There was an itch at the very tip of her fingers from an innate desire to capture the view before her into a canvas, even though she knew the natural powders that inhabited the strokes of her paintbrush would pale in comparison to the intensity of the surrounding colors. Brianna felt that the scenery was vaguely familiar, but she was unable to attach it to a specific memory, perhaps a consequence of being displaced in time herself, as if she had already been there, or is yet to be.
The grass in which she sat extended towards a lake adorned with purple flowers near the shore. She placed a hand in front of her eyes, always mindful of her fair skin, and even though the sun was bright above in the sky it neither burn, nor was it warm. That peculiar sensation, or lack thereof, demanded a rational explanation, but before Brianna could analyze it, something in her peripheral vision caught her attention. There was a group of trees a short distance away, inconsequential in their rooted stillness, were it not for the large white oak that stood taller than all others, at the center. She observed then, overcome with horror, that a looped noose was suspended from one of its branches, balancing in the wind.
A chill ran down her spine as she opened her mouth to a soundless scream.
Then, without warning, the world she inhabited was suddenly on the move with its watercolors blending together, and when she placed one hand above the grass that was rapidly disappearing below, she felt the earth trembling underneath.
With a sense of urgency and blood pounding in her ears, Brianna opened her eyes to a darker world than the one she had left. Yet, the motion persisted. She blinked once, twice, allowing her eyes to adjust to the lack of light. For a brief moment Brianna though she was still inside her head, trapped in some sort of awful twist of the previous dream but the sight of Roger beside her, fighting angrily against himself, felt real enough to push her into action. In one swift move, only slowed by a short struggle against the tangled sheet, she rose and leaned over him.
"Roger!" She called out, voice cracking with the remnants of a restless sleep.
By now she was already familiar, as much as one could ever be, with the incoherent nightmares that drove him awake in the middle of the night, often startling her in the process. However, this was something else entirely, for it had taken over his body in the most horrific fashion.
His eyes were closed, looking inward at a sight only visible to him, while his hands scratched desperately at his damaged throat as though pulling at an invisible rope that dug its rough fibers against the skin there. Strangled grunts came out of his contorted mouth with each attempt to draw air into lungs, and with the effort to breathe Roger was on the verge of choking himself.
Both her hands trembled while roaming just above his body, not fully knowing where to touch. But in spite of the hesitation, her mind was fully alert. Brianna knew exactly where he had wandered off, his mind had plunged into his own demise without conscious consent. She had not seen Roger as he hanged not so long ago, although she had raced against time itself to find him. Nevertheless, the image before her now would be engraved in her head as a close resemblance. When Brianna arrived by the large white oak, she had thought him dead, although the finality of it had not completely register right away. And the sight had been so horrifying that even after all this time, she still remembered the dreadful sensation of all blood being drained at once and replaced by an icy fluid that stopped her heart momentarily. It had only started again prompted by a moan from the seemingly lifeless form of Roger which swung from the branch between life and death.
In the bed right before her eyes, his whole body tensed at once and she instinctively took hold of his hands, trying to pry them away from his neck. Despite her firm grip, Roger resisted with the strength implied by his sturdy frame, but seldom fully unleashed. In that moment a far recess of her brain, the sardonic side of her, noticed that she was locked in a physical representation of the mind struggle they had been living in the past months, pushing and pulling without one fully yielding to the other.
Roger had tried to speak at length ever since they had returned to the Ridge, albeit remaining conscious of the oddness of his damaged voice. But as time went by, along with increasing frustration, the words became few and far between. Eventually he became silent again. In the void left by his words Brianna had learned to read the subtle changes in his stance, the ever-changing expressions in his face, and all of which he did not speak aloud. All of it was nearly deafening, and the deeper the silence grew between them, the louder her mind became.
