Kim yawned as her eyelids fluttered open. Surprised not to feel Dorthea's body pressed against her own, she rolled over stretching her arm out and discovered the sheets next to her were still warm. She blinked as her eyes scanned the dark motel room. A thin shaft of moonlight, sneaking through a gap in the window curtains, provided just enough illumination for her to make out the room's furnishings.
The room was dominated by a pair of double size beds separated by a night stand holding the room's only lamp. At one end of the room, a table sat under the window with a set of matching chairs placed on opposite sides. At the other end, the door was set off center to allow for a walled-in space for the tub and toilet. A basin hung on the wall opposite the bathroom door. A small, open closet completed the room.
“Nothing fancy,” Kim repeated the gas station attendant's words. She heard the toilet flush and turned her head toward the sound, smiling when a disheveled pajama clad figure emerged from the bathroom. “Hey,” she said as Dorthea shuffled back to the bed. “You okay?”
“Had to pee,” Dorthea grunted, crawling back under the covers. She scooted over close to Kim then wrapped her arms and legs around her. She placed a quick kiss on Kim's cheek before nestling her head against her neck. “I love you,” she murmured.
Kim wrapped her arms around Dorthea. “Love you, too.”
Sleep quickly reclaimed both women.
Kim's sleep fogged brain took several minutes to identify the reason she had been dragged away from her dreams. Her ears finally detected the unexpected soft whimpering coming from somewhere in the dark room and she suddenly realized Dorthea was no longer wrapped in her arms. She sat up in the bed, “Dorthea?” she called softly. “Are you okay?” Receiving no answer, she reached for the night stand and turned on the lamp. “Dorthea!” she exclaimed when the lamp's bright light fell on the huddled form in the other bed.
“I… I didn't want to wake you,” came a ragged response, muffled by blankets.
Kim quickly scrambled off her bed to kneel at the side of the other one. She carefully peeled back the blankets to reveal Dorthea's curled up body. “Sweetheart, what's wrong?” she asked, unsure if she should try to touch her distraught friend.
“I had a weird dream.”
Kim tenderly placed a hand on Dorthea's back. “Want to talk about it?”
Dorthea buried her head further under the arms wrapped around it. Throwing caution to the wind, Kim wrapped her arms around Dorthea, hugging her tight.
“I was in a really dark place,” Dorthea started. “And there was a loud noise all around me. I couldn't tell where it was coming from, it was just… everywhere. I was screaming but I couldn't hear my own voice, the noise was too loud. I was scared. Really scared. Then everything went black.” She shut her eyes, hoping to block out the memory of the dream. Kim gently pulled Dorthea's arms from her head so she could look into her face. When Dorthea's eyes met hers, she almost cried at the anguish reflected in them.
“Honey, you're trembling.”
“It seemed so real. It was a… a dream, just a dream. Wasn't it?” she beseeched.
“Come back to bed.”
Dorthea shook her head and slowly uncurled her body to sit up. “I don't want to.” Forcing a smile to reassure her confused friend, Dorthea swung her legs over the side of the mattress. “I think I'd rather take a hot shower.”
“Are you sure you should?” Kim asked, looking worriedly at Dorthea. “You're still shaking.”
Dorthea sighed and patted the mattress beside her. She waited for Kim to stand then sit beside her. She leaned against her and was glad when she felt Kim's loving arms encircle her.
“You sort of have me freaking out here,” Kim admitted.
“I'm sorry. I didn't want to wake you. I thought, if I gave it some time, the dream would go away.”
“Every time I shut my eyes, I was back there and more frightened than before.”
“Can you remember anything else about it? Like where you were?”
“I don't know. But it seemed so familiar and yet so strange.”
Kim thought for a moment before gently asking, “Could it be a memory?”
Kim nodded. “Could you have dreamt about something that really happened?”
“What? Nothing like that has every happened to me.”
“Not that you remember.”
Dorthea pulled out of Kim's hold and stood up. She paced to the window and pushed back the curtain to reveal a sky turning pink with the coming dawn. “What are you thinking?” she asked calmly, though her thoughts were in turmoil.
Kim stood and padded over to stand beside Dorthea. “Your dream sounds like what Esther might have experienced in the cellar that morning.”
Dorthea looked out at what seemed like an endless sea of sand. “Does it?” she asked, already knowing the answer. She shivered, more from the realization of what her dream could be than from the cool temperature of the room. Abruptly, she turned away from the window and trudged toward the bathroom. “I need a hot shower.”
“Oh, boy,” Kim groaned, dropping back onto the bed.
While Dorthea stood under the soothing waters of a hot shower, Kim shed her pajamas and dressed for the day, having bathed the night before in anticipation of an early morning start. She was tying her shoes when the door to the bathroom opened releasing a cloud of steam into the room. Unsure what to say, she remained silent as Dorthea dressed and re-packed her suitcase.
“I'm ready,” Dorthea said, closing her suitcase.
“There's a café next door. Let's take our stuff to the car then we can walk over there for breakfast.”
“You go. I'll wait here.”
“I'm not hungry. You go ahead and eat. I'll stay here.”
“I said I'm not hungry. Go without me!”
Shocked by the unusual angry outburst from her normally good natured friend, Kim walked unsteadily toward the door. “Um… okay. I'll… I won't be long,” she stammered, reaching for the door handle.
