Episode 1: Awaken
Copyright © 2012 by Leigh Fischer
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without written permission of the publisher.
Edition: October 2012
To those that drive me to want more than what mediocrity and ordinary can provide.
The water is crystal clear with what they would call unlimited visibility. I can see on and on forever, floating just above a seascape of vibrant coral and waving sea fans. As I drift by an enormous brain coral, looking like an ancient wrinkly Epcot dome, I catch sight of an immense parrot fish that brilliantly displays all the colors of the rainbow. I follow behind, entranced by his beauty and freedom. He is logy with no obvious purpose. He just swims. No goals. No hopes. No dreams. No ambition. He just swims, slowly across the ocean floor, stopping occasionally to pluck at something that might be food. He is a true free range grazer.
Without warning he flicks his tail and vanishes. A shadow passes over me; the sun is blocked and with it its warmth that can be felt even through more than fifteen feet of water. I feel the approach of an ominous presence. My stomach lurches. My little friend had been more observant than I. I should have followed his lead, but I do not have his keen instinct and I would surely pay the price. What is it that has cast this shadow of dread over my perfect world? A reef shark? Or a hammerhead? Is it some other deadly predator from the deep? No. It is much, much worse.
I am ripped violently from the rich warm world of corals and sea creatures and I crash brutally into the cold and stark world of a cubicle and cluttered desk. I become aware of my boss standing behind me and panic sets in as I try to explain my absence.
“I . . . uh . . . I was . . . I am---”
“Working on the Third Quarter Billings. Good,” he says.
Relief washes over me as the bubbles clear from my brain and I realize that I have a well populated and productive looking spreadsheet open on my computer.
“Yes . . . yes that is exactly what I am doing,” I say. Thank Poseidon that I had something that mimicked work in plain sight. It would have been an utter disaster had he walked in on the glorious pictures of a place I could only dream about.
“Is there something you needed?” I ask. I try to cover my hesitation and instead it comes out more like irritation. I curse myself, caught thousands of miles away and I have the gall to sound as if he had interrupted something important.
He flinches but says nothing. Maybe he hadn’t noticed that I had been completely gone. That I was barely in the office in body, much less in mind and spirit. Maybe he thought that I was just so committed to the cause that I was fully and completely immersed in the painful numbers that danced across my screen.
“I didn’t mean to interrupt you. I just got a status check from the Program Manager and wanted to check in with you,” he says.
Seriously? Interrupt me? Oh he gives me way too much credit.
“Yea, sure. No problem. It should be done by C.O.B.,” I say, kicking up my confidence a notch and sounding more authoritative.
“Good.” He lingers awkwardly, as if he might say more. When he doesn’t, I spin my chair back to face my computer and try to pick up where I left off, wherever and whenever that was.
I feel his weight shift and his presence disappears. I let out a sigh of relief and let my head fall to my desk with a thunk.
How much longer can I keep this up? How much longer can I keep him convinced that I know what I am doing and that I belong here? How much longer do I want to?
This job is soul crushing monotony. It hadn’t always been like this. There was a time, when I first hired on out of college, when it was fresh and new. I was motivated and dedicated. I was positive and ready to make an impact as a valuable asset. The world was my oyster and I was going to harvest its pearl and climb the ladder of success.
Today, four years later, my soul has been crushed. No. Obliterated. I’ve known this feeling before, twice actually, once before graduating from high school and again before graduating from college. Four years, it’s long enough for you to become lord and master of your domain and then quickly become bored with it. Senioritis is the loss of focus; the loss of interest; the feeling of being ready to move and take on life’s new challenges.
The difference between then and now? There is no graduation. There is no moving on. There is no exciting new challenge; just the same wretched, dragging existence for the rest of eternity. Soul crushing. No. It’s not the job. It’s life . . . it’s being an adult.
“You could quit and go find a new job,” she says.
“What? In this economy? I’d be crazy to do a thing like that. I know how lucky I am to have a job,” I say.
“Well . . . then go find a new job and then quit.”
I lift my head from the table and stare at my friend. How long have I known her? Ten years? No. Longer. Third grade was ’93 . . . times two . . . minus one. Christ . . . next year will be twenty years. That can’t be right. Are we really that old?
I drain the dark liquid from my pint glass and waggle the empty vessel at our waitress who is loaded down like a pack mule, carrying burgers and fries to the eight-top next to us. Somehow, even with her burden, she manages to acknowledge me. She is exceedingly skilled. I should remember to tip her well.
“Maybe we should order some food too,” she says. Always such a good friend. Always looking out for me.
“I was thinking I would have a liquid dinner. That’s why I chose such a heavy beverage. Practically a meal in a glass.”
She rolls her eyes.
Twenty years. Has she really been cleaning up after me and looking out for me for twenty years? No matter how I do the math, it always comes out the same and the answer is always yes. It doesn’t seem that long ago. Where did the time go? I remember it like it was yesterday, the first time she saved my hide.
“Lizzy Cutter? Lizzy?” Mrs. Tomsa called out. Her voice was shrill and pierced my brain. Why do they do that? Why do they always insist on giving me a z-y? Liz or Elizabeth is fine. It was going to be a long year.
“My name is Liz,” I said. Back then I was quiet and reserved and at the moment humiliated that I was correcting a teacher and speaking out in front of the entire class. But I couldn’t let it slide and set myself up for being called Dizzy Lizzy or something equally awful.
“Sure, sure. Ok Liz, who did you meet and play with at recess?”
What? Why was she asking that? I held my breath. This couldn’t be happening. Did she want me to die of embarrassment? My second day of the third grade and I was already being served up like a pig on a spit.
Before releasing us for recess, Mrs. Tomsa had announced that we had an assignment. We had to find someone that we didn’t know and play with them. It was a crackpot idea to help us meet our classmates and make new friends. It was absolutely ridiculous. I didn’t think that she would actually follow up on the assignment and make sure that we had done it.
There was a serious flaw in her plan, unless her plan had been to ridicule me all along. I did not play with other children. I never had. So it was not as simple as choosing someone new to be on my kickball team.
I wasn’t one of those little freaks that hid in the corner praying for recess to end. No, I was one of those little freaks running around and talking to herself and going on epic adventures with characters of her own creation. I was what one might call a creative child. I could spend hours entertaining myself with complex, self-made storylines. I didn’t need other people to amuse me, nor did I want them.
“Who did I play with?” I asked. I delayed as long as possible.
“Yes, Lizzy, who did you play with at recess?” she asked.
I cringed. “I . . . uh . . .”
Before I could wind up some incredible excuse, the hand of the girl sitting across from me at my table shot into the air. “Mrs. Tomsa, I played with Liz today. I forgot to tell her my name though. I’m forgetful sometimes.” The girl was thin and tall, or at least she had impeccable posture, with the brightest green eyes I had ever seen. Her hair was fiery red and perfectly straight. She exuded confidence and her energy seemed to overflow and seep out of her.
“Thank you Amy, but I was asking Lizzy,” Mrs. Tomsa said.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Tomsa. I was just so excited to meet a new friend. I love new people.” Her voice sang. Her enthusiasm was overwhelming and it even seemed genuine.
Mrs. Tomsa smiled and turned to another table. “Billy Watson? Who did you meet today?”
When I was sure she was done with me and I nervously made eye contact with the girl, Amy, and mouthed, “Thanks. You saved my life.”
The world spins as I fumble for my keys.
“Give me those.” Amy jerks my keys from my hand and swiftly locates my apartment key. She slides it in the lock and turns. The deadbolt releases with a clunk and she swings the door open.
I stagger inside and collapse in a heap onto my couch. “He was cute.”
“Sweetie, you are wearing some pretty thick beer goggles,” she says.
“He seemed nice. He bought me all those yummy drinks.”
Amy hands me a glass of water. “Drink this.”
“Are you gonna be ok? Should I stay over tonight?” Her concern was real, but it was misplaced. I was drunk, but mostly because I wanted to be and not because of the alcohol. Sure the alcohol helped, but I was allowing the inebriation to flood over me and help me ignore my frustration with life.
“I’ll be fine. I’m a big girl.”
“Call me if you need anything.”
“I love you.”
“I know.” She bends over and kisses me on the top of my head. “I love you, too.”
Just before pulling the door shut, Amy says, “Good night, Liz. I’ll see you at ten.”
There is a pounding at the door. I squeak my eyes open. It feels like I have gravel under my eyelids. My head throbs. My brain feels three sizes too big for my skull. I am hungover.
I drag myself unwillingly out of bed and down the hall. I open the door to make the wretched sound cease.
“Morning sunshine!” Amy says and pushes through the door into the living room. She is awake. Too awake.
“Oh is someone a little hungover? Did someone drink a little too much last night?”
“No, someone didn’t drink enough.” I scowl at her.
“Funny girl,” she says with a brilliant smile that makes me feel even more awful. “I brought you a banana nut muffin and a smoothie. A little snack and you will be feeling as good as new.”
That does sound delicious. Just the thought of it seems to reduce the aching in my head. “What flavor smoothie?”
“You’re my hero.”
“Didn’t I tell you yoga would make you feel better?” Amy takes a bite out of her chicken salad wrap.
“Whatever. You’re brilliant. I’m an idiot. I should know better than to argue with you. We know all this already. Now give me some of your chips,” I say and I make a grab for the last of her kettle chips.
