As Richard reached to turn off the alarm on the clock, he brushed against the bottle, almost knocking it to the floor. He didn't drink in the mornings before work, but he couldn't remember not being hung over when he awoke. Ibuprofen and water were his morning remedies. He managed another start to a workday.
Around the conference table, the department's command staff tore through the agenda. Having come up through the ranks, none of these men, except the Deputy Chief for Personnel and Administration, was patient with prolonged policy discussion. As one of the Battalion Chiefs offered an opinion, Richard, chairing the meeting, observed that all the men at the table were taller than average height. The fact reflected one of the many unwritten requirements of this Fire Department. Among these alpha wolves, Richard was at the top of the pack.
Richard's father had held the position that he now held, and his grandfather had been a chief officer. His work was the family business, but he was unlike any of his ancestors, and as far as he knew, different from any of the men in the room. He had joined the department when he was eighteen, just out of high school, and had put himself through college while climbing the career ladder. Say what one would, the fire department was a meritocracy, and his rapid ascent to his current position was the result of talent and hard work. He had been appointed when he was twenty-eight and even now at thirty-seven he was the youngest man ever to serve as the deputy for operations, the combat arm of the department. His business was putting out fires and saving lives, including those of the men who worked for him.
He left Station 31 just after 1500 for a personal appointment. His habit was to visit one or two stations in the department each week. He would give casual notice to the Battalion Chief responsible for the stations he would visit. His time with the men wasn't a surprise inspection. He had done the work they did, and he wanted them to know that he hadn't forgotten how they lived or worked. When he had entered the station, all the personnel rose from their seats, and he told them to keep their seats – tradition and ritual fought with camaraderie every day in the service. As he left, the men again rose as a body.
Dr. Jamison didn't waste time, hers or his. "How's the drinking?"
"About the same. I can still get my work done."
The office was simple but tasteful. Signed lithographs and photographs created zones on the beige walls. The artwork was eclectic and didn't suggest its owner's particular taste. The furniture, a love seat and two upholstered chairs, was subdued with subtle patterns. On the wood flooring, a Persian rug, probably twentieth century, rested under the seating. The room had no odor, a purposeful olfactory sterility for sensitive noses. A window admitted an undistracting view of the street.
The therapist was older than he and she had a disarming motherly countenance. His experience with her had revealed her precise intellect, as well as an acerbic sense of humor. These qualities explained why he was still seeing her after hopscotching over a half dozen other shrinks in the past two years.
They had discussed medication to solve the problem on which they were both working with limited success. Her effort had been stymied by his inability to disclose everything. He had disclosed two issues: he was gay in a business that didn't tolerate queers and after a career of running from disaster to disaster, 1980 had almost undone him. He didn't know why, and he didn't initially tell her all the manifestations of his distress.
In the time they had worked together, he discovered that she didn't like medicating patients with PTSD, even PTSD that had lasted five years. He didn't think that he had PTSD. On the other hand, the alternative explanations for what he was experiencing weren't comforting.
She knew he was uncomfortable retelling the story; he thought the repeated versions were identical. She knew that each version added details.
"Richard, I know asking you to go over this ground again is painful and that you think your description is the same every time, but your answers help me. Take me back to the beginning of the anxiety."
Early on, he had objected when she had continued to prompt him for the same description during every session, but she apparently found something in each retelling. Nevertheless, he was surprised each time by his level of emotional activation when he dredged up that day.
He sighed. "All right. A little after 0730 I was on my way to the office. The dispatcher made a special assignment for Engine 11 to proceed to a crash on the bridge. I didn't think much of it. Three minutes later, the dispatcher assigned a full first alarm and reported phone calls from the Coast Guard and the public stating that the southbound span was in the bay. I lit up my overheads, turned on the siren, and told the dispatcher that I was headed to the bridge."
"Remind me of the weather conditions."
"Rain, horizontal rain with very strong winds. I figured my guys would have a busy morning with car crashes. I could barely see two car lengths ahead."
"Anything you remember about odors or sounds?"
He searched his memory for details he had omitted in earlier recitations. "No. Well, the siren and a little metallic taste in my mouth."
"Okay, what happened when you arrived at the north end of the bridge?"
