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In Waking Life

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Anya didn’t start going into Sid’s dreams until after Nikita was born—that September, after they were all back in Pittsburgh. The first time was confusing and a little scary because she didn’t know right away whose dream she had stumbled into. There was water, and a bird calling. A boat bobbing on the water. Sunlight with no apparent source, like she was inside a translucent dome lit from outside. And then Sid coming down the dock toward her, saying, “Anna?”

“How did I get here?” she said. The dream came into focus. The wood planks of the dock were rough and sun-warmed beneath her bare feet, a detail that told her this was a real place. Sid’s house in Nova Scotia, which she had heard him talk about a few times.

Sid shrugged. “Beats me.” He offered her a fishing pole.

She sat with him at the end of the dock and hooked a swan, three tennis shoes, and a baby. She reeled it in, squalling, her breasts aching and tingling from its hungry cries. Sometimes her milk let down in her dreams and she woke to a damp nightgown.

“What’s the symbolism there?” Sid asked.

“I don’t think there’s any symbolism,” Anya said. Dreams had no language, or maybe infinite languages, every human tongue collapsed down into this shared speech. She understood exactly what he meant. “I just think about my own baby a lot.”

“Makes sense,” Sid said. “Well, toss him back, he needs time to get bigger.”

Some dreams ended abruptly, a crisp cutting off, like slicing off the end of a carrot. This one faded out, so gently and slowly that Anya was opening her eyes in her own bed before she realized she had woken. Zhenya, beside her, snored in a steady rhythm. The peace of Sid’s dream lingered. She lightly scratched her nails along Zhenya’s arm until he turned over and quieted, and then she turned over herself and sank back into sleep like the baby sinking down into the water.

She saw Sid a few days later, at dinner at Phil’s house. “Nice fishing with you the other night,” he said to her, smiling, when they happened to meet in the kitchen. If he thought there was anything strange about their nocturnal encounter, he gave no indication.

“Sorry,” she said anyway. She and Sid were friendly, but not friendly enough for her to go casually strolling into his dreams. Not that she had done it on purpose. She wasn’t skilled enough to control where she went.

“Happens sometimes,” he said with a shrug. “You tried any of this potato salad yet? It’s really good.”

“No, I don’t try yet,” Anya said, content to let him change the subject. There was no real need for them to discuss the matter.

--

Anya had never been adventurous in her dreaming. Most nights she went nowhere, and dreamed her own dreams and rarely remembered them. If she did go anywhere, it was usually into Zhenya’s dreams, or sometimes Max’s or Katya’s. She went into Nikita’s dreams at times, but those were blurry, confusing dreams, foggy and insubstantial, and she slipped easily out of them. Zhenya roamed widely at night—he was always full of some tale over the breakfast table—but Anya stayed close to home.

Walking into Sid’s dream was a fluke. She didn’t expect it to happen again. But she was back on the dock a few days later, watching Sid put bait on a hook. The surface of the lake was obscured by mist. Who could fish in these conditions?

“Hey,” Sid called to her, waving, and she walked toward him, listening to the water lap against the dock. In Sid’s dream, the lake was endless, and the shore was lined with trees in every direction. His own house was the only sign of human habitation, the yard sloping down toward the water and the house solitary above.

She sat down beside him and dangled her feet in the water. The temperature was colder than she had expected, probably too cold to swim in comfortably. “Is this what you dream about every night?”

He shrugged. “Why not? I like it here.”

“Seems lonely,” Anya said. Out here by himself, with no one to talk to. But peaceful, too.

“It’s relaxing,” he said. “The season’s busy, you know? Got a lot to do, lot of people who need things from me. Nice to come out here for a little while and fish.”

“You can make your own dreams, then,” Anya said. Sid had a reputation as a strong dreamer, roaming through his teammates’ dreams at will. The rumor mill always tended toward exaggeration, though.

“Mostly,” he said. “The fog wasn’t my doing. Not sure what’s going on with that.”

“I can’t make dreams at all,” Anya said. “Whatever my subconscious comes up with, I’m stuck with that.”

He grinned. “That’s kind of fun, though, isn’t it? Just seeing where you end up.” With a flick of his wrist, he cast his line well out into the water, so far that the mist hid the lure dropping.

“I’m not sure why I’m here,” Anya admitted. “I don’t roam a lot. Mostly into Zhenya’s dreams.”

Sid snorted. “He has the weirdest fucking dreams. He’s a strong enough dreamer that I know he could control them if he wanted to, but I think he’s happier the weirder they are.”

“Does he let you stay?” Anya asked. “He kicks me out sometimes. He says it’s private.”

“He won’t even let me in sometimes,” Sid said. “Just how he is.”

“He likes to be mysterious,” Anya said, and Sid grinned and reeled out a little more line.

