With sudden courage, she jammed her elbow into the side of the intruder as hard as she could. The man rolled away from her, yowling in pain, while Mandy rolled the opposite direction onto the floor—not the most graceful way either.
“Baby!” the man cried, and Mandy couldn’t understand for the life of her why this stranger would dare call her that. “Baby, what are you doing?!”
And then it clicked. As she peered over the bed’s edge, she saw a familiar face. He was curled up in a ball; his shaggy brown hair, his skin unevenly tanned from working out in the sun, his medium frame bunching with lean muscles, his lips in a tight grimace—so familiar were those lips—a straight and pointed nose, and dark blue eyes peering back at her through thick lashes. She loved those eyes. They were her favorite.
“Ben!” Mandy cried. Her body felt as though it might explode and the sheer joy of it flung her body on top of the curled up man. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” she repeated over and over, kissing his stomach where she nailed him with her elbow—she forgot how hard of a stomach he had. But how could she forget her fiancé. How could she forget the love of her life! So she kept on kissing him, smothering him with her body until she reached his mouth, and then held on for dear-life as if she was breathing through him, the hole inside her vanishing.
Ben struggled underneath and was finally able to resurface after some gentle prying of fingers, arms and lips.
“Hold on there,” he gasped beneath her, “get a grip.” He pushed her face up to look at him, her long hair tangled and hanging above his face like a curtain.
“I’m so sorry!” she cried again, tears beginning to well-up, turning her eyes a bright green. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’m sorry—“
“Yeah, I got that,” Ben interrupted, “but that’s not what’s freaking me out. You’re acting like you didn’t even know I was there until you fell out of bed.”
“You weren’t. You were gone—I mean…” Mandy’s voice faded as she looked down at Ben, his dark blue eyes filled with concern, and he was really there, looking back up at her, the love in his eyes so obvious, so tangible through his fingertips brushing through her hair and up, gathering behind her head, as though he’d never left at all. Mandy just looked at him, soaking it up as much as she could, hoping this wasn’t a dream, knowing it couldn’t be because he felt so real. “I had a bad dream,” she finally said, “a very, very bad dream.”
“A dream that made me the bad guy,” Ben said, his famous crooked smile bending his mouth. She loved that smile! It made everything inside her melt and tingle. “You’re getting dangerous to sleep with.”
“No, no,” she said, shaking her head, her hair tickling Ben’s face playfully. “You weren’t a bad guy, you were…gone.” Saying the word made her sick, as though the black hole inside of her was waiting silently beneath all the sudden happiness. “You left me. Said you didn’t love me anymore. And we were fighting…” Now she began to remember. Her horrible dream. It all flooded back to her, almost too painfully, so she had to hold some of it back. Mandy told him of their fights, how they became more cruel and hurtful. There seemed to be nothing she could do to keep them from fighting. And her dream would loop with different scenarios, but she always seemed to choose the wrong one, the one where Ben left her, told her he’d changed his mind about marrying her, that he wanted to be apart from her, that she wanted too much to be apart of his life and he was annoyed with it.
So he left her alone and she couldn’t take it. She fell into a deep depression and couldn’t concentrate, started cutting herself, started taking therapy and medicine, that she totaled her car because she couldn’t think. She couldn’t feel either.
The look in Ben’s eyes frightened her as she told him this. There was deep concern and love, but something else underneath it, a strange wariness and possibly irritableness coming from him. But then Mandy might have imagined it, her own paranoia being enough for the two of them.
And then there was Sam. She’d made a friend and it seemed like they’d been friends for years. He was good to her and tried to help her through the loss—
“Sam?” Ben interrupted.
Mandy blinked, a taken aback by Ben’s recognition of the name. She didn’t think they knew a Sam. At least, she didn’t remember.
“You had a dream about Sam?” Ben began to sound more worried.
Mandy nodded curiously. “Yes?”
“Mandy, you need to stop indulging in this,” Ben said, the worry look drastically turning into annoyance.
It left Mandy indefinitely confused. “Indulging in what? Us breaking up?”
“No!” Ben almost shouted. He pushed Mandy up off of him and slid out of bed, stomping off towards the bathroom.
Mandy was dumbfounded sitting cross-legged in the pile of sheets. Finally, she was able to find her voice, frightened off by Ben’s sudden anger.
“I’m confused,” she said, her voice almost too quiet. “Why are you angry with me right now?”
She heard the toilet flush and Ben came back out standing at the foot of the bed, arms crossed, his face contorting between anger and distress. She hated this look. It made her feel so weak inside, as though all of her mental strength had been sucked out of her.
“Sam died, remember?” Ben spat. “He got hit by a car and died a year ago. How can you honestly act like you don’t remember? You were right there!”
She was right there, hovering over Sam’s body, crushed by the car that had ran into him, the driver crying that he didn’t see him, that he came out of nowhere. Sam, her best friend, second only to Ben, and maybe if she hadn’t been engaged to Ben, then maybe to Sam. In many ways, he knew her better than Ben did. Oh, yes, now she remembered.
She and Sam were leaving work and the two had said their goodbyes before splitting off to their cars. It was then that she heard the squealing. Spinning around to see where the sound had come from, she barely noticed Sam’s body flying two feet and smashing against another parked car…in the parking lot. Just like in her dream where she thought Sam would be hit and she’d have to use her instincts to save him. But nothing happened in her dream. The dream was about Ben…
“You need to go see Dr. White again,” Ben said, breaking her reverie. He was referring to her therapist, the one she had been seeing since Sam’s death. Glancing over to the bed table, she saw her bottle of “crazy” pills, as she called them. So that part wasn’t a dream.
