Left and Leaving: Part 1

November 27, 2014

The day Corey threw himself in front of the train the first bombs hit the East Coast.

Corey squinted down the tunnel, trying to catch a glimpse of the train he already could feel clattering over the rails. It was running late. He hazarded a glance at the ceiling, stomach clenching. Nothing but cracked tiles and creatively placed graffiti. He wasn’t sure he would have preferred the sky, knowing what was coming. When the bright yellow headlights glared around the tunnel bend, he stuffed a cold, half-smoked cigarette back into his breast pocket. Corey closed his eyes, waited for the rush of stale air to fill the station, and toed off the yellow line. From the crowded platform, a woman screamed.

January 1, 2014

With a gasp, Corey startled awake. Damp flannel sheets twisted around his legs, temporarily immobilizing him, and he panicked, sliding off the bed shoulder first. He hit the hardwood with a thunk and lay there a moment, cheek pressed to the cool floorboards. Breath hitching in his throat, he brought a trembling hand to his face, tracing the familiar angles, the old scar near his ear. Corey shut his eyes. He could have sworn he’d felt the intimate explosion of his skull shattering against the terrible impact of the subway car. Bright starbursts of pain, unfathomable pressure, a sizzling jolt after being tugged under the wheels, over the third rail. Blackness.

He kicked his legs free from the tangle of sheets and pressed his palms to the floor, pushing himself up to his knees. And promptly threw up.

“Corey?” a confused voice murmured. “Are you—” A face framed by messy blonde hair peered over the side of the bed, nose wrinkling. “Jesus, Corey. Are you sick?”

His skin went cold, even as he heaved another teaspoon of bile onto the floor. Mind racing through a fog of confusion, he tried to manifest a reason for her presence. Corey rocked back onto his heels, wiping his mouth with his hand. His panic magnified. The voice belonged to a woman who’d been gone since last February. And gone, he thought, was a polite way to put it. She’d fallen down the stairs, cracking her head on the edge of a wooden step. The resulting injury had landed her in the hospital where she’d languished in a medically induced coma from which she’d never awoke. The last time Corey had seen her, she’d been breathing through a machine.

“What are you doing here, Amy?” he managed, bringing his gaze level with the clock radio. It beamed a luminous orange 4:27 a.m. Corey realized his tone was off. He’d sounded rude rather than surprised, which was a more accurate reflection of his mental state. Rude rather than nervous as hell. He winced again when a light snapped on and the bedroom washed into focus under the harsh yellow light. Corey blinked. The lamp. He’d liberated the avocado-green relic from his parents’ basement years earlier, and he was reasonably sure he’d gotten rid of it around the same time he’d gotten rid of Amy. Yet here they were.

“I live here, asshole,” she returned, pulling the bedspread up to her chest like a makeshift robe. “Happy New Year to you, too.” She threw her legs over the side of the bed, pointedly dragging the covers with her as she strode past the soupy contents of his stomach. Corey watched her, dumbfounded, as she collected herself and slammed the bathroom door shut. Her voice was muffled by the sound of running water and the barrier of the door, but he could still make out a final grumble. “Still drunk. Typical.”

“New Year?” he asked the door, vigorously running his fingers over his scalp, trying to dislodge the mystery. Amy’s accident swirled in his mind, threatening to overwhelm him. It felt anchored in his subconscious. He surveyed the room as he rose unsteadily to his feet. It spun briefly, and he pressed the heel of his palm to his forehead. The bedroom had the familiar qualities of a place that had been lived in, decorated, and then lovingly neglected. An unremarkable sheet of dust draped the overstuffed bookshelf in the corner. He recognized the patchwork quilt on the floor as one of Amy’s grandmother’s abominations: neon green lions on one side, taupe zebras on the other. A numbered photograph of the ocean hung askew over the bed, and he suppressed the urge to straighten it. Something told him it wouldn’t have helped.

