The sun was glaring into her bedroom window, heating the room too hot for her liking, but that didn’t seem to wake her. It was the phone that wouldn’t stop ringing that finally jostled her out of the deep sleep. Groggily, she removed the thick pillow off her head and reached for the nearby phone, if only to shut it up.
“Hello,” she grumbled, her throat dry and mouth sticky. She was also vaguely aware that her body was covered in sweat, probably because of how hot the room was at the moment.
“Mandy! Are you alright?” came a man’s voice over the speaker. For a second, Mandy couldn’t place who it was, but then it all came flooding back to her.
“Sam?!” Mandy nearly screamed. “You’re alive!”
There was a pause and then, “I’m coming over right now.”
Mandy’s heart seemed to swell in her chest. It was all a dream and Sam wasn’t dead! She couldn’t wait to see him and throw her arms around his neck and never let him go. She quickly got up and hurried to the bathroom. It took her ten minutes before exited the bathroom, face clean, teeth brushed, hair brushed, and was about to turn the corner into the kitchen to make coffee when she almost jumped out of her skin in surprise.
Sam was already there—she remembered that she gave him a key for emergencies—and standing in the kitchen over the sink, the same sink where she left the butcher knife…The stinging pain in her leg came back as she began to realize exactly what was going on.
“Did you?” Sam asked bluntly, his voice even, though the muscles in his face were twitching against a deep frown.
Mandy barely nodded, looking up at him from across the counter with wide eyes.
“I had a bad dream last night,” she murmured.
Sam exhaled loudly, his head bowing as he leaned up against the sink.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do with you…” It was barely audible.
“What?” Mandy leaned closer.
“You’re late for work,” Sam’s gaze snapped up at her, almost so forcefully that she felt herself back up a couple paces. “Again.” Then he shook his head from side to side, as though he had been fighting a battle for too long.
“I don’t know how to help you,” he looked up, his hazel eyes full of sorrow. “It’s been a year now. You have to let him go. You have to let Ben go…”
For some reason, the way Sam had said “let Ben go…” struck a cord inside Mandy’s gut, or rather she had been slammed into with something round and heavy; all the air left her lungs and she couldn’t think of the words she needed to say. She couldn’t feel. The black hole was back again, but bigger, scarier; it seemed to be sucking in all her capacity to live. Let Ben go… That’s what Ben said about Sam. But that was a dream…or is this a dream? Which was it?!
It seemed as though Sam had been talking the whole time, but Mandy had completely blocked it out at this point.
“Mandy!” he said, finally breaking her reverie. “I’m going to go back to work now—I don’t know what to tell them, or if they’ll write you up or fire you—I don’t mean to be harsh, but…I just can’t do this right now. You need more help, better help.”
Mandy leaned against the wall, staring blankly ahead without looking at him. Then a look of genuine sadness fell upon Sam’s face and he rushed to her to gather her in his arms. But it was brief, no matter how strong it was, and he let her go, grabbed the knife from the kitchen, though he wasn’t sure if that was going to do any good, and left the apartment.
Mandy stood speechless, her mind in circles. Which was which? As far as she was concerned, they were both nightmares. One where she loses Ben, the person she can’t seem live without. One where she loses Sam, the person she also can’t seem to live without. One leaves her and the other leaves—no!—dies, but from what? She couldn’t remember. Maybe if she could backtrack…
Mandy stood in the middle of her kitchen, focusing on the sink where her knife had been before Sam took it. What did she do with the knife? Cut her leg. What did she do before that? Eat Chinese leftovers. And after… Fortune cookie!
To her left, she saw the small, rectangular, white paper leaning up against the toaster. Exactly where she had tossed it the night before…or the nights before, Mandy wasn’t sure. She snatched up the fortune and read out loud: “Use your instincts now.”
Parking lot! It came to her like a flash and she remembered everything. Mandy dashed into her bedroom, threw on a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and some sneakers. She called a cab and as soon as it arrived, she bolted out the door and jumped in. The cab got to iAndroid later than Mandy would have expected for a cab driver, but nonetheless paid the cabbie, and got out. Mandy took a moment to calm herself, then scanned the parking lot. There were people already getting into their vehicles and leaving, but there was no sign of Sam.
You need to let him go, Mandy, she heard Ben say…or was it Sam. She couldn’t make sense of the voice. It sounded like both of them. Let him go…
“No,” she muttered through gritted teeth as she made her way to the office building.
Let go, Mandy…
“No, I must use my instincts—“ Mandy stopped midstride as she faced the building, people she worked with acknowledging her, but she didn’t see them as they walked by. “Now—“ The word was caught in her throat as she turned around to face the parking lot.
There, she saw Sam, making his way to his car. And there, she saw the other car pealing around the corner, in much too big a hurry to beat the rush.
“Sam!” she cried after him, running as fast as her frail body could take her. As she got closer, she began to recognize the shaggy brown hair and the lean, muscular frame that wasn’t Sam’s at all. Rather it was Ben’s.
What was he doing here? she thought. Her heart leapt up into her throat and she froze. Confusion and curiosity swept her mind and her pace slowed. Ben was walking towards Sam’s car. What was he doing here? Or maybe it wasn’t Sam’s car and maybe she was hallucinating. Or maybe the man who looked like Ben was just that, a look-alike, and that he had the same car as Sam.
Mandy was in the middle of the lot when she shouted, “Hey, you!” It was all she could seem to think of saying.
But it was too late. The man turned around and so did the car. The two collided, the man’s body flying only a meter, but was enough to bash his head against a cement block. Mandy felt the rush of bodies run past her to the accident, but she stayed. She thought she heard someone say It’s Michael, but she wasn’t sure.