Sometimes when you feel like you've experienced something before, it's because you have.
Gretchen Holloway, in her final year of graduate school, is in the throes of auditioning actors for her thesis film, inspired by a murdered young football star who has haunted her dreams for two years. Gretchen believes making the movie will be cathartic. But instead of freeing her, embarking upon the film production unleashes a sequence of events that lead Gretchen to conclude that she’s the reincarnation of the young man.
Regina Wilson has always wanted to be an actress. When her agent gets her an audition for a role in Gretchen’s film, which eerily mirrors one of the worst events of her life—the unsolved murder of her older brother, Robert—she’s hard-pressed to go through with it. Upon fleeing, she leaves behind a keepsake that features Robert’s photo. Gretchen sees the picture and recognizes Robert from her dreams. She tracks down Regina, and after being rebuffed and called crazy, Gretchen’s unexplainable knowledge of events in Robert’s life eventually convinces Regina that Gretchen is Robert reincarnated.
The two decide to have his case reopened, but their significant others are dead set against it, and the police, who believe that Robert’s death was gang-related, are less than cooperative. However, Gretchen is desperate to get justice for her former self, and Regina wants justice for her brother. The women piece together the final week of Robert’s life. And the deeper they delve into his past; one shocking revelation follows another, leaving them wondering who they can trust and if they’ll live long enough to find Robert’s killer and bring him to justice.
Dressed in his Sunday best.
That’s how the elderly black woman who sells flowers near the university describes the man in my recurring nightmare. Stretched out in a bronze, silk-lined casket, he wears a tailored blue suit, a white shirt, and a purple tie. His shoes have a mirror shine, and a mysterious light illuminates his curly, black hair. My misty gaze always travels his length, and I stare until the moment his eyes snap open and blood spills out of them, onto his crisp white shirt, down his tie, and over his suit.
Drenched in sweat, I bolt upright in bed, shaking and gasping.
The dream always unfolds this way, and last night was no different. So I lie here while my fiancé, who can sleep through a catastrophic earthquake, runs his finger across my back, spelling out I love you.
I hold my breath, hoping he’ll turn over and go back to sleep. My hopes are dashed when he pushes against me. I imagine myself ramming my elbow into his stomach so hard that he tumbles out of bed, bounces off the floor, and crashes through the window, landing with a muddy thud on the dew-soaked lawn. That’s how irritable I am, because once again, I didn’t get any sleep. The last time I slept through the night was two years ago. I want this nightmare to stop. I’m tired of seeing Him—this nameless stranger, clinging to me during the night. He’s like an infected appendage that needs to be amputated.
“Babe, are you up? I want you,” Lance murmurs near my ear, his morning breath wafting through my hair.
Am I up? I’m always up. My eyes land on the clock on the nightstand, its numbers taunting me. It’s 6:30 a.m. I can’t believe I’ve been tossing and turning for three hours. Lance wanted to make love last night, but I wasn’t in the mood, and I promised him we could fool around in the morning—a promise I shouldn’t have made.
I turn over, and his square, freckled face cracks a smile. The light seeping through our bedroom blinds upstages his grin, and I focus on the light, thinking about the day ahead. The weatherman forecasted rain. I pray he’s wrong. It’s November, and we’ve had some drizzle here and there, but no serious downpours. Lance, who hails from New York, gets a kick out of California motorists. He says they don’t know how to drive in inclement weather.
“You promised…I can’t help it, Red. You know the effect you have on me.” He scratches his head, topped with a mop of blond hair, then snuggles against me, sending a welcome heatwave my way. I bask in the warmth, hoping it’ll lull me to sleep. But a hand running up my Tom Brady Patriots jersey kills the moment. I hiss and push Lance toward his side of the bed. He bolts upright and turns on the bedside lamp, as though he’s trying to shed light on the situation. “What’s wrong with you, Greeet-cheeen?” He narrows his baby blues at me.
I hate the way he pronounces my name when he’s annoyed. He stretches out the syllables and says it in a high-pitched tone like he’s scolding one of his middle school students. I prefer my pet name—Red. Lance and my late grandmother are the only two people in the world who’ve ever called me that. Lance is obsessed with my crimson locks. His niece, not so much. When he introduced me to her, she burst into a fit of laughter. When I asked the seven-year-old what was funny, she boldly predicted that if Lance and I had a baby, it’ll have orange hair. That remains to be seen because getting pregnant is at the bottom of my priorities list.
