Jason woke suddenly out of a dead sleep. The bedroom was dark and quiet except for the steady breathing of his bride, Wendy. It was just short of three years since they had said their vows. He remembered how beautiful she was in her white lace dress. Every morning since, he had fallen more and more in love with her.
Years earlier, he had sat next to her in an advanced biology lab. His clumsiness had knocked over her iced coffee, spilling it in her lap, permanently staining the white jeans she was wearing. She stormed off to the restroom, then to her apartment to change, missing that day’s lecture.
Jason recorded the lecture and bought her an iced coffee for the next lecture. He waited by the door to the classroom yet did not see her. As class started, he hesitated a moment longer waiting for her arrival. Desperately, he wanted to apologize and at least call a truce. With the iced coffee half melted and the lecture already under way, Jason shuffled to a seat just inside the lecture hall.
Sipping on the coffee himself, he dove into the lesson making notes for the upcoming test. Half way through the lecture, he spotted her in the front row. How did she slip past me? Jason wondered. He had made sure to get there, before everyone else.
He cornered her with an iced coffee the following day, followed by five more the following week and finally stole her heart when he bought her a set of frog print scrubs.
After almost three years of marriage, Jason glanced at the clock. 4:03 am. A sigh of frustration emitted from his 26-year-old lips. His shift at the hospital started at six. Craving another hour of sleep, he rolled toward his bride and wrapped his arm around her middle burying his face in the pillow inches from Wendy’s fragrant hair.
Sleep didn’t come. He thought about the dream he had. Only it wasn’t exactly a dream it was a strong emotional feeling. It was a feeling that stirred him to the core of his being. Like knowing the Devil is looking at you ready to taste your very soul, only opposite. It was a feeling of such bliss he wanted to jump out of bed and run through rain-soaked streets. He held his bride tighter and let his mind drift to the waking alarm.
“Why are you so chipper this morning?” David asked Jason in the break room of the Tampa hospital.
“What do you mean?” Jason said. He didn’t see the extra spring in his step like his coworkers did. He thought he was just as happy as any other September 2nd Wednesday morning. This would be his Monday as he would be working the a.m. shift clear through Sunday. He had never really been a morning person and preferred to sleep late. His wife, in the various opposites of their relationship, was a morning person. Her nursing shift started at seven on the opposite side of the hospital.
“You must have gotten a little this morning.” David ribbed.
“Another woman in your life?” David joked waving a greasy pork chop he had been knawing on. His short frame and two hundred fifty pounds bared the result of his endless fascination with pork products and processed cheese. If he didn’t bathe on a regular basis, he would reek of a third world alleyway with the amount of rubbish he shoveled into his gut.
“No.” Jason didn’t see that he was happier than normal, but, according to David, he just was.
“I got it. Wendy’s pregnant.” David waved another ham and melted cheese square on the end of his fork.
“No. Not even close.” Jason grew a frustrated at the 20 questions. “Come on. We gotta get back to work.”
“Our break isn’t over yet.”
“You can have the rest of mine then.” Jason grabbed a clown nose out of his bag. With no one to be sedated he enjoyed the time to make kids laugh. A young brother and sister, in room five, were playing with the cook stove and pulled a pot of hot water over on the two of them. The burns were minor and would heal fast. Putting on the clown nose and a latex glove over his head he headed for the door. “I will be in room five if you need me.”
“Cock-a-doodle-doo.” Jason grinned as he stepped out of the break room.
The fitful happy dreams Jason suddenly encountered plagued his mind for weeks before they subsided and he returned to his usual happy self. Christmas was approaching and he began the holiday season escorting his bride to a dinner and a play. The evening was delightful although, Wendy seemed a bit hesitant to smile at his corny jokes. Jason didn’t notice as he was just happy to be with her.
Walking through Plymouth Park in Tampa, Wendy asked, “Who is Jen?”
“Jen? Jen who?”
“You said her name last night in your sleep.”
“Yes, and three nights ago too.” Wendy itched for answers to the mysterious name.
