Lessons

A short story by Joyce Arthur

Copyright, September, 1994

The English Lit instructor stood at the chalkboard and began to write with a vigorous hand. “These novels,” she was saying, “will help us appreciate the struggle for independence and identity by both women and Afro-Americans. What should become clear to you as you read these books is that the roots of oppression are always found in patriarchy and paternalism.”

The students bowed their heads over their notebooks and dutifully wrote the titles down – Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Sam Truscott gazed thoughtfully for a moment at the instructor before he began to write, a frown creasing his forehead. It bothered him that the instructor was so quick to declare where “the roots of oppression” were. Wasn’t this something the students should reason out for themselves? His curious glance took in his classmates, and he noticed that he was the only white male in the room.

“Has anyone read a Toni Morrison novel before?” the instructor asked. Three women raised their hands and as the teacher called on them, Sam couldn’t help but notice that the first one to speak, sitting across from him, was strikingly beautiful.

“Song of Solomon,” she murmured in a low, soft voice that caressed the words. She turned her head slightly to find Sam staring unabashedly, his mouth slightly ajar. When he didn’t look away, she gave him a shy smile and dropped her eyes to her notebook.

Thereafter, Sam found it hard to concentrate, but he did pay attention long enough during the roll call to discover her name. Jolena Goodwin. When the instructor released them, he gathered up his books and caught up with her outside the door. “So what do you think of Toni Morrison? Did you enjoy Song of Solomon?”

She stopped and smiled at him, revealing perfect white teeth. Her lips were full and her dark complexion flawless. A hint of interested amusement lit her eyes as she replied, “Yes, very much. Her writing is really vivid, her characters are well-drawn, and she has an intuitive understanding of the African-American experience that really captures the reader.”

“I’m impressed,” said Sam, impressed. Beauty and brains, he thought. Maybe he’d finally found someone who could share his intellectual passions. He quickly caught himself – he’d been with enough women to know better than to get his hopes up too soon. “You sound like you know how to recognize good literature. Have you read any of her other books?”

Jolena laughed. “Well, actually, I’ve read them all, but Song of Solomon is my favourite. I’m looking forward to reading Beloved again though.”

Sam gazed at her with obvious pleasure. “Me too,” he said, grinning. “I mean, I’m looking forward to reading it, period.”

“Great,” said Jolena, returning his smile. She glanced at her watch. “I’ve got to run – I’ve got another class. Maybe we can talk more on Monday.”

“Sure,” Sam replied. “See you later.” As an afterthought, he called out, “My name’s Sam!”

She looked back over her shoulder. “I’m Jolena. See you later, Sam.”

Jolena started down the hall, lost in pleasurable thought. Even though Sam was white, he was very good looking and obviously interested in her. She’d felt a spark between them, as soon as she first noticed him staring. What would it be like to be with a white man? She shivered with forbidden excitement, and tried to banish the thought from her mind. If her girlfriends knew what she was thinking right now, they would be appalled. Vanessa’s face floated into her mind’s eye. She was saying, “I can’t believe you, Jo! Hundreds of beautiful black butts in this college and you pick some whiteass! C’mon, girl! Straighten yourself out!”

As if her mind had magically conjured her up, she heard Vanessa’s voice calling her name. She turned and saw her friend striding towards her, a grin on her face. Tagging slightly behind her were Angie and Caroline. She remembered now that the four of them were all heading for the same Women’s Studies class.

“Hey there, Jo!” exclaimed Vanessa. “What’s up, girl?” Vanessa was tall and exuberant, always eager for action and quick to pounce on perceived injustice. She was the driving force behind the college’s politically correct movement. Jolena felt lucky to be her friend, lucky to be in the vanguard of this important social movement. It made her feel useful, like she belonged.

“I just had an English Lit class. We’re going to read a few novels by women authors. The instructor seems to really understand something about black consciousness.” Jolena paused and added, “Even though she’s not a sister.”

“Yeah, some white folks are okay,” agreed Angie, as they continued down the hall.

Vanessa gave them all a stern look. “Just remember that no matter how hard they try, whites can never really appreciate the black experience, the same way men’ll never know much about women.”

They all nodded in solemn agreement.

“Jolena, I saw you and that white guy talkin’ a minute ago,” Caroline interjected. “Is his name Sam?”

“Well, yes. Do you know him?” said Jolena, surprised.

“No, but I’ve seen him around and I’ve heard about him,” Caroline confided. “Tobias was in a class with him last term and he said the guy is kinda weee-eird.” She drew out the last word for dramatic emphasis.

