"Have you ever felt like you were being stabbed with memories and you can't stop bleeding, you can't stop thinking? Have you ever fallen in love?"
She woke up with a jolt, frantic and gasping, like there was a gaping hole in her chest she couldn't fill in. The darkness- where was she?- was suffocating and she struggled to sit up from the tangled blankets.
"Hey, hey, woah-"
She almost screamed, jerking violently away from the light touch she felt on her arm. A dark figure filled up her vision, and her heart skipped a beat as it recognized the boy before she did.
"Hey," he reached out to her. "What happened? Are you–"
She slammed into his body, clinging on to him, her fingers desperate for his skin. Warmth, like velvet, radiated from strong shoulders. He was real and he was here. She tried to breathe, to remember his smell, but she was crying so hard, all she could taste was salt.
"Woah, shit," she felt his arms around her, "What's wrong? Hey, it's okay, it's okay."
"You were-" her voice cracked, ending on a wail. She just wanted to keep touching him, her shaking hands on his skin. "You're supposed to be dead," she sobbed.
"Woah, what? Woah-" he said her name, his hands cradling her cheeks. "Hey, I'm not dead. I'm not dead, okay?"
She nodded, best she could, but the tears wouldn't stop flowing. It was so real. The nightmare was so real.
"Let me get some tissues," he made a move to leave, and she couldn't bear it, her hands fisting in the waistband of his boxers. "…Or not."
She didn't ever want to let go. He seemed to understand her desperation on some level, and held her shaking body against his. What was real? Was it only a nightmare? She wanted it so desperately to be a nightmare. But it had felt so real, reading that obituary. Why was he even here? They hadn't been talking for months. A rising dread rose in her throat as she surveyed the room. She knew this place. Her heart dropped. She knew this place and that didn't make any sense because the last time she saw him, he was on his way to moving to another apartment.
"What's today? The day today?"
He looked at her like she was crazy and maybe she was because this probably wasn't even real. Maybe this was a lucid dream. Maybe she's going insane. Or maybe there was a God and he had listened to her prayers for more time.
"July something? It's Sunday tomorrow. Why?"
Her heart broke all over again. This wasn't real. Or maybe it was but it didn't matter because he was dead anyway.
"Hey, hey, woah, woah, breathe." It was the gentlest she'd ever seen him and it just made her cry harder.
"Hey!" He shook her a bit, hands back on her face. He said her name gently. "Breathe with me, okay?"
She listened, listlessly, taking shallow breaths in and out. His furrowed brow relaxed incrementally, before calling her name again.
"It's just a dream." He brushed her tears away with his knuckles, placing a soft kiss on her forehead. Her hands balled into fists on his skin, trying to fight the rush of pain that came with the familiar gesture. "It's just a dream."
It was just a dream of the summer they had together before it ended. It was just a dream of his last summer before he died. It didn't make any sense but everything felt so real and this wasn't a memory of something that had happened before.
"Good girl," he used his gentle voice again, and she burrowed her face in his neck, biting her lip to keep the screams inside, "You're okay. It's okay. Everything is okay."
No, it was not going to be okay. Nothing was ever going to be okay again. He was gone. He was dead. He had been dead for over a month before she found out. She had missed his funeral. She hadn't been able to find his memorial at his crash site. She had stood there at the side of the unmarked highway, clutching a bottle of his favorite beer, whispering farewells that were swallowed by the low roar of passing vehicles.
"Shit," he shifted uncomfortably, and she lifted her head momentarily, noticing how his shoulder glistened with her tears and snot. "Your nails-"
She immediately released her hands in horror. The last thing she wanted to do was hurt him and now-
"Okay, woah, stop there. I'm fine," he pulled her back towards him, one hand on the back of her head. "It was just uncomfortable. I'm fine."
He stroked her hair, from the top of her head to her back. He had never done this for her before. His lips rested on the crown on her head. "Fuck… this dream messed you up bad, huh?"
She didn't answer; she just shuddered.
"What happened? In the dream."
She didn't want to tell him. She didn't want to bring his death to life with her words. Maybe she could pretend that it didn't happen, at least for tonight. She moved back to look at him when he said her name again, this time in question.
What a handsome boy.
Maybe not by conventional standards. Maybe not in everyone's books. But she loved the pockmark on his left cheek, adored the strong line of his jaw, admired the bow of his small upper lip. She was in denial before about how she felt about this boy; she wasn't any longer.
She didn't know who was more surprised when she kissed him.
"Mm," he broke the kiss, "I'm not sure–"
She cut him off with her lips, determined. She was on a mission– she didn't know for what, but she was done talking. And she needed him to be on the same page.
He seemed to succumb to her for the moment, returning her kiss. She wrapped her arms around his neck, bringing him closer, breathing him in. This is all she wanted to taste now. She wanted to devour him, his essence imprinted on hers.
He started pushing her away again; she resisted. The tears wouldn't stop flowing. He pushed harder, hands on her hips, but all she ended up doing was charging forward, ramming noses and teeth.
She sat back dazed, the pain on her face a dull pounding, so distant from the rest of the pain coursing through her body. He touched his nose gingerly, and she wanted to laugh. Who cared if his nose was okay when he was already broken beyond repair?
"Yo," his irritation started fading away and it was the second time tonight that he looked at her like he was genuinely concerned for her sanity. That just made her laugh harder, hot tears swimming up her vision and running down her chin. And then her laughter started dissolving into tears, punctuated by her gasps for air, and she was barely aware of when his arms were around her again.
"Fuck, my housemates are going to think I've murdered someone in here. Shh, shh. Come on, remember to breathe."
She wished she had more time. She knew he didn't love her but she wanted more time with him anyway. He couldn't give her what she wanted, probably never could, and now never would, but she desperately wanted something. Anything.
What was she asking for anyway? More time? Assurances? Answers? Hugs and kisses? Love? They all seemed ridiculous now. She would never get them. Not from this torture of a dream, and not from a dead boy who didn't return her feelings. He seemed to also be confused, glancing down at her with caution.
"Please?" he repeated.
She was slightly calmer now; the breaths she took only shuddered through her lungs, and not throughout her entire body. She pressed one shaky kiss against his warm shoulder. He didn't move to stop or encourage her- maybe out of fear, maybe out of concern. She pressed another one at the junction between his neck and collarbone. When she moved to kiss his neck, he finally shifted.
"Please," she croaked, and she cleared her throat. God, could she be any sexier right now? She moved to try and surreptitiously wipe some of her snot off her nose with her shirt. When he called her name and she looked into his eyes, it took every iota of strength she had in herself to not break all over again.
"You're crying," he said, like an awkward boy to a situation he didn't know how to handle.
"I know." She was slightly proud she almost sounded normal when she said that.
"I can't…" He looked uncomfortable, bewildered, and sorry at the same time. "When you're crying. I can't."
"Could we…" she paused to hiccup. Oh yeah, she was really winning those sexy brownie points now. "Can we try?"