“Don’t Dream, It’s Over”
Losing someone you love is a devastating experience, and even after decades of weathering life’s travails, the human body is a terribly fragile creation. Grief is the embodiment of stress, emotional strain, and the body reacts adversely. The immune system may be compromised, a heart condition exacerbated. Couple overwhelming grief with a physical weakness and suddenly “dying of grief” doesn’t seem like a cheesy plot from a Hollywood release anymore. Perhaps it’s truly the side effects of grief and not the grief itself that kill, but the root cause and end result are the same.
Heartbreak was what had killed Jahn’s father, no matter what medical mumbo jumbo and ‘real’ diagnosis the doctors gave. Both of his sons knew this; it stood to reason for them because their mother had passed away abruptly a month before. One day as healthy as any man of advanced age, the next crippled by the loss of his wife of forty years. Robert Halvers had followed Renatta Halvers into the dark, because he simply couldn’t bear to be without her. Neither son faulted him for it, as the man’s devotion to their mother had always been a cornerstone of family life.
Between bouts of unconsciousness, Jahn stared at the blank tiles of the ceiling with far less than half-interest. Thoughts of his father continued to hound him, a surety that his old man’s fate would be his own. Did it matter? The lights had gone out. There was nothing left but bleakness and waiting. A pall had descended over his world and painted it black, that which was left cast in shadows.
Faces swam and out of existence, talking to him in conversations he didn’t really remember. Roger, and surprisingly, his wife. Mary Reed. His boss, a few friends from work. Greg and Amy. Andrea. His… fiancées… friends and co-workers, people he’d met maybe once and barely knew. What were they doing here? Every pair of eyes seemed to bore into him, full of concern and understanding, silently assuring him that they were there for him, that he could take as much time as needed to get better and come back, safe and whole
Safe and whole. He’d lost two-thirds of himself, and the remainder was a heart attack victim in a hospital bed. Safe. He’d paint the word in sarcasm if he could muster anything more than dull apathy. Roger’s visits were the only real light, the one thing he felt like staying awake for, though the cheery pep-talks he offered didn’t infuse him with strength. “Rest, bro. All you need is time.”
Jahn hadn’t been able to help his response, his bleakness spilling over into the room around him. “Why bother? Dad had it right.”
Shocked into silence by the suicidal overtones of his brother’s response, Roger only stared at him, horrified. Strange, thought Jahn as his brother stalked out of the room, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him cry before. Voices from the hallway told him that his brother hadn’t gone far, was talking with a woman there. A nurse? No, Jahn recognized the voice – Mary Reed. Angry about something, but didn’t she have a right to be? Both of her daughters, who she’d raised to become lovely, talented young women, were dead in a traffic wreck, of all things. Her grandchild - his child. There were specifics, but the only words he recalled were ‘car’ and ‘accident’. The woman’s voice was rising. Incredulity? Rage? Something else? (doesn’t) (know) Words come to him like chunks through a straw.
Mary moved into the room with dread purpose, his brother close on her heels, but Jahn couldn’t muster the enthusiasm anymore, and simply stared at the ceiling.
When she reached the bed, she leaned down, fists burrowing into the mattress and hissed, “Jahn.” She was angry at him. That’s right, he’d failed to protect her girls. Maybe she’d cut his balls off now.
A light slap to the side of his face got his attention and he turned his head to her reproachfully. Was that really the best she could do? He deserved worse.
“Listen to me. Jen and Fiona are _alive_.”
All those friends and co-workers aren’t here for _you_, they’re here for _them_.
Just stopping by for a friendly word and well-wishing, that’s all they were doing in your room. Realization hit him like an enervating electrical current.
Light that he couldn’t recall being on the ceiling before seemed to burst with radiance, blinding him with intensity as the shock of realization washed over him like a hose full of cold water.
Alive? Alive. Alive. Alivealivealivealivealivealivealivealivealive… Breath expelled itself from him in ragged measure, but there was no pain like before. Only
“I want to see them,” he insisted angrily to the pretty young nurse, who looked anxiously in turn at the doctor. “Either give me a goddamn reason why not, or get Mary Reed and explain it to her. Bullshit on my heart, I’m only still here because I _thought_ they were dead.”
“You really need to res-” The nurse says, but the doctor… Standish? Stanton? cuts her off. “I can arrange that, but you need to talk to Mrs. Reed first.”
Mary was pushed a wheelchair into his room within minutes of being called on, but she intercepted him before he could get up. Not a difficult task – a week of immobility seemed to have atrophied his legs and there was a weakness in him.