“Weird? What do you mean?” Jolena was dismayed. The four of them halted as they reached the classroom door.

“Well, apparently, the guy thought he knew more than the teacher did,” Caroline replied. “It was a philosophy class and they had an argument about the nature of truth or some stupid thing. Then this Sam guy called the teacher an idiot and walked out! Can you believe it?”

“Hey, I remember hearing about that,” said Vanessa. “Wasn’t the teacher a brother?” She frowned at Jolena. “Maybe your friend Sam is some kind of racist – maybe he doesn’t like it when blacks state the facts.”

“That can’t be true!” objected Jolena hotly. “He’s nice! Besides, he likes me, and I’m black!” She regretted saying it the moment it was out.

“I bet he likes your black ass, all right.” Vanessa leaned closer to her, anger and concern written over her face. “Listen, honey, I worry about you. Don’t go messing around with no white guy who probably thinks he’s better than you. I’ve seen it all before. He doesn’t care about you. He’s just after a piece o’ nice black tail, and don’t you forget it.”

Jolena scowled at Vanessa. She wanted to argue, but felt unsure of herself. What if Vanessa was right? She was always saying not to trust white folks, especially men. Jolena had met a few white guys who seemed nice at first, but who quickly shunned her when they found out she wasn’t interested in a sexual relationship. It made her feel degraded, not quite human, like she was only good for one thing. But she had a better impression of Sam – she wanted to believe that he was different.

“Thanks for your advice, Vanessa.” She glanced at Angie and Caroline. “Maybe we’d better go in – we’re late.”

“Okay,” agreed Vanessa. “Hey, are you coming to the meeting next Tuesday?”

“Yes, I’ll be there,” Jolena promised as they entered the classroom.

*******************

Monday’s English Lit class was both a high point and a low point for Sam. Jolena sat beside him and their back-and-forth banter enraptured him. When the class got underway though, Sam found himself becoming impatient with the instructor, who seemed intent on bulldozing her point of view over the student’s captive minds.

“Do you have any scientific evidence that blacks have a stronger moral sense than whites?” Sam questioned in response to one of her comments.

The instructor stared at him as if he were a cockroach and shook her blonde head emphatically. “It’s not necessary to prove something that’s such a real part of the black experience. It was whites who dragged blacks from Africa, whites who beat, raped, and abused them, and whites who are still oppressing them today.”

“I just think the politics of oppression are a bit more complicated than that,” retorted Sam. “I suspect that any group of people in a position of power, no matter what their colour is, would tend to oppress others.”

Another student in the class, a black woman, spoke up sharply. “Blacks have never kept slaves and they’ve never oppressed other people. Don’t go puttin’ your own race guilt onto us!”

“I’m not, and what you said isn’t true,” Sam shot back. “Before the white man came to Africa, African tribes warred against each other and enslaved members of other tribes. And later, it was black chiefs and kings who sold their own people to white slave traders.”

“That’s complete crap!” the woman shouted back, and the class immediately erupted into a verbal free-for-all.

Bewildered, Jolena sat back and watched in silence. She stole a glance at Sam, who was thick in the fray of argument. She knew he was right – he was only asserting facts – yet she felt afraid to speak up and defend him. She remembered what Caroline had told her about Sam last week and understood now what it meant. Sam was no racist – he just didn’t play stupid political games like so many others on campus. He believed in expressing the truth. She felt ashamed to realize that Vanessa and her friends were the kind of people Sam would probably hate.

After class, she apologized for not coming to his defence. “I agree completely with everything you said in there. I guess I’m just a coward – I was afraid of people jumping all over me like they did with you.”

He brushed it off easily. “Don’t worry, Jolena. I know you’re not like some of those others,” he reassured her with a gentle smile. “Anyway, I’m too impulsive sometimes – you know what they say – fools rush in where others fear to tread.”

“You’re no fool, Sam Truscott,” said Jolena. “That’s for damn sure.”

*******************

On Tuesday afternoon, Sam went to the library to research a history assignment. He had been thinking a lot about Jolena, wishing that tomorrow was already here so he could go to class and see her again. As his mind lingered on the memory of her soft voice, he glanced up from the book he wasn’t reading to see the object of his thoughts perusing a shelf a few yards away from him.

“Serendipity,” he muttered under his breath, not taking his eyes off her. For a long moment, her graceful movements and delicate beauty riveted his attention. As if sensing she was being watched, she suddenly turned and caught his gaze. A shy happy smile lit up her face.