--

Sid’s dreams became familiar to her. She visited him once or twice a week. Most of the time he was at his lake house, but sometimes he had clearly let the dream twist through its own wild pattern. Once, she found him napping in a hockey net suspended between two trees, like a hammock. A couple of times he was playing pond hockey with people she didn’t recognize, maybe childhood friends, and he didn’t even seem to notice her presence. She sat in the snow and watched until she woke up: his laughter carrying over the ice, the way he celebrated when he scored, more exuberant than she had ever seen him in waking life.

She liked Sid, but she had never spent much time with him one-on-one. He was Zhenya’s friend, and when he came to their house, it was to spend time with Zhenya. He had come to meet Nikita the day Anya brought him home from the hospital, but that was because of Zhenya. He was someone she would call in an emergency, but not someone she would call just to catch up.

But inside his lake house dream, there wasn’t much to do other than talk. They fished together and caught all kinds of weird things. Sid took her into the house and showed her the inside of his refrigerator, which was stocked solely with trays of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, so warm they were still steaming.

“What’s it like to have a kid?” he asked her once, with two miniature Stanley Cups on the dock beside him, his latest catch.

“I don’t know,” she said. “It changes everything. It’s changed how I think of myself. I love him more than I ever thought I could love someone. But sometimes it’s really hard.”

Sid glanced at her. “You gave up a lot to be with Geno.”

“I thought we were talking about my baby,” she said.

“We are,” he said. “Never mind. It’s not my business.”

“He’s worth it,” she said, meaning both Zhenya and Nikita. She’d had her share of doubts along the way, but they had never transformed into regrets.

“Well. Good,” Sid said. He looked out over the water and nudged her with one elbow. “Not sure who I’d fish with otherwise.”

“You’re bent out of shape that I caught the sturgeon,” Anya said. It had been a big one, easily a meter and a half, and Sid had been both exultant—“I knew there were sturgeon in this lake”—and envious. He had hung it on the wall in his house, above the fireplace, where it swam steadily in place against an invisible current.

“I’ll catch the next one,” he said. He nudged her again. She sculled her feet through the water and smiled.

--

She came into Sid’s dream. Not the lake house, but somewhere she recognized, and she realized after a moment that she was in the Lemieux house, in the kitchen. She had been there only once, at the Cup party last June, but Sid’s dream was detailed with long familiarity. Even the hand towel hanging by the sink had a clear pattern of flowers printed on it. This was the house as it had been when Sid lived there.

Voices outside caught her attention. She peered through the window. The back patio was set up with tables covered in food, and people mingled there and spilled down the grass toward the pool. A party of some kind, on a warm summer evening.

She didn’t know where to find Sid. She found a door out onto the patio and walked the length of the house, searching for Sid’s dark head. Everyone she saw ignored her, too busy talking and drinking. At the far end of the patio, a portico wrapped around the side of the house, and it was quieter there. In the fading daylight, Anya didn’t see anyone sitting in the deep overstuffed couches, but some dream logic pressed her forward, toward the fireplace at the portico’s far end.

She saw Sid first, because he was sitting up, and because she had been searching for him. Her eyes picked out the color of his hair and the shape of his nose, the crooked shape of his smile. This wasn’t the Sid she knew: he was much younger, and his hair was longer than she had ever seen it. He was leaning forward and smiling at someone—Anya couldn’t tell who, her view partially blocked by the back of the couch. The person was lying down with their legs hanging over the arm of the couch, their slides dangling off their feet.

“Sid,” she said, but Sid didn’t look over. This was more of a memory than a dream, and maybe her Sid was somewhere nearby, but this younger version of him wasn’t really him. An echo instead of a person.

She moved closer. As she came around the side of the sofa, she saw that the person Sid was smiling at was Zhenya.

He was so young. He lay sprawled on his back on the couch, grinning at Sid, lanky and sweet. This was their Cup party, Anya realized: in 2009, the first time they won. Here was her husband, before he was her husband, in the deep history of his life that she couldn’t ever visit. But she could see him now, through Sid’s memories.

She watched, fascinated, as Zhenya laughed and kicked his heels against the side of the couch. He was wearing a cap that had been knocked mostly askew, and Anya wanted to put it back into place and tidy his hair. His cheeks were soft and rounded with youth, and flushed with alcohol. He was the sharpest thing in the dream, the most detailed, like Sid had paid more attention to him than to anything else.

“I’ll do it,” Sid said. “I know Talbo was joking, but a bet’s a bet, eh?”

Zhenya scoffed. “You don’t do. Too scare. It’s okay, you pay fine—”

“I’m not paying you shit,” Sid said, grinning even wider. “C’mon, G, sit up and I’ll do it.”

“No,” Zhenya said. Anya watched as his expression shifted from playful to serious, that quicksilver transformation she knew so well. “You come here. Lie down with me.”

