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Out of the Dark

By Caren Hahn

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Rebecca dreamed of that day. She slipped into the familiar city streets as if she’d never left, just as she’d done night after night for months after the bombing. Skyscrapers towered above her, dizzyingly high. Men and women in business suits and pencil skirts hurried past, walking briskly in the constant press of commuters and tourists.

A man with a thin mustache stepped aside as Rebecca passed, meeting her eyes briefly. Rebecca could no longer feel the bag on her shoulder, but she knew it was there, and in her dream she angled her body so she didn’t hit the stranger with it. When the ground rocked beneath her, the bag fell to the ground as her knees hit the sidewalk. The mustached man’s arm draped over her, protecting her. Protecting a stranger whom fate had decided would be his companion when the world went to hell.

She covered her head against bricks and glass falling from overhead. Her ears rang and dust choked her nose and throat. She needed to run, to get away to safety. But the ground shook and heaved as explosions rocked the streets. She was vaguely aware of people screaming, bodies falling around her. The stranger who’d offered protection now slumped against her, and she saw blood pouring from his head to the sidewalk below.

But now it wasn’t the man with the mustache. It was Gavin’s face that laid against the sidewalk, his sightless eyes looking up at the sky.

Rebecca’s heart pounded. He was here. He’d been here all along. She could save him. She could take him to the hospital and the light would come back to his eyes and she would see him smile again.

Save him.


Rebecca woke with a rush of purpose.

Muted daylight washed her bedroom in soft grays, bringing a sluggish awareness of where she was. And when. The war had been over for two years. The bombing was only a memory.

The excitement that hummed through from her dream her ebbed away, making room for grief. Worn and soft like an old t-shirt, its familiar imprint settled over her heart. But it didn’t hurt anymore. It was just there. An irrefutable loss that she would carry forever, but no longer with pain. No longer would it stop her from smiling. From finding joy in life.

From love.

Rebecca settled back against the pillow. How strange that she would dream of Gavin now. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d thought of him. Not that she ever forgot him, exactly, but her life didn’t revolve around his existence — and later his loss — the way it used to. They’d all lost so much in the war, but that was behind them now. She’d moved across the country to be closer to her parents. Now she worked with people who didn’t even know about Gavin.

Now she had Theo.

Rebecca reached for the jewelry box on her nightstand and popped open the lid. The ring, which had shone the previous night like a star against the black velvet, now looked more modest in the early morning light. Rebecca had been so surprised that she’d knocked over her wine glass, sending her into a fit of giggles as Theo tried to catch the river of wine by dropping the ring and awkwardly lifting the tablecloth until a waiter came running with a damp towel. They’d snickered about it the rest of the evening.

Rebecca took out the ring and slipped it on her finger. It was a little loose, but she held it up to the light, admiring how it looked on her hand. She was going to be married.

The thought brought a stab of guilt. That must be why she’d dreamed of Gavin. She still missed him, and a part of her thought she was being unfaithful by marrying Theo. But Gavin was gone. She didn’t even have a grave marker for him because his body—like so many others—was unretrievable in the rubble downtown where the first bombs hit. For months, she’d refused to believe it, hoping for a miracle. Finally, his parents had begged her to apply for a death certificate so they could have closure.

Rebecca reached for her phone and pulled up the last recorded message he’d left for her. She’d saved it after the bombing, transferring the file from phone to phone over the past five years. No one knew she still had it. She hadn’t even listened to it since the early days of her relationship with Theo.

“Hey Becks,” Gavin’s voice crackled over the speaker. “Just wanted to let you know that the 17 is down to one lane, so you’ll probably want to take Sunset. It’s a mess out here. Good thing I left so early so I could sit in traffic. Oh, and sorry, but I forgot to feed Marlow before I left.” He groaned and Rebecca could picture him rubbing his eyes. The image filled her with longing. “I swear, someday I’m going to work close enough to home that I can sleep in and make you breakfast in bed every morning before work. How do you like your omelets? It seems like that’s something I should know after two years of marriage. Like it should have been on the license application or something. Anything else I’ve neglected? Oh, things are picking up. I’m gonna have to go. See you tonight! I’ll make you an omelet.”

In the first few days, this message had mocked Rebecca. Her last chance to talk to him and she’d missed it. She’d been busy with Marlow and planned on calling him back on her lunch break. But her lunch break had been spent cowering on the sidewalk while a stranger died next to her.

Now, though, she treasured it. It was nothing special. No great declaration of love or moving farewell. But these were his last words to her, and that made them sacred.

Listening to him now and picturing his face felt like a stab in her gut. Was she being unfaithful to Theo? How would he feel if he knew she still kept Gavin’s last message? She hadn’t mentioned that. He knew everything else. She’d wanted him to know what he was facing before pursuing a relationship with her. And he hadn’t been scared off. But that was Theo’s way. He was impulsive and passionate, and made life interesting and full of light. After her years in darkness, Rebecca needed him.

And she loved him. That was the part that most surprised her. She hadn’t thought she had room in her heart for another man, but somehow Theo had awakened something in her that she’d thought had died with Gavin. She felt young and attractive again and desired him in a way that left her giddy.

