05-03-2020 06:42 pdt

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The Hallway of Horror

Part Sixteen

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"Awake. Dim, cool, exhausted. Where am I?

The hallway looms before me as I sit up and take notice of the massive paintings lining each side. All of the physical discomfort has left my body and I feel much better. Standing, thinking about what could be coming next, I notice that the first pair of paintings is very similar. They are portraits. On one side I see Justine in black, looking as elegant as is possible, and staring down at me. Facing her is Julianne, dressed in a similar manner -- like in the passenger car -- also looking at me. What the fuck is this? My funeral again? All at once I fear a gunshot coming out of the dark and cannot help but worry about being chided once again for my actions. The possibility cannot be denied. But no one is around. Silence. Not even air movement. I remember that phobia regarding still air from years ago which developed throughout a decade of being crammed into the test section for setup and cleaning. Hours in there every day with a huge fan keeping the space ventilated and maintaining my comfort while inside. Now? None of that. Very still, very quiet. The women stare down as I begin to feel worry that the other portraits are the remaining 'J' names. I could really use Jaime's shoulder right now. Alas, I must investigate. Forward motion, like my locomotive, and into unknown, frightening territory.

Each painting has to be twelve feet high or more. Holy shit. What is this place?

I turn to look behind and the wall is right there. I am inches from it. The doors are gone. Nothing behind, darkness and looming faces ahead, and I feel like shit. I guess I'll walk along and see what is to be. The first pair of portraits gives way to another as I move further in, this time I see Natalie on the left and Melanie on the right. Again they are facing down toward me and with expressions of disdain. God they look so beautiful. I do not know why I am seeing them right now but at least I know the faces. Natalie was such a savior after returning from weeks away and helped to ease the fear of my being home. She was wonderful and I cared for her very much in the span of mere hours. The eyes did it, just like always. Lanie? Oy God help me. Every word or gesture from her pretty head was toward improving me. Or my learning to improve myself. That sounds funny, but she pushed nearly as much as all of the others combined. Lanie was wonderfully kind and caring. Often when I think of her now I feel as if I did not treat her well enough. I don't know anymore but it haunts me. I hope that is not why she is up there looking on. I feel bad enough as it is. Natalie and Melanie were both like therapists with extras. Sometimes I believe that neither was real. Black dresses, elegant jewelry, and appointments making them appear right out of the Haunted Mansion. Lessons in oil. Hmm. Who next? Or do I already know?

No voice from beyond. Good, because I need Julia directing me right now like I need another fucking suicide.

Lori on the left now. Lori, the server from the Island with those breasts I needed to fondle. Opposite her? Julie from the Seahorse. I remember sitting there and staring at her from across the room and wondering of her name. When she approached and I saw that name tag I nearly faltered. Another Julie, as if the past Julies were not enough to derail my thinking and send me into isolation for months while dreaming of the letter 'J'. Well, I did that anyway. I am feeling a combination of excitement and trepidation at seeing both of those very tall, very sexy women looking at me from high on the walls. Maybe when this is over (if it ever is) I can come in here and heist all the paintings. Build a warehouse? Hang them and stare? Heh. Not funny. Whatever. Lori and her long blonde hair all around. Chest bulging. Sharp shoulders. Jesus fuck did I ever want to swallow her, but alas it was not to be. Ashley and Melanie squashed the opportunity, bless their gorgeous hearts. Julie? Yep... Another covert dinner plan in my big Venetian room which Eleanor sent flying as if to tell me that all I needed was herself. She was right. That little kitten took me off my feet with her loving ways and made nearly all the pain disappear long enough for me to right myself and head home. No, not that home. The real one. Seeing Lori and Julie up there right now brings all manner of feelings, from fear to lust to despair and all the way around to realizing that I truly may never leave this place. They are stunning, up there twelve feet tall, but the underlying issues have not gone away. In fact, the weakness within me is taking charge and pushing me to feel as if I am much worse than originally envisioned. No matter how deep I may get into things at home, the idea that we are sheltered right now, or those moments when I do need to go out into the frightening world and procure some staples, the possibility is still there. Just two days ago there was a woman on the boulevard walking -- likely for her own benefit -- and I was reminded of the way Lori walked across the room in the Mandalay as she went from table to table for her duties. Did I merely glance and go on with my day? Not really. My head remained there for a long while as I dreamed of what she may sound like when speaking, how she felt about differing aspects of sex and society, and what she may have looked like out of that clothing. Yes, that too. In seconds, my brain processed the numbers written all over her and I needed to know why. Is there a why? Or was it simply her reminding me of Lori? Is that why the fucking painting is haunting me now? What about Julie on the other side? Both were servers in casino lounges. Is that why? What about all the years that have now passed and left me overanalyzing every single fucking thought that relates to a female? Fuck it. I need to move on. I am feeling myself, feeling who and what I am, and that is not good. Fuck this hallway.

