== I == II == III == IV ==

When Jamie woke up it was like awakening from a really intense dream, the kind that have you feeling like you lived a lifetime in it, one that leaves you more tired than if you hadn't slept or dreamed at all.

The dream was yesterday.

His radio alarm clock was actually playing Better than Ezra's A Lifetime, when it went off.

"Who turned my radio on that damn Top 40 station?" he mumbled to himself. It was, in fact, he who turned it to that station, and he didn't even want to admit it to himself since he was usually the kind of person who thought that everything that was popular was crap. But he liked some Top 40. He did. But he tried to keep that a secret, often even from himself.

That's when it hit him. It was the most profound slap of deja vu that he had ever experienced.

"Weren't they playing that song yesterday morning?" he mumbled. No, yesterday morning he had it on the "cool" station that played obscure jazz nobody else in the house had ever heard of.

Jamie shook his head in an attempt to obliterate any lingering fog of sleep and decided to get up to get a pot of coffee brewing.

"Morning," Katya yawned as Jamie encountered her in the kitchen. Her mouth was opened bigger and wider than he'd have thought possible, wrinkling the skin on her freckle-covered nose. There it was again, that feeling. That exact image of her yawning, big open mouth, wrinkled nose, pink tongue curling up inside it, was already inside his mind somewhere.

"Uh, morning," Jamie stuttered. "Want some coffee, I just bought this great chickory stuff supposedly from New Orleans yesterday."

He was pretty sure he'd already told her about that stuff and that he'd asked that exact question before, even before he was finished asking it. But, he finished asking it anyway, as if he had to, like it was a line he had to recite, which lead to the supremely odd feeling that he was suddenly in a play and it was the second night of the performance.

"Weird deja vu this mornin'," Jamie mumbled in that kind of way where he wanted to convey that he was getting a bit freaked out, but didn't want to seem like he was freaking out just in case he was talking to somebody who would have thought him foolish to be freaking out.

"Yeah, me, too," Katya replied airily, doing pretty much the same thing that Jamie had done with his comment. She casually opened the refrigerator. Its yellow light shined through her loose-fitting, thin, pink, nightgown and revealed the exact curvy shape of her silhouetted figure, which he especially appreciated when she bent down to grab the milk from the bottom shelf of the door.

Jamie shook his head. "She's John's girlfriend, she's John's girlfriend..." he thought over and over in his head until he could force his eyes off of her panties and onto the cabinet again, the cabinet he was retrieving the coffee from. John was one lucky son of a bitch.

Jamie yawned himself as he grabbed the orange package of chickory coffee. He felt the prickly stubble on his face as he did so. It was a feeling he didn't like all that much. He also didn't like morning hair; he could feel it matted and thick, smothering the top of his head. Coffee was actually the only thing he liked about mornings. Speaking of getting up early---

"Is John--?"

"--up yet?" Katya said. They looked at each other for a quiet moment, her holding the milk, him holding the bag of coffee grounds. She'd finished his question as if she'd known what he was going to ask. Then, finally, she answered it. "No. He, uh, I think he's sleeping in again."

"Still depressed over being laid off?" Jamie mumbled as he poured some grounds into the coffeemaker. He was the house Coffee Man. He was such an expert at it (and a heavy drinker of it) that he had long ago realized that he no longer needed to measure the grounds.

"I suppose," Katya sighed. "Says he’s gonna look for something today. He'd better."

Jamie started the coffee maker. Soon the wonderful burning smell of java brewing began to invade the air. He flipped on the little white television sitting on the kitchen counter. Well, it used to be white at least. Smoke and various food stains had rendered it somewhat of an off-white. In a half-assed way he ripped a paper towel off of the hanging roll and wiped off the top of it. The morning traffic report began. The sound wasn't up very loud yet but he could see what they were talking about. Arial footage of a bad multi-car accident on a nearby highway was wobbling on the screen. The cars involved looked like little pieces of crumpled paper of multiple colors from that angle. The only thing recognizable as a transporter of human beings was the semi, it's trailer jutting around the scene at an awkward angle.

"Bad accident," Jamie mumbled, pretty sure that he'd mumbled that to Katya already.

"Semi?" Katya asked as she poured herself a glass of orange juice.

"Yeah, you already heard?" Jamie said, turning around to look at her. He couldn't help but notice her nipples becoming erect as she drank the cold juice.

John's girlfriend, John's girlfriend, John's...

"No," Katya said after she swallowed. She sniffed, then sucked down some more. Then, after another swallow, "lucky guess...I guess."

Jamie shook his head, making sure there still weren't any tattered remnants of the previous night's dreams in there. Katya stepped closer to the TV to look at the accident scene. "8 Reported Dead" read the graphic on the bottom of the screen. She grimaced. She grimaced like somebody who'd never seen death. Jamie had seen it; he watched his cousin Blake go into convulsions and die while strung out on crystal meth. Ever since then Jamie Just Said No.

There was something about Death, though, that was suddenly important. There was something he should know about it, about his own death, that some deep, lost part of his mind was trying to tell him. It was some annoying vague notion, sort of like the nagging feeling that you're forgetting something but the harder you try to think of it the more slippery it becomes. It wasn't exactly like that, but close. Annoyingly close.

"Are you all right?" Katya asked him. Jamie suddenly realized from the slight burning of the muscles in his face that he must have been wearing a look of great consternation. He took a deep breath and let his face melt into its natural state.

"Fine," Jamie replied, shrugging.

"Morning," yawned Sharon as came into the kitchen, her bare feet making that sound on the dirty tile that things make when you lift them off a slightly sticky surface. "Fuck, why doesn't somebody mop this place?"

