Chapter 3: Fairness
Dream tries to learn about George’s dream, and makes a realization.
“You know,” George says, “you were once in a dream I had, too.”
“Really?” Dream leans forward in his chair, a confident smile creeping onto his face. “What was it about?”
“I can hear your ego inflating right now.”
“No you can’t,” Dream defends quickly. Perhaps midnight visits from platonic friends is a universal experience. Sapnap said he’s dreamt about them too, anyway. He can’t help letting himself feel it—relief, is it? Relieved that George was thinking of him? For a moment, a heat as strong as burning coals begins to smoke inside his skull: he has to know what George’s dream was about.
Why hadn’t he told him about it before?
He recoils from the ferocity of his own thoughts.
“Yes, I can. I think you owe me some kindness for how you treated me on my stream today,” George says, voice touched by a playful twinge that Dream knows so well.
“I owe you something?” Dream gently, gently stokes the embers. “What exactly do you want with me?”
“For you to be nice, chill,” George laughs, but sounds nervous. “Freak.”
Dream’s heart races. “You love me,” he mutters, “c’mon now.”
“Stop being weird,” George says, “this is exactly why I never told you about it.”
“Well, you dreamt about me first!”
“What? You’re so hypocritical—oh my god. Nevermind, Dream.”
“George, no,” Dream says, trying to regain a serious tone despite being deeply amused by their turn of conversation. “I didn’t mean to upset you, I promise.”
George definitely doesn’t buy it. “Y’know, I think I won’t tell you. That’s a much better punishment for you being mean to me.”
“Oh, a punishment?” Dream repeats, unable to stop himself from laughing again.
George groans. “That’s it, have a nice rest of your day. I can’t deal with you anymore.”
“Wait, no—” Dream is cut off by George disconnecting from their call.
He raises a hand over his mouth. He wants to fight it off—his grin, the flutters in his stomach, the need to hear George’s voice again—but can’t. His cheeks are warm and flushed red. He feels himself slipping deeper into the place that keeps calling his name. It feels something like desire. It feels something like a challenge. It feels so familiar.
Shame side-steps his rising happiness. He is bound to be taking advantage of George to a minor degree, withholding the truth from him and skating by with loose humor. His remarks used to come absently from his mouth, a way to make George complain or smile. Now, he’s taunted by flurries of emotions and thoughts that come after—the line between a joke and a confession becoming obscurely blurred. It isn’t fair, is it?
He checks the temperature on his phone: 102 degrees. He groans.
Clicking on Twitter, he begins typing slowly.
Never underestimate the power of a heat wave, he tweets.
He scrolls for a few minutes, liking and replying to followers. He catches a few of his tagged tweets that are about their chaotic chess games, many viewers questioning why George would have made such a simple mistake during an intense match. He responds to one with a “I’ve been wondering that too.”
He suddenly gets an influx of likes and mentions. @GeorgeNootFound has replied to your tweet.
He clicks on it.
Petition to keep Dream’s AC broken for good, it reads. He votes “no.” He types out a response, but hesitates upon rereading. Perhaps it is better suited for a Snapchat instead.
So you want to keep me sweaty? He texts.
He watches George’s icon appear, lurk, then type: Yes.
Dream stares at his phone. Maybe it went over George’s head.
I like you better that way, George adds.
His stomach drops, and he immediately shuts off his phone.
“What?” He says, running a hand through his hair, “what?”
His phone rattles against the dark desk—Sapnap has texted him. He doesn’t bother picking it up. It was a joke. He pulls the fabric of his shirt away from his damp chest, leaning back in his chair. If anything wasn’t fair, it was this: he can throw as many sleazy lines at George as he wants, with or without intent to kill, but this, this, the low feeling stirring in his stomach, the burning in his face, his mind rewiring for the fourteenth time today—all because George happens to toss back.
He leaves the room. Unfair.
He drinks four glasses of water in two minutes. Cruel.
He settles to watch a movie on his couch, spending most of it fighting the urge to go back to his room and grab his phone. Downright criminal.
When the credits roll, and the bright screen turns to black, he locks eyes with his reflection. He’s silhouetted in the dim room, but can vaguely make out the fluff of his hair; the slope of his shoulders. Patches is curled up gently at his side.
Is this what he looked like when George dreamt of him? A hollowed shape on a monotone screen? In his dreams, George was everything to him. He wonders how much he’d pale in comparison if they were side-by-side in this moment. George would make his couch look even dingier than normal, and his laugh would light up the room. They could be sitting and talking, or watching television, and Dream wouldn’t be able to take his eyes away. He could forget about the heat; sit closer, make him blush, pull him in.