I sit up. The thought of going through the day sleep-deprived fills me with dread. “Nothing’s wrong, Lance.”
“You had the dream again. Don’t lie. You dreamt about Him. Tell the truth.”
We sit in uncomfortable silence, gawking at each other. He slouches against the headboard and folds his arms across his hairy chest. I turn away from him. My gaze roams over the blue walls with white trim, covered in photos documenting our courtship. It lands on a picture of Lance and me wearing black caps and gowns at our college graduation three years ago. Where the freak does time go? My eyes dip to the picture on the dresser, of my father and me at Super Bowl LI, and my lips curl up into a smile. It fades when the dream I had last night floods my mind, pushing away my thoughts about higher education and my obsession with America’s second pastime.
“So you’re not going to answer me,” he says.
“Yes, I dreamt about him.”
“I’m worried about you. I think you should see that doctor I found.”
“Lance, you agreed with me that my idea to turn my dream into a film was far better than having someone trying to get into my head and prescribing me drugs. Let me get through the process. I know it’ll be cathartic. Once I get the dream out in the open, I know this weird spell will be broken. You felt the same way. So why are you backpedaling?”
“Because you’ve been having this damn nightmare for too long. Don’t you want it to stop?”
“It’s going to stop!” I say with the force of a category four hurricane, trying to convince both of us. I want it to stop. “Be patient, Lance.”
“I love you. It’s hard watching this disrupt your life, not just your sleep. You don’t see it, but it’s changed you. He’s changed you.”
“What do you mean ‘he’s changed me’?”
“It hasn’t happened overnight. It’s been gradual. You’re distant. You spend every waking hour with Patty on preproduction for the film. And when you’re not doing that, you’re watching football. And on weekends you’re mentoring. I know all of it’s important to you, but the only time I get to be with you is when we go to bed. I want some time with you when it’s daylight when we’re up and fully awake.”
“I’m sorry, Lance. I didn’t realize I’ve been shutting you out.”
He scoots toward me and takes my hand. It looks small and delicate in his. He runs his thumb over the three-carat diamond ring he slipped on my finger, on my birthday this past New Year’s Day. I receive compliments on the ring all the time, then raised brows when people find out Lance is a schoolteacher. I can see their minds working, trying to figure out how someone earning a teacher’s salary can afford bling like this. What they don’t know is that he’s a trust fund baby. Last year he received his first distribution. It wasn’t enough to stop him from working, and he wouldn’t have even if it had been. He loves teaching and adores his students. But it did afford us the ring, me going to graduate school full-time, and our swanky condo in Dancing Hills—an elite Los Angeles suburb where I grew up.
“Well, you have been distant, and I want my best friend back.”
“You’ll get her back. I promise.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I love you, Lance. You know I do.” I wait for him to give me a sign that he believes me. A smile, a nod, a peck on the lips. He does the latter.
“I know you do. I’m sorry you didn’t get much rest. What time do the auditions start?”
“Eleven a.m., but I want to be there by 10:00 a.m. It’s too late to go back to sleep,” I say, looking at the seven and two zeros on the clock.
“Why don’t I fix breakfast?”
“That sounds good.” I get out of bed and sink my feet into the plush blue carpet. “I’m going to take a shower. I’ll meet you downstairs.”
He gives me a mischievous look and says, “Maybe I’ll join you and then make breakfast.”
“Maybe you should take a cold shower alone, Lance, and I’ll make breakfast.”
“I’m kidding,” he says, through laughter.
“You’d better be.”
“How hungry are you?”
“Very. Thanks, sweetie.”
He jumps out of bed and grabs his jeans, wedged between the boxes of Thanksgiving care packages. We’d spent a couple of weeks filling the packages with canned goods, dried fruit, blankets, and toiletries. Grinning, he slips on his jeans and leaves the room. I smile while remembering the fun we had picking out the turkeys, also part of the giveaway, currently stashed in our freezer in the garage. And I laugh out loud recalling Lance hiking a frozen turkey to me, at my request. I was in a playful mood that day, feeling good about doing something worthwhile for others. While trying to catch the turkey, I backed into our shopping cart and fell flat on my butt. Lance, thinking I was hurt, wouldn’t stop apologizing. Gosh, I love that man.
My laughter subsides when I flashback to the dream. I toss my thoughts and focus on the auditions today. Maybe I should go ahead and give Him a name.