Ten Years Later

She stood on the tiny balcony and clutched a cup of coffee in her hand. She listened to the early morning traffic go by and watched the sky go from dark to light gray. Shivering, she clutched the shawl closer to her.

“Why aren’t you wearing a sweatshirt?” demanded a voice. He came up behind her and blew hot air onto her neck. She leaned back and closed her eyes, nuzzling into his embrace as his arms circled her waist.

“The cold feels nice,” she murmured. She felt him grin behind her. He’d always loved the cold. Opening her eyes, a thought that had been tugging at her mind shaped itself on her lips. “What are we doing here?”

“Living the dream,” he said, raising his eyebrows. They both laughed. Corny phrases were so fun to use when there was no risk of being taken seriously. “Are you regretting it or something?” he asked, worried. His self-esteem, usually substantial enough not to need to ask questions like this, wavered.

“I’m ecstatic,” she answered, turning to him. “Let’s go unpack.”

“Ungh,” he moaned. “Do we have to? I can live out of the suitcases for a while…”

“Yes, we have to,” she laughed, slapping his midriff playfully. “And later we’ll take a walk to the bank to open the account, and we’ll get some more groceries.”

“Fine, fine, fine,” he huffed playfully. As she bent over a box and began ripping at it energetically, he sighed and thought of where he’d been ten years earlier. He hadn’t been happy then, but all had come well in the end.

____OR_____

She sat on the lanai. The sun was shining brightly and the temperature was perfect. Some might say it was boring, always so perfect, but she loved it. The laptop on her knees was small, comfy and full of prose – just the way she liked it. She spread her fingers, getting ready to take that incredibly exhilarating plunge and actually start writing when she froze. A hummingbird, beautifully colored and almost shining in the sunlight, was only a foot away, hovering next to the big flowerpot that she referred to as her “pet.”

Hands still hovering in the air, much like the tiny bird, she watched, mesmerized, scared to take the slightest move and scare the thing away. A blast of music came up suddenly from the cellphone beside her, and both she and the hummingbird jumped. “Oh, birdie, come back!” she called under her breath as she picked the phone up. The bird took no notice. Looking at the screen as she flicked the phone open, she smiled.

“Hey, you,” she said. “You scared away a hummingbird. It was right next to me.” She waited, listened, and laughed. “That’s so like you,” she grinned to herself. “How’s the Missus? And the kid?” She smiled softly as the deep voice on the other end spoke. “I’m so glad,” she said warmly. “Listen, I’m just about to start writing. Can I call you this evening? Mhm. Mhm. Sure. Okay, talk to you then. Love you, bee-eff-eff,” she added cheekily. “Bye now!”

She clicked off, and watched her flourishing garden. She thought about where she’d been ten years ago. She was glad that things had come well in the end.

____OR_____

He was in Brazil, and she in Tasmania.

____OR_____

Both fictional characters never were, had never been, would never be.

 

Joshua

Josh put down the Starbucks paper cup and breathed a sigh of relief. He’d been craving his chai latte since three in the morning when he first woke up. The dreams were back, and he was sleeping worse than ever. His therapist kept asking him if he could describe them, and he tried, he really did, but the problem was that the moment he talked about his dreams, they’d flee his mind. It was as if the contents of his horrible nightly escapades were only alive when they could torture him, and him alone. If he tried to confide in anyone else, he would suddenly find that he couldn’t grasp any detail of dream. He wouldn’t find the words to describe the monstrous visions or the frightening scenarios, and he’d finally fall silent, muttering feebly that he knew the dreams were horrible but simply couldn’t remember them at present. His therapist thought that he was repressing something, and was very worried about him.

If he was being honest with himself, Josh was worried too. The last time he’d had the dreams was when he started law school. They’d caused him to drop out after a while, and he’d spent almost a year in a haze of pot, occasional boozing and general self-destruction. It took him a long time to force his life back together. He’d felt like Humpty Dumpty for years, putting himself together piece by piece because all the king’s horses and all the king’s men had given up on him.

Now he was thirty-five and was the manager of the distribution offices in a company that sold furniture. It wasn’t an impressive job by any means – his office was one of many that were spread around the country, and so there were some fifty other people in the company with the exact same job title as him. That wasn’t to say that he hadn’t worked hard to reach this position. He had, and he’d suffered for a few years at the entry level customer service before he began climbing the ranks. All in all, he was pleased with his job. He had his own office on the tenth floor with a view of the courtyard that his building shared with the other five in the office complex that was comfortably nestled in Downtown.

Josh rubbed his eyes and tried to wake himself up. Since three that morning he’d dozed on and off until six, when the alarm clock rang and his day began. He’d gone to bed at one in the morning, so he had, in reality, a total of two hours sleep. He smiled as he took another sip of his chai latte. At least his slow and tentative relationship with Mia wasn’t being screwed up by his dreams. She’d kissed him sweetly last night after they’d enjoyed a glass of red wine at the bar he took her to after dinner. They’d talked for hours, sipping their wine slowly in a corner table and enjoying the dim light of the bar that made them feel as if they were all alone. When he’d walked her home, she’d kissed him at the door, called him a perfect gentleman, and then, with that ever-surprising grin of hers, she’d ducked into the building and shut the door firmly behind her. He’d walked back to his own apartment in a delirious daze.

