Monday, April 15, 2019

Abandon

I’ve spent my whole life waiting for someone to see me. I’ve just wanted one person to look at me, see what I can do, and reward me for it. I haven’t been looking for a big reward. I only need some small sign that I’ve really been seen. Give me the job, the promotion, the employee of the month plaque. Anything.

Thirty-six years and it still hasn’t happened. I’m still invisible.

I’m tired of waiting.

I turn the key and settle my hand against the rough wood of the front door. I could drag my hand down, impale myself with splinters. Instead, I pull my hand back to reach for the knob. Flakes of white and blue stick to my hand, layers of the past passed from this ancient house to me.

This house is my reward, the one I chose for myself, scrabbled for cash to purchase. Quit my job for.

This abandoned house is my future. This house is how I will make the world see me. This house is how I will finally get what I deserve.

I brush the past off my hands and walk through the door to my future. The house smells every bit as old as it is. A century’s worth of dust and mildew crawls up my nose, forcing a series of sneezes.

It takes me a moment to catch my breath and I am left dizzy. A flick of my wrist and the windows on the first floor open. A wave of my hand and the dust carpet in the house flies out into the yard.

I turn in a slow circle. As I turn, the overhead lights flicker on revealing the deeply scratched and stained wood floors, the peeling layers of wallpaper, the broken lathes poking through crumbling plaster.

My eyelids drop closed and I continue to turn, lifting my arms as I pivot. Three turns. I stop turning and open my eyes.

Beneath my feet the floors give off the rich glow of well-tended oak. The walls are unbroken, smooth surfaces painted a deep burgundy. The room is brighter, the light fixtures now clean, polished glass and crystal.

I smile and head for the stairs.

As I climb, I trail my hand along the banister, sending tendrils of color and polish ahead of me. By the time I reach the top, the rooms are ready for me.

On my right is a sitting room, three black velvet chairs, two side tables with legs so ornate there is no chance of ever dusting them. Well, not for most people. The floor lamp in the corner has a blood red shade, tinting the room rose.

On my left is the room I have most been looking forward to. No chairs here. A single table stands just above waist high. It is long, a little over six feet, but only three feet wide. The perfect shape for an adult to lay on. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice and go with steel to make clean up easier. Again, for me, it doesn’t matter. I chose mahogany here.

I skate my hand across the surface. Silky smooth, almost soft. I consider climbing up, laying down to test it for myself. But I don’t really care if they’re comfortable.

I reach up and adjust the overhead lamp. Right now it’s dim, so I turn the knob, testing the range. The room goes from candlelight to surgical theatre in a count of three.

It’s all perfect.

I look to the wall to check the time. No clock. I sigh and twitch two fingers to fix the problem. I only have five minutes before my first appointment. I have cut this close.

I turn, again three times, this time to perfect myself. A floor length black skirt. A simple black tank under an elaborately beaded flowing shirt. I’ll take that off later, when we’re ready to begin. Wouldn’t want to ruin it.

The doorbell rings.

I glide down the stairs to meet my first client.

He’s a large man. Larger than I expected. Maybe too large for the table.

I lead him upstairs and ask him to wait in the sitting room. Across the hall, I tap the table to adjust it for him. I slip off my shirt and replace it with a gleaming white lab coat.

I call him to me, invite him to take his place on the dark wood. I don’t ask if he’s comfortable.

I close my eyes and settle my hands on his temples, letting myself imagine what he wants. It’s unclear. I linger there longer than I should, shifting my focus back and forth, trying to focus.

I force myself to relax, to let go. He finally flickers into view. He’s already a big man, but oddly he wants to be bigger, taller, more muscular. He wants to be sculpted.

Again, I smile. Now that I know what he wants I am ready to begin. Keeping my eyes closed and my fingers on his temples, I start to reshape him. His legs are the first to be noticeably different. They are shrinking, the muscles beginning to atrophy. His torso follows.

I didn’t get what I wanted, what I deserved out of life. Why should I give this man what he wants and thinks he deserves?

