Sleep was definitely overrated Eddie thought as he sat up in bed. He rubbed his feeling as if he was scratching them with sandpaper. He brought his knees up to his chest shivering. It was the same dream. Faceless shadows jumping from corners to pin him down. Covering his mouth so he couldn’t scream. Heart racing powerless to protect himself. He woke up screaming, sobbing, head pounding as if it were about to explode.
He moved slowly afraid any sudden movement would send him to oblivion. Drenched in sweat he stumbled to the bathroom. Discarding his boxers he climbed into the shower. He stood underneath the water letting it pelt down upon his head. The steam penetrated his tense, taut muscles. The water eventually ran cold. Still not moving he let the water pelt his head until the frigid water became to painful to bear. Shivering he stumbled from the shower.
Drying off he entered his bedroom, tossing the towel on his bed he considered crawling back under the covers. Just for the day he wanted to forget about work, forget the money he owed his father, forget that outside these walls was a world he wasn’t sure he belonged in. Sighing he dismissed those thoughts opting instead to go through the dreary day he called his life.
He walked into the therapist’s office ignoring the man’s chipper good morning and sat glumly in a hard backed chair. The therapist gave him a long considering look “not a good morning I take it. Nightmares?” he asked.
Eddie shrugged in response staring out the window at the passing cars and pedestrians. He could hear the man writing in his note book. He tried to stifle his irritation he felt over having his reactions analyzed with a fine tooth comb.
“Sleeping?” the man probed.
“What?” Eddie asked distracted from watching a fly struggle in spiders web outside the window. It struggled in vain wrapping itself tighter and tighter in the relentless and unforgiving web.
“Are you sleeping?” the man repeated.
“Yeah fine,” Eddie muttered dragging his blood shot eyes from the fate of the fly.
The man stilled his pen as he stared a moment at the young blond male sitting in front of him. He tapped his pen against his lips while he thought. “How many jobs do you have?”
Eddie gave him a sharp irritated frown before answering “three.”
“That doesn’t give you a lot of time for sleep does it?”
Eddie rolled his eyes at the comment remaining silent.
“Why?” the man asked.
“Why what?” Eddie asked slouching in his chair crossing his arms “I need the money.”
An hour later Eddie waited impatiently for the elevator. He was already fifteen minutes late for his shift at the grocery store. His boss was already upset that he called saying he was going to be late. No doubt his check would be docked. As soon as he walked in and tied on his apron he was summoned to the managers office. Sighing Eddie retraced his steps, knocked on the door and waited.
The man sat glaring at Eddie as he stood before him. “This is the second time you’ve been late this month.
“I called each time,” Eddie attempted to defend himself “I have a doctor’s note.” He reached into his pocket and produced the note his therapist had given him.
“This can’t continue” the man grumbled ignoring the note “if you’re late one more time I’ll have to let you go.”
Eddie swallowed as he felt the all too familiar stab of anxiety slice through him. Licking his lips he stammered “the employee handbook says I need to call in at least thirty minutes before my scheduled shift if I know I’m going to be late and to bring in a note. I did all those things. You have no grounds to fire me.”
The man’s eyes narrowed “all I have to say is your work is substandard Bennett. I don’t have to use your tardiness as the reason to get rid of you. Now get out of my office and get to work.”
Eddie scooted out of the man’s office. He could feel his insides shaking as leaned against the door. He could hear the manager laughing behind the closed door. His hands clinched in impotent fury. He should march back in there and tell him he could shove his job where the sun doesn’t shine but…he needed this job. Needed the money to pay his dad back. A draft of cold air from the air conditioning hit him in the face making him realize he had been crying. Wiping his face on his sleeve he pushed himself away from the door. He walked unsteadily to the meat counter where he was supposed to be working that day.
“Bennett what are you doing back here?” the butcher demanded none too pleased to see him.
“I was scheduled to be here,” Eddie started to explain.
“I don’t need you. You were late. I had to find someone else to fill your spot,” the man said hacking into a piece of meat. “You’ve been reassigned to stocking shelves.”
Eddie nodded feeling sick after watching the butcher saw into the raw meat. Taking several deep breaths he was was glad he hadn’t felt like eating before he left that morning.
“Why did you let that guy talk to you like that?” a man’s deep voice asked from behind him. So close that it made Eddie jump. “Sorry I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“I wasn’t scared” Eddie mumbled walking away. To his surprise the guy followed.
“I am sorry you know,” the guy repeated.
“Fine. Apology accepted,” Eddie grumbled as he went to get the pallet he needed to stock shelves. He went through the doors clearly marked Employees Only and began to wrestling with cases of food.
“Let me help you,” the same voice from earlier said as he reached to help him lift the heavy box of canned vegetables from the top of the pallet.
“You’re not supposed to be back here,” Eddie said jerking the case from the guys hands. He lost his balance he knocked into the boxes sending cans and boxes of food flying. He landed hard on his backside by the feet of his would be helper. He looked up into his concerned face and found himself seeing the face the voice belonged to and who had been annoying him for the past several minutes.
