I snuck one end of the USB cable into the edge of my laptop and eased the other end into Aaron’s pillowcase. An invasion of privacy, yes, which is why I counted the clock ticks until he left our apartment. Until he banged the door of his car closed. Until he shrugged away from the curb and toward the tutoring center where he worked.
He swore he never dreamt about her, his ex, the painter with six-digit prints floating through illustrious museums, but I heard him murmur nonsense about her in his sleep. I listened to the clunky syllables of her name leave his lips. I felt the bulge of his checkerboard boxers in the night.
He loved her. He missed her. His heart still clenched for her.
An icon appeared on the computer screen, a light blue circle with a dream bubble inside. It bounced on the bottom of the task bar, begging to be seen, like a toddler jumping from their desk with a raised hand. Notice me. Pay attention to me. Me me me.
I double clicked, opening the program. Even after five years of dating, it took over a dozen attempts to guess his password (same as his email password with the digits from his phone passcode sprinkled on the end).
When his account unlocked, two options appeared in bubbly white font like wispy clouds: Recent Dreams and Saved Dreams.
I clicked on the first option. Searched for last night’s data. Popped in earphones and watched his most recent dream like a black and white film.
As expected, his ex appeared. Platinum blonde hair. Black framed glasses. A half-moon of piercings curving across her ear. She looked even more beautiful than on social media. Of course. Aaron imagined her like that. No nicks. No scars. No faults. Art in human form, a painting made of flesh.
In the dream, the two of them sipped down martinis in some nameless, nonexistent bar without any extras chowing down at neighboring tables or scenery bringing beauty to the background. His brain never provided those extra details, so I never saw them.
When the conversation dried out, she scooched closer, placed a hand high on his thigh. A beat passed. Then he slammed his drink onto the table, so hard the glass splintered, and ripped her manicured fingers from his jeans. Rising, he explained how she could drop dead and it would make no difference to him, how their days had ended after he met me. He even hinted about proposing to me.
Relief poured across my face, wetting my eyes, but the feeling was soon replaced with guilt for doubting him – even in his dreams.
I shut down computer and zoomed into the kitchen to make his favorite dessert, chocolate pumpkin cheesecake, my wordless way of apologizing without admitting I did anything immoral.
But as I beat the ingredients together, my mind unspooled, the threads leading to places I had hoped to avoid. What about his other dreams? What if something else lay hidden there? More secrets? More thoughts of her?
I kept thinking about the category I’d left untouched, Aaron’s list of Saved Dreams. The ones he liked enough to keep. The ones he could replay whenever he wanted.
“No,” I said, aloud, so the words felt more meaningful, so they stayed etched into my mind. “Once is enough. No more. It’s not okay. It’s not right. You wouldn’t want him doing that to you.”
During my teenaged years, I looked through texts to catch boyfriends cheating and then it snowballed to searching through their emails and apps and camera roll. Snooping became an obsession. An addiction. I didn’t want to revert back to being that skeptical young girl.
But like an addict, while the cheesecake bathed in the oven, I found myself plugging back into Aaron’s pillowcase and scrolling through his Saved Dreams.
Five files. He never named them. They stayed listed as numbers.
One – A dream of him throwing me against the bedroom wall, leaving hickeys rising across my neck, bite marks aching across my shoulders, and scratches stinging across my thighs.
I preferred our gentle, slow version of sex, but at least the dream centered around us. Not him and the painter. Us. I made a mental note to play submissive more often. Maybe tonight.
Two – A dream of us in the missionary position, his hands clenched around my throat, fingers digging grooves into my windpipe.
Like the last time I’d snooped, I felt the guilt weighing my stomach down. I had nothing to worry about, because he only loved me. Only thought about me.
Three – A dream of him fucking me from behind, my wrists bound and ankles ziptied together. At one point, he wrapped a leash around my neck to control my movements. My moans sounded more like cries.
A little too rough for my taste, verging on disturbing, but he never asked me to do those things. They stayed in his head. They remained as fantasies, so did it make a difference?
Four – A dream of him running his fingers over bloody slices in my stomach, smearing the red across my torso. He licked the blood from his fingertips as he came.
I shifted in my seat, blinked my eyes to readjust, turned down the volume as if that would shift the scene to something more swallowable.
Five – A dream of him thrusting a gun into my mouth, yanking back the trigger, and fucking my corpse.
“Babe,” I heard him say, but not through the earphones. Over them. From the entryway. “Were you cooking? I think something is burning in here.”
I snapped the laptop closed. Yanked the USB from its ports. Faked a smile as he stormed inside.
“Sorry about that,” I said, scrambling to hide the horror slowly branching across my face. “That was stupid of me.”
And I meant it. Stupid of me to snoop. Stupid of me to break into his account. Stupid of me to assume cheating was the worst of my problems.
Stupid of me to trust him – even in his dreams.