His wants flicker into view again. It’s not just bigger that he wants. There’s something else there, something he’s hiding. Deep in the process of changing him, I abandon myself to his vision.

He is huge. Strong. Ferocious. And he’s smiling. Smiling down at what his hands are doing. They are wrapped around something. Wrapped around someone.

I am a moment too late in letting the vision slide out to show me what he’s holding.

I am a moment too late in taking the strength from his arms.

His hands have found me, snaked around my neck, cutting off my oxygen. Cutting off my power.

I lift my hands to him, wishing I could change him into sand that would blow away on a breeze. My hands are ordinary, mortal, and useless against his own.

The table crumbles into dust, dropping the man onto the floor. He doesn’t let go, taking me down with him. The lights flicker off as wallpaper sprouts on the walls, peeling down like drooping flower petals. 

Everything I have done is coming undone. Including him. His once again powerful thighs pin me to the floor as he gets his deepest desire, canceling out my work, canceling out my life.

One last time, I fail to get what I want.

Monday, April 1, 2019

The Old Drift and Other March Reads

I finished 8 books in March:

The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan
Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi
Mary: Mrs A. Lincoln by Janis Cooke Newman
Eat to Beat Disease by William Li, MD (ARC)
The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell (ARC)
Criminal by Karin Slaughter (audiobook)
Vengeful by V.E. Schwab
Saving Meghan by D.J. Palmer (ARC)

My favorite ARC this month was The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell. My review is below.

I reviewed two additional ARCs. Click below for the reviews.
Eat to Beat Disease by William Li, MD Click Here
Saving Meghan by D.J. Palmer Click Here









I received a copy of The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell from the Publisher (Hogarth/ Penguin Random House) in exchange for an honest review. The Old Drift is scheduled for release March 26, 2019.


The Old Drift takes place mostly on the banks of the Zambezi River in a young country sprung from an old colonial settlement called the Old Drift. The story focuses on the intertwining histories of three families. We see the personal trials of the members of these families, their brushes with political agenda and movements, the battle against a virus, and a desire to frame the future. This story combines actual history, dreams of the future, and touches of magical realism.

This story follows nine main characters, which initially concerned me. At the front of the book is a family tree, outlining how the nine characters listed in the table of contents are connected. When I saw this, I was worried that I would not enjoy this story. The truth is, I sometimes struggle to keep track of names during a story, so stories that follow a large cast through long periods of time sometimes lose me. The characters begin to blur together, and I fail to keep track of them as individuals through the epic. This was not much of an issue for me in this story. Serpell does such a great job of drawing clear characters that for the bulk of the story, I was very clear on who’s who. I did begin to suffer some blur toward the end of the story with the featured males, Jacob and Joseph. I think this partially intentional on the part of the author, leading to the mystery that if left at the end for you to imagine your way through.

Serpell did a good job of taking me to a land that was foreign, yet had touches of the familiar. This former English colony was a fascinating blend of traditional African features and imported English touches. This was true of many elements of the story. I was never clear where the line was between foreign and domestic, between reality and imagined.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Tink

Tink.

Tink.

My eyes fly open. I look first to the window, which is blissfully empty, then to the clock’s glowing red numbers. 2:00. Of course it’s two in the morning. That’s always when the rocks hit my window.

Well, it used to be. It’s been months since the last time.

I look again to the window, searching for any shadow or sign of him. The only shadow is the long skeletal finger of the naked branch outside. I’m glad it’s November and the window’s closed tight. Even though it’s glass, it makes me feel safer, like there’s a layer between me and whatever lurks outside.

I wait for another stone, my gaze bouncing between the window and the clock. When the clock hits 2:07 and there hasn’t been another one, I start to think I imagined it. Maybe it was a sound in my dream, something my brain transferred to the world around me. Maybe it was the tree branch, swaying and tapping on the glass.

I roll over and pull the comforter up high, tucking it in tight around my neck and ear. With the sounds of the world muffled, I drift back off to sleep.

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Tink.

