Henry stood at the stage wing waiting his turn.
It was dark here behind the curtains, but the stage just beyond was practically on fire. The orchestra played some odd tune whose refrain kept repeating over and over like a skipping record. They never seemed to get past it to the song itself.
“You’re on next Henry!” someone yelled from the shadows.
Henry was ready. He knew the song. He was ready to sing it for her at last. He needed to sing it so he could finally escape. He needed her to hear him singing it so she’d know how much he loved her before he left.
The orchestra finally stopped. There was a long pause broken only by a few random notes squawked from the horns like an afterthought.
And then, with all the requisite drama, the music started up again. It was the song. It was her song.
“You’re on, Henry!”
Henry straightened his tie and smoothed his jacket, then began slowly walking for the stage. He could finally finish it now. He could sing his song for her and then everything would be right again, and he could walk away a free man at last.
But a hand landed on his shoulder like a grappling hook. A deep voice behind him said, “I’ve got this one, kid.”
The man shoved past him, making confidently for the stage. He was dressed in a perfect black tuxedo and sparkling blue-steel hair.
“Wait,” Henry called to him, “This is my song.”
The man didn’t even look back. He just kept walking.
This couldn’t be right. He needed to stop the man, but his legs refused to move. He realized he was now wearing dirty jeans and a yellowing tee shirt. What the hell was this? He had to sing for her. Why was this happening?
The man stopped at the edge of the stage and lit a cigarette. Then he slowly turned back toward Henry. As the smoke lazily parted, Henry saw that it was Dean again. He held a rocks glass filled with ice and amber fluid.
“Go get a shower, pally,” Dean said, flashing him a grin that was too charming by miles, “I’ve got this one.”
“What?” Henry said, “Wait, what are you doing? This is my song. I’m need to sing it for her.”
“No, Henry,” Dean said on a stream of smoke. His voice seemed higher than it should be. “This job’s bigger than you. I’ve got it. You just run along now. Go wait in the bar.”
“Take a break, kid. Time to buck up. This is how it’s supposed to be. This was always how it was supposed to be.”
And just like that, Dean was on the stage and crooning Henry’s song into the mic as the audience screamed.
Henry couldn’t do anything but stand there and watch. He wanted to go out there and take that mic away, wanted to shove Dean off the stage and sing his song for her at last. But he didn’t. Why didn’t he?
The smell of funeral flowers suddenly choked the air. “It’s all right, Henry,” a woman’s voice whispered.
He turned toward the scent. It was her, Zoe. She was dressed in a formal, off-white dress. Her black hair spilled carelessly down over her breasts. Her smile was perfection.
“Zoe,” he whispered, “I was supposed to sing for you.”
She slipped a hand alongside his cheek and smiled up at him. “You’ve got it wrong, honey,” she said, “My name is Patty.”
“Patty? No, it’s Zoe.”
“No, Henry. It never was. You never knew my name, not my real name.”
He looked out at Dean singing his song on the stage. The story was wrong, it was all wrong!
“Go away now, Henry,” Zoe whispered, as she slipped past him, “Dean needs me on stage.”
Henry watched her slinking away from him. “Why are you doing this?”
“Why did I do anything, Henry?” she said without stopping and without looking back, “Because of you. It was all because of you.”
“But it’s my song, Zoe. I’m supposed to sing it for you.”
Zoe stopped just before the stage entrance. Then she slowly turned and flashed him the sweetest smile of his life. “I know, Henry,” she whispered, “But Dean just sings it so much better. They all did, really. Every single one of them.”
Henry lurched upright. His heart kicked at his ribs. He slammed the floor with his fist. The goddamned dream again.
He reached for his drink, but it wasn’t there.
He shoved the hair back from his face and steadied his breathing. He looked out into the world. He wasn’t sure where he was. It was early dawn. It was cold. The world was still rife with shadows, though the sky was beginning to lighten.
The bloody dream! He grabbed his face. Why couldn’t he let it go? Why couldn’t he let her go?
The voice answered him just as it always did, just as it had for four long, miserable years now. You know why, it whispered, because you’re a murderer. Because you don’t deserve to let me go.
He thought about the song. Why couldn’t he ever remember what it was? In the dream, he was always ready to sing it for her, despite the fact he could never manage to pull it off. It wasn’t always Dean, though he was in the worst ones. Sometimes it was Sinatra, sometimes Englebert. Once it was even Boy George. That one haunted him a while!
Regardless of how it played out, Zoe was always there. She was always making excuses for them, always babbling on about how they could sing it so much better than he could. She always had a different name, too, and it made no more sense this morning than it had in the hundreds of other mornings he awakened to it.
He dropped back into the bedding. His breathing was thankfully slowing now, though Zoe’s face still hovered stubbornly in his mind. He focused on her smile, on the way her eyes crinkled when she laughed. He hated the fucking dream! It always brought him back to this. To her.