"Right. When I arrived, the Battalion Chief in command told me that the southbound span was in the bay and that some cars and a Greyhound bus had driven over the edge during the squall. He said that a cargo ship had struck a bridge pier and that the missing section of the bridge was resting on its bow."
"I can't remember how far above the water the bridge was."
Lady, you remember everything, but he played along. "About eighty feet."
"What emotion did you feel?"
"None. I knew that anyone who went over was probably dead. I was already thinking of body recovery and a temporary morgue location."
"Stop. Let me understand. You believed that a busload of people and more went into the water eighty feet below and were now dead and you felt nothing?" This area of his experience interested her because his response was slightly different each time she asked.
"If you let yourself consider the loss, you can't do the job."
"I put my bunker gear on and went out on the span to talk with the company officer on Truck 11. The rain had slackened, and I could see that the Truck 11 crew was trying to stabilize a car that had almost gone over and was resting a few feet from the edge on a downslope of what was left of the span. The lieutenant told me that he had seen the ship below supporting the bridge segment with a red pickup truck on its bow."
"Did you go out for a look?"
"No. I didn't need to. The Coast Guard was reporting that the ship's crew had rescued the pickup driver and was giving first aid. CG was sending a boat to get him. I was thinking about the slim chance of other survivors."
He fidgeted, something he normally didn't do. "I really don't like reliving this every session."
"I wouldn't ask you to if it wasn't important. What next?"
"I radioed to have the Department boat stand by for me at the dock near the bridge entrance. Then I called the County Medical Director. He knew the basics of what had happened, and I suggested that he meet me at the boat. I thought we should set up a morgue and a triage station on Edgemont Key. The key was isolated and would make access by reporters difficult and easy to control."
"Right. What did you do while you waited for Dr. Pettigrew?"
"I requested mutual-aid rescue units from Manatee County to stand by on the key. I checked in with the Incident Commander and suggested that I supervise the Medical Group. He agreed." His recitation was laced with agitation and hurried with the boredom of another retelling.
"Do you remember what else you did while you waited?"
She noted his increasing agitation as he recalled that day. She and he rarely got to any recollection of the crucial part of the day, but they had gotten a little farther each session over the year of therapy. She knew that he wasn't telling her everything, but she thought she recognized the locus of his problem. She thought he was dissociative, and she didn't want to push too hard.
"How's your love life?"
"Let's talk about my sex life."
"All right. Your sex life."
When they had first started therapy, he took a perverse pleasure in trying to shock her. Apparently, his little perversions were small potatoes compared to those other patients shared with her. She was often insistent that he be absolutely clear about what he did sexually.
"I'm getting laid a fair amount, still mostly with strangers."
"Always." He was irritated when she pinned him down.
"Nobody you're interested in seeing regularly?"
"Career suicide. Better to keep things very casual."
"Do you ever think about how your meetings affect the men you pick up?"
"Not really. They're big boys who just want to get off. As I've told you, my preferences are pretty vanilla. I don't have time for romance, and I'm not sure I'd know how to conduct one. The closet seems the safest place now."
"You're in the papers occasionally. What happens if one of your … partners recognizes you?"
"Hasn't happened so far."
"If you weren't still working at the Department, could you see yourself in a more permanent relationship?"
"I'm not pining for one, and I don't spend a lot of time thinking about scenarios that aren't possible."
She thought he was protesting a bit much. "So, this is how you see yourself conducting your sex life until you die?"
Her question didn't carry any judgment. She was just eliciting information. "I don't know."
"How much alcohol are you drinking compared with two weeks ago?"
"The same." She looked at him as if she were a human lie detector. He wasn't lying.
"Our time's almost up. The dream?"
"All the time. I see the boat coming very slowly toward me. I want to run, but I need to stay. Then, I wake up."
That was a lie, and her detector went off as it always did at his description of the dream.
"Every time I fall asleep."
"More often now than two weeks ago?"
"I don't know," he said peevishly. "Five or six times a night now."
"You know that I'll prescribe something to help you sleep. Your current self-medication doesn't seem to be working. You'd have to stop drinking, though."
She was frowning. Touché, he thought. Somehow, using alcohol seemed less weak than taking pills. He shook his head.
"I'll see you next time. Call me, if things get worse or you feel out of control."
This was their ritual parting signal. "Sure."