The paintings are not evenly spaced. Maybe I am meant to consider some more than others along the hall. I do not know. The black dresses are reminiscent of being surrounded by seven women in the car back there. That is not a good memory and I thought it might be the end. I feel the same as in days earlier, though. The difference is the experience. As I see two more faces looking at me, the irritation is setting in. I do not like being controlled at all. And there they are, Juliette and Ashley. This is not good.

Damn it, Juliette up there looking at me with arms folded. Why? Am I doing everything wrong? God she looks amazing, like always. The woman was a fucking dream from the word go. Behind that counter at the bank she was just too beautiful and I had to say something for fear of never seeing her again. I will not soon forget the way she smiled when we headed out that night for dinner. And then Ashley? Holy fucking shit, Batman. The doll of dolls, she called me 'old man' and was so fucking cute that my heart actually hurt just looking at her face. I wish I knew why these two wonderful women are on the walls. I still have no idea. A museum from my head? Heh. Whatever this is or represents, some of the most beautiful and caring women I have ever seen are up there looking to me for some reason. And I am feeling less unnerved by the experience now. The force or mind behind all these scenes is beginning to piss me off something fierce. I have few options, so thinking is paramount right now. No more memories of bliss on high. Shut it the fuck off, self.


Something ahead. I cannot make it out in the darkness.

Crack! Holy fuck, not again. Wait... I am not hit. To the floor with haste. Crack!

'You missed, asshole.'

Silence. As I turn and begin to crawl back in the other direction, I see a point of light on the wall where this hallway began. The bullet must have gone through it and left a hole, and that reveals there is something beyond where this area closed after I entered. Crawling, still no sounds of gunfire, and past the faces staring down. To the wall, I rise enough to peer through and see the casino awaiting. Hmm... Can I get in there? My brain computes an idea in seconds and I quickly head in the other direction as far as Ashley and her long, blonde hair. One glance to either side for posterity, and that is that. Up, set, and I launch toward the hole in the wall. Crack! A round whizzes by my left ear and leaves a second hole not far above the first. Closer, faster, and one shoulder impacts the drywall as the material gives way and I soar through the wall and to the floor on the far side. But there is no floor, only empty space. As my body rotates enough to see up, there is the balcony where I stepped off days ago. I see the bloody hand prints on the glass door for a split second before losing sight. Flying. Falling. Smack! Blackness.

Eyes open. Holy shit does my shoulder hurt. Damn it, the paintings and dim lighting show me that I am back where I began. Behind is the wall, completely intact, and right where it was before. Fuck. Anger building.

'What the fuck is this supposed to teach me?' Silence.

Nothing. I am alone. No sounds at the other end (end?) where the shots emanated, I think. Paintings, carpet, points of light above, and nothing else aside from me and my fucked up shoulder. Well, that was fun. I died how many times since the desert? I lost count. I hear no sound whatsoever this time. Nothing near me and the same down the hall. Hmm. God damn do I ever miss Jaime. From one moment to the next my brain goes back and forth from her loving arms to the most uncomfortable situations. They seem to develop out of nowhere and catch me when I am paying little attention or deep in daydreaming about someone. Like all of those beautiful souls to which I have been attached throughout a decade. Well, there seems to be no one left here aside from me. Paintings, memories, and bullets flying. The other end of this corridor is still black. As I sit still, thoughts are all over the map with regard to a decision of any kind. Something has to change.

