Dan looked at his bed and the beer in his hand. He went back out into the living room and looked at his front door. He checked all the locks and walked back to the bedroom. “This is stupid,” he said. Dan couldn’t bring himself to sleeping in his bed, so he went to the recliner and pushed back, downing the beer in one long pull and placing it next to the three others. The clink made him jump a bit, but then he settled back down. Jorge had a lucky guess. Jorge saw the dark circles under Dan’s eyes, the way Dan was sluggish. It was obvious that Dan hadn’t been sleeping. Yeah, and when Dan himself was shitfaced he could throw bull’s-eyes repeatedly while blindfolded, not.
Dan struggled to keep his eyes open, but knew it was a losing battle. Now the idea of being too drunk to dream didn’t sound so good.
That lucid dream feeling penetrated Dan’s drunken stupor. He didn’t want to open his eyes, but he could feel Sean’s presence in front of him.
“Playing possum won’t help you, you know. When I come to you, you can’t ignore me. I won’t let you,” Pastor Sean said.
Dan still refused to open his eyes, but couldn’t help himself. “Someone got up on the pompous ass side of the bed this morning.”
Dan could feel Sean lean close to his face. “You still think this is a game?” Sean asked.
“The least you could have done is brush your teeth,” Dan replied. “Your breath is atrocious. Must be all that human flesh you eat.”
Sean slapped Dan across the face, slamming Dan’s head to the right. “I think tonight I find out what makes you you. Then I will unmake you step by step. I will domesticate you.”
Dan spit out the blood in his mouth in Sean’s direction, his eyes still closed. “Sorry there bud. I’ve never learned how to cook.”
Dan heard a scraping sound from somewhere in front of him.
“What an ugly thing,” Sean gloated. “Only something a father could love.”
Dan almost opened his eyes right then and there, but wanted to maintain some control. He focused on his center assuming that this is only a dream. He deeply hoped that he was right. He really loved that ugly vase.
“I bet you have some good stuff in here,” Sean said. Dan could hear Sean shake the vase. “Let’s look inside, shall we?”
Dan laughed. “Unless you’re looking for the remote or the church key then you’re out of luck,” Dan said.
“I think I just found something more interesting,” Sean purred. “Let’s see.”
The back seat of the old Camaro was pretty tight, especially as he and Agatha were almost horizontal. The chill air of late November fogged the windows, helping with the mood of there only being the two of them in the whole wide world. Agatha’s shirt was already cooling off in the front seat and her bra was somewhere among his shirt on the floor below them. He directed kisses up and down her body, each quiver from Agatha sending electrical shocks through his body. Everything felt so right. His hands began to drift lower, rubbing her skirt, shifting it ever higher. She realized what he was doing and began to seize up. He stopped and returned to her breasts and lips. He felt her wariness evaporate as he kept showing her how much he wanted this moment, wanted her.
“I love you,” he said. She moaned in pleasure from hearing him say it again. Her tongue sought his, her kisses as deep and passionate as his were. She had wants as well. She was telling him that.
“I love you too,” Agatha breathed as they broke the kiss.
Those words spurred him on. Kissing her neck, nibbling lower, listening to her breathing, her moans and half formed words, trying to give her all he could, all that he was. He shifted his lower body, grinding against hers, feeling hers respond, then Aggie began shutting it off. He bent to kiss her again, but she pushed him off.
“We can’t, I won’t,” Agatha said. She looked around for her bra. “That’s for after we’re married. It’s wrong and dangerous.”
“Dangerous? How can something so good be that bad?” he asked.
“We’re not ready to be parents,” she said.
“But we love each other,” he pleaded.
She shook her head. “That doesn’t change the rules. I would be going against who I am, what I believe.”
“You don’t believe in us?” he asked.
That question stopped her in her tracks. He leaned in and gave her a kiss on her cheek. “I know that I want to,” Dan said.
“But what about what God wants?” she asked
He realized he was treading on unstable ground, but he loved her so bad. He wanted to prove it to her. “Why did God give us this chance to be together?”
“As a test,” she said.
“So passing would mean denying who we are?” Dan asked.
“Sacrifice is sometimes needed,” Agatha responded
He let that one hang in the air.
“It’s not that I don’t want to,” Agatha continued, “but I promised myself that I would wait.”
“So if we got married right now that would make you happy?” Dan asked.
