Chapter Two

It was two a.m. Monday morning and Chris found the mountain of papers to be delivered in their usual spot on his half of the duplex’s shared driveway outside his garage door. Ever since he and Sherry had taken their fateful plunge together six months earlier, Chris had become quite withdrawn from the rest of the world. He had quit his full-time job as a desk clerk for Howard Johnson’s Hotel shortly after the accident despite the manager’s understanding and willingness to give Chris as much time off as he needed to recover. But he didn’t want to be around people. At least not now. Not yet. Not for a while. He needed time.

Slowly he had acquired more and more paper routes for what had been his part-time job, turning it into full-time work. Delivering newspapers out of his car, he didn’t need to deal with people. There were no questions to answer, no looks to ignore, no pity, no stress. Chris tooled along the streets of his neighborhood and surrounding areas, never traveling more than five miles per hour, driving down the wrong side of the streets from mailbox to mailbox during the wee hours of the morning when the night is at its darkest. Leaning out of his driver-side window, rain or snow or five-below, seven mornings per week, he stuffed the morning newspaper into plastic tubes attached to the sides of the mailbox posts.

The ‘tool of his trade’ was a brand new, dark purple Dodge Caravan. He had traded in his ten-year-old Honda Civic with just over 150,000 miles on it. His Dad had gotten it for him as a graduation present. New way back then, the only car he had ever owned, but lately it had seemed to be spending more time in the shop than in his garage. His new mini-van with the sliding back doors on either side for easy loading and unloading of his paper routes was the only item he had purchased with the money from the insurance settlement. The rest he had tucked away into a savings account in case he hadn’t found new work for a while after not returning to Howard Johnson’s.

He hadn’t planned on turning his part-time paper route into a full-time bacon basket; at first it had seemed only a means of keeping busy through the dark nights while at the same time not having to really concentrate on anything very hard. Working the early morning hours of two a.m. to seven a.m. felt serene and relaxing. He ignored most of the stop signs, the only light on the street coming from his own car’s headlamps, the only lights on the houses from his orange flashers reflecting off the panes of glass in the dark windows. Occasionally he would run across another vehicle with its dome light bright, its driver under the yellowish glow inside the car thumbing through a list of addresses looking for his next stop to deliver a rival newspaper. The two vehicles would quickly flash their high-beam headlights at one another, a late night/early morning comrade’s salute to each other in recognition of their common solitude and tasks, much the way passing motorcyclists on the freeway feel an obligation to wave at each other even from across the medians as they pass in opposite direction, or the way mailmen and bus drivers always wave at like vehicles passing them whether they can actually see the other driver or not. The few carriers out combing the neighborhoods while all their neighbors sleep feel a certain bond in sharing the darkness together in a much less populated world than those working by the sun’s light. But the ‘high-beam salute’ was as close as they ever got to contact, their only form of communication, which was, in Chris’ mind, just another benefit of the job.

Each morning as the darkness slowly began to give way to the light of a new day, Chris would empty his mini-van of his nightly papers and return home to crawl tiredly into bed. Sleeping during the morning daylight hours seemed to help his mental state a bit. When waking suddenly from his re-occurring dream, he would awaken with the sun filtering in through the slats of the blinds covering his bedroom windows. He discovered it was easier on his nerves waking in the dim light, being able to readily identify with his surroundings without waiting for his eyes to adjust to the blackness of the night.

Another benefit to his new career in the night.

He had grown to expect his daily trek through the graveyard, but he still felt uneasy each morning as he closed his eyes in search of the seemingly ever needed rest.

* * * * *

He had seen Sherry again each night in his dreams. The second night he climbed the hill to her dreamland gravesite she had become calm. When the coffin opened and she looked at Chris through eyes that seemed to be missing the sparkle and life they had once held, she spoke softly, "I’m sorry, Chris. I know I can’t blame you. Not really."

"If I could trade places with you, Sherry, I would," Chris replied. "I’m so sorry I made you jump with me."

"It wasn’t your fault," she repeated. "If it hadn’t snapped on us, then it would have snapped on the next unfortunate pair. Bad luck is all it was. Very bad luck. And I was weak for giving in to you. I blame myself more than anything else."

"No, you shouldn’t…" Chris began to respond, but then just couldn’t think of anything he could say that could help her predicament.

She lay still in her coffin, devoid of emotion, her eyes seeming to focus somewhere behind him, through him. A few long, quiet seconds passed. Then Sherry almost whispered, "This is my fate. I’ll be okay. I’ll be moving on soon."