They walked along in silence as Jason gave thought to the question. He seldom remembered any of his dreams since becoming an adult. The occasional ones that he did remember were when he was dancing, but he could not see who he was dancing with. Whenever he danced he felt such a utopia that he begged for it to continue as if it were a drug.
“I said this name, twice?”
“Come on. You know I can’t remember my dreams.”
“How would I know. I’m not in your head.”
“Did I say anything else?”
“No. You said it like you were…concerned for her.”
One thing that irritated Jason was that Wendy, as well as other women, would interpret the tone of a person’s voice and have it concreted into an irrational set of logical reasons in which that person should not feel much less portray towards others. “Okaaayy.” Jason said slowly trying to understand where this sudden shift in mood was going. “So, what are you asking?”
Wendy hesitated, looking for another way to get the information without having to ask. She wanted to know because, over the last few months, Jason had not been as attentive to her as he used to be. He seemed just as happy as the day they were married and sometimes even more so, but his happiness was reflected elsewhere. “Are you seeing someone else?”
Jason faltered a step. “No. What on earth would give you that idea?”
“Well, how about the fact that you are happy and we haven’t had sex in weeks.” Wendy took her arm back from his and mussed with her hair. The cool evening air fluttered the leaves as the December currents sifted through the southern gulf coast.
Jason stopped. Astounded at the accusation, he looked at her and drew five blank cards in the emotional game of poker the two were playing. Jason’s jaw hung loose as silence erupted out of it. He couldn’t believe that his wife would say such a thing. He couldn’t even conceive the idea of being with another woman. He looked at the delicate features of her face, turned hard with conviction and he didn’t even know what he did wrong.
“Wha’d she do?” David asked in between bites of his taco salad.
“She stormed off when I didn’t have an answer.” Jason cracked the seal of a water bottle. After taking a long chug, he continued. “I don’t understand. She hears me say a name in my sleep that I don’t know or remember, then accuses me of sneaking around.”
“Have you been?” David finished the taco salad and started on some left-over cake from a colleague’s birthday party the day before. “She does have a point. Why have you been excessively happy all the time?”
“Seriously? Have I really been that happy?” Jason asked in frustration.
David thought a moment then nodded his head. “Yeah. You really have.”
Jason, defeated in defending that he was not anymore happy than he was when first married, sighed and caved to what was obviously obvious to everyone but himself. “Ok. So, I guess I am happy. Is that a crime.”
“No, but it seems to be a problem.” Upon hearing the intercom, David stood from the table and made his way to the door to answer the call.
Walking out the door, David dropped the last bit of cake in the garbage. Jason followed him to the door.
“How could too much happiness ever be a problem?” Jason called out the door.
The entire nurses’ station turned to look at Jason. Feeling a bit embarrassed, he turned back to the Chef’s Salad Wendy had packed for him that morning. He didn’t feel that he had changed. Everyone seemed to look at him as if he were going insane. He wondered if he was. Could a person be considered insane for becoming excessively happy?
Wendy woke early on February 14th, 2016. Her husband, far removed from the conscious world, broke out with a bead of sweat from his almost nightly dreams. Frustrated at the lack of attention she had been receiving, she took it upon herself to engage in his excited tranquil state. Stripping the covers and clothing off her life partner, she eased herself onto and into his slumbering world. She wanted to feel wanted again, even if she had to play this other woman, Jen.
She slowly rocked with his rhythm, careful not to stray too far from his dreamscape. She pretended her name was Jen and indulged in the bliss of their union. It had been nearly two months since they were last together. Most of the time it was a scheduling conflict that put them at opposite ends of the time clock. This time she managed to switch days with a colleague and capture the special lover’s holiday for the two of them.
She had events and dinner planned for them to enjoy later that day. Wendy intended on sharing as much of the day together as possible. She was determined to win Jason’s heart back from this imaginary phantom girlfriend.
Rocking slow and steady, Wendy reveled in the long-awaited fulfillment to couple with her husband. He smiled and began to move to her gentle rocking. “Jen.” The name, barely audible from Jason lips, smacked Wendy like a freight train and she stopped.
