Handing Off

woman with eyes closed, done in stippled ink
Keep Calm

“I’m on my way,” is all Drin says when she makes the call, and he shows up within twenty minutes. “Sweetheart, I came back,” he says, striding into the room. “Can Emma sit with us?”

Emma’s sure she can feel Dance moving around under the sagging springs, but she sits carefully and gently, the same as Drin does, and they just sit listening to Jacqueline Du Pre performing on the Davidoff cello, in a remastered cd playing on the portable player that Drin gave Dance. If anything could make Emma cry that evening, it would be listening to the woman with terminal MS playing in one of her last, great performances; but that night Dance needs them to be calm and rational, and she is. She sits quietly, and she’s grateful to the man sitting next to her on the bed. She puts out her hand, and Drin holds it in his.

After some time, she feels a dry, cold hand come out from under the bed and rest lightly on the top of her foot. Dance doesn’t grab her ankle, although he could. He never has.

It’s always a little startling, feeling how cold and frightened the touch is; normally Dance’s leathery, calloused hands are positively hot. She can tell when he reaches out and touches Drin, too; not so much a jolt or a jerk, as a little shift in Drin’s posture. That’s also how she knows when Dance has rested his head against Drin’s leg. Leaned into him. She’s pleased, and astonished, too. It’s been very little time, for Dance. The cd is still playing; in the early days, it might take Dance a couple of hours to emerge this far.

“You know, I don’t think I know any other women who’d have the courage to pull somebody through this the way you have,” Drin says at last, when the cd has ended, and it’s quiet.

“Nonsense,” Emma says stoutly. “All kinds of women do things that are harder every day. Your mother, or mine, or God bless her, Dance’s mother. Judging by their children, they had something to pass along.”

Drin chuckles. “You’re tough,” he concedes. Then he leans over a little, speaks toward the floor. “Do you want a pillow?”

“Yes please,” Dance says, very quietly. Whispering. As if he’s afraid of being overheard.

A bed pillow is offered, and disappears underneath. Just one rustling noise, and then it’s quiet.

“So would you rather we talked, or do you want to listen awhile to the neighborhood? Music?” Drin asks then.

“We feel silly,” Dance says.

“Ahh, but do you feel safe?” Drin says.

“When you’re here,” Dance says, which is about as naked a truth as Emma has ever heard from him.

Drin bends over a little, looking down at the hand touching his foot again, and the other hand touching Emma’s foot. “Thank you.” Then he takes off the loose fleecewear jacket he’s wearing, and balls it up, and holds it down toward the floor. “Here, wrap up, it must be cold on the boards. It’s gonna be cold outside tonight.”

The hands move, the jacket disappears, and there are little noises under the bed.

“Is that better?”

“Thank you, it is,” Dance whispers.

“I’m gonna get out of these jogging pants too, they’re probably a little big for you, but they’ll keep you warmer,” Drin says.

Under the jogging pants, Drin is wearing perfectly ordinary plaid flannel pajama pants. The jogging pants on top of it must have been getting pretty damn hot, and he must have done it deliberately, knowing that he might want to wrap up Dance in warm clothes.

“Oh, warm,” Dance says then, a tinier whisper yet.

“You want to go back to sleep under there? Shall we go away and let you–”

“No! No, don’t go,” Dance says, sharper and louder. “Please.”

“Okay, we’re right here, we just don’t want to keep you awake,” Drin says.

“This is keeping you awake,” Dance whispers.

“Well, we could lay down on the bed up here and take a nap, but then you wouldn’t see us,” Drin says.

Emma thinks about asking Dance to come out and get into his own blankets, where they can get him properly warmed up again, and resists the temptation to say anything.

“Emm,” Dance asks, and the hand comes out and rests lightly on the arch of her foot.

“Right here,” she says.

“Could you…stay here tonight? with us?” Dance asks.

cryptic items in dim light
Dreams of Sarcoboxes

“Love, I can certainly do that,” she says.

Drin looks at her, brows lifted, and he gives her hand a slight squeeze, nodding.

“You want us to move the blankets for you?” Emma says.

“Please,” Dance whispers.

“Are you still cold, love?” Emma asks.

“So cold,” Dance mutters. “Hurts.”

“I’ll get the heating pad going and pile the blankets on and we’ll both hug your stuffings out. If you’re still cold, then we’ll get you into a really hot shower.”

“That sounds pretty nice to me, too,” Drin says.

Then he’s laying flat on his back on the bed, blinking upward in surprise, and Dance has swarmed up into his arms, and he is shivering as if he’s coming out of frostbite.

Emma stands up, grabs a folded blanket, snaps it open, and drapes it over the two of them. Then she fetches more blankets, the heating pad, and a glass of very hot water–not even lingering long enough to make tea out of it–and she applies all of these remedies in short order. Then she takes the glass away, and crawls into the covers with them, in spite of the groaning bed springs that roll them all in a heap together. Dance struggles a bit, thrashing himself round, and hugs her too, just as he was hugging Drin. She pets his hair back from his face, smacks him lightly, and gives him a kiss on the cheek.

“There, love, easy on the ribs,” Emma says into the hot skin of his neck. He’s shivering, but his body isn’t cold at all, just his hands; he’s just scared all the blood supply away from his extremities. She can feel Drin rubbing Dance’s back and side and leg gently, murmuring nonsense into Dance’s ear. It takes perhaps fifteen minutes for the shivering to ease, and then Dance is just laying there limply, not hanging on tightly at all; and in another five or ten minutes he’s fallen asleep in an awkward position.

“You all right, love?” Emma asks quietly.

“I’m good for awhile,” Drin says. “I’ll have to move his head off my arm in awhile, but I think he’ll be okay by then.”

“Ahh, good,” Emma says.

“You’re a peach,” Drin says.

“Likewise,” Emma says, with deep, tired satisfaction. Handing Dance’s nightmares over was the last, difficult hurdle that she’d been dreading. Well, aside from the tantrums about finally, actually moving the bed.

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