It is Saturday. Yoga day. For the last four months, Amy has been dragging me to an 11 am yoga class. She insists that it is a good way to clean out my system after my Friday night excesses. I think it is a good way for her to torture me.
I had snatched my muffin and smoothie away from her greedily and immediately commenced devouring them. I tried to convince her that I was in no condition to work-out or do anything even moderately productive. I failed and was carted off to class in what may or may not have been clean yoga attire. I spent the first thirty minutes in excruciating pain as my dehydrated body and mind fought tooth and nail against every pose and every movement. By the end of class, I had ceded defeat, accepted my fate, and let the benefits of physical activity and an open mind take over.
“So . . . farmer’s market? I’ll make dinner tonight. We can have a nice mellow evening. Maybe watch a movie or something,” I say.
She diverts her eyes. Something is wrong. She is uneasy and doesn’t want to tell me something. “I can’t. Not tonight.”
“Oh. Why not?” I ask.
“I’m going out. I have a date.”
“With that guy . . . Ron?”
“That’s what I meant. So you like him? This is your third date?” I try to sound interested. I try to be as good of a friend to her as she is to me. But I know I sound disappointed. I don’t know whether I am more jealous of her having a date or Ron getting to hang out with my Amy.
She shrugs. “Fourth. He’s a nice guy. He has a good job. He takes me out.”
“That’s good, I’m happy for you.” I really am happy for her. “You deserve a nice guy for a change.”
“And that is the truth” Amy grins, knowing all too well my insinuation.
Amy is the nicest person I know. She is reliable and trustworthy. She is motivating and full of energy. She will help anyone in need, no questions asked. And on top of her fantastic personality she is a stunning five foot eight with her blazing red hair and fabulous curves in all the right places. When added together, these qualities, though all wonderful, do not attract the best of men. Her energy and enthusiasm tolls the party boys and her caring and loving nature hauls in the head-cases. If I was trying to sleep with her, I would be the perfect example.
“Which one was this again?” I ask.
“The lawyer. Thirty. Blonde.”
“No kids. No wife.”
“Smoker? Drinker? Other bad habits?”
“An occasional cigar after a big case. Drinks in moderation from what I can tell. Other habits are to be determined. After three dates, he seems pretty decent.”
“But you aren’t convinced. You aren’t jumping for joy and I haven’t met him yet.”
She shrugs again. “I dunno. He seems great but . . . I dunno what it is.”
“He’s lousy in the sack.”
“I don’t know yet.”
I raise an eyebrow. “You haven’t slept with him? Is he gay?”
“I don’t think so. He seems interested enough. He kissed me.”
“Score! Welcome to middle school!” I hold out my hand for a fist bump.
Amy leaves me hagging. “Be nice. Since when do I have to sleep with every guy I go out with?”
“Since I’m living vicariously through you. It’s been so long since I’ve seen any action I think they are considering reinstating my virginity.”
Amy snorts trying to stifle a giggle.
“Yep I find the neglect of my girl parts to be pretty hilarious too.”
“Maybe he’s got a friend or something. If things go well tonight, maybe I’ll see if we can work out a double date. That way you can meet him and---”
“And get my parts serviced,” I finish, “I love charity!”
Tomorrow is Monday. Where has the weekend gone? Friday night was a drunken blur. Saturday started rough, but got better with my afternoon out with Amy. But after she left me to go get ready for her date, my weekend quickly degraded. I went to the farmer’s market as promised and picked up some fantastically fresh produce and a steak that looked like they might have had the cow tied up behind the tent a few minutes earlier.
When I got back to my apartment I had a staring match with the groceries that I had just bought. I had procured them without a plan and didn’t actually know what I was going to do with them. Eventually, I settled on a recipe I found on the internet. Surprisingly, it came out really good. Delicious even. I seared the steak in a frying pan and then finished it in the oven; I even used a thermometer. I made garlic mashed potatoes and roasted carrots. Then I poured a crazy good whiskey cream sauce over the meat.
It was my finest work and I had never been more depressed. Amy was not there to share it with me, to be impressed by my culinary skills and awed by my creativity. I enjoyed the meal grudgingly; I was proud of what I had created and my taste buds exploded, but the mountain of leftovers was a constant reminder of Amy’s absence.
God I need more friends.
I piled the leftovers unceremoniously into a Tupperware tub and collapsed onto the couch, fighting the urge to call Amy to tell her of my success. I would not interrupt her date. I really did want her to have a good time and find a nice boy. Bad TV would be my substitute.
Around 3 AM I woke up on the couch to an over enthusiastic nut job trying to sell plastic forks or something. I flicked off the TV and dragged myself to my bed. I slept another eight hours before I forced myself to get up and become a quasi-productive member of society.
I made a half assed attempt at a few yoga poses to try to regain some of the positivity I had felt on Saturday and to work out the kinks acquired from sleeping on the couch. I showered and did laundry and prepped the apartment for the upcoming week of neglect.
It’s Sunday night and I am back on the couch. I haven’t heard from Amy. I’m guessing things went well. I can’t bring myself to eat the leftovers. I’m sure they would be amazing, but they are just a reminder of my fabulous weekend. They are a reminder that I have accomplished little and have been a waste of life. They are a reminder that I don’t have a life. They are a reminder that tomorrow is Monday and I have to go back to work. Instead, I eat boxed macaroni and cheese.
“Elizabeth! Liz! Are you in there?” The voice is frantic and accompanied by a furious pounding on my door. I look around groggily and confused. I’ve been asleep on the couch. What time is it? I look at my watch. It’s 5 PM. That’s strange. When did I fall asleep?
“Liz! Open up if you’re in there!” My focus returns to the screaming and pounding. I sit up, climb to me feet and stretch. Damn. I have to stop falling asleep on the couch, I ache all over. I shuffle to the door, flip the deadbolt and swing the door inward.
I am met by a distraught looking Amy. Her face is creased with worry and her eyes are wide. As she recognizes me, she charges forward and wraps her arms around me tightly. “Thank God. I was so worried.”
“About?” I ask as I break away from her grip.
She ignores me and pulls her cell phone from her purse and immediately begins dialing. “Molly, you don’t have to worry. She’s here . . . She looks fine . . . I’ll have her call you in a little while . . . ok . . . you too, bye.” She hangs up and turns her attention back to me.
“Was that my mom? Why were you talking to my mom?” I ask.
“Where have you been? Are you alright? What’s going on?” she asks.
“What do you mean? I have been right here. I was asleep on the couch?”
Bewilderment streaks across her face. She bites her lower lip and her eye brows are nit together tightly. “You’ve been asleep on the couch for two days?”
“What? No,” I say. Now I’m the confused one.
“Then where have you been?”
“What in God’s name are you talking about?”
“Your mom called me at work today. She said that she had gotten a phone call from your boss. You didn’t show up for work yesterday or today. She has been trying to call you all day, but has been unable to reach you. She asked me to come over and check on you,” she says.
“What?” I say. It’s all I can manage. I have absolutely no idea what she is talking about. “I went to work . . .” I say as I rack my brain for some proof, some memory from the day. Memories from my days at work all mesh together into a murky slop. I can’t think of one single occurrence or event from today that would make today stand out from any other.
“Liz? Are you ok? You look a little white,” Amy says.
“I dunno. I guess I’m a little confused.” I back up to the couch and sit down. “Now that you mention it I do feel a little off. What’s today?”
Amy returns a blank stare.
“What day of the week is it?”
The search in my mind becomes more emergent. I am grasping at straws, but every time I think I have landed on a solid memory it washes away as I am able to firmly associate it with another time or place.
“Amy . . . I dunno . . . the last thing that I remember is going to bed on Sunday night. It’s really Tuesday?” My voice wavers.
She pulls her cell back out of her purse and hands it to me, the calendar clearly shows that it is Tuesday, a little after 5 in the evening.
I stare in disbelief. “This is some sort of a joke right?”
She shakes her head. “We have been worried. We have been trying to get in touch with you. Why haven’t you answered your cell?”
I jump up from my seat and start running around the apartment looking for my cell in all of its usual hiding places. “Call it.”
She does and it rings through loud and clear, announcing its position in my purse that was dropped in a dining room chair. I flip it open. Eighteen missed calls, three from my boss, two from security at work, ten from my mother, and three from Amy. All of them are from today. Tuesday.
“W-T-F? How did I lose two full days?”
“You really lost two days? You don’t remember anything?” Her eyebrows are raised and I know she doesn’t believe me.
I shrug. “Like I said, the last thing I remember is going to bed on Sunday night. I ate some mac n’ cheese, moped around for a while and then went to bed.”
“Have you been drinking?”
“You know I don’t drink alone. I haven’t had a drop since Friday.”
“Did you smoke anything? Or . . . maybe something more illicit?”
“What the hell Amy? Seriously? I’m kinda a little freaked out here and you are accusing me of shit that . . . you know me better than anyone.”
“I’m sorry . . . it’s just weird . . .” she says. “Did you go out on Sunday? Maybe someone roofied you, or something.”
“I was right here all night. That I remember. I went to the farmer’s market on Saturday after you dropped me off. I came home and didn’t leave.”
“I think we should get you to the ER. Maybe there was something in the food you ate. Or maybe you hit your head.”
