Alexander couldn’t move.
He was trying. He was running as fast as he could, pumping his arms, panting, but he was shin-deep in water, and it was rising quickly. He stretched out an arm in desperation. “¡Mamá!” he screamed. “¡Mamá! Yo voy, mamá, por favor espere.”
His mother was a few feet in front of him, floating on the surface of the water, screaming. Alexander struggled toward her, but the faster he ran, the farther away from him she slipped. The water was up to his waist. He tried to move, but the water was too powerful. He listened to his mother cry out helplessly, desperately, and wordlessly. “¡Mamá!” he wailed. “¡Por favor, por favor, mamá, por favor, no me dejes! Yo voy, mamá, por favor. ¡Mamá!”
There was a heavy weight on his shoulder. The water had reached his neck. Wind howled around him, drowning out his mother’s screams. “¡Mamá!”
The voice was soft, feminine. His mother. “¡Mamá, mamá, lo siento mucho!”
“Alexander!” his mother said again.
The water had reached his face. Alexander spluttered, gasped for breath. “Lo siento,” he whispered weakly.
“Alex, my love, please wake up.” The distinctly male voice lurched Alexander out of his sleep. He jolted upright, looking around him wildly. He was in bed, the lamp on John’s night table casting the room in a dim glow. Outside, the wind and rain raged on. He whimpered slightly, and felt warm, soft hands massage his shoulders. He looked up and saw both Eliza and John staring at him. Eliza was openly terrified, biting her lip. John was trying to keep a calm expression, but Alexander could see the fear in his eyes.
“Alexander, what is going on? Are you alright?” Eliza questioned him. She reached out and gripped his thigh. “Alexander?”
Alexander wanted so much to look into her eyes, to say that he was fine, that everything was fine, that he was okay, but he couldn’t. It had felt so real. His mother’s screams… He clamped his hands over his ears, trying to drown out her desperate wailing.
“Alex, Alex, please.” He could hear the tremble in John’s voice, but it was faint under the sound of his mother’s cries. “Has this ever happened before?” John asked frantically.
“No,” Eliza said helplessly. Alexander felt and comforting hand on his back, but it was quickly jerked back, as if its owner was unsure whether it was acceptable to touch him. “I… What do we do?”
Alexander felt John grip his hand, prying it from his ear and gently interlocking their fingers. Alexander clung to it like a lifeline as John rubbed slow, soothing circles into his skin. After a moment, Eliza resumed rubbing his back. Alexander wanted to sit up straight, to reassure them that all was well and that they should go back to sleep, but he found he could not. Not with his mother still screaming in his ear.
“What was he saying?” Eliza whispered.
“He just kept calling for his mother and telling her to hold on. Telling her that he was sorry.” John’s voice was soft and sad.
“His mamá.” Eliza murmured.
How long they sat there in silence, Alexander did not know, but when he could finally breathe normally again, slowly and deeply, without being tortured by phantom screams, he lifted his head. “Oh my God, Alexander, are you alright?” Eliza threw her arms around him, pressing a kiss to his check, and then let go very quickly, as though afraid she had done something wrong.
“Yes,” he whispered. “Can… Can I have a hug?”
Eliza desperately wrapped her arms around Alexander’s narrow frame, while John pressed his warm cheek to the top of Alexander’s head and lovingly stroked his cheek. “Does this happen often?” John murmured.
The three had only been living together for a few weeks. Alexander and Eliza had been dating for a year and a half, and Alexander and John for nearly a year, but they had all still had their own separate dorms, and consequently Alexander had not spent many nights at his partners’. Still, he had noticed that having a pair (or pairs) of comforting arms around him seemed to keep his sleeping mind at peace. Alexander had never admitted to Eliza and John that nearly every night spent without them consisted of fitful sleep and horrific dreams – sometimes about his cousin’s suicide, sometimes about his mother’s death, sometimes his own sickness, or failure, or the hurricane. On truly awful nights, it was a combination of fears and dark memories that plagued him.
Yet he had not had a single nightmare since moving in with Eliza and John. He had been so happy – but he supposed he should have known the reprise would not last forever. He should have warned them.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled into John’s neck.
“For God’s sake, Alex, don’t be,” John begged, pressing a light kiss to the top of Alexander’s head.
“This happens almost every night,” Alexander said, his face still buried in the warm, smooth skin and soft cloth of John’s shoulder. “I should have warned you both. I’m so sorry.”
“But this has not happened before. You’ve never woken up screaming…” Eliza trailed off. He twisted towards fearful face.
“You two have… kept it at bay,” Alexander admitted. “I haven’t had a nightmare since we started living together.”
“What was the dream about, baby?” John questioned gently, but Alexander just shook his head.
“Um. No. I –”
“What should we do to help the next time?” Eliza interjected. Alexander flashed her a small smile, grateful for the change of topic.
“It – it helps to have an anchor,” Alexander said slowly. Words usually came quickly to him, but he needed to get these words right. “It was nice when you held my hand,” he murmured to John.
“Okay,” John said, giving his shoulder a light squeeze. “I can do that.”
“Me too,” Eliza piped up quietly.
“I just need time.” Alex leaned into Eliza’s embrace. They weren’t afraid of him, didn’t think he was crazy for clapping his hands over his ears like a child and screaming for his mother. They just loved him. It was a huge relief, one he didn’t even know he had needed. “The fear always passes.”
Eliza seemed content with that, but John asked awkwardly, “Have you thought about telling your therapist about this?”
Alexander smiled slightly. “She already knows.”
“Oh,” John mumbled, blushing. “I guess I should have known that.”
Alexander stretched up to kiss John softly. “It’s okay, mi amor. That was smart of you to mention.”
Still blushing, John nodded and slid down in the bed, allowing Alexander to place his hand on John’s shoulder. “I love you both,” John murmured, kissing the top of Alexander’s head.
“Me too!” Eliza added sleepily. She was holding one of Alexander’s hands and was curled into his side, with her head on his stomach.
Alexander smiled. “Yo también te amo. Yo te quiero tanto.” He shut his eyes and fell into a dream where there were no hurricanes.