Steven has the dream again. It’s 230. The one where she cheats on him; or almost cheats on him, or somewhere in between. He wakes up with water in his eyes; frantic to blink away the memory of the dream. He splashes water on his eyes in hopes to keep it from becoming real. Rub the images away in a sparks of orange and white, let the phosphene swim through the fading bits of her face and wash it away.
Asleep beside him is Jenny; as far as he knows she has never made any indication that she would cheat on him. Coming on 2 year and everything was settling in as it should- or so he thought; he wasn’t sure what 2 years in a relationship looked or felt like since he had never made it this far. Which, on his clearer days, he was sure those past relationships ended because of something he did and not that he might have picked the wrong someone to love.
He wants to rest a hand on Jenny, feel her breathing, revel in the joy that this woman chose to be with him; and still chooses him. But the dream is still shaking around in the blinks of his eyes that he finds the still feels hurt and betrayed.
Instead he slips out of bed and to the hallway, flicking on the ceiling light to kill the shadows where the dream may jump to and fester and grow to reality. As he has done for the past month that this dream has haunted his sleep, he flicks channels until he finds an infomercial to muscle out the last of the nightmare. And as usual he will fall asleep by 4 and Jenny will wake him when she moves through the room to the bathroom.
She says, like always, standing over him, “This is getting to be the norm. Are you sure I am not snoring?” She kisses him and pads to the bathroom. No shower, she showers in the evening.
He sits up, he still feels funny, but thankfully the sunlight from the window is washing the grogginess from his head. “Just a bad dream,” he says, a little louder to reach her in the other room.
She calls out as the faucet turns off, “Why won’t you tell me?”
He shrugs, “It’s just a dream. Means nothing,” he pauses. Then mostly to himself, “Right?”
She’s in the living room again. She comes to the couch and sits down next to him, kisses him, puts an arm around him. “Did I ever tell you about the time I dreamt that my Uncle Roger died? It was awful. Car accident. I saw the whole thing like I was flying over the highway. There he was, he flew through the window, skidded across the pavement leaving this long bloody mark behind him. The next day my Mom tells me Uncle Roger did die. Not in a car crash, though, in a plane crash. Heavy, eh?”
Steven's Eyes wide, then soft, he now moves in to comfort Jenny. “I,” he starts. “That’s horrible. You never told me.”
She laughs, throws back her head and then leans to Steven and wraps her arms around him. “Nah, it never happened. I did dream my Uncle died, but he's still alive. You met him at the cabin. Dreams mean nothing, Steven. Whatever you are dreaming means nothing.”
He jumps on her, tackles her to the couch and sits on her. She is laughing. He tickles her. He kisses her. He stops mid grope.
“Well,” he says. “This one is pissing me off. And I don’t want it anymore.”
She says, “I had a dream once I found a hundred dollars and when I woke up I was mad for hours. I really needed that money.” She pats his thighs, “Alright, get up. We’re adults, we have adult stuff to do today.” He lets her up and slumps back on the couch to watch her walk to the kitchen.
“I love you,” he says. Mid scoop of coffee, she smiles- perhaps a tinge of rouge moves to her cheeks.
“I love you too, kid.” and she laughs. “Now, get your glad rags on, we have a day to meet.”
“Not me,” he says, leaning back in the couch, nestling his butt right in to the sweet spot. “I’m a writer. I am always working. Why I am working right now. I am working when I watch TV. Always.” he taps his head with his index finger. “Always working.”
“Fine,” she says. “Then could you put on clothes that look like you might leave the house. I get very jealous when I think you are still in your PJs, while I am cleaning a dirty bed pan.”
Steven gets up and bows to her. “Your wish is my command.”
“Now that I can get behind.”
In the bedroom he puts on the same jeans he wore the day before, and moves to the dresser to get a T-shirt. In the other room, Jenny is singing the theme from Degrassi Junior High, then stops when the toast pops, but continues humming. As Steven slips on his T-shirt he remembers again that he needs to ask her what the deal is with that song, she has been singing it for awhile now. Is that show even still on? Pulling the shirt over his head he hears her phone vibrating twice on the dresser. When he pops his head out of the hole he sees the message, flash on the screen before it goes dark:
Morning sleepyhead. Where are you?
With only part of his right arm through its hole, and his head out the other, Steven scrunches his face tight, backs up until his calfs meet the bed and he can sit. Realizing he is still locked inside his shirt, he jerks around until he is out of it, and he tosses it across the room. He gets the nerve to step towards the dresser again and take a longer look at the message.
Jenny comes in the room, “Have you seen my- oh yeah.” She grabs her phone and reads the text, looks at Steven, and back at the phone. “Shit- I gotta go. I’m late. Oh shitty shit shit.”
