Henry was sitting on the edge of his bed while Jack sat in a chair across from him. He wasn’t sure how long they had been talking, but he was sure that it had been hours. He'd repeated Monica’s story twice already, and Jack had alternated between pacing and sitting relentlessly. At first, he didn’t believe the story, saying that it must be some sort of scam, but once Henry reminded him about the encounter with the men in the alley, he listened to it again with a different perspective.
“So let me get this straight,” Jack began after a moment of silence once Henry had finished speaking. “This girl of yours, Monica, potentially discovered this giant cover-up in her hometown after both of her parents were abducted and presumed dead.” Henry nodded. “They’ve been chasing her all over god’s green earth to try and find her so they can protect this secret, which is actually a conspiracy involving human experiments or trials or whatever.” Henry nodded again, slightly impatient by this litany that he’d already heard before. “These people—whoever they are—have been killing people in their search for her. And you…what? Want to join her in this?”
“That about sums it up.”
“Son,” Jack intoned, “You know that I have the utmost respect for you and everything that you’ve gone through. You’re a bright kid with a good head on his shoulders. So don’t take it lightly when I say: Are you out of your mind?! Let’s assume that this is all true—which I’m still not 100% on—why in the world would you want to put yourself in that position, knowing that it could possibly result in you dying? Or worse! Who knows what these people are really capable of? If what she says is true, then that means these aren’t just thugs trying to keep her quiet; these are men of power!”
“Because, Jack,” Henry explained slowly, exasperated after making the same argument again, “I love her. And if I can potentially die, then that means that I could also potentially save her life! What would you do if it were Marie?”
Jack sighed, and then remained silent for a moment. “I would do whatever was necessary to help her.”
“But it’s not Marie, boy!” Jack objected. “This is a girl that you barely know! And I know you say you love her—and I do believe you when you say it—but at the end of the day you barely know this girl!”
Henry gave a frustrated sigh. “Listen, Jack. I respect you and Marie; you’ve been the closest thing to family that I’ve had since I left home. You’ve cared for me, given me a place to live, a job, support, and anything that I could’ve asked for. And I’d hate to put you guys in danger—which you’re already in simply by me being here—so I’m going to ask you one final time, because I am doing this with or without your help: Will you do this for me?”
Jack put his head down and gave it a few soft shakes to illustrate his own frustration. “You’re a good man, Henry Addler. A better man than I could ever hope to be. Yes, I’ll help you. I’ll get in touch with a few old contacts of mine and figure out a way to get you two out of town.”
Henry stood up and Jack did the same, and they embraced. He could hear Jack’s shuddered breath in his ear, the sign of constrained tears, and Henry could feel his own welling up in his eyes. When they separated both men looked away and tried to inconspicuously air-dry the wetness.
“Thank you, Jack,” Henry uttered softly. “I really appreciate this; you were my only real hope.”
“Maybe one day we’ll have another kid,” Jack mused, “And I can only hope that he’s like you.” He turned to leave and then stopped. “And Henry, you know you always have a place here.” Henry smiled and nodded his thanks. “Stupid kid,” Jack muttered softly as he turned and left.
Henry began to pace back and forth. He didn’t blame Jack for his protests; he knew how ridiculous this sounded. But he had no choice; he had to help her. This was not some idle fancy, and he couldn’t understand why, but he knew that he believed every word of her story. Because he was in love with her; every detail, from her eyes to her history, he was in love with.
He sat down and thought about what to do next—should he go back and sit with her, or wait to hear something from Jack?—but his mind kept wandering. It kept going back to those dreams, which was strange because they seemed so trivial now. But he couldn’t help but to think about them; about that woman. Who was she? Why couldn’t he get her image out of his mind?
Within moments the dreams had consumed his thoughts. Images racing through his head; people that he had never met. He couldn’t stop them. He closed his eyes for just a moment and an image flashed into his mind so fast and bright that it almost hurt. It was her.
