Authors: Rebecca Serle
This is insane. I’m insane. I’ve lost my mind.
It feels so good.
The rest of the clothes come off. From somewhere—a different stratosphere—I hear a car horn honk, a train rumble, the city carry on.
He kisses me harder. We get horizontal quickly. Everything feels incredible. His hands tracing the curves of my stomach, his mouth on my neck. I’ve never had a one-night stand up until this point—but this has to count, right? We met barely an hour ago and now we’re about to have sex.
I can’t wait to tell Bella about this. She’ll love it. She’ll . . . but what if I never make it back? What if this guy is just my fiancé now and not a stranger and I can’t even share the details of this wild and . . .
He presses his thumb down into the crease of my hip, and all thoughts of time and space escape through the slightly cracked window.
“Aaron,” I say.
He rolls on top of me, and then my hands are finding the muscles in his back, the crevices of his bones, like terrain—knotted and wooden and peaceful. I arch against him, this man who is a stranger but somehow something else entirely. His hands cup my face, they run down my neck, they wrap around my rib cage. His mouth is urgent and seeking against mine. My fingers grip his shoulders. Slowly, and then all at once, I forget where I am. All I’m aware of are Aaron’s arms wrapped tightly around me.
I wake up with a jolt, grasping at my chest.
“Hey, hey,” a familiar voice says. “You’re awake.”
I look up to see David standing over me, a bowl of popcorn in one hand. He’s also holding a bottle of water—not exactly the wine I was just drinking. Just drinking? I look down at my body, still fully clothed in my red Reformation ensemble. What the hell just happened?
I scramble up to sitting. I’m back on the couch. David is now in his chess team tournament sweatshirt and black sweatpants. We’re in our apartment.
“I thought you might be down for the count,” David says. “And miss our big night. I knew that second bottle would do us in. I already took two Advil, do you want some?” He sets the popcorn and water down and leans over to kiss me. “Should we call our parents now or tomorrow? You know they’re all losing it. I told everyone beforehand.”
I parse through what he’s saying. I’m frozen. It must have been a dream, but it . . . how could it be? I was, just three minutes ago, in bed with someone named Aaron. We were kissing, and his hands were on me, and we were having the most intense sex of my life. Dream me slept with a stranger. I feel the need to touch my body, to confirm my physical reality. I put my hands on each elbow and hold my arms to my chest.
“You okay?” David asks. He’s pulled himself out of the jovial moment and is looking at me intently.
“How long was I out for?” I ask him.
“About an hour,” he says. Something dawns on him. He leans closer to me. The proximity of his body feels like an intrusion. “Hey, listen, you’re going to get that job. I can tell you’re stressed about it and maybe this was too much to have happen in one day, but there’s no way they don’t hire you. You’re the perfect candidate, Dannie.”
I feel like asking him
“The food came,” he says, sitting back. “I stuck it in the fridge. I’ll get plates.”
I shake my head. “I’m not hungry.”
David looks at me with shock and awe. “How is that possible? You told me you were weak with hunger, like an hour ago.” He stands up and goes into the kitchen, ignoring me. He opens the refrigerator and starts pulling out containers. Pad Thai. Chicken curry. Fried rice. “All your favorites,” he says. “Hot or cold?”
“Cold,” I say. I pull the blanket closer around me.
David comes back balancing the containers on plates. He starts taking off tops, and I smell the sweet and sour and tangy spices.
“I had the craziest dream,” I tell him. Maybe if I talk about it it’ll make sense. Maybe if I lay it all out here, outside of my brain. “I just . . . I can’t shake it. Was I talking in my sleep?”
David piles some noodles onto a plate and grabs a fork. “Nope. Don’t think so. I showered for a little, so maybe?” He jams a giant bite of Pad Thai into his mouth and chews. Some stray noodles migrate to the floor. “Was it a nightmare?”
I think about Aaron. “No,” I say. “I mean, not exactly.”
David swallows. “Good. Your mom called twice. I’m not sure how long we can hold her off.” David puts his fork down and threads his arm around me. “But I had some plans for us alone tonight.”
My eyes dart to my hand. The ring, the right one, is back on my finger. I exhale.