For the second night in a row, the sound of pebbles on glass wakes me. This time I’m pretty sure I wake with first tiny stone. I feel like I’ve only been half asleep, my brain merely floating on the edges of dreamland, listening and waiting for this sound.

Tink.

I check the clock, even though I know what it will say.

2:00. It’s always, always 2:00.

I sit up and lean toward the glass. I can’t see the yard below, just the tree branch whose shadow stretches across my bedroom floor in the splash of moonlight. I could get up, move closer, look down. Just the thought makes my heart jump into a sprint.

I won’t look.

I stare at the glass, wanting to see if it really is rocks or the tree branch that has woken me again. But there’s nothing. When I peel my eyes from the glass, the clock reads 2:16.

I flop back and stare up at the ceiling until sunlight crawls into the room.

                                                                         ##
On the third night, I try to stay awake, stay up and alert, ready for the sounds when they come. But last night’s short sleep catches me sometime after midnight. I don’t know I’m asleep until the sound breaks into my slumber.

Tink.

I don’t have to throw back the covers since I’m sprawled on top. I dart to the window, since I’ve realized my time is short. I only get two tinks.

I crouch down at the wall, my fingers on the sill, and slowly lift my head so that my eyes can peer out into the night.

Tink.

The second stone almost makes me scream. It almost makes me pee my pants. It totally tips me over onto the floor. I clamber back up and peek again, desperate to see what’s there, equally desperate to have missed it.

I’m just in time to see his back. He’s already turned to walk away. His head turns, looks over his shoulder. His eyes find my window as if drawn by a magnet. As if drawn by me. He sees me seeing him. He winks. Then walks away.

I slump to the floor, my heart slamming the adrenaline through me. He’s back. He knows that I know he’s back. And that wink. It means something. He’s thinking something, planning something. But what?

                                                                              ##
I must have fallen asleep. I remember sitting there under my window, trying to figure out what he would do next, what I should do next. I remember the sun slanting in through the window, spilling across my feet. And then nothing.

The clock says 2:00 again. But this time it’s the afternoon, my room full of afternoon sunshine. I missed class. But, really, could I have gone anyway? Three nights of interrupted or absent sleep would not have gone well.

Twelve hours until he visits again.

I consider leaving, calling a friend and asking to stay with them. I consider boarding over my window. I consider burning down the house, honestly.

Twelve hours is a long time to ponder a problem, predict what’s coming next and imagine how you’ll deal with it. And yet by 1:58, long after the sun has tipped over the horizon and given the sky to the moon, I still have no idea what this night will bring. I have no idea what I will do.

What does he want?

I pry myself from the window and sit on the edge of the bed. I’ve looked out the pane of glass so many times that I still see the sidewalk below, a sharp white in contrast to the winter dark lawn.

Tink.

He’s here.

I step to the window and look down. There’s no reason to try to hide. We both know that I’m standing here, looking down on him, waiting for him to throw the next stone.

Tink.

I lift my hand and press my palm flat to the cool glass. He steps toward me. I imagine the crunch of the crystallized blades of grass beneath his shoes as step after step draws him closer to me.

He starts to climb.

I could open the window, give him a way to come inside. That’s what I did months ago, the last time he came to see me before our long break. I waited, though, until he reached the top, until he placed his hand against the glass, our palms warming the thin layer that separated us.

So I wait. Once he reaches the top of the trellis, he stretches out a hand, mirroring me.

The glass doesn’t warm.

I repeat my motions of months ago. I slide my hand down, let it join the other on the sash of the window. I lift the window. He smiles, like before.

Before he thought I was letting him in, like I had done night after night. But that night he was wrong. Instead of welcoming him, I reached out and shoved.

It wasn’t an accident. I was careful with my air, careful to push him toward the concrete of the driveway.

Tonight, though, I have no plan to push him away.

I’m smart enough to know you can’t kill a ghost.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

The Lost Man and Other February Reads

I finished 10 books in February:

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (audiobook)
The Lost Man by Jane Harper (ARC)
If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
Crown of Feathers (ARC)
The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Editor by Steven Rowley (eARC)
Save Me From Dangerous Men by S.A. Lelchuk (ARC)
The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming by Lemony Snicket
Swing Time by Zadie Smith (audiobook)

My favorite ARC of the month was The Lost Man (review below).