Sid’s expression shifted, too, the humor draining away. He bit his lip and readjusted his weight toward the edge of his seat. Anya didn’t understand what was going on, but she thought that whatever happened next would explain everything. Zhenya took off his hat and dropped it on the ground—

“Anna,” Sid said behind her.

The dream snapped out of focus as she turned. For a moment, she was surrounded by blank pure white, like the inside of a cloud. Then the portico came back into view, but empty now. Young Sid and Zhenya were gone. Grown-up Sid watched her solemnly, his hands in the pockets of his jeans.

“Oh—where did they go?” Anya asked. She had wanted to watch Zhenya longer.

“Sorry,” Sid said. “Lost control of that dream.”

It was so obviously a lie that Anya couldn’t think of any way to respond. Sid met her gaze steadily. She had gotten to know him better, but she didn’t know how to push him on this.

“Maybe I should go,” she said.

“You guys still coming for dinner tomorrow?” Sid asked, like nothing had happened, and like it was totally normal to make social plans in the middle of a dream.

“As far as I know,” Anya said. “We’ll bring Nikita, if that’s all right.”

Sid’s stiff posture loosened. He liked Nikita, who at six months old was smiley and happy and seemed to recognize Sid as a consistent source of airplane rides. “For sure. Happy to have him.”

“We’ll see you then,” Anya said, and braced herself for the odd swoop and spiral as Sid pushed her out of the dream.

--

“Sid dreams about you,” she told Zhenya in the morning. She had brought Nikita into their bed to feed him, and he was asleep again, dozing between them. She watched Zhenya tenderly stroke Nikita’s downy head, his face soft with love and wonder. He glanced up at her words, and she had the same feeling as when he shut her out of a dream, that same abrupt withdrawal.

“Does he?” Zhenya said. He squinted at her. “How do you know?”

She hadn’t told Zhenya about her forays into Sid’s dreams, and she wondered now why she hadn’t. She didn’t want to talk about it even now. “I’ve been going into his dreams sometimes. Last night he was dreaming about you.”

“I didn’t know you and Sid were so close,” Zhenya said, his tone very mild. He went back to petting Nikita’s head, like he’d said his piece and the conversation was over.

“We aren’t,” Anya said, but was that true anymore? She stopped, uncertain.

“Look at this sweet little rabbit,” Zhenya said, his hand cupping Nikita’s skull. He started asking Anya about her plans for the day, and she only realized several hours later how neatly he had directed her away from the subject of his presence in Sid’s dreams.

She watched them at Sid’s that night, the two of them standing together by the range as they waited for the salmon to finish cooking, Sid jiggling a fussy Nikita in his arms. Zhenya recounted a story one of the trainers had told him, gesturing with the spatula he had traded for the baby. Anya had seen both of them interact with other friends and teammates, and nothing about either of their demeanors suggested a bond more profound than long-term friendship. They had known and liked each other for a decade. Dreaming of a happy memory shared with someone you cared about was perfectly ordinary.

Why had Sid stopped the dream? Why hadn’t he wanted her to see?

“Anya, more wine?” Zhenya asked, pulling her from her thoughts. She smiled at him and extended her glass.

--

Sid dreamed only of his lake house for a while. Anya didn’t know how to voice her vague suspicions, so half-formed she didn’t even have a name for them. She set them aside. Fishing on Sid’s dock was soothing, with the water and the trees and Sid’s endless supply of anecdotes. She could enjoy the deep settled peacefulness of his mental landscape and not search for hidden meaning. Sometimes a dream was only a dream. She had been very interested in dream theory for a period in her early twenties, and none of her reading had offered any proof that a person’s natural dreams were anything more than a random firing of neurons.

She and Zhenya went to Miami for the bye week, and Sid went home to Halifax. Distance always limited Anya’s dreaming; she would enter her mother’s and brother’s dreams when she was in Moscow, but never from North America. She went into Sid’s dreams when they were both in Pittsburgh, but never when he was on a road trip. But on her first night in Miami, she slipped out of her own dream about running away from a faceless person who was chasing her and into Sid’s dream of the lake.

Sid wasn’t on the dock. Anya walked up the yard and went into the house. She found Sid in the den, sitting in an armchair by the window with a large book open on his lap—a photo album; Anya could make out the ordered bright rectangles centered on the page. He looked up when she came in, and his expression went from surprised to rueful. “Anna,” he said. “Hi.”

“I don’t know why I’m here,” she said. “I never travel this far.”

“Guess I pulled you in,” he said. His gaze dropped to the photo album. He turned the page. “I was thinking about you, I guess.”

The dream lurched and stuttered for a moment as Anya was nearly pushed out of it by her surprise. Sid didn’t look up from his photos. A dream was only a dream, but Sid had exceptional control of his dreams, and he had brought Anya here, thousands of kilometers from her own bed.

“Sorry,” Sid said.

“It’s fine,” Anya said. “I was having a nightmare. I’d rather be here.” Her surprise reduced down into a small private pleasure, indulgent as masturbating alone in bed when Zhenya was out of the house: something that was only for her. Sid had thought of her.