He had always been a man of eloquent word and amusing wit, traits always expressed freely. Only now he could not, or would not unleash his thoughts, not even to her. Brianna was convinced that in spite of his early efforts, Roger must have grown tired of the ever-present judgment, unspoken as it was, and the looks of pity surely had made him progressively withdraw into miserable thoughts, mentally out of reach from her. Then, in the absence of sound, Roger often disappeared into the woods for hours on end, and when he finally came back, as silent as he had left, Brianna had to bite down the bitter remarks at the tip of her tongue. Often enough, she fancied surrendering to a selfish spree that would fill the void with screams, loud and enraged, and throw the loneliness she felt mercilessly back at him. However, a quick look into the desolation etched across his face ceased all thoughts of that kind.
She called for him, desperately now, but he remained completely oblivious, lost in a creation rooted in the reality where death was an imminent conclusion. Amidst the struggle to breathe his face became an angry shade of red against the faded amber light from the hearth. The muscles in his arms were strained beyond capacity, resisting her every move. Yet, she refused to surrender Roger, unconscious or not, to the darkest corners of his mind. They had lived through far more than it was rationally conceivable, and this was yet another test to their combined resilience.
With renewed determination she slipped her fingers between his, entwining their hands firmly, and pulled at them once more. Without as much resistance as before, his hands held unconsciously onto hers and slowly departed from his neck. With both his hands safely between hers, she leaned further down and placed her lips above his, barely touching.
“Breathe, Roger. Breathe!” She murmured continuously like a mantra to bring him back safely.
As if triggered awake by her calling, he rose from the bed with a loud gasp, voraciously consuming the air he had been deprived of. Brianna caught the abrupt motion of his body with her hands and felt his heart beat fast underneath. Long dark lashes moved rapidly, trying to make sense of the surroundings. The air passed through his damaged throat with some effort, that much she could tell, and from the way he panted it must be exceedingly painful as well.
The relief she immediately felt when he woke up was short lived once his eyes found hers. Their shade of moss, usually intense and lively, was clouded with a hint of tears, and behind them lay a vast field of regret, fear and anger, all combining into the overwhelming loss of oneself.
Brianna saw a changed Roger in those eyes, one that was still somewhat foreign to her. And among the flood of emotions, she saw in them a question, as plainly as if he had voiced it.
He parted his lips to speak though only a strangled sound came out, which made him visibly self-conscious. Being the only one privy to that level of vulnerability made her own throat constrict, while her eyes burned at the edges, threatening tears as well.
Carefully, she moved around the bed and sat against the headboard, resting her back on the pillows there.
"Come here." Brianna said while lifting her arms in invitation.
And he went willingly, too tired and greatly in need to do otherwise. Brianna welcomed the full weight of his body, the warmth of his skin on her cooler one, and even the fast beating if his heart against hers.
Roger molded his body to hers, as his son often did, with his head on her chest and arms surrounding her, seeking the sort of comfort only she could provide.
Cradling Roger against her, she brushed the dark waves of his hair, with fingers traveling down towards the large expanse of his back, feeling the bumps of fading scars underneath their tips. His skin was clammy to the touch after fighting against himself, but she was not willing to let him go.
“I Iove you, no matter what.” She said firmly just so the words cut through the silence of the room to answer his unspoken question. He did not reply, only let out a long-held sigh of relief and with it his body relaxed, fully melting into hers.
She realized he had been alone with his thoughts for far too long, mourning the memory of singing, and that sort of pain, with the doubts that accompanied it, were a heavy burden to carry by himself.
As she absently stroked the healing flesh of his scarred throat, Brianna wondered if the songs still came to him as effortlessly as they did before, with an overwhelming urge to sing, or if he now made a conscious effort to suffocate them before he was even tempted to form the notes. It took a while and a few sleepless nights, but she had finally relinquished to the notion that her memories of Roger singing, which played in her mind frequently, would have to be enough from then on.
However, Roger was yet to surrender to the inevitable conclusion that that piece of him was lost, perhaps forever. A piece that was so intrinsically his, natural and all-encompassing of his sense of self, that he felt like his own identity had been compromised. What he had yet to understand, was that he was far more than just that piece. Brianna saw him as an assortment of the fierce loyalty, integrity, compassion and courage that made him a worthy man. But he was also determined and stubborn in equal measure, and that lesson was not one he would easily learn from her. He had to do it alone, or not at all.
His very soul was as bruised as his throat, but she would wait patiently until he found himself again.