The only light in my room comes from the television, which is showing some boring movie I don’t like. I hear my parents’ bedroom door open, then shut. A few minutes later, the front door opens and shuts, too. Our apartment goes all quiet in a way that makes me feel sick again.
When my bedroom door finally opens, Mom stands there like a shadow with light shining all around her. She asks me why I’m sitting in the dark, but I don’t answer her. I’m mad at her for being so mean to Dad. He never starts the fights, it’s always her. About something she saw on television or read in the paper or heard from her friends. They’re all talking bad about Dad, saying things I know aren’t true.
My dad isn’t a liar or a thief. Mom should know that. She shouldn’t listen to other people who don’t know him like we do.
Mom flips the lights on and I jerk in surprise. She’s older. She smells like stale milk and baby powder.
My room is different. My toys are gone. The carpet beneath me is now a rug over stone floors. My hands are bigger.
I stand and I’m the same height as her.
“What?” I snap, crossing my arms.
“You have to stop this.” She swipes at the tears streaming from her eyes. “You can’t keep acting like this.”
“Get out.” The sickness in my gut spreads, dampening my palms until I clench them into fists.
“These lies have to stop! We have a new life now, a good life. Chris is a good man.”
“This doesn’t have anything to do with Chris,” I bite out, wanting to hit something. I never should have said anything. I don’t know why I thought anyone would believe me.
I jerked upright, panting, the sheet in my hands tearing violently. It took a moment for the pounding of my blood to subside as I tuned in to the incessant barking that woke me.
Scrubbing at my face, I cursed, then jumped as Lucky scrambled up the hanging comforter, pulling himself onto the bed. He leaped, tackling me in the chest.
“For fuck’s sake, calm down!”
He whined and curled into my lap, making me feel like a dick.
I caught him up, holding him against my sweaty chest. “Sorry,” I muttered, stroking his head.
Closing my eyes, I pushed back and leaned against the headboard, willing my pulse to slow. It took several minutes to get my bearings, and about that long to realize that petting Lucky was calming me down.
I laughed to myself, then reached for my phone on the nightstand. The time, a little after two in the morning, gave me pause. So did the need to be strong, to handle my own crap.
But a lot had happened since I first called Eva to talk about a nightmare. Good things.
“Hey,” Eva answered, sounding groggy and sexy. “You okay?”
“Better now that I’m hearing your voice.”
“You having puppy troubles? Or a nightmare? Maybe you’re feeling frisky?”
Calm settled over me. I’d been braced for a push. Seemed she was going to ease me into it, instead. Yet another reason for me to try harder to give her what she wanted, regardless of my first instincts about it. Because when Eva was happy, I was happy. “Maybe all of the above.”
“Okay.” Sheets rustled. “Take it from the top, ace.”
“If I latch the crate door, Lucky bitches about it and I can’t sleep.”
She laughed. “You’re a softie. He’s got your number. Did you put him in your office?”
“No. He barks in there and I still can’t sleep. I ended up just closing the crate door without locking it and he settled down.”
“He’s not going to learn to control his bladder if you don’t crate-train him.”
I looked down at the beagle curled up and sleeping in my lap. “He woke me from a nightmare. I think he did it on purpose.”
She was quiet a minute. “Tell me about it.”
I did and she listened. “He’d been trying to jump up to the bed earlier and couldn’t make it,” I finished. “He’s too little and the bed’s too high. But he hauled his ass up here to wake me.”
Her exhale drifted across the line. “Guess he can’t sleep when you’re making noise, either.”
It took me a second, then I laughed. The lingering distress from the dream dissipated like smoke in a breeze. “I feel the sudden urge to take you over my knee and spank you, angel.”
Amusement warmed her voice. “Try it, babe. See what happens.”
I knew what would happen. She was the one who couldn’t see it. Yet.
“Going back to your dream …” she murmured, “I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. I really think you need to bring Hugh up to your mother again. I know it’ll be painful, but I think it has to be done.”