You can find other reviews for Crown of Feathers here and The Editor here.

I received a copy of The Lost Man by Jane Harper from the publisher (Flatiron Books) in exchange for an honest review. The Lost Man is scheduled for release February 5, 2019.

The Lost Man opens with a body deep in the Australian outback. Cam’s body is found at the gravesite of the legendary stockman. This remote site is near the boundary between Cam’s property and the property of Cam’s brother, the main character Nathan. Nathan returns to Cam’s property (and their childhood home) to bury his brother and search for answers. Why did his brother wander miles from his vehicle without even a bottle of water? Why was his vehicle abandoned even though it was completely functional and loaded with food, water, and a radio? What was his brother hiding?

Harper does an excellent job at putting the setting of this story on the page. I could clearly see the expanses of nothing but sand and sun that surrounded Nathan and his family. I could feel the heat. I found that I couldn’t read this story without a glass of cold water at hand to keep the desert she described at bay.

Harper fills this slice of the outback with a group of very real people. Each of them has a piece of the story Nathan is working so hard to uncover. Each of them has reasons for keeping their knowledge tightly guarded. Harper does a great job of weaving the past into the lives and current day interactions of her characters. I cared about them all. And I trusted none of them.

It is clear from the beginning that there are secrets to be found by the reader. Yet I never felt like Harper was keeping anything hidden from me (and Nathan) that we should know at that point in the story. The timing of her reveals was just about perfect. I figured out the whole story at the exact moment you want to figure out the mystery in a thriller: right before I turned the page to the final reveal. This made the ending very gratifying for me. Every piece of the puzzle that Harper had scattered through the desert fit into place in the final story.

Overall, I loved The Lost Man. I will definitely be reading more by Jane Harper.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Speed Dating

“Who in their right mind does speed dating on Valentine’s Day?” I asked Callie as I buckled myself into the passenger seat of her tiny red car. What I really meant was “How in the hell did I let you talk me into going speed dating ever, especially today?”

Speed dating always seemed a bit desperate, a bit like sorting through as many humans in as short a time as you could in the hopes of finding one salvageable one. On Valentine’s Day, I was bound to be scraping the bottom of the barrel, the people who couldn’t find a date on the day of the year when everyone was practically required to find a date.

The people like me.

Really, someone else was likely climbing into a car on the other side of town having the same unkind thoughts toward me. And we were headed toward each other. We would meet in an hour. In a dark bar full of people we’ve never met before. Full of people we might wish to never see again.

The only good news was it was February in Chicago. Cold enough to justify the layers of clothes, the scarf, the gloves that I was hiding inside. I could probably keep the layers in the bar without getting a single strange look. On the down side, it would make it easier for the guys across the table to hide as well. We would all be able to walk out of the bar with the same secrets we walked in with, if we chose.

“It’ll be fun,” Callie said as she pulled away from the curb.

I was not convinced. But I had agreed to go. I didn’t have a date. I really should stop being so pessimistic and nasty and give the night a chance. At the very least, the odds were good that I’d get a free drink or four out of the evening.

Bridget’s Bunker was the brightest building on the block when we pulled into the lot. Flashing neon beer signs battled against strings of red heart lights draped across the front windows. It was so cheerful it made me nauseous. I really needed a beer. Or a shot of tequila.

I stepped out of the car and pulled my gloves up snug on my wrists in a futile attempt to protect me from the cold. It seeped in, getting through my barriers far easier than the Hallmark holiday cheer.

It wasn’t much warmer inside once we pushed our way through the front door. I swear Bridget, or whoever the real owner was, had left the heat turned low, thinking that the bar would be so crammed with bodies that we’d keep each other warm. Right now, though, the bar was less than a quarter full. Every push against the door let in a fresh stream of cold air that washed over everyone inside. Fine by me. I could keep all my layers, all my barriers.