Hoping around the room she throws her pyjamas on the floor, and gets into her Nurse’s uniform. In the midst of the flurry, she says to Steven who hasn't moved from then end of the bed, “Is today Shirtless Tuesday?” referring to his attire. “Did I forget? Should I go shirtless today as well?” She laughs and runs out of the room.
After the front door opens, she calls back, "Bye.” Then the door closes leaving the house quiet. He thinks, Does she usually say I love you when she leaves in the morning? She didn't this time. Not today. Steven sits on the bed, then falls back on it. He wants to close his eyes but he's afraid the dream (nightmare) will dial itself back in. Laying on blankets still warm from sleep Steven can't move, just his eyes, he can't speak- he feels like that guy form Johnny Got his Gun, he wishes he knew more Morse Code than SOS, but it seemed appropriate. Moving his head in short and long nods: Dit Dit Dit Daw Daw Daw Dit Dit Dit.
Coffee Shop, early morning. Steven is in line, his computer and phone at his usual table in the back, but not too close to the washrooms. The server has his coffee already poured and he just has to swipe his card. Behind him he feels someone just that little too close that you can feel their warmth on your warmth. A voice says behind him, “9am is not morning, it’s still sleepy time.”
His buddy Mike pokes him in the side and Steven almost spills his coffee.
“What do you want?” he asks, motioning to the till.
Mike orders a coffee and Steven pays. Steven says, “Thanks for coming, man.”
At the table Mike adds, “I don’t know if I have been up this early since I don’t know when. People do this every day?" Although it is clearly a rhetorical question Mike pauses for an answer, until: "So what gives?”
“I think Jenny is cheating on me.”
With no hesitation, Mike says, “No.”
“Yes. I think she is. I saw a text this morning that called her sleepyhead.”
“Oh, well- don’t bury the lead. hmm, ‘sleepyhead’ you say? Like a Mom or a friend might say? You must be devastated.”
“I’m serious. Come on. The message was from a ‘Dr. E’. Why would a Doctor send a message like that?”
“A million reasons. A. Mill. Yon. Reasons.”
“Give me one. Give me one. I need one, okay.”
“Well, first off: did you ask her? Who this Mister E is?”
“No. She was late for work, had to leave. Which is weird too, since it was like quarter after seven. She starts at 9 on Tuesdays. And now she’s late?”
“Took an extra shift? Shit, I don’t know. How would I know? I just woke up. What do you need from me? A hug?”
“…maybe.” says Steven in a low voice, almost a whisper.
This causes Mike to straighten up in his seat. “Okay. Alright. I’m listening. What is up?”
“I keep having this dream- for over a month now, I wake up from this dream and the dream is always the same. The same dream: Jenny cheats on me.”
Mike begins to speak, but Steven interrupts him. “Don’t just say it’s a dream. I know it’s a dream, but what I know about dreams is they are your head trying to figure shit out. And what I need to figure out is, what shit am I figuring out?”
“First off: Jen is not cheating on you. She would never do that. She’s good people- I mean she’s not us. She’s good. How you got her, I will never know.” He smiles to let Steven know he’s ribbing him. “And second, and don't get pissed off here, but: it is a dream.”
Flustered, “I know it’s a god damn dream Mike. I am the one dreaming it. Every god damned night I dream it. It is killing me. I sleep on the couch. I dread taking a nap.”
“Okay, okay, okay. Fine- you are going to owe me a breakfast sandwich for having this kind of conversation before I have had a drink; so what is going on, then? Have you and Jenny been fighting?”
“How’s the book coming along? You getting your pages?”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
“Money tight? You need money?”
“No- I’m good there. Sold a story to Subterrain Magazine.” Steven lightens for a moment, “Yeah I sold a story, I forgot to tell you.”
“Bastard. I have been trying to get in there for years. What one? No, who cares. I don’t want to know. I’ll just judge you and hate you more than I already do.”
“The one where the boy dies in the car crash and comes to his mother in her dreams”
“I told you not… I like that one. Good job.”
“Look, nothing big is happening. The sex is good, we have savings, we are still not boring- even when we are boring; we are good. Settled but good. I love her man.”
“Then what could be vexing you?”
“I don’t know.”
“Hold on, did you say ‘settled’?”
“Uhm- did I?”
“You said settled. You said something like ‘Settled but good’ What does that mean?”
“Nothing, it is a thing you say. What?”
Mikes sits back in the chair, he shifts his weight around, and takes a sip form his coffee. “I don’t think people in relationships say settled that often unless they have been together for 40 years or something.”
“So you think I am bored.”
