Sunday night, after snuggling my husband, my head on his shoulder and his arm wrapped around me, we kissed, said goodnight, and rolled over like bookends to sleep. But I didn’t sleep. Instead, a scene played out in my mind so vividly it was as if a projector flashed a movie onto the backs of my closed eyelids:
A young girl runs excitedly through a used book store, her curly strawberry blonde hair bouncing behind her along with the full skirt of her knee-length patchwork dress. Her white tights are gray with wear and age, and her black shoes are scuffed into a dull sheen. It’s her birthday, her favorite day of the year when her dad takes her to choose a few typewritten treasures. They barely fit into the crook of her elbow to wrist.
She bounds down an aisle toward the front of the store and skids to an almost-stop as a boy about her age steps out from behind an end-cap on a path intersecting hers. Before he sees her coming, she crashes into him, knocking him down to the carpeted floor as she and the books tumble after him, their legs tangled. His hair is dark and unruly, his eyes the brightest green she’s ever seen.
“Sheesh!” He half sits up on his tanned forearm. “Take it easy, would ya?” he asks before his throat seems to swallow the sound.
“I’m so sorry.” She rubs her knee and attempts to disentangle and draw her legs up under herself to stand. She reaches her hand down to him and helps him up with a good tug. “I’m entirely too excited for my own good, it seems. I’m Alexis.” Instead of letting go of his hand, she pumps it in greeting.
He looks at her from under hooded lids as his limb flops loosely in her grasp. “Aleks,” he mumbles before extricating himself.
Alexis flashes him a determined smile and drops his hand to collect her choices. She smooths each one and arranges them into a pile in order of size. “I’ve never seen you here before,” she says over her shoulder. “Are you new?”
“Visiting. My dad is doing business down at the docks, and my mom is in the store next door. What are you so excited for, anyway?” His face seems to change from perturbed to intrigued.
“It’s my thirteenth birthday today, and I’m here to pick my presents.” She plucks the pile of worn books up off the floor and presents the spines to him, proud of and exhilarated at her choices.
“You’re kidding me,” he said as he glanced from the large stack of books she held with relative ease to her startling blue eyes.
“What’s wrong with my books?” She curled them into her body and away from him before she noticed his puzzled look.
“What?” he asked before pausing. “Oh. No. Not the books. I was referring to your birthday. It’s just that,” he paused again, “it’s my thirteenth birthday, too.”
“You’re kidding me,” she said excitedly before covering her mouth and giggling.
“See what I mean?” he asked.
Alexis bounced her head up and down in collusion.
The vision ended here, but it kept replaying over and over in my head until I finally drifted off to sleep. Up until that point, I expected the two main characters of the newest novel I was brewing to be college students. It was the first time my characters had presented themselves to me and spoken to me so clearly.
Inspiration is a magical thing. It comes to us in surprising ways, and it is our jobs, as people, to catch it as often as we can, whether it be an idea for a novel or for a meal, architecture for a building or a new way to teach an old subject. Each time we catch it, we bring a little more magic and possibility into our lives. And who couldn’t use a little more magic?
I’m off to see where Alexis and Aleks take me next!