Concern in her brown eyes, she touched her silver hair in a gesture of nervousness. “Jahn, they _are_ alive, but you need to understand that it’s bad. The car was totaled, and both girls were terribly hurt. They’re… stable… but they are comatose.”
At the widening of his eyes, she gave him a curt wave that was probably meant to forestall his fear. “The doctors have every expectation that they’ll recover and that the comas will be temporary. Still… the damage. Can you stand it? Your heart, I mean?”
With grim determination, he assured her that his heart was not a problem… because Jen and Fiona were alive, and that made all the difference.
Mary was right about the damage.
Fiona had been driving, and was on the side that was first struck by the passing vehicle. Her left arm and leg had been broken, and she’d nearly lost that eye as well when the driver’s side window had collapsed. She wouldn’t lose it, but it had been a close thing, and she’d taken extensive damage from shards. These wounds would heal, her beautiful brunette locks would grow back despite the necessary shaving for stitches, but she would never get the last two fingers on her left hand back. His heart ached for her, and the loss of that ring finger felt like an omen.
Jen… “The baby?” he asked, terribly afraid for the blonde. Despite her initial fears, she’d begun to enjoy the pregnancy, looking eagerly to the day their child would be born. Jahn knew she’d make a wonderful mother, and the loss could hurt her far more badly than any physical injury.
“As far as the doctors can tell, alive and whole, but an extended coma could change that.”
That was… something. A chance. Those physical hurts she’d suffered had been smaller in scale than Fiona’s. No permanent damage, though she’d taken similar breaks on her right arm and leg from the roll of the car, and retained a number of scars from the broken glass.
All of this could heal.
The two women had been given separate rooms at first, but the hospital had honored Mary’s request to give them a shared room once their conditions had become more stable. Their mother had taken up her own watch between the girls when visiting hours allowed, and with only a little reluctance, gave up her spot to him. He needed this, and so did they, she felt.
As Jahn sat, he slipped one hand into Jen’s, the other into Fiona’s, and thought about what the future held for them now. He didn’t know; nothing seemed quite as certain as when the trio had sat down together on that November day and told each other what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives. Talking aloud anyway, he spoke to his fiancées (so vulnerable, so helpless, so hurt) (i couldn’t do anything for them). Talking about the future and how this didn’t change anything, that they’d still have each other and the rest of their lives together. As much love-making as Jen could possibly want, as many long walks and deep conversations as Fiona desired, if only they’d wake, and come back to him. He probably sounded like a pervert, but didn’t care.
On one level, he was aware just how pitiful, how pathetic and melodramatic he must sound to the nurses and others present, bargaining with higher powers for the lives of his lovers, begging them to come back to him, but on the other, he was simply apathetic to outsiders. Jahn wasn’t sure he believed in any god, didn’t know if recovery really meant a miracle, but he would do anything, be anyone he needed do, be as good a person as he needed to be, if only to ensure they came back to him from whatever purgatory they were now in. Religious dogma, hell. He’d be righteous. ***
Burdened with a heavy heart, but no longer the weight of two worlds, he left with Mary the next day, pronounced healthy by his doctor, given all the proper counseling and discharged. Assurances were made that he could visit any time he liked, within reason.
It was odd, but the first thing he noticed when he got home was the darkened house across the street, no car in the driveway. That was unusual, because the occupant always seemed to be home, pottering in his garage or working in his yard, a light always on to signal that there was someone in. Perhaps the recession was the cause, out of work.
A suspicion of something tugged at his mind all night, and when he noticed that same emptiness across the street while getting into the car the next day, he stared over his shoulder at it for a moment then turned to Mary.
“What was the name of the driver who ran Fiona and Jen off the road?”
Mrs. Reed shrugged the question off dismissively. “It was some worthless drunk who was killed when they went over into the ditch. I never thought to ask. Didn’t seem important, with you three in the hospital.” Quick to intuit the source of his curiosity, she widened her eyes in recognition. “You don’t think…”
“I don’t know, it’s just a suspicion.”
With trembling hands, Mary dialed the hospital, waiting to be connected to his fiancées’ doctor, waiting even longer to be connected to someone who could actually answer the question. As she listened, her skin turned an unhealthy, blotchy shade of white. With a mumbled ‘thank you,’ she hung up.