“How’s Miami?” Sid asked.

“Warm,” Anya said. She dragged a chair over and sat down beside him. “Can I see the pictures?”

“Sure,” he said, but as he said it, the photos on the page stretched and twisted, changing before Anya could get a good look at them. When they stabilized again, they were landscape shots, pretty but uninteresting.

“What were they before?” Anya asked. She had seen faces, bodies: people.

“Nothing too exciting,” Sid said. “Want to go fish?”

The smile he gave her was bland and friendly. He closed the album and returned it to the shelf.

What did she suspect him of? Everyone had secrets. There were things in Anya’s heart she didn’t want even Zhenya to know about, old embarrassments she tried to keep buried. If Sid didn’t want her to see what was in the album, that was his right.

“Sure,” she said. “Let’s fish.”

--

She didn’t visit his dreams for a while: two weeks and then three, long enough that she began to suspect he was deliberately keeping her out. She thought she saw him in her own dream one night, his face at the other side of a crowded nightclub, but by the time she fought her way through the crush of people, he was gone. If he had even been there in the first place.

One night she brushed against his lake dream, a glimpse of his house from the dock, and felt it retract from her like a cat smelling something it didn’t like. She focused as hard as she could and formed her consciousness into a sharp point, and somehow managed to punch her way through with the force of a needle puncturing stiff fabric.

She was in the house, up on the second floor, in Sid’s bedroom. The covers were thrown back and half puddled on the carpet, and she looked for a long moment at the rumpled bedding, wondering. Then she went out onto the balcony that overlooked the lake. Down on the dock, Sid was sitting and fishing with someone. She couldn’t see either of their faces, but she knew right away who it was.

She vaulted over the balcony railing and floated down to the yard. The grass was furry underfoot, like a pelt. When she stepped on the dock, it felt springy. Sid had lost control of this dream, or maybe it was a natural dream instead of one he had made.

Zhenya turned as she came close and waved at her. She had been correct about his identity, but this was Zhenya from 2009, the excited boy from Sid’s dream of the Cup party. Not real, but lovingly crafted by Sid from his memories.

“Hi,” Zhenya said, grinning. He had a pair of sunglasses perched on top of his head, nearly lost in the thick waves of his hair. He was—she did the mental math. Nearly twenty-three. He seemed younger. “Would you like to fish with us?”

Sid was Sid. He was busy reeling something in, and maybe that was why he hadn’t noticed her before. Surely he saw her now, but he didn’t look up or acknowledge her, frowning out at the water as he drew in the line.

Anya sat down beside Zhenya. He wore nothing but swim trunks. His chest and shoulders were burned pink, and he was noticeably skinnier than her Zhenya. He grinned at her, his tongue between his teeth, cute and flirtatious. She returned his smile, charmed by this earlier model of the man she knew and loved so dearly. She couldn’t believe he had ever been so cute in real life. She saw now why Sid’s dream was strange: all of his energy and attention had gone to fleshing out this Zhenya.

“Are you one of Sid’s friends?” Zhenya asked her.

I’m your wife, Anya thought. “Sid and I fish together sometimes,” she said.

Zhenya nodded, accepting this. “I’ve caught three sharks. Great fishing in this lake.”

“They were small sharks,” Sid said. Anya tore her gaze from Zhenya’s face. Sid was unhooking a bloody, beating heart from his fishing line. He held it in his hand for a moment, throbbing as it filled his palm, and then he flung it out into the lake. It hit the water and disappeared without a splash.

“Needed time to get bigger?” Anya asked.

“Don’t,” Sid said, his voice hard, which only confirmed Anya’s suspicions. If the heart meant nothing, he would have laughed it off.

Zhenya looked back and forth between them. Anya waited for him to ask a question she couldn’t answer, but instead of saying anything, he leaned against Sid and slung his arm around Sid’s shoulders, familiar and easy. “Bait the hook again. We’ll catch something better.”

“That wasn’t good enough for you?” Sid asked, with that same edge to his voice.

Zhenya drew back, frowning. “Are you mad?”

“I’m not mad,” Sid said, but he wouldn’t look at either of them. Shaded beneath the brim of his cap, his mouth was an unwelcoming line.

Anya couldn’t sit here for this—whatever it was. She stood and said, “I’m leaving.”

“Fine,” Sid said, still without looking at her, and unceremoniously pushed her out of the dream.

--

She was at his house a few days later for his Super Bowl party. He greeted her with a hug and a glass of wine and was as friendly and cheerful as ever, but she had seen the heart beating in his hand while Zhenya sat shirtless beside him on the dock. She wasn’t fooled.

She wanted to know, but she was afraid to ask. She knew about Zhenya’s history with men, but he had always been vague about the details, and Anya hadn’t ever pressed him for specifics. He was hers now, and who cared what he had done in his youth? She hadn’t ever thought of it being someone she knew.

