A Hero Lost

2. Reality

Someone was shaking her, a hand on her shoulder. She shrugged it off and managed in a weak croak, "Go away. I can't do this. I can't!"

"Ari, what's wrong? You can't do what?" The voice was familiar. Very familiar.

Arianna's eyes flew open and stared up into the concerned face of ... her father. He looked worried and confused. "Were you having a dream?"

"A ... a dream?" Arianna struggled to get her thoughts together, to make sense of what was happening. It was her father, but it couldn't be — she had seen him die right in front of her. She had held his hand as he breathed his last.

"I, I just, I thought maybe you were having a dream because you, you seemed upset." How Arianna loved that voice, that stutter. She inhaled the scent of cinnamon chewing gum and realized that this was no dream — he was here. He was really here!

Gary Hobson rather suddenly found himself lying on the floor with his daughter on top of him, her arms around his neck. She never said a word, just held on as if she would never let go of him again.

"Uh, Arianna?" Gary asked mildly, his tone one of puzzlement. "Would you mind telling me what this is all about?" There was no response, and he could feel Arianna's body start shaking slightly. It was with surprise that he realized she was crying.

Gently, Gary put his arms around his daughter and let her cry. When she began to calm down a little, he commented, "That must have been some dream."

"You died," Arianna whispered her voice very hoarse, as if she'd been screaming. "You died and it ... it was so real! I helped Lindsay with the Paper and then she, she died too and I got the Paper with a knife ..." A sob, followed by a hiccup. "And I couldn't, I couldn't do it, I just couldn't, I hated it so much ..."

Gary had absolutely no idea what to say. "Good thing it was just a, I mean, I'm sorry it upset you, but, I mean, at least it wasn't —"

"Real life?" Arianna sniffled and wiped at her eyes, finally releasing her stranglehold on her father. "It seemed so very real. I mean, I, I would have sworn it was real."

"Well, it wasn't." Gary gave his daughter a reassuring hug and a kiss on the cheek. "I'm right here, and you can call up Lindsay and talk to her if you want. We're both just fine."

Arianna's eyes strayed to the clock; it was 7:38 AM. "I overslept," She croaked, feeling slightly ashamed of her reaction to a dream — was it a dream? She could remember every detail so clearly. Far too clearly in her opinion.

"Yeah." Gary nodded; for the first time, she noticed that he was fully dressed, brown jacket and all. "I woke you up to tell you I had to go. I've got an errand." His tone of voice left no doubt what the 'errand' was.

Arianna stared at him, feeling an eerie sense of déja vù. "What errand? Let me see." She reached out for the Paper. Gary pointed to the article and was completely unprepared for his daughter's reaction.

"Woman Paralyzed in Fall: 27-year-old Tracie Fields was in critical condition Tuesday after she fell from ..."

Arianna had seen more than enough. Looking up at her father, she uttered one word: "No!"

"Huh?" Gary looked dumbfounded. "Howzat? Wh-what do you mean, 'No'? You want me to let that lady get paralyzed?"

"You can't go," Arianna replied firmly. Sudden inspiration struck. "Let me go. I can handle this one." She jumped out of bed and started rummaging around for blue jeans and a flannel shirt.

"But, but, but ..." Gary was left with that familiar wide-eyed deer-in-the-headlights look. "Wh-why do you want this save, Arianna? It could be dangerous. I mean, it says right there that the railing is unsturdy and —"

"I know. That's why I want this save." Arianna emerged from the bathroom in minutes; she hadn't even brushed her hair, which was very unusual for her. Despite the expression of tight-lipped determination on his daughter's face, Gary couldn't help but be reluctant.

"Why are you so determined to k-keep me away from this one? Was there something in the Paper, some — something I missed?" He took the Sun-Times out of his back pocket, just to check.

"No. Not the Paper." Arianna turned pleading brown-green eyes on her father. "Please, daddy, trust me on this one."

Reluctantly, he did, and had to admit that she handled it beautifully. Moments before Tracie Fields would lean on the railing and fall, Arianna showed up out of breath. "Ma'am, excuse me, have you seen my father? I've gotten separated from him and I can't find him anywhere." She was just desperate enough to be convincing.

Looking thoughtful, Miss Fields moved away from the faulty railing. "Where do you live? Maybe I could drive you home." She suddenly spotted Gary standing in the alley. "Is that your father?"

"Oh, yes!" Arianna exclaimed, feigning surprise and not having to feign relief. "Thank you so much. I can't see very well without my contact lenses and I was afraid I'd never find him. Come on; let me introduce you to him." She fairly dragged Miss Fields down the steps.

"Daddy! I'm so glad to see you. I thought I'd never find you." Gary caught on quickly and gave his daughter a hug as she continued, "This is the nice lady who saw you from up there. I'd never have seen you without my contacts in."

Gary smiled and extended his hand. "Thank you for h-helping my daughter, ma'am. I'm Gary Hobson and this chatterbox is my daughter Arianna."

"Tracie Fields," the woman replied timidly. "You're very much welcome, Mr. Hobson." After saying how nice it was to meet them, Miss Fields headed back toward her car. Gary checked the Paper and smiled when he saw that the story was gone. "Good work, Arianna," He said as he turned toward his daughter, only to stop short when he saw her leaning against a building, shaking. "Arianna, what's wrong? Are you all right?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." Her voice was weak. "I'm just thinking what might have happened if I hadn't ..."

"Oh." Gary nodded, but he didn't really understand. Arianna had been around the Paper her entire life; she had helped him out many times before. Why had this one save affected her so much? She'd been acting strange ever since she woke up, come to think of it.

By the time the pair made it back to McGinty's, Arianna had almost been able to convince herself that her dream was just that — a dream. She was no longer even so sure of what would have happened with that last save. Maybe it was just a weird coincidence, the similarities between her dream and reality. Life could be so confusing.

Sometimes, when she was confused and couldn't sort out her thoughts, she found that it helped to write them down, so as soon as she could, Arianna took out her journal. She was flipping through the pages, looking for the right spot, when a plain white envelope fell out.

"I don't remember putting that there," Arianna muttered. The cat meowed, but she ignored him. The envelope was unsealed, so she opened it and shook out the contents: three thin, neatly folded pieces of paper. Newspaper clippings.

When Arianna unfolded the first clipping and read the headline, her heart seemed to stop. "Local Man Dies Saving Woman: Gary Hobson, 54, died after he fell from a rooftop while saving the life of a 27-year-old woman identified as Tracie Fields ... "

Hardly daring to breathe, Arianna checked the date on the clipping. June 17. Tomorrow.

The date on the second clipping was October 2, and the headline was, again, familiar: "Woman Dies in Robbery: Lindsay Romick became the lone victim of a crazed bank robber when she stepped in front of a child the gunman was planning to ... "

"Oh, God," Arianna whispered. October 2. In her "dream", she clearly remembered, Lindsay had died on October 1.

The third clipping was dated October 3. Arianna pursed her lips, confused. "Wait a minute, my dream ended the morning of October 2. Why is ..." Her voice trailed off as she read the headline.

"Teenage Bar Owner Commits Suicide"

18-year-old Arianna Hobson, the owner of McGinty's bar, committed suicide yesterday morning. Her body was discovered by Marissa Brown, who has worked at the bar for more than 20 years. Miss Hobson's friends, including Mrs. Brown, believe that her suicide was triggered by losing both her father, Gary Hobson, who died in a fall more than three months ago, and her close friend, Lindsay Romick ...

All disclaimers apply. You know the drill. Arianna and this story were both created and written by Katerina17 (edit: now katriel1987). I am using them with her generous consent.