“ALORA!” he cried out, bolting upright. That was her name; he didn’t know how he knew it, but he knew it as sure as he knew his own. However, as quickly as the image had appeared it was gone, and he couldn’t recall anything else.
He needed a cigarette so he decided to go for a walk so he could think about it. He breezed through the kitchen hoping that no one would notice him. Thankfully, no one did.
Once outside, he lit his cigarette and looked up towards the mouth of the alley, and there she was. She was walking past the restaurant at a leisurely pace. Henry didn’t know what to do; he was dumbfounded. He knew that it was her just as he knew that her name was Alora.
“Hey!” he called to her, but she didn’t hear him and just continued walking. He started running towards the front of the alley to catch up to her; he didn’t know what he would say once he caught up to her, but he knew that he needed to talk to her.
When he got to the mouth of the alley he turned in the direction that she had gone, but he didn’t see her. The street was filled with people, like millions of ants walking in seemingly random directions. Then he caught sight of her, turning another corner. He ran through the crowd, weaving in between people, bumping into others who didn’t move quickly enough. He turned the corner and saw her up ahead of him.
“Hey, you!” he called out again. But it was no use; it was too crowded and noisy, the bustle creating an invisible barrier between them.
He ran forward once more, trying to catch up to her. She turned into a building; he was close enough that he could hear the bell over the door as it opened and then swung shut. He ran towards it and burst through the door into what he discovered to be a café. It seemed like all the seated customers turned their heads to see the violent intrusion on their meals.
Henry stood there, looking around at the small diner, but he didn’t see her. He frantically scanned the faces of the seated patrons, looking for the face that he mysteriously knew so well, but he didn’t see her amongst them.
He turned to a couple that were seated at a table to his left and said,
“The woman that just walked in here; where did she go?” Both members of the couple shook their heads, offering each other confused glances. He went to the next table. “I’m sorry to bother you, but did you see where the woman that just came in went?”
“You’re the only one that’s come in here in the past 15 minutes, pal,” the lone man seated at the table responded.
“No,” Henry protested, “The woman that walked in right before me!”
“There ain’t no woman,” the man repeated. “I’m sorry, pal.”
Henry darted across the café to another table on the other side of the room, now beginning to feel frustratingly confused. “A woman walked in here less than a minute before me,” he explained to the pair of young women who were seated by themselves. “Will you please tell me where she went?”
“I’m sorry, sir,” one of the women offered, “But they’re telling the truth; no one has come in here except for you.”
Henry stood upright and chuckled. “Oh, she must work here,” he noted, looking around, “And you guys are her regulars or something. I promise,” he tried to assure them, “She’s not in any trouble or anything; I just want to talk to her.”
A man wearing a dingy apron walked out from behind the counter towards Henry. “Hey, listen, pal, your girl didn’t come in here. Maybe you saw her walk through the wrong door; why don’t you try the next one over.”
By this time Henry was beyond frustrated; he knew that she had come in through that door. But he decided not to push it; maybe she was in some sort of trouble and was trying to hide, or maybe he really had misjudged the door that she had gone through. Either way, he wasn’t going to get anywhere like this.
He took a deep breath. “Alright, I’ll try somewhere else. I’m very sorry to have disturbed you.”
He walked past the shocked expressions on the customers as he left, deciding to try the next door over; everyone makes mistakes, so maybe he really had been wrong. But as soon as he opened the door, he saw her across the street. She was simply standing there, looking around as if waiting for someone. Henry darted out the door and pushed his way through the sea of people to the edge of the street, losing sight of her for just a moment. But when he made it past the crowd, she was gone. He looked back and forth around where she had been standing, but he couldn’t find her; she was lost in the ocean of bustling bodies.
“Dammit!” he exclaimed in frustration. “I hate this city!”
But, despite his exasperation, he had seen her! She wasn’t just an image in a dream any longer; he had seen her and knew that she was somewhere not only in the city, but in the borough. And if he had seen her once, he’d see her again.