After the session, Richard drove back to his office and spent the late afternoon decreasing the height of the stack of papers on his desk. On the drive home, he felt as he did when preparing to enter a burning building. The possibility of terror attracted him. Locking the door behind him, he threw his keys on the vestibule table. Shunning dinner, he turned and climbed the dark staircase to his bedroom. The day had been busy, and he needed sleep. The bottle of Scotch, a third full, and the glass were where he had left them this morning on his nightstand. He poured the juice glass full and downed half of it.
He carefully took the bugles, badge, and nametag from his white uniform shirt, which he dumped in an overflowing hamper with his dress-blue pants. The brass joined his Leatherman, his pager, and his tactical flashlight on the dresser.
He sat on the edge of the bed in his underwear and downed the rest of the contents of the juice glass. He leaned back onto the bed and was asleep. As always, he stood on the shore and, as the large skiff motored toward him, he saw the doll in the bottom of the boat in the bow. This was the part of the dream he had not revealed to his therapist. He didn't know why he couldn't tell her – only that telling her would be dangerous. He could see what looked like tarps in the boat's hull, but couldn't make them out clearly. The only clear part of the cargo was the doll in the bow, eyes open, with a piece of its pale china head missing from over the left eye.
Four more times the scene replayed, waking him each time with a fearful sense that he needed to see the boat more clearly.
After falling back asleep the fifth time, the alarm jarred him awake; the headache slowed him down. He managed a shower, brushed his teeth to get rid of the taste of stale Scotch, and shaved. He placed the four-bugle clusters, badge, and nametag on a freshly laundered shirt and pulled on a clean pair of dress pants. After finishing dressing, he slowly took the stairs down, picked up his keys, and locked the door behind him. He noticed that the lawn needed a lot of work.
He walked quickly around the LTD Crown Vic. He'd take it to Station 1 today for a bath. After BSing a bit with the guys who washed his car, he headed to his office at the headquarters building. He parked in his spot, cleared his head, and walked into the office. A couple of officers and his aide greeted him, "Morning, Chief."
He silently cursed his predecessors for not telling him how crushingly boring most of this job was. He sat in the seat of real power, not like his boss, the Chief of the Department, a hired gun to placate elected officials and the city manager, but the one who could shake the department by its throat and bring it to heel. Right. Budgets and supervision, leavened only by an occasional major fire or disaster that he was expected to command, were his main occupation. Too late, he had discovered that he didn't relish mentoring the next generation, and he would be honest with the next in line to hold his job.
His boss was in Emmitsburg for two weeks. Fortunately, one of the other deputies was in the barrel this time, so he wasn't subbing for his boss. He was trying to focus on a budget spreadsheet when his pager went off again. He looked at the alpha message, jumped from his chair, and turned on his portable radio resting in its charger.
"Station 3, Engine 6, Power 1, Battalion 3, Division 2, 600. Third alarm for a fire on the ninth floor of Brittany Towers South. Division 1 is Bayway Command at Bayway Boulevard and Point Brittany Drive; Battalion 1 is Operations." The dispatcher repeated the assignment as adrenalin argued with ethanol over his mental acuity. He had been notified of the second alarm, but second alarms were common on high-rise fires. A third alarm meant a real problem, and real problems were his specialty.
In thirty seconds, his aide was driving him toward the Bayway, a four-lane toll road. In the passenger seat, he was wearing a headset that allowed him hands-free radio communication. He quickly reviewed the floor plans and structural design of the high-rises at Point Brittany. The fire was on the ninth floor of a fifteen-story building, so there was plenty of room for the fire to burn upward. He heard the other third-alarm units report that they were responding. He was the last to do so. As if the fire wasn't enough, he had to get there safely and quickly. Fortunately, his aide was a superb emergency driver, not a hotheaded, lead-footed idiot. His driver kept Richard from bouncing around in the passenger compartment as he wove through the cars ahead, sometimes crossing the centerline near intersections to move into oncoming traffic.
"Bayway Command to 600."
He answered the call, "600."
"Chief, I'd like you take command. I'll take Operations in the lobby."
He smiled. "600 to Bayway Command. I'll be at the Command Post in five minutes."
As his aide blew through the toll plaza to the Bayway, he saw the thick column of black smoke rising from halfway up the building a mile ahead. They had been working the fire for twenty minutes but weren't making significant progress. From what he could deduce, the fire was jumping upward floor to floor by lapping into upper-floor windows broken by the heat, and it was communicating through walls to other condos on the ninth floor.