“I’m fine. I don’t need to go to the ER.” I might be a little shaken up emotionally. I’m a little sore from sleeping on the couch. But I am fine. She is blowing this way out of proportion.
“You missed work. You didn’t answer your phone. You don’t remember what happened for two days. I am taking you to the hospital.”
“Fine, let me take a quick shower first. Then we can go.”
“So how did the date go?” I ask. We are sitting in the crowded waiting room of the Emergency Room. There are crying kids and hacking old people. I’m not sick. I do not belong here. Or at least I wasn’t sick. Who knows now?
Amy looks at me and grins but says nothing. Juicy. The girl must have gotten lucky.
“Do tell,” I insist.
“It went well. It was a date. We had a nice dinner. Saw a movie.”
“Oh? What movie?”
“Um . . .” Her face turns a shade that competes with her hair. “I don’t remember.”
Like I said, Juicy. I laugh at her. “What? Were you guys too busy making out like a couple of horndog high schoolers?”
“Whatever. Frig you,” she says and crosses her arms with a humph.
I had hit the nail on the head. I laugh harder and people in the waiting room turn their heads and stare at me. I punch her on the shoulder. “Good for you kid.”
She slumps down in her seat, trying to disappear from the prying eyes.
I’m enjoying this. “So did you go back to his place for coffee?”
She sinks lower.
“So that’s a yes. And did you stick around for breakfast?”
“Can we talk about this later? Someplace a little more private? I would rather not discuss my . . . eating habits here.”
“Well you brought this upon yourself. You didn’t call me this weekend to give me the gory details. Now you have dragged me to this God forsaken hole for who knows how long and you expect me not to ask? You are out of your mind.”
“Fine! The coffee was fantastic. We had breakfast and spent the day together. I stuck around for dinner and couple more cups of coffee. That’s why I didn’t call you. I was a little preoccupied. There! Are you happy now?”
At this point everyone is staring at the crazy redhead yelling about breakfast and coffee. Mothers are covering their children’s ears, just in case we slip up and forget to use a euphemism. I am barely containing myself.
A nurse walks into the waiting room. We all look up hopefully. “Elizabeth?” she calls.
I jump up with my hand in the air. “That’s me!” I walk towards her.
Amy calls after me. “Oh and by the way, Liz, Rob said he has a friend we can double with next weekend.”
My grin falls flat and I walk out of the waiting room thoroughly deflated.
“No Ma. All the tests came back negative,” I say. I am leaning back in my office chair with my feet up on my desk. My mother just called to play twenty questions.
“What happened to you?”
“They don’t know. I went to the ER. They were checking for immediate life threatening issues.”
“Are you going to go see a regular doctor?”
“Not yet. I’m going to wait and see if I have any more problems.”
“But how will you know?”
“Amy is going to check in with me regularly. I also turned on the tracker app on my phone and authorized her to access my location information. That way if I go off the grid again, she should be able to find me.”
“Hmmm . . .”
“Ma, I’ll be fine. I gotta get going. I have to get back to work.”
“Ok hunny. Keep in touch. Let me know if you find out anything. Be careful. I love you.”
“I will. Love you too, Ma.” I hang up and drop my feet to the floor just as my boss walks in.
“Elizabeth, are you feeling better?” he asks.
“Uh . . .” The question stumps me. I don’t think I was feeling unwell. But I don’t really know either. I don’t want to have to explain that I have no idea to this numbskull. “Yea, I’m feeling better. I’m really sorry I didn’t call in. I don’t know what happened. I must have just forgotten.”
“No problem. We were just a little worried. It’s not like you to just not show up.”
“I know, I know. It won’t happen again.”
“Well, I just wanted to relay to you that the Program Manager was impressed with the work you did on Friday. He said what you provided was perfect.”
“Thanks,” I say through gritted teeth. Unbelievable. I spent most of Friday daydreaming and then I scramble at the last minute to pull some garbage report together and they think it is the best thing since sliced bread. Man, this place has a twisted sense of quality and effort. I could probably bring in an actual slice of bread and they would get all horned up. “Just doing my job.” And that is the complete truth. I do my job. Just to the bare minimum. He needs to leave now so I can go back to pretending I am someplace else.
“Well . . . good job Liz. We appreciate it. I’ll let you get back to it,” he says and walks out.
“Now where did I leave those fish on Friday?” I mutter, hopefully inaudibly.
“So you really just lost two days? You don’t know where they went?” Taylor asks. Taylor is beautiful. Taylor is tall and muscular. He has shaggy brown hair that looks completely natural, no gel or highlights or pretty boy crap like that. It’s not too long, it just looks like he’s a touch overdo for a haircut and it works for him. He looks like he could be a farmer or a lumberjack or something rugged. His smile and his teeth . . . oh his teeth are like a Crest commercial. His voice is deep and smooth. Yes, Ron did well. I could take this one home for coffee.
“Yea, it’s really embarrassing. I missed two days of work and sent my friends and family into a tizzy and I don’t even have a good story to show for it,” I say. Thanks Amy, what else have you told this guy? I will have to remember to show my appreciation. “So . . . anyway . . . enough about that. What do you do?”
“I’m a cop.”
I raise one eyebrow. “Oh?” That explains the rugged.
“Does that bother you?”
“Not at all. I have no issue with cops. With the exception of public intoxication every now and then, I’m a good girl. You can check my record, clean as a whistle.”
“Good. Some people get uncomfortable when they find out what I do.”
I glance over to Amy and Ron. She is completely blowing him off and listening intently to our conversation. He has a look on his face that tells me he is used to playing second fiddle to his friend. He is not at all what I expected. If Amy took off her heals, they would probably be about the same height. He’s cute but with a nerdy quality. His blonde hair is meticulously close cropped and he has an equally painstakingly maintained goatee. He wears glasses that he keeps having to push up; he is looking formal wearing a tie. Taylor on the other hand is slung back relaxed wearing a silky looking shirt with the top three buttons undone. He has the stubble of a five o’clock shadow. If he wasn’t a cop, I would say he has the look of someone that can get into some trouble.
“So Ron, how do you guys know each other?” I ask, wanting to include the poor guy.
“Rob,” he corrects.
“Right, sorry. I don’t know why I can’t get that to stick.”
“We went to college together. I majored in contract law with a minor in criminal justice. He was majoring in criminal justice. We took some classes together.”
“I see.” I really could care less, not with that hunk of gorgeous staring at me from across the table.
“So what do you think of Rob?” Amy asks. She leans in towards the mirror and reapplies some lip gloss.
“He seems . . . nice. Ames, I gotta be honest with you. He is not what I expected. You are just so high energy and enthusiastic and he is just . . . so not.”
“I know. I think that’s the point. I haven’t exactly been successful with my usual type.”
I nod and lean up against the wall of a stall. I’m not usually one for these group girl trips to the bathroom, but I knew that Amy would want a few minutes of girl talk before we left the restaurant.
“Besides, he’s energetic and enthusiastic in other ways.”
“Oh so now you want to talk about it?”
“We were in the emergency room. There were people around.”
“I didn’t know that the women’s restroom in a crowded restaurant was any better.”
She just grins at me. God, I’m envious. I want a grin like that. My dry spell has got to end.
As we walk out of the restaurant, Taylor places his hand on my lower back to guide me through the door. Chills run up my spine at his touch.
Out in the parking lot, a cool wind blows and we stand around uncomfortably making small talk. We have an awkward dilemma. Amy and I came together in Amy’s car and Taylor drove with Rob. Rob’s intensity has picked up and it’s apparent that he has high hopes for taking Amy home, though I can see the gears working as he tries to figure out how to broach the subject with dignity and decorum.
“Soooo . . . you guys want to go get some coffee or ice cream or something?” he asks.
This is my chance to give the guy the break that he is looking for and maybe catch one myself. “Na, I’m not feeling it. I’m gonna head home. I can get cab.” I glance at Taylor and catch his gaze. I hope he gets my drift. I hope he’s interested. Of course he is. That hand on my lower back was not an accident.
He bites. “You guys can go. I can give Liz a ride home.”
One point to Liz.
We spend a few minutes going through the obligatory gestures, ‘Are you sure this isn’t an inconvenience?’ and then we say good bye. Amy tells me to be safe and gives me an extra squeeze when she hugs me. We climb into the vehicles and go our separate ways.
He parks in front of my apartment building. We had talked the whole ride home. There hadn’t been a single embarrassing pause or misstep. Maybe it was the glass of wine I had with dinner or maybe it was that it’s been so long, but I feel like I am really bringing my A Game.
“Thanks for the ride.” I smile and try to look as inviting as possible.
“No problem. I had a really nice time tonight. I was skeptical at first. Rob isn’t exactly a lady’s man. But he seems to have done well with Amy. And I am thoroughly impressed with this set up.”
I blush. “Would you like to come up for a drink?”
He looks at his watch, like it matters what time it is. “Sure. That would be great.”
I hand him a whiskey on the rocks and take seat next to him on the couch. I glance around the room quickly. I feel rewarded for having taken a little time earlier today to pick up the apartment. I take a sip of my drink and welcome the burn as it slides down my throat.
“Neat? You mean business. Remind me to never try to pace you at the bar.”
