Henry jerked awake and found himself screaming. Marie burst through the door looking around.
“Henry,” she cried out. “What’s wrong? Henry!”
The scream left his throat like a breath of air and he was suddenly very cold. He could feel tears leaking from his eyes, and his stomach was tied in a knot. He looked around, confused, and then turned to Marie. Jack came rushing up behind her, looking around the room.
“Henry, what’s wrong?” Jack asked, out of breath.
He looked from the portly man and back to his wife, the concern in their eyes seeming more like terror, and then burst into tears. Marie walked up to him and sat beside him, holding him in her arms.
“Jack, go get some water,” he heard her say. Then she turned her attention back towards Henry, smoothing his hair down. “It’s okay, child; it’s all okay. We’re here now; it was just a dream.”
“I was there,” Henry explained between sobs. “I was there.” He just kept repeating the phrase over and over again, unable to stop himself, grasping onto Marie’s dress as if grasping onto reality.
“Shhh…” Marie kept hushing. “Shhh…it’s alright, Henry. It’s all going to be okay.” Jack came in slowly and handed Marie the glass, who put it to Henry’s lips. “Here, drink this. It’ll make you feel better.”
Henry sipped tentatively at first and then began to gulp it, feeling the cool liquid sliding down his throat and through his chest; it did make him feel better. When he'd finished the glass he handed it back to her and simply sat there for a moment, the fear subsiding. Finally he sat up and looked at Marie.
“I’m sorry,” he offered softly, swallowing the remnants of his sobs. “Marie, Jack; I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry, boy,” Jack reassured him, pulling a chair beside the bed and sitting down. “It was a nightmare; nothing to be ashamed of. We’ve all had them, haven’t we Marie.”
Marie chuckled. “I remember Jack once had a nightmare so bad that he punched the cat out of the bed.”
Henry laughed, swallowing hard. “I didn’t know you had a cat.”
“We don’t anymore,” Marie corrected, laughing. “After that incident it wouldn’t come near Jack or the bed again, so we figured it best if I gave it to a friend of mine.”
“Why don’t you tell us about this dream,” Jack implored softly.
“It was so real,” he explained. “At first I was watching it, and then I was in it.”
“Do you remember what it was about?” Marie pressed.
Henry shook his head. “Barely. I saw that woman, Alora, in an office with a man behind a desk—a doctor of some sort?—and there was someone else there, but I couldn’t see him. I don’t know what they were talking about, but the woman was worried, and she had tears in her eyes the whole time. And then suddenly I was in the dream, sitting next to the woman. She called me Parker. Everything was so vivid, but I couldn’t remember who I was, only that everything was wrong. I ran out of the office and that’s all I remember; I woke up. But I could’ve sworn that I was really there; even now it feels as real as here.”
“Well, it’s all over now,” Marie consoled. “You’re back in good ol’ New York and it was just a dream.”
“Yeah…” Henry muttered, trailing off. He could still see them staring at him. He could feel the chair against his legs as he knocked it over behind him. He could feel himself running.
“Why don’t you come down and have something to eat,” Jack suggested, bringing him from his thoughts. “You’ve got a long day ahead of you.”
“What time is it?” he asked.
“Eight o’clock,” Jack responded, “As good a time to start the day as any.”
Marie stood up, looking at her husband. “Come on, Jack; let’s let Henry get dressed.” She turned towards Henry and said, “We’ll meet you downstairs, sweetheart. Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Yeah, Marie,” Henry replied. “I’m alright. I’ll meet you downstairs in a few minutes.”
As Marie and Jack walked out of the room, closing the door behind them, Henry breathed a deep sigh. That was unlike any of the other dreams; it was more real than any of the other dreams. And they had addressed him; by a different name, yes, but they were looking at him and talking to him. And the scary part was that he knew what was going on. At least, he knew that he was not supposed to be there; wherever “there” was. Everything looked so strange, even the clothes. And the fact that he knew that in a dream was terrifying.
He shook himself off; it was just a dream. He had a long day ahead of him and he couldn’t let something like this slow him down. He stood up and began getting dressed, the reality of the day sinking in. This was the day that they left behind everything he had come to know and love for a life of uncertainty and undoubtable danger. This was the day that he and Monica started their life together, whatever that would come to be.