At halftime, she went upstairs on the pretense of using the bathroom and wandered instead into Sid’s study, wood-paneled like the rest of his house and decorated exclusively with hockey memorabilia. She didn’t know exactly what she was looking for. Sid liked to read, and the shelves behind his desk were lined with books. She trailed her finger along the bottom shelf as she scanned the spines. There were a lot of biographies and memoirs. Then she stopped and backed up, her attention snagging like a fishing line caught on a branch underwater.

She slid her fingers down the spine of the photo album. It was the right color and the right size. She drew it from the shelf, and her breath caught. She recognized the lettering on the cover. It was the same album from Sid’s dream.

She sat at Sid’s desk to look through it. Pictures of old teammates filled the pages. Each photograph was stamped with a date: June 2009. The pictures looked like they had been taken with a cheap disposable camera. Most of them were blurry or poorly lit, which went along with Anya’s suspicions that the photographer had been drinking heavily.

She flipped through, tracking the celebration from the locker room in Detroit to the airplane home to the pool party. There were a few shots of Zhenya and Sid posing together, and Zhenya appeared in the background from time to time, but no more than any other teammate. She began to wonder if she was completely off base.

Then she turned the page again, and she knew at once that these were the pictures Sid hadn’t wanted her to see. Zhenya’s smile was so open and tender that she felt embarrassed for him, and also a little jealous that someone else had seen him so unguarded. He was lying on a bed, his head on the pillow and his hair all messed up, posing for the camera. Each picture showed a new goofy face: his eyes crossed, his tongue stretching for his nose. In the final picture, he was making that sweet smile again and reaching for whoever was behind the camera.

She turned the page. Someone she vaguely recognized as a former teammate hung suspended midair, prepared to cannonball into the pool.

The remainder of the album was filled with more pictures of that party, the parade, the party after the parade, and a cookout at someone’s house. Zhenya appeared a few times, posing with teammates or in the background. Ordinary pictures, and nothing to remark upon.

She went back to the pictures of Zhenya in bed. Sid had taken these—she was certain of it. And kept them for all these years. This Zhenya lived inside his dreams, so appealing he glowed with it: sweet and eager, ready to please. How much of that was real, and how much of it was Sid’s longing and nostalgia layered over the truth? Anya wouldn’t ever know.

She returned the album to its place, on the lowest shelf, in the far corner behind the desk, where no one would ever look for it, and went back downstairs. The halftime show was still in full swing. Zhenya shifted to make room for Anya on the couch and wrapped his arm around her shoulders when she sat down. He leaned in to kiss her head.

“You get lost upstairs?” he asked her.

“I was eating the rest of the guacamole,” she said, and he laughed and gave her another kiss.

--

She trusted Zhenya. She knew that he was faithful to her and that she had his whole heart. If he had ever loved Sid, he had left that behind him. But he hadn’t ever breathed a word to her about it, like it was one of his buried secret things. She knew about his old girlfriends, his old heartbreaks, but nothing about Sid.

She found herself in Zhenya’s dream that night after they went home from Sid’s party. They were in Miami, lying at the bottom of the pool. Nikita had transformed into three rabbits and hopped away from them, and Anya was anxious to go look for him, although Zhenya kept insisting they had plenty of time. But what if he ran off where they couldn’t find him? It was only a dream, she reminded herself. Nikita was asleep in his crib and perfectly safe.

“Sid dreams about you,” she said. Her words formed huge bubbles that drifted up through the water and burst at the surface.

“Does he?” Zhenya said. They had had this conversation before, and Anya could see that it would go the same way this time: Zhenya evading, Anya not knowing what to say.

“Why won’t you tell me?” she said, one plaintive bubble that rocketed upward. “Do you think I’ll be mad?”

He turned onto his side to look at her. She reached up to touch his mouth and the faint prickle of his mustache stubble. “It was a long time ago.”

What was it? What had they done? “You had sex with him?”

“Once,” Zhenya said. He kissed her fingers. “It’s nothing to dwell on.”

“Did you know he still dreams about it?” Anya asked. Regularly, in detail. That one time was still alive in Sid’s heart.

Zhenya looked at her for a long moment before he spoke. “I don’t go into his dreams.”

“Do you dream about it?” Anya asked. She thought of the times Zhenya had turned her away when she came to him in her sleep. A dream was only a dream, but what if he was dreaming of Sid?

His pause this time was even longer. “I try not to.”

She sat up. “Sid!” she called, in a frothing foam of bubbles that cascaded around her head. “Sid!”

Zhenya said, “What are you—”

He was gone. Anya plunged from his dream directly into Sid’s, plucked neatly out of Zhenya’s mind and dunked head-first into Sid’s. She reeled as she settled into Sid’s dream, wobbling like a spun coin nearing the end of its rotations.