Turning to him, she said hoarsely. “Joseph Margrave.” Jahn’s hands clenched on the steering wheel, and the world shuddered around him slightly. It was a long while before they drove anywhere.***
Whatever problems his heart might have, a little righteous outrage was the least of them, but Mary wouldn’t hear of him leaving without her once she found out he was going to confront Donovan. Their ride was one of deathly silence.
A cold, sterile line of phone booths waited for Jahn, and he sat at one under the guard’s direction, impotent rage boiling over. Donovan strode in, bearing that characteristic cold visage, but this time Jahn simply did. not. care. Must have shown on his face, because Donovan seemed taken aback by his expression, and the huge man’s confidence shook even further when he saw Mary standing behind his daughter’s fiancée looking every bit a woman of compassionless iron.
Demands for information spilled out of his mouth the moment he picked up the handset. “The hell are you doing here, and why’s Mary with you? Where’s Jenny?
“Why’d you do it, Donovan?” Jahn asked, willing himself to be as cold as Mary. “Did you decide she’d just get over losing Fiona? Oops, a little accident to ensure she had the _right_ future?”
Anger showed on the man’s face, and he said, a touch of hysteria in his words, “Where’s my daughter, you little prick?”
“Shut the fuck up. Was it because Jen was pregnant, and you decided to make sure that wouldn’t happen with her sister?” Donovan flinched, as if slapped, and it occurred to him that the only way Donovan might have known her pregnancy is if one of his former watchers had told him. It was on their ‘to do’ list, but November had been such a busy month…
“Jenny’s pregnant?” There was a touch of warmth for his little girl in the words, but it was overshadowed by the increasing fear on the man’s huge face.
“It’s up in the air,” Jahn said, biting off his words bitterly. “Your buddy Margrave ran her sister off the road. Jen happened to be in the car.”
Donovan’s eyes went wide with horror, and he looked to Mary for confirmation. No pity in her dark brown eyes, she simply nodded curtly, cold and passionless. Jahn had never seen a man breaking down, wouldn’t have counted his own heart attack as such, and knew as it happened to the behemoth in front of him that he never wanted to see it again. Like crumbling stone, the anger and fear slid off the bullish man’s face, leaving behind a tableau of abject grief and what Jahn was sure was self-hatred. The sobbing noise that came through the phone, followed by a lost voice that reminded him painfully of Jen.
“Ish she d-dead? T-tell me she ain’t!”
He could have left the man hanging like that, left him to dwell on his panic and fear, wondering whether his beloved little girl was alive or dead. Jen might never forgive him for that, though, and he wasn’t sure he could forgive himself either. There were some lines… still, he had to know.
“I’ll tell you, but you have to talk to me first. Why’d you do it?”
A flicker of something like anger shone briefly in Donovan’s bright blue eyes, but it was gone in a flash, overwhelmed by whatever demons lurked in his head. “Y-yer wrong. I didn’ have nothing-”
“Don’t give me that,” Jahn spat out, righteous rage renewed. “I did what you said, got a paper. You went to prison for your friends, right? They were watching the girls for _you_,and wouldn’t have done anything without your say-so. Fuck, Margrave has even been watching them since they were children.”
“Ish… Thass Joe M-margrave. Not Bill. S’in Destinashun Pure-ty, ‘n famly, but he’s not one’a us.”
Time seemed to stop in Jahn’s head for a moment, and he recalled something Fiona had once said about Margrave.
He used to run off kids that gave Jen a hard time. Not Fiona, just Jen. Donovan’s daughter was the only one Joseph Margrave had been watching out for, because he didn’t really _owe_ Donovan anything like an extended understanding of the idea that hurting Jen’s half-sister might hurt her as badly in an emotional way as any physical damage. A favor for family, the friend of a family member who happened to be in the same Purity group. Was that the reason for his perpetually sour disposition? The little half-breed girl across the street? What had set him off? Second hand news of a polygamous wedding with a white man’s girl and that little mixed blood number? Fucking outrageous, right?
Or maybe it was none of the above. Maybe he’d just seen Fiona driving past, hadn’t noticed Jen with her, and in an alcohol-induced fit of anger, tried to run her off the road. Jahn had no idea. Margrave was dead, and had taken his secrets to the grave. Margrave-grave, he thought disjointedly.
Jahn had made a mistake, a critical one. Other than Jake Edwards, Donovan’s ‘neighborhood watch’ buddies weren’t the real problem. It was Destination Purity. There was overlap, close friends who were members of both, but then… family and friends changed the parameters. Where did one end, and the other begin? Was it a snake chewing its own tail, a danger to anyone that wandered near its coils?
