“What do you mean ‘how did I sleep?’” Beth asked. “I should be asking you that. But I think I already know. You look terrible.”
Jack yawned again, following the girl in the buffet line. She picked through the bacon, plucking out the pieces crispiest around the edges. She put a few on Jack’s plate.
“So, I slept just fine.” She took two plates of french toast, setting them on their trays. “Why the sudden interest?”
“You didn’t have any… weird dreams?”
“Weird? No. Actually…. Last night I had a really good dream.” She smiled
Jack glanced up and down the line of students filling trays. He fumbled for a glass, and Beth reached over, placing two on her tray.
“You’re a wreck, Jack,” she said as they made their way to a table in the far corner of the room.
“Well, I’m sorry if I didn’t get much sleep last night. Or maybe I did. I can’t straighten out in my head what happened.” He set his tray down so hard the table rattled. He glowered at the half dozen heads that turned their direction.
“Jack, what’s wrong?”
“What’s wrong is I spent most of the night wondering if I was dreaming or not while you slept like a baby right next to me.”
She lowered the piece of bacon.
“You were there, Beth. There, and warm, and… Beth, I could feel your breathing. Normal dreams aren’t like that. This was like—”
Beth pushed her tray away.
She picked up her glass of orange juice, set it down again. Jack didn’t miss the trembling.
“Beth, talk to me before you start glowing or something.”
Her hand darted to her hair.
Half asleep though he was, Jack didn’t miss the concern that flickered through her eyes. He leaned forward.
“Beth, did you—”
“No. I was having such a nice dream. We were back at home, and we talked like we always do at night, and then… I just… fell asleep like I sometimes do… there… and…”
“And… I think maybe I slipped.”
“The winter solstice is only a week or so away.”
“Another one of those times, like Samhain?”
Beth nodded, but didn’t meet Jack’s eyes.
“But… you haven’t—” He suddenly glanced around. He lowered his voice. “You haven’t had any... uh... symptoms.”
“Well, this is like… when you go someplace different, and aren’t used to the flowers and trees and get all sneezy.”
“So… that was a sneeze… last night?”
“Maybe more like the sniffles. Or a cough.”
Jack sat back, squeezing his eyes shut. He was starting to get a headache.
“Jack, it’s okay. I… I wasn’t… watching. I missed the signs. I won’t let it happen again, I promise.”
“I guess it wasn’t that bad of a dream, was it?”
“No. You’ve had a lot worse,” she said.
* * * * *
“You look terrible, Jack. Did you get any sleep last night?” Mrs. Chase asked, after the class had dispersed through the gallery.
“I had some bad dreams,” Jack said.
Beth smacked him in the arm.
“Okay, maybe not bad. Just… weird. And why are you looking at us like that?”
Their art teacher smiled. “I just find it strange, how you look so terrible, yet Beth is positively glowing. If I didn’t know the room assignments….”
Beth scrunched her hat further down on her head.
“You two stay out of trouble,” Mrs. Chase said, giving them a wave, as she made her way towards where the other teachers were gathering.
“Why are you wearing that ugly thing?” Jack asked, giving to orange-and-green-striped knit hat a tug.
Beth grabbed his hand, pulling him into a shadowy nook between runs of track lighting. She peeled up a corner of the cap.
A faint glimmer washed over her hair, and a few tiny sparkles drifted lazily towards her shoulder.
“You’re— But, it wasn’t doing that this morning.”
“I was in full light at breakfast. But the lighting here is dimmer. It’s not consistent, like at the hotel. This will show up easier. But it’s just for a few more hours.”
Beth looked at her watch. “Two hours and six minutes.” She looked up at Jack. “Unless something… unforseen… should happen.”
“Don’t look at me like that. It’s not my fault you slipped.”
“Just keep your lips to yourself.”
A group of girls stared, having just come around the corner. They hurried along, more of them giggling than not.
* * * * *
“What are you doing?” Beth asked, as Jack reclied his seat on the bus as far as it would go.
“What does it look like I’m doing?” He settled back, stuffing one of the small pillows they'd found in the overhead bin behind his neck. He folded his hands over his lap, and closed his eyes.
“You got plenty of sleep during the lectures this morning.”
“Somebody kept waking me up.”
“You were supposed to be paying attention!”
“So now I’m trying to make up for lost sleep.”
Beth glowered, then leaned away, against the window, watching the highway speed by.
“What?” Jack asked her, after several miles of silence.
"It's nothing," she said, her voice soft, distant.
"What?" Jack pressed.
“Are you mad at me?”
“No. Why would I be mad at you?”
“Besides twisting your arm to get you to submit some of your art, and then adding your painting without telling you, and then… um… you know. The sleep thing?”
“You’re making a pretty good argument for being mad,” Jack said.
“So you are.”
“No. Do you want me to be?”
“Okay, then. Can I take a nap now?”
“You’re sure you aren’t mad?”
“I’m sure. It was good art. And it's your painting, so you can do whatever you want with it.”
"And you're not mad about... that other thing?"
"No." After a pause, he added, "It just... scared me."
"I'm really sorry, Jack. I didn't know!"
"It'll be fine when we get home."
“Okay. Take your nap.”
“Sometimes, I just don’t understand you, Beth. I mean, you can be so.. so... brave. Getting in that teacher's face about what makes art art. Turning the exhibit into classwork! And then something little, like that slip, has you all... ” Jack sighed.
"I... I can't put it into words." He sat up, and dug through his backpack, pulling out his sketchpad. He flipped it open to a blank page, frowned, chewing on the eraser of the pencil, and then started sketching.
"What are you..?"
"Shush. You'll see." His hand moved, at first slowly, then with more confidence, his eyes somehow going distant even though he was focused on the page. It took several long miles before his hand slowed again, and his eyes came back from wherever they'd been peering. He frowned, added a few more lines, chewed the eraser again, and then turned the sketchbook so Beth could see the page.
She stared, then frowned. "What is that?"
"It's a chimera."
"You got the heads all wrong. And the goat doesn't even have any horns!"
Jack turned the page back, attacked it with the eraser, and drew in a handful of new lines.
"It still doesn't have any horns."
"It's not supposed to. It's the Beth-version of the chimera. Fierce like a lion, skittish as a doe." He pointed to two of the heads. "And stubborn as a mule."
Beth smacked him with one of the small pillows.
"Go take your nap," she said, folding her arms and staring back out the window.