Ok, everyone. Here is the next chapter. I think chapter 5 will conclude this story. But, who knows. I know how it is going to end, but I am not exactly sure of the path it will take to get there. That is the part I love about writing fiction the most; the story is an adventure for me, too.
Cheryl and Gerard slept poorly that night. Both laid staring at the ceiling. Neither spoke, they instead trained their senses through the door and down the hall, listening for the slightest stir from Jimmy’s room; they were poised to rush to his side if he had another episode. Giving voice to their thoughts was unnecessary, each was thinking the same thing: What if he discovered the truth of his death? What if he learned his body was no longer his own? But the thought that laughably troubled them the most was: Why did he suddenly like blueberries?
Morning crept upon the worried parents. Gerard, as he seemed to do in hour intervals, glanced at the glaring-red read out of a digital alarm clock on the nightstand beside his bed. Sunrise was still an hour off but the sky outside the bedroom window was beginning to pale. Finally, he kicked the blankets away, startling Cheryl from her thoughts.
“I can’t lie here anymore,” he stated in near exasperation. “I think I am getting bed sores and I am driving myself crazy.”
Cheryl sat up and placed her hand on his shoulder. The gesture had a calming effect.
“I am not sleeping either. Why don’t we go downstairs and make some coffee. Jimmy will be up in a few hours, we can get a head start on breakfast,” she said soothingly.
Downstairs Gerard buried his head in his hands as he listened to the gurgle of the coffee pot. He inhaled slowly, smelling the deep, comforting aroma of the coffee as it filled the room. It reminded him how tired he was, a feeling that weighed on him more as the adrenaline in his system began to subside.
Tilting his head back he groaned in a cavernous yawn and stretched his arms behind him, grunting loudly at the peak of the action.
Cheryl smiled at her husband’s familiar foible. “Feel better,” she asked affectionately.
“A bit,” he replied, stifling another yawn.
“Here, this might help,” she said as she placed a steaming cup of black coffee in front of him.
Gerard nearly dipped his nose in the cup has he inhaled the steaming aroma, the smell was invigorating. His first sip was a bit too zealous and he tipped his head back while sputtering gulps of air through his lips to cool the scalding liquid, all the while trying to keep it from dribbling all over his face.
“Jesus, Gerard, be careful, it’s hot.” Cheryl’s voice was a mix of concern and amusement.
“Thanks, I noticed,” he finally said, cupping his hand over his mouth; he could feel the gums peeling where the coffee burned him the worst. He resumed drinking, but more slowly.
“What are we going to do,” Cheryl asked as she sat next to him at the table, cradling her coffee cup near her chest as though she found comfort in its warmth.
Gerard’s look was hopeless. He had no answers, science fiction had been made reality in the mind of his son and the body of another.
“I don’t know, Cheryl. The doctor said there might be side effects.”
“Side effects? He is dreaming his own death.”
Gerard sighed. His only response was to shake his head.
For the next hour they sat in silence, sipping their coffee and refilling their mugs when they began to cool.
Time seemed to lose meaning and when Cheryl finally announced it was time to start breakfast Gerard couldn’t tell if seconds had passed or hours from when they last spoke.
Gerard continued to sip absently at his coffee, the sounds of Cheryl working in the kitchen merging with his thoughts. Memories of his son, the clanging of pots and the whirring sound of a hand-hold blender mingled in a montage of memories of the past eight years.
Gerard wiped at a tear trickling down his cheek and then stood with a deep sigh. Laughing at himself in a hope to dissolve the sorrow he felt he opened the refrigerator to lend Cheryl a hand.
“We don’t have any blueberries,” he said slightly bemused.
“Perhaps that’s best,” she replied, recognizing the absurdity of the concern. “The doctor said it was important we reinforce his sense of identity.”
“Blueberries?” Gerard sounded exhausted.
“I don’t know. I guess,” she said.
The small voice nearly made both Gerard and Cheryl jump out of their skin.
Jimmy was standing at the entrance to the kitchen, leaning sleepily against the archway.
“Good morning, sleepy head. Did we wake you?” she said, mustering as much enthusiasm as she could manage.
“I heard you cooking,” he said dreamily.