“I don’t know what you are, but I can say this, and I have said this to anyone who’ll listen: You have dated some duds in the past, almost like you were self-sabotaging yourself because you hate yourself or whatever. Like you don't deserve something better; and then Jenny comes along and she is pretty much perfect and it was only matter of time before your Ego would let your Id run amok. Cuz you hate yourself. That’ll be 5cents please.”
Mike leans back even more, seeming to revel in his observation on Steven’s life.
Finally, “You look quite smug for a guy who hasn't had a serious relationship in 10 years.”
Mike: “Well, that is not very nice.” Getting up, he adds, “You woke me up remember. I’m your buddy- you want me to be some kind of conscience, then deal with it when I tell you something you don't want to hear.”
“Sorry. Sorry.” Standing up and motioning Mike to sit. “I think you’re wrong but please sit.”
Mike sits down, looks around the coffee shop, pushes his cup up the table so he can lean forward on his elbows. “Look, man- you can believe what you want, but I am telling you you are being a scrotum right now. And I say that with love. Who cares if you had a dream. I dreamt I ate a marshmallow and couldn't find my pillow the next morning. Whatever. Life isn't a sit-com; you want to know who this Mystery Man is- if it is even a man- then ask her. You have a phone. You live together- tonnes of places to get an answer. It is what adults do.”
Steven, poking at his coffee cup, then his laptop, takes a sip, sets it down; Mike watches on.
“You mean, like, just ask her. Nothing good ever happened when someone found out the truth. Did you know that Christine cheated on me?”
“Jenny ain’t Christine. Christine was a child compared to Jenny. Christine still collected Beany Babies. She was thirty-something when you dated her. She thought she was going to retire on Beany Baby money.”
They both laugh. A long laugh that only close friends can cause.
Mike, “Now, can I talk about what I am writing. Is it my turn to talk about myself?”
Steven, “Of course, Is it about the time you got dumped in Las Vegas?”
Sheepishly, “Not overtly. You see, it’s about this guy named Mick who uses a time machine to go back to just before his girlfriend dumped him in Europe and he tries to win her back.” He pauses, puts his hand in his hands, “I am so lonely.”
Mike and Steven joke and talk for most of the morning; the conversation never falling into silence: Star Wars, past relationships, story ideas, the best video games being on the old NES, how no one understands how great the Prince, Batman soundtrack was, and again, past relationships. Yet still, always in the back of his mind,
At home, Steven ponders how the conversation with Jenny will go: will she get mad and break up with him? Will she be mad that he snooped, and break up with him? Will she tell him it was all true and break up with him because she loves this other guy more? Will she pass it off all Cavalier-like and hold his hand in that way that he sometimes thinks is condescending and he will get back and break up with her?
All scenarios seemed to end in breaking up; and the very thought of being alone terrified him more than finding out she was cheating. Maybe, he wonders, he could learn to live with it like all those Rich Sports Wives seem to do: out of sight out of mind. As long as she comes home to me why should I care? Okay, he cared. He cared that he was being paranoid, he cared that Mike might be right and he was doing this to rustle up how ‘settled’ he might be feeling. He cared that he didn't want to find out that he might not care enough to care.
It is getting on dinner time and all this stressing is making him hungry; Jenny would be home soon and he had expected to make Burgers, but having not written a word today, and all this fuzzy noise running around in his brain, he couldn't find the energy, so he threw a pre-made pizza in the oven. He pours the contents of a pre-packaged salad into a bowl, and when he opens the dressing it burps onto his shirt.
After setting the salad on the table he removed his shirt and tossed it across the room, almost landing in the hamper. The door opened and Jenny comes in, she looks worn, but when she looks across the room her face lights up, and she smiles.
“Have you gotten dressed today?”
He stumbles over words, and realizes the last time he saw her he was also shirtless. He shrugs, “You got me.”
“Well, Topless Tuesday it is, “ and she slowly walks to Steven, slipping out of her work shirt, and then her bra. She kisses him, and then kisses him again. At first Steven found himself wanting to be cold to her, yet her hands on his body, and the strength of her kisses overcomes the noise of the day, and the remnants of the dream. Between taking off his clothes, and taking off hers, he forgot how hurt and confused he had been, and the only thing he wanted was to be with her.
They make love on the couch, and then the coffee table. It is more than their usual dance steps- vigorous and manic, like they hadn't seen each other in months. When they finished they sit in the silence of the room. Post coital snuggles and cooing. Jenny is purring, and humming the Degrassi Junior High song again. When he stands up to take the pizza out of the oven, Steven finally asks:
“Babe, what is the deal with the Degrassi song?
.... to be continued