Corey stepped over the puddle of vomit and picked up the cell phone resting on his nightstand. He automatically ran his finger across the front in a zig-zag pattern to exit the lock screen and then stared in disbelief. According to the phone, they were in Michigan. It was 22°F, and it was indeed the first of January. The bottom line was that he wasn’t in Boston. He was alive. The train and his prior purpose receded, turning to smoke beneath his brain’s frantic queries. He felt as though a year of his life had vanished in a single night. The bile rose in the back of his throat again as he considered the woman in the bathroom. A dream, or a premonition?

He was still standing in front of the nightstand, staring at the wall, when the water shut off and the door opened. Amy emerged less disheveled, wearing a gray terrycloth bathrobe. She held a plastic tumbler of water in one hand and a worn hand towel in the other.

“Who’s Sal?” she frowned, some of her previous animosity smoothed from her face. He started, dropping the phone on the nightstand.

“What?”

“Sal,” she repeated, louder this time, and nodded at the phone. “Did someone call?” She handed him the cup of water with a brief flash of concern, and tossed the towel over the mess on the floor. She’d brushed the tangles from her hair, laying it flat against her head, and her cheeks were pink, as though she’d freshly washed and scrubbed her face. How long had she been in there? Corey glanced at the phone resting on the nightstand.

“Sal.” He conjured his mental Rolodex. After a moment, he succeeded in attaching a name to a face, a fuzzy recollection of close-cropped hair and a wry grin. She seemed desperately familiar to him, but easily could have been conjured from the same world as the oncoming train. Still, the mental image made him smile. He cleared his throat. “No. No one called. Must have been talking to myself.” He wasn’t sure about that. “You know, I had a really strange dream.”

Amy eyed him dubiously, folding her arms across her chest, but let the matter slide.

“You drank a lot last night,” she offered as statement of fact. “Again.” She stepped past him to the bed, and parked herself on the edge. The hem of the bathrobe rode up her thigh, and he couldn’t help following the smooth expanse of leg with his eyes. “I had to get Lucas to carry you up here after I found you passed out under the card table.”

He toed the towel on the floor, haphazardly mopping at the spill. If Amy could be trusted, it was mostly alcohol anyway. “I don’t remember,” he offered truthfully, clearing his throat again around a sip of water. He felt disconnected. The dream lingered at the edges of his consciousness, somehow more real than what had happened the night prior.

“I’m not surprised,” she remarked dryly. “Listen, I just thought we’d talked about this. You told me you were going to lay off.”

“I wasn’t sick,” he protested, feeling a hot blush of defensiveness rush through him, grounding him in the moment. “I told you. I had a weird fucking dream. It was—”

“Embarrassing. You embarrassed me, Corey. I know you don’t get to see all those people very often, but it’s not an excuse to drink yourself into a stupor. You completely lost control of yourself, and I had to see everyone out.”

He was half listening, he realized. In fact, it seemed that they’d had this discussion before. He could picture her beckoning him over, putting her hands on his shoulders so that he’d be forced to look into her eyes. He would apologize, trying not to breathe on her with the stink of sickness lingering on his teeth. In a week, she’d be gone. He wasn’t sure how he knew it, but half a moment later, she bent her index finger into a hook. Head tilted slightly, she gazed up at him, raising her arms to put her palms on his shoulders once he’d stepped close enough.

“I’m sorry,” he said, taking a step closer, trying to shake the nauseating déjà vu. He let her lean her head against his stomach, and he fixed his stare at the window over her shoulder. “It won’t happen again.” That earned him a wan smile. She swung her legs up over the side of the bed and scooted over, making room for him in the once-warm nest. He noticed that she’d ditched the bedspread in the bathroom, leaving them with the hideous, threadbare quilt. Corey finished the water in one long, slow gulp, and left the glass beside the phone. Sal. Was she at the party last night? Why was she so damn familiar?

He clambered back into bed, arranging his limbs so that she could curl up comfortably against him. It was less desire and more a habit—it was just the way things were. He lay quietly, examining the ceiling as though it would yield answers when pressed. But in a moment, his breathing slowed, eyelids drooping. Maybe he had been partying excessively. Just before the somnolent haze pulled him back under, his lips worked.

“They’re coming.”

“Who?” Amy whispered against his side, measuring the rise and fall of his chest.

There was no reply. 

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