More anger. I fail to see why I am stuck in this place without any means for moving around and learning. Shot again? Who cares? Every time I end up in the black I begin again. Just like on the bridge across from that big hotel. How many times did I find myself there staring at the car? Fuck me. Something, please. Crack! Blackness again.

Bright lights all around me now. I am lying on my back, knees up, and awaiting enough clarity to get to my feet and look around. Why is the hallway so bright now? Flopping my head from side to side reveals that I am now in the center, or so it would seem. Just above my spinning head is Andrea, hands on her hips, and beautifully staring down at me from the gigantic painting. Holy fucking shit in a fashion show, there she is after all this time. I cannot peel my eyes from her face. Stunning, stirring, gorgeous. All those feelings build up inside me again just like when I dream of our time together. The flights, hotels, loving arms around each other at every stop. God damn it anyway. Staring, with the beginnings of tears in my eyes. Fuck do I ever miss what she did for me... What we did for each other. Who would force me to face her again? Why am I being put through seeing my past loves? And how many times have I asked these questions? Nothing. No one to hear me. Bright lights. On the floor again. I have to lie here and think until I feel able to rise and move around. All the while Andrea is right there in her beautiful black dress looking at me for whatever reason. Part of my own heart has been missing since we separated. That part is gone for good.

As I slowly get to my knees, I see opposite the lovely Andrea is Julie and her dark eyes, same type of dress, and looking out with arms folded as the first pair of faces I spied in this place. She is looking straight toward the painting of Andrea on the opposite wall. Huh? Not looking at me? That is something I was not expecting. And then...

'What do you see?'
'Julie is looking at Andrea with an expression which seems irritated.'

Great. A puzzle. Back and forth my eyes go from one woman to the other until I can finally get to my feet. Julie appears to be less than happy as she stares toward my love. Think. Hmm... Those two did not know of each other. Julie appeared here in this world as a person I had never known before, while Andrea was vastly different and in the real world. Right? Do I have that correct? Or am I losing it to the point of believing that Andrea and I were not in the real world? But we were... I grabbed hold of that woman and wrapped myself for weeks as we fell in love. All over the place, hotels, planes, restaurants, those long walks with big goo goo eyes toward each other. That was real. We did it. We ran. We loved. We isolated. And now Julie -- the woman who was lying in my backward shower and then speaking with me on the balcony before we hit the pavement and died -- is looking at the lovely Andrea. Disdain? Disappointment? Something else? Think, dummy. Every time that fucking voice comes along I have to wrack my brain. And this after being shot at AGAIN and falling to the ground after flying through the damned wall that appeared out of thin air. And I am supposed to think? Fuck you. Whose voice is that now, anyway? I do not hear Julia with her commanding nature. This is softer, peaceful, seemingly helpful and caring. Hmm. More thinking. Julie did not know Andrea. Different worlds, completely. Julie was here. Andrea was with me, out there. Damn it. How?

'Think, mister man.'

Wait a fucking second... Who called me that? I few different people, if I recall. Ashley called me 'old man' all the time because she was not much over half my age. Melanie? Lori? Natalie? Eleanor? That's it! Ellie called me 'mister man' all the fucking time! That must be her, right? Maybe? Wait, there was another. And closer to home. In my home, actually. Or, more appropriately, her home. Well now, that brings a change to my thinking. I just may understand Julie's look across the hall. I think I do...

Jealousy. Like the names on my arms. Holy fuck.


'Don't you fucking tell me that this whole thing is about my ink.'
'Rhymes with think, mister man.'

