Laurel doesn’t think she’s special ‘cuz she’s been through the proverbial fire and made it out alive. She might not have been burned, but she got singed good, and she was sooty and smoky as hell. Still, at some point a body expected, no demanded some peace.
Of course, life often has very different plans in store for even the most wary female.
Hard Love is out now.
She woke up gasping. Her heart was beating so fast and hard she should have been running. Instead she sat in the dark and gulped air.
It was alright. It was just too dark. She hadn’t left the closet light on. It happened every time. She’d think she didn’t need it anymore, forgetting the nightmare always snuck back in when there was no light.
She supposed it was progress of a sort. Years ago she’d slept with the light on every night, not a dim closet light, a tiny night light or even a lamp, but the regular overhead. It was the only way she could close her eyes. To know that when the nightmares came, and they always did, when she opened her eyes there wouldn’t be any shadows lurking to frighten her again.
Her grandmother never said a word. They didn’t talk about it either, but she knew the old lady understood. Laurel wondered a time or two if there might be something in her own past, something that enabled greater empathy, but she never asked. She wouldn’t probe. God knew she didn’t want anyone doing that to her.
She slipped from bed and moved the few feet to the kitchen where she drank a glass of water. She tested her mind for memories, but there was nothing. Her subconscious had graciously wiped all but the residue of the dream away. There were no horrible images to follow her through the day, to make her jumpy or cause her to flinch away from the simple touches humans made as they went about their lives. She said a quick prayer of thanks for that.
A few years ago she burned herself badly when someone touched her shoulder in a coffeehouse. Startled, she’d instinctively jerked away, and her arm took the brunt of a poorly applied coffee cup lid. She hadn’t wanted to make a fuss, but the manager insisted on calling an ambulance, assuring her the company would pay for everything.
Since she was unemployed and had no health insurance she took advantage. Even she could see the burn was bad, her poor arm had throbbed like 20 rotten teeth, and the student health center wouldn’t have had much to offer beyond over the counter meds. They did better with STDs and broken bones.
The settlement she got – and a lifetime pass for free food and coffee – had been welcome. She hadn’t asked for it, but the manager, and the district manager who’d come to see her in the hospital, seemed to take it as a forgone conclusion that she planned to sue, and she was smart enough not to tell them different. They kept thanking her over and over for being so understanding about everything. Once or twice she had to bite her tongue to keep from thanking them for not throwing her and her second degree burn to the wind.
When the settlement came it paid for her last two years of school and most of her student loans. Her lawyer had insisted the company pay for follow up care as well, and now her burn was just an extremely painful memory, the scar so faint she couldn’t even see it unless she was in the right light.
But she never drank hot beverages in company anymore. Only when she was alone and there was no chance of being touched.
There was no point trying to sleep again. So she did her morning stretches, righted a fallen shoe and made the bed. By the time the little chores were done her heartbeat was settled, and the past had receded enough for her to look out the window and smile.