Hello! Again, I appreciate the comments! Please continue to tell me what you think. I wanted to point out that any paragraphs in italics are either dream sequences, flashbacks or memories. Just in case some people were thrown off by them. James loses himself in his own thoughts quite a bit.
Chapter Three: 4 in the Morning
James sat across from Laura in a small Szechuan restaurant. The red leather cushion of his seat was pocketed with holes and the absence of a knob on one of legs made the chair rickety. The walls were mottled and peeling, and they hadn't been painted over in years. Intricate, cut-out dragons decked the walls, but even those were falling off at some places. Bulbous, tasseled lanterns blew around on the ceiling whenever the door opened. Most of them just came in to pick up their food and ate outside, but force of habit had James eating in like the misanthrope he was.
“You alright, James?” Laura asked in mid-chew, her cheeks puffed up with noodles.
“I'm fine,” he smiled. “Just thinking.”
She turned her attention back to her food. Laura was semi-skilled with chopsticks, as she grabbed most of the food she attempted. James was too much of a westerner to ever learn to do that—forks and spoons were sufficient for him.
His eye caught the pink cat in the doorway, ushering in potential customers with its Cheshire smile and endlessly waving paw. It made him think of the window in Lakeview Hotel, the cute but poorly drawn kitten smiling back at him after Laura left in a hurry to find Mary's missing letter. He had found evidence of Laura's presence all around Silent Hill before that point; kittens and teddy bears stared at him from the ruined walls of Brookhaven Hospital and the Blue Creek Apartments. Her adorable vandalism strangely led him in the right directions ofttimes, and unbeknown to her, ended up saving his life once or twice.
“Hey, Laura.. Do you still draw?”
“Uhm..” She tilted her head, “Draw? Like when I was little?” She laughed. “No. I can't believe you still remember that.”
“It's funny what your mind chooses to remember sometimes.” he cupped his chin and continued looking outside.
“You look like you stay up late. You have circles under your eyes.”
“Huh? Oh, yeah.. I don't sleep much, really.”
Laura wanted to ask if he had nightmares, but thought that would be too probing, especially during their first encounter. “Oh. That sucks.”
“In a major way,” he laughed. “You don't stay up late, do you?”
“I know I shouldn't because I have classes, but I do anyway. I can't help it.”
“Sometimes to 2 in the morning on school nights. In the summer, I stay up later, usually all night.”
“Hmm.. I usually wake up around 4. I have to be at work by 6 anyway, so it's not like it matters.”
James boxed the remainder of his meal while Laura bought one last coke, and then they both headed out. James snuck another look at her. Seeing her face was like remembering something completely forgotten, like the memories of being a baby. It was such an out-of-place feeling. To this day, he wondered what exactly made people happy around old acquaintances, no matter what their past relationship was.
This wasn't the first time this happened.
A few weeks ago, James was perusing through Walmart, throwing the worst kind of junk food into the cart for wont of real nutrition, and a woman passed him and called, “James!”
The woman's name was Chloe Abernathy, his sworn enemy in the 7th grade. She relentlessly ridiculed him for being one of the chubbier kids, and even managed to make others join in the taunting. She was the beautiful, spoiled, popular girl in school who had all the cool and interesting friends. And he? Well, he was one of the undesirables—shy, wore clothes from the last decade, totally hopeless around any girl that wasn't his Mom—the works.
She might as well have said, “Hey, James, how are you? You remember me from 7th grade, right? Remember how I used to call you names like 'fat cow' and 'beached whale' so much it made you hate yourself? Ahh.. Good times.”
That woman actually had the nerve to say he was handsome now, and she guessed that good-looking guys must go through a weird phase growing up.
And exactly what kind of phase was she referring to? The “frump” phase?
The memory almost had him roll his eyes.
Laura lived on a corner of the street in what looked like yet another crappy apartment complex. But because of this, it was cheaper and closer to the school in order to attract students. She was probably living in a one bedroom with not only her best friend, but her best friend's boyfriend, and anyone else who got unreasonably drunk and decided to crash there for the night. James thought it might be a little off-putting to ask her if she had a boyfriend herself, but he speculated that if she did, she probably wouldn't have spent all this time with a guy like him.
She stood on the top step. “Hey.. Lemme give you my number. You have a cell phone?”
“Oh, yeah,” James took out his phone, “Go ahead.”
Laura told him her number and vice versa. “What do you have?”
“Do you have unlimited everything?”
“I..I never checked. I just got a standard plan.”
“Well, do you want to meet again tomorrow? If you're busy I can just call you later. Or you could call me.”
“I get out of work at 2 in the afternoon, so I should be available for the rest of the day. It's kinda sad how much time I have on my hands.”
“Oh, don't feel bad. I'm the same way. If I don't have homework, I'm at home watching TV or eating junk food.”
“So you don't work?”