“Sam!” Jolena returned a book to the shelf and walked over to Sam’s study table. “What a coincidence! How are you?”

“I’m great, thanks.” He paused. “And you?” His voice was soft and low and his eyes seemed to devour her. Jolena felt a rush of warmth suffuse through her body and she lowered her gaze to the table top. Dismayed, she realized her heart was picking up speed and her palms were beginning to sweat.

“Fine.” She cleared her throat. “What are you reading?”

Sam looked at his book for a moment as if he was surprised to see it in his hands. “Oh, it’s just The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” He tossed it aside. “Here, have a seat.” He pulled out the chair beside him.

Jolena laughed as she came around the table and sat down. “I’ve never met anyone who was so cavalier about reading Gibbon. He had a lot of serious things to say, you know.”

Sam’s jaw dropped. “You’ve actually read this book?”

“Well, I took a stab at it once. I must admit, it was pretty heavy going, and I didn’t finish it, but it was fascinating stuff. I enjoy history. I like to know where we came from – not just my own people, but everyone.”

“I’m really glad to hear you say that. There’s some people on this campus that would rather throw out European history entirely.”

“I know,” Jolena said with a frown. “I do like the multiculturalist approach to teaching, but I guess it wouldn’t hurt to keep a few Dead White European Males around.” She grinned mischievously at him and they both started laughing.

Their laughter caused a small chorus of shhhhh’s to erupt around them. Jolena and Sam looked at each other in guilty amusement. “I want to talk to you some more,” Sam entreated with a whisper. “Go for a coffee with me?”

The rest of the afternoon passed and nightfall came, but Sam and Jolena were too absorbed in each other to notice. They sat in the café and talked and then talked some more. They analyzed the reasons behind the fall of Rome, the future of Russian politics, the impact of free trade on the global economy, and of course, the pros and cons of political correctness.

It wasn’t difficult at all for Jolena to accept Sam’s invitation to dinner at Enrico’s, where they ordered a bottle of wine to go with their chicken cacciatores. This time, the conversation was lighter and punctuated with laughter as they regaled each other with tales of family, school, and life in general.

At nine o’clock, Jolena suddenly noticed the time. “Oh no! The meeting! I’ve missed it!”

“Meeting?”

“Yes, a student council meeting. I promised my friend Vanessa I would go.” She sighed. “Oh well, I’ll just have to apologize tomorrow.”

“In that case, why don’t we go for a walk?”

The cool night air and the conversation were both invigorating, so much so that Jolena was surprised when Sam stopped and pointed out his apartment building across the street.

“I honestly didn’t mean to end up here,” said Sam ruefully. “I’m sorry. Would you like me to walk you home?”

“I live on the other side of the campus, so it would be better to take a taxi, I guess.” She looked around uncertainly for a phone booth, and realized she was hoping there wouldn’t be one. She didn’t want the evening to end so suddenly.

“You could call a cab from my place,” offered Sam.

“All right,” Jolena agreed. “To tell you the truth, I am curious to see where you live. And besides,” she added casually, “it’s still pretty early.”

“You’re right,” said Sam, relieved and ecstatic. He hoped that she was feeling the same way he was – he’d never before felt so fully alive as he did with her. It was like every nerve ending and brain cell in his body was switched on high.

They spoke little as they climbed the stairs to his second floor suite, and when they entered the apartment, he closed the door quietly behind them. They stood in the hallway looking at each other and there didn’t seem to be anything more to say. With a sudden, fierce passion, they embraced, their books falling to the floor. His mouth came down on hers with a hunger and excitement that shocked him. He felt her body shudder as she pressed against him and the muffled gasp that escaped her lips fueled his passion even more.

Suddenly, he was lifting her in his arms and without taking his mouth from hers, he carried her, light as a feather, into his bedroom and gently lowered her onto the bed.

“Sam…” Jolena whispered. Her voice was husky with passion and the sound of his name on her lips was like the sweetest music he had ever heard.

“I want to love you, Jolena,” he said hoarsely. His fingers were feverishly, impatiently unbuttoning her blouse and then her skirt. He needed to touch her warm skin so badly, his hands were shaking.

Jolena felt her head spinning. Her whole body was trembling and she was almost gasping for air. Never had she felt such overwhelming passion. It was all happening so fast – the surging momentum was out of her control. But she didn’t want to control it. She pushed away the doubt in the back of her mind and let her body succumb to the fever that possessed it.

