The trip to Melodee Music, where the girls’ choir rehearsed, was a familiar one for me; when I was in high school, I had performed there on occasion, so I was pretty much driving on autopilot the whole way. I did have one problem, though. When I tried to turn onto Market Street, the shoe I had doffed had rolled under the brake pedal, and I wound up taking the corner a lot faster than I had intended. That brought a yelp from my sister, who actually pulled out her ear buds to ask what I was doing.
“Just in a bit of a hurry, I guess,” I told her, a bit embarrassed that it hadn’t occurred to me to clear the shoe away from the pedals. I did so now, with my left foot.
We arrived at the music school a bit on the early side, and joined a crowd of girls and, in some cases, their drivers, as they streamed into the front entrance. I could see our reflections in the large glass windows, and was stunned to see that the girl walking behind Tina was not Lee Ann Taylor, but someone I had never seen before. She looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t tell why. That rather tossed my incipient theories out the window. Lee Ann could well have represented the ability to foster long-term relationships, but why was I dreaming that I looked like this stranger?
I took a moment to inspect my appearance. It would have been sensible to look at myself in the mirror when I had awoken, but I hadn’t thought of it – probably more dream logic. Since I had known that I was Lee Ann, why bother to check? I took the chance to do so now, and realized the reason for the familiarity. The girl in question could easily have been a relative: a cousin, or even a sister, if my parents had had a daughter older than Tina. But I was pretty sure I had never seen her, so my imagination must have extrapolated from Tina and Mom and my cousin Tara, each of whom looked something like the image I had conjured for myself.
Tina was staring at me, no doubt wondering when her brother had become so vain as to admire his reflection in a window. “You’re going to wait for me, right, Marsh?” she asked. I actually hadn’t thought about it. It was a fifteen-minute drive home, and her rehearsal was going to last an hour-and-a-half, so I could either have stayed or drive home and back; since I didn’t really have to do anything at home, I agreed. Besides, I actually do like listening to my sister sing.
Both of us get our musical ability from Mom’s side of the family, but Tina has it in spades. My own voice was passable – I’d done minor roles in school musicals, such as Sir Sagramore in Camelot, and Sandy in Brigadoon. I’d get a line or two in a song, and lots of chorus work. Tina’s voice was in a whole other category. As a freshman last year, she had played Maria in West Side Story, and was generally considered likely to be cast as either Julie or Carrie in the upcoming production of Carousel. Naturally, then, she was doing a lot of solo work in this girls’ choir as well. So I followed her inside and sat just outside the choir practice room with my head resting against the wall near the door. That way I could hear her – or fall asleep if I was still overtired.
I actually did close my eyes for a while, waiting for practice to start, but I wasn’t quite asleep – only enough to muse about what would happen if you dreamed that you had fallen asleep. Would you dream that you were dreaming? Would you actually wake up and then return to the same point in the dream the next time you fell asleep? The ideas amused me.
“Pleasant dreams, or are they telling jokes in there?”
I looked up to see a young man a bit older than I. Compared to most people our age, he was overdressed (as was I, for that matter). Rather than the jeans and T-shirt that seemed to be a uniform for so many of my classmates, he was wearing khaki slacks and a pullover, pretty much what I wore when I wasn’t dreaming that I was a girl. Maybe he was supposed to represent me in this dream, but his voice was noticeably higher and coarser than my light baritone, and his complexion owed more to Northern Europe than my own, largely Mediterranean ancestry.
“Oh, hi,” I answered, sitting up. “I was just daydreaming a bit. Just dropping your sister off?”
“No, we live about a half hour away. By the time I got home, it would just be time to turn around and come back, so I’m waiting for her.”
“Yeah, that makes sense,” I acknowledged. I held out my hand as he dropped onto the seat next to mine. “I’m Marsh Steen.”
“Jeremy Barker,” he replied. “So, I take it you’re Tina’s big sister?”
I stared at him for a second. So somebody else was going to see me as a girl in this dream, apparently. Then I answered truthfully, “Actually, I’m her big brother.”
That got him. His mouth actually dropped open in response. Then he laughed. “I guess that was kind of a dumb question, wasn’t it? If I’d been wearing a sign, you would have known what to expect.” He said the last with a self-deprecating smile. Both his laugh and his smile were very pleasant, and I found myself liking him.
Although, as I have mentioned, I’ve had trouble sustaining a relationship with a girl, I’ve never had trouble actually finding girlfriends. I’d made something of a study of the art of meeting girls, and could usually start a new relationship within weeks of the end of previous one. I’d always used a blend of humor and attentiveness that some girls had seemed to find, if not irresistible, at least intriguing enough to want to get to know me better. But Jeremy seemed to be something of a natural. He was certainly not using any techniques that I knew of, and was anything but self-conscious, and yet I was certain that girls would be attracted to him. Naturally, since I was a girl in this dream, I was fascinated.
That got me wondering if he was the real point of the dream. The fact that he, unlike Mom and Tina, had seen me as female was suggestive. Maybe the lesson that my subconscious was drawing was that I had been trying too hard. Could the ease I’d had in meeting girls have made me value each one that much less?
At any rate, he was very easy to talk to, and had an extensive knowledge of choral music. His sister was the singer in the family, but he’d made a hobby of music appreciation, a subject that I found daunting. My musical tastes and experiences were a fair bit more pedestrian, leaning towards show tunes and rock, especially from the ‘60s and ‘70s. At first, I almost expected him to look down his nose at such things, but he was able to explain how the harmonies in The Beatle’s music demonstrated that Lennon and McCartney had had a very strong grasp of the principles of music composition. I was impressed, and made a mental note to look this up when I awoke to see if it was really true, and if so, where I might have heard about it.
And on top of that, he was actually an electrical engineer! With my own major in biology, I certainly knew that musical talent and inclination were not limited to liberal arts majors, but it hadn’t occurred to me that engineers, whom I’d always regarded as tending more towards the cold and mathematical, would be interested. I told him so, which prompted him to discourse on the mathematical nature of music and art, with allusions to works of Gödel, Escher, and Bach. By the time rehearsal was over, my head was spinning.
We had been fortunate to have the waiting room to ourselves, and now the arrival of the singers’ drivers drove the noise level to the point where we almost had to shout to make ourselves heard. It was definitely not conducive to the kinds of semi-intellectual conversation we had been enjoying, so we gave up and waited for our sisters to join us. Jeremy’s sister was first, and she interrupted his attempt to introduce us with an imperious, “Jeremy, we need to leave. Now.” He seemed quite surprised by her attitude, and tried again, but she stomped out the door. With a shrug and apologetic glance, he followed her.
Tina emerged a few minutes later in an equally foul temper. She didn’t even say anything, just nodded at me to follow her to the car.