Staring numbly at the surface of the table in front of him, Donovan didn’t look up when Jahn spoke. “It never ends, until you put a stop to it. Jen’s alive, the doctors say she’ll probably be fine, but this… organization, may cost our baby’s life.” The bullish man looked up, tears glistening on his face. “There’s too much going on here. I don’t understand how your people work, what drives them. I don’t know which, if any, might try to kill Fiona again if they get through this intact. You have to make this right,” Jahn told him.
“I … don’t know if I c-can.”
“Those men owe you their lives. Their families owe you for their freedom. You fucking well can tell them that Destination Purity, whatever you think it stands for, nearly killed the only thing you had left. Whatever they stand for, they need to rein in the hate, before someone who doesn’t deserve it gets killed. End it here.”
Jahn set down the phone and walked away. Too caught up in his own anger and anxiety, he didn’t catch the speech between Donovan and his diminutive ex-wife, but whatever she said, it was not an even exchange. The man’s posture stiffened, his features shifting from a grief-stricken mess to stark fear. Whatever she’d said, it was enough.***
The week passed in a haze, daily visits to the hospital, time spent but not wasted in the only company that mattered. Mary had convinced him to start working again, and he found some comfort in that. Crunching data helped relieve the crushing sense of loneliness and worry that came when he wasn’t with his fiancées, his two best friends, the women who would someday be the mothers of his children.
Thunderous knocking sounded on the door of the Reed house that night, and when Jahn looked through the window, he knew the mess wasn’t quite over. Several cars had rolled up, and rather than continuing on past, they had stopped here, a small crowd of maybe a dozen people assembling outside his door. Thank you for being here, Mary, he thought. Having a witness might give them pause. There was nothing to do, but open the door. Mary rose up behind him.
“Jahn Halvers?” A wiry little man with a heavy moustache and cap was the first to speak, and he couldn’t help but be reminded of Mario, sans potbelly.
Steeling his resolve, Jahn nodded, eyeing the crowd. Mostly men were in the group, and surprisingly a few women. There was a strange sense of recognition for a few of the faces, as if he’d regularly seen them in passing and immediately forgotten them. “That’s me. Am I looking at Donovan’s … Watch buddies, or Destination Purity?”
“Some of both,” said Mario, who promptly destroyed the gamer mystique by introducing himself as Walter Declan, and offering a hand. Jahn wanted nothing less than to shake hands with the man, but took it anyway.
“You all here to give me some of what Greg got? Should I make arrangements with the hospital?”
A burly fellow behind Declan spoke up angrily, “He fucking had it coming, putting his hands on my boy.” No point in antagonizing the man with all his friends around, but Jahn gave him a withering stare anyway, and to his surprise, some of the men and women around him did as well. Friends and family came first, but they knew about Amy, thought he should have raised his boy better than that. Randall Edwards shut up, face flushing.
“That’s not what we’re about, kid. It never was.” A tall man, somewhat heavy-set, to Declan’s right, spoke. He looked familiar, and Jahn would bet that he was William Margrave. “My brother knew better than that, knew we aren’t the goddamn KKK. We look out for our friends, but we don’t go burning crosses and intimidating folks, and we sure as _hell_ don’t go killing or even hurting little girls. That’s the old ways, wrong ways. Certain other … incidents notwithstanding. Drinking and the stupidity of youth is a bad mix.”
“Hate’s just fine, though, right?” Jahn said, voice thick with sarcasm. “Filled him up with plenty of that until it spilled right over. Consequences be damned. What happens next? Who goes off half-cocked and tries to kill us when I marry the Reeds?”
There was a little angry muttering from one of the women about that, but Declan, another skinny guy behind him, and William Margrave were clearly running the show, most of the men nodding agreement when they spoke. Margrave had been the only one mentioned by name, but he’d bet the other two were involved in the murder. Did they actually regret what they’d done? Had it really just been some stupid, drunken incident triggered by uninhibited, uncontrolled bigotry?
“Like I said, that’s not how we operate. We find ways to work within the law now. My brother was wrong, and he paid for it with his life. Donovan paid for everybody. We have no quarrel with you, or his daughter, or the girl’s half-sister. We came here to tell you that, so that you know it ends here. Donovan’s Watch is done, and Destination Purity is too, until we straighten out our priorities. What you see is who we are. We’re not your enemies. I’ve done things I’m not proud of, but you have my oath for whatever it’s worth to you, that it ends here. They’re here to say it too.”