Rebecca sighed and put down her phone. She slipped off the ring and wedged it carefully back in its box. This probably wouldn’t be the last time she’d be reminded of Gavin while they planned the wedding. She’d have to get used to facing his ghost.

Marlow greeted her as she entered the kitchen, following her to the cupboard where she kept his food. He was getting old and didn’t move as nimbly as he used to. She rubbed him down and inspected the patch of fur thinning on his back. She’d have to get him in to see the vet if that didn’t get better. Briefly she wondered if bringing Theo into their lives was stressing him out. Poor Marlow. He’d been through so much.

Rebecca opened the curtains to a bright April morning washed from overnight rain. Pink blossoms bedecked the trees bordering the street and rain shone on the grass. Tulips bobbed gently in the breeze. She felt like those tulips, opening up after a long winter to discover that the sun still shone warm on her face.

She smiled as she thought of telling everyone at work about Theo’s proposal, and tucked the ring box safely into her purse. She couldn’t wear it safely until it had been resized, but her coworkers would want to see it. James would freak. And Marnie would want to try on the ring. Feeling lighthearted, it wasn’t until she’d poured the eggs in the pan that she realized she was making herself an omelet.

Oh. Right.



Theo called while Rebecca drove to work, and she smiled as his voice came through the speakers.

“How’s the luckiest woman in the world?” Theo asked.

“Hmm, that’s a bit presumptuous,” she replied. “You assume I’m the luckiest woman in the world because you asked me to marry you?”

“Not at all. You’re the luckiest woman in the world because ever since I met you my life has just gotten better and better. You’re like a freaking well of serendipity.”

Rebecca laughed. “Is this from the same man who couldn’t even finish his proposal speech before I’d spilled wine in his lap?”

“I saved it! No pants were ruined on my watch. So, will I be able to see you tonight?”

“Uh…” Rebecca hesitated as she merged into the right lane to exit the freeway. “Tonight’s that thing, remember? For James? I don’t know how long it’ll last, but I’ll let you know when it wraps up. If it’s not too late, I’ll swing by.”

“Right, I forgot. I know how James is. See you in my dreams, I guess!” His tone was light, without a trace of bitterness, but Rebecca felt a chill. Now was as good a time as any.

She tried to keep her tone light. “Speaking of dreams, I had a vivid dream last night about the bombing. It was awful.”

Theo’s playful tone immediately shifted. “Ah, sorry Becca. That’s not cool.”

“Yeah, I don’t know where it came from. I haven’t had a nightmare like that in…” she trailed off. She’d never had a nightmare quite like that. She’d never seen Gavin’s face, never thought she could save him. Just remembering it made her stomach flutter.

“Do you want to give Sam a call?”

“Maybe. I’ll see how I feel today.” Rebecca hesitated to mention Gavin. But she could tell her therapist. Maybe Sam would help her sort out her confused feelings of betrayal. “Thanks for listening, though. It helps.”

“Anytime. You know no one’s more important to me than you.”

Rebecca felt a soothing warmth at his words. “You too. I really am lucky to have you.”

“The luckiest woman in the world?” Theo teased.

“Don’t push it.”

She ended the phone call with a smile on her face and Theo’s laughter in her ears, trying to shake off the last bit of darkness clinging to her from the dream.

As she stopped at a stoplight a block from her work, her attention was drawn to a man standing in a doorway. He was turned away from her, looking up with a cigarette smoking idly in one hand. She couldn’t even say why her gaze lingered, but as the red light dragged on, she found herself wishing he would turn around. He wore jeans and a flannel jacket against the chilly spring morning, and his dark hair was shaggy against his collar.

He took a drag on the cigarette, then dropped the butt to the ground and crushed it beneath his heel. Something about the way he moved made Rebecca catch her breath. Gavin was dead. He’d never smoked. But she stared intensely at the stranger, wanting him to turn. Her imagination filled in the details. His chin, his nose would look just so. His eyes would be the color of burned caramel.

The light turned green and the cars in front of her started moving. Distracted, Rebecca pulled forward slowly, trying to get a better view of the man’s face as she passed. He turned just as she passed, and for a brief second her heart stopped.

Gavin.


The man was older and more disheveled, but in that split second something in Rebecca thrummed with recognition. A car honked and she looked at the road, then glanced back again, but by then the man was walking away from her.

Save him.


Rebecca wanted to stop the car and run to him, stopping him in his tracks so she could see if it was really him. But she turned into the parking garage as if it were a normal day and her heart wasn’t pounding furiously.

You’re delusional,
she told herself. You’re looking for anyone who resembles him because of the dream last night. Gavin is dead. This is probably just your subconscious mind throwing a temper tantrum and trying to avoid commitment with Theo. Get over it, Rebecca.

But her hands shook as she pushed the button to take the elevator to the second floor. Because she realized where the man had been looking when she saw him. He’d been watching her office, and the desk next to the window that looked out over the street was hers.

Other entries by Caren Hahn

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About Caren Hahn

Caren Hahn writes relationship dramas in a variety of genres. With deeply empathetic characters and richly layered plots, readers of her fiction will enjoy an emotionally resonant experience. And have some fun along the way.

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