I barely had my first beer in front of me (purchased by Callie- the guys here were so not brave) when a voice crackled through the speakers calling for our attention. I followed instructions, settled myself into a booth to wait for my string of wanna-be Prince Charmings.

The first gentleman caller laughed a lot. Too much. A deep, forced chuckle that made it clear he really had no sense of humor. Or he was trying to cover for a very inappropriate sense of humor. I wondered for a moment if he let that laugh loose when he saw animals on the side of the road, thrown there by cars. I wondered if I would only hear his true laugh when he hurt someone. Hurt me.

Next.

My second date didn’t laugh at all. Not even a glimmer of a smile cracked across his face. This was much more curious. Much more appealing. What would it take to make him laugh? What was the last thing that made him laugh? I tried a dad joke. Nothing. I tried an embarrassing story. Nope. I was reaching for my gloves, desperate to know what would work when the buzzer sounded and he stood and walked away.

I missed my chance. That might have been the guy I was here for, the guy that would make dragging myself out for public shaming worth while. But now he was on to the next girl. Someone else was likely to catch the man that might have been mine.

I wasn’t willing to let another one go. The next one could be the right one, or the one after that. And I had a way to know.

I peeled off my gloves and slid my fingers down the side of my beer glass, letting the cold drops of water bathe my fingertips. It was a palate cleanser.

Date number three settled in across from me. This was by far the handsomest of the three men I’d met. Dark waves of hair dipped low over one brow. Ice blue eyes were doubly bright in comparison to the stark dark of his hair. A strong jaw framed a mouth that looked softer than any pillow.

I only debated for a moment. It wasn’t really a debate, more a confirmation of what I had already decided. I wanted to see this one, see him all the way.

I leaned closer, stretched my arms across the table so that my hands were in easy reach of his. I turned the left hand over, revealing the delicate flesh of my inner wrist. My right hand dropped a bracelet on the table.

“Could you help me with this?” I asked. “It’s so hard to manage these clasps with one hand.”

His mouth twitched into a smile, a not-so-gentlemanly thought clearly raced across his eyes. But his hands did exactly what I wanted. They slipped forward and picked up the bracelet.

His fingers fumbled with the clasp for a moment as he struggled to figure out how the delicate metal moved. Then he slipped the cool metal under my wrist. As he pulled the ends of the bracelet up to latch the clasp, his fingers brushed against the tender skin at my wrist.

It began.

A wash of warm spread up my arm and into my chest before pouring across my face. As the wave reached my eyes I started to see.

I saw the two of us together in the park, his dark good looks a contrast to my pale, washed out features. We were both smiling. We were both happy. At least it looked that way.

I saw the two of us dancing at a wedding. Not ours. A bride coasted across the floor behind us, her smile outshining ours easily.

I saw us sprawled on a white sandy beach, ocean waves rolling up to splash across our toes. We didn’t notice. We were too busy kissing.

I saw my hand reach out to lift up a knife, the blade dripping blood onto the white tile of my bathroom floor.

I didn’t see him hurt me.

I never saw the men I touched hurt me, never saw less than love in their eyes. But they must have hurt me. All of them. Somehow. Why else would I stab every last one of them?

Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Girls at 17 Swann Street and other January Reads

I finished 8 books in January:

Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness
Your First Year as a High School Teacher by Lynne Rominger etal.
The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib (ARC)
Vicious by V.E. Schwab
The Suspect by Fiona Barton (ARC)
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King
https://amzn.to/2TuKWuHThe Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine
More Than Words by Jill Santopolo (eARC)

I reviewed three ARCs this month. My favorite ARC this month was The Girls at 17 Swann Street (full review below).
For my review of The Suspect click here
For my review of More Than Words click here




I received an Advance Readers' Edition of the The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib from the publisher (St. Martin's Press) in exchange for an honest review. The Girls at 17 Swann Street is scheduled for release on February 5, 2019.

This novel is the story of one woman and her battle with an eating disorder. We join Anna on the day of her admission to a residential treatment program. Here she is surrounded by a group of women who allow Anna to see what she is doing to herself and help her realize how much she has to fight for.