Mia had been part of his life for two years, although she hadn’t realized how much she’d meant to him. She’d been serving him chai lattes, apple pie slices and chocolate chunk cookies at Starbucks almost every morning since she’d started working there and Josh had fallen for her just a little bit more every day. He’d finally gotten the guts to ask her out after she’d been promoted to assistant manager of her branch and wasn’t working at the counter anymore. Josh’s therapist was very proud of him and felt that this was definitely a positive step forward in his constant struggle to keep the normal, functioning life he’d built for himself.

He hadn’t told Mia about his dreams. He hadn’t even tried. They’d been going out for over a month, but Mia, as she told him last night, was in a precarious emotional state. She had survived a badly abusive relationship and had abstained from going out with men for about three years. Josh was the first man she’d felt comfortable enough to go out with, and her own therapist, she reported to Josh, was proud of her as well. They’d joked about having a conference call with their respective psychologists and fixing them up. They’d also wondered idly whether the two were married already without their patients’ knowledge.

But Mia had kissed him, finally, and Josh was ecstatic. As he finally turned from the window in his office toward his computer and the work that was waiting for him, he decided that he’d call her later that afternoon and tell her that he’d had an incredible time last night and that he hoped to see her again. Soon.

He reached for his diary and checked which tasks he’d written down that were a priority that morning. He decided to get the phone calls over with first and then turn to the stack of reports that were awaiting his scrutiny. It was as he clicked on the speaker-phone button that he remembered that Mia had been in his dream. His hand froze over the buttons and eventually the dial tone was replaced with the beep-beep-beep of a phone off the hook. Josh sat still as a stone as horrible visions flashed through his mind again, Mia’s face featuring clearly in them.

Finally, he turned off the speaker and held up his Starbucks cup. He stared at it, unseeing, and turned it around and around in his hands. Not Mia, he thought, pleading with his subconscious. Please, not Mia…

1. Mr. and Mrs. Adams [3]

“Yes, hi, it’s me.”

Caroline clutched the receiver in her hand. She looked at Mr. Adams, and words failed her as tears sprung into her eyes. She hadn’t heard Marty’s voice in almost three years. Now, out of the blue, there he was, sounding just as he did before. Mr. Adams walked into his study and picked up the phone on his desk there. He spoke into it in a quiet, sad voice.

“Where have you been, Marty?”

“Oh,” the voice over the phone sounded taken aback. “Hi, Dan.”

“Well?”

“I- I’m sorry,” the voice began to choke as the words tumbled out. “I’m so sorry, to both of you. It’s just that after Susan… and then the funeral was just horrible and Claire wasn’t speaking to anyone and I couldn’t shake the feeling that the both of you blamed me somehow – blamed me for listening to Susan, for not telling you sooner, for hiding it from you for a year. And then the operation – and the doctors didn’t know that they’d find what they found and just – we didn’t know, and it was supposed to be easy and quick and gone within a few months and Susan felt that it was bad enough that we lived so far away and I just…”

“Oh, Marty,” breathed Mrs. Adams.

She and Mr. Adams had the same memories flooding their senses. Both were remembering their blissful lives, teaching at the university and living peacefully in this house that they finally managed to pay off the mortgage on. Both remembered how three years ago they got a phone call from their only daughter, their Susan. They remembered her calm and collected voice as she lied to them outright, telling them that she needed to have some really minor surgery and not to worry and not to come down to Manhattan for it – it was just this tiny lump the doctors needed to take out, it would be over in a few days. The surgery had, in actuality, been for removing her breast-cancer, which she hadn’t told her parents about since it was considered curable. The doctors hadn’t expected what resulted in the surgery – a complication, a blood clot. They’d removed it, but apparently some of it had traveled through her bloodstream already and had obstructed some smaller veins. She’d died from the blood not managing to travel to her brain rather than from her cancer.

She hadn’t told her parents about any of her chemotherapy, hadn’t told them about what she was going through – she didn’t want to worry them, as she told Marty over and over again. It was bad enough, in her eyes, that Claire, their daughter, had to know and see what was happening. That was Susan’s biggest flaw and always had been – she wanted to take everything on herself, without help from the outside, without causing worry to anyone. Mr. and Mrs. Adams knew this. It was themselves they blamed for not guessing more about her surgery. They blamed Susan, too, although it had taken them two years in counseling after her death to be able to admit it to themselves. But the only thing they blamed Marty for was his cutting his ties with them after Susan’s funeral. They loved Marty like a son, and they wanted to be a part of Clair’s life.

This is what they both, through many moments of choked silences, managed to convey to Marty during their conversation that August evening. Marty, who had broken down completely and sobbed into the phone a few times, sat alone in his apartment in Manhattan – Claire was at her drawing class – and felt that for the first time in three years he had some hope in his horizons. He’d lost his own parents when he was much younger, and the simple warmth of Susan’s folks and the way they forgave him immediately for his mule-headed guilt-trip went straight to his heart.

It sealed his decision. After hanging up with his in-laws, and promising them that he’d bring Claire for a visit very soon, he made a big post-it note and hung it on the fridge. It said “CALL REAL ESTATE AGENT AND SAY YES.” He underlined the word “YES” three times, picked up his keys, and set out to pick Claire up, thinking that the future might finally be looking up.