I look down at the amber liquid in my glass. “It slows me down. I tend to be a nervous drinker. It’s my fidget or leg twitch. If I have a drink in front of me when I am uncomfortable, I will just keep sipping at it. Constantly. I won’t even be aware of it. And before I know it, it’s gone and I have another and I’m three sheets to the wind.”
“Are you uncomfortable now? Am I making you nervous?”
“A little. It’s been a little while since I have dated.”
He takes a sip of his drink; the ice clinks as he places the glass on the coffee table. “And why is that? You are a very pretty girl. You seem funny and intelligent and fairly outgoing?”
“Ah yes there must be something wrong with me. I must be a crazy cat lady or into a ludicrous fetish that scares away all the boys.”
He laughs and his eyes twinkle. He’s delicious. If I knew what a roofie was I should have put it in his drink. Maybe that doesn’t work on guys. Maybe it doesn’t have to. Maybe as long as you are reasonably attractive they’ll give in with little persuasion.
“That’s not really what I said. But if you do have a ludicrous fetish, that could make for some interesting conversation,” he says.
My pulse quickens. This conversation is taking a turn toward trouble. I’m going to completely lose my cool if I don’t handle this carefully. I take another drink to stifle a nervous laugh. “Well you got most of it right. I am pretty and funny. And very intelligent. But you messed up on the outgoing part.”
“Oh? You have been chatting me up all night and you even managed to convince me to come up and have a drink with you. That seems pretty outgoing to me.”
“I do all right in small groups. And once I have been introduced to someone, it becomes much easier, especially if the introduction is by a mutual friend or acquaintance. It’s kind of like any friend of Amy’s is a friend of mine.”
“I see. So you don’t approach people at bars or clubs?”
“Certainly not. I much prefer to hide in a corner.”
“And if a guy offers to buy you a drink.”
“Oh I’m a raging bitch.”
“You are an interesting girl,” he says.
I take another sip and raise an eyebrow. “Interesting in a good or bad way?”
“Definitely a good way. Your honesty is remarkable. And to the right guy, this characteristic of yours could be a real benefit. He would never have to worry about you leaving him for someone new. He would only have to worry about who he introduces you to.”
My head is swimming. The alcohol is starting to take affect and the evening of flirting is starting to take its toll. He is so close to me. He smells so good. His arm rests on the back of the couch and he is delicately fingering my hair. It’s all over. He has me ensnared. All night I was convinced that I was seducing him, but he is in control. He has been the whole night. I lean in to kiss him and he meets me half way.
I am walking along the river that runs through the heart of the city. No, I’m not walking along the river; I’m walking on the river. I look down and watch as my feet delicately glide across the river’s surface. There is no splash when my feet touch down; there is just a tiny ring of ripples that radiate out from the ball of my foot.
I shiver. The air is cool in the early morning light. The sun is just peaking up over the skyscrapers to the east. I am not dressed appropriately for a walk on the river this early in the morning. There is a fine mist that hugs the river as the air temperature slowly warms. It clings to my thin t-shirt and my jeans become damp.
It must be Sunday. The city is not yet awake. Save for the sounds of a few delivery trucks in the distance, there is no one around. I am startled when a mallard alights with an ungraceful splash next to me. I keep walking. It is so peaceful. I never could have imagined that the city could be so serene and beautiful.
As I continue to walk, I approach a bridge spanning the river. It rises fifty or sixty feet over the river. It’s one of the big bridges. Where am I? The bridge is black. Is this the Gunner’s Hill crossing? It must be. How did I get here? My apartment is on the other side of the city, it is at least a good forty-five minute drive.
I study the bridge with a scowl. How am I here? I don’t know this part of the city well. I have only been here a few times; I don’t know how to get home from here. The duck swimming next to me quacks and draws me from my worries, back to the bridge. There is someone on the bridge, climbing over the guard rail. My stomach churns as I realize what is about to happen. I run forward and cry out. The figure teeters on the top of the rail for a moment and then leaps forward, out over the river.
“No!” I scream out. The world is in slow motion around me. The figure falls excruciatingly slow, as if falling through Jello. I don’t know what to do as I watch in horror as the figure plummets to what will surely be his death. What can I do?
And then it hits me; I don’t think it so much as I feel it. My run kicks into a sprint and with a jump like an Olympic long jumper I bound forward and up. But unlike an Olympic long jumper I do not arc back down and land in a sandy pit. No, I keep flying up. I am flying. I am shocked for a moment by the fact that I am flying, but my focus is the falling jumper. I surge forward and intersect him fifteen feet above the water. I catch him in my arms and veer my flight path to the edge of the river.
We land with a crash onto the muddy river bank. I lay back and feel the cold air rush into my lungs and I try to steady my heart beat. What just happened? That was insane. That was impossible. But it doesn’t matter. We are bruised, wet and covered in mud. But none of that matters. He is alive.
I am awake, but I haven’t opened my eyes yet. I’m not quite ready to face the day. I wonder if Taylor is still here. He would certainly make facing the day a little easier. I guess I should find out.
I crack one eye and am blinded by brilliant white light that sends a piercing bolt of pain through my head. I clamp my eyes shut. Ugh . . . did I really drink that much last night? I don’t remember drinking that much. I had a glass of wine with dinner and then a glass of whiskey after. I don’t even think I finished my whiskey.
I try again. I muster through the discomfort and feel panic rising up in my chest as my eyes adjust. I fight down the urge to scream. I am not in my room. I throw my head from side to side looking for something familiar. The room is clean and white. There is tile everywhere. There is machinery next to the bed. I taste bile in the back of my throat as the recognition is made.
I am in a hospital. I have an IV hooked to my arm and there is an oxygen tube stuck into my nose. I try to sit up and the world spins. I fall back, flat onto the bed.
“Liz, sweetie it’s ok. Stay calm. Everything is ok.”
Relief washes over me and I feel calmer as I recognize Amy’s voice.
“What’s going---” I pause. I don’t recognize my voice. It is cracked and rough. It is thick with phlegm. I cough, loosening the obstruction. A dish appears in front of me and the bed back rises with a mechanical whine. I spit out a gooey yellow-green blob. “Amy, what’s going on?”
“You’re at Central Unity Hospital. You were brought in unconscious yesterday afternoon. What is the last thing you remember?”
I feel my cheeks grow hot. The last thing I remember? Yea, the last thing I remember is something that I will not be forgetting any time soon.
“Um . . . Taylor stayed over.” I couldn’t help but grin as memories from the night before rushed back.
Amy smiled faintly. Something is wrong. She should be excited for me. She should be thrilled that her setup had been so successful. She wore a smile, but it lied. Her eyes were worried and her face was creased.
“What’s wrong? Is Taylor ok?” I ask.
“Yea Taylor is fine. In fact he sent those for you” She nods to a large bouquet of flowers on the window sill.
I let out a sigh. I must have been holding my breath. “Wait . . . when did you say I was brought in?”
“Yesterday afternoon? What is today?
Her jaw clenches. She is hesitant to tell me. “Monday.”
“Monday? But we went out on Saturday. Are you telling me I have lost another two days again?”
“I don’t know Liz. The doctors are running tests. They haven’t found any drugs in your system or anything that might typically cause a blackout. Are you sure you don’t remember anything after Saturday?”
I shake my head. “I remember us all going out together. Then I remember Taylor driving me home. I invited him up for a drink. We went to bed. I had a crazy ass dream and then I woke up here.” As I speak a nasty demon of a thought pops into my head. It nags at me like an imp trying to stir up trouble. “You don’t think . . . you don’t think Taylor has anything to do with this do you?”
“No, definitely not Liz. I mean this happened to you last week, before you even met Taylor. Besides, I’ve talked to him. He’s pretty upset.”
“What? Why? Is something wrong? Did I do something wrong? I thought you said he sent flowers.” It would be just like me to screw things up before they even get a chance to get going. He’s too cute for me anyway. Damn.
“He’s not upset with you, Liz. He’s upset with himself. He’s upset that he didn’t go looking for you when he noticed you missing. He said that he stayed over on Saturday night, but when he woke up you were gone. He waited around for a little while and when you didn’t come back he took it as a sign that you wanted him to disappear. So he left.
“I started trying to call you around noon. I figured that would give you plenty of time to get up and going and I wanted to find out how things went. When you didn’t answer, I called Taylor. He explained what happened and that he hadn’t seen you.
“Around five o’clock I got a phone call from the hospital. They said that you had been brought in unconscious and they had checked your phone and seen that I had been trying to reach you.”
“This is bad,” I say.
“Does my mom know?”
She nods again.
“Crap. This is going to be a hassle.”
“Did you say I am at Central Unity?”
“It was the closest hospital to where you were found.”
“Where was I found?”
Amy hugs her arms tight around her. “You were found washed up on the river bank at the Gunner’s Hill crossing.”
The gears in my head were turning a million miles a minute as I tried to reconcile what Amy had just told me. It couldn’t be a coincidence that I had dreamed that I was at Gunner’s Hill and then was found there. But I pushed that all from my head when Taylor walked in. Amy quickly excused herself and disappeared from the room. He took her place in the chair next to my bed.
He’s been making small talk for the last few minutes, trying to make this a little less awkward.
“Hey Taylor, you can cut the crap. I’m really sorry you have gotten dragged into this mess, whatever this mess is,” I say, interrupting him.