The story jumps back and forth in time as Anna deals with the path that has led her to this house and searches for the path that will take her back out. These glimpses into Anna's past, including her childhood and the early days of her relationship with her husband, allow us to see how the disease developed, and appreciate that it was not one incident, or a decision made by Anna that led her to anorexia.

Primarily, the story is told by Anna, so we have direct access to her thoughts and inner battle when she is faced with something as innocent as a bagel with cream cheese. What is interesting about the presentation of the story is the format. In this edition, paragraphs are all left-justified with no indent and a space between each. Dialogue is written in italics, with no tags attached. This gives the story a poetic feel. It also put a bit of distance between the story and the reader. To me, it made the dialogue and events feel like an echo. I am curious if this formatting is intentional and will be kept in the final version. This might be a deliberate choice to give the reader a taste of how Anna interprets the world around her.

This novel was a very fast read, as I was drawn into Anna's world and her journey. Toward the end of the novel, I did feel as if the plot was a bit rushed. Again, this might be an intentional choice, representing how these residential treatment centers move patients through in an effort to help as many people as they can. It might also have been to elicit a reaction from the reader. I found myself worried about Anna, worried what would happen once I closed the book. I was concerned that she hadn't had enough time, that she hadn't dealt with everything she needed to deal with, to move forward and be healthy.

The Girls at 17 Swann Street definitely pulled me in, dropped me deep in the mind of a person fighting an eating disorder and showed me their world. I recommend this to anyone who wants to better understand what is happening with a person who is battling this disease, but I do warn that it might be a very difficult read for anyone who is fighting these battles themselves.

Monday, January 21, 2019

The High Price of Dreams

They’re more expensive than I thought. I mean, it’s only three tiny orange pills, combined, they are still smaller than the nail on my pinky finger. I wasn’t prepared to pay so much for so little. Three hundred dollars. A hundred bucks for one little dream. Insurance doesn’t cover these, they’re still too new, too experimental.

I know they’ll be worth it.

Any dream about David would be worth it.

But these pills guarantee perfect dreams. All I have to do is take a pill and then focus. The doctor that wrote the prescription suggested writing about the dream I want to have. At least a page, but three is best. So many threes. Her warning had a three, too. No more than three pills. More than three is dangerous. That’s why the come pre-packaged as a blister pack trio.

It’s fine. I’ll only need one pill anyway. I just want one dream of David. One dream where we are together. I know we’ll be great together. We’re together every day, anyway, why not make it more permanent, more personal? We should be couple-together, not just co-worker together. If I have my dream, I’ll be able to visualize it when I see him in real life. I’ll be able to translate the dream into reality. I just need to see it clearly first.

Thus the pills.

I swallow the first pill, chase it with a glass of sweet tea. I wonder if David likes sweet tea? I write the question on the top of the first page of the sparkly green notebook I bought at the drugstore along with my pills just for this. My dream journal. It’s smaller than a regular spiral notebook. Does that mean I need to write more than three pages? I add the question below the sweet tea.

I close my eyes and try to imagine what I want my dream to be. It’s hard for me. I just can’t see any of it clearly. The only word that comes to mind is together. I want us together.

I write the word and then my hand starts doodling. Do pictures count as part of the page? I sketch out two stick figures and give one of them David’s dark curly hair. The other gets my long straight hair and a tiny skirt I’m not brave enough to wear in real life. I’m not even brave enough to buy a skirt like that, or even touch one in the store. I add hands to the figures and link them together.

What else?

I close my eyes and shift back against the pillows, trying hard to see David and me together. It’s so comfy and warm and it’s been a really long day with appointments and errands. I feel myself drifting and try to open my eyes to write more words, but it’s too late.

                                                                             ##

I wake up screaming in the sunlight, kicking hard against the covers that have bound my legs together, holding me captive in my bed.

I’m shaking everywhere, but most of all, my hand. I want to shake it right off my body, shake the lingering feel of the flesh that had been holding it too tight.