For the next two hours he enjoyed the challenge. When he arrived at the Command Post, which was a red Suburban with the command equipment at the back doors, he looked at the ICS 201 form and approved, with minor modifications, the basic Incident Action Plan created by the Division Chief. He had trained the guy, so the surprise would have been a bad plan. He told the PIO to keep reporters off his back. The fire was contained and then extinguished in another thirty minutes. Part of the privilege of being on the department's command staff was that no one expected him to help clean up the mess. Crews would be out there most of the day.
The rest of the day's activity was sprinkled with talk of "the big one." He suffered through recounting the effort and the successful conclusion, assuming keeping civilians and firefighters alive and not allowing a building to burn to the ground were success. Success always came by degrees.
At 1900 he walked from the deserted offices to a locker he kept at headquarters; he changed into civvies. His personal vehicle was parked at the building, where it stayed most of the time because he usually drove the department Crown Vic. This was one of the problems of being in the closet. Where he was going, you didn't want to drive an emergency vehicle, but driving his personal vehicle meant that if he was called he'd have to get back to HQ to pick up the Vic. He never considered how dangerous cruising like this was for him.
He left headquarters and drove into an area of the city that had a fair number of gay bars. He never went to the same place twice in a row. Men had their favorite hangouts, and varying his destination decreased the odds of seeing the same guy twice in a row. He parked on a side street and walked into his choice du soir. He looked around as others looked him over. He hated, and was only minimally patient, with the ritual.
Some men age well, and he had. He could pull off the reality of graying hair and a lightly lined face because his body was still good and because he was an arrogant SOB. He always found some young thing who was attracted to older guys in decent shape.
He went to the bar and ordered. The key to attracting men is not to seem desperate, and he wasn't at all desperate. True, he would prefer not to go home until the early morning, but if he struck out, he'd manage. He had a classically handsome face and thought his face the key – a dangling bit of bait. At worst, he thought, he'd get a blowjob in the restroom. When the first guy approached, Richard just looked at him and shook his head. He let the third guy buy him a drink.
After a few more, they went to Bob's or Jim's or Hank's or whoever's place and spent an energetic night, taking a straight line between point A and Richard's orgasms. Richard treated the night’s guy as an appliance though not with deliberate cruelty. He wasn't abusive in an obvious way, but if the toy needed more than his semen, he wouldn't find anything other than vague acknowledgment in Richard. This encounter, like most of them, was Richard fucking a throat or an ass, often more than once.
He needed surrender; he needed the toy to wave the white flag. He did allow the young man to finger him while sucking, but he never bottomed. These encounters were more like checklists than human communion. Situational awareness was crucial; most of these receptacles weren't dewy-eyed schoolboys, although he did manage the occasional first-timer. Richard needed to guard against the possibility of assault, although nothing remotely like that had ever happened. He couldn't very well give himself over to rapture and protect himself at the same time. Fate was pissy.
"You gotta go so soon?"
"Yep. You were very good." Not an exaggeration. The boy had a feline quality that pushed Richard's buttons.
"Any chance of a replay?"
"Sure. You never know."
Richard was home by 0300. One benefit of this schedule was that he only experienced the dream twice. In the last replay, he saw that the bottom of the boat didn't contain tarps. Whatever was there, astern of the doll, was stacked neatly, abeam the boat.
The alarm jarred him again. Following his morning ritual, he was out of his place and driving to the office by 0530. At 1000 he sat in the command staff meeting, chaired this time by the Life Safety Deputy, Tony Chicceti. After the meeting, Tony asked him to stay in the conference room.
"You look like shit, Rich. What the fuck's going on."
"I'm just a little tired. Haven't been sleeping all that well."
"How long have we known each other? Don't bullshit me. The old man is noticing."
"I'm taking care of the problem."
"If I can help, you know I'll do anything."
"Yeah, I know, Tony." Then the two men did what firefighters do only when they've been through a lot of shit together over a long time or one of them has saved the other's ass. Both situations applied here, and they hugged.
At 1500 he sat on the couch facing Dr. Jamison. They had ending rituals and beginning rituals.
"How's the drinking?"
"No change," and they were off down the rabbit hole. He was quieter this time, but she didn't feel the need to fill the silence. He admired purposeful stubbornness.