She stood on Sid’s dock. Rain fell in hard frigid drops. She ran toward the house, the grass clinging to her ankles like seaweed. Sid opened the back door for her and let her in where it was dry and warm. He held a towel in his hands and draped it carefully around her shoulders.

“Sorry about the rain,” he said. “Can’t seem to make it stop.”

“It’s okay,” she said. She wrung out her ponytail and watched the water seep into the floorboards and disappear.

“I heard you call me,” Sid said. “Is everything okay?”

“Tell me what happened with you and Zhenya,” she said. “Please.”

He regarded her warily. “What did he tell you?”

“He said he had sex with you once, a long time ago,” Anya said. “It was after you won the Cup together, wasn’t it? The first time.”

He stared down at the floor, his mouth working. “Yeah.”

“He said he tries not to dream about you,” Anya said.

Sid rubbed his eyes and turned away from her. “Anna—”

“Will you show me?” she asked. “Please. I want to know.”

The dream wobbled, and she thought for a moment that he was going to kick her out again. “It’s pretty personal.”

“Then stop dreaming about my husband all the time,” she said sharply. “He isn’t yours.”

He snorted. “Fine. You asked for it.”

Anya blinked, and the house vanished. She was in the Lemieux kitchen, standing at the foot of the back stairs. Through a nearby window, she could see that night had fallen. Faint laughter sounded from outside. They were at the party again, but later in the evening than before.

“Let’s go,” Sid said. He took her hand and tugged her up the stairs, and she followed him obediently, too surprised to protest. He rarely touched her, and never in any intimate way.

A few of the steps creaked quietly beneath their feet as they ascended. At the top was a short hallway, and then a door that Sid opened. Anya heard Zhenya’s deep voice saying something and laughing. Sid led her through a sitting room to another door, and then he glanced back at her and said, “You’re sure you want to see?”

“Yes,” Anya said, although she wasn’t sure. She had never been in this situation before. She didn’t know how she would feel about it afterward. But right now, she wanted to see.

Sid opened the door and moved aside. Anya stepped forward. The small bedroom was lit by a single lamp on the bedside table. There was Sid, lying on the bed, and Zhenya sitting on top of him, straddling his hips. Zhenya’s shirt was gone and his jeans were open. He was laughing, flushed and bright and so happy, and Sid was laughing, too, gazing up at Zhenya like he was the best and brightest thing in the world.

As she watched, Zhenya bent to kiss Sid, and their shared laughter died. Sid’s hands slid along Zhenya’s bare back. Zhenya cupped Sid’s face in his hands and kissed his face with fierce urgency, the corner of his mouth and his cheek. “Sid,” Zhenya said, “I love you.”

Behind her, the real Sid made a choked noise. Anya turned to look at him. His hand was curled into a fist and pressed to his mouth.

“What happened?” Anya asked.

Sid met her gaze. His hand dropped. He shrugged, and offered her a rueful smile. “Just never went anywhere. We both left for the summer a few days later, and. We were pretty drunk, you know? We just kind of pretended it never happened.” He shrugged again. “Mostly me, I guess. I pretended.”

On the bed, Zhenya pressed endless tender kisses to Sid’s cheekbone. Anya felt that she was seeing into a parallel version of reality, one in which all of Zhenya’s passion and loyalty had been devoted to Sid since this moment in Sid’s bedroom. She was so glad that hadn’t come to pass. Her eyes ached, and she knew she was probably crying in her sleep: grieving for that parallel version of herself who would never know her husband or her son.

“I was scared,” Sid said. “I know I hurt him. I was too scared.”

“You’ve thought about him all this time?” Anya asked.

“On and off,” Sid said. He was watching himself and Zhenya again. “More often lately, I guess.”

“You pulled me into your dream,” Anya said. “When I was in Miami. You said you were thinking of me.”

Sid’s eyes returned to her. “You started visiting me.” Almost accusatory, like all of this was Anya’s fault. But the way he looked at her was gentle enough to soften his words. She thought that he was trying to explain himself. More often lately: since Anya began walking into his dreams.

They had never talked about why she began to visit him or what it meant or what he thought about it. Anya had thought he was just like that: private, particular. But at the root of his silence was this one evening with Zhenya, and since then it had put out branches and flowered. Anya couldn’t climb a tree that tall, or chop it down; but she could go around it, and study the earth it had grown in.

She approached the bed. She thought that Sid and Zhenya might ignore her, like they had before, on the portico. But they both looked over as she approached, and Zhenya sat up, the mattress springs squeaking, and said, “Who are you?”

“I’m your wife,” Anya said.

“Oh,” Zhenya said. He looked down at Sid on the bed, and then at Sid in the doorway, and then at Anya. “But you’re so hot.”

The real Sid burst out laughing. “You got lucky, bud.”

