The sound of doors opening and closing brought Jack up from a murky, dreamless sleep to near-wakefulness. He was about to turn over and drift back to sleep, when he caught the whispered conversation on the stairs above.
“Beth, dear, what are you doing up at this hour?”
“I was up, so I thought I might go check on Jack.” Beth’s voice sounded raw, Jack thought perhaps from her afternoon of reading.
“Sweetie, what is it? You’re not looking at all well. Maybe we should have had them run more tests at the hospital. Soft tissue, or maybe something internal that didn’t show up on X-ray—”
“No, Margaret. It's nothing like that. I’m okay. Well, physically. It’s just…” she sighed a hitching sigh, and it trailed into sniffles.
“Oh, dear, is this what Jack has to put up with from you in the middle of the night? Stay right there, let me get the tissues.” A door creaked. “Blow, dear.”
“Is it something you want to talk about?” Jack’s mother asked. “I understand if you’d rather talk to Jack.”
“No!” Beth said, with a hiccuping sob. “No, I can’t tell Jack about the dreams tonight. I just— I had to get up, and maybe get some water. And make sure he was— Because sometimes the things I dream aren’t dreams. Or they become things that aren’t dreams and —”
“Shh,” Jack’s mother soothed. “Goodness, but I feel out of my depth here.” She gave a nervous laugh. “Bill and I have calmed the girls down when they would have bad dreams, but… it seems like it’s been ages. And Jack, well, he never has bad dreams.”
“He didnt’ start having them till I got here,” Beth sobbed. “That’s when I gave him my dreamcatcher.”
“Is that what that beautiful ornament is over his bed?”
“But it’s not working any more. Broken and burned out, just like me,” Beth sighed. “I think I’m okay, now,” she said. “I need to go see if he’s okay. I need to make sure it was just a dream.”
“I’ll just go down with you to get a glass of water,” Jack’s mother said.
They came down the steps, both skipping the stair that squeaked.
Jack could feel Beth looking at him, looking down on him as he remembered doing for her. He expected to hear the crinkle-squelch of his dad’s chair, but instead he felt Beth settle next to him, her hip pressing against his as she sat, her hand cool against his forehead.
He willed his eyes open.
“Hey,” he said. “You’ve been crying again.”
“I seem to be doing a lot of that lately,” Beth said, sniffing.
Jack worked a hand up from under the covers, took her hand in his.
“So. You gonna spill it, or do I have to make you talk?”
Beth leaned over, resting her head on his chest, giving a sigh as she closed her eyes.
“I take it that’s a ‘no,’” Jack said.
“It’s easier to listen to your heartbeat if you don’t talk,” Beth said quietly.
“Why do you want to—”
“You’re still talking.”
Jack heard the clink of a glass in the kitchen, heard the whisper of his mother’s slippers on the floor.
“It’s beating kinda fast,” Beth murmured.
“Yeah,” Jack said. “You make it do that a lot lately.”
Jack’s mother came around the sofa, checked his forehead with her wrist.
“Come on, Beth. Lets get you back to bed. Jack, two pills on the table. Take them when you wake up in the morning.”
Beth lingered as Jack’s mother guided her around the couch to the stairs.
“Hey,” Jack said, “bunnies and rainbows. Thats an order.”