“Liz I feel just awful. When I woke up and you were gone, I was pretty shocked and really disappointed. I thought things had gone pretty well and there had been no indication that it was a one-night-stand-now-get-the-hell-out-of-my-apartment kind of thing. But I wanted to respect what I thought were your wishes. I’m such an idiot.” He took my hand in his. Even after having known him in the biblical sense, his touch made me tingle.
“You didn’t do anything wrong. We don’t know each other well. It was a hook up and there were no expectations for staying around or not staying around. And there certainly wasn’t any reason for you to think I had gone for an early morning swim in the river.
“This is really humiliating. I was hoping for a call back, but not exactly like this.”
“I’ll call you back anyway you want,” he says.
My face is on fire. Holy smokes this guy is smooth. He must be nuts though. He’s still flirting with me in the hospital after I get fished out of the river. Oh well, I can tolerate a certain level of crazy in exchange for muscles and a gleaming smile.
“Elizabeth,” a woman’s voice calls from outside the room.
I curse. “That will be my mother. You should make yourself scarce unless you want to meet her under these circumstances and deal with a gazillion questions.”
“I’m not afraid of mothers,” he says, “But, I think this is more of a family thing so I will take my leave as recommended.
“Call me when you get out. I didn’t get a chance to make you breakfast yesterday and I would love another opportunity.” He stands up and leans over the bed and kisses my lips. I am still holding onto the lingering feeling of his lips on mine as he moves swiftly by my mother with a quick nod of acknowledgement and vanishes.
“Who was that?” she asks as she takes his place next to the bed.
“What? No ‘Hi, how you doin?’ You’re going straight to disbelief and awe?”
“I was just asking who that was?”
“If you must know before you know anything about my medical condition or emotional state; that was Taylor. Amy introduced us. He is a friend of her new boyfriend.”
“Well sweetie, the status of your emotional state is quite obvious. That boy is very cute.”
“Ma, he is thirty years old and he is not a boy.”
“Nonsense. He’s half my age.”
“Well I guess it is a good thing that he is not for you.”
She pouts for a moment and then quickly changes gears. “As sad as it makes me that you hadn’t told me that you have a new boyfriend, I didn’t drive all the way into the city to give you grief. How are you feeling?”
“I’m ok, I guess. I am a little disoriented. I haven’t been awake long. I haven’t even spoken to a doctor yet. A nurse came in for a few minutes after I had woken up, but everything I know is from Amy.”
“Sweetie, I think you should come home until we figure out what’s going---”
“Ma, I’m fine. I don’t need to come home.”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be living alone. You are obviously sleep walking or something. You should have supervision.”
“It’s no big deal. The doctors will figure this out and everything will go back to normal.”
“What? Do you want me to quit my job? We both know it is too far to commute.” Quit my job? That sounds like an awesome idea, but there is no way I’m telling my mother that. She would love that. She never liked the idea of me moving to the city to begin with.
“Molly, it’s ok. Liz will stay with me for a while. I’ll keep an eye on her and take care of her,” Amy says as she walks into the room.
My mother looks up and shakes her head, but doesn’t protest. She wouldn’t. I’m pretty sure the only reason she let me grow up and become a quasi self-sufficient adult was because Amy was always right there next to me. Saved by the Amy again.
Before anyone can say anything more, a severe looking man of about fifty wearing a white coat walks in and kicks all of my visitors out of the room.
I sat in the hospital for another three days while my doctor poked and prodded me; all the tests that he ran either came back negative or inconclusive. Neither he nor his colleagues could find anything wrong with me other than mild dehydration and a few bumps and bruises. Each night they did a full on sleep study. I barely moved, much less get up and go for a walk. He signed the discharge papers announcing that it must be stress induced and that I might consider taking some time off. I asked if I could get that in writing.
I thought she had just been placating my mother, but Amy had insisted that I come home with her until we were certain that I wasn’t going to have another incident. I love Amy. She is my best friend, but we are very different people. I have been here for a week and I am ready to go home. She doesn’t eat like me; she eats . . . healthier. She also keeps her apartment much cleaner than I do, so it’s high stress to try and live up to her standards.
She won’t ever say it, but I think she is also ready for me to go home; she hasn’t had an evening date with Rob since I moved in and I can tell she is getting fidgety. For that matter, I’m ready to see Taylor again. We have been talking quite a bit, but Mommy Amy doesn’t think it is a good idea for me to be out at night so we have been doing Girl’s Nights at home.
“Can we please go out tonight? It’s Friiiiiday. I can’t even remember the last time I went out,” I whine.
“Yea and that’s why we are staying in. The last time you went out at night we fished you out of the river,” Amy says with her arms crossed.
“That wasn’t going out, that was . . . well who knows what that was? But it’s been over a week and I have been sleeping like a rock. I haven’t even had so much as a dream.”
Her arms remain crossed, but they loosen slightly and her stare softens. I’m breaking her down. I might just be able to pull this off.
“I know you want to see Rob. You’ve had lunch with him twice this week? That’s some serious face time. I bet he’s real impressed with his new girlfriend who can’t go out with him because she is too busy playing nanny,” I push.
She looks at me hesitantly, but immediately I know that I have won. “Ok . . . but just for a little bit and we stick together.”
“Ugh . . . I think I am going to be sick,” Rob says. He is looking a little green around the gills as we walk out of the movie theater.
“That is the last time I let you pick the date movie,” Amy says. She scowls at me and puts a hand on Rob’s shoulder.
“What? That was awesome! That bit where the cashier’s face peeled away . . . masterful!” I say. Rob convulses slightly, like he might puke, but he keeps it under control.
“Since when don’t you like a good zombie flick?” I ask Amy.
“I have nothing against them, but Rob doesn’t do well with gore.”
“I originally intended to be a criminal defense lawyer, but I barely made it through Violent Crime Seminar,” Rob says with a grimace.
“Then why did you guys agree to the movie?” I cross my arms and pout a little. My mood is souring as the adrenaline levels in my body drops and the party poopers rain on my parade.
“I had no idea that it was a zombie flick. Rising Tide? Really? Usually there is a pretty good warning in the title; Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, The Walking Dead . . . shall I continue?”
I have gone from pumped to slug in mere seconds. I didn’t mean to upset everyone. I just wanted to see a good scary movie that would give me an excuse to cling to Taylor. “But . . . The Walking Dead isn’t even a movie,” I whisper dejectedly and walk toward the parking lot.
I feel a heavy, warm arm drape over my shoulders. “He’s a bit of a wimp. Don’t let it bother you. I thought it was a great choice,” Taylor says in my ear.
I look up into his dark eyes. He doesn’t seem at all grossed out or put-off by the movie. In fact, it looks like he might even be telling the truth.
“Really?” I ask.
“No doubt. Horror movies are always the best way to cop a feel.” His smile gleams even in the dark. Well . . . maybe it was actually the streetlamp overhead, but I can see want I want to see.
I am pulled from my gawking in admiration by Amy. Quite literally. She is tugging on my arm. “Ok Liz, it’s time to go home now.”
“But . . . I . . . gelato,” I stammer.
“What?” she asks.
“Gelato . . . we gotta get gelato first.” I guess I kind of want gelato, but mostly I want to stall. I’m not ready to go home yet.
At the mention of gelato, Rob lets out a tremendous moan.
“I thought you didn’t like zombies.” I slap my hand over my mouth to cover a giggle. I’m such a smart ass. The words just fly out. Taylor snorts.
Amy glares at me. I’m in trouble. I imagine her red hair standing on end with lightning bolts shooting from the tips. I know I have been lucky to get even this far. At first it was supposed to be just the two of us getting a quiet dinner, but I had secretly texted Taylor and arranged for the boys to crash the party. Somehow I had miraculously convinced her that we should all see movie. I guess Rob was actually all she needed to be convinced. But now that he was out of commission, I would say I’m pushing my luck asking for gelato.
“I don’t think ice cream is a good idea. It’s getting late.”
“That’s fine, I don’t want ice cream. I want gelato.” Shit. Elizabeth, that is not going to help your cause.
Before I can say anymore, Taylor jumps into the fray. “I’m down for gelato. How bout you take Rob back to his place and I will deliver Liz to yours.”
Amy doesn’t look like she is going to budge.
“I promise, I will bring her right back after gelato. I won’t let her out of my sight. No night swims in the river or anything.”
“Right back afterwards,” she says sternly.
“Yessss,” Taylor says with a fist pump of victory. I give him a high-five.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Taylor whispers.
“She said I had to come right back. She said nothing about you coming back with me.”
“Seems like a technicality.”
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to.” I stand up onto my tiptoes and kiss his lips.
“Right. No guy in his right mind would say no to that.”
I spin around and slide my key in the door carefully. “Wait here for a sec,” I say as I crack the door slightly, peering into the room. Amy is nowhere in sight. I creep through the door, leaving it ajar. I tiptoe across the large open living room/kitchen/dining room to the guest room. I twist the knob and swing the door inward, looking around cautiously. Tis a high crime, sneaking a boy into my room. When I am sure the coast is clear, I wave at him.
Like a pro, well I guess he kind of is a pro being a cop and all, he slips through the door and swiftly and silently crosses into the guest room. I pull the door shut behind him and join him where he has fallen on the bed.
