He sat there in the dark room, trying to sleep. His body ached all over, the 5 Ibuprofen tablets he’d taken made his stomach feel sick. But the morning would bring a resolution to his problem. They’d caught one of the men that were trying to kill him and all that remained was to make the creep talk. So why couldn’t he sleep. He thought about Sandy. What was she going through? Despite the late hour he thought he ought to call her. He got up and turned on the light. The phone was by the other end of the bed. He rolled over and grabbed the entire set. It didn’t budge. The stupid thing was mounted to the night stand. He cursed and swore that he was going to find a real motel tomorrow. It wasn’t that he couldn’t afford it, it was just that he’d felt safer checking into a nondescript motel. He knew her number by heart and dialled it. She would want to know that they’d caught someone. He hung on in anticipation, but by the third ring when her answering machine came on, he’d already remembered that she’d moved to her sister’s house. In case the Tall Man wanted her as well.

He hung up the phone slightly depressed. He’d felt that way many times before, many years ago, when he’d called her at the sorority. He rolled over in bed trying to get more comfortable and started to doze.

The second time round Varella was naturally very cautious. It took Sandy a long time to get him to start trusting her again. She probably didn’t mean to start anything, but she genuinely missed him. She missed his smile, his tenderness and his kisses. But in the end because of his passion for her, he wanted to believe that she’d “come to her senses, and realized what a great guy he was”. It started with just long talks and a few hugs here and there, he was always studying or working, but when she called he would go out of his way to rearrange work schedules or study groups so he could be free when she called. That’s when Mubarak started his prophetic utterances. But Varella stood unconvinced, they weren’t dating, and they weren’t in love, at least that’s what they told each other. They were just “friends”.

Carl joined the University during Varella’s sophomore year, they hit it off right away. They both had the same sense of humor and the same kind of quick wit. They would soon have a lot more in common.

As his the new roommate, Carl was very supportive of Sandy, she was a very nice girl. He thought she had a lot of potential. This support urged Varella on even more. Also the fact that Carl thought she was very beautiful made her even more desirable to him. But he wasn’t in love with her. At least that’s what he told himself. He was strong enough without her and he certainly didn’t need her. By this time Carl had met Sandy a number of times and they’d gotten along famously. At night before going to sleep in their dorm room, they’d sit and philosophize and talk. Carl had analyzed Sandy and explained how he thought Varella ought to be more serious about the girl because of all the qualities she had. Varella’s macho-ness would say “Yes, but I’m not in love with her.” And Carl would explain how he thought she was in love with Varella because of the way she acted and the way she was always calling him, and because of how happy she looked and acted when she saw him.

Years later Varella would realize that even idle conversations like those could cause the mind to create it’s own sense of reality. Yet at the time he unknowingly allowed his mind a little more freedom each time. For as far as he was concerned, they were still friends. But the seed had been planted again. And the seed that was planted grew on the conversations about her, and grew on the time spent thinking about her and grew each time he saw her. And while he denied the ties, his heart continued to create an emotional bond.

Friends don’t kiss and yet she enjoyed his kisses. After all he was her teacher, the one who’d taught her to kiss. At first he resisted, but it seemed so natural to kiss and hug and cuddle. And so it went, while his mind said, “we aren’t dating” his heart continued to soar. Sandy on the other hand didn’t feel that she was leading him astray. After all didn’t they have all those conversations about how they weren’t boyfriend and girlfriend? She felt that she wasn’t responsible for his feelings. He was old enough. Did she know what a heartless attitude this was? Probably not. But actions always speak louder than words. And the trap was sprung the second time.

It was fun for a while. Occasionally she’d be hard to get a hold of, even though he was always there for her. But he realized that what with the sorority stuff and homework, she was busy. When they did spend time together they always had long conversations, he would help her with her “problems in life,” usually because someone somewhere had said something mean to her. He would patiently explain that if you looked at it from the other person’s perspective it wasn’t really meant as a cut to her, it was just the circumstances or the other person’s mood at the time. They’d have other long talks about psychology and science; overall he was a fascinating conversationalist. They weren’t “dating” and they’d talk casually about that. As time passed she may have started to realize what she was doing to him. But again she was able to convince herself that he knew that they weren’t actually and officially “going-out”. They were just friends. And this allowed her to justify kissing him and letting him give her so much attention and tenderness. “I told him that we were just friends and so he knows exactly how I feel.” Besides it felt good to be with him.

But reality has to come. They’d been doing every thing together for a while when she realized what had happened. She was losing her freedom again and became uncomfortable. The second time she broke up with him he was devastated. Now it seemed curious to his friends that he would have dated her again after the first breakup. But that’s how silly love can be. This time his anger was intense but still hidden. She could not explain why she wasn’t interested anymore, and he was never able to understand it at the time. Later he was able to realize that part of what she wanted was the fun of cuddling and having him as a close friend, but not the commitment or the sacrifices. At least not the commitment to him.

And thus his anger grew. She would still call and talk to him. That year he started running seriously, he visited the gym for the first time in his life without being forced to. When ever the pain grew too much inside him, he would run. In the rain or in the cold, he ran. And while he ran, he sang songs of deep anger in his spirit. Songs of survival, but all along he knew that deep inside walls were being built, walls that he didn’t want, but had to erect to protect himself from the vulnerability. He would never need her again. Never again. He played her head games with her, being sensitive and caring with her at times and at other times being unaccessible. But he never let down his guard again. Never with her, rarely with others.

As he grew, he learned that everybody has had a heartache, it’s one of the commonalties in life. Everybody’s been hurt before, but at the time he thought it was only him. And so he excelled in all things feeding on the deep anger in him that was fanned anew every time he saw her and every time he felt himself weaken. This anger translated to a renewed vigor of excelling at everything. At work, at play and most of all at school. I will persist until I succeed.

The Engineering program at the State University could take 4 years if one takes 18-20 credits a term. Varella attempted to do so but soon realized that the strain of taking so many hours of school and 25 hours of work was not conducive to good grades in Engineering. As a result the program took him five years of intense work. Early in his Freshman year, he’d learned the value of study groups. His first experience was after he got a C in a very important pre-engineering course. He had a chat with an Indian graduate teaching assistant who spoke with a ridiculously thick British accent. Apparently the TA had grown up in Africa, in British schools. The TA had only one thing to say. “You should really think about joining one of those prep groups, you know…. what they call a study group over here.” Varella did and was amazed at how quickly he started understanding his engineering. Now he could argue and debate what he thought the teacher was saying, now he could say, “I’m lost” and ask for help, and there were friends who could help, not just sympathize. Now all of a sudden he was making friends who had the same interests as him. These contacts would prove invaluable to him after he graduated. Especially a certain ‘Simon Prentice’.

And still the anger grew in him. It was him against the world. One day he would be rich. One day he would be successful. One day…..

He fell into a fitful sleep and the nightmare began.

* * *

The creature was a huge lumbering animal. Varella could never tell what sort of animal it was. But it could speak and that’s what made the terror worse. The creature could not only speak but it could read his mind and everything he did to fight the creature was hopeless because it knew what he was going to do before he did it. They were standing on a long empty desolate plain. The creature always appeared as a speck on the horizon first. There was always someone who was very close to him, very important to him, playing or doing something in the forefront. All of a sudden the huge shadow would rise above the friend and Varella would try to scream a warning. But nothing would happen, he couldn’t make a sound. Just as the creature reached his friend he would find his voice and start to shout and at that point he’d always wake up.

* * *

Varella sat up in bed sweating.