Great. More games, more confusion. I guess the source of that voice does not matter, one or the other. I would expect Ellie to be sweet toward me, but the other? Not so much. Civil, perhaps, but our parting was not exactly the best type of situation. So, jealousy. I know the relationship of that word to a few individuals, myself included. But what am I to make of Julie being jealous of Andrea? Is it because we shared a once-in-a-lifetime romance? Something very special? But how? Julie has only been here, in this fucking strange world that seems to go on forever no matter what I do or which way I turn. The lessons pile up, I attempt to absorb and consider every single one, yet I remain here with more and more shit thrown at me (along with threats of death). If the jealousy has nothing to do with two people who could not have possibly known each other, does that mean it has to do with me? Of whom am I jealous? Anyone? The handsome bartender in the Dracorum with whom I shared some pleasant conversation? He was only the second male staff member I have seen in this place. The other was at the Nile but I did not really speak with him much. He was just a bartender to me at that point. There was no need for discussion. Both were very good at what they were doing. Professional, looking the part, classy, confident. Could that be it? My lack of confidence in myself? Esteem? Something else? Well, fuck me in a therapist's chair. I just don't know. The voice is quite correct... I need to fucking think. Ink. Think. Heh.

Jealousy? Maybe that is not the cause.

'Fix yourself.'
'Fuck off, anyway.'
'Nice attitude, mister.'

Whatever. At least no one is shooting at me now.

The lights dim like before. Damn. Now the paintings are glowing from their own points of illumination on the ceiling. But something is different... There is only one pair of paintings left. All the others have disappeared, leaving Andrea and Julie just above me. They are now looking at each other. What? Fuck, why do things keep changing? What the fuck is this supposed to teach me? As I get to my feet and swing my gaze from one to the other and back again several times, I am beginning to feel as if there is something wrong inside me that must be addressed. No shit, right? Problems within myself. Such a thought is nothing new. The expression on Andrea's gorgeous face is like nothing I have seen before. We were never upset with each other, nor did we have argument or debate. Her face was either happy, excited, or sad, and the sadness was as our time together progressed to the point of knowing the end was nearing. Most of the time I saw her absolutely glowing. And she was typically so close that she appeared blurry. Hee! God damn, that woman was so beautiful that I was often left confused by the sight. But now, oh God does she appear irritated. Why Julie? I knew her only a short time, we fell to the ground together and then remained close until that wondrous (?) roll with explosives which destroyed the two of us and the fucking hotel. Wait... Something hits my brain. In the passenger car Julie stated that she wanted us to live. I thought she was supposed to represent survival. Andrea told me several times that I would be fine. WE would be fine, and she made me promise to care for myself. There is a fucking correlation that I had not seen just moments ago. Survival, living, trying. I have experienced the most arduous periods of my life in only the past few years. My value within has increased and subsequently diminished, my self-esteem rose and then took a hit which knocked me to my knees, and my drive to care for others has also eased a touch. Why? And does that mean both of those women are staring at each other in an attempt to force me to see things I have no wish to face? They could not possibly have issues with each other. Add to this the scorpion which turned into Andrea in the desert and reasserted the idea of me living on. Damn it. Are they having words with each other up there? Maybe Julie is jealous of her? Our weeks together were bliss. Is that something Julie wanted? With me? Are there enough fucking questions right now? Back to the jealousy. Is that my issue two? That has never gone away, and though the definition is a clear and present threat, jealousy is from where that type of thinking is born. Jealousy that another has something, or more of themselves, or I don't know... Better looking? Stronger? Confident? Fuck me, I cannot do that right now. There are too many little things pushing me down and the only time I feel some measure of strength is when I am out in the fucking garage and centered in my creations. And the alcohol must flow in order for me to realize any strength at all. Well now, that is something I cannot deny, and if the two of them are taking issue with my insides being so fucked up because of feeling threatened by everyone and everything, well... Good fucking luck, ladies. You may as well swing a tack hammer at the rock of Gibraltar. Heh. In short? Nope.

Jealousy. Threat. These had better not mix.

