Eleanor is awakened by a hard kick to her thigh. Justin moans and growls as he writhes in his sleep.
She shakes his shoulders, trying to free him from the nightmare's grasp. "I'm sorry, Jen," he groans, still asleep, "He was hurting you. I'm sorry."
His words...she's heard them before. Not from Justin, she's never seen him have a nightmare like this. Normally, he sleeps as peaceful and solid as a stone. Where had she heard it from then, if not him? A moment's reflection recalls it, spoken by a character in a book she just started reading, Now Return and Weep for Me, by Jayne Rivers. How would Justin know that, she wonders, he doesn't read himself, and this book was released just this month, far too recently to be one of the many novels his sister condensed for him.
Justin snaps awake, startled and confused.
"You were having a nightmare," Eleanor says gently. Even if he had read that scene in her book, why would he have such a reaction to it? Of course, if he had lived that scene himself in his youth, if the author Jayne Rivers was actually his sister Jeanette..."You were talking in your sleep," Eleanor says, "You said 'I'm sorry, Jen He was hurting you.' What were you dreaming about?"
"Nothing," Justin grunts, getting out of bed.
Switching on a lamp, Eleanor follows him across the bed, grabbing him before he can escape.
"It wasn't nothing," she says, holding him tight across his chest, "Being questioned by the police triggered something, made you remember and gave you that nightmare," she guesses, "Whatever it was, it's eating at you, has been eating at you for years. You need to talk about it, tiger. Not to satisfy my curiosity, but for your own sake."
Justin remembers a story his sister once told him, about people who lived chained up in a cave they never left. All they saw of the world were shadows on the wall. Until one day one of them was released and saw reality for the first time...he's like that man, he thinks, living his life in darkness until she came and released him. He lives in her world now, but he still carries that cave within him, and he'll never be truly free until she swept through every dark corner and illuminated it.
"It's not pretty," Justin warns her as lays back into the bed beside her, giving her a chance to back out before he gets into it, "Are you sure you want to know?"
"I wasn't expecting it to be pretty," she soothes, "I want you to share everything with me, even the dark, ugly parts. I can only love you if I know you."
"It was prom night," he says, and Eleanor draws in a breath. Just that much and he's confirmed her suspicion, that the book she's reading tells his story. But she says nothing, allowing him to tell it in his own words, not knowing she's read his sister's account of it already. "Not for me, I didn't bother with that crap. Plus, I was a sophmore. Jeanette was a senior, it was her prom. While the prom was going on, I was in the school parking lot. One of the seniors had a car I'd wanted to joy ride for a long time, and this was my opportunity. I used to do that, hot wire cars and take them for rides."
"While I was working on the lock, Jeanette and her date were outside, making out against the wall."
"Then, I see her pushing him away."
"I hear her telling him no, to get off her."
"And I step in because I'm not letting this jerk ass hurt my sister."
"I'd been in fights before. Hell, my whole school experience was just a series of fights. But this time was different, This time, I lost control. I'd beaten this kid to the ground, but I just couldn't stop myself. I kept going at it. Other kids had come out by then, they were all yelling at me to stop, and Jeanette was crying, begging me to get a hold of myself."
"But I couldn't get a hold of myself. I wanted to stop, I knew I had to stop...but I had no control over it. If the cops hadn't come and pulled me off him, I would have kept going until he was dead."
"While I was being cuffed, I saw my sister, crouched up against the wall, crying. I tried to tell her I was sorry, that I was just trying to protect her."
"Our home life was messed up, to say the least. Neither of us knew our fathers, and our mother was rarely around, and when she was there physically, she was somewhere else mentally, drunk or high. Jeanette and I, we were tight, we relied on each other, understood each other, were there for each other. She was the only thing I had, the only person I could talk to. And that night, I broke her. I ruined everything. I saw it in her face while I was on the ground, the cop's knee in my back. I lost her, forever."
"They put me in some hospital or something. I had doctors asking me questions, hooking me up to machines and looking at my brain. The kid's parents wanted me to be tried as an adult. The school wanted to see me locked up in the nut house. I really didn't give a shit about what was going on, all I cared about was that Jeanette wouldn't talk to me. She refused to visit, and when they'd let me call home, she wouldn't speak to me. I was alone, really alone. I was going to be alone forever. Once I accepted that, I made an escape plan, and got the hell out of there before they locked me away for good."
"You aren't alone anymore," Eleanor says, stroking his face, "I'm with you."
"I know," Justin answers, "Don't ever leave me."
Eleanor snuggles against him, laying her head against his chest. "It's been a long time, maybe Jeanette has forgiven you," she suggests gently, not sure if she should tell him about her book, that she'd read the story of the brutal prom night beating before he revealed it to her, "Maybe you should try to contact her."
"No," he says, "I let her go a long time ago. There's no going back."
Eleanor doesn't argue or insist, but she can't let the idea go that easily.