It was another dream. It was the same dream.
I was screaming and screaming at the side of the building, my hands grappling with the open air above Third Avenue.
My eyes moved from the heavens to the city below and I watched Brett's body descend peacefully through the sky.
He was falling again.
I was screaming again.
I could never stop it.
Paul covered my mouth to stop the sound…
"Jake." The sound of my name rang through my pounding head, bouncing off the inside of my skull. I was already awake – I'd been awake for three days – but I didn't want my girlfriend to know that. Not this morning. I needed this morning to myself.
So I pretended to be asleep.
She whispered my name once more but I made no response. My carefully regulated breathing lied to her and she left my side, pulling her robe from the chair next to my bed and shuffling slowly out of the room. As soon as she'd closed the door I let my eyes flutter open. My eyelids peeled themselves back until my stare was as wide as it could get. I wanted no chance to relive the dream in my waking hours. I was exhausted, ready to drift into sleep, but I was afraid of it. Fear kept me awake.
I lay in bed for God knows how long before my girlfriend came back.
"Jake," she said again, her voice firmer upon seeing my open eyes, "are you just going to lie in bed all day? It's already one o'clock."
I didn't answer her. I wanted her to go away.
"Jake," she demanded, giving my foot a shake. "Jake." She always used that tone with me, especially lately – she'd taken on this new air and she thought she could boss me around. I was in no mood for that today.
"What, Corinne?" I asked in resignation. I turned my face away from her and focused my eyes on the wall as a long pause settled between us. I watched the afternoon light play through the blinds on my window and make shadows puppets on the wall. They danced with such grace, they so captivated me in my fatigue, that I almost didn't hear Corinne speak.
"You dreamt about him again."
I shrugged. I was reluctant to admit that Brett still plagued my thoughts. When my friend had first died I'd had nightmares about him several times a night. Now, eight years later, I had the same dream every other night without fail: I was screaming, Paul was covering my mouth, and Brett was falling. There was never any variation in the vision, only grim constancy to keep me petrified of my own sleep.
"Maybe you should see a doctor," Corinne said, suddenly breaking through my reverie. She knew better than anyone about the dreams I had. She'd slept next to me on and off for almost a year now.
It was a shame she couldn't figure out how not to annoy me. Her constant nagging and my lack of sleep had thrown our relationship into decline and I was one step away from kicking her to the curb. It didn't help that she always second guessed any decision I made about myself.
Sometimes, I got the feeling that she thought I was incompetent.
I sat up in bed and whipped my head around to stare her in the eyes, anger filling every cell in my body.
"And what would happen if I saw a doctor, huh?" I snarled at her. "Because I know what'd happen. They'd ask me to get a bunch of useless tests done and I'd probably have to do about six sleep studies and all that would come out of it is a box of prescription sleeping pills that I'd have to take for months and that I'd probably become addicted to. Christ, Corinne, do you want me to end up like Paul?" My girlfriend looked sheepishly away from me and for a moment I felt guilty for attacking her, but then I didn't care. She was irritating and I was angry. I hadn't slept properly in almost decade and it was all because my asshole friend had to trip off a roof.
I was pissed. I was hurt.
I was fucking broken.
Overcome by all my thoughts, I buried my face in my hands and drew my knees to my chest as realization after realization crashed over me. Before I could stop myself, I was wracked with sobs. My body quivered with the force of my sorrow and I lost myself at once. I barely felt Corinne's touch on my back as she tried to comfort me. All I could think about was my lack of sleep and Brett.
Then, all at once, I became aware of everything that was touching me, everything that was around me. I was so hypersensitive to my surroundings I thought I was going to explode and the final trigger was the touch of Corinne's fingers on the back of my neck. She was trying to soothe me but it felt as though she'd just unleashed a monster that I'd kept caged for years.
"Don't touch me," I growled at her, lifting my head from my hands just a little. Corinne stopped the motion of her fingers but didn't move her hand, and the look on her face was both shocked and indignant.
In an instant, I swung out my right arm and backhanded her across the face. The force of the blow struck her so hard that she was turned away from me and fell gasping to the floor. The bedsheets tangled around her waist and she lay there on her stomach, trying to catch the breath that had been knocked out of her. For a moment I was so shocked at myself that I couldn't even move.
Then I felt rage.
I leapt off the bed and grabbed one of Corinne's legs, pulling her body toward mine with such force that I surprised myself. The boiling heat of my fury was cleansing. I could feel the anger slowly burning out all the debris that Brett's death had left within my heart and I grabbed Corinne's arm, flipping her over onto her back.
"Jake, what did I do? I'm sorry! Jake, stop!" she screamed, her voice wavering with fear. Hearing her terrified words only incensed me further and I pulled back my right arm before letting my fist fly.
I punched her as hard as I could in the face. I felt the cartilage of her nose collapse underneath my knuckles, and a grim satisfaction poured over me. Blood began to gush out of her nostrils, making it nearly impossible for her to talk, but she gurgled the words out anyway.
"Jake, no! Please stop! Jake!" she cried, but I didn't listen. I kept punching her over and over again, feeling her high cheekbones and perfect forehead slowly give way to the fury of God. I remember screaming at her, telling her never to touch me again, and as I slowly destroyed her beautiful face I felt my soul become enveloped in a healing white light. The more I hit her, the more the sacred fire burned in me, and so I punched and punched until the human head beneath my hand was reduced to a pile of bloody brainy mush.
When I was finally able to stop myself, Corinne was unrecognizable. She had ceased flailing long ago but I had continued my assault just to keep the fire alive.