In the Morning


The darkness in the room -- heavy, humid black -- smothered Juliet's voice. She felt choked. Silenced. "Ben, are you awake?"

There was a shifting next to her in the bed. Then, a mumbled, "I am now." Ben breathed deeply and turned to face her, and she could see his eyes shining very faintly. Her stomach clenched with the realization that she did not find this comforting.

"I have to ask you something." She heard, rather than saw, him stifle a yawn. For a moment, she considered just leaving it at that, saying 'never mind' and going back to sleep. Not facing the crushing answers that were sure to follow. Her life wasn't so bad, really. It would be easier to drift through it, just accumulating defeat and heartbreak a little at a time, rather than all at once.

But then again, that was how she had lived before. And people were supposed to be reborn on this island. They were supposed to leave their old lives behind. Their imperfect lives.

"I'd like to go home." Back to her life, imperfect though it was. Away from this island and its experiments. Away from slowly decaying concrete and steel facilities, from closed-door sessions that she had never been part of but could only call brainwashing, from polar bears and terrible things in the jungle.

Ben stilled. "You are home."

Juliet bit her lip and shut her eyes. She heard a click and saw the soft glow of a lamp beyond her closed eyelids. "That's not what I mean," she said, eyes still shut. When she felt Ben move, she opened them to see him propped up on his elbow, head tilted seriously. His hair was all flattened on one side of his head from the pillow and there were circles under his eyes, and how many times had she seen him like this in the morning and felt a fierce rush of happiness? Now all she felt was sick dread, heavy and iron cold, twisting in her stomach. "I mean I want to go back to Miami. I want..." She felt sudden panic as her throat closed up and her eyes threatened tears. She wasn't going to cry. Crying wouldn't help and she hadn't done it for so long. "I want to go back to my sister and see my...see her baby." After a brief hesitation, she added, "Please."

When she reluctantly met Ben's eyes, she was startled by the look in them. There was something dark, something that she was so unaccustomed to seeing that it took her a second to recognize it for what it was.

The hurt there crept into his voice as he asked, "Are you unhappy here?"

Juliet knit her brow. "I just don't want to stay any longer." There was nothing here for her. Nothing. Nothing except this man lying next to her looking so wounded. This man who loved her. "You could come with me," she said, without much hope that it would help anything.

A small, bitter smile flickered across his face. "You know I can't."

"No, I know you don't want to...but I want you to."

Ben reached out and gently moved a strand of hair away from her eyes. "Did you have a bad day? Is that why you're bringing this up?"

Pressing her lips together and sighing, Juliet replied, "No. Ben, I'm serious about this. This isn't just a...a mood I'm in."

"But Julie, you've been here almost three years. What's wrong?" The wounded expression was still there. It was bewildering; he'd never shown her that he could be so hurt. It brought out lines in his face that she'd never seen before. Suddenly she realized that he was wondering if it was him. If she wanted to leave the island because of him.

Juliet pushed herself up on one elbow and took his hand in hers. "I never planned on staying here more than six months. But then there was you, and I thought..." Ben's fingers twisted with hers as she paused. Tightening. Holding on. "I thought that maybe I really could leave my old life behind. But I can't." She gave him an imploring look. "So come with me."

Ben stared at her for a long time after this. "What are you going to do?"

Growing a little uncomfortable, she said, "What do you mean?"

"I mean," he replied, his gaze still boring into her, "what are you going to tell people? How will you possibly explain this place? How can you go back and pretend this never happened?"

Juliet battened down her own pain at his reaction. She would remain in control of this. "So you won't come," she said. Not that it was a surprise.

Finally, Ben broke his stare and glanced away from her face. When he looked back, all traces of hurt were gone. Hidden, Juliet understood. Suppressed. But now she knew -- she could hurt him. The knowledge gave her a stark satisfaction.

He leaned forward and kissed her softly on the forehead. "Go back to sleep, Julie. We'll talk about it in the morning." Without waiting for her to respond, to object, he switched off the lamp on his bedside table.

Of course they wouldn't talk about it in the morning. The twisting feeling in her stomach clawed its way up her throat and left a taste of bitterness in her mouth. Ben would pretend that this conversation had never happened. She'd never leave. She'd never be able to see Rachel and the baby. Ben would keep her here. He loved her, yes, she knew that. But not enough to let her go. Nor enough to let the island go.

Ben's breathing deepened as he drifted off to sleep. His hand still held hers tightly. In the morning, Juliet knew, she would smile at him and feign contentment. In the morning, she would pretend, too.