*******************

“Hey, Jo!” Vanessa’s strong voice carried effortlessly across the main concourse. Jolena waved her acknowledgment and hurried over to greet her, a little annoyed. She’d been just about to enter the Humanities Building for her English Lit class and was looking forward to seeing Sam.

As always, Angie and Caroline were attached to Vanessa, one on either side. “Jolena, where were ya last night?” asked Angie. “You missed a real important meeting.”

“I’m really sorry, you guys. I got sidetracked by something and just couldn’t get there. What happened?”

“Girl,” began Vanessa with an affected air of braggadocio. “Scrape your knees and bow your head. You just happen to be lookin’ at the newly appointed Dy-rector of the Committee to Enforce Campus Safety.”

“Wow, Vanessa, you did it!” cried Jolena. “That’s great! Congratulations!”

“You bet I did it. Finally, we’ve got some real rules and regulations to stop date rape on campus. Rules with teeth in ’em. That should help shrivel up a few of those overeager arrogant dicks.”

“Right on,” said Caroline. Angie giggled and Jolena smiled uncomfortably.

“No more men assuming they know what women want,” Vanessa boasted. “From now on, if a guy wants to get it on, he has to ask permission, straight out, every step of the way.”

“Every step of the way?” gasped Jolena. “But that’s ridiculous! Sex doesn’t happen that way!”

“C’mon Jolena,” argued Caroline. “It’s the only thing that’s guaranteed to protect women. Men need to know that when a woman says no, she means no! And it’s great for women, too. It’ll encourage us to be real clear about what we want. It’ll be fine – you’ll see!”

“I don’t know,” said Jolena. “It seems to take the fun right out of it.”

Vanessa’s voice was slow and menacing. “So you think rape is fun, is that it?”

“Of course not!” Jolena cried. “But these regulations could turn normal, consensual sex into some kind of crime!”

“No-one’s going to report consensual sex as date rape, you idiot!” retorted Vanessa. “The rules are there to protect women who really do get raped.”

“I thought you were on our side, Jolena,” said Angie. “These rules are exactly what we all wanted and fought for.”

“Well, they’re not what I fought for. I had no idea you were trying to pass something so absurd. If I’d known, I would have tried to stop you.”

“Well, well, Jo’s true colour has finally revealed itself,” Vanessa said. “She’s yellow! And a traitor too, looks like.”

Jolena could feel her agitation mounting. “I’m no traitor. I’m just concerned about what’s right and I think these rules are going to hurt somebody.”

“Jolena!” called a familiar voice, interrupting their battle. They all turned to look, and Jolena saw Sam sprinting towards her, a big grin on his face. She felt suddenly afraid.

“Hi, Sam,” she offered in a strained voice.

He didn’t seem to notice and impulsively reached out to caress her hair. Jolena heard Caroline’s quick intake of breath. “You left one of your books at my place last night,” Sam said. “Here.” He proffered the book to her and Jolena reluctantly reached to take it. She was sharply aware of Vanessa’s hard eyes boring into her.

Sam seemed to notice her friends for the first time and smiled brightly at them. “Hi! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt. Jolena and I have a class together in a few minutes.”

“Yes, we should go,” said Jolena quickly. She gave Vanessa a look which was somehow both pleading and angry at the same time. With barely a glance at Sam, she turned on her heel and walked away, leaving Sam scrambling to catch up with her.

“Hey, what’s up?” Sam asked, concerned, as they entered the building. “Is something wrong?”

“I’ve just had an argument with my friends. It’s nothing.”

“Can I help?”

Jolena stopped and turned to face him. “Sam,” she said, and hesitated. God, what was she going to do? She was afraid of Vanessa’s power, her vindictiveness. She’d seen Vanessa in action before when someone crossed her. It wasn’t pretty. What if Vanessa tried to sabotage her and Sam’s relationship somehow? Or worse, hurt Sam? She looked down at her feet in misery. “Sam, I don’t think we should go out with each other again. At least not for a little while.”

“What?” exclaimed Sam in shocked dismay. His face paled. “Why? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. I mean, it’s not you – it’s me. I just feel a little confused right now. I need time to think.” She looked up at him with eyes that threatened to spill tears. “I’m just not sure if this is what I want. I’m sorry.”