Her skin, like her eyes, seemed to be lacking animation. Her color appeared dull and flat, almost fading. He wasn’t sure, but he thought she even looked to be a bit more faded than in their first short encounter on the previous night.

Chris awoke once again with Sherry’s voice still echoing in his ears. Had we really spoken to each other somehow?

A shiver coursed down his spine.

Ultimately, as he stood motionless in the shower with his eyes held tightly shut, his face directly under the warm, pulsating water, he decided it had just been his subconscious trying to relieve some of the guilt he was willingly burdening himself with. He certainly didn’t want to mistakenly barge into Sherry’s room again thinking she had forgiven him in a dream only to have her chase him out a second time with her rage and hate. But her voice, still in his head, seemed to have been so real. The repeated dream, in all its clarity in memory and detail, had seemed so real.

And she had been fading.

* * * * *

The next night, the third night in as many days, Chris found himself taking the now familiar climb to the top of the hill where the mourners and the Priest stood in their red-gold aura around Sherry’s awaiting grave. Again he could feel the eyes following his every step. Again he felt the wind standing guard at his rear. Again he wondered if maybe it was best that he couldn’t see the features of the Priest’s face. Again he had to await the opening of her coffin. And again she appeared to be a bit more faded somehow, the eyes a bit more distant.

She had spoken emotionlessly the previous night and sounded even less caring, less hopeful, tonight. In a voice lacking any fluctuation, she told him that the doctor hadn’t located all the internal bleeding. She said she was going to be leaving soon, "moving on" as she had put it for the second time now.

"Tell him about it," Chris pleaded. "They can still help."

"No, I can’t. They won’t hear me like you do. Maybe you could tell them. But it won’t matter. This is my fate. I can see that now. I didn’t know what to do with my life. It’s because I wasn’t going to be around to do anything with it. Deep down…maybe I knew that."

Chris awoke again on a wet pillow, Sherry’s words still running freely inside his head, still challenging his fragile grasp on reality. Real or not, possible or not, he couldn’t ignore the smallest of chances that there was still something he might be able to do to help her.

He shot out of bed and threw on the same clothes he had worn the day before, still on the floor where he had numbly shed them what seemed like only moments ago. He skipped the shower and toast and juice with which he had begun each day for as long as he could remember and raced down to the hospital to pass along the information that Sherry had conveyed to him during the night.

As he drove into the hospital’s parking lot, he stopped to wonder for the first time what the doctor might think as he tells him he missed something and that Sherry was still bleeding somewhere inside her body. And what would he say when they inevitably ask how he comes to know this? She told him last night in his dream?

He decided to go in and see Sherry first despite her adamant insistence that she never wanted to see him again. The dream had seemed to be more than a dream. Maybe they had been communicating somehow. Maybe she had experienced the same dream last night. Maybe she had forgiven him. Maybe she was reaching out for help in the only way she could. Maybe he could still help her.

He knew he was wrong about the ‘maybes’ the second he entered the room. Recognizing him instantly as he came in through the door, she said calmly and flatly to him, "You don’t get it, do you?" Then with more energy than his dreamland Sherry looked capable of summoning, screaming with all the strength she could muster, the real Sherry shrieked, "GET OUT OF MY LIFE!"

A nurse had come running immediately at the sound of her screaming voice and saw Chris standing at the foot of her bed looking dazed and confused. All the nurses working the floor, as well as all the doctors, receptionists and Candy Stripers, not to mention a good number of the nearby patients, were quite aware of Sherry’s request that Chris not be allowed to come near her again. Had he stopped to ask about her condition before entering her room, they would have turned him away assuring him that her request still stood.

"You are not supposed to be here," the nurse said to Chris. "Why don’t you come with me," she said extending an arm to show him the way through the door. "I’ll send the doctor in to see you, Sherry," then followed Chris into the hallway.

With Sherry’s door closed behind them, the nurse faced Chris sympathetically. "She really, really doesn’t want to see you, you know. I know you care about her," she added, trying to be firm and gentle at the same time, "but you really shouldn’t come back."

"But she asked me to come," Chris said, wishing he hadn’t as soon as the words spilled out of his mouth.

"That wasn’t the way I heard it in there," she replied quickly. "Please don’t try to see her again. She needs time to recover, psychologically as well as physically. We’ve still got your phone number," she bargained, "and I’ll call you if anything changes. But you must not come back again like this. Okay?"

"But she’s still bleeding inside," he said, beginning to feel a panic creep up inside himself. Suppressing the attack from within, he swallowed hard and continued, "She told me to come tell you because she can’t tell you."