He abruptly rises, startling Patches. He feels the relentless urge to release his anger, the disharmony overwhelming. No matter what he does, his thoughts drag him back there: the beach, warm hands pinned into the sand. Where he’d made out with his friend, his best-friend, and loved every tantalizing second of touching his skin and feeling him tremble. He’s furious with his own mind as much as he’s addicted to the idea of returning to it.
He takes in a deep breath. He thinks of the many nights he’d seen himself, masked, bloodied, chest heaving by the shore. To confront himself head-on is the only healing he knows.
I don’t just want to go back, he lets the thought surface, and exhales slowly. I want to kiss him here, and now.
“So fucking stupid,” he mutters, but the admission alone was enough to settle his heart.
Patches sits in front of his feet, and meows. He bends down to scratch her head, and she follows him on the way back to his bedroom. When he picks up his phone, a few hours worth of notifications blink on his home-screen.
Maybe we should talk about some stuff soon, Sapnap had texted.
He ignores it. Similarly, George hasn’t said anything since Dream left him on opened. He switches to their iMessages, and clicks on the link to the song from their previous thread without much forethought.
Hi, he texts George. He shuffles to grab his headphones.
Hello, George responds, almost immediately.
Dream presses play; types, I missed you.
He momentarily questions his choices, again.
I thought you were taking a nap or something, George says.
He reigns himself back from making another nightmare or kissing-his-best-friend related joke. I was watching a bird documentary, he sends instead, keeping it civil. His headphones begin whispering a soft melody.
He watches George pause before responding with: That’s cute.
“Come on, George,” he breathes. He’d just gotten over the last heart attack he was given.
It was actually pretty cool, he replies, now stubbornly keeping it civil.
Was it another evolution of parrots movie? George asks. He’s touched by the knowledge that George cares enough to remember such small tokens of him.
Maybe, he texts, wbu what are you up to?
The music swells in his ears, and he takes in a deep breath of contentment as he reads George’s next message: Nothing really, thinking about hopping on since Bad is streaming. Are u gonna join?
He glances at his sleeping monitor. Computer so far away. Bed cold. Chair hot, he says.
The three dots signifying George is typing appear, then disappear. Read at 9:07pm.
Dream waits, resting his phone on his chest as a minute passes. His eyes shut as the lyrics eerily mimic his own descent.
Usually I put somethin’ on TV
So we never think about you and me
But today I see our reflections clearly
In Hollywood, layin’ on the screen—
The song is cut off by his ringtone blasting in his ears as his phone vibrates against his rib cage incessantly. His eyes fly open as he’s shaken from the trance Glass Animals lured him into.
George is calling him.
He looks at the name, the contact picture a cursed selfie George had taken, and the green and red buttons that would change the course of his carefully collected mood. He’s calling him; not on Discord, or to make him play Minecraft, or to ask for his mother’s cell.
Dream picks up.
“Hello,” George says again, his tone casual, but soft.
Dream’s heart races. “Hi.”
“I figured this was easier than texting,” George explains, and Dream’s mind passes over each inflection of syllables in his endearing accent. He sounds closer than usual. Dream suddenly remembers the last time they’d been on a phone call, he’d hung up because the change in George’s mic made him uncomfortable. He tries to not let himself over-analyze that memory.
“Okay,” Dream says. “Cool.”
“Why do you sound nervous?”
His cheeks redden. “I’m not. You interrupted my music so I’m still adjusting to being back in the real world.”
“Oh, sorry. What were you listening to?”
Dream hesitates, wondering if he shouldn’t disclose that information. He worries George will be able to tell how obsessed he is with the song he’d sent him as a gag.
He frowns. What is he thinking? George is as dense as a brick.
“Heat Waves,” he says, “I really like it.”
“Nice, me too,” George carries on. “Though I do think you enjoying it while being a baby about your weather is ironic.”
“Isn’t that because you have a thing for me being sweaty?” he jokes. It’s all a bit overwhelming; George calling him out of nowhere, the strange intimacy of their exchanges, his strained filter breaking under the pressure.
George laughs. “Oh yeah, definitely. My Twitter poll lost, by the way. I guess our followers don’t want you to suffer as much as I do.”
“You’re a dork,” Dream says fondly.
“Come on, sending that song was funny, you said it yourself,” George teases. Dream can hear him chuckle on the other end. “I remember when I first discovered it I kept listening to it for like, a week straight.”
Dream’s throat tightens. Do the melodic words sink into George’s skin the same way they consume his? Does he think about the song when he feels the lightest grace of sweat trickle down his back? When he’s lying in bed, on the phone with his best friend, fighting back the urge to say: “I can’t stop thinking about you.”