“I’ll say,” Zhenya said. He watched Anya curiously as she knelt on the bed beside him. She gave in to temptation and stroked his messy hair back into place, and then she leaned in and kissed his mouth.

He made a startled noise and kissed her back cautiously. She pulled back after a moment and smiled at him, his dear face with his big nose, the mole on his cheek, all the features of the man he would become in a few years, who she would fall in love with. Then she turned to Sid lying there on the bed and bent to kiss him, too.

Sid was her friend, after five months of sharing his dreams. She knew he was a good man, and she trusted him. He was handsome enough to make her eyes linger. He was good with Nikita. Her life was better with him in it, so wouldn’t it be better still with more of him? What would it hurt to try?

He returned her kiss even more cautiously than Zhenya had, but sweetly, too. When she sat up, he smiled at her.

He was trapped in stasis, a fragment of the past. He wasn’t alive. He couldn’t move past his regrets, or even past this single moment, about to make love to Zhenya for the first and final time. She turned to look at Sid in the doorway, who was alive, and could help her.

“Bring Zhenya here,” she told him. Zhenya was probably still lying at the bottom of the pool, sulking about her abrupt departure. She knew Sid could find him.

“He doesn’t come into my dreams,” Sid said.

“Bring him,” Anya insisted. “I know you can do it.”

Sid clenched his hands into fists. She thought he was going to refuse, but then she realized he was only concentrating. His brow furrowed. There was a loud pop, and Zhenya slid in through the ceiling, like he was coming down a great invisible chute. He landed hard, his knees buckling. His swim trunks clung to his thighs and dripped onto the carpet.

“Christ, you’re hard to uproot,” Sid said.

“I was dreaming,” Zhenya said. He straightened and shook his head sharply, sending drops of pool water flying. Anya watched him look around and realize where he was and who was in the room with him. He winced and ran one hand through his wet hair. “Anya…”

“Make these two go away,” Anya said, gesturing to the Sid and Zhenya on the bed. They had set the scene for Zhenya, and now they were only in the way.

Sid did it without arguing, which was Anya’s favorite trait in a man. Anya rose and went to her own Zhenya. She placed her hand on his ribs, flat over his tattoo of Nikita’s small hand. She knew he loved her and the life they had made together. She had never doubted that.

“I think you still dream of him,” she said.

He laid his hand over hers. His chest expanded and fell, the unnecessary but habitual action of breathing. His skin was cool and damp, and textured with goosebumps. In his expression, she saw old and complicated fear and love. “My Anya…”

She pulled away and went over to Sid. She put her hand on his ribs in the same place she had touched Zhenya, and felt him jolt at her touch. He gazed down at her. Outside, night changed all at once to day, like a followspot light switching frames from one color gel to another. The shaft of new sunlight streaming through a window caught the slow motion of dust motes. Anya had never been close enough to Sid to take much note of the color of his eyes, but they were lovely and clear and sharply focused. She went up onto her toes and kissed him.

Unlike his younger counterpart, he kissed her without hesitation. His hand settled on her hip. She had only meant to send a message to Zhenya, but she got distracted by how good the kiss was. Sid started slow, but soon he was sucking gently on Anya’s bottom lip and sliding his tongue into her mouth, and she started laughing a little, unable to help herself, because this was clearly one of the best ideas she’d ever had.

“What’s funny?” Sid murmured. She could hear the smile in his voice.

She twisted in his arms to look at Zhenya. He was watching them with parted lips, steaming vigorously as the pool water evaporated from his skin. Good enough.

She turned back to Sid. “I’ll go now.”

Sid swallowed. “What are we—what do you want us to, uh. Do?”

“I don’t know,” Anya said. “I trust both of you.” She wasn’t underwater now, but her words were still bubbles, foaming around her, and she felt giddy as she spoke them, bathed in the light. She felt lighter than air.

He kissed her again. “I’ll come see you tomorrow.”

She didn’t know if he meant awake or asleep, but it didn’t matter. He would find her. “Be good to him,” she said quietly. He gave her a rueful smile. She drained out of the dream like water from a bathtub.

--

In the morning, she woke to the sound of Nikita’s gurgling laughter. She rolled over in bed, reaching for him before consciousness fully returned. “My rabbit…”

“He’s here, sweetheart,” Zhenya said. He placed Nikita in her arms, where he made a few smacking noises and tugged at her nightgown. She kept meaning to wean him, but—not yet.

She got him settled to eat. Zhenya stroked her hair and bent to kiss Nikita’s head. Cuddled close beneath the blankets, her feet brushing Zhenya’s shins, Anya was so warm and slow with contentment that she thought she could easily slide back into sleep.

Zhenya kissed her forehead. She yawned, getting a pungent waft of her own morning breath. Zhenya made an offended noise and repositioned so that she was safely tucked beneath his chin, with Nikita cradled between their bodies.

“How did things go with Sid?” she asked.

“Fine,” he said.