My phone starts buzzing.
“Bella again,” David says, somewhat wearily.
I’m already off the couch, snatching the phone and taking it with me into the bedroom.
“I’m gonna flip on the news,” David calls after me.
I close the door behind me and pick up the call. “Bells.”
“I waited up!” It’s loud where she is, the sound of people fills the phone—she’s out partying. She laughs, her voice a cascade of music. “You’re engaged! Congratulations! Do you like the ring? Tell me everything!”
“Are you still in Paris?” I ask her.
“Yes!” she says.
“When are you coming home?”
“I’m not sure,” she says. “Jacques wants to go to Sardinia for a few days.”
Ah, Jacques. Jacques is back. If Bella woke up five years in the future in a different apartment, she probably wouldn’t even blink.
“It’s supposed to be quiet and romantic.”
“I thought you were going to the Riviera with Renaldo.”
“Well he bailed, and then Jacques texted that he was in town and voilà. New plans!”
I sit down on my bed. I look around. The tufted gray chairs I bought with my first paycheck at Clarknell, the oak dresser that was a hand-me-down from my parents’ place. The Bakelite lamps David brought with him from his Turtle Bay bachelor pad.
I see the expanse of that loft in Dumbo. The blue velvet chairs.
“Hey,” I say. “I have to tell you something kind of crazy.”
“Tell me everything!” she hollers through the phone, and I imagine her spinning out in the middle of a dance floor, on the roof of some Parisian hotel, Jacques tugging at her waist.
“I’m not sure how to explain it. I fell asleep, and . . . I wasn’t dreaming. I swear I was in this apartment and this guy was there. It was so real. Like I really went there. Has anything like that ever happened to you?”
“No, darling, we’re going to the Marais!”
“Sorry, everyone in the crowd is absolutely starving, and it’s practically light out. We’ve been partying for decades. So wait, it was like a dream? Did he do it on the terrace or in the restaurant?” I hear an explosion of sound and then a door shut, a retreat to silence.
“Oh, the restaurant,” I say. “I’ll tell you everything when you’re back.”
“I’m here, I’m here!” she says.
“You’re not,” I say, smiling. “Be safe, okay?”
I can see her rolling her eyes. “Do you know that the French don’t even have a word for safety?”
“That is not even remotely true,” I say. “
.” It’s pretty much one of the only French words I know.
“Even so,” she says. “I wish you had more fun.”
“I have fun,” I say.
“Let me guess. David is now watching CNN Live and you’re wearing a face mask. You just got
I touch my fingers to my cheek. “Only dry skin here.”
“How was the job interview?” she asks. “I didn’t forget, I just temporarily forgot.”
“It was great, honestly. I think I got it.”
“Of course you got it. You not getting it would require a rip in the universe that I’m not sure is scientifically possible.”
I feel my stomach tighten.
“Boozy brunch when I’m back,” she says. The door opens again and sound rushes back in through the phone. I hear her kiss someone twice.
“You know I hate brunch,” I say.
“But you love me.”
She hangs up, in a whirlwind of noise.
David comes into the bedroom, his hair rumpled. He takes off his glasses and rubs the bridge of his nose.
“You tired?” he asks me.
“Not really,” I say.
“Yeah, me neither.” He climbs into bed. He reaches for me. But I can’t. Not right now.
“I’m just going to get some water,” I say. “Too much champagne. Do you want some water, too?”
“Sure.” He yawns. “Do me a favor and get the light?”
I get up and flip the light switch. I walk back into the living room. But instead of pouring a glass of water, I go to the windows. The TV is off and it’s dark, but the streets are flooded with light. I look down. Third Avenue is busy even now, well past midnight. There are people out—laughing and screaming. Heading to the bars of our youth: Joshua Tree, Mercury Bar. They’ll dance to nineties music they’re too young to really know, well into the morning. I stand there for a long time. Hours seem to pass. The streets quiet down to a New York whisper. By the time I go back into the bedroom, David is fast asleep.
I get the job; of course I do. They call me a week later and offer it, a fraction below my current salary. I argue them up, and by January 8 I’m giving my two weeks’ notice. David and I move to Gramercy. It happens a year later, almost down to the day. We find a great unfurnished sublet in the building we’ve always admired. “We’ll stay until something opens to buy,” David tells me. A year later something opens to buy, and we buy it.