"Mornin, sunshine," sighed Jamie. It had worked out perfectly for a while, two couples living in a three bedroom house, Jamie And Sharon, John And Katya. The Jamie And Sharon part didn't work out, though. Her somewhat less-than-cheery disposition, perpetual potty mouth that shouldn't kiss anybody, much less her mother, and the fact that her last name was Peters were three of the main reasons it didn't work out.

"It's John's turn," Sharon said to Katya. "Maybe with all the time he has now he can do his share of cleaning up."

Katya's only response was to sniff loudly and finish her glass of juice.

"Jesus Fucking Christ," Sharon said as she spied the television. "You know, it's fucking weird. Somehow when I, like, got up this morning, I, like, knew there'd be a bad accident on TV. That's some fucked up shit." She pawed a little at her matted, jet black morning hair.

"Yeah, it's bad," mumbled Jamie. "Eight...no, looks like they've bumped it up to nine dead."

"God," whispered Katya as she ambled out of the kitchen.

Just Jamie got the bizarre feeling that he was about to hear heated arguing outside. Sure enough, seconds afterwards, he did. The man and the woman who lived in the house no farther than ten feet from theirs were outside yelling at each other. They had been living there for almost three years now and still had never gotten to know that couple or even their names. They weren't even sure if they were married or not. They sure argued like they were. They looked young, though, possibly even younger than Jamie and his housemates. The woman was a thin, mousy-faced redhead and the guy was thick and muscular with a buzz cut.

"Mr. and Mrs. Smith are out there arguing again," Katya grumbled.

"I wish they'd do it inside!" Sharon said. Then she added, as if they could have actually heard her from where she was standing: "SHUT THE FUCK UP!!"

Jamie sighed and walked into the living room. He turned the big television on. There was that car dealership commercial that he hated.

"...at Midland Ford!" said the annoying big fat man in the baby blue suit. "Where you can get now get employee pricing on any new vehicle! That's right, you pay what we pay! Yeee-haw!"

He switched the channel to the news. The accident was on that station, too. The arguing outside got louder.

"Oh shit," mumbled Jamie, before he actually heard what he was saying "Oh, shit" about.

Amongst the garbled, muffled arguing, one snippet of it came in loud and with frightening clarity: "--gonna kill you!" It was the man yelling it. Everybody suddenly froze in their spots. They must have heard it, too.

"Don't go out there, Jamie!" Katya said at exactly the same time Jamie said "I'm gonna go out there."

Everybody froze again. A sense of doom suddenly punched Jamie in the gut. Despite Katya's warning, he strolled across the living room and to the side door, which opened right to the alley where the neighbors were arguing.

As he grabbed the cool, metal doorknob the deja vu was very loud. He could see the man brandishing the gun, pointing it at the girl -- it was a stub-nosed .37 with a pearl handle -- even though he hadn't opened the door yet. Then he got a vision of the man aiming the gun at him.

Two equally competing voices began to yell in his head.

Go out there and stop him, he's going to kill her!

If you go out there, you'll die!

Go out there and stop him, he's going to kill her!

If you go out there, you'll die!

"I'm calling 911!" Sharon exclaimed at the same time that Katya yelled "JAMIE DON'T GO OUT THERE!"

Jamie opened the door. There the scene was, for real, the mousy girl frozen, feet planted in the ground, as her man aimed the .37 at her. Jamie was about to walk between them when something snapped. It was as if he had been on a cable car and it was taking him through the events of the day, unable to change its course, and suddenly the cable snapped. The deja vu ended. This was different. Jamie was not going to...


Jamie gasped, every nerve in his body froze ice cold, as he watched the man fire the gun at the woman. She convulsed slightly as the shell casings tinkled off the side of his brick house. Then, the woman slumped to the ground.

Suddenly, everything felt wrong. The entire world felt wrong. Wrong, wrong, WRONG.

"Shit!" Jamie yelled, unable to think of any other word in the entire English language. The man pointed the gun at him. Instinctively, Jamie slammed the door and backed away from it. POP! CRACK! A bullet came through the small window in the door, narrowly missing him but sending tiny shards of glass into his hair. He heard a scream behind him. He turned to see Sharon frantic and Katya standing there, huge-eyed, frozen at the edge of the kitchen. dribbledribbledribble went the orange juice as it fell to the floor below from the shattered glass in her bloody hand. The hand was right in front of where her heart would be.

"Katya!" Jamie exclaimed as she fell over, face first, into the carpet of the living room. "No, no, NO!"

That's when it hit him, finally, what was going on, what all the deja vu feelings were about, why everything now felt wrong.

This didn't happen the first time!

The tears clinging to his eyelashes distorted his vision, but Jamie was pretty much only looking at the ground anyway. In his peripheral vision he could see the red and blue flashing lights of the cop cars nearby. There he sat, the man who made the world wrong by not stepping outside, on the concrete steps outside his front door. He heard three stretchers being wheeled away, one belonging to mousy woman, another belonging to the man who had turned the gun on himself, and the third belonging to Katya, slain through the heart by the stray bullet.

He was finished answering their questions, or at least he hoped he was. He couldn't take it any more. The guilt was smothering him. They shouldn't be dead. He wasn't sure about the man, but he was sure that Katya and the woman shouldn't. He shot up to standing position. That's when Sharon walked up beside him. She looked at him sternly.

"What the fuck are you doing here?" she asked, teeming with anger.

Jamie knew she didn't mean on those steps, or even at the house. He knew what she really meant.

Jesus Christ, was John STILL asleep?!

== I == II == III == IV ==

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