Sam was on autopilot through all his classes. He checked his cell for missed messages several times an hour. He pulled the papers out of his wallet when he could and stared at their messages. He had to make sense of Charlie.
That Agatha had a brother was no real shock. Lots of people had brothers. That she had a red-haired brother knocked big holes in his doubts about her and his red-haired dream girl.
It was the last puzzle-piece. Agatha was a real life, breathing confirmation that his dreams all these years could be more than just a reflection of teen guy hormones. It made the love he’d been feeling tangible, something more than nighttime sex dreams. If she were real, that love was real too. Inexplicable, with their current history, but a real anchor, there in the future, for him to grab and hold.
Every time he talked with her, she felt more familiar, more like an old love, met again.
Charlie had been a rude intrusion. Fantasy romance dreams had little place for ‘the other guy’. He’d seen their meetings. Elusive encounters, a few words passed as stranger’s paths crossed in the hallways. They never looked at each other. They were hiding something.
The sour thought that they were secret lovers, and that Agatha’s performance was a role to make him dance for her amusement had come and gone. It was a logical enough speculation. High school entanglements could be Machiavellian in their depth, but other than his brief observations, their relationship had just been a guess.
Only seeing them walking together, fresh after staring at his sketch, made pieces fall into place. But even now, with a semi-confession out of Charlie, Sam needed more information, more evidence.
His phone vibrated.
Meet after classes. Star cafe.
He didn’t know the place. He hit the search engine. It was twenty miles away, in the next town. A brief suspicion that he was being led to some kind of a trap flickered and vanished. So what. He needed to know what he was missing.
The cafe was a casual internet and coffee place, with lots of little tables and cozy nooks. Sam saw Charlie in a dark corner. There were three chairs.
He nodded. “She’s on her way. She had to go home and borrow her parents car.”
Sam sat and tried to read the guy’s character from his face. There were secrets there, and sadness.
“What can you tell me about your sister?”
He laughed. “That’s a wide-open question, isn’t it?” He shrugged. “Besides, I’m under orders not to scare you off. She won’t be long.”
“Then tell me about you. Rumor has it that you’re a math geek. Scholarships and fancy schools circling around, waiting for you to pick one.”
He chuckled. “That’s partly true. I am good at math.”
Sam had a pen in his hand. It went tap, tap, tap against the tables edge.
Charlie frowned. “What do you mean?”
Sam hesitated. “I have ... skills myself. Skills I’ve taken to hiding.”
Charlie nodded. “I understand.” He looked at the paintings on the walls, debating things in his head. “I’m very good. There are 6,776 square inches of artwork in this room, not counting framing and matting. You weigh about 231 pounds, given your dimensions and apparent muscle development. I never solve sudoku puzzles, because there’s nothing to solve. The answers are immediately obvious. I’ve got notebooks hidden away, filled with math proofs, including a few I’ll make public some time in the future when it makes tactical sense to build a reputation.”
He shrugged. “Like I say, I’m good. What about you?”
Sam glanced around to make sure, again, that no one was listening. “I’ve memorized the chess play books. I know all the openings, the middle games, the endings. If I turned myself loose at tournaments, I could be internationally ranked in short order. I’m not brilliant, but I’m formidable. I read my textbooks once at the beginning of the year, and after that, I use them as props, pretending to do homework. Anything I’ve ever read, I still retain.”
He sighed. “The only things I struggle to remember are my dreams.”
“Dreams? Like visions?”
The question was unanswered, as both turned in their chairs at the same moment to watch a car drive up in the parking lot.
And a moment later, a figure in black came in carrying a tote bag. She saw them, but gave no sign other than by walking straight to their table.
She smiled at them, timidly. “Both my guys. I guess you’ve been talking, so it’s my turn to ask questions. Sam, how did you guess Charlie was my brother?”
He pulled out a sheet of paper and unfolded it. “I sketched this upon waking from a dream. A dream I’ve been having for years.”
He tapped features with his pen. “The eyes are yours. You two have the same nose. And the girl in my dreams has bright red hair--the same shade as his. When you walk together, you move with some of the same mannerisms. Finding out that you had the same birthday was just icing on the cake.”
Charlie muttered, “So much for your theory that he was seeing my aura.”
“Don’t be so sure.” She picked up the sketch. “That’s very short hair.”
Sam nodded. “Yeah. But that’s how she...you, looked.” He swallowed. “The dream event is very short, the same way every time. I don’t know any details of what’s happening. But we’re in the country, and it’s dawn.”
She nodded. “We’re in each other’s arms. I know. I’ve seen it. I just never looked at my own hair.”
She set it down and dug into her bag. She pulled out a mirror and began wiping her face clear of dark eye makeup.
“I knew there was a guy out there in the world, waiting for me. I’ve known since I was ten. But the details were always fuzzy.” She talked around the mirror.
Sam was fascinated as she struggled to change her image right in front of him.
She looked at her brother, “When I saw Charlie for the first time, I thought it was him. I mean, he had the right aura. We clicked right off.”
Charlie grumbled, “Lucky we were only what, thirteen, at the time? No chance for any sticky romantic issues before we discovered the truth.”
She smiled at him, “Well, romance at thirteen is a very different thing than at eighteen. I thought you were quite romantic.”
Charlie turned to Sam. “The birthday thing was a big red flag. I have always known that I was adopted. My folks told me at an early age that my birth mother died in childbirth. I was placed straight out of the hospital.”
She added, “But I didn’t know that. And I was resistant to the idea.”
“But since it wasn’t a secret to me, I could track back to the hospital records easily and a little sleuthing showed that I was one of a pair.”
She was sweeping her hair back in a tight ponytail. “I asked a few leading questions, and finally got the truth. My folks were afraid I’d start one of those quests to find my ‘real’ parents, but I already knew the truth. A single mother who died in childbirth doesn’t lead to many happy reunions. And I’d already found my brother.”
Charlie opened a notebook. “I cashed in a couple of bonds from my college fund and had both our DNA tested, once we noticed just how odd we both were.”
She chuckled. “He was thinking we were aliens or something, with a mysterious father somewhere.”
He spread out the sheets on the table. “But it turns out there’s nothing unusual with either of us. Siblings, of course. Mainly Irish, with a little Cherokee from a couple of generations back.”
She picked up Sam’s hand. “We thought that our talents--his math and my intuition--were just a hand me down from our parents. And now, there’s you.”