Agatha sputtered. “Are you crazy? We can’t do that?”
Dan looked Agatha in the eyes. All the playfulness was gone. It was replaced with the most serious face Dan had ever worn. “I, Dan Cunningham take you, Agatha Crisp, to be my wife to cherish and hold in good times and bad, until death makes us part.”
Agatha held very still, tears welling up in her eyes. “Are you sure about this?”
He felt so sure, there was nothing he wanted more in this moment. He couldn’t bring himself to say anything. He just put all his love out there and waited.
Agatha looked at her hands where there should have been a ring. He thought that’s it, no chance now.
Agatha lifted her head and looked into his eyes. “I, Agatha Crisp, take you, Dan Cunningham to be my husband, through sickness and health, in richness and poorness, to follow where you lead, till death do us part.”
Dan was overcome with joy. He kissed her gently at first, than harder, with the urge to show her how much he loved her, how much he wanted her.
Soon things were happening almost too fast to register. Her panties on the floor of his car, him inside, their need pushing them on desire, wanting, love pouring from every inch of their combined bodies.
Resting afterwards he pushed a stray lock of hair from her face. She smiled at him and kissed his hand. Contentment with what they had done, where the universe was at that moment, washed over the two of them as they cuddled in the darkness. He thought how perfect this all is.
Dan’s eyes snapped open and he growled. “Stay out of my head,” he said. Sean didn’t even look up from the vase. He pulled out another picture and looked at it. Dan got out of the chair and Sean flicked his wrist and threw the picture between them.
“I can’t come over. I…” he paused, trying to figure how to say it, “I’ve decided to join the marines.”
“Why?” Agatha asked, tears evident in her voice, even over the phone.
“I want to be able to provide for you and our baby,” he responded. He put another shirt into his duffle bag.
“But why do you need to go into the marines? My dad said he could get you a job at the plant.” Agatha was on a roll now. “You’d have to work the night shift at first, but it pays good and the benefits.”
He didn’t want to go down this road, but she started it. “I want it to be me who does this. The other feels like it’s still your dad and I’m just following along.”
Agatha laughed harshly. “You can be so stubborn sometimes.”
He tried to lighten the mood. “That’s why you love me.”
“So when do we get married?” Agatha almost snapped his neck with this change of direction.
“I think when I get somewhere a bit more stable?” He didn’t mean for it to come out as a question. She had him running now.
“What’s more stable?” Agatha asked. “Having me with you, or leaving me behind?”
He decided to go for a different track. “But do you want to have the baby at some base away from family and support?”
“So you won’t take the job from my dad, but you expect his support for the baby.” She was hot now. Hot and looking for the fight.
He hated the arguing and missed the nights cuddling under the stars. “I’m going to send almost all of my paycheck to you. I don’t want you to have to get money from your folks. I want to do you good.”
“Then what support do I need from my family?” Agatha asked.
“I just figured you would want your mom and sister around to help, especially right after the baby is born,” Dan said.
“But what about the baby’s father?”
That question slapped him across the face. He couldn’t answer that. Not now. “I am going to visit my grandfather for the next two weeks before shipping out.”
“So you’re abandoning us?” she asked. The tears were flowing now. He was so glad he was on the phone and didn’t go to see her. That would have been worse, for both of them. It’s better this way.
“No Aggie. This is just for a bit, until I get through basic and get stationed. Then I’ll send for you and the baby, and we can get married.” Silence greeted him from the other side of the phone. He decided to press on. “Save part of the money I send you. We can use it for the wedding then.” The silence was still there, broken only by stifled sobs. “I love you.”
“I love you too,” a little voice said. It tore at his heart, almost made him change his mind. This was the best plan though. He’d thought about it for a couple of days now, and it made perfect sense.
Agatha almost whispered, “I just…”
He couldn’t help himself. “What Aggie?”
“Never mind. If you really think this is best I have to trust you. I took an oath to follow, even if it means staying behind. I just love you so much.”
“I love you too,” he said. “I’ve really got to get going. I’ll call you every week. I promise, except during basic. They don’t let us contact the outside.”
“You do what you need to. I’ll be waiting for you. Till death do us part.” There was a resolve in her voice that frightened and shamed him.
Dan blinked away the memory as Sean walked around the table to stand next to him. “My goodness,” said Sean, “You do have some juicy moments around here. I wonder what else you have hidden around here.”
