Jared heaved up from the bed, his right hand clenched and throbbing. The nightmare gradually left him, like a thunderstorm fading by degrees. It had been more than a week since he’d had the nightmare, and it had returned with more intensity than ever. He shook his head to clear the image and looked around the unfamiliar bedroom. Pale blue striped wallpaper. A four-poster bed. Teddy bears lining a shelf.
He pushed himself to a sitting position. Light from the window filtered into the room, but more brightness was needed to banish the vestiges of the nightmare. The bedside table held a small lamp and he reached over to switch on the lamp. Soft light flooded the room. As he straightened, he caught sight of the body lying on the floor by his bed.
His pulse, which had begun to return to normal, went warp speed. Not again. Not another body. He gazed down at the woman lying on her side, her black hair over her face, and saw her chest rise and fall. Not dead then. Alive. But what was she doing on the floor of his bedroom? Or was it her bedroom?
He pressed his fists into his eyes, which throbbed. Slowly, his thoughts slowed down enough for him to recall the day’s events. Picking up sticks. Mowing the grass. The painful itchy eyes. The trip to Mary’s house. Mary!
He tossed the covers back and swung his legs over the side of the bed, sliding down beside her as his injured leg gave out. He managed to avoid landing on her and sat beside her, brushing back her hair. At his touch, she stirred and opened her eyes.
“Jared?” She sat up, gingerly touching her jaw.
He nodded. “Where am I?”
“In the guest bedroom.”
She pushed her hair back and scooted against the bed.
“Why am I in your guest bedroom? Why are you on the floor?” He looked down at his bare legs. “And where are my jeans?”
Mary placed a hand on the side of her face. “You passed out in my kitchen with a high fever. I gave you some ibuprofen and put you into bed to sleep. And your jeans were filthy, so I tugged them off to wash.”
Jared peered closely at her. In the light of the lamp, her jaw appeared red. He blinked but the color stayed on her lower face. Then vestiges of his nightmare came back to him. “Did I hit you?”
She took a deep breath. “I was sleeping in the chair to keep an eye on you, making sure your fever didn’t spike. You were having a nightmare, I think. Shouting ‘no’ and thrashing about. I leaned over to wake you up and you socked me in the jaw.”
Jared opened his mouth but no sound came out. “Are you okay? You could have a concussion. Did you hit your head when you fell?”
“I’m fine. It’s only my jaw that hurts, not my head.”
“Let me see your eyes.” Jared leaned over and gazed into Mary’s eyes. He told himself not to be distracted by their purple hue as he looked at her pupils. No dilation. “Both look normal to me. Are you feeling nauseous?”
Mary shook her head.
“Any ringing in your ears or dizziness?”
“What are you, a doctor? No, no ringing or dizziness. I feel fine, honest. It’s you I’ve been worried about, but your fever seems better.”
“I do feel a little better.” He paused. “I’m so sorry I hit you, Mary. I was having a really bad dream…” He didn’t finish the sentence. He had no words to explain this particular nightmare.
Mary cocked her head. “It’s okay, Jared. Dreams can seem so real when we’re in them.” She lowered her eyes to the floor.
Jared wondered briefly what dreams Mary had, but her soft intake of breath focused his attention on what she was concerned about. He looked down and saw that his left thigh lay exposed, revealed in all its tangled and twisted glory. A quick glance toward the bed revealed the sheet too far away to cover his lower half.
“That looks like it must hurt a lot.”
“A bullet at close range will do that. Tore it up pretty good. Doctors said I might not walk again, but I proved them wrong.”
His leg had been stitched back together by a surgeon more concerned with making sure his ligaments and tendons worked than how pretty it looked when it was all over. Even with the warmer weather, he always wore long pants. He would sure miss swimming, unless he found a way to swim without his leg being on display.
“That’s a lot worse than falling out of a tree.”
Jared laughed at the shared memory of his spectacular descent from the old maple tree in his backyard.
“I still can’t believe you didn’t break something.”
“Me, either.” He closed his eyes. “I wasn’t so lucky this time, though. I thought my leg was on fire when the bullet hit it. I lost a lot of blood and passed out pretty quickly, so I don’t remember much until I woke up after surgery. The pain was manageable until physical therapy. Then things got intense.”
She was silent for a moment. “How long ago?”
He swallowed. “Seven months.” He cast about for a change in topic and saw the bruise darkening on her face. “You should probably ice that or it will swell a lot.”
“I will in a minute.” She scrambled to her feet. “We’d better get you back in bed.” She looked at her watch. “I took your temperature a little bit ago and you still have a low fever. Unless you’re hurting, more sleep will probably help you recover faster than more medicine.”
Jared grasped her out-stretched hand and allowed her to help him to his feet. The room spun briefly before righting itself. With an arm around his waist, she guided him into bed, averting her eyes as he swung his legs up and pulled up the covers.
“Let me get you some water. I’ll be right back,” she said over her shoulder as she left the room.
He tucked the covers under his chin and wondered how he had gotten himself into this mess. He didn’t allow himself to think about what he might have said during his nightmare. The nurses in the hospital had told him he shouted sometimes while asleep, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to ask Mary for details. He could only hope it wasn’t anything too revealing. He couldn’t afford to relive those memories anytime soon.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Phantom Love is copyrighted and cannot be used in any form without permission from Sarah Hamaker.0