Keanu Reeves stood on the side of the road.
Or maybe he was still sleeping. Yes. That was it. A dream. Of course. Just moments before he had been in his hotel room at the Chateau Marmont and now, here he was on this familiar stretch of abandoned road.
He doesn’t even pretend to be surprised. He’d been waiting for this dream for a while now.
“Hey,” a voice said from behind him.
Keanu turned. “I always know where I am by the way the road looks.”
“That’s my line.”
Keanu smiled and continued the script. “Like I just know that I’ve been here before. I just know that I’ve been stuck here, like this one fucking time before, you know that?”
River Phoenix returned the smile and picked up where Keanu left. “Yeah. There’s not another road anywhere that looks like this road--I mean, exactly like this road. It’s one of a kind.”
“One of a kind... like someone’s face.”
“A fucked up face,” River finished.
They look at each other for only a moment before they embrace. For a second, Keanu, was terrified that it would be an illusion, smoke and air and broken promises, but he felt the body wrap around his own and he sighed into it, like he’d done so many times before. Like the road, this is familiar and real.
So relieved, Keanu is surprised by the sob that escapes his throat. “I’m so sorry.”
“I should have been there, we should have been together, not... not...”
“Hey, hey, hey, even the Buddha can’t be everywhere,” River said, running his hands along Keanu’s jaw, massaging the tight muscles there, forcing eye contact. “I’m the one who is sorry. You know I didn’t want to go that way. Never.”
Keanu smiled again. “Well, it definitely wasn’t a waterfall.”
Laughing, River looked around. “Let’s walk.”
They only walked for a moment or two before the scenery fell away around them and they were on a beach. Growing up in movie sets where things were always falling away and shifting, neither of them was surprised. Plus, one of them was dead, so there was that.
“Why’d you do it?” Keanu asked.
River shrugged, picking up a piece of driftwood and throwing it back to the shore. “I don’t know. I wanted a new experience. I didn’t go out that night looking for that to happen.”
“Jesus, no! I had my baby brother there. You think I would do something like that?”
Now Keanu shrugged. “I didn’t think so. No of course I didn’t think so, but... I just didn’t...”
“You know me. Better than anyone. You know how bad I am with setting limits when I’m trying new things, how I get caught up in the dream of becoming someone else.”
“I know,” Keanu said, then uttered the words he’d been thinking pretty nonstop for the last six months. “It should have been me.”
River stopped. Keanu kept moving, his head down, not looking where he’s going, not caring.
“It would have never been you!” River shouted to be heard and Keanu turned. “You would have never done anything that stupid. You always knew what you were capable of and knew when it was enough. I always wanted--”
“More,” Keanu finished, walking back to him.
They walked in silence. Keanu felt a weight lifted. In his heart he had always known that it had been a careless accident and nothing more, but the darkest parts of his subconscious had created phantom symptoms of suffering hidden deep in every exchange between the two of them. It was so that he was convinced there had been a sadness lurking in his soulmate that he had overlooked and his neglect was in same way responsible.
The guilt that he hadn’t been there lingered, but, like River said, he had been out of the country playing Siddhartha. That had been a life altering experience of its own, but still, knowing he could have stopped it from happening-- could have saved River, and in so doing, saved himself-- was something that was never going to leave him.
Now though, with River running along the beach, urging Keanu to follow him, to chase him, he forgot all of the reasons he should be feeling anything but joy. He took off after River, his smile the first real one since the day before he’d heard the news. He pushed out the thought in the back of his mind the fleetingness of the moment-- let alone the fact it was a dream.
Of course, the moment he had those thoughts, as was the nature of dreams, time sped up and shifted so that a moment later, it was night. The stars shone bright against the moon's vibrancy and they lay before a blazing fire.
His head rested in River’s lap and he saw the peace he felt reflected in his best friend’s eyes.
“I don’t know how to say goodbye,” Keanu said.
River smiled. “Wrong movie.”
Keanu looked confused for a moment as he struggled to remember what movie River was talking about. Finally he laughed. “Right? Running on Empty. I didn’t mean to steal Martha’s line, but since I did...”
River ran his hands through Keanu’s hair before he leaned down and kissed him softly, whispering against his lips, “Then don’t.”
It was just as it had always been but so much better than Keanu remembered. The way their mouths found each other and the fire that licked through them was the same, but it was like it was in the beginning, slow and burning, not like in the end when life got in the way so when they met the fire was urgent and raging. Keanu actually hadn’t had a preference at the time because both meant that they were together, that life was good. But it was nice to be there in the moment and not feel the need to rush through it, to just let its magic ignite him as he sat up and in front of River, wrapping his long arms and legs tight around him, holding River’s long sandy hair in tight fists in his large hands.
After an eternity that felt like no time at all, River pulled from the kiss. “Next time you come, you should bring your bass, and my guitar. I miss music.”
It took a long time for Keanu to stop laughing long enough to answer River. “You hoping to get Rubber Penis back together?” That had been one of the names of the bands that River sometimes formed, and Keanu sometimes joined just to be able to play incognito and without celebrity baggage.
“Ha, no. But I think this scene definitely needs a soundtrack.”
“Absolutely,” Keanu agreed. He had forgotten how easy this all was, this slipping between best friends and lovers. How they could be in the deepest of intimacies one moment and discussing music, theater and career the next. In all honesty, Keanu was convinced it had ruined him for other relationships and the struggle with balance they entailed. Which hadn’t bothered Keanu when River was alive; he didn’t need anything more than what they had, but now? Well, now he clung to the ”Next time you come... and let that be enough for now.
The scene changed again and they were standing on a small rickety bridge. Keanu looked around and recognized the setting and sighed, knowing his line, this time stolen from a twelve year old Wil Wheaton.
“I’ll see ya.”
River smiled that smile that he had mastered at thirteen and perfected in the years that followed. The smile had haunted Keanu’s dreams so many nights before. It promised so much but also hinted of a secret sadness.
“Not if I see you first.”