After fifteen minutes of him fidgeting and her watching, she suggested the recitation. "Take us back to the start of that day."
He recited the facts one more time. But, this time he described the trip with Pettigrew across the bay. They had swung wide of the wreck but could see the hulk of the tanker wedged against the bridge pier with the red truck resting on the bridge surface draped over the ship's bow. They had sped past the residue of the disaster, making steadily for the key. This time in the telling he was able to describe landing on the key and beginning to work.
"The Manatee EMS guys helped set up the temporary morgue, and I ordered that any bodies recovered be brought there. Pettigrew was arranging for transportation of the bodies from there to the M.E. By then I knew no more survivors would be found."
"Richard, what were you feeling, standing on the key waiting?"
"Here's a secret of my business. Amid the chaos and carnage, we love the action. I felt exhilarated because this was a big job, and big jobs are my specialty. I felt sorry for all those people and hoped they had died quickly."
"I wasn't asking what you were thinking, I was asking about sensation."
He knew she had decided to push him. "I could feel the sand crunching beneath my feet and the wind coming off the water in my face. I felt detached. Detachment is the secret to surviving what I do every day. I was waiting for them to be brought to me."
She briefly thought of his descriptions of his sexual encounters and then asked, "Waiting for whom?"
Sitting in her comfy office, Richard realized that his pulse rate was up and his head ached. She noticed his obvious discomfort, and stopped pushing.
"The same. The cargo is getting clearer, though."
"Why do you think the boat's cargo is so hard to see?"
"It's not close enough yet."
"How many times last night?"
He smiled and replied, "Only two."
She gave a sardonic laugh. "I guess that's the segue into how you spent the first part of the night."
He regaled her with frank descriptions of the young man and the sex. He noticed her distress, which irritated him.
"Look, Dr. Jamison, don't get judgmental here. The guy and I had a nice time, and I'd rather be doing what we did than sleeping."
"Richard, I'm not judging. I see you getting farther from human connection, and it's possible to get so far away that you can't get back."
"Just think of it as an unusual but acceptable variant of human behavior."
"I don't know how to respond to that. I'll see you next week. Call me if things get worse or you feel out of control."
He left her office and drove the Vic back to his place. He microwaved a Lean Cuisine and ate it at the dining-room table out of its container. He wasn't happy, but neither was he despondent; he was horny. After watching the evening television news, he changed, downed a double Scotch, and decided to dress in jeans, a T-shirt, and a light jacket and walk to a bar. He hadn't been to this one for a while. He was lucky on the first approach: no wave-offs this time. This one was probably early twenties with a perfect look. He bought them both a drink.
"I've seen you on television."
"Don't freak. I'm not going to make trouble for you. I think what you do is cool."
"And, what do you think I do?"
This one didn't project the same sense of filial need as most of the others, though he aroused Richard in the same way. Richard wasn't looking for a son. "Okay. Let's talk at your place."
Leaving the bar, they decided to walk to Evan's place, which was only two blocks away in an older, brick apartment building. As they walked, Evan didn't pepper Richard with questions, and Richard began to understand that the kid wasn't a star-struck fire buff. Evan talked about himself in an unselfconscious revelatory way. Richard learned more about Evan during the ten-minute walk than he had learned about any of his recent sex partners in the cumulative time he had spent with them all. Richard thought the kid not much different than many of the young guys who worked for him.
The older man felt slightly uncomfortable with the possibilities that Evan's disclosures raised but not enough to ditch the kid. Walking into the small apartment, Richard was struck by the order there. Evan didn't have much, but he took care of what he had. Order had been a stranger to Richard for a while. Something about this little nest was comforting.
"Want something?" Evan asked.
Richard didn't think the question louche. "I think you know what I want."
"I meant to drink. Nothing hard, but I have fruit juice or vitamin water."
Oh, for fuck's sake, the kid probably rode bicycles everywhere. "Water's fine."
Richard sat on one end of the IKEA sofa while Evan filled a glass with tap water and brought the glass to him before sitting at the other end. He sipped and thought how decent the city's tap water was. Evan was eying him with curiosity.
"Something on my face?"
"No. I like your face, so I'm looking. I've seen you at the bar before."
"So, Evan, you must be a regular."
"A friend tends bar, so I'm there a lot."