Henry realized that he didn’t know where he was; he had been so busy chasing this mystery woman that he hadn’t paid attention to where she was leading him. He looked around and realized that he wasn’t too far from Monica’s apartment. Monica! he thought to himself. I completely forgot about Monica! He immediately felt ashamed at that thought and forgot all about the mystery woman. He decided to tell her what Jack had said.
A few minutes later he was knocking on her door, trying to be far more polite than his last visit. She opened it and greeted,
“Henry, I wasn’t expecting you so soon. Come in.”
When he walked in she offered him a cup of coffee, which he accepted, and he began to tell her about his conversation with Jack.
“That’s great news!” she shouted. “But…do you think he can really get us away without any trace?”
“I really do,” he replied earnestly. “Jack has quite the reputation in this town, on both sides of the law. If there’s anyone who can help us, it’s him.”
She ran up and hugged him. “Oh, thank you, Henry! You have no idea what this means to me.” She pulled away and looked up at him. “But, you know, you don’t have to come if you don’t want to.”
“Are you telling me that you don’t want me to come with you?” he questioned.
“No, of course not,” she objected. “I just don’t want you to feel pressured. Plus, I want you to really think about this. Jack was right; you barely know me.”
“But I love you” he interjected.
“Yes, and I love you, too,” she reassured him, “Which is exactly why I want you to think about this. I have been living this life for a long time, and it’s not one that I would wish upon anyone. Jack was right; you’d be putting yourself in danger, and I’d hate to see anything happen to you.”
“You’re not hearing me, though, Monica,” he began softly. “I love you. I don’t know how it happened, but somewhere along the way you made me fall in love with you. To be in danger means that I could possibly lose my life, but what you don’t get is that since I left home I haven’t had a life; you brought me back to life. And that means the possibility of losing you is the only danger that I’m in.”
Monica tilted her head to the side and gave him a curious look.
“What?” he asked, chuckling.
“It’s just…you are so different from anyone that I’ve ever met.”
“Is that a good thing?”
“You have no idea how good of a thing that is,” she assured him. “I always assumed my life would be just running until I died. I know that sounds morbid, but it’s true; I stopped having expectations about life a long time ago. But then you showed up, and for the first time I feel like maybe there’s more. Or maybe there could be more.”
He walked up to her, putting his arms around her waist and looking down into her big, brown eyes. “From now on, there’s as much as you want there to be. If you wanted the moon I’d build a ladder big enough to bring it to you. I love you, and that means something to me.”
“I love you,” she affirmed, “And that means everything to me; I don’t need anything more than that.”
She reached up and kissed him. His entire body felt filled with electricity, and his muscles tensed as he pulled her closer. He lifted her up and she wrapped her legs around his waist, letting out a squeal behind her occupied lips. He didn’t even bother bringing her to the bedroom; he laid her down on the floor in the middle of the living room and began ferociously undressing her.
He had always been a modest man, not prone to being the aggressor in romantic situations. But he couldn’t help himself; thought wasn’t part of the equation. He knelt back and lifted his shirt over his head while she unbuckled his belt, and then he went back in to kissing her with the same deep passion as the one in the hallway. He had never felt so euphoric, so alive.
It seemed like days had passed, them tangling themselves within each other. He was lying there, breathless and calmer than he’d ever felt in his life. Her head was lying on his chest and he had his arm wrapped around her shoulder.
“Henry?” she called out softly, almost sleepily.
“Hmm?” he replied.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too, Alora,” he responded softly.
Monica sat bolt upright and looked down at him. “Alora?” she exclaimed. “Who is Alora?!”
“Monica,” he began, frantically trying to gather his thoughts. “I didn’t mean to say that!”
“But you did!” she admonished. “Who is Alora?”
Henry sighed. “I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?” she demanded. “You called me by her name after making love to me!”
“Please, Monica,” he begged, “Calm down and let me explain.”
“I will not calm down! And you’ve got a minute to explain yourself and then you’re leaving!”
So he did; Henry explained about the dreams and about his guilt after each one. He even explained the situation right before he had gotten there.