I don’t like thinking that about David’s hand. David’s hand is lovely: strong lean fingers sprinkled with feathery, light hairs. The hand that had been holding mine in my dream was far too muscular, the skin rough. Scaly. It was a claw more than a hand. But in my dream, it belonged to David.

The pill worked. I dreamt about David and I together. In my dream, I was wearing a blue jean skirt that skimmed the tops of my thighs. My hair was long enough that it brushed the waist of the tiny piece of denim. David’s hair was curly dark brown, just like in real life. He walked beside through the halls of our office, headed from the elevator to the cafeteria. As we walked, his hand brushed the back of mine, then shifted and circled so that we were holding hands.

The trouble was my picture, my words, what I imagined. I wasn’t clear enough about David’s hand. So what clutched me in my dream was the guess of the dark recesses of my brain, I guess. It created a claw thing for David, instead of the human hand he really has.

Once I settle from the dream, I get ready and head into work. It’s a long, boring morning. But I have lunch to look forward to. Maybe today I can walk with David. Maybe today he’ll reach out for my hand like he did last night.

When lunch rolls around though, he’s nowhere in sight. I head to the cafeteria alone.

I don’t see David all day.

But I think about him a lot. I think about what I want to dream next. I need to be more specific this time. I need to imagine every detail.

                                                                          ##

I pull out the notebook as soon as I get home. I need to give myself more time to write, more time to imagine what I want to see.

Will it work if I write before I take the pill, though? To be safe, I dig out some loose-leaf paper. I’m going to write a rough draft first. Then I can copy it into my dream book after I take the pill at bed time.

I snuggle into the couch with old episodes of Grey’s Anatomy playing on TV. Mostly it’s just on to keep me company. But there’s also McDreamy and McSteamy. They both remind me of David.

Before I know it, it’s eleven o’clock and I haven’t written a single word. I got too distracted by the boys that aren’t quite my David. Shit.

I pop the second orange pill out of the blister pack and chug down a glass of water as I turn to a fresh page in my dream journal.

I can’t get the episodes I just watched out of my head. Seattle Grace fills my head, with David sometimes flitting through the halls, his white coat flapping as he rushes to save a patient. He doesn’t get center stage, which is weird. Maybe because I didn’t see him today. The McDoctors are fresher in my mind’s picture.

I scribble some words down. It might be part of the script from one of the episodes I saw tonight. It’s a conversation in the hospital cafeteria, though, so it seems safe enough. David and I could have a conversation in our own hospital cafeteria any day I’m working.

I manage to write two pages of stolen dialogue before I forget what happened next. I stare at the page for five minutes before I decide it’s good enough and crawl into bed.

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For the second morning in a row, I wake up before my alarm, a scream exploding out of my chest.

Again, what should have been a lovely dream about spending time with David turned into a nightmare. It was mostly based on what I wrote. David and I were in the cafeteria at work, chatting while he worked on a cup of coffee and I speared lettuce with a fork. But then another David walked up and pulled out a chair. At first, it was just confusing. Why were there two Davids? But then they started getting nasty. They were arguing, fighting. They both wanted my attention, but I think they wanted to kill each other even more.

I started screaming when the first version of David pulled a knife longer than my arm and the second version of David pulled out a gun that looked like it had four barrels. I jumped between the Davids, hoping to stop the fighting, but they both kept advancing. I think it was the big boom of the gun that woke me up, thankfully before any bullets ripped into my flesh.

I take a long, flaming hot shower. I can’t stop shaking. I was scared for my Davids in dream. I’m still scared, but I can’t tell if my fear is for David or myself.

This time, I kind of don’t want to see David at lunchtime. I’m not sure that I could sit across from him at a table and not expect another version to walk up.

Lucky for me, there is no sign of David at work. Again. I hope he’s okay. Maybe that’s what I’ll try to dream about tonight. Making sure David is alive and well.

But it’s my last pill. I have to make sure this dream is perfect.

