Her beauty and sparkling personality had worked magic on him. By the time he had graduated, he found himself ensconced in her father’s architecture firm building high rise buildings in Houston and living a life he had never imagined for himself. He won awards and was given huge bonuses. He dined at the finest restaurants and vacationed at the best resorts. But one day he woke up and it all meant nothing. He realized he had lost his soul and forgotten his desire to help people.
In months everything was sold, the girlfriend was in the past, his expensive suits were at Goodwill and he was in a truck heading into the Texas Hill Country to help restore an old historical town.
Now he was helping rebuild the town in a way he never imagined.
People in the fort saw Travis as a leader. He saw himself as a helper. He was helping build a new life and making sure it was safe. He was Katie’s husband and their child’s father and that was good enough for him. All the rest of it, the looks of admiration, the looks of disdain, the arguments, the accolades, were meaningless when he looked down into Katie’s face and understood his role.
“I always loved looking at her when she slept,” a silky, deep voice said.
Looking up, Travis saw a very tall woman gazing down at them. She was very slim and wore a black dress with long sleeves and a skirt that brushed over the toes of her black boots. She sat down next to Jason and smiled at Travis.
Blinking, he took in her short cropped brown hair with auburn highlights, amazing cheekbones and shining eyes. Ornate native jewelry decorated her throat and wrists.
“She just looks so innocent when she sleeps, though every once and awhile, she gets this furrow right here,” the woman said, leaning over to point between Katie’s eyebrows. “That is when you know she’s arguing a case in her sleep.”
He noted her hands were long and elegant. She wore a diamond wedding band.
“Yes, you are,” Lydia assured him. She tilted her gaze to look at Katie. Her eyes glimmered with unspoken love and she smiled a bittersweet smile.
Travis knew this was a dream, but he felt awkward. Meeting the-well, she wasn’t really the ex--but his wife’s former wife was odd.
Lydia laughed. “Don’t worry, Travis. Life goes on for the living. I know that. I would never want to hold her back from loving again. From living. I will always love her and I just want her happy.”
“Yes, you are.” She laughed with delight.
Lydia’s hand reached toward him, but she didn’t quite touch him. “It’s all right, Travis. The heart loves without boundaries. It is the mind that can trap the heart with cages constructed by society’s rules. Katie always had a beautiful open heart.”
Travis forced a smile, feeling nervous. “Why am I dreaming about you, Lydia?” He understood he was asleep and this was all a dream, but somehow it felt important. It felt amazingly real.
Lydia’s smile faded a little and she sat back, crossing her legs. “Travis, you need to understand something important. I’m here to give you a message.”
“About you.” She tilted her head and gazed at him with a serenity that was both comforting and disconcerting.
Leaning forward, her eyes gazed steadily into his. “You need to understand that the world has changed. The veil between the living and the dead is very thin now. The worlds have blurred and nothing is as it was. Many have died and will die as the world tries to regain balance of some sort. The dead are all around you. Not just the empty shells that are trying to kill you, but the spirits of those trapped by the massive upheaval that took place when the dead seized the world from the living.
She nodded. “Yes. I have yet to move on. But soon the world will find a new balance and I will.”
“I’m so sorry about what happened to you, Lydia.”
“Being a good Samaritan sometimes gets you killed. Trust me. I know.” A shadow of pain flitted over her features, then she swept it away with a wave of her hand. “This is something you need to learn.”
“What are you saying?” He narrowed his eyes.
“You want to save everyone, Travis, and help all of them be safe. But this world is not safe. Nothing is as it was. Very soon you will fully understand the sheer fruitlessness of trying to control everything around you. You will need to make choices for yourself, Katie and the baby. Others will make choices for themselves as well. These choices may lead to life or to death.”
Frowning a little, Travis looked down at his wife, then up at Lydia. “They are my priority, Lydia. Katie and the baby.”
He swallowed hard, remembering how anxious he had been to risk his own life to try to help Juan. Tears filled his eyes and he looked up at Lydia. His voice caught in his throat and he said, “You’re right. I just want to help everyone.”
Lydia smiled at him tenderly. “I know. I know. But it is time for you to begin to let go of all the reins you have been holding and concentrate on your family. Soon, very soon, everyone will have to make choices for themselves. You, Katie, and everyone around you.”
“And they may die,” Travis said in an agonized voice.
“Travis, what you need to understand is that people will make choices for themselves. And sometimes, the right choice, the good choice, will lead to their death.”
The truth of this statement startled him. “Who will die?”
Lydia tilted her head and looked at Katie for a long tender moment. “She will need you.”
“Tell me! I don’t care if you are a dream.”
Lydia hesitated. “The future isn’t set yet. It is constantly changing, evolving based on what people choose.”
“But you know something. Who is going to die?”
“No, he is going to be all right. The operation was a success,” Lydia said softly, then suddenly she was gone and Charlotte was standing over him.
“Did you hear me, Travis? Juan is going to be all right. We got the bullet and he is stable. I think he will be all right.” Charlotte repeated.
Katie sat up groggily and when she heard Charlotte’s words, she leaped up and hugged her tightly. “Thank you, Charlotte! You saved him!”
Then everyone was crying and hugging each other.
Travis felt relieved, but strangely disconnected from all around him. His dream still felt tangible and, despite himself, he looked around for Lydia.
Katie threw her arms around him, kissing his cheek. “Love you.”
“Love you,” he answered, his gaze still sweeping over the lobby.
“Yeah, me, too. I dreamed you and Lydia were talking while I slept,” Katie said with a little shrug. “Strange, huh?”
Kevin walked briskly along the walkway leading to the mall’s offices. The Major General had sent for him and he had an ominous feeling about this meeting. Down below, he could see people moving about, talking in groups, or moving to their assigned duties. Already he could see one group of people washing the glass of the window displays. In an effort to keep people from going stir crazy, all sorts of ridiculous chores had been thought up for the populace. The fear and stagnation in the mall was terrible. He felt it pushing on him everyday.
Sliding his hand over the stubble on the top of his head, he tried to focus himself the best he could. He could see the Senator’s entourage on their way across the bridge from Foley’s and knew this meeting was not going to be one bit pleasant.
Kevin knew that he would have to keep his tongue in check. It was hard to do with the increasingly inflammatory comments being made by those in power. It was obvious to him that the people in Central had no compassion to those outside their walls. What had once been the American populace were now merely commodities to be divvied up into neat little categories.
A group of short, dark skinned men were being herded toward the outside doors as he drew near the offices. He hesitated as he watched the indigenous men group tightly together, obviously afraid. For some obscene reason, the migrant workers were forced to work on the mall’s landscaping. Supposedly, it was to keep them busy, but no other people in the mall were forced to go outside and endure the blood curdling moans of the undead.
Frowning, he turned and moved down the short hall that would deliver him into the Major General’s office. The men on guard gave him sharp salutes and opened the door for him. Walking in, he felt everyone’s eyes on him. He had originally been the senior officer in charge of the mall until the Senator had shown up with the Major General. They were constantly suspicious of him and he did his best to make them feel he was a faithful drone.