“I know it sounds weird,” he admitted, “But it’s the truth. I don’t know who she is. But seeing her on the street explains how she got into my dreams; if she lives this close then I must’ve seen her before and just never noticed.”
“And so you chase this woman that you’ve been dreaming about and then come here and make love to me?” Monica repeated, tears welling in her eyes.
“No,” Henry protested. “It’s not like that. I didn’t know this was going to happen when I came here; I came to tell you about what Jack said. And just because I’ve been dreaming about her doesn’t mean that she means anything to me; I don’t even know who she is!”
“But you find her attractive enough to dream about her.”
“No, Monica,” he defended himself. “I don’t know why I’ve been dreaming about her, but it’s not out of attraction, or love, or anything like that. I love you!”
“Will you please leave?” Monica asked softly, tears streaming down her face.
“Monica, please,” Henry said.
“I’m not angry,” she assured him. “I believe you. I just need some time to think. Please leave.”
Henry sighed and just stared at her for a moment. “Okay,” he said dejectedly.
He stood up and began getting dressed. When he was by the front door he looked back and saw her still sitting on the floor, hugging her knees with tears drying on her cheeks as she stared blankly at the floor.
“I’ll come back when I hear something from Jack,” he offered compassionately. She didn’t respond. “I do love you, Monica,” he said, and then turned and left.
When he got back to the restaurant, Jack was standing outside smoking a cigarette. He offered Henry one, which he gladly accepted.
“What’s with you, kid?” Jack asked. “You look like your dog just died.”
Henry then went on to explain the entire day, starting from when he left after his conversation with Jack and ending with him leaving Monica’s apartment, of course giving him all the details about the dreams.
“You did what?” Jack bellowed.
“Please, Jack,” Henry said softly, “I don’t need a lecture, or jokes, or anything right now.”
“I understand,” Jack said consolingly. “I just don’t envy you right now.”
“I just can’t believe that happened,” Henry said aloud, though he had been repeating it to himself the entire walk here. “I can’t believe that left my mouth.”
“Neither can I,” Jack agreed. There was a moment of silence before Jack spoke again. “So who is she really? Some dame you met when you first got here?”
“No,” Henry protested. “I was telling Monica the truth; I really don’t know who she is, or why I’ve been dreaming about her!”
“Okay, I believe you,” Jack said emphatically. “So what are you going to do about it?”
“I’m going to find her.”
“I’m going to find her and figure out what’s going on,” Henry said. “Maybe we have met before, but if that’s the case then it wasn’t from here in New York. And if I didn’t meet her here, then what are the odds of me seeing her here of all places?!”
“Are you out of your mind?” Jack asked incredulously. “After what just happened, you can’t go find this dame! What if Monica finds out that you’re looking for her? That’ll blow any chances that you have of recovering from this.”
“I have to, Jack,” Henry insisted. “These dreams have gotten more and more intense each night, and now they’re invading my waking world. I need to know who she is so I can figure out how to stop this.”
“Alright,” Jack humored him, “And what if you find her? What then? Are you just going to stroll up to her and say, ‘Hi, I’m Henry, and I’ve been dreaming about you every night; want to grab a cup of coffee and talk about it?’ How do you think that’ll turn out?”
“I don’t know!” Henry raised his voice out of frustration. “I don’t know, Jack. But I know that I need to find her and figure this out. Maybe she’ll slap me in the face, or maybe she’ll remember me; I don’t know, but this is something that I have to do.”
“Okay, kid,” Jack surrendered. “You do what you have to do. I don’t know how you’re going to do it, but I’m here for you if you need anything.”
“In the meantime,” Jack continued, “Do you want me to hold off on those travel arrangements until you figure out what’s going on with Monica?”
“No,” Henry said. “Finish arranging everything; whatever happens between me and Monica, I still want her to be safe.”
Jack chuckled. Though, coming from him, it was always more like a maniacal growl. “Like I said earlier, you’re a far better man than I am. Alright, I’ll get everything set up. While I’m doing that, you watch your back. Don’t stretch your neck out too far or you might find it under the headman’s axe.”