Dream sits up immediately. Fuck. Did he say that out loud? Fuck.
“I said I can’t stop thinking about it too,” he lies quickly. His heart thumps erratically. “I don’t normally find songs that I enjoy this much, so thanks for that.”
“Yeah...no problem,” George says.
Dream can’t tell if he bought it or not. Terror drains the color from his face as silence isolates him in the imprisoning walls of his room. He’s naturally run into this painful stoicism from George before, when he’s made comments that land awkwardly, but he knows this one could be the worst yet. He prays George believes him.
“So,” Dream says, “are you going to join Bad’s stream?”
“Probably not, I don’t really feel like getting up.”
He swallows. “Are—are you in bed?”
“Yeah,” George says slowly. “Why?”
“Nothing, just...me too.” Dream glances at the pillows lying next to him, wondering if they both could fit on his mattress, or if he’d have to wrap his arms around George’s waist and pull him to his chest—he winces. He thought he’d regained more control by accepting he non-platonically wants to kiss George, but is beginning to think it might be the opposite.
He scorns. Heat waves have been faking me out.
“Is it still hot there?” George asks.
“Yeah, I called someone to take a look at my AC and stuff but I’m not too hopeful. It’s only supposed to get hotter and they might force a brown-out.” He’ll die if it comes to that. The last brownout Orlando had was a few summers prior, and he’d attempted to live without electricity for all of twelve hours before giving up and driving a stifling two hours to his family’s home. His sister had been delighted.
“I’ve never had one of those here,” George muses. “What’s it like?”
“Well, it’s pretty miserable. Dark, terrible heat, I have to cook everything on the stove. I have a collection of candles, just in case.”
“And no Minecraft,” George adds.
Dream rolls his eyes. “Oh yeah, that too.”
“Why don’t you just go to the beach to cool off?”
Dream laughs shortly. “I don’t really like the beach. Remember?”
“Oh,” George says quietly. “Of course I do.”
Dream softens at the concern in his tone. “Hey, look, you really don’t have to worry about all that stuff I said. I can hear you frowning. I’m fine.”
George sighs. “I don’t know, Dream, that’s a fairly disturbing experience to be numb to.”
“I—,” his voice falters, “I know. But for the first time ever, I...find myself wanting to return to it.”
“Why?” George asks, exasperated. “I thought it terrifies you.”
“It does.” Dream reclines back into his bed. Please don’t push me, George.
George pushes. “Then why?”
“Because I want to see you again,” he says, words ghosting past his lips with the remembrance of moon jellies and soft sand. He rests a hand on his chest to feel his heart pound heavily against his palm.
George pauses. His voice is faint, “Do you really mean that?”
“Yeah.” The blinds hanging in Dream’s screened window shift slightly, the hint of a breeze trickling into his stuffy room. “I’ve kind of realized how much I want to meet you.”
“I...know what you mean,” George says, “I felt that after I dreamt about you.”
Dream stifles his sharp inhale. He’d messed this up before; scared George away. He tries to calm his unsteady nerves, biting back anything that could damage the careful approach needed for his friend’s Bambi-like demeanor.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Dream asks, voice successfully mellow.
George hums. “Will you try to mess with me?”
“No, I promise,” he says earnestly.
In the quiet moment that follows, he doesn’t move.
“Alright.” George clears his throat. “I had it about three months ago, so I don’t remember everything clearly. Just pieces here and there.” The breeze in Dream’s room gently picks up. “It started with me in my car, I think, waiting alongside the curb at the airport near my house. I parked and went into the baggage reclaim—I knew I was meant to pick up someone, I couldn’t remember who—but it was completely empty. I was just standing there, until one carousel turned on, and a suitcase dropped onto it. I don’t know how, but I knew it was bright green. When I went to pick it up, someone else grabbed it before me.” George pauses. “You grabbed it before me.”
“How—how did you know it was me?” Dream asks, unable to bring his voice above a murmur.
“I just knew,” George says softly. “You were tall, and polite. But…”
“But?” Dream repeats, knowing what’s coming.
“Your face,” George speaks quietly, “I couldn’t see it.”
“Did I...have the…” He can’t finish.
“Yes,” George says. “From what you described to me, it looked the same.”
Dream’s heart drops, falling silent. He feels forever haunted by that ghastly thing.
“Clay?” George checks gently.
It floods him again; the comfort of his name passing from George’s lips, and the embarrassment that he can tell by the slightest change in Dream’s tone when he’s feeling unsafe. He loves and hates the way George’s voice brings him home.
“Keep going,” he grunts.