Andrea was always clinging to me despite her being the stronger one. She clung, and the ferocity of her holding me so tightly and 'hanging' on my arm while in public always gave me the feeling that she needed me. And I believed she did, in some manner, just as I needed her for strength during those times. We maintained each other and became symbiotic throughout the course of mere weeks, the undoing of which nearly killed me. I still needed that woman several months later when I finally emerged from the longest isolation ever. Honestly, to this day I feel a piece missing. That will likely never return, however to think of her and those big, dark eyes looking at me for constant approval, I see from where this scene of those two women staring at each other grew. I believe so, anyway. Need, emptiness, jealousy, fear. All of it rolled up and stuffed into my pockets by a force I still do not know. Sharon tried to tell me, Dr. Bob did the same, but in the end I pushed back like always and ended up worse off years later and lunging toward arms. One pair of those arms could have been the beginning of a more difficult phase. Maybe. Jealousy. Lacking. Needing. And never, ever truly facing the idea the way those beauties are facing each other right there above me. Decades, and... Nothing. I need a drink and some time to rest. This had better come to a conclusion soon or I will fucking give up.

Something has changed again. I feel different...

'Hello lover.'


Oh. My. God.

Jaime's voice, and not a moment too soon. I turn, and there she is, all impeccable makeup and looking like a fucking dream. If anything could snap me out of this dim place, she is it. Holy shit do I ever need her more than ever. Up, arms wide, solace. Jaime wraps me in her loving embrace and the tears flow immediately. I cannot help it after such an inner ordeal. As I gently open my eyes moments later, I see that the hallway is gone, we are standing at the mouth of the shopping mall, and others are milling around as if they had always been there. Jaime will not let go at all. She holds tight and whispers to me that everything will be ok and she will not leave me again. Yes... Just fucking YES. Seldom have I been against a woman of her sheer beauty without carnal thoughts flowing instantly, but right now other priorities come first. Issues in my head. Issues with my place in the world. Tons of issues only alleviated by arms around me. Sound familiar?

'We should go back to our room so you can rest, my love.'

Strolling back toward the south gives me a bit of hope. The duchess has one hand in mind and her other on the inside of my arm. God damn does that feel good. I need to keep her close for fear of another sudden disappearance. Wait a minute... The key card is still in my pocket. Wow, I guess I am meant to use that somewhere but I know of nothing. The other card that the duchess and I used to enter my big room in the pyramid is still resting in my back pocket. What is the second card for? Great, more questions. That card was given to me by Jennifer the gazelle which leads me to believe it matches a room in the Dracorum. Well then, I am going to avoid the upper floors of this hellish place until such time as I can think clearly and feel some measure of strength. Not right now. Jaime was correct in that I need some time to regroup. Bless her gorgeous battery-powered heart. Heart? Heh. Nothing is funny right now.

Through to the main entrance and out the big doors. Night. No shit. Always. Along the way I see that the skyline and boulevard are back to normal for the mid-nineties. Hmm. Just like before, and representative of my favorite period for this town. We stroll slowly and enjoy the lights with few words. Each time I look up at her face I feel butterflies inside, just like when Andrea walked next to me over and over in Florida. Damn that was so nice and felt as if we owned the world. Jaime's quiet confidence is easing the difficulty and realization that I experienced in that fucking hallway, however there are still questions floating. I never ventured further along the rows of paintings and am left wondering who else might have been there for me to see, and what sort of lessons may have awaited. Andrea and Julie? That was plenty, and the key terms are still running in circles inside my heart. I have to work on that. Past the castle, along the wide sidewalk until my massive, glowing sphinx appears from behind the white brick. There it is, my favorite home in all of the goblet. Through the doors, straight to that same southwest inclinator that lies behind the cashier where I first tried to grab money before dashing into town and seeing Juliette for the first time. Fuck me, what a memory. Up and away, constant contact between the duchess and myself, and into my big room that feels like heaven. Thank Christ, something nice for a change. Flop. Wrapped. Kisses. Wow.

Jaime feels like a real woman and I do not give a shit that she is a machine. Heh. I may love her.