Later that evening, Ben decided to take Mandy out to their favorite Chinese restaurant, a sort of apology for his outburst that morning, something that had successfully ruined the rest of Mandy’s day. Mandy, too, felt bad because she didn’t want to put Ben through this, her denial, her mental instability as she saw it.
So she decided to put on her best smile and most positive attitude. The two ate brown rice and fried garlic chicken, drank down a couple of mai tais, though Mandy wasn’t aloud to consume more than one alcoholic beverage on her “crazy” pills, and the couple was laughing and entwining fingers as if there was no earlier argument. The server came by with the check and laid two fortune cookies on top for their enjoyment.
Ben and Mandy fumbled with the plastic wrapping, laughing and teasing each other about how drunk “the other” was and “what nasty things” they’re going to do to each other when they get home. Ben cracked his cookie open and pulled out the small slip of white paper.
“You will win success in whatever calling you adopt,” Ben read the fortune out loud. And then he added, “…in bed. You hear that, baby? I’m gonna be verrrrry successful in bed…tonight.” He rolled his Rs and peered beneath his thick lashes at Mandy, his blue eyes sparkling. Whenever he gave her that look, Mandy blushed heavily and couldn’t look back. She loved that look.
Smiling shyly, she focused her attention on the cookie in her hand and cracked it open, pulling out the paper.
“Use your instincts now,” she recited.
“In bed!” Ben finished for her, laughing hysterically. “Oh, baby…” he growled.
Mandy felt herself smile and maybe even possibly laugh, but her insides immediately froze. The words seemed to glow at her, grab at her, and she couldn’t tear her eyes away. Why did she know that? And it struck her, like something solid punching her gut, knocking the air out of her lungs… How could she know that?! She dreamed of the same fortune, or what if it wasn’t a dream? What if she was dreaming now?
It wasn’t long before Ben realized the shock Mandy was in and, at once, he grew anxious. He hoped she wasn’t having a “moment,” as he likes to call them.
“Mandy, baby,” he said quietly, “what’s wrong?”
“I dreamed this,” she said flatly, her eyes never looking away from the fortune.
“What do you mean?”
“I dreamed this exact phrase, this exact fortune cookie,” she murmured, handing Ben the fortune. He seemed confused as to why this was a surprise to her. “It’s uncanny,” she continued, “but I know it’s the same phrase. I remember it too well.”
“Okay,” Ben interjected, his voice trembling with irritation, “so what’s the big deal? It’s just a fortune.”
“It’s a big deal because when I dreamed about opening this fortune cookie, and it said these exact words, the next day—in my dream—was the day Sam died, only he didn’t, I saved him…or at least…” Mandy’s voice trailed off. That wasn’t exactly it. Nothing happened in her dream, but she thought something would happen, so she used her…instincts?
“Mandy, I don’t wanna talk about his anymore,” Ben said, his voice suddenly very quiet and very stern. “I’m sorry about his morning. I know I was being inconsiderate, but you need to let it go. You need to let Sam go.”
Mandy looked up into Ben’s dark blue eyes, heavily shaded by his thick, brown lashes—she loved his eyes. They made her insides melt. And then she felt them come…the tears…filling her eyes, blinding her vision. She tried to concentrate, to keep everything happy inside her mind, to remind herself that she had Ben and they were together, and in love, and were getting married, that it wasn’t her fault that Sam died.
But they came anyway. She cried all the way home and all throughout the night. Ben wrapped his arms around her as they lay in bed, but she couldn’t stop and didn’t stop until she was completely asleep.
The next morning, Mandy awoke alone. She expected it, mostly because Ben had already left for the office. As she shuffled into the bathroom, she noticed how swollen and red her eyes were from crying so much. Ben was right and that she needed to get a hold of herself. It had been a year and that should have been a long enough to grieve.
She decided to surprise him during his lunch break and bring him his favorite: chicken fried rice.
It was a surprise, but Ben didn’t seem too happy to see her. She assumed it was because he was so tired from holding her all night long. Mandy flashed her brightest smile, after all, she was feeling much better today, and kissed him long and warmly…or at least she tried.
Ben kissed back, but pulled away quicker than she wanted. She hoped he wasn’t too angry with her for last night.
“I brought you Chinese,” Mandy said, smiling, setting the food down on his black metal desk, sleek and stylish just like he was.
“Thanks,” Ben said, smiling weakly.
“I’m sorry about last night,” Mandy blurted. Might as well get it over with, she thought.
“Me too,” Ben replied.
“That fortune-thing really got me,” Mandy continued, noticing Ben wanted to interject but raised a hand to stop him, “but I’m sorry. I know I’ve been so much—too much to handle. I’ve been so upset for too long and I promise…from now on, I am going to completely turn around and make sure—“
“I can’t,” Ben whispered.
“—that I will get all the help I need, that I will fix myself for good. I love you so much, and I can see now that I’m hurting you—us—“
“Mandy, I can’t.”
Mandy stopped short for a second, thinking she didn’t quite hear what Ben had muttered.
“Can’t?” she repeated. “Can’t what?”
“I can’t do this anymore—us, anymore,” he said, head down, slumping against the side of his desk. “I don’t know how to help you. I almost feel like you love Sam more than you love me—“
“What?! That is not—“
“Okay, so maybe that’s not it, but it doesn’t matter anymore,” Ben’s voice became stronger, more assertive. “I just can’t take it anymore! I can’t live like this…”
Suddenly, Mandy couldn’t find her voice anymore, neither her breath. She couldn’t move, staring blankly at Ben’s slumped form, his eyes refusing to look up. What was happening? She couldn’t believe it. She was losing Ben, the love of her life, the one thing holding onto her, keeping her from falling down the cliff of despair…and now he was letting go.
She wished to see his eyes, those sapphire gems one more time. But they didn’t look up. And all she could hear was her scream, as she fell down, yet her mouth never opened…