The pebble in the pond sent a crashing wave through Jason’s dream and he opened his eyes. Wendy sat astride him with her mussed morning hair and her nightgown ruffled up around her waist. She froze. Her mind raced with the pleasure she craved and the uncertainty of his thoughts. Would he join into the festivities or retaliate at the nonconsensual sex? Her mind screamed to know one outcome or the other.
“What are you doing?”
Wendy’s mind panicked. She had been caught. She hid her true intentions of finding out more about this mystery woman with the excuse of a lover’s holiday.
“I wanted to give you an early morning Valentine’s present.” Her words deflated his morning excitement. She met his gaze with disappointment and then anger. It became undeniably clear that he wasn’t into her intellectually, emotionally and now, not even physically. His shrinking manhood had made a full retreat. “What? You can’t make love to your wife?”
Caught off guard, Jason froze himself. He didn’t know how to react to the sudden question that really wasn’t a question but more of an accusation. Three times he opened his mouth to speak and three times, nothing came out.
“Fine.” Wendy rolled off the bed and stormed into the bath. Make up clattered into the sink followed by Jason’s clothes and towel thudding against the door that he had left on the floor from finishing his night shift. Jason looked down to his bare skin exposed to the open air of their apartment. She had been moody lately and with the events of the morning, he decided to sneak out of the house before letting her emerge and give him another lecture.
Rolling out of bed he dressed, grabbed his car keys and headed for the gym. A good workout regularly put him in a better mood and he could work out the issues that were snickering at him from the shadows. He couldn’t remember the images that had played through his head, but he could remember how he felt. The feelings of concern, excitement, lust and sincerity came to the forefront of his mind.
Part way through his workout the realization came. He had been distracted by this mystery woman. During the dream he had that morning, he knew he saw her face, but could only remember her azure eyes and two, small, nearly white, specks on either side of the pupil. He didn’t know who she was or where she was, but for some weird reason she commanded a portion of his attention and could possibly be the reason that he was unusually happier than his normal self.
He cut his workout short and sped back to his apartment. He had to talk to Wendy and smooth things over. He didn’t know what he was going to say and he knew less of how Wendy would react to this mystery woman. Racing into the apartment he ran to the bath where he last knew her location. The bath was empty. The bedroom was empty. Her clothes were tossed haphazardly across the bed. He looked in the closet and found her luggage was missing.
He called her phone. It rang four times then went to voice mail. Jason left a message to give him a call then hung up. Walking to the kitchen He poured a glass of juice. On the counter was a note.
“Going to my sister’s. Have fun with your fantasy.”
Jason called several times throughout the morning, each time leaving a message until the phone went straight to voicemail without ringing. He wandered the apartment looking at their simple life, the pictures on the wall, their honeymoon to Costa Rica, their first dinner in the apartment that he now stood alone in. The memories tugged at his heart to the point of driving him out the door.
He walked for miles along Old Tampa Bay across highway 60 and into Clearwater. The day had worn on into the evening when his stomach declared mutiny and steered the stunned and stumbling zombie to a street vendor. The young woman behind the hot dog cart methodically cleaned at an imaginary stain on the immaculate food station.
Jason held up one finger and paid for the chili-cheese dog and fries. With a twenty out of his pocket he handed the young gypsy the cash. While digging the change out of the cash drawer, the young woman asked. “Would you like to know your fortune? Ten dollars.”
Jason, stunned back to existence, took a closer look at the vendor’s sign. Dogs, Fries and Fortunes. “Sure.” This first word he emitted since that morning caused the muscles to creek and groan in his jaw. He had unknowingly clenched his jaw throughout most of the day and the alien movement required more effort and determination to complete.
The vendor kept the change from the twenty and turned to an elderly lady sitting on a simple folding chair next to a small table, stringing together a beaded necklace. “Momo.” The woman, who appeared to be the vendor’s grandmother, looked up from her lacing and peered at the disheveled man standing, seemingly not interested in his food. “This gentleman wants to know his future.”
