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Two strangers discover a veiled connection with one another and the intricacies of their link are revealed through the loss of a child, collapse of their marriages, lives and, ultimately, sanity. But beneath the surface there’s so much more…

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CHAPTER 1

“I love you, Megan.”

“Lana. My name’s Lana,” she growled, giving out an exasperated hiss that stung my ears through the receiver.

“I’m sorry… I’m just over worked,” I explained, staring guiltily at my empty in-bin.

“No you’re not, Josh,” she stated, letting white noise take the mike. Ten-Mississippi. “I don’t know who she is, but I pray to shit you can at least get her name right.”

“Meg—Lana… there isn’t anyone else, I promise you that.”

“That promise is a lie you can keep.”

She hung up before I could speak, before I could explain. The heartbeat of the now vacant line echoed through my cubicle. Beep… beep… beep… Fuck. My mouth was open—cow-caught-in-the-headlights style. I put the phone down and realized I was out. I didn’t see it coming. Somehow I was under the distinct impression that we were happy. What does that say about me?

“Mrs. Larrenberg?” I heard a man say in a crisp anal-retentive tone. I stopped to turn until I’d turned enough to stop. Uncle Sam was at my doorstep. Two of him, to be exact. Right side: buzz cut, full-out uniform, flag-bearing, all- American. Wrong side: same as the right.

“Nnnnno,” I replied, squinting to try and deter the intense gaze of GI Joe.

“Ma’am, we regret to inform you that your husband colonel, Maxwell Larrenberg was killed last night defending his country.”

“That’s terrible. Oh, wait. I’m not married… and I’m a man.”

“He fought very bravely. We present you with this flag in his honor,” Right Side stated as Wrong Side approached my desk to lay a freshly ironed American flag upon my keyboard.

“Guys, I don’t want to have to call security. Mainly because I’ve never done it before and I don’t care to learn how.”

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Right Side said comfortingly, before he and his companion marched out of sight.

I turned to look at the silky flag gracing my office with a variance of color beyond the customary green post-its. I frowned, letting feeling show— rare for me, since I was reared under the emotional devastation act of piss-poor parenting. I wheeled my chair inch-by-inch towards the opening in my cubicle so I could see down the man-made hallway of my co-workers and catch a final glimpse of the army putting tax dollars to good use. But they were gone and, as I swiveled back to face my desk once more, so was the flag.

CHAPTER 2

“I remember being born,” I confessed, gazing into the bland tiles of a tanned ceiling. The leather upholstery of the couch I lay upon creaked and moaned. The ticking of an antique grandfather clock reminded me that I was on the meter and that no revelation or sanctuary was free.

“That’s highly unlikely, Josh… perhaps it was a dream, or maybe you’ve confused one memory for another,” my shrink told me, agreeable and sympathetic only so far as to get paid.

“No, this is the real deal,” I muttered, tucking my elbows to my sides so that I could rest my hands upon my chest. “It was black at first. Quiet. I don’t know how I was feeling, or anything,” I stated, preempting her incessant questioning of how I felt. “Then, I remember… opening my eyes… and hearing… a heartbeat.”

“Whose heart beat?”

“I don’t know… my mother’s… the doctor’s, maybe. But it was loud. Like the exaggerated pitch you get from one of those machines that registers the beat as a series of spikes, you know?” I explained, guiding my eyes along the lines of the room—one connecting to another.

“An ECG?”

“Yeah, that’s it.”

“Then what happened?” she asked, feeding my time into her assertion that I liked to talk about myself.

“Everyone was staring at me and I didn’t know why,” I detailed, falling into memory enough to feel a whisper of emotion. “After the black faded, everything was white and there were lots of people in the room. Some were wearing hospital jackets, while others were strapped into beds with tubes running in and out of them. There were large, complex machines all around and I remember… I tried to move, but they held me down. They stuck a needle in me and… nothing… that’s all I remember,” I groaned, rubbing my eyes, as a residual headache crept into my skull.

“Why don’t you tell me what’s really bothering you, Josh,” she said as encouragingly as she could fake. Clearly, my earliest memories weren’t interesting enough for her. Shrinks are like magic eight balls; only they’re the ones asking the questions.

“What’s really bothering me, huh? What’s really bothering me…” I repeated, using my rambling as a devise to conjure up an answer. “I… fuck, I don’t know. Lana left me.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. What happened?”

“You’re asking the wrong guy,” I mumbled, pausing, as it was the first time I’d truly admitted the breakup to anyone, including myself.

“Have you spoken to her about it?”

“I tried. But she’s pretty mad at me… she thinks I’m seeing another woman.”

“Why does she think that?”

“It’s complicated.”

“Pray tell.”

Sigh—not of relief. Putting it into words meant a concrete understanding of what happened and how I felt. Not bloody likely. I had my thick crust of denial oozing contempt, gushing regret. Or, at least, that’s how I thought of it… unfortunately, the capacity to feel was beyond me. But somehow I knew I’d loved Lana—her smell, her smile. And now my prick of a therapist was prodding me with her over-inflated ego to try and scare up some answers. Shoot the messenger, return to sender.

“The court didn’t assign me to you to solve my marital problems,” I snapped, coughing to clear any sign of irreverence from my tone. She adjusted herself in her seat—uncomfortable with either what I’d said, or what she’d have to say. We were both acting here.

“I know perfectly well why you were assigned to me. Just as you know the consequences of failing to cooperate,” she stated firmly. She didn’t like me—at all. I leaned my head back to see her sitting down, standing her ground. I smiled. Mental reminder: two more months with this bitch, and you’re free.

“Fine,” I exclaimed. “But like I said, it’s complicated; so if you keep butting in with that ‘how do you feel’ crap it’ll take forever.”

“Watch it, Josh.”

“The obvious answer is that, on more than one occasion, at less than ideal times, I’ve called her Megan.”

“Who’s Megan?”

“I don’t know. The only Megan I’ve ever met choked to death half-way through a pie-eating contest,” I explained, sinking deep into memory to try and unearth an epiphany. “But that’s not why she left me…” I realized, the fluidity of my thoughts becoming apparent as I vomited them out.

“Then why did she leave you?”

“I don’t know… I’ll have to ask her,” I sighed, sitting up as the clock chimed-in to set me free. “Not that I wouldn’t love to stay and chat, but I’ve got misery to tend to,” I said sarcastically, sliding on my coat.

She uncrossed her legs and stood up to show me to the door. She wore an old grey suit that might have looked nice to anyone with taste. I watched her unflinching determination to be as professional as she could, while dealing with someone as utterly intolerable as myself. But I liked to think she was capable of recognizing that my distaste for her wasn’t personal, it was circumstantial. That, under my petulant remarks, there was some degree of favor. Who knows? Had we met any other way, and been completely different people, it might have been true.

Continued in Reverie