He went downstairs and Marie was cooking; no one else was in the kitchen except Jack. No dishwashers or cooks or undercooks; no hustle and bustle of the normal restaurant life, and no sounds of hungry customers coming from the dining room.
“Where is everyone?” Henry asked to no one in particular.
“We decided to open late today,” Jack noted, sitting at the counter on a stool.
“We were going to take the day off, but Jack wouldn’t let us,” Marie explained contemptuously, shooting a hard glance at her husband’s back.
“Hunger doesn’t take a day off,” Jack began, “And neither do we.” He smiled and winked at Henry. “But we can hold off for a little bit to spend time with our favorite border on his last day here.”
“I could be wrong,” Henry began, sitting across from Jack, “But I’m pretty sure that I’m your only border.”
Marie laughed and set a plate down in front of him while saying, “All the more reason for us to take a little time to spend with you.”
“You guys didn’t have to do that,” Henry offered, smiling and looking down at his plate. Eggs and bacon with a side of toast and a glass of orange juice; Marie knew that was his favorite. He could eat breakfast for all three meals of the day.
“Nonsense,” Marie objected, placing a plate in front of Jack. “You’re family.”
“Oh, Marie,” Jack mused, waving at her, “Don’t make this dramatic.”
“It is dramatic,” she shot back, grabbing her own plate and turning off the gas on the stove.” She sat down and looked at Henry. “You’ve come to be like a son to us—whether Jack wants to admit it out loud or not—and we couldn’t be more proud of you.”
“That’s right, boy,” Jack agreed. “We’re very proud of you. Helping that girl the way you are; everything that you’ve been through; you’re what I want to be when I grow up.”
Henry laughed at that. “I love you, too, guys. After my parents died I thought I was lost; that I’d never find home again. But you guys took me in and treated me better than I ever could’ve asked for. Thank you.”
Jack commenced eating, and asked, “What are your plans for your last day in The Big Apple?”
“Well,” Henry began around a mouthful of eggs, “I think I’m going to go for a walk. Maybe take the subway down to Central Park and say goodbye to everything.”
“Speaking of which,” Marie chimed in, “We didn’t hear you come in last night. Did you work everything out with Monica?”
“Yeah, everything’s set,” he responded. “We’re ready to leave this evening.”
“That’s good,” Jack commented. “They’re pains in the butt, but a good woman is hard to find and even harder to keep, so I’m glad you were able to work it out with her.”
“Yeah, she’s the one,” Henry confessed, taking a bite of his toast. “I’m sure of it.”
“You’d better be,” Marie admonished. “You’re about to change your entire life for her.”
“Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do when you’re in love?” Henry asked, smiling.
Marie laughed. “There should be more men like you in the world, Henry.”
“Hey!” Jack shouted with a mouthful of eggs.
Marie smiled and put her hand over her husband’s. “I found mine, and this Monica is lucky to have found hers.”
And that’s how they finished their meal; laughing and reminiscing, as if they’d known each other all their lives. And in a way, Henry felt that they did. A part of his life ended when his parents died, and at the time he really did feel that it was over. But he started a new life when he met Jack and Marie, and they had become like family to him. And now I’m about to start a new life again, he thought to himself, watching Jack and Marie poking fun at each other. He would miss this one, but the new one would be with Monica, and she was his home now; he knew that with every fiber of his being.
When he walked out of the restaurant, telling them that he would be back in a few hours, it was bright outside. It reminded him of his dream—everything was so bright—and he remembered that he had never found Alora the previous day. He pushed her out of his mind; it was too late to think about that, and he had another woman to concern himself with.
He walked around aimlessly for a long time, just watching the people and looking at the sights. New York City; he had dreamed of coming here when he was a child, what seemed a lifetime ago. And now he had been here, the place of dreams, and he had lived here. He stopped in a small store and bought cigarettes, smoking while he walked along the Hudson, down Madison Avenue, Greenwich Village. He went all over, taking the subway over to Central Park like he had told Jack and Marie. This place had come to be called home, and he loved it.
But now it was nearing time to go; to California and then who-knows-where. He had never been to California; he had never been out of the east coast. That, too, was a place of dreams, and he was about to embark on that dream with the woman of his fantasies. He wasn’t sure where they would go once they got to San Francisco, but he knew that Jack was right; they had to get away from there as quickly as possible because if anyone was after them, coming from New York to California, they would find themselves in San Francisco right along with him.