She moved her feet so she could prod at his legs with her toes. “Zhenya. Tell me!”

“We talked,” he said. He slid his hand beneath the hem of her nightgown, gliding up her thigh: a deliberate distraction, and one she wouldn’t let him get away with.

She prodded him some more. “And?”

He groaned. “We kissed a little. You’re so nosy!”

“I’m your wife,” Anya reminded him.

He laughed and gave her a squeeze, his hand cupping the curve where her thigh met her ass, his favorite spot. “How could I forget? Anya, I’m sorry I never told you. It was a long time ago, and. I needed to be able to think of him as a friend.”

Anya carefully untangled Nikita’s hand from her hair. She could easily imagine Zhenya’s initial hope and heartbreak, and his determination to have a good working relationship with Sid. “What would you like to happen now? Do you want to keep being his friend?”

Zhenya was quiet for a while. Then he said, “You kissed him.”

“Yeah,” Anya said. “I like him. I’ve gotten to know him. He’s got good shoulders.”

Zhenya laughed. “So this is all about you being horny? I’m not surprised.”

“Be serious,” Anya said. “Zhenya. We can try, if you’d like. With him. Do you want to?”

He kissed the top of her head, with their son held between them, in the peaceful heart of their home. “Anya, I do.”

--

Sid came over that afternoon, after practice, when Zhenya had gone to help Max and Katya shop for a new car and Anya was home alone with the baby. Nikita had just woken from a nap and was warm and limp on her shoulder when she answered the door. She hadn’t expected Sid, but her heart gave a small happy shiver when she saw him on the stoop, quick and bright as a minnow in the water.

“Sorry for just showing up,” he said. “I sort of, uh. I was out, and—”

“Glad to see you,” Anya said firmly. “Come in, take off coat.” She waited for Sid to take off his shoes and hang his coat on the rack, and then she handed him the baby. “I need to start dinner. You hold Nikita.”

Sid dutifully accepted the baby and shifted him into position against his shoulder. Anya watched him smile fondly at Nikita’s sleepy face and pat his diapered butt a few times. She would be happy to have this good careful man in her son’s life.

They went into the kitchen. Anya hadn’t made solid plans for dinner, and she spent some time looking in the pantry and the fridge, trying to decide what she could throw together. Sid sat at the table with Nikita in his arms and didn’t say much. The countertop radio played the Russian-language station out of Chicago that Anya had started listening to recently in an effort to keep up with American current events. Nikita woke up more and started squirming, and Sid put him on the floor so he could crawl around. He had only recently begun to crawl, and so far could only manage to go backward.

“Whoops, buddy, watch out for that chair leg,” she heard Sid say, and she smiled helplessly as she took the celery from the crisper drawer. She didn’t know how any of this would work out, but she was so ready to try.

“Sid, you like chicken or fish for dinner?” she asked him.

He looked up from where he was crouched on the floor, watching Nikita try to navigate under the table. “Oh, uh—am I staying?”

“Yes,” she said, and then her confidence failed her, and she said, “Only if you like.”

He rose and hoisted Nikita in his arms, Nikita flailing happily as he tried to lunge toward the floor. “Did you and Geno, uh. I guess you talked about this.”

“Yes,” Anya said. She decided on chicken. She set it on the counter and turned to seize one of Nikita’s feet in each hand and pretend to bite them while he squealed. She smiled up at Sid. “Stay for dinner. Come over more, be with us. Let’s try.”

“All right,” Sid said. He ducked his head to press his smile against Nikita’s fuzz of hair.

--

Anya dreamed of a walled garden. There was a small house, made of brick or stone, but she didn’t pay it much mind. What mattered was the damp black earth along the wall, waiting to be planted, and the willow tree bending overhead. The warm air smelled of flowers.

She wasn’t much of a gardener, but she knew she didn’t need to be. What she planted here would grow regardless of her skill. She had a woven basket full of tulip bulbs and a small spade that was also somehow a bird’s beak. She dug a hole and carefully placed each bulb, and patted the soil back in place above it.

She sensed someone come into the garden and turned to look. It was Sid, and she wasn’t surprised at all. Of course he was here, walking into her dream.

“Hi,” he said. He sat down beside her in the loose turned soil and took the spade from her hand. “I’ll dig, you plant?”

“Sure,” she said. “Where’s Zhenya?”

He dug a hole, frowning in concentration. “I don’t know. I don’t think he’s dreaming right now.”

“He can join us when he’s ready,” Anya said. She planted a bulb in the hole Sid had made and turned it until it was situated just right. The first bulb she had planted was already sprouting. Soon, the whole garden would be in full flower.

“This is a nice dream,” Sid said. “Peaceful.”

“Better with company,” Anya said. She turned her head to smile at Sid. He already had a streak of dirt across one cheek. She wiped it off with her thumb. His eyes crinkled as he smiled at her. He leaned in for a kiss.