"How come you haven't talked to me before tonight?"
"I've seen you with the others, and I wasn't sure I wanted that."
"But, you want it now?"
Evan shrugged slightly. "You looked tired. I was worried."
This game was getting old fast. "Let's see how tired I am."
Richard started to stand, but Evan reached out and gently took an arm, pulling Richard back to the sofa. "Here, lie back for a minute."
A little unbalanced, Richard fell back to the seat and pivoted on his ass so that his head rested in Evan's lap. He looked up at Evan with a little desperation, and desperation wasn't what Richard wanted to project. He closed his eyes briefly.
He felt the grating of the pulverized shell under his feet and the stiff breeze on his face. The water on the bay was choppy as the skiff approached. Pettigrew was at his side. He saw the white china doll in the bow, eyes wide open with a piece of the head missing above the left eye; the doll was wearing a diaper. Past the doll he saw the rest of the cargo clearly at last, corpses with gray faces and foam at their mouths, stacked like hollow pipes across the skiff's beam.
"Richard, wake up man. Calm down. You're all right."
Who was shouting? His eyes opened and he felt himself shaking. His head pounded. He knew what was in the boat, and knowing made him feel as if he would be swept away to a place from which he could not return. He felt the moisture of tears on his cheeks and tasted salt as they ran dripping into his mouth. He pulled air into his core in gulps. Looking again into Evan's face, he felt raw and vulnerable.
"Bad dream, Evan. What time is it?"
"About three. You were really out for a while."
"Sorry. I don't have time to stay and play."
"That's okay. I liked watching you sleep. What were you dreaming?"
"Just a bad memory." Richard noticed Evan's hand on his chest.
"Evan, you take care of yourself."
"Could we try again some time?"
"Sure. You never know."
Walking back to his place through quiet streets, Richard tried to understand what had just happened.
"How's the drinking?"
"About the same. It's not a problem."
"No problems at work? No one at work has mentioned it?"
He asked himself how she could have known about his talk with Tony but because these sessions were on his nickel, assumed she was fishing. "One of the guys who joined the department with me mentioned it."
"That doesn't concern you?"
"I'll cut back."
She sighed audibly in obvious disbelief. "What's the best night's sleep you've had lately?"
"Actually, I slept with a trick the other night. I've never done that before."
"Not slept as in had sex I take it."
"No, I slept as in slept. I woke up because of the dream."
"Did you figure out who or what you were waiting for?"
"Yeah. The dead."
"But you're used to dealing with bodies. Why are these so different?"
"I think it's the doll."
Richard had no idea why he felt compelled to violate his precious rule about not visiting the same bar twice in a row, but he returned to the bar where he'd met Evan. When he walked in, he felt visceral disappointment that he didn't see Evan, a sense of disappointment that almost made him leave. As he began to turn toward the entrance, he saw Evan walk out of the men's room. Now, anxiety replaced disappointment. Evan saw Richard, and an open smile spread on his face.
Despite his desire to remain disengaged, Richard returned Evan's smile and walked to the bar where Evan joined him. They shared a drink that lasted an hour, talking about Richard's background. At odd junctures in the conversation, and conversation it was, Richard tried and failed to appear cynical and world-weary. He failed because when he made the attempt, Evan looked at him as an old friend witnessing his bad behavior would.
Finally, sufficiently frightened by the openness he was permitting, Richard abruptly said, "I have to take off."
Evan replied without any deliberation, "I was hoping you'd come back to my place again."
Seconds elapsed, and although Richard didn't sense desperation in Evan's request, he did sense genuine interest and more than interest in a quick tryst. "All right. Let's get out of here."
During the walk back, Evan didn't pressure him to talk more about himself, and Richard contented himself with a companionable silent journey. When he found himself again in Evan's neat little apartment, he took off his light jacket, throwing it on the near arm of the sofa where a couple of days ago he had dreamed. As he turned back to suggest to Evan that he didn't want to take a nap this time, the younger man pulled him into a deep kiss, grinding his obvious excitement against Richard's crotch. Richard sank into the kiss, but before he could begin to undress his partner, Evan broke the kiss.
"That's just so you know I'm not a prick tease."
"Obviously not. I did think I'd have to take the lead. The last time I was here, you said you weren't sure you wanted this."
