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In the middle of the night, I wake up startled, as I am suddenly reminded that I am not alone in my room or in my bed. In the moonlight streaming in from my window, I see Alex in the throes of a nightmare. He abruptly sits up straight in bed, breathing hard and sweating profusely.
I sit up with him. “Shh, it’s okay,” I say, reaching out to rub his back. He's almost gulping for air, but what startles me most are the tears streaming down his face. Although awake, he still looks trapped by whatever images just invaded his mind.
“Alex it’s not real. You’re here, with me. Whatever is going on in that mind of yours just let it go,” I urge, pulling him back to bed. He allows me to do so but he turns his face away from me.
I reach over and turn his face back. “There is no shame in tears,” I say, brushing them away with my fingertips. “Do you want to talk about it?”
He just shakes his head no. “Sorry, I woke you, Cat. Maybe it is better if I don’t sleep in the