“Why are you doing this?” asked Dan, already trying to find his center.
Sean took a couple of steps away and looked at a picture of Ruthie when she was five. She had two bloody knees, but a proud look on her face as she peddled he bicycle without the training wheels. Agatha looked a bit pale, but she had a matching proud look in her eyes. Sean looked up form the picture. “Because I can. Some people say it’s impolite to play with your food, but I look at it differently. You are now part of my flock and I am your shepherd. The problem is people make shitty sheep. A shepherd wants his sheep to be docile and follow his voice.”
“I can see where that would be a problem,” Dan interrupted.
That didn’t really stop Sean. “I like it when my sheep realize their place. Makes the shepherd’s life, my life, easier.” He took out a cigarette and without lighting it placed it in his mouth. The cigarette lit on its own.
“This is a no smoking building,” quipped Dan.
Sean blew smoke at Dan. The smoke took on the shape of a dragon, blue eyes glowing from its demonic face. “This is your broken ass dream. If I want to smoke I will.”
Dan picked up a magazine and waved it dispelling the smoke dragon back to formless smoke. “I hate to rush your stupid diatribe, but is this the part where you put me in my place or are you going to talk me back to sleep?”
Sean laughed. “I will like breaking your will as I suck the soul right out of you.”
“I hope I give you heartburn,” Dan said as he lunged out and landed a strike to Sean’s stomach. Sean folded over and Dan tried to connect with a knee to Sean’s face, but Sean danced out of the way.
Sean grew to three times his size and the ceiling overhead broke and gave way sending plaster cascading down like heavy snow. The open ceiling exposed a white nothingness beyond. Seeing the damage, Dan’s head felt like it was going to explode, and he fell to his knees due to the pain. Sean grabbed Dan in one large hand and lifted him clear off the floor. Sean squeezed and Dan could only emit a helpless yelp. Sean threw Dan across the apartment. He hit the back wall with a dull thud and collapsed into a ball on the floor.
Sean shrunk back down to normal. “Now that’s a little better.” Sean looked at the damage to the apartment and laughed. “I think you need more remodeling.” Sean pointed at the nothingness and pulled it towards him through the hole and into the apartment.
Dan rolled back and forth, pain pushing into him, permeating his entire being and he felt sanity begin to slip away a bit. He tried his entering technique, fighting through the pain haze. Little by little the pain subsided, and as he pushed it away the whiteness began to leave the apartment.
Sean released his hold on the white nothingness and leapt over the couch. He charged Dan, kicking Dan in the face and flipping him onto his back. Dan looked up at the hatred in Sean’s eyes. “Cute trick,” Sean said. Dan’s vision was then blocked by Sean’s fist punching him in the face. “Try that again and I will just kill you.”
Dan checked his nose and saw blood. He smiled a bit punch drunkenly. “Killing your meal ticket doesn’t seem very smart, does it?”
Sean turned away disgusted and walked over to the shelves. He looked at the trophies and picked one. “This is the first trophy you ever won in martial arts.”
Dan propped himself up on his elbow. “What of it?”
Sean snapped the trophy in half. Dan felt the memory fracture. Sean crushed the trophy into bits and placed them back on the shelf. Dan realized he could remember bits and pieces of his first tournament victory, but nothing was clear. It was all garbled. Sean grabbed a ribbon he had one for marksmanship at the precinct. Sean snapped his fingers and the ribbon caught fire and was consumed in seconds. Dan could feel the memory turning to smoke in his head. Soon he couldn’t remember what it was he had been thinking about.
Sean picked up another trophy, one that Ruthie had won in Buffalo her third year in Tae Kwon Do. “Wait, don’t,” Dan pleaded. He didn’t understand what was happening, but he didn’t want to forget more. “Please.”
Sean smiled. “I’m glad I finally have your attention.” Sean collapsed the trophy into a pancake between his hands. He tossed the distorted disk in front of Dan. “Let’s see what kind of sheep you’ll be now.”
Dan heard Sean walk away, but his eyes stayed glued to the disk and the garbled memory that it was attached to. Dan grabbed the disk and clutched it to his chest trying to remember.
Before going out the broken door Sean turned back and said, “Sweet dreams. Till tomorrow night.” Sean laughed as he crossed the threshold and was gone.
Dan could feel tears start to run down his face. All he could think is what the hell just happened to me as dreamless sleep tore him away from his waking nightmare.