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This time, I’m smart enough not to get distracted by Grey’s Anatomy. I don’t turn on the TV at all. I turn on music instead, avoiding anything with words. I find a nice, soothing cello playlist. It’s mournful and dreamy, but there’s nothing there for my brain to hold onto, nothing to bleed into what I write on the page.

I can’t shake the thought of something being wrong with my real David. There have been some days I haven’t seen him at work, but I can’t remember it ever happening two days in a row. What if he’s really sick? He could be lying at home, on the verge of death, with no one there to take care of him. He might need me. I don’t know where he lives. But I can imagine it, right? If I imagine the apartment he calls home, I’ll be able to see him there when I close my eyes. I’ll be able to find out what’s wrong, why I haven’t seen him.

I pop the last orange pill from its plastic shell and begin to write.

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I can’t breath. I managed to drag myself out of the worst nightmare I’ve ever had, but the weight of it still sits on my chest, crushing me, keeping me from pulling in any air. I flail myself free of the covers that have me trapped and flop onto the floor. The impact is enough to jar my system, shove out the stale, oxygen-less air. I am finally able to pull in a fresh breath.

I found David. In my dream. He was in his apartment. Well, the apartment I imagined for him. He didn’t answer the door when I knocked the first time. So I knocked harder. The door wasn’t quite closed all the way, so my second round of knocking made the door swing open.

I called out to him, and heard a faint whisper of an answer from down the hall. I followed the feeble sound and found him. He was in bed, pale, with dark circles under his eyes. He looked just as gorgeous as always.

I rushed to his side and settled onto the edge of his bed. His forehead was fire-hot under my fingers as I pushed the hair back from his forehead.

“Sonya,” he whispered. My name was a caress from his lips. It made my breath catch, my skin warm with a sudden rush of blood.

I wanted to listen to him say my name over and over again, but instead I shushed him. He needed to save his energy to get better. I laid one finger across his lips to keep him from talking. He stretched out an arm and pulled me down, nestling me into the space next to him. I settled my head on his shoulder, my hand on his heart.

That’s when he burst into flames and I woke up, suffocating from the sudden loss of oxygen from the room.

This morning it’s an ice cold shower to cool the fire I still feel dancing across my skin.

It hits me when I turn off the tap. That was my last little pill. My last shot at the perfect David dream.

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David isn’t at work when I arrive. But I have an email of explanation. Sheila in accounting heard that his sister is visiting from Australia. So he took the week off to show her Chicago. He isn’t sick at all. Maybe that’s what went wrong with the last pill. Not only did I create a fake place for him to live, I gave him an illness he doesn’t really have. I strayed too far from reality.

I needed another chance. A chance to imagine the perfect scenario. One that I knew enough about to bring in all the right details. But I’m out of pills. And I know the doctor won’t give me another prescription. They say it’s dangerous. So is losing my dream. Losing my David.

The internet saves me. I find a pack of pills on Craig’s list. Well, it’s not a full pack. Two pills. Two more chances to get this right. I only need one.

A phone call, a meeting outside Taco Bell. Two tiny orange pills tucked into my pocket.

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It’s the weekend, and I use every second of it. I spend two days thinking about David, writing notes, imagining a series of potentially perfect moments I could share with David. On Sunday night, I release one more little pill. I hold it in my hand, stare at it, turn it over as I select one moment from my notes.

I swallow the pill, open my dream journal, and write a description of seeing David in the elevator. Feeling his hand slide behind my back, pulling me into his chest as his lips land on mine. I write three perfect pages then snuggle under the covers.

As I drift off, I hear the doctor’s voice in my head. “Only safe to take three…. Side effects…. Danger……”

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She was wrong, though. I don’t dream at all. It’s a dark, soundless sleep. I wake up laying in exactly the same position I tucked myself into last night.

I stretch, shift, roll over. David’s head is on the pillow next to mine. His dark curls are almost sharp against the clean white of the pillow. His lashes almost as dark against the lightness of his skin. His eyes open, revealing the flecked green of his eyes. I have only a moment to get lost in their depths before his mouth opens, revealing two rows of razor wire teeth. I don’t have time to scream before he lunges and I am lost in him.