Stephanie Scully owns Charlie’s.
Actually, no, she doesn’t, has not owned Charlie’s longer than she owned it. That’s what makes her aware that she is dreaming. Not that she’s complaining particularly, she has often thought that the worlds her mind makes for her at night are nicer than the real world ever was.
It’s empty, bar one person. Sonya is sitting at a table, menu open in front of her pouring over it carefully. She was wearing a purple dress, and had a crown of lavender on top her perfectly straight hair. She looks like an illustration out of a children's book. When she notices Steph, she smiles. Her teeth are white and square.
Like she always does, Steph sat opposite her. Sonya folds up the menu, her nails are short and round. She smiled again and her eyes were warm. Steph is unable to stop herself from smiling back. The room is pleasantly cool; and the music is soft. She doesn’t know the song, but there is a piano and a manufactured drumline. No lyrics she can make out.
She misses Charlie’s. Sometimes. More than that she mixes fixing things. These days she just breaks them.
“You came.” She nodded, as though she had a choice in the matter. She would go wherever Sonya called her to go. Always.
“Of course.” Sonya is blinding, like starring right at the sun. Steph revels in it.
“What are you going to get?”
“I don’t know. What are you going to get?”
“This is a dream.”
Around them, Charlie’s starts to melt away. Chairs bleed into the floor, the countertop laps at her ankles as it turns into a small ocean of black flecked goo. The walls trickle down themselves, revealing the empty, cloudy space outside. The chair she is sitting in sticks to the back of her pants as she stands to watch everything melt, away from her and out of her control. Sonya watches as well, lavender drips down her face and catches in her eyelashes until they’re the only things left in the endless, empty void.
“You never stay.”
“You’re never real.”
“I might have been.”
“We both know that’s not true.” She replies, reaching out to wipe purple away with her fingertip.
“We could go somewhere.”
“Anywhere. A wedding? A birth? Do you want to see the real Charlie? I can take you to him.” Steph doesn’t doubt it, but it’s not the same. It’s just a dream, it’s all just a dream, and when she wakes up, she will be alone in her room.
“I don’t want to go anywhere. I want to wake up.” Sonya’s face morphs into an expression of sadness.
“Because you aren’t real.”
“Will I be seeing you?”
Steph is awake before she can answer. Alone in her bedroom. It’s not really her bedroom. Her room at Toadie and Sonya’s place. Her things are scattered where she left them. A selection of short horror stories are sitting on the floor next to the bed. A jacket sits on her table. On the wall is a small pop art style print that she bought at IKEA. She has a little desk with a stack of uncategorized receipts, a blue lamp that was a birthday gift from Susan and a tin with assorted pasta pieces glued to it that Charlie gave her years ago that she keeps pencils in. Her phone is upside down on the nightstand, silent and dark.
She slid out of bed, and padded quietly out of her room. The house is still and the air is tepid. The door to Toadie and Sonya’s room is less than a hundred feet away. She’s well versed from Sonya’s relapse about how to peak into the room without waking up the occupant. She opened the door and looked in.
Toadie was asleep in his bed, exactly where he should be. He is holding a pillow in his arms and his breath is even. She crossed the room and stood, watching him. She loves him. He’s her best mate. She always comes back to him, in the end.
When the universe decides that she’s gotten too comfortable and her life falls apart, or the carpet gets yanked out under her feet, or she gets her guts ripped out again, she crawls back to him. He always helps her, of course, he does. He probably deserves better than her; on her worst days she’s scared of when he does, and on the best, she worries that he never will. He’s a good man and she wants him to be happy. God only knows that he deserves it.
Sonya makes him happy. She loves Sonya too, she deserves to be happy more than anyone that Steph has ever met. She wants them to be happy, together. With each other. That makes her happy. She misses Sonya when she’s away, misses Nell too. They’ll be back soon, and they’ve been Skyping regularly. Toadie has learned how to close a Skype window properly.
She wonders if Sonya feels it too. Erinsbrough calling her back. Steph has tried to leave dozens of times. Gets on her bike and sits. Thinks about leaving. Doesn’t. When she’s away, it sits around her waist, inky tendrils pulling her back, loosening only when she returns. Does she also dream about it when she’s away? Does it invade her mind and remind her of where she belongs? Steph has never asked, and she doesn’t think she ever will. It’s one of those things they don’t talk about.
Satisfied that Toadie is where he is meant to be, Steph left him to sleep in peace.
The house is tidy. Jack came to see her this evening. She likes him a lot, but she knows as well as anyone that he's not a forever for her. She doesn't have a forever, that part of her life has ended. But for now, Jack is fun. He's more exciting than anything else her life has to offer, which means that he'll break her heart and send her careening back to Toadie and Sonya. Funny, it's like she's in a car and can see the hazard, but rather than slow down, she speeds up.
They left a box of biscuits on the bench, and she put them back where they belong. She passes the wall that she and Sonya painted together. It's hidden away under the new colour, and she let her fingers dance across it gently. She feels a lot of emotions. Pride, hope, happiness, and a little bit of longing thrown in. Amy did a much better job with the wall than they ever could have.
The street is both alive and dead with activity. The only other person awake is Aaron Brennan; which is not unusual. He’s usually out here when she is. He’s sitting on the curb next to a glass ashtray that sparkles in the light. He is smoking something that she can only hope is a cigarette. He doesn’t speak to her. She’s never spoken to him or brought it up. Sometimes Pipers light might still be on as she stays up far too late to work on one of her vlogs.
She turns just in time to see herself sprint down the street draped in her wedding dress. Flick is just behind her. She’s screaming at her, half see-through and young. That Steph has no idea of where her life is going to go.
Sonya is walking up the street wearing her multicolored sundress, drunk. The light shines right through her. She has no idea she just drove a ute into a building; nor should she. Her life might have been easier if she never found out at all. If Steph could go back in time and take the blame for her, she would.
She catches sight of Toadie and Dee driving by; they have no idea that only one of them will be coming back. And nor should they, either. Steph doesn’t want anything to effect their happy memories of Dee. The real Dee. Her friend Dee, the Dee whose wedding she attended. Distantly, she is aware that Dee will not stay dead. People rarely do in Erinsbrough. The question was now, if and when she did, would she be able to, or would Andrea have tainted even that? She doesn't want to think about what it will do to Toadie and Sonya. If it's not Dee, then it will be Andrea. She's certain it's not over, but she won't say so, lest someone think she's lost her mind.
Terry Inglis, running, gun in hand after shooting Paul. She has always suspected that Paul knows more than he let on about this suburb, about why things are the way that they are. There's just something about him that makes her wonder. She cannot help but wonder if knowing the truth has somehow changed him, made him different. She doesn't know that it's made her that different, but she's probably not qualified to tell. Does knowing what Erinsbrough is mean that the people matter less? Steph doesn't know. It might do. Out there in the world, is there someone like her living an ordinary life with ordinary kids? Could she be that lucky?
Some of them she knows like Ben walking down the street dressed up like a prince, and Piper driving off in her car, P plate stuck to the front. Some she doesn’t and doubts she ever will. She watches for another minute, as Aaron and David stumble down the street, arm in arm, laughing. Aaron is watching them too.
Ghosts of this suburb, none of them know, have even the slightest idea of where they will be. They’re just going through the motions, time after time. History stuck on repeat. The re-runs. The greatest hits, the most memorable moments taken straight from a compilation off of You Tube.
She went back into the house.
Tomorrow will be a new day. The sun always shines on television.