“Futons won’t work for Dance,” Emma says patiently, putting her seatbelt on. She’s been saying things like that through three stores now. “The bed frame needs to be higher up off the floor.”
Drin looks at her, and sits back in the leather driver’s seat. “What am I missing here?”
She sighs, and rumples her hair, and rests her chin in her hand. She looks out the window, not at him. “It’s a long story, and I don’t know all the bits. He won’t tell me. Can’t, most of it. The bits he does talk about… brrr. You have to have a bed high enough enough off the floor so he can crawl under it. No joke. He hides under it when he’s having bad dreams.”
Drin stares at her and feels icy prickles crawling down his back and across his shoulders. “I… didn’t know that.”
“You haven’t seen it happen yet?”
“I think… I think I saw it once, at the Metro building, up in that little room on the top floor.”
She nods. “Yeah. Hiding under the bench up there helps a little bit. Playing–practicing his music for hours–that helps the most.”
“But I haven’t seen it happen, and it’s been three weeks!”
She looks at him with the clear, honest gaze that never tells lies and never backs down… as deep as the ocean and just as full of shocking surprises. He’s beginning to think he’ll never learn all there is to know, where she’s concerned. She says, “Yes. He’s been a lot better since you started visiting the Metro–yes, really, that long ago. You make him feel happy. You know how he sings when he’s cooking for you.”
“But–” Drin says.
She smiles, a little grimly. “It only happened a couple of times when you were out of town, before you two started going out together. I sit with him, talk to him, I just do things where he can hear me. He never makes a fuss, no uproar. It’s just… the things he can tell you about those dreams–my God, Drin, they’re real doozies, I wouldn’t wish that stuff on my worst enemy. Drowning in goo and people with claws like crabs–he says the pincer bits are bone-white–they go chasing him down corridors with big rooms stacked full of green fiberglass bathtubs with people floating underwater in them– believe me, he can go on in horrible detail about the fittings and plumbing on those things, because he’s always hiding behind some of it to get away from the crab-people, and he can tell you about their antennae joints, and the way the people in lab coats insert bony parts into the poor living zombie people in the bathtubs, and how it stinks. It’s really convincing and really nasty and I never want to see the horror movie that must have set him off as a little kid.”
Drin feels as if his eyes can’t stretch any wider open. “Maybe I should talk to him about it.”
“It sets him off if I try, but you may have better luck.”
He sits staring into the windshield, seeing flames. Bone-white shattered hollow parts scattered like crab shells. His own hand, burning black–
She looks at him more closely, leans in and touches his arm lightly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to shock you or share something that really isn’t mine to tell. You want to know the disturbing part?”
He blinks, and looks over at her.
She nods. “I must have seen parts of the same movie when I was a kid, or something. Before he ever told me anything, I was having dreams where I saw those same boxes–I swear, the same things, they look like Egyptian sarcophagi with extra pipes– only the bodies in them weren’t human any more, and they were all dead, and stinking.”
Drin looks at her under his brows, staring.
“What?” she says.
“That’s really interesting,” he says, distantly. Then he pulls himself together–and some of the bits are a real struggle to find–and he turns the key in the ignition, and blinks himself back to the real world of the street where he’s parked, and he says, “Let me talk to Dance about it first but– I think you and I may want to talk about the details some more, when we have time, somewhere it’s quiet and safe.” He catches the worried expression on her face, and he says, “I’ll be gentle about it, I swear. But I may need to have you near too, to help him calm down. Is that all right?”
“If you’re trying to help Dance get over that, you certainly may,” Emma says.
“And if he has a bad spell while I’m in town, but I’m not here, I’m at work or I’m over at my apartment, please call me to come right away,” Drin says. “Please. I need to see what’s happening.”
“Absolutely I will,” Emma says.
He can’t even say, I had no idea. He did know there was something. Of course he assumed, without asking. Of course he thought Dance might have nightmares about those bad stories told to his parents, about the pictures he saw. Who wouldn’t? But nothing like this. He blinks away vivid nightmare images. Bug parts scissoring outward…
“And you’re right, I’ll settle down and let your mad research skills to track down a nice sturdy bed that has a high enough frame,” Drin says.
She smiles then. “Oh, I know you just wanted to give him a really nice present for his birthday.”
He reaches over, and takes her hand, and kisses her wrist lightly. “Thank you. Yes, I did.”
She reaches up and pats his shoulder. “We’ll manage it, don’t you worry. And let’s not swap the bed out on him while he’s gone for the evening or something. Let’s put the parts of the new one in the house and let him get used to the idea of changing it first. He’ll do it for you, to save your back. If I tried to yank away his old bed just for a bigger mattress, he’d hang on with all four paws like grim death, and I’d never get it out of there.”
Drin smiles. “He’s so damn stubborn.”
“Oh, he has to be. I knew that when I offered him the room. But damn, there’s days…” she sighs, and slumps back into the car seat. He’s seen Dance do that same limp relaxation into the cradle of the seat, nights when he’s totally wiped out from practices. It feels oddly like a privilege, watching them drop the performance energy of their jobs and just … rest there. But then, he’s always had a weak spot for sleeping cats, too.
“Emma, you’re a big softy,” Drin says.
“Likewise,” she says, comfortably, and they travel in the companionable silence of acting as a team on a mutual concern.