Maybe they would go north, towards Oregon and Washington; he heard it was beautiful up there. They also said it was cold, but he imagined that, if he could withstand New York cold and Monica could deal with Chicago cold, then they’d be fine. Or maybe they’d just go east, towards Nevada. He'd heard that Nevada was a different kind of hot from the rest of the country, but temperature wasn’t a concern of his anyway. The possibilities were really endless, and as long as he had Monica by his side he didn’t care where they ended up; as long as they were together.
He was walking in Times Square when he realized what time it was. He had been walking all day, but his feet weren’t tired; he had long since grown used to walking everywhere. He knew that it was a little over half an hour for him to get from Brooklyn to Grand Central Station on the subway, so he had a little time to get back to the restaurant, say his goodbyes, and then meet Monica; they agreed to meet there instead of traveling together so that he’d have time to say his farewells. He hopped on the southbound train to Brooklyn, ready to say goodbye to his surrogate parents for the last time.
When he arrived at the restaurant Jack was outside smoking. He offered Henry one, who accepted it graciously.
“You know, I’m going to miss our little smoke breaks,” Henry mused, accepting the light from Jack. “Maybe one day you’ll come out to visit us—wherever we end up—and we can do it again.”
“I’ll never leave Brooklyn,” Jack uttered, chuckling. “I’m too old; my traveling days are gone. But you always know where to find me. Maybe you come back to see an old man after everything has died down.”
“I hope so, Jack,” Henry replied, inhaling his cigarette smoke. “I really hope so.”
“Keep your head up, kid,” Jack offered encouragingly. “You’ll get this behind you, and you two kids will settle down somewhere.” He pointed his cigarette at Henry’s chest and continued, “You’re a survivor; you remember that. Don’t slow down and don’t give up.”
“What are you boys doing out here?” Marie's voice chimed in, the door suddenly swinging open. They both jumped and Jack hid the cigarette behind his back. “What? You thought I didn’t know this is where you sneak off to everyday to smoke? You’re my husband, not a spy.” She started laughing and closed the door behind her. “Give me one of those, will ya?” Jack and Henry looked at each other with a shocked expression, and then Jack pulled out a cigarette and handed it to Marie. Henry offered her a light.
“I…didn’t know you smoked,” Henry commented, slightly confused.
“There are a lot of things you boys don’t know,” Marie returned, taking a deep inhale. “That’s why you need women around; to keep you from getting your heads stuck up your own butts.” They all laughed.
“So Henry,” Marie began, blue smoke leaking out of his mouth and nose. “Are you all packed up and ready to hit the road?”
“I think I’ve got everything,” he responded. “And I’m as ready as I’ll ever be; scared as hell, but ready.”
“You’ll be fine,” Marie comforted him, giving him a hug. “Life takes a lot of strange twists and turns, but ultimately it always ends up the way it’s supposed to; you’ve just got to trust that.”
“Thanks, Marie,” he replied, ending their embrace and then turning to Jack, offering a handshake. “And thank you, Jack.” Jack ignored his hand and gave him a hug.
When they separated Jack held him by the shoulders and looked him up and down. “A fine young man, indeed,” he noted.
Marie smoothed Henry’s hair out of his face and said, “Yes; yes he is.” She was crying.
Jack cleared his throat, letting go of Henry’s shoulders and smiling. “Now go get your stuff and save the girl.”
Henry smiled, wiped a tear from his eye—despite Marie’s own tears he had been trying to hold his back—and went inside to follow Jack’s order.
When he came downstairs Marie was waving a sauce-covered spoon under that nose of some undercook while Jack was standing by the doorway to the dining room. Marie looked over at him and winked, while Jack tipped an imaginary hat at him and turned around to walk through the door. Henry smiled and went outside, trying to hold back his tears once more.
And with that, it was over. His life with Jack and Marie had ended, and that was painful, but he smiled knowing that his life with Monica was just beginning.
It was dark already—he didn’t know where the day had gone—so he walked at a brisk pace to the subway station so he could get to Grand Central as quickly as possible.
The ride to the train station seemed to take longer than the entire day had been. There weren’t many people taking the subway at that time of night, so he didn’t have to worry about sitting next to anyone. He sat there and thought about the same things that had plagued his mind all day; what they would do, where they would go. His thoughts raced while time seemed to slow; he grew impatient with how long the trip was taking.