Sam stared at her in stunned disbelief until finally, he moved slightly away from her, distancing himself from her. “I understand,” he said, and it was obvious from his voice that he didn’t at all. “Yeah, I understand perfectly. Well, thanks. Thanks for fucking me around like a goddamn puppet.” His eyes were pieces of flint, and when she looked briefly into them, she felt a sharp, bright pain in her chest. She tried to say something, but he was already gone.

She turned and ran out of the building, tears blinding her vision. She didn’t see where she was going until it was too late.

Angie’s books went flying as the two women collided. “Jolena! Good Lord, girl, where the hell you goin’ in such a hurry?” cried Angie in exasperation. She began to pick up her books and then noticed Jolena’s tears. “What’s wrong, Jo?” She peered closely into Jolena’s face. “Is it that Sam guy? What’d he do to you? Man, we all heard about what happened in your class the other day – stuff like that spreads like wildfire around here. What the hell you doin’ with that jerk anyway? He’s gonna fuck you around bad.”

Jolena struggled to regain her composure. “Sam would never fuck me around,” she said in a shaky voice. “But you can tell Vanessa that we’re not seeing each other anymore. Maybe you guys are right. It’s better not to go out with white guys.” A little sob escaped her and Jolena felt ashamed at her cowardice. The thought of facing hostility from her friends and other students was more than she could bear.

Angie frowned. “You’re not bein’ straight with me, Jolena. What’d he do to you? Tell me, girl!”

“Nothing! Just forget it, okay? Sam’s a nice guy, but it just didn’t work out.”

“Yeah, right,” said Angie. She stared at Jolena suspiciously. “Listen, Jolena, we’re still your friends, a little disagreement don’t change nuthin’. If this white guy did something to ya, we’ll help ya out. We’ll teach him a lesson. Lord knows, he’s got it comin.'”

“No!” Jolena’s head jerked up and her eyes flared hot with anger. “Just leave him alone! He didn’t do anything and this is none of your business!”

Angie looked affronted. “Well, if that’s the way you feel, fine. Never mind.” Her jaw jutted out stubbornly. “Maybe Vanessa is right. Maybe you are turnin’ on us.”

“Angie, no!” Jolena closed her eyes for a second and tried to speak calmly. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but believe me, it’s just not necessary.”

Angie waved her hand in dismissal. “Yeah, okay, we get the message. So maybe I’ll see ya later and maybe I won’t.” With that, she flounced off in a huff. Jolena watched her go with a heavy heart.

*******************

The next few days passed slowly and despairingly for Jolena. She was miserably afraid that she’d done the wrong thing by breaking up with Sam – God, what a coward she was, not standing up to Vanessa. But she remained cocooned in her dormitory room except to go to classes. She also went to the Registration office to drop her English Lit class.

Late on Saturday night, a sudden pounding on her door made her jump in alarm. She quickly rose from her desk and went to the door.

It was Caroline and she was hysterical. “Jo! Oh God Jo! We didn’t mean it – it was an accident – I swear it was an accident. Jesus I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!” She was sobbing uncontrollably.

“What’s wrong?” Jolena’s voice was sharp and full of fear.

“Sam – your Sam. I swear we didn’t mean nothing Jo. It was a joke, just a stupid joke. We weren’t really gonna do it!”

“What?!” Jolena was screaming. “What?!” A deathly quiet seemed to settle over the dorm where only a moment before, there had been voices, laughter, and footsteps.

Through broken sobs, Caroline told the story. “Vanessa wanted to do something. She was mad. Real mad. Angie told her that Sam had fucked you around, probably raped you or somethin.’ Oh God, Jo, I’m so sorry!” She looked beseechingly at Jolena. “Vanessa was acting so crazy, she was flippin’ right out. She said, ‘We gotta teach him a lesson – we gotta teach him a lesson.’ She kept sayin’ it over and over. Me and Angie, we were too scared – we just went along with her. But it wasn’t supposed to happen like it did!” Fresh tears halted her desparate words.

“Is he dead? Did you kill him?” screamed Jolena through teeth clenched in fear. She grabbed Caroline by the shoulders and shook her violently.

“No! No! He’s not dead. But he’s hurt. Hurt bad, I think. They took him to the hospital about an hour ago. We were just going to play a joke on him. We saw him jogging and we followed him up to the cliffs. Vanessa had a knife. She was just gonna scare him a bit. She was gonna pretend to cut him. You know…castrate him.”

Jolena was struck completely dumb with horror. “How… how?” She let out a piercing shriek, raised her hand, and slapped Caroline hard across the face. “What happened, you bitch!”