Edwards spoke. “Randall Edwards. You got my word for me an’ my boy Jake.” Scuttling back into place, he looked abashed as the same woman who had muttered about Jahn marrying Jen and Fiona shot Edwards a black look. At least wife-beaters rated lower in her books than polygamists did, he thought.
“I’m Elise Decker: Polygamy’s wrong and I’ll see you in court if you try and sneak anything past the legal system.” She said, voice imposing judgment, dripping condemnation. “But it’s your life. Right now, I got no fight with you.”
The skinny guy, last of Donovan’s posse, was Jason Anthony. He too made the statement, then nervously stepped back.
Marcus Decker. Christopher Sanders. Julia Declan. Victor Jameson. Dale Farland. Rodney Orley. Frank Bertram. Louis Cross. Louis Gregory. All made that odd little prepared speech with varying degrees of sincerity, and though he didn’t trust their values for a minute, it seemed like they were sincere about it. Names he was unlikely to remember, people he would probably never see again.
How pointless, he thought. I guess their god-sworn oath means something to them, but do they think it’s going to make me believe them? What kind of fucked up gesture of goodwill is this?
Margrave spoke again, seeming to read his thoughts. “Might not mean much to you, but it means something to us… and that display was about us.” Incredulity must have shown on Jahn’s face because he continued, pulling a piece of paper out of his pocket “This, on the other hand, is about you.” He handed the paper to Jahn, a card stapled to it.
Frowning, he examined it. Seemed to be some kind of document, the copy of a title. To a home? What the hell? The card had Margrave’s number and address on it.
“Way I see it, those hospital bills are gonna be a right bastard even when you and your ladies are working again. My brother can’t make that right, but his estate can. No contest, I’m all the family he had left to will it to, and when everything clears, it’s yours to do what you like with. If there’s any costs beyond that, we’ll do what we can to help, all of us.”
Stunned, Jahn could only stare at them as most of the group nodded agreement with Margrave’s statement. “I… thank you.”
“You don’t owe us any thanks for this; my brother owes you for what he did, and he’s paying it. We owe Donovan, and we’re paying down that debt as well.” Margrave shifted uncomfortably for a moment, and Declan nodded to him, signaling that they were ready to leave.
As the crowd dispersed, filing into their vehicles and returning to whatever lives they lead elsewhere. The hatred remains, though, doesn’t it? Jahn mused, considering the paper as the group left. Will reexamining your priorities really fix anything? Who pays the price for your kids?***
Sitting between the sisters, he talked to them, painting his words with every bit of optimism he could give, because they needed whatever light he could give them, just as they had done for him. We sustain each other, he understood. He told them about the strange offer that Donovan’s people had made, and about the spring wedding, how they would walk with their mother down the aisle to find their places at his side. They would make their vows to him, and he to them, sealing them together in a spiritual union more powerful than anything a government could offer.
“The honeymoons…” he reflected, a smile on his face.
“You loved that jacket, Jen, and Roger told me where I can get a replica. We’ll watch that movie again together, and I might be clumsy at it, but I’ll be the sexy pilot for you, you know it. I’ll sing to you, all those great love songs, and we’ll make love under the palm trees. Your body all over mine, mine within yours. I told you I’d love you as often as you needed me to, so remember it. Just say the word. Our child is going to come into a world where he knows his parents love each other, and love him.”
“Don’t ever think for a second that I’ve forgotten you, Fiona. We’ll have our time together, you know we will. A candlelit dinner had in a quiet place where the dishes, glasses and wine sparkle. Maybe we’ll visit a hospital after, and you can show me how to sing Threshold; because there’s something special in that, something spiritual. When we’re done, I’ll take you out under the stars, and we’ll take in the night together, and then I’ll simply take you, show you just how beautiful you are to me.”
“We’ll have to do something together as a trio, because it’s the three of us in it for the long haul, you know. Did you know that your sister likes to dance too, Jen? I can’t imagine anything better than rhythmic dancing under colored lights with both of my wives.” Closing his eyes, he hummed another old tune, one he always seemed to mix up with the first.
“Hers. _Her_ parents,” a voice rasping with disuse corrected him.
“… holding you to that, Jahn…,” came another strained voice.
When his own lids flared open, he found two pairs of eyes staring back at him, one pair a sparkling blue, the other lustrous brown. The lips below them curved in gentle smiles, all the more lovely for the understanding that their owners had come back from their dreams to find him.
Awake. ~ End ~
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with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.
<a href="http://www.lushstories.com/stories/love-stories/sweet-dreams-are-made-of-this-ch12.aspx">Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This, Ch.12</a>