The world has gone blue and gray. Something’s hooked around my waist, tugging. His arm. He digs nails into my side and when I scream, bubbles burst from my lips.
The black waits behind my eyes. If I breathe in, it will fill them.
Kiely smacks me across the face and I gasp, try to rise, but I’m tied down. She grabs my flailing arms and stills me. It’s just the seatbelt. Her jeep is parked at a curb. We’re in a cul-de-sac. Porch lights break the darkness.
“Jesus,” Kiely says, dropping my arms. She’s on the pavement outside the passenger door. Pretty face crossed with concern.
Good, I think. She helped get me into this mess.
“How long was I out?” I ask, unclipping the seatbelt. My hands shake.
“You only nodded for a couple seconds. I just parked.”
I glimpse a red mailbox with lettering on the pole: “Peters.”
Beyond it, a rancher house with the lights off. It’s 1 a.m.
Kiely helps me out of the jeep. I rock on my feet. Nothing like a week of not sleeping, sprinkled with nightmares, to make you feel mortal. Except I’m not really, anymore. It’s complicated.
My cousin checks my pockets for me: keys, phone, knife. I’m too tired to give her a sassy, “Thanks, mom.” She owes me big, though. If it wasn’t for her, I’d still be a normal high schooler, getting ready to apply to colleges and thinking about boys. I’d be at home sleeping in my bed right now. Instead, I’m about to break into the house of a boy I like and steal his sleep.
“I’ll stay nearby,” Kiely says, pushing ash blonde hair over an ear. “I think three hours will keep away the shakes and the nightmares.”
She’s never done this before, broken in and stolen sleep. But Kiely had a choice about the whole thing in the first place. She knew she was being nodded when she hooked up with Sylvan. Androse didn’t practice the same courtesy with me. It’s too bad you can’t file charges against someone for turning you into a monster without your consent.
Everything from that night sickens me, now. Sure, I had butterflies when he first kissed me, and the bloodrush at his hands on my skin… But every night since I dream he’s pulling me underwater, bruising my thighs with his grip, keeping my head under the surface until I gasp out the last air in my lungs. Because after I was asleep, he drew it out of me, the rest and the good dreams. Left me out of sync.
Kiely told me you need four sleepers on average to draw from. You take a little from each, both the sleep and the dreams, good and bad. But Androse just took as much from me as he could. He left me only nightmares.
“I don’t want to do the same to Tucker,” I say.
She fits the house key into my hand, stolen from his locker while we were in class.
“You won’t,” she says.
She showed me how to pull dreams on one of her sleepers, a boy on the basketball team. But I couldn’t do it to him myself. He belonged to her. Like I might still belong to Androse, somehow.
I go up the driveway to the front door alone. My boots are quiet. The key slides in with a little jiggling and I open the front door. Inside, I peek out the front window, watch Kiely pull the car down the street.
Tucker’s family doesn’t have pets, and the floors are carpeted. I’m virtually silent as I look for his bedroom.
In the hall, one door has a Dark Side of the Moon poster on it. Makes sense. Tucker wears hipster glasses and hangs out with a couple crowds: the art kids, the band kids, and the stoners. I’m not sure where he fits in the mix. I’m not sure where I fit, anymore.
My heart pounds in my ears as I turn the doorknob. It swings inward, and in the gloom I see a chest of drawers, a desk, a bed. Tucker shifts and I freeze. He sighs and falls still. I release the door handle and wait. Then I close the door and make my way to the bedside.
Standing shadows on the floor resolve into a guitar and a bass. I tiptoe around them. His heavy, sleeping shape moves with long, shallow breaths. His cheek and shoulder rise out of the covers and my stomach flutters, like the feeling Androse gave me, but not twisted with regret.
If I screw this up, I could mess Tucker up as bad as Androse messed me.
Gently, I lower myself onto the side of the bed. I place my hand against his bare skin.
There’s no resistance, no fumbling for a feeling like Kiely described: Immediately I drink sleep like nectar. My headache clears and the flutters in my chest normalize. The muscles in my body relax all at once, and I feel myself sink against him.
“Don’t take too much,” Kiely told me. I force my eyes open, force myself to breathe in measured draughts. I have to pull some nightmare, too, not just the good sleep.
Tucker is so warm. I dive into his dreams, mouthing beside him, “I’m sorry.” Sorry for making him my sleeper. Sorry for involving him in something bigger than me. My only comfort is that it’s not a permanent arrangement. He’ll stay marked by me, but if I only take a little, he won’t be affected like I was, won’t go full nodder and need sleepers of his own.
In Tucker’s dream he rushes through the air, soaring over open fields. I glide with him, wind caressing my cheeks, streaming my hair out behind me. My stomach drops out pleasantly. I hear him laugh, the way I would on a roller coaster. Pure joy.
Leaving him there, I push deeper, past the sweet feel of the air to the heart-quickening risk, past that, even, to eyes-forced-wide fear, the ground rushing up to me. And I take it. If the only thing I can do for Tucker is take his nightmares, I’ll do it.
At some point my phone buzzes against my thigh and I check it. Two hours. I feel almost human again.
“How’s it going,” says Kiely’s message.
I take my hand off Tucker’s shoulder to type. “Good so far.”
He shifts in his sleep.
“Penny?” he mutters.
“It’s a dream,” I whisper, pressing my palm to his skin again.
At the end of the hour, the phone pulls me out of shared sleep. I’m so far gone my head is on the pillow next to his.
Tucker’s eyes flutter, long lashes parting enough for him to squint at me in the dark. He doesn’t say anything this time, just looks at me. I won’t lie to him again. I take my hand off his shoulder and scoot off the bed silently, leave the room without a word.
Kiely’s back at the curb.
“How do you feel?” she asks, shifting into drive.
I dare a glance at Tucker’s window, but there’s no motion there. The flutter of his nightmares is inside me, but I’m awake, rested.
“I feel good,” I say. “Like I could stay up for days.”
She shakes her head. “You still don’t get it,” she says. “You won’t need sleep for days.”
I close my hands into fists and look at them, at the fingers that brushed Tucker’s skin.
“What about Tucker?” I ask.
“He’ll feel a little tired in the morning. That’s all.”
Kiely turns out of the neighborhood, but instead of driving me home, she gets on the freeway.
“Where are we going?” I ask.
“You smell like fever. I can tell you only pulled nightmare.”
“We’re going to find Androse and take back your good dreams.”
For more information and poetry by Ethel Veva King, please visit this website (http://www.obscurepoetess.klsparrow.com/1930-1939/ethel-veva-king). Poem © Copyright, Ethel Veva King circa 1930. All rights reserved.