“Are you hungry? I’m making pancakes.”
Jimmy nodded and smiled, rubbing the remaining sleep out of his eyes.
“OK, sweetie. Go wash up and when you come back down it should be ready.”
Jimmy nodded again. He began to leave and then looked curiously at his father.
“Dad, why were you asking about blueberries? You know I hate blueberries.”
“Don’t worry, buddy. I wouldn’t make you eat blueberries.”
“Ok,” Jimmy said as he scurried upstairs to wash up.
When he was gone Cheryl and Gerard shared a baffled look. Cheryl looked like she was about to burst into tears.
Gerard went to her and hugged her close.
“It’s just so fucking confusing…and weird,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion.
Gerard stroked her hair. “I know,” was all he could say.
A few minutes later Jimmy returned, his face looking more awake, the front of his hair was damp.
“Where’s the mirror in the bathroom,” he asked.
“You’re daddy broke it,” Cheryl replied too quickly.
“How am I supposed to brush my teeth,” Jimmy said.
“You don’t need a mirror to find your mouth, do you? You’d think it’s big enough to locate without much trouble,” Gerard said teasingly as he set a plate piled high with pancakes in front of him and ruffled his hair.
Jimmy swatted at his dad’s hand. “Gee thanks, dad.”
“That’s enough, you two. Eat your breakfast,” Cheryl said as she brought the rest of the pancakes over as well as bell creamer filled with maple syrup and dish of soft butter.
Like the night he came home from the hospital Jimmy’s mannerisms and talk while he ate put his parents at ease. Everything took on such a sense of familiarity that the fear and exhaustion began to melt away.
When they finished Jimmy asked if he could go watch TV and he was waived to the living room while his parents busied themselves at cleaning up the mess from breakfast. As they worked, Cheryl and Gerard would intermittently stop to squeeze the other’s hand or whisper about their hopes that maybe things would begin to normalize, emboldened in their belief by how comfortable breakfast was.
As the last dish went into the dishwasher a sound from the next room caught Cheryl’s attention. At first it was a slow repetitive tapping, soon the sound was louder and quicker, like falling dominoes picking up speed.
“What is…” Cheryl was cut off by a loud crash. Then Jimmy began to yell, but it wasn’t fear, instead he sounded angry.
When Cheryl and Gerard quickly entered the living room they found it in disarray. Couch cushions were strewn about, cabinet drawers lay open and a three-level book shelf near the big-screen television was nearly over turned, plastic DVD cases piled in front of it.
Jimmy was sitting on the floor, his face was bright red and he was crying, quietly muttering to himself.
“Where is it. I know it’s here,” he repeated.
Cheryl and Gerard approached their son cautiously, as though he was a bomb ready to go off. Kneeling down beside him, Cheryl asked as soothingly as her fear would allow what he was looking for.
“I can’t find it.” He repeated the statement three times before he erupted into a tantrum, screaming the phrase hysterically and diving into the pile of DVD cases, tossing them aside in his desperate search for the object he was looking for.
Finally Gerard grabbed hold of the flailing child. “What is it, Jimmy? What are you looking for?” He rocked the child as he spoke softly; eventually Jimmy stopped squirming and calmed down.
Again Gerard posed the question.
Calmer, but still wild-eyed, Jimmy looked at the pile of DVDs as he answered.
“I just wanted to watch my Woody Woodpecker cartoon,” he said, fighting back tears.
Gerard gave Cheryl a concerned look. Her hand had come up to her face and there was terror in her eyes.
“You don’t have a Woody Woodpecker cartoon,” his father said softly.
Jimmy began kicking wildly.
“I do. I do. He said it’s here.”
“Who said?” Cheryl’s voice was hysterical.
“The other boy. Tyler,” Jimmy’s words were angry screams now and he was flailing so hard against his dad’s grip Gerard was afraid he would hurt him.
But when Gerard and Cheryl thought they had seen the worst of it Jimmy began shrieking.
“Let me go. Let me go. I don’t know you. Where am I. Help me. Help me.”
“Oh my god,” Cheryl gasped.
“Quickly, call the doctor,” Gerald’s voice was terror-filled.