“Only like two days a week. We're slowing down right now.”
James nodded. “Well, it was good catching up and all..” and began to descend the steps.
“..Does it matter to you if I don't want to go home right now?” Laura fiddled with her fingers. “I mean, I don't want to go home and be bored.”
He smiled. “Don't you have school tomorrow?”
“My classes don't start until 12. I'll be fine.”
“All of the places are staring to close now..”
She ground one of her pink sandals into the pavement pensively, “Then, why don't we go to your place?” she smirked.
“So they have a place where people who were just released are supposed to live?” Laura dragged her polished fingers on the counter top of the kitchenette. It only composed of five cabinets above her head, a small microwave, and an island in the middle that reminded her more of a cutting board than a kitchen table. There wasn't even any room for chairs.
“Yeah, I guess. This complex is near the outskirts, and is kind of out of the way, so we won't be able to bother “normal” people. This neighborhood is filled with old geezers, and we're far away from the schools and playgrounds and stuff..”
James did some last-minute tidying up, snatching his blanket and pillow off the couch and throwing them in his unused bedroom. He quickly chucked every can of Red Bull, bottle of Gatorade and Diet Coke he could find on the living room table and threw them into the trash can. He pushed in the cushions and dusted the furniture off the best he could. Thankfully, Laura wasn't paying attention, and was instead horrified at the total lack of food in the cabinets and silverware in the shelves.
“You've been living in here for a year now and you haven't gotten any food in the cabinets?”
“Uhh.. Well you know I just eat out a lot. I know that's not too healthy but I can't cook to save my life.”
“Yeah, I could tell from the pizza boxes scattered everywhere,” she laughed, “You need a woman's touch so badly in here.”
“Yeah. It isn't much, is it?”
Laura sat on the couch. “So how long are you supposed to live here?”
“Another year. If I pass my evaluation.”
“They have to test me to see if I'm improving.”
“So will you be sent back to jail if you fail?” Laura frowned.
“No, they'll..” James was growing uncomfortable, “They'll want to put me in a hospital. They basically decided that I can be around people and live on my own, but they just want to make sure once and for all that I'm okay up here.” He pointed to his head.
“But I think you were under...special circumstances. Your case was special, I mean.”
James laughed. “They think I'm special, all right.”
Laura cupped her mouth and laughed too. “I didn't mean that!”
Was it alright to laugh at this now? Were they mocking Mary's memory or were they both acknowledging that James was just a little...absent-minded?
“Do you hang out with people?”
He sat back. “No one except my probation officer. As weird as that sounds.”
“What's his name?”
“She's a woman. Her name's Victoria, and she's always checking up on me.”
“I thought they only gave guys male probation officers.”
“Not always. If they think you're going to be a problem, they'll probably give you a guy. And besides, I could never get over on Victoria if I tried. She's...very trained.”
“Ha ha ha!”
Much to James' bewilderment, he managed to keep this girl entertained for hours. She thought James was so funny and interesting. This phenomenon hadn't occurred in years; in fact, the last woman who was this interested in him was Mary herself, back when they met at that party in '86. He had told her a forest joke involving a rabbit and a bear and she laughed so hard she nearly spilled her drink. It was a silly way to start a friendship, they both knew, but they were inseparable since. By midnight, they were already making out at the back of the house. Mary kept laughing and interrupting; she kept bringing up the joke. Looking back on it, it was pretty funny—Mary could be so adorable when she was drunk.
James furrowed his brows. Why did he feel he was talking to Mary again?
“Whew!” she cried. “It's so late!”
Her cell phone read 11:17 pm.
“Time flies when you're having fun, I guess,” he remarked shyly.
“Yeah. I didn't expect you to be this funny, James. But I guess it would make sense that I would think that—the last time I met you, you weren't happy.” she frowned.
“Mm,” James took a swig of ice-tea, desperately hoping she wouldn't further this.
“So, um, it's pretty late out.. I guess it's time for me to go.” she stood, dusting off her jean skirt and straightening out her hair.
“I'll drive you.” James led her to the door, but as he opened it, she turned around very suddenly and held it open.
“Wait..” she said, almost breathlessly.
It left him stunned. Was it him, or did she seriously not want to leave?
“My friend is probably sleeping, and I don't have my key, so.. I don't think she would hear me.”
James didn't show it, but he strongly suspected she was lying. Why would she walk around without her key, especially when her friend wouldn't be there all the time to answer the door? They were both college students and they were both working. Their schedules wouldn't permit them to simply forget their keys.
So what now?
“Um..” James started.
“Do you mind if I spend the night here?”
James withdrew from the door and turned away, examining the state of his home. He didn't like where this was going. No one had stayed over before, and he was beginning to question Laura's intentions. She was, after all, a teenage girl, and girls had all sorts of schemes up their sleeves.
Laura laughed. “You don't really think I'll try anything, do you? I barely know you, and besides, you're too old for me!”