Before the guy could respond a loud angry voice demanded “what’s going on here?” Glaring at Eddie while he struggled to his feet the manager added “Bennett you’re fired.” Eddie dusted himself off slapping away the helpful hand of his companion. He tossed his apron to the floor and started to walk past the hostile glare of the manager. “Stop” the man demanded “aren’t you going to clean that up first?”
Looking at the toppled containers then back at the man that made working there hell for the past three months Eddie shook his head. To his surprise he said “do it yourself. I don’t work here anymore.”
Eddie stuck his hands in his pockets as he walked out of the store. He doubted he’d get the astonished face of the manger out of his mind anytime soon. It felt good to be done with that job. “Hey I’m sorry” the same voice said from behind him.
“Yeah you keep saying that,” Eddie said turning and seeing the guy for the first time since they met. His breath caught in his throat as he took in the stranger before him.
“I didn’t mean get you fired,” the guy continued. He smiled as he stuck his hand out “I’m Ramsey by the way.”
Eddie felt his cheeks flush with heat as he took the good looking males hand “I’m Eddie.”
“Well Eddie I’d like to take you out somewhere to make up for getting you fired,” he offered a hopeful glint in his eyes.
“That’s not necessary,” Eddie told him.
“I want to…that is if you’ll let me,” Ramsey insisted.
Eddie nodded “alright if you really want to. I don’t have to be at my next job until one.”
Glancing at his phone Ramsey smiled “in that case let’s go to the park,” he suggested.
As they walked their shoulders kept pumping into each other. Eddie would take a step away giving his companion more room muttering a hasty apology. It happened so often Eddie wondered if the guy was doing it on purpose. He groped for something to say but he kept dismissing each idea as being to stupid or needy.
“So Eddie you’re not from around here?” Ramsey asked after they had walked a few blocks in silence.
“Nnno,” he stammered. Eddie took a deep breath mentally chiding himself. He needed to calm down. The guy was only being nice because he thought he had gotten him fired. Eddie turned to look at Ramsey and ask his own question. His mind froze when he realized just how good looking the guy was with his dark red hair and smooth skin. The muscles he had on display in the muscle shirt he was wearing. Eddie found himself staring unable to speak.
“How long have you lived here?” Ramsey asked a small smile playing across his lips.
Eddie couldn’t help but think the guy was amused at how pathetic he was acting. “A little over three months,” Eddie stammered in one breath looking away blushing.
“Calm down and breathe” Ramsey chuckled softly “I know I’m a fine male specimen but I’ve never given anyone a permanent case of the jitters before.” He gave Eddie a thoughtful look “are you always this high strung or is it just me?”
“I…” Eddie felt his mouth drop open as he considered the man’s words. Was he coming onto him? No that had to be his imagination running away with him. The guy probably wasn’t even gay.
“Hey I was just joking,” Ramsey said sensing the turmoil Eddie was in. They had been in the park for a while just walking aimlessly around. “Would you like to play?” he asked as they passed a chess table.
Shrugging Eddie sat down frowning at the board. “I’m not very good…”
Grinning the guy said “good thing we’re not playing for money then.”
“I guess so,” Eddie murmured under his breath fingering the chess pieces before sitting back sighing “I don’t know how to play.”
“Relax I’ll teach you.”
When Eddie got home that night he flopped on the sofa and closed his eyes. Despite having lost one of his jobs today hadn’t been a complete disaster. It had been actually a good day. Yawning he sat up looking at his phone. He smiled when he saw a text from Ramsey. He may have just made himself a friend. They were meeting up again tomorrow at the park before he went to work at the bookstore.
His stomach growled reminding him he hadn’t eaten anything since sometime the day before. At least he thought it was yesterday. He hadn’t really felt like eating since the nightmares started. He knew he should have told the therapist but he was so over having everything he said and did analyzed. He just wanted to be normal or at least pretend he was. He got some bread and spread some strawberry jam on it while he listened to the silence of his home. On his third bite his throat closed tight and he almost chocked when he went to swallow. He had the uneasy feeling someone had been watching him. He got up and closed his curtains. He had no idea why they were open. He always closed them when he was home and opened them right before he left for work so the plants could get some sunlight. But he had been running late this morning and he had recollection of having opened them. He was positive they had been closed when he left.
He tossed his bread in the garbage unable to eat more. He double checked the locks dragging a chair in front of it. In his room that night he wedged a chair under the door knob. He got dressed for bed. His mind kept worrying over the open drapes trying to remember if he had opened them or not. He must have.. Why else would they have opened when he got home? His eyes kept going to the chair half expecting it to move as someone tried to break into his room. He knew it was ridiculous. It was stupid but he kept the light on as his eyes grew heavy and he fell into a troubled sleep full of shadowing figures.