Now and Forever: a love story
The dream was back--so were the eyes. They hovered in an angry sky just above the horizon, seeing everything but focusing on nothing. Amy knew those eyes—knew a time when they’d been filled with happiness and a love of life. But that had been before her brother came back from Vietnam.
Young, naked, and skinny, she stood alone and vulnerable on a hill surrounded by flames where everything kept changing.
A gray-haired man in a business suit waved at her while fading from view. She sensed more than knew it was her Grandpa Collins and waved back, wanting to get his attention, but he’d gone.
A thin, blonde young guy in track shorts came running up. They embraced and kissed. He ran his hands over her body, it wasn’t quite as skinny now, and she enjoyed his touch. But when he tried to pull her down, she resisted and he melted away. That's when she noticed the old cat she'd loved for years dead at her feet.
Now she lay stretched out on the ground while A smiling, handsome man covered her nude body with kisses. Once again she responded. Every touch sent her reeling. She wanted to please this man and opened her heart, arms and long legs to him. But he wasn’t there. Confused, she sat up and looked around and saw him walking away, arm-in-arm, with another man, his new friend, the scrawny book nerd she despised.
That’s when she woke crying and still sick with whatever had forced her into bed two, or had it been three, days ago.
After a quick search, she found her trashy paperback hiding among the tangled sheets. While looking for her last bookmark, she thought of another mark, her lifelong friend, Mark Cahill, and wondered if he had finished those late finals, and made it back home, and if so, had he called. She thought he would, but after what they had done and almost done a few days ago, she couldn’t be sure. Not after having to hurry home after her last final, sick and getting sic... The book once again slipped from her fingers and she slept.
The dream came back, but this time, something had changed. The flames had vanished. Moonlight and a soft breeze caressed her skin. She had some clothes on and was wrapped in a man’s arms, kissing him and being kissed in return.
When he touched her body, it felt so good, so safe, so right. She didn’t want him to ever stop. But he did. Though disappointed, she sensed it wasn’t a rejection, but what he thought best, for both of them, and felt great.
# # #
Amy Marshall woke with sweat pouring off her body. The fever had broken. And while she didn’t feel great like in the dream, she did feel better. She’d come home with something, or some things, that came complete with chills, fever, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Now, whatever it was seemed to be over.
With an effort, she got out of bed and changed into dry pajamas. After a quick trip down the hall to the bathroom, she crawled back into bed among the damp, rumpled sheets.
There were two hardback books near the foot of the big, four-poster. She remembered her mother, the town's head librarian, had brought “Confessions of Nat Turner” and “Death of a President” from the library when she came by to check on her at lunchtime.
With a groan, Amy reached down and pulled the books up beside her. It wouldn’t do to kick new library books off the bed.
She really did want to read them, but not now. Their contents were too heavy for her wasted brain to read and the books themselves way too heavy for her wasted body to hold.
Instead, she reached for her half-read paperback copy of “Valley of the Dolls.” Even that proved too much. The book soon became a shield for her tired eyes.
The dream did return, but this time it ended better, much better. She found herself back at the beer bust some friends had thrown to help get her out of the extended crying jag she’d been on since the break-up. But there was more to her depression and tears than the end of a campus romance. That had just been the final straw, sort of the grand finale, to her semester from hell.
It began when her older brother, the all-state basketball player and frat president had come back from Vietnam, at least his body had. But something inside had changed in ways that frightened and confused her.
A few weeks later, Jeff, the old cat who always slept with her back home had been run over and killed.
At school, every course had been a horror. If it hadn’t been for Anthony, a handsome, cultivated architecture student from New Orleans, things would have been even worse.
They met at a party in September and dated all year. Over Christmas, he’d become her first lover and they had then been ‘penned’, by campus tradition, the last step before becoming engaged.
Then just before finals, this man she loved, her first and only lover who seemed destined to become even more, left her for that creepy little book nerd who’d been hanging around them for months. That night, the crying and the dreams, began.
Though well-intended, the party hadn’t worked. She had tried, chatted with friends, smiled at everyone, drank too much beer, but her mood only got worse. Wanting to be alone and not spoil the party for everyone else, she drifted off into the surrounding wooded darkness until she discovered a sanctuary.