When he got there he was in awe. The outside of the building was enormous, though surrounded by buildings even taller. It was almost as if this place was separate from the rest of the city. When he walked inside it was even more spectacular.
Huge windows lined the connecting points between the curved ceiling that seemed higher than imaginable from outside, and the floor looked like a calm ocean. Contrary to how desolate the subway seemed, this place was still teeming with life at this hour; people were sleeping on benches, men walking around or reading newspapers, woman holding the hands of children running beside them. It seemed everyone was all dressed alike, with tan or black overcoats and hats, and the women in dresses with dark boleros over their shoulders and large hats. The windows let in streams of moonlight that almost seemed like spotlights on the people walking around.
He asked an attendant where the train leaving for California was, and he was able to accurately direct him. The locomotive was already there and people were loading it, but he didn’t see Monica. They had agreed to meet outside of the train so they didn’t get lost; despite their seats being next to each other they didn’t want to risk anything happening. And existentially, Henry didn’t want the first step into his new life to be without Monica by his side.
When he got to the terminal, there were only a few people there, despite all the bustle in the lobby. Though, that didn’t surprise him; that’s probably why Jack chose this particular train.
He thought about sitting down, but was too anxious. His mind was still racing, and he fought back the incessant thought that she wouldn’t show up. He knew that to be an impossibility; they had discussed it in length the night before. But the thought kept disrupting his thoughts, causing his heart to race even more. She would show, and they would get on the train together, and they would start their new life, whatever that was.
He looked up at the large clock for what seemed the hundredth time; the train was scheduled to leave in twenty minutes. He was growing impatient, and that doubtful voice in the back of his mind kept buzzing.
“Henry!” he heard from behind him. “Henry, I’m here!”
He looked around but didn’t see her. “Monica?” he called out. “Monica, where are you?”
A woman ran up to him out of breath. “I’m so sorry I’m late; I missed the subway over.” She looked up at him and he immediately recognized her face. It was Alora.
“You!” he shouted, grabbing her by the shoulders.
“Henry, what are you doing?” she exclaimed. “You’re hurting me!”
“Who are you?” he demanded, “And where’s Monica?”
“I am Monica!” she asserted, grunting slightly with her effort to escape his grip. “Now get off of me; you’re…hurting…me!”
“Don’t lie to me!” he said in a seething tone. “How long have you been following me? How do you know me?”
Alora managed to wriggle out of his clutches and stepped back a pace. “Henry! What’s wrong with you?”
“How do you know my name?” he questioned in the same seething tone of voice. “And where is Monica?”
“I am Monica!” she repeated. “Henry, what is going on with you?”
“Liar!” he shouted, and then stepped forward to grab her once more. “You’re going to tell me who you are!”
Before he could lay his hands on her again she turned and ran. He grabbed the back of her jacket and she managed to slip out of it and continue running. Henry threw the jacket to the ground and chased after her. Alora was screaming for help as he pursued her, and though no one stepped in to help, he heard shouts behind him.
She ran into a man and grabbed his arm, looking up at him imploringly. “You must help me!” she demanded of the man. “There’s something wrong with him and he’s trying to hurt me.”
“Don’t worry, ma’am,” the man commented, stepping in front of her. “He won’t get you.”
Henry stopped a few feet from the man and looked at him. Then he looked around him and said,
“That woman—!” he stopped, seeing Monica standing behind the man in the arms of another man who was holding her still. Then Henry looked at the two men. Black suits, black ties, and black hats; it was them! He saw the look of stark terror in Monica’s eyes as she realized what Henry himself had just figured out. “Monica!” he shouted.
That’s all he had time to get out before he felt an intense burning pain in his stomach as a third man punched him. Then he felt his jaw crack as a fist slammed into it. He fell to the ground, unable to see from the intense pain in his head, unable to breathe from the spreading pain in his stomach. He felt a foot go into his stomach, and then another into his back. Pain was spreading from parts of his body, and just as quickly as they would slightly fade another burst of pain would explode in a different area.
“Henry!” he heard Monica screaming over and over again, the sound of her voice growing further and further. “Help me!”
He tried to climb to his knees but felt a kick to the side of his face, and then another to his stomach. “Stay down, kid,” a familiar voice said. Henry tried once more to get up, but this time the intense pain from the kick to his face was followed by a growing blackness.
“Monica…” he groaned as everything went dark. He watched in his fading vision as she was carried away, kicking and screaming for his help.