He giggles. Yes he giggles. “I feel like I’m back in high school or something. Sneaking around my parent’s house.”
“I know. It’s ridiculous,” I say, “But kind of exciting.” The adrenaline is pumping with the risk of getting caught.
“Definitely.” He rolls me over on to my back and straddles me, kissing me deeply. He breaks away to unbutton his shirt. I use the moment to peel of mine. He leans back over me and kisses my neck. Somehow how he has managed to reverse our positions and I now straddle him. Taylor is a man that knows what he is doing. Not like my college boys. They were all either too drunk or too awkward. Or both.
I melt into him. It’s impossible for me to keep my hands of his strong chest and shoulders. Yes sir, a cop is just what the doctor ordered.
“So how was gelato?”
Shit, how long has she been there? Amy is standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips. She looks like a bouncer about to thump some skulls and clean out the trash.
Taylor jumps up with a start at the sound of her voice. He scrambles off from the bed and grabs his discarded shirt. “Gelato was good.”
I groan and sit up. Mom is here to kill my fun. “I was in the mood for some coffee.”
“I see that. But if I don’t get coffee, you certainly don’t get coffee.”
“What? You can have coffee. All the coffee you want. I’ll go home right now. Moving in with you wasn’t my idea,” I say.
“Look, I don’t know anything about coffee. I was just saying good night,” Taylor says as he re-buttons his shirt. “Good night, Liz. I’ll call you tomorrow.” He kisses me on the cheek and hurries past Amy. “Night Amy.”
“Night Taylor,” Amy says.
“Really? Was that really necessary?”
“Good night Elizabeth.”
“Like hell it is.” I’m an adult I don’t need a babysitter.
She ignores my remark and pulls the door shut.
“Forget you! I’m moving home tomorrow,” I yell at the door.
What an excellent dream. I don’t want to wake up.
Mmmm bacon. That smells so good. I can smell it even though my face is buried in my pillow. A good dream and bacon. I love waking up to the smell of bacon. It’s something that hardly ever happens, I live alone and it would be creepy if someone was in my kitchen cooking bacon. But wait . . . who is cooking? Amy doesn’t eat bacon.
My stomach lurches a little. Maybe she felt bad about last night? Unlikely. I slowly open my eyes. What I see makes me clamp them shut tightly. I’m still dreaming. I must be. My stomach is in knots as I tell myself it’s time to wake up for real. I reopen my eyes, but the view is the same. I’m in disbelief because I am not in the spare guest room in Amy’s apartment. I am in a completely foreign room, an impossible room, the room from my dream.
I sit up, trying to make sense of what I am seeing. I realize that I am naked. My heart rate jumps through the roof. What it going on? Where am I? What happened? Where are my clothes? Ok the clothes are an easy find, the room is stark and uncluttered and they are laying in the middle of the floor.
I leap out of the strange bed and hastily put on my clothes. I look around the room and catch sight of a baseball bat in the corner. I grab hold of it and creep to the door. What have I done? Have I been sleepwalking again? Only this time instead of going for a swim I picked up some creeper? Was I raped? I don’t feel injured. Would a rapist be cooking bacon?
I press my ear to the door and listen. I can hear the bacon cooker clattering on the other side in what must be the kitchen. If I move quickly I might be able to catch him . . . or her . . . by surprise and gain the upper hand.
I grab the knob and take deep calming breath, preparing to battle for my life. I swing the door inward and I charge into the kitchen, howling like a Scottish warrior. My captor looks up from the stove and he wears a mask of terror.
Instantly I recognize my mistake and drop the bat clattering onto the tile floor. In mere seconds, I went from panic, to elation, to embarrassment, and seem to have settled on utter confusion. Taylor is standing nervously at the stove, wearing only a pair of plaid pajama bottoms. Really? Who fries bacon without a shirt on? Gorgeous men, I guess.
“Are you ok, Liz?” he asks after a long pause.
“Fine . . . I uh . . . I forgot where I was for a minute.” For a minute? Not quite. I still don’t know for certain where I am. I assume I am at his apartment. But how did I get here? “You know? Waking up in a new place . . . it can be disorienting.”
“You forgot where you were? I hope you didn’t forget last night.”
“Last night . . . we went out and saw a movie . . . we got ice cream while Amy was taking Rob home. Then we got busted trying to sneak around . . .”
I feel the pressure mounting and try to dodge the inevitable. “Can we have bacon now?”
He smiles, but he’s worried or maybe completely freaked out. Whichever it is, he hides it well and I can’t tell.
He flips some bacon and eggs onto a plate next to a small stack of pancakes and hands it to me. “You should call Amy.”
I ignore him and greedily snatch the coveted bacon plate. My stomach thunders with anticipation and I grin, embarrassed. I hadn’t realized how hungry I was until just now.
“You should call,” he says, again.
“It’s none of her business. I’m an adult. If I want to go to a sleep over I don’t need her permission.”
“She’ll be worried. You left in the middle of the night. And you don’t seem to remember doing so.”
“She doesn’t need to know that.”
“She might think I’m a bad influence on you. She might blame me. So far you have gone missing both times we have gone out. Not a good track record.” He pours me a cup of coffee and sits next to me at the table with his own pile of breakfast.
“I’m not missing. I’m right here.” I shovel a heap of eggs into my mouth.
“She might not let you see me anymore.”
“Oh like that’s gonna be a problem. You probably think I’m a nut case. Damaged goods. Like you’ll even want to see me again.”
Before I can take another bite he pushes my plate away.
He interrupts my protest by standing up and grabbing the back of my chair. He leans in close and kisses me fiercely. He breaks away and sits back in his chair, looking at me expectantly.
I’m stunned. My mind had gone completely blank except for one conniving little piece of me that is desperately trying to work out how to get him to do it again.
“Thoughts?” he asks.
“I’ll let you eat my bacon if I can have another one of those,” I say in a small, hopeful voice. Seriously, I am willing to give up my most prized possession for another kiss.
He laughs. Hopefully he is laughing with me and not at me.
“How about this? I’ll give you another and let you keep your bacon, but you have to call A--”
“Deal!” I will gladly incur the Wrath of Amy for a boy and bacon.
He hands me his landline. I dial and wait anxiously for her to answer.
“Amy. Funny story---”
“Liz is that you?”
“Where are you? When did you leave? I have been freaking out.”
“I’m at Taylor’s.”
I wince at her response. In a magical world with fluffy rainbow colored bunnies and unicorns she would have said ‘good for you.’
“I was upset last night. You made me feel like a child. You removed my right to make my own decisions. I’m an adult and you are not my mother. You are my friend. You should be helping me make choices, not make them for me.” The words flowed from my mouth before I could stop them. I hadn’t even realized they had been in me.
I am met with silence on the other end of the line. Did she hang up? Is she still there?
“I’m sorry Liz. I didn’t mean to make you feel that way. I was just worried about you.”
Her voice is hard and cold. I’ve hurt her.
“When you get back I will help you move back to your place. Have a nice time.”
“Amy---” I am cut off with a click and I know this time she is not on the other end. I hang up and let my head fall with a smack onto the table. My plate rattles and I feel a warm splash of coffee hit my face.
How could I have let this happen? I just blasted my best friend of twenty years over what? A guy? A guy that I have known five minutes? Fuck.
“Liz . . . are you ok?” Taylor asks.
“Didn’t go well?”
“Did it sound like it went well?”
“Well . . . no, but I only heard half of the conversation. I was being optimistic.”
With my head still laying on the table, I flip it over to look at Taylor. “Amy has been my best friend since the third grade. Apparently, I chose a two night stand over my best friend. I don’t even remember making that decision. And fuck, I don’t even know if it was any good, because I can’t remember it. No offense.”
He shakes his head. “None taken, but I do have something to stay. I definitely have no intention of causing problems between you and Amy, but I also know that if this is just a two night stand it’s because that’s the way you want it.
“I want to keep seeing you.”
“Why? I am a pile of red hot mess. A train wreck.”
“Because of that kiss I just gave you. I don’t know what it is, but there is something about you. You are interesting and beautiful. But there is something else that draws me to you. I have never kissed anyone like the way I kiss you. I know you feel it too.”
Shit. He’s good looking and a romantic.
He grabs a piece of bacon from my plate and waggles it in front of my nose. Good looking, romantic, bacon. Game, set, match.
I gently bite down on the bacon and pull it from his hands. I sit up and finish crunching on it. Its smoky, greasy goodness makes me feel a little better.
“I have a plan,” he says, “Let’s take a shower and get cleaned up, and then we can sit down and talk about last night to see if we can jog your memory and figure things out.”
“Yea, I think you got some maple syrup in your hair when your head hit the table.”
“You said ‘let’s take a shower.’ Like . . . only one shower. Not ‘let’s take showers.’”
His face turns red and he grins. “I thought . . . maybe it will jog your memory.”
“Oh? Really? Did we shower together last night?”
“No, but . . . I thought it might be worth a try?”
“Is that a question or an answer?”
“It sounded like a good excuse to get you in the shower with me.”
“Shit, who needs an excuse? I’ve already gone off the reservation and Amy is already pissed. Let’s make the most of it.” I jump up, take Taylor by the hand and lead him to the bathroom.