James quickly straightened. “Of course not!” he tried to make it seem he found the whole idea very silly, “It's just it's very sudden. We've only hung out for a few hours, and now you're sleeping over.”
Laura edged her way in with a big smile. “So it's okay?”
“So it's okay?” she asked.
James walked off. “Yeah, it's fine,” he gruffly confirmed.
He pulled out his map once more and sat down on the bench, deciding to sift through all the papers he collected before they headed off. The size of this town, coupled with the dense fog and the hidden monsters, made this town that much more of a threat.
Looked like their next stop was the Historical Society. He just hoped there weren't too many of them on Nathan Avenue; they were both exceptionally vulnerable now considering that Maria didn't have a weapon. Apparently, she had a revolver earlier, but threw it away somewhere. What the hell would make her wanna do that?
Suddenly, Angela's voice rang in his mind: “If I kept it, I don't know what I might do..”
James pulled up his pants leg and took the knife from his boot. He held it up to her. “Maria.. I think you should have this. You'll have to be within close range to attack the monsters, but hell, it's better than nothing. That way, you'll be able to defend yourself if we get separated somehow, okay?”
“Oh..” she grabbed the knife and examined it, “Eww. I can see it's been used.”
“Not by me,” he murmured, as he carefully folded his maps and memos and tucked them back inside his pockets. He stood, finding his eyes traveling all over her. She looked like Mary's missing twin, yet she was so much more beautiful, so much more..desirable. She repulsed him at first with her shameless sexual advances, but disgustingly enough, they were beginning to light a fire in him. How could he still be such a pig in the worst of times? To think that even in a place like this, he could catch himself wanting another woman..
Of course, he wanted all sorts of women after Mary got sick, but he never acted on any of those urges. He couldn't live with himself if he had spent even a minute in another woman's bed while Mary was slowly dying in her own.
“Maria.. Let's go.”
Shrouded in his own covers, shaking, James tried to regain his composure. The apartment was completely dark, and the fan in front of him whirred calmly. Not surprisingly, he was sweating again, and his hands were trembling on occasion. He had relived this experience so many times in his dreams that by now he should be numb. So why wasn't he? Why did these dreams continue to torment him?
He learned what he had to; he saw what he needed to see. Why couldn't he just let it go!
The light of the refrigerator made him squint his eyes. He searched around for the ice-tea he had earlier, and gulped it all down. He could watch some TV for an hour or two, and try to go back to sleep. He could only hope he wouldn't have to fight anything in his next, inevitable dream.
He slowly walked down the hall to his bedroom door. Laura lay peacefully in his bed, turned away from him. Luckily, he had another fan on in the room to muffle the sounds of his footsteps.
There, in the doorway, he stared at her back, wondering just why he was doing this. Why he was suddenly wishing for something he could never have again.
He wished he was in that bed with his wife, holding her again. He wished that she wasn't sick or angry with him—he just wanted to hold her and have her be okay. But this warmth..he would never have that ever again. Nor did he deserve it.
He was the one who took it right away from himself. He was a victim of himself. It was his fault.
She never deserved that. And neither did Laura. She shouldn't be here..
James palmed his face. He kept hearing Mary calling his name repeatedly, to hold her in the abyss of his mind. She wanted him with her, in the same dark place she was. She was all alone.
He slowly turned away, unsure just what he would end up doing if he stayed there. He didn't trust himself. Painfully numb, he crawled back onto the couch and threw the covers over his face. He checked his cell phone.
Another day had already snuck up on him again.
Laura eased her eyes open and looked around groggily. James had all the blinds shut in the house, including the ones in his bedroom, and for an hour or two it had her believing it was still nighttime. But now she really couldn't argue with her biological clock, as it kept saying that the sun should have been up a long time ago. She sat up and scratched her back lazily, wondering if James was awake too. She was kind of disappointed that she couldn't spend much time with James before classes. As it was, she still had homework to do that she totally neglected because of him.
She didn't remember the door being open. And why was her entire body covered in a blanket? It was too hot last night for blankets..
She shrugged it off and her feet plopped on the floor. The blinds opened to let in calm, bright orange rays of sun. She was thinking she should open up all the blinds, but the presence of too much light might end up annoying James. And he just might be one of those paranoid types who thought that people were watching them when they had the blinds up.
Laura walked down the hallway cautiously. The fan was still running the pillow was still on the couch. Alas, when she went into the living room, the couch was unoccupied. Moments later, her phone vibrated.
Sent Thurs. @ 9:21 am. Frm : James S. (mobile)
Had to go to work din want 2 wake u up. Srry. Please lock door b4 yu go to school
She briefly wondered if she could sleep over again. Or perhaps...that was too much to hope for. The fact that he didn't wake her up and say goodbye before he left..
She doubted the excuse would work again tonight.