Caroline backed away, her eyes round and panicky. “He… he got away. He tripped and fell. He went right over the cliff. It just happened so fast, we couldn’t stop it.” Caroline’s face crumpled. Her voice was a pathetic whine. “God, Jo, we didn’t mean it – I swear –

I swear. I won’t be able to live with myself. Please please forgive me, please…” She broke down into helpless sobs.

Jolena stopped listening. She was out the door, running. She stopped to grab her bicycle from the basement locker and sped furiously to the hospital. It was the most horrible, gut-wrenching ride of her life.

They wouldn’t let her see him and couldn’t tell her his condition and Jolena was reduced to waiting miserably in Emergency. She learned from the nurse that Vanessa had called the rescue crew, and that the police had taken her and Angie away for questioning.

It was three hours before a doctor emerged and spoke quietly to the nurse on duty. She glanced meaningfully at Jolena, and the doctor walked towards her. His face was grave.

“Are you a relation to Mr. Truscott?” the doctor asked as Jolena rose to meet him.

“No, I – I’m his girlfriend,” she explained. “His family lives in Ohio. Is he going to be all right?”

“I’m sorry, but your boyfriend’s in very serious condition. We think he’ll survive, but he’s suffered a severe injury to his spine.” He paused and looked at her with sympathy. “I’m afraid it’s almost completely severed. The injury is in the lower cervical area of the spine, at the base of the neck.”

Jolena felt faint. “My God. That means… Oh God – this can’t be happening!”

“I’m so sorry. It’s too soon to tell how extensive the paralysis will be, but I’m afraid I must tell you that your boyfriend will never be able to walk again. The best we can hope for is some limited feeling and movement in his upper body, but with injuries like these, complete quadriplegia is common.”

She swayed unsteadily on her feet. The doctor took her arm and helped her sit down.

“Can I see him for a minute?” she whispered, her voice a weak monotone.

“I’m sorry,” the doctor replied. “He’s in intensive care right now and under sedation. We can’t allow any visitors just yet. If you come back tomorrow, perhaps his condition will be a little more stable.”

She sighed, a long, shuddering sigh that left her body cold and shivering. She wrapped her arms tightly around herself and began to sob quietly.

“I’m so sorry,” the doctor offered again, gently. He turned and walked away, his steps slow and soft.

*******************

It was two long days before she was allowed to see him. Jolena hadn’t slept, hadn’t eaten. Every moment had been consumed with devastating pain and guilt. As she slowly pushed open the door to Sam’s room, the smell of disinfectant was almost overpowering. The surgical mask she wore did little to hide the emotional turmoil on her face. Her eyes went to Sam lying there, asleep, his face pale and drawn, tubes trailing from his body. She was shocked to him see him so still and helpless. A sudden movement distracted her, as an older woman she hadn’t noticed before rose from a chair beside Sam’s bed.

Jolena looked at her fearfully. “I – I’m Jolena,” she whispered. “How is he?”

The woman’s eyes narrowed and Jolena saw that they were Sam’s eyes. “I know who you are. You’re not welcome here.”

Jolena stood motionless and speechless.

“My son didn’t rape you! He could never do such a thing!” the woman cried out, her voice breaking. She looked down at Sam, and tears began to stream down her face.

Her outcry awakened Sam, who opened his eyes and moved his head slightly. When he noticed Jolena, his eyes shut abruptly. She had to strain to hear his agonized whisper. “Get out.” He was struggling to breathe. “Get out,” he repeated.

Jolena fled, a terrible pain constricting her heart.

*******************

She awoke soaked with sweat, the scream dying in her throat with the realization that it was a dream – again. Trembling violently, she tried to push the images from her mind, but they wouldn’t go. It was the same almost every night. She was standing there, where it happened, and even though she’d never set foot there, she knew somehow it was the right spot. It was very dark and when she looked down, she could barely make out the rocks and water below. Her body was shivering and inside, it was like she had fallen into a well of sorrow from which there was no escape. She closed her eyes, slowly relaxed her body, and let herself fall forward. The night air enveloped her in its cool embrace and time slowed. She was at once accepted and accepting. “Forgive me…” she whispered, but the dark wind snatched the words from her lips and flung them away.

Jolena stumbled from the bed and went to the window. The night was lifting and there were tendrils of dawn on the horizon. For a long moment she closed her eyes and when she opened them, a fiery orange sun was beginning its ascent. She willed her heart to follow it.