That’s where Mark found her a few minutes later, sitting behind a big log, ignoring the party behind her, sniffling and trying not to crry.
Wordlessly, he sat beside her. When a light, cool evening breeze sprang up she shivered. He put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. That did it. She let out a sob, a mixture of despair and release, then laid her head on his chest and cried until she ran out of tears.
When her breath began to even out, she noticed the front of his old dress shirt was soaked. Fascinated, she slid a fingertip across the damp cloth.
In hours of phone confessionals, she’d shared everything with him. They always had. Now he’d come to be with her, to comfort her. And in return, she’d drenched his shirt with her tears and mascara.
She lifted her head and looked up at him. In the dim light from the distant bonfire, she could make out his dark wavy hair and familiar, comforting smile. It made her feel better.
He’d always been there, close and caring, whenever she needed a friend, needed a shoulder to cry on, just like tonight. Because, because he loves me. And I, I love him, always have, but this love she now felt, this feeling was different.
A new emotion, a revelation, swept over her, complete with a warm, tingly sensation that had nothing to do with friendship. She no longer just needed her best friend—she wanted him, as a man, and wanted him now and forever.
Slipping both hands behind his neck, she pulled his face to hers and began kissing her best friend. Later, much later, their lips parted, and they looked at one another.
Mark seemed a bit surprised, even puzzled, but it was his turn to act. She silently prayed he wouldn’t be sensible or cautious or, even worse, make a joke. Damn it, Mark, just kiss me. Please. Then he leaned forward, their lips met, and he began kissing his own best friend.
At some point, it crossed her mind that Mark was a very good kisser. In a strange sort of way, she felt proud that her best friend was so gifted. And she loved being on the receiving end of his gift.
The next time their lips parted, she could tell Mark was about to say something. It would be about how they should stop. She was sure of that and sure he was right, probably.
They’d have to do that, soon. But not yet, not if she had her way. Before he could speak, she snuggled closer and pulled him back onto her waiting mouth.
As their tongues sensuously intertwined, Amy felt than heard their two hearts beating as…
# # #
The steady beat of high heels approaching down the hall woke Amy. She whipped the book off her face and stuffed it under a pillow. Moments later, her mother’s face appeared around the door.
At the sight of her second-born child awake, a tentative smile’ replaced her mother’s worried expression. “Hi, honey. Hope I didn’t wake you. How are you feeling?"
“I’m a lot better, Mom. The fever broke sometime after lunch. I’ve managed to sleep a little since then."
For just a moment, her mother seemed to sag against the doorsill. “Oh, honey, I’m so glad."
She pushed the door open, stepped into the room, and gestured towards the two books near the head of the bed. “I hope you like them. They’re supposed to be very good. Although I don’t think I can handle anything more about the Kennedy assassination. It gets me so depressed.
After a quick, instinctive tug on the sheets, she said, “Why don’t you take it easy and catnap, if you can? I'll bring you a tray for supper."
Amy agreed and thanked her mother again for the books. “You’re welcome, honey. And I hope you enjoy them. But don’t start reading right now. You need to rest."
After kissing her daughter’s cheek, Mrs. Marshall moved to the door, then paused. “Oh, almost forgot. Mark’s been calling, well, so has just about everyone else, asking about you. Anyway, he got home late last night and asked about coming over today. I told him you were too sick for company and said to call in the morning and we’d see how you were feeling. Sorry, but I’ve got to scoot. Bye for now, honey,” she said while closing the door.
At the sound of it latching shut, Amy sighed, stuck a hand under the pillow and pulled out her trashy paperback, the one she thought it best not to read in front of her librarian mother.
Then her still muzzy brain processed her mother’s parting words. Mark had been calling. He wanted to come over.
She smiled and opened the book. If she could get back to sleep, maybe she’d get a re-run of that last dream or, even better, one that included what should have happened later that night.
But if not, that was okay. She no longer needed dreams. The real Mark, 'her' Mark, would be with her in the morning. For now, well, for now, she would try to be patient and get better while waiting on him and maybe on their forever.