Some time passes as we quietly discuss the process which took place below those portraits. Andrea was always a complete love toward me and during our weeks together there was no rancor. Very likely things could have changed had we been together for a much longer period of time. Familiarity may have relaxed us enough in the future to allow for issues. The simplicity of our situation pretty much forced us to cherish each second because we knew our love would be doomed. Jaime absorbs everything like a proper therapist and gives me the huge eyes again. This time? Hazel, with thin, blue outlines. They almost appear to be lit from behind somehow. Good god, I could get used to staring at her ever-changing, enormous windows. More discussion, fingers intertwined playfully. But there is none of that physical stuff flowing through me right now. I need to think and Jaime is helping with her gentle suggestions that what goes on inside my head is dictating what takes place in this world. Am I making all of this happen? Julia told me more than a few times... 'You did this, mister'. Yes, she stated that without hesitation. Could my thoughts and fears be creating the situations which are trying to teach me or destroy me at each step? That may be too much to figure out right now. All those women with names that start with a 'J', the gunman, dragon, my car, the trains... Jesus fuck, people. I have a lot going on and cannot process or compute that much all at once. As I think out loud, Jaime pushes that I should pick one character or scene and then analyze as she assists. Okay. And I still do not feel the sex pressing on my brain. That with Jaime in yet another Andrea-related outfit and light blue bra straps peeking at her shoulders. Oy fuck shit damn. Concentrate, dummy.

So, I made all of this? What specifically did I do? Fear. I fear many things, however a dragon or guns pointed at me have never been real. Would I fear those two? Of course, but in this world they are literal and in reality they have to be representing something else entirely. I ran from them more than once. What have I run from in life? Jaime is staring and slowly blinking. Jesus, but she looks so real sometimes. With my glasses on I see details in her skin. Pores, the corners of her eyes where the makeup looks perfect from a distance yet slightly off center up close. The tiny details that are usually blurry when I am this close to her face. Fuck me, concentrate. But those huge eyes are killing me from the inside out. Damn, woman, why must you look so beautiful? Heh. Ok, stop. Back to her voice as I cease the wonder of that incredible appearance.

Marisa Tomei is so uniquely gorgeous in 'My Cousin Vinny' that I think I fell in love with her character twenty-eight years ago.

'What makes you run away?'
'I don't know. Lots of things.'
'Think about it, my love.'

Running. Well fuck, I do not want to explain every little situation that pushes at me to get away from others. That would be ridiculous. Jaime does make sense with her gentle prodding and questions. She is trying to help, but knowing what is in her fucking beautiful and mysterious head is impossible. That is a computer or something more complex. Her words toward me are calculated and strewn together with a precision I do not share. To explain my need to escape would be too difficult, but I can explore how that may relate to the two largest physical threats in this backward hell hole. My duchess holds on and listens while I try to lay out some examples of me leaving the state when something takes my head and twists it enough for me to attempt a statement without words. Back in zero three when I took off down the highway after being instructed to go from one building to another at work, I had a head full of a fear of being around others. There was too much happening inside me to calm down and make sense of it all, so I took off out the fucking gate and ran six-hundred miles down the road to be alone. That was not the first time I had taken off without warning, but at that point in my life there were the resources to really do something crazy. When I was a teenager and felt the need to slam others with a situation, the entire works took place over mere hours. I was helpless to initiate anything truly dramatic. Later? I squashed it in place and stayed put, for the most part, while inside me there was buildup and filing away of details that would eventually drive me nuts. And then that big trip that became the culmination of every fucking occasion when I felt too tied down to run. I gave everyone the big fuck you and showed them the ass-end of my commuter car and... Gone. The feeling was bliss, for a while. I successfully escaped and made my point, but the feelings never ceased. Eight years later? I did it again, and for weeks. What was I fearing? I do not know. That is a fact. Jaime and her now-blue eyes is staring. Her expression seems to indicate that perhaps it is time to rest and end the conversation for the time being. Yes, please. I am fucking tired. Plus I died one more time for posterity and that is no fleeting feeling. To the bed and out of our clothing. Wrapped, warm, done.

