“Uh sure, I guess,” he said finally. “That sounds great. Thank you very much.”
“Perfect,” Uncle Stewart said. He smiled and went back to his food.
I was so confused. Why were my aunt and uncle seemingly doing their best to keep Hunter in the house as long as possible? It was so unlike them, especially my uncle.
We all finished up eating and then helped clean up the kitchen. I tried to catch my aunt’s eye to see if she could fill me in on why she and my uncle were so eager to have Hunter stay with us, but it was no use. After dinner it was family time, and I couldn’t get her alone. I’d have to wait.
The rest of the evening flew by in a blur. It was strange seeing Hunter in the Perkins house after everything that had happened the past few weeks. He looked like he was totally comfortable, and spent most of the evening playing with Joel, Billy, and the kittens. My aunt and uncle seemed happy to have him. I sat on the couch and tried my best to hide my confusion and process everything that had happened today.
When Bones came up to me and meowed at my feet, I picked him up and snuggled him to my face. I was glad Hunter had brought the kittens. They were a fuzzy reminder of our happiest times.
Finally, it was time for bed. Aunt Caroline cleared out the guest bedroom of most of its junk and changed the sheets so Hunter could sleep there. Everyone said their goodnights—my cousins spent a long time with the kittens—and went to bed.
From the moment I said goodnight to Hunter, all I could think about was how I wanted to curl up with him and fall asleep in his arms again. I knew we couldn’t though. I hadn’t even told him about getting Marco’s letter yet and I still hadn’t fully wrapped my head around his condition.
I didn’t know if it was going to be easier or more difficult to work things out with Hunter staying with us, but I was starting to feel a lot better than I had this morning.
A NEW MORNING
I couldn’t breathe. My chest spasmed in pain as I tried to inhale. My limbs were slow and heavy. Wet. I was underwater. My left ear itched.
The algae green waters churned around me, bubbles blocking my view. Something rough and strong circled around my waist, clutching around me and making me feel safe. He was going to save me. I kicked and flailed my arms, reaching up to my savior. To air. To life. But every movement of my limbs just made me sink deeper into the darkness. A fuzzy warmth rubbed against my nose.
I sank deeper. The darkness stretched out into eternity away from me. I floated along for some time before a face came into view.
It was too dark and I couldn’t make out the features, but somehow, I knew it was my dad. I blinked and tried to see him more clearly, but I still couldn’t picture him. He was too out of focus. His mouth was flapping. It looked like he wanted to say something to me, but I couldn’t hear it. Reaching forward, I tried to swim towards his voice, but it faded away.
When I turned, another face appeared suddenly in front of me. The eyes were wide and crazed, lolling around in the sockets, his grin frozen on his face.
I could taste bile rising at the back of my throat. Panic seized my chest and I let out a wordless scream.
I woke up in a sweaty tangle of sheets.
A high-pitched meow came from the left side of my bed, and I cracked my eyes open to take a look. The brown fur and heart-shaped spot on its back immediately told me it was Taylor.
I’m okay, Marco isn’t here.
Groaning, I pushed myself up against the headboard as Taylor climbed over the mountain of sheets and into my lap.
I’m okay, Marco’s in prison far away. He can’t hurt me anymore.
I thought about Dr. Schwartz’s advice regarding Marco. Should I write him a letter to ask why he killed my mom? What would he say? Would he really tell me just because I asked? Is that all I needed to banish him from my dreams?
I shook my head and tried to focus on the present. I could deal with that later. Right now I had an adorable kitten who wanted some attention.
Of course it had to be Taylor waking me up. She was such a trouble-maker. I was glad she had woken me up, though. This time. I rubbed her back gently, while she kneaded the sheets on my lap, trying to find a comfortable spot.
Her gentle purring helped to slow down the erratic beating of my heart. I sucked in a few deep breaths to calm myself down and get Marco’s face out of my mind. I tried to recall my father’s face, but all I saw was the fuzzy, out-of-focus image from my dream.
When I turned to the clock I saw that it was eight. Yesterday, I had slept in until one in the afternoon before going to see Dr. Schwartz. So much had happened in the span of a day; I was actually feeling a lot better. I didn’t know if it was because of the therapy session, or the fact that Hunter and I had finally had a chance to talk, but I liked it.
Whatever the reason, I wasn’t about to let a stupid dream ruin my mood.
I reassured myself that I knew what my father’s face looked like. He’d always had dark curly hair that fell across his forehead. Sometimes his hair would get into his eyes and he’d brush it away with a wave of his hand. Were his eyes black or dark brown? No, no they were definitely black. Damnit, the dream was bothering me more than it should.
I took a shower and threw on a pair of sweatpants and an old sweater before heading downstairs to the kitchen. On my way there, I passed by Rampage and Frida chasing each other in the hallway.
The savory aroma of bacon reached my nose before I even got to the kitchen, and my stomach rumbled loudly. Aunt Caroline must have made breakfast already. I smiled at the thought of my aunt’s delicious, calorie-laden breakfasts. They would be the perfect way to get my mind off of the dream.
When I got to the kitchen I was surprised to see that it was not my aunt, but Hunter at the stove. He was wearing a white t-shirt, his biceps bulging tightly against the sleeves. His cute butt filled up the jeans he was wearing. I smiled to myself guiltily. I guess I could still enjoy that part of Hunter.
Aunt Caroline was sitting at the kitchen table, sipping a cup of coffee.
She beamed at me when she saw me, her eyes twinkling. “Good morning, Lorrie. Hunter just made us and the boys breakfast. How are you feeling?”
Hunter turned around and gave me a quick smile. It was still so surreal to see him standing in Aunt Caroline’s kitchen. A concerned look flashed across his face for a second and he turned back to the stove. It seemed like we both wanted a chance to talk alone soon.
“I’m okay,” I said. “I see the kittens have taken no time to get adjusted to the house.”