“So after I left Amy’s what did you do?” Taylor asks. We are lounging on his couch with his arms wrapped around me. He has loaned me some clothes, a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. I am playing with my hair and watching it drip one drop at a time, creating a puddle on my thigh.
“I went to sleep. I was pissed, but the thought to come here never even crossed my mind. I don’t even know where here is.”
“4th and Federal,” he says.
“Really? That’s not too bad. At least not as bad as ending up over at Gunner’s Hill.”
“I was shocked when I answered the door and found you. I don’t remember ever giving you my address, but I must have.”
“I seemed lucid? Not like I was asleep? Or drugged?”
“From what I could tell. But you were all over me, before I could even get the door closed. I was surprised, but I wasn’t about to complain.” His fingers wandered down my thigh and danced lightly in circles.
“I was aggressive?” There was this nagging feeling pulling at the back of my brain. I felt like I was getting close but if I latched on too tight it would slip away, like sand through my fingers.
“You were smoking. You ripped my shirt off. The buttons popped right off. It was like something out of a porno.”
“A plaid pajama shirt that matches the pants you were wearing earlier?”
“Yea. Completely destroyed the shirt.”
I smack my forehead.
“Light bulb?” he asks.
“Two things went through my head this morning when I woke up. One, I want to go back to sleep and continue my dream. Two, bacon.”
“I’m guessing the bacon isn’t the important part. What was the dream about?”
“Like hell bacon isn’t important.
“But anyway, the dream definitely wasn’t family friendly. I barged in and ripped off your clothes and had my way with you. Apparently it wasn’t a dream.”
“So you remember?”
“Yea I guess, at least the good part.”
“But it felt like a dream?”
“It felt real, but I just appeared here. Dreams always just sort of start. One minute you’re unconscious and unaware of anything and then suddenly you’re naked giving a speech on a stage in front of your high school.
“I went to bed sexually frustrated, fell asleep and then bam! I’m living out my desire. Sounds like a dream to me.”
“And yet you are here.”
“And yet I am here. Maybe I am still dreaming?”
“Cut that out. None of that dream within a dream crap. That’s way too trippy for me.”
“So it wasn’t a dream. How did I get here?
He shrugs. “At least you didn’t lose days this time. It seems like you only lost an hour or so.”
“I should get going. I need to do some apologizing to Amy. Can you give me a lift back to her place?”
“Amy? Are you here?” I yell as I enter the apartment.
She comes running out of her room and tackles me with a hug. “I’m sorry I was so awful to you on the phone. I was just so worried. I thought I was getting another call from a hospital . . . or worse.” Tears are streaming down her face and she looks miserable.
“No, Ames, it’s my fault. You are just looking out for me. Like you always do.”
“So you were at Taylor’s? Things went well?”
“Kinda. The thing is . . . I didn’t sneak out. At least I don’t remember sneaking out. I remember going to bed pissed at you and the next thing I know is I am knocking on his door. There was such a clean gap in my memory that I thought it was a dream.”
Her face falls as she registers my words. “You blacked out again?”
“You thought it was a dream?”
“Yea . . .” If this dream wasn’t actually a dream, what about the other one? The one from Gunner’s Hill? That one couldn’t be real. That one was completely unrealistic; I was walking on water and flying.
“What is it?” Amy asks.
I shake my head. “Nothing, it’s just a little scary.”
“Do you think we should go back to the hospital?”
“Why? So they can poke and prod me some more so that they can tell me there is nothing wrong with me?”
“Then what do we do?”
“Well . . . if you can forgive me for being such a perpetual pain in the ass, I would like to stay here a little longer.”
“Really? Of course you can. I was aggravated last night and this morning. It was unfair of me to take it out on you. I just want you to be ok.”
I hug her again. She is too good to me. I have said it before and I will say it over and over again. She is the nicest person I know.
“I think we should hook up a video camera in the room to be able to see when I leave if it happens again.”
“Gripping,” Taylor says
“Isn’t it?” I yawn and lean into the couch. He puts his arm around me.
“So this is what you guys have been doing all week?”
“No, this is not what we have been doing all week. It only takes about a half hour when we speed it up.”
“But every day?”
“Yea, when we get home from work.”
“You aren’t even an interesting sleeper. You’re like a rock. I’ve seen dead people move more than you do.”
“No really. Once I had a vic that was so rotten and full maggots and shit that it was literally moving.”
“But more interesting.”
“Quit your whining. It’s almost over and you’re the one that insisted on coming over.”
“Well I haven’t seen you all week and I wanted to take you to breakfast before I start my shift.”
“It’s seven o’ clock at night.”
“Well I just woke up. It will be breakfast for me.
“Ugh, how long is this for?”
“My division rotates every six weeks. I know the night shift will make it virtually impossible for us to get together, but on the plus side I agreed to this one so I could work days and get weekends off completely on the next rotation.
“There it’s over. Now we can go,” I say as I stand up. Six weeks? Six weeks of him working nights, Thursday through Sunday? If we manage to make it six weeks it will be my longest relationship to date.
“Hey Liz, don’t look so sullen,” he says looking up at me from the couch, “I thought you liked that I am cop. This is all part of the territory.”
I don’t mean to be sulky, but it’s hard for me to be optimistic when it is going to require me to set a record just to spend some real time with Taylor. “No. I just like what it does for your body. You could become a personal trainer or something. I would be ok with that.”
He grins and flexes a bicep, showing off. He grabs my hips and pulls me onto his lap, my legs straddling his. “Well if you aren’t interested in breakfast, then we could work on making that video of yours a little more entertaining.” He kisses me and squeezes my butt.
It takes all of my will power to pull away. As enticing as making a raunchy movie with this man is, I am starving. I stand up. “Come on. I’m hungry and you should eat before you go to work.”
“I thought that’s what I was trying to do.” He raises his eyebrows up and down. His innuendo isn’t lost on me and for a moment I reconsider the situation and my conviction waivers.
I groan and grab my jacket from the coat rack. “Breakfast. You need to eat some breakfast.”
I am on a beach. The sand is warm beneath my towel and the sun’s heat is almost uncomfortable on my back. Almost.
A seagull screeches overhead and I can hear the sound of waves crashing nearby. I open my eyes and see the vibrant pink and blue swirls of a fluffy beach towel lying on white, ultra fine sand.
I push myself into a seated position and look around. I am on a short beach that is flanked by tall cliffs and jagged rocks. Palm trees sway in the wind at the edge of the sand. Brilliant blue water stretches out forever. There is a surfer paddling out to sea. I am in paradise. This had better be a dream, because I am very, very far from home.
I lean back on my elbows, with my legs out in front of me. I enjoy the warmth of the sun and I watch the surfer paddling. He has reached his destination. He is sitting up on his board now, waiting for the next set of waves to start; waiting for the right wave; waiting for his wave.
This one is it. He deftly pops up into a crouch. He’s a pro. His stance is low and stable; his shoulders relaxed. He rides the enormous curling wave with ease. There is no wobble, just control and mastery as he disappears into the tunnel of the wave. I lose sight of him, but I can’t stop watching. It was so beautiful, his skill and grace. I wait for him to emerge. I want to cheer for him and clap my hands. I keep waiting, but he doesn’t reappear. I feel a discomfort building. It seems like it has been too long. I feel the discomfort explode into fear as I watch the wave finish its roll into shore with still no surfer in sight. I know for certain now that something has gone wrong.
I jump to my feet and cry out for help, but there is no one else on the beach. In an instant my dream has turned to a nightmare and I am running toward the ocean. Why? What will I do when I get there? What can I do when I get there? If I find him I won’t know what to do or how to help him. I just know that I have to do something. As I charge into the water I am slowed only slightly, I feel the muscles in my legs tense and a strange feeling of power surges into them.
I catch sight of the surfer floating face about twenty-five yards away, just as wave crashes down on him. I keep running until the water becomes too deep and then I dive through a wave as it crashes over me. I do not resurface, instead I open my eyes and begin to swim like a frog. The water is murky from the riled up sand and foaming water, but my vision is clear. The salt should sting my eyes, but it doesn’t. I am immune. But something is wrong. There is a vicious burning in my hands and feet. My neck seers with pain, as if my neck had been sliced open on either side, like two massive paper cuts.
The power in my legs spreads to the rest of my body and the discomfort fades away. I surge through the turbulent water with ease. As I reach forward on my next stroke I notice a thin webbing has grown between my fingers. My shock lasts only for moment because I catch sight of my target. His limp body is being thrashed about, caught between two boulders. At last I reach him. I grab him by his armpits and with a strong push off the sandy bottom; I drag him to the surface.
Holding onto him tightly, I ride the surge into the beach. Sand clings to him as I roll him onto his back. He is bleeding from a gash on his head and is not breathing. I tilt his head back and open his mouth to check for blockage. Seeing none, I blow two breaths into his mouth and begin chest compressions. I hear a rib crack but keep pumping. One and two and three and four . . . . The rhythm is natural and effortless. I feel none of the exertion that I know exists.
Suddenly he begins coughing, sputtering violently. I roll him on his side as he vomits. He is breathing now, but he is still unconscious. I have to get him to a hospital. I look around. There is still no one nearby, but I know he must have gotten here somehow. With the mysterious strength that I used to battle through the tremendous waves, I throw him over my shoulder and begin to run up the beach, toward the palm trees and toward what will hopefully yield a road and his vehicle.