David begins working at a hedge fund started by his ex-boss at Tishman. I get promoted to senior associate.
Four and a half years pass. Winters and falls and summers. Everything goes according to plan. Everything. Except that David and I don’t get married. We never set a date. We say we’re busy, which we are. We say we don’t need to until we want kids. We say we want to travel. We say we’ll do it when the time is right—and it never is. His dad has heart trouble one year, we move the next. There are always reasons, and good ones, too, but none of them are why. The truth is that every time we get close, I think about that night, that hour, that dream, that man. And the memory of it stops me before I’ve started.
After that night, I went to therapy. I couldn’t stop thinking about that hour. The memory was real, like I had, in fact, lived it. I felt like I was going crazy and because of that, I didn’t want to talk to anyone, not even Bella. What would I say? I woke up in the future? Where I had sex with a stranger? The worst thing is, Bella would probably believe me.
I know that therapists are supposed to help you figure out whatever insanity is lingering in your brain, and then help you get rid of it. So the following week I went to someone on the Upper West Side. Highly recommended. In New York, all the best shrinks are on the Upper West Side.
Her office was bright and friendly, if not a little sterile. There was one giant plant. I couldn’t figure out if it was fake or not. I never touched it. It was on the other side of the sofa, behind her chair, and it would have been impossible to get to.
Dr. Christine. One of those professionals who uses their first name with their title to seem more relatable. She didn’t. She wore swaths of Eileen Fisher—linens and silks and cottons spun so excessively I had no idea what her shape even was. She was sixty, maybe.
“What brings you in today?” she asked me.
I had been in therapy once, after my brother died. A fatal drunk driving accident fifteen years ago that had the police show up at our house at 1:37 in the morning. He wasn’t the one at the wheel. He was in the passenger seat. What I heard first were my mother’s screams.
My therapist had me talk about him, our relationship, and then draw what I thought the accident might have looked like, which seemed condescending for a twelve year old. I went for a month, maybe more. I don’t remember much, except that afterward my mom and I would stop for ice cream, like I was seven and not nearly thirteen. I often didn’t want any, but I always got two scoops of mint chocolate chip. It felt important to play along then, and for a long time after.
“I had a strange dream,” I said. “I mean, something strange happened to me.”
She nodded. Some of the silk slipped. “Would you like to tell me about it?”
I did. I expressed to her that David and I had gotten engaged, that I’d had too much champagne, that I’d fallen asleep, and that I’d woken up in 2025 in a strange apartment with a man I’d never met before. I left out that I slept with him.
She looked at me for a long time once I stopped talking. It made me uncomfortable.
“Tell me more about your fiancé.”
I was immediately relieved. I knew where she was headed with this. I was unsure about David, and therefore my subconscious was projecting a kind of alternative reality where I was not subject to the burdens of what I had just committed to in getting engaged.
“He’s great,” I said. “We’ve been together for over two years. He’s very driven and kind. He’s a good match.”
She smiled then, Dr. Christine. “That’s wonderful,” she said. “What do you think he’d say about this experience you’re describing?”
I didn’t tell David. I couldn’t, obviously. What would I possibly say? He’d think I was crazy, and he’d be right.
“He’d probably say it was a dream and that I’m stressed out about work?”
“Would that be true?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “That’s why I’m here.”
“It seems to me,” she said. “That you’re unwilling to say this was just a dream, but you’re not sure what it would mean if it wasn’t.”
“What else could it possibly be?” I genuinely wanted to know where she was going with this.
She sat back in her chair. “A premonition, maybe. A psychosomatic trip.”
“Those are just other words for dreams.”
She laughed. She had a nice one. The silk slipped again. “Sometimes unexplainable things happen.”
She looked at me. Our time was up.
After our session, I felt strangely better. Like in going in there I could see the whole thing for what it was: crazy. I could give the whole weird dream to her. It was her problem now. Not mine. She could file it with all her divorces, sexual incompatibilities, and mother issues. And for four and a half years, I left it there.