Dorthea dropped onto the bed, tears streaming down her face. “Kim, wait,” she called softly.
Kim turned away from the door then nervously waited for Dorthea to continue.
“Don't go,” Dorthea cried. “I'm so sorry.”
“It's okay,” Kim said as she sat next to Dorthea.
“No, it's not. I'm so confused but I shouldn't have taken it out on you. I just don't know what to do. I don't know what to think,” the words tumbled out of Dorthea. “Can it be real? Or am I just hoping it is?”
“Sweetheart, we'll find out.”
“What if we don't? What then?”
“Then you and I will go on with our lives… together. No matter what happens, it won't change the way I feel about you.”
“But what about me? Will I change?”
“Why would you?”
“I don't know… Oh, what am I saying? Everything is so jumbled up right now. I'm not even sure what I'm thinking.”
Kim rubbed Dorthea's back. “Then stop thinking. There's no point in worrying yourself to death when all you have are bits and pieces to go on.”
“What if it was a memory?”
“What if it was? We started all this because you thought you might be Esther. If you are, then you're bound to have some memories about that day. Maybe all of what you've learned over the past few months has freed some of them up.”
“How could I have forgotten something like that?”
Kim wrapped her arm around Dorthea in a protective hug. “Think how scary the dream was for you last night. If it was real, think how scary it must have been for Esther to actually live it.”
“Then why can't I remember.”
“You probably repressed the memory so you wouldn't have to re-live it.”
Dorthea sighed. “Maybe it would have been better if I'd never read that magazine article.”
“No. You've always wanted to know who you really were. Now, because of that article, you have the chance to find out.”
Dorthea turned to face Kim. “What if we find Paul and he isn't my father?”
“Paul didn't make you the woman you are today. You did. So no matter what, you'll still be you, that won't change. All Paul can give you is a piece of your past, that missing piece to your family history.” Kim chuckled awkwardly. “Who knows, you might find out he's as big a bastard as my dad.”
“Don't say that,” Dorthea snapped.
“Honey, you have to be open to the possibility that you're chasing a man who may, or may, not be your father. And, if it turns out that he is, you may not like what you find. I just don't want you to get your hopes too high.”
“Damn, why do you have to be so sensible at a time like this?”
“Because I love you and I don't want you to hurt anymore than you already do.”
“I don't want to hurt… I just want to know.”
Dorthea wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “I'm going to wash my face and get myself together,” she said with a sigh. “Why don't you go eat?”
“No. I'm really not hungry. You go ahead.”
“How about this? While you wash your face, I'll take our bags out and settle our bill. You can meet me at the car when you're ready. We'll look for a place to eat later when you're feeling up to it.” When Dorthea nodded, Kim pulled her close and kissed her on the cheek.
Kim kissed her again then stood up. She picked up their suitcases. “Take your time,” she said as she carried them to the door. “I'm going to grab some coffee to go from the café.”
Kim flipped on the turn signal when she saw the first off-ramp into the town of Barstow. “We need gas,” she explained to Dorthea. “I'm sure glad we didn't try to make it here last night.” They had driven almost two hours since leaving the motel.
“Me, too. Although, driving through the desert might be better at night. It sure is boring to look at nothing but sand.”
“We're starting to see mountains so maybe the scenery will improve.”
“I hope so.”
Kim pulled into the first gas station and parked next to the pair of pumps. “You want to use the restroom while I get us gassed up?”
Dorthea was looking across the street to a restaurant. “How about we go over there? I think I could eat now.”
Kim rolled down her window to talk to the station attendant. “Fill it up, please,” she told the teenager. “And would you check the oil?”
“You must be starving,” Dorthea said after the boy moved to the back of the car where the filler cap was located.
“I am, a bit.”
“We could have stopped before now. I wouldn't have minded.”
“It's okay. I wasn't that hungry.”
Dorthea smiled. “You're a terrible liar; I've been listening to your stomach growl for the past hour.”
Kim grinned. “Actually, I thought about it but this is the first place I've seen to stop in a while.”
Dorthea laughed. “I'm going to walk over there and get us a table,” she said as she unbuckled her seat belt.
“Order me a ham and cheese omelet and coffee.”
“Okay.” Dorthea grabbed her purse from the behind her seat then opened the car door. “Anything else?”
“Pancakes and maple syrup.”
“Ah, so you are hungry.”
“And a large glass of orange juice. And some bacon.”
“I'll just order one of everything on the menu.”
“Love you, too,” Dorthea quipped as she climbed out of the car. “See you soon.”
Kim smiled, watching Dorthea walk across the street.
“Oil is fine, ma'am. It's fourteen fifty for the gas.”
Kim handed the boy a twenty dollar bill. “How soon until we're back in civilization?” she asked when he returned with her change.
He laughed. “Coming from the east?”
He whistled. “That's a long way.”
“It sure is.”
“Where you heading?”
“Once you get over the pass, you'll have more civilization than you'll probably want.”
“Through the San Bernardino Mountains .”
“How far is that?”
“Another hour or so and you'll be on the other side.”
“Have a good trip. Stop by on your way back to Iowa.”
“We will,” Kim agreed as she started the engine. She drove across the street and parked in the lot behind the restaurant.
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