And then of course, the first question he had predicted, and feared, he would need to answer, the nurse asked, "And why can’t she tell us if she can tell you?"

Chris bowed his head and looked at the floor, not wanting to see the nurse’s reaction to his next statement, but he couldn’t think of a lie that would get done what needed to be done. So he spoke the truth, hoping the old adage was right, that the truth was indeed always the best policy.

"She told me in a dream last night. She told me that she was still bleeding inside and I had to tell someone because she couldn’t. Won’t you at least have the doctor check?" he pleaded.

"I will tell the doctor about your dream. He’ll talk to her himself, I am sure. She is in very competent hands. I’m sure she’ll be okay. The doctor is keeping a close eye on her."

"But she can’t tell him! She doesn’t know! I mean, she does know, in my dream she told me, but she doesn’t know when she’s awake!" Chris was shaking his head as he spoke, as if he couldn’t believe what he was saying himself. "I know it doesn’t make sense, but I know I talked to her." Trying desperately to sound calm, sane, "It was real." And he discovered as he said those last three words, that for the first time, he himself truly believed that it had been real.

"Like I said, I’ll let the doctor know. Now you must go and I promise to call you if anything changes."

"You’re going to check?" He knew he was on his way back out the door in a matter of moments. He just wanted to know that they were going to check, whether they believed his story or not, just check!

"I will tell the doctor everything you told me. I will do it right away. That’s all I can promise you, Chris. The doctor will do what needs to be done."

Chris didn’t say another word. He glanced over his shoulder at Sherry’s closed door and then slowly left the building. There was nothing else he could do here for her and he was clearly not wanted here.

* * * * *

That night, the fourth in four, Chris dreamt again.

Her eyes had lost all their original color now. Her black pupils were now a dull gray, favoring white. Her dark brown irises appeared to have been washed away through time to a light tan. He thought he could make out a wrinkle in the soft pinkish velvet that lay beneath her head. If not for the clothing covering all but her face and hands, he thought he’d be able to see right through her.

"Did you tell them?" she asked.

"I tried, but I don’t think they believed me."

"I guess it was meant to be then," she whispered softly. She closed her eyes.

Chris awoke to the sound of his own quiet sobs. Light was filtering in through the slats in his window. He didn’t feel as if he had slept at all. Sherry was all he could think of. Time was running out. He didn’t have any idea why he knew that, but he knew it without a doubt as he sat up in bed. Time was running out. He couldn’t let it rest.

This time he didn’t head straight into Sherry’s room. He knew, or thought he knew, that the Sherry in there was not of the same level of consciousness as the one communicating to him in his dream. He went straight to the nurse at the receptionist desk, a different woman than the one who had escorted him out of Sherry’s room the morning before, and asked to speak directly to Sherry’s doctor.

"We were just going to call you, Mr. Battles," the nurse said, studying Chris’ face closely as she spoke. "Sherry passed away early this morning."

Chris felt his knees go weak beneath him and had to grab the counter to keep himself from collapsing. His face went pale and his dark eyes darted back and forth wildly in their sockets. He couldn’t believe what he had just heard. But then, he could believe it. In fact, he understood far more than he felt anyone else in the world ever would. He understood far more than he wanted to. He understood that he had been too late.

"Are you okay?" the nurse asked as she started to rise out of her chair to round the counter and try to catch Chris, if need be. Chris did not collapse and the nurse stayed on her side of the counter, noticeably relieved.

Struggling to hold back the spectrum of emotions building inside his head at a run-away freight train’s pace--guilt and shame and anger and denial and sorrow--Chris asked in a barely audible voice, afraid he already knew the answer, "Was it internal bleeding?"

"Yes," the nurse confirmed. "She died in her sleep. She went peacefully."

At that point, no longer able to think about his grip on the counter that was assisting his knees in holding him upright, Chris did collapse to the floor.

* * * * *

Chapter Three


Front Desk

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As Fate Would Have It

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty-One
Chapter Twenty-Two
Chapter Twenty-Three
Chapter Tweny-Four
Chapter Twenty-Five
Chapter Twenty-Six
Chapter Twenty-Seven
Chapter Twenty-Eight
Chapter Twenty-Nine
Chapter Thirty
Chapter Thirty-One
Chapter Thirty-Two
Chapter Thirty-Three
Chapter Thirty-Four
Chapter Thirty-Five
Chapter Thirty-Six
Chapter Thirty-Seven