“Okay,” George says, proceeding cautiously. “We walked around the empty terminals for a while. I don’t know why we didn’t leave. We talked the whole time, and you sounded like yourself—just all close up, if that makes sense.” It does. “I was so happy to see you,” George’s sweet excitement is audible, “I remember that the most, feeling so happy. At some point I told you that, and—and you hugged me.”
A small smile forms on Dream’s face. He will definitely hold George tight for a frustratingly long period of time when they first meet. He wonders if George’s head would fit under his chin, if he would smell the shampoo in his dark hair.
“Then I—I pulled your mask up,” George stammers, voice taught, “just a little bit. Enough to see your mouth.”
Dream blushes. He remembers the weight of his mask dropping from his face. His scalp begins to tingle where he’d imagined George stroking his hair. Why would George, in both dreams—
“And you, well, you uhm—” he breathes, “you kissed my forehead.”
He did what?
“That was it, I woke up,” George says quickly. He huffs, quietly adding, “You’re never going to let me live this down.”
Dream’s chest swells with a torrent of emotions; pride, confusion, ambition. He presses his knuckles to his burning cheek.
George had a dream he kissed him. He had a dream he kissed him.
“Wh—” he tries, and fails to still his breathing. He hopes George can’t hear the tremble in his voice. Floating above his body, he finds himself asking, “What was it like?”
He hears George’s breath hitch. “It felt safe,” he whispers, “and warm. So warm.”
Dream screws his eyes shut, chest rising and falling rapidly. He wants to tell him everything—how George had touched his mask in his mind too, how he’d kissed his mouth, and wanted to kiss him everywhere. He knows he could. He’d even blame it on the slip of his unruly tongue. Yet there was a boundary he has to walk upon, teetering from side to side, never choosing to cross in fear of losing George. He knows he won’t.
“...I’ll put that on the list of things to do when I meet you for the first time,” he says instead.
To his surprise, George laughs. The sound alleviates the tension in his muscles. “Shut up.”
Dream smiles. “I’m serious.”
“No, you aren’t,” George says, “I know you’re not actually like that.”
“You have no idea what I’m like in real life.”
George scoffs. “You’re all talk.”
Dream raises his eyebrows. “Oh really?” He opens his phone, navigates to Snapchat.
“Yeah,” George says, confident.
Dream takes a photo. Send to Goog.
“Wait,” George says after a moment, “what did you just send to me?”
“Dream.” The snap opens. “What—”
It is hardly a selfie, a quick shot aimed close to Dream’s face. It didn’t show anything except part of his jawline, his neck, and tufts of hair sprawled on the pillow beneath his head.
Dream can’t stop laughing at George’s silence, wheezing when he watches him replay the image. He knows where this fit is coming from—it’s surreal that their conversation has made him feel such tidal waves of emotions so far. He is nervous, and exhilarated, and starting to consider that maybe George is, too. Maybe.
“I hate you,” George utters with a breathy warmth that shuts Dream up immediately. “You did the same thing to me already today.”
He remembers what he’d sent during the stream, the power it gave him. His voice drops low, “Why, are you blushing again?”
George’s response is amorous. “Do you want me to be?”
The air is taken from Dream’s lungs. His eyes, wide open, pointlessly search his room to check he’s still awake. George sounds just like he had on the beach, and it burns in Dream, red hot, as he swallows the euphoria whole.
He grips onto his bed sheets. Patches stares at him with judgement.
What the hell is going on?
“Yes,” he professes, deciding to use George’s words against him, “I like you better that way.”
What are we doing?
“You’re too much,” George says, winded. “I—I think I should go to bed.”
Dream feels a pang—he fully expects to feel empty without George’s soft voice in his ear—but sympathizes. In the duration of their call, he’d overheated to the point where he’s concerned for the melting of his brain.
“It was nice talking to you,” Dream says, though he’s still catching up to their last forty seconds.
“Yeah, you too,” George rushes. “Whatever.”
He hangs up.
Dream wrenches his headphones off. He isn’t sure what to make of it, any of it; the friendly flirting that slithers into his gut and coils warmly among the pooling torment he’d already been subject to. He can easily convince himself that George is screwing with him, a revenge so to speak for the years Dream had spent irritating him. But there was something in his voice when he murmured soft replies that Dream desperately wants to believe was raw honesty.
His face falls as he accepts his second terrible truth of the day: I want George to want me.
He can’t bring himself to leave bed, or to bother with distractions. All he can think about is carefully taking George’s jaw in one hand, sliding into his dark hair with the other, and pressing his lips gently against his forehead.
He doesn’t sleep at all that night.