Olivia's life comes to an abrupt end when a run-in with a mugger in the park leaves her with a bullet in her chest. She finds herself transported to an afterlife just as dangerous and unpredictable as the real world. It is an everchanging universe that she soon realizes she has touched in her dreams - a universe where she can be killed just as easily as she was before.
But not everyone who dies is left in this afterlife. In fact, Olivia discovers that she is one of a few souls who has ended up there - along with Paul, an innate fighter and survivor who died over 700 years ago, and the rest of his little gang of departed souls. They are no closer to understanding their purpose in this afterlife than Olivia is. But, haunted by voices on the wind and the face of a ghostly child, Olivia may come to understand why she is there - and what she needs to do to escape it.
Olivia sat still, shaking, cold. Abruptly, she stood, took a step, then stopped. She didn’t know where to go. There was no place she could go. But she wanted to run, to leave this place and never look back. The faces of the mindless, lost and sad and alone, haunted her thoughts. Paul’s words echoed in her mind, asking her if she planned to leap and send herself straight to Heaven, be done with it all.
A part of her wanted nothing more than to do that.
“Olivia? What’s wrong?”
Olivia looked around. Paul was sitting up in his blankets. His eyes were sleepy, but he watched her attentively. She noticed that the hair on the back of his head was sticking up, and she thought how cute that was.
Then she hated herself for thinking it.
Something must have shown on her face; maybe her expression had twisted, because Paul stood, leaving his blanket on the floor behind him. “What is it?” he said quietly. “Are you all right?”
Olivia stared at him, her throat tight. “Why didn’t you ever tell me about Will?” She wasn’t sure where that question came from, when that thought had started forming in her head. But as soon as it was out, she realized it had been simmering for some time.
Paul recoiled, as though she’d shoved him. “What?”
“Will.” She cleared her throat, but her voice quivered. “That I was in love with him. That he…I don’t know…maybe liked me, but chose Farah, went off with her.” She bit her lip. “Why not tell me about it? It wasn’t real anyway.”
Paul sighed. He stepped towards her, and Olivia resisted the urge to step back. She didn’t think she could stand him too close to her. “I don’t know how you know about that—”
“I remember it, is how.”
“And do you remember how distraught you were when he left?” he asked her directly.
Olivia blinked. “I—I was here? When he left?”
Paul shrugged. “No one saw him leave. Him or Farah. But yes. You were here. And the way you reacted, when we discovered they’d gone…” Paul shook his head. “Olivia, you say it wasn’t real. But with dreamers…everything is more real, to them, when they’re here. And they are—you were—more free, truer, in their feelings, here. They have no inhibitions. Everything they feel—everything you felt—is realer than anything you experience awake.”
Olivia swallowed, unable to look away from him.
“So when you fell apart,” he said steadily, “when you—broke down in tears, and wept—the distress you expressed then…” He shook his head. “That was real.”
Olivia clenched her teeth. Everything he was saying went against what she’d been telling herself, since she’d first regained her memories of Will. “But you don’t want it to be.”
“I didn’t like seeing you in pain, no,” he said sharply.
“Or is there another reason?” she said bitterly.
She regretted those words the moment they left her lips. She evaded his gaze and took a step back, which did no good, since he took two steps toward her. She flinched as he placed his hands on her shoulders, looking down at her.
“Olivia,” he said, “what’s going on with you? What’s wrong?”
She tried to look at him, but it was too hard. “I’m not like you, Paul,” she whispered. Her voice was shaking so badly that she was surprised she was able to get the words out at all. “I’m not sure like you. I don’t know what I lived for, what I died for, why I’m here, I don’t know—” She broke off, too frustrated to go on.
“It’s okay,” he said softly, but his soothing tone had the opposite of its intended effect on her. She felt like she was going mad, and he was making it all worse.
“I can’t be here,” she burst out. “I don’t want to be here, I can’t be here.” Her words too closely echoed the mindless, which drove her desperation up another notch, heightening her fear. “This place, Paul, it’s driving me crazy, and I can’t—I can’t—” She tried to suck in a breath, but she couldn’t get any air. He was too close, invading all her space.
“Shh,” he said. His hands slid down her arms, settling in the crooks of her elbows. “Olivia. Olivia. Look at me.”
She sucked in another breath and forced herself to meet his gaze. In spite of everything—in spite of it all—there was something there, in his eyes. Something good and comforting, like security, the sense of security that had been stolen from her the moment that gunman had pulled the trigger and taken her life. She wanted to be pulled in to that goodness, to dissolve within him, if it meant she could be safe again, if it meant she could regain some of that innocence, that piece of herself, that she’d lost.
Slowly—without hesitating—she leaned in and kissed him.