I know that this is a dream and that none of this is real. He is twice my size and it would be difficult for me to drag him up the beach. Sprinting with him flung over my shoulder is an impossibility. Despite that impossibility, the adrenaline and fear coursing through my veins feels real. The sand under my feet feels real. His weight over my shoulder feels real. The burning of my lungs feels real. This is the strangest, most vivid dream ever.
I burst through the tree line and find a jeep parked on a dirt trail. I strap him into the passenger seat and run around to the other side. Luckily the keys are in the ignition. The jeep roars to life with twist of my wrist and we are off at a blinding pace, bouncing down the small trail. After a few minutes the trail widens into a one lane dirt road. And then further on becomes two lanes. Before I know it I am cruising down a two lane highway. I pull over onto the shoulder and climb out of the jeep and begin waving at vehicles that wiz by.
A blue pickup truck pulls over and rolls down the passenger side window. It is a young man, maybe seventeen or eighteen. He leans over the center console, toward the open window. “What’s up?”
“Do you have a cell phone? Can you call 911?” I ask. I point to the surfer in the jeep. “He’s injured and unconscious. He needs to get to a hospital.”
The boy, who had been laid back and confident as he pulled up, now has urgency and alarm written across his face. He digs into his pocket and retrieves his phone. With shaking hands, he dials the number and waits. After a brief pause he begins giving panicky directions and answering the dispatcher’s questions.
Relieved that help is on its way, I begin to relax. With that relaxation comes an overwhelming fatigue and exhaustion. I need to sit down for a moment and rest. Just for a moment while we are waiting for the ambulance to arrive. I sit back in the driver’s seat of the jeep and close my eyes. Just for a moment.
God, I am sore. And tired. I must have been running marathons in my dreams last night. Uh, speaking of dreams, that was one crazy adventure. What was I thinking about before bed last night to create that monstrosity? An insane surfer rescue . . . complete with webbed fingers. Maybe I should lay off the ice cream before bed. Is my hair wet? Why is my hair wet?
I sit upright in my bed and take my hair in my hand. I watch in amazement as I am able to wring a substantial amount of water out of it. As the water drips onto my covers I notice a white residue coating my arm.
“It looks like . . .” I lick it, “salt.”
My world spins. What is going on? I climb out of bed and notice that my sheets are filled with sand. It was just a dream. It has to be. I am here, in Amy’s apartment.
The shower washes the salt and sand down the drain, destroying any physical evidence of my insanity. Though, try as I might, I cannot remove the thoughts that are running through my head. Just as I thought I might lose my mind I remember the video camera. It will prove that I never left my bed. The sand and salt is gone. It does not exist and the video will provide the proof that my brain is demanding.
I bolt out of the shower and slip, nearly falling on the wet tile. I wrap my bathrobe around me and head to my room for the verification I need.
10:00. I go to bed. Nothing of interest. I toss and turn for a bit before I finally fall asleep.
11:00. Sleeping like a rock. Exciting stuff.
12:00. I roll over, but am still asleep.
1:00. Still sleeping. Still right where I should be.
2:00. Status quo.
3:00. Wait? Where did I go? I’m missing. I must have gotten up to go to the bathroom. When did I miss that?
2:54. Sleeping. WTF?
2:54:10. Gone. How? When?
How is this possible? No matter how many times I watch it over again, it doesn’t matter, the result is the same. In slow motion, between 2:45:06 and 2:54:07 I can clearly see that I don’t get out of bed. Instead the covers just collapse in my absence.
Just as I had disappeared, I reappeared at 4:35:09. I don’t walk into the room and climb into my bed. A little over an hour and a half after I disappeared my covers inflate like a balloon and I can be seen sleeping peacefully.
I jump as I hear Amy waking up and banging around her room. Do I show this to her? What if she doesn’t see anything? What if it is just my mind playing tricks on me? What if she does see what I see? What then?
I unplug the camera from my laptop and remove the SD card from the camera, shoving it into my pocket. I retrieve a spare from my collection and slide it in place.
Amy looks up from her cereal and then down at her watch as I walk into the kitchen. “You’re up early.”
“Yea, I couldn’t sleep,” It’s not a complete lie. I would love to sleep. I am exhausted, but my mind is racing.
“How was your night?”
“Good. Taylor came over and we watched my video. Then we went and got some breakfast before he started his shift.”
“You made him watch you sleep?”
“Not exactly. He showed up early. I was about half done when he got here. So he finished it with me.”
“You’re up early today and we have time. Wanna watch last night’s before work so we don’t have to tonight.”
“But, we were gonna go out.”
“Yea I know. I meant ‘No, there is nothing to watch. I turned the camera off last night.’”
“Why did you do that?”
“Yea you can do what you want but if you don’t use it we won’t be able to learn anything.”
“I know, I know. It was an accident. If you must know . . . I wanted a little privacy and then I fell asleep before I could turn it back on.”
“O-kaaay . . . oh . . . right . . . sorry. You’re right. None of my business.”
Perfect, a lie just awkward enough that we should never have to discuss last night’s video again. Lies that require follow up and back story and more questions NEVER work.
“Did you go tanning yesterday?” she asks, abruptly changing the subject.
“No. You know how I feel about cancer beds. Why?”
She shrugs. “It looks like you have a sunburn.”
What the hell is going on? My dreams seem to be becoming real. Or I am being transported into them . . . or something. First I dream that I’m walking on the river at Gunner’s Hill and am later found unconscious at that very spot. Then I have a XXX dream about Taylor, which turns out to be 100% true and verifiable by someone other than myself. And then this morning I dream that I rescued a surfer and woke up to find myself covered in sand and salt.
“Don’t mind her. I think she is bumming about Taylor’s new rotation,” I hear Amy say as I become vaguely aware of her talking about me.
“What? Sorry. I was a little zone out,” I say, trying to recover.
“I asked if you wanted another drink,” Rob said.
“Oh thanks . . . sure.”
The TV above the bar is tuned to ESPN and a headline catches my attention. “Hey can you turn that up?” I ask the bar tender.
He nods and reaches for the remote.
“--- Doughty, five time World Champion and surfing super star, was reportedly admitted to the hospital today with a severe concussion, several broken ribs, and a broken femur. The Champion had been surfing alone at one of his secret spots when he fell and hit his head. Miraculously, there had been someone else at the secluded beach that was able to pull him from the water and drive him to a major road to flag down help. Mr. Doughty reported waking up for a moment in the passenger seat of his jeep and seeing a young woman driving.
“Tim Johnson, the man who used his cell phone to call 911: ‘Of course I pulled over; she was wearin’ nothin’ but a bikini and wavin’ frantically on the side of the road. She was smokin’; twenties; brown hair; five-fiveish. She didn’t look like a local, her skin was too pale and she was prolly gonna be rockin’ a sick burn. She said she needed help, that she had an injured guy with her. I didn’t realize who it was at the time. Man my friends are gonna go nuts when they find out I got to meet Champ Doughty. I wanted to get her number, but when I got off the phone she was gone. Vanished.’
“Champ Doughty had this to say to the mystery woman, ‘Thank you. You saved my life. I can’t thank you enough. It would be an honor to thank you in person. You are my hero.’”
The report continued on to talk more about Mr. Doughty’s accomplishments, but I turn away stunned.
“What was that about? Do you follow surfing?” Rob asks.
“No . . . I just . . . I saw the headline and thought it sounded interesting.”
“Liz, you don’t look so well. You’re looking a little flushed,” Amy says.
“Yeah . . . I didn’t sleep real well last night and it was a long day at work. I think I’m gonna call it a night and head on home.”
“Ok, lemme finish my drink and then we can get going.”
“No it’s cool. You stay. I’ll catch a cab.”
“Are you sure ?”
“Yea don’t worry about it.”
I pay my tab and head out into the cool night air. I don’t hail a cab. Instead I just start walking. I drift down the street in a daze, fingering the SD card in my pocket. Something is going on. Something that I can’t explain. Something that I doubt anyone could explain. It’s terrifying and thrilling at the same time. I have been dreaming of a change for months and here it is now, knocking on my door. Whatever it is.
As I wander in the general direction of home, I roll what little I know around in my head. None of it makes any sense. It has all become surreal. What is life and what is dream? Time will tell. I will learn more and will grow to understand whatever is happening to me. I will embrace it as the great catalyst that will transform my existence.
I am awake and I am listening for whatever it is the universe is trying to tell me.
You have just finished reading the first episode of The Lucid Adventures. My ultimate vision is to release one episode a quarter (though that may prove to be a bit ambitious). Think comic book without the comics. Some stories will stand alone, while others will rely on past information introduced. It was a concept that popped into my head a few months ago and I feel that it could work well with the e-book self publishing model.
I am a new writer and to be completely honest, I’m terrified. Nonetheless, I would love your feedback. Please leave a review on Amazon or stop by my Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/fischer.leigh.
Finally, I would like to give you a heads up on Rising Tide: A Novel. It is my first full length novel and was published in September. It is something not quite entirely unlike what you have just read. It falls firmly in the horror/post apocalyptic genre, but if you like my style you won’t be disappointed.
Thanks for your support and happy reading!