He had a recurring dream. He was dancing with a girl, and she was warm and soft, but he couldn't see her face. Still, he felt comfortable when she held him, as if he was in the only place where he truly belonged. She wore a formal dress, which sometimes looked just like Morgan's gown from senior prom, sometimes was a wedding dress, and other times faded away into the same hazy dream vision that obscured her face, as well.
Music played, which was atonal and was simultaneously comprised of the tinkling of delicate chimes, and the heavy computerized beat of techno music. A sudden wind would pick up, and tug at the billowing corners of the girl's dress. Her skirt would swirl and rise in the wind, stretching and filling the whole room, chocking him as it snaked down his throat, wrapped around his neck, and pushed him away from that wonderful woman.
Whoever she was, she was ripped from his arms far too suddenly, and he was left alone and scared and cold as she spun away in the breeze, the distance between them growing from a few inches to hundreds of miles in the blink of an eye. He watched, screamed sometimes, as he saw her across the unimaginable distance, her dress suddenly blood-red against a black sky, and her face still indiscernible. All he knew was that they were meant to be together, and if he let her slip away now, they'd never be back together again.
He'd shout. Sometimes, it was a name, but in the nature of dream language, the cry would echo against itself so that he didn't even know what he'd pronounced once the words came from his mouth. He was certain that she felt what he'd felt, and that she needed to return to him just as much as he needed to be near her.
Then, she would turn and walk away, as if she cared nothing for what they'd shared.
At this point, every night, Darren would wake up, his sheets soaked with sweat, and his heart racing. He'd always think a few moments of the dream, wondering how it had terrified him so utterly. True, the sense of loneliness had been devastating, but the dream wasn't a nightmare in the truest sense of the term.
At first, thanks to the dreams, Darren had tried to ignore them, roll over, and go back to sleep. Eventually, though, he noticed that he awoke at the same time every morning: 4:22. He didn't know it for sure, but Darren liked to imagine that this was the exact hour that Gwen had been killed. Maybe her ghost spoke to him through the dream, trying to apologize for her absence, and help him come to terms with her inability to return from the dead.
He came to recognize that he never fell asleep after waking up from the dream. He'd tried to adapt by going to bed earlier in order to compensate for the loss of sleep, but the dorms were too noisy at nine o'clock at night for him to fall into a deep sleep before it was so late, he knew he'd wake in an hour or two anyway. Some early mornings, he tried to catch up on his homework after the nightmare woke up, but Darren worried that he annoyed his roommate too much.
Eventually, he'd taken to sleeping at home. It didn't make the nightmares any better, and the cost of gas was prohibitive as he tried to drive back to his classes four times a week. At least he had peace and quiet in his old room, though.
He still suffered from the nightmares, and there was only so much time he could fill with homework during the endless pre-dawn hours. Finally, Darren discovered the only way he could achieve peace after the terror of those nights.
He walked into the bathroom and splashed some cold water onto his face. He didn't really need to; he felt very wakeful anyway, but it was just a good routine for after waking up. Darren got dressed, shaved, and grabbed his car keys from the kitchen counter before stepping outside, making sure to close the front door quietly so as not to wake his parents.
The drive from Darren's house to the graveyard took less than ten minutes, and over the past few weeks, it had become so habitual that he didn't even need to think about where he was going. He held the steering wheel with one hand while he searched for a good radio station with the other. After a few unsuccessful minutes of searching for music, he just turned the radio off, and left himself with his own silence.
At this time of night, the graveyard's parking lot was completely empty. Even so, Darren passed it, knowing he could find a closer spot. There was an old dirt road that stretched down the yard, weaving through tombstones and snaking around mausoleums. It swung right past Gwen's grave toward the outskirts of the graveyard. The town was three hundred years old, and relatively speaking, Gwen's three-month-old plot was practically brand new.
Darren parked, turned on his warning lights, and climbed out of his idling car. Gwen's gravesite had become so familiar that Darren barely needed to watch where he was going anymore. He'd memorized that spot on the ground where an invisible root threatened to trip an unwary passer-by, or where slippery moss could trip him.
He knelt on Gwen's grave, just before the tombstone, folded his hands, and bowed his head. Darren wasn't praying. He'd never been particularly religious. What he did was more like meditation, as he considered his life with Gwen, and the mess it had become now.
Although it felt a bit like treachery, he couldn't always believe that his life was for the worse without her. Darren couldn't help but feel that for the past four years, he'd been drowning. Everything that made him unique had been swallowed up by Morgan, then by Gwen. He'd been so lost in his girlfriends, Darren had forgotten to be himself.
Now, despite the sleepless nights, and the classes he missed because of the long trips home, and the hours wasted in graveyards, Darren felt like he finally was living his own life. For the first time in years, Darren had the time and space to discover who he was as a person, and who he could be.
In many ways, it was a relief. As Darren rose to his feet to return home, he reminded himself of the same conclusion he reached every morning. This was a good thing.