The grandmother stood and hobbled over to the food stand. She grabbed a paper plate and set it on the corner of the food cart then pointed to Jason’s left hand. He offered it up. She inspected it. Tracing a finger around the palm drawing swirls. She pointed to his right hand. He set the plate of food down and offered his right hand. The grandmother then inspected the palm tracing the creased lines.
A moment later, she motioned back to the left. Jason held it out palm up. The wrinkle faced woman dropped a couple dozen small beads into his hand. “You throw there.” The wavering voice commanded.
Jason tossed the beads onto the plate, scattering the varied colors of red, pink, blue and yellow across the blank canvas. The drabardi glanced at it then looked at his face, studying his expression. With a grunt and barely a nod, she announced, “God will kill you. Then you live long time.” The Gypsy accent was strong within her voice and carried a magnitude of authority which prevented Jason from asking why, how or any further explanation.
Jason thanked the women for their service and walked quietly down the South Gulfview Boulevard. He found an abandoned beach chair and sat watching the surf. The small waves lapped at the sandy beach. Couples strode up and down. Some dragging along their little ones to enjoy the ideal February evening while Jason sat alone on the lover’s holiday.
It was business as usual Friday morning September 2nd. It had been a year since his first dream of the fantasy woman had come into his life. If he had dreams about this mystery woman, he couldn’t remember them when he woke.
A hit and run had left a woman’s leg shattered. Jason performed his job flawlessly for the middle-aged woman set to start the early shift at a local bakery. She had the green light and entered the intersection as another SUV tried to beat the red light. Her pop-can car was no match for the heavy SUV.
He signed Wendy’s divorce papers a month prior. Fortunately, they had kept separate bank accounts and investments during their newly wed years, making it easier to separate the monetary gains. Upon his reluctance to admit a failed marriage, he kept wearing his wedding ring until a week prior when he finally gave it up and admitted his failure.
Jason had finished with the emergency surgery and stood looking out at the dazzling light effects of the lightning. A storm had blown in causing quite a disturbance with the trees outside. A street light, next to the helipad, tipped over causing a shower of sparks to briefly spray across the helipad. The pouring rain hammered the window distorting the view and making anything outside hard to see. A woman suddenly appeared in the middle of the pad. She raced for the emergency room doors as the pounding rain soaked her through to the bone.
Jason walked down the stairs and into the emergency room lobby. Turning the corner, he watched the drown rat of a young woman, walk up the front of an orderly, across the ceiling and caused the security guard to lose his balance. She broke free from all their grips and raced back into the pouring rain.
He slipped past the downed men and out into heavy early morning shower. He stopped dead in his tracks when she completely disappeared. He could see the far side of the helipad, although it was as if he were drunk or looking at it through distorted glass. Another security guard went his counter and smacked into something solid.
Following the woman’s trail, he saw an opening into another dimension, like in the science fiction movies where a door would open into another world. This one opened into the cargo hold of some sort of alien craft.
“In here.” The young woman pleaded with Jason to come in further. His instinct said to help, but his logic screamed ‘trap’. “I have a man in here who needs help.”
“In here.” The young woman scrambled into another room toward the front of the ship. “He’s too heavy for me. I need help.”
“How did this get here?” Jason asked.
“In here.” The young woman pleaded again.
Jason seen the terrified look in the young woman’s eyes. As he took in the view of the white astronaut suit, he was sure had to be from a costume party, he saw a pale face man with blood running down his chin. “You’re going to have to trust me,” he told the young woman. Jason jumped to his training and started barking commands to his fellow staff members. In a matter of minutes, the astronaut was on the operating table and Jason had him in a peaceful slumber while the rest of the team did their assigned jobs. Hours ticked by before they put the last stitch in and he was wheeled off to the recovery room.
The adrenaline high slowed to a stopped as he looked out the window to the helipad. It was empty and the sun had all but cooked the water off the concrete. He remembered the girl. Where was she? he thought. Jason started for the stairs then broke out into a frantic run as he recalled the eyes that he saw in his Valentine’s morning dream were the same azure eyes with white flecks as the woman in the rain.