"No. I said I didn't want what I think you had with the others I saw you pick up. And, I didn't want you drunk." He reached to lift Richard's T-shirt. "This, I want."
Their coupling didn't follow the pattern of any of Richard's recent fucks. For one thing, he ended up naked before Evan did. Evan looked at him with hunger. "Very nice. Better than I imagined."
Richard grabbed him and almost tore off his clothing. When Evan was finally stripped bare, Richard smiled, something he hadn't done recently, and told the young man, "I didn't imagine, but yeah – very nice."
Their last act had Richard bottoming for Evan, who fortunately had a seemingly endless supply of condoms. At the end, Richard was prone on the bed, having been taken, or maybe having given himself, from behind. Evan rolled to his side, breathing hard and placing a hand on the older man's ass. "Fuck. I hope I can go like this when I'm your age."
Oddly, Richard didn't find the comment offensive. "That was … fun." During the pause before he said the word aloud, he realized that their gymnastics had been a communion and fun. He liked Evan.
"Why don't you sleep a while? I won't leave you."
He suppressed a smart-ass comment before turning his head toward Evan and drifting off.
The boat was going to beach itself in front of him. The pilot cut the engine twenty feet from the shore, and the boat almost silently sliced through the small waves approaching the shore more slowly than the boat. The waves made a low sloshing noise against the boat. He could see the porcelain doll clearly, snuggled in the bow, perhaps awaiting its owner. The doll's face was free of the foam that covered the mouths and noses of the passengers from the bus. When the bow, scraping roughly on the shore, buried itself in the shells and sand even as the small waves slapped the shoreline, everything seemed silent until the wetsuited divers in the boat moved forward. Then sound rushed in, a rolling shout of paramedics, divers, and Pettigrew. One of the divers gently lifted the broken doll and held it out to him.
He took the toy, but his breath caught as he felt the flesh and tissue of its body. The missing piece over the left eye revealed through an areole of clotted blood the folds of brain glistening under the dura, and the eyes, not glass, were cloudy. He struggled to suppress nausea as he cradled the baby and took her to the makeshift morgue where he couldn't let her go. He was afraid to disturb her sleep. He sat with her on the tarp while the adult bodies were laid out in rows. Perhaps her mother or father was among them.
"Chief, let me take her."
Startled, he looked up. "No. Leave us alone."
The confused medic simply walked away. He knew not to fuck with Richard.
Richard started from sleep and began to cry. He didn't have time to worry about how weak this made him seem. The sorrow rose in a flash flood so overwhelming him that he could only reach out to keep himself afloat. Not enough of what he had made himself over the past five years remained for a rebuilding. What he found when he reached out was Evan. The younger man was sitting cross-legged on the bed holding tight to Richard's right hand. Evan wasn't panicked by Richard's grief, but he didn't think he could ever know its source. He wondered what Richard had experienced to undo him as he was now undone.
Recounting the dream took almost half an hour. Dr. Jamison listened without interrupting even though she could see why he had taken so long to understand what the doll was. She would return to the dream, but now she wanted to take his mind from it. "How's the drinking?"
He smiled, and she was taken by the countenance, one she hadn't seen before. She had seen him smile sardonic little smiles and ironic little smiles, but never a smile like this one, an open smile of simple happiness.
"That's a lie." She was smiling as well.
"Just normal social stuff now, and I'm not drinking alone."
She was impressed. "Still cruising?"
"No. I'm trying to stick to one guy."
"The one you were with when you experienced the complete dream?"
"Yes. He's younger, but … there's something there. You want to hear about the sex?" He was smiling again.
"No, thanks. I'm sure it's fine."
"I can't figure out why that baby got to me the way she did. I've seen a lot of dead kids."
"Since I've done about as much as I can for you, I'll be a little more directive than I have been. First, these repetitive experiences of death and injury can produce a cumulative effect. There may have been nothing special about your experience of this particular child's death."
"So, I should have a good cry occasionally?"
She frowned a slightly motherly frown. "In some way, the dreamer constructs dreams in a way that every character in the dream is an aspect of the dreamer."
"You're suggesting that the infant represents me?" His skepticism was obvious.
"Maybe a part of you … a broken part. You should think about the location of the baby's injury as a trigger for your reaction. Are you still having the dream?"
"Yes, but not as often. Never more than once a night, and if it wakes me, Evan is there."