance. It took two whole days of intensive search by the police to find Zoe. She was sitting alone by herself near a creek five miles away from their home.
‘I had to come here,’ she told the police.
‘My friend Jodie brought me here.’
It was this event that prompted the police to dig around the creek. Jodie’s remains were found not too far from where Zoe was found. She had died of a broken neck. Not long after, the police charged Jodie’s boyfriend with her murder. At first he denied any wrong doing and said that he was innocent, then changed his story and said that it was just an accident. He was breaking up with her and she got angry with him and started to attack him physically when she fell and broke her neck. His excuse of not reporting it to the police was his fear of not being believed and going to prison for a crime that he was not responsible. After a long drawn-out trial, the boyfriend was cleared of all charges and Jodie’s death was ruled as an accident.
Zoe was too young to be told the truth, of course. As far as Zoe was concerned, Jodie was her friend. As far as Lynette was concerned, Jodie, though a ghost, was one of Zoe’s imaginary friends. But Lynette, who was never at ease with the idea of having ghosts around, kept hoping that as Zoe would grow older she would move beyond the whispers of her imaginary friends, who may or may not be ghosts, and with that departure Jodie’s ghost would vanish too. And in fact, this is precisely what happened, for when Zoe entered her teens, she talked less and less of her imaginary friends and never spoke of Jodie again.
So, what changed now? Why was she asking for her now? It was both unexpected and curious, if not disturbing, to hear Zoe talking about Jodie as if she were a living person, as if Lynette could actually see her. When Zoe was young, at her insistence that her imaginary friends were real, Lynette often had to pretend that she could see them, but this all stopped when Zoe grew up. No pretending was necessary when there was no insisting that phantoms were real. And now, everything had come full circle. Zoe was asking for Jodie.
Then it dawned on her. If Zoe was asking for Jodie, it must be that she couldn’t see her. Maybe the length of Zoe’s coma had been long enough for Jodie’s ghost to end its earthy existence. The revelation was a relief for Lynette, but she knew that Zoe was feeling anything but relief. Zoe must have been seeing Jodie all along, even though she never spoke of her.
Confused, Lynette didn’t know what to do or what to think. And now there was this mysterious Blake. Surely, he couldn’t be a ghost! Or was he? Lynette sighed and sighed, wringing her hands, anguishing over her daughter’s mental health. Perhaps she should go and see Doctor Blake about it. Her reverie was interrupted when a nurse brought Zoe back to the room and help her to bed.
‘How do you feel, honey?’ Lynette asked, when the nurse left the room.
‘Tired, are you?’
‘I’ll be right back, darling. I’m just gonna step out for a minute to see Doctor Blake.’
Zoe nodded and watched her mother leave the room. She was feeling very tired and was about to close her eyes when she heard her name being whispered.
Zoe turned her head around and smiled. It was Jodie.
‘I told you to never mention me to your mother,’ Jodie whispered.
‘Sorry, I forgot,’ Zoe whispered back. ‘I’ve been in a coma for the past two years.’
‘I know. I was there, remember?’
‘Well, so much for the charmed ring. Blake was just a dream,’ Zoe said in a voice broken by tears.
‘But life is a dream, Zoe, a never-ending cycle of dreams. You wake up from one dream, only to slide into another and then another and another until the end of time itself. Now close your eyes and go back to sleep to dream of another dream…’
When Lynette returned to the room, Zoe was sitting up on her bed as bright as day.
‘Did you see Doctor Blake?’ Zoe asked.
‘No, I couldn’t find him. How do you feel?’ Lynette asked, surprised at her daughter’s sudden cheerfulness.
‘Good, really good. I wanna go home now,’ Zoe said.
‘Do you? I thought you were tired.’
‘I am tired. Tired of sleeping. I wanna go home. Take me home.’
‘What, right now?’
‘Yes, Mom, right now. I’ve been lying here for two years. I’m tired of it. Tired of being cooped up here for so long. I wanna go home. Please, take me home.’
‘Darling, who is Blake?’ Lynette asked, narrowing her eyes, looking suspicious.
Zoe lifted her brow. ‘I have no idea.’
‘But you were so … so adamant to see him…’
Zoe shrugged her lips. ‘What can I say? I don’t know anyone by the name of Blake, except of course my doctor … Doctor Blake. So maybe I heard his name while in coma and had a dream about someone by the name of Blake. Who knows? Don’t worry about it!’
‘And what about Jodie?’
‘What about her?’
‘Well, you were asking for her.’
‘I have no idea why I was asking for her. Maybe I was dreaming about her too when I was in coma. I don’t know and I don’t care. All I know is that I’m fine and I wanna go home. So please take me home. And no more questions.’
‘All right, darling, I’ll take you home,’ Lynette said with a sigh of relief. The ghosts were gone. ‘I’d better go and see someone about taking you home.’
‘I won’t be going back to school. I wanna pursue a singing career.’
Lynette frowned. This was so sudden. ‘We’ll talk about it when we get home,’ Lynette said, slightly disconcerted.
‘There’s nothing to talk about. I wanna become a singer.’
‘All right,’ Lynette said softly as she turned to leave.
Once outside the room, Lynette paused by the door and pondered over the sudden change in her daughter. The Zoe that woke up from her coma was a different Zoe from the one that she just spoke to, then she heard Zoe singing sweet dreams are made of this. It was Zoe’s favorite song. Lynette smiled and put away her concerns to go and make arrangements to take Zoe home.
Zoe clasped her head in her hands and sobbed. Where was this place? How did she get here? The last thing she could remember was waking up in a hospital room and being told that she had been in a coma for two years. Oh, Blake, you were not real! You were never real! I should have known that it was all just a stupid dream. Why would a guy like you be even interested in a girl like me? She heaved a mournful sigh and glanced around with fearful eyes. The room she was in looked gloomy with every window barred by an iron grille. Hardly any light could penetrate through. Not that there was much light outside, for the sky looked just as gloomy. Blake might have been a dream, but this was a nightmare from which she had no way of waking.
‘Please, let me out of this place,’ she cried pitifully. ‘Mom! Mom! Please, someone help me! Mom! Mom! Help! Someone help me, please!’ She ran to one of the windows and tried to rattle the iron grille. ‘Let me out of here,’ she screamed. ‘Jodie! Jodie!’