I realize that I do love her as we drift off.


Dreams. Awake.

The machine that was next to me is now perched on the sofa and plugged in to the wall. Wow. No matter how many times I see the duchess out cold and charging, the sight throws me for a loop. A machine. I still can't get that all the way through my head. I guess it doesn't matter. Right now there are other concerns, like getting the hell out of this world. All of the clues and directives I have run across throughout days of being here are so far adding up to very little. And Jaime told me she knows a way out. Perhaps the exit is not going to be so apparent, nor is she going to tell me straight out. I still have to learn something.

In the passenger car each of them told me what they represent. Each is a part of me, except the Raven, of course, although Her wishes back years ago echoed the sentiment of Julie and Julia. Andrea always said she wanted me to be happy, to live, and to be kind to myself. Again... Just as the Raven. They made me promise, but something like that has so many facets that I cannot begin to calculate more than one at a time. Damn. Jessica was desire, unfulfilled. I just don't know for Christ's sake. I can't seem to add everything up and figure out the final meaning. All those women, there in a circle and staring at me dressed for a funeral. Mine? Maybe, but not likely. Everything else that has taken place only makes me think that I built all of this out of some need to escape combined with what seems like the longest, most elaborate therapy session imaginable that has been created in my head. It's just too much. The gunman is like a giant representation of the old west and a type of male shaped by that time and the requirements of living in circumstances that I cannot possibly understand. And then the fucking dragon always after me. The threat? The feeling of jealousy which is often right on its heels? I got away every time, and even leveraged the situation that destroyed the gunman as I flew out the window. I used my intelligence to force one bad thing to remove another, but still they remain. Does that mean I have the ability to rise above but need to keep it in mind constantly for fear of them returning? That makes sense. How do I do that? Perhaps the idea that others will always affect me so I need to remain vigilant within myself in order to survive and function is a lesson I had not seen before. The massive, gaping hole in me where self-esteem should reside? Hmm. Too many questions again. The one image burned into my head which feels like a priority is the hallway with Andrea and Julie staring at each other with arms folded. They looked angry. Again, there is the possibility that the jealousy was driving that image. Fuck. This is not easy. Something behind me... Jaime is awake. Yes!

Her hair is longer and her clothes are different. How in the blue fuck does she do that when I am not looking for mere moments? Big, blue eyes again and black hair. Jesus, those eyes are so big that I could likely fall into them forever.

Despite the incredible beauty of my own personal Cherry 2000 standing before me and looking like a science fiction Miss Universe, I continue to process the issues which now appear to have formed this world and are still forming it. I have to know, is everything really coming from me? Was that Ellie's voice back there? That kitten told me -- nearly verbatim -- the same things everyone else did: Rise, try, live. Be well. Find happiness. Well, I have done little to that end, but there are the small periods of joy that I still seek and find. They are very small, but to this moment they have kept me going, for the most part. I am sitting in this hotel room as a representative product of the mathematics within. Everything has culminated in this latest visit to the pyramid, lessons flying, voices following, and my feelings nearing the breaking point. And then Jaime returns looking like a million dollars but there is no drive inside me to pursue her. I just need the solace of her arms. Maybe I really have learned nothing because my weakness still points to a woman and the care that brings me peace. Fuck. Wait... Another thought pops in like a kernel of corn in hot oil: The second key card. I immediately rip it from my pocket and look down to see that it is from the Dracorum. Hmm. Something has to be awaiting me there, and as much as I would like to avoid that hellish resort for my remaining days, I have to learn. I must know. Jennifer never steered me wrong, and though she has been as cryptic as every other gorgeous woman in this place, I trust her. I really do. The woman next to me is at the top of the list. Jaime sidles up to me in her dress and heels, drops a kiss to my forehead, and nods as if to tell me that I am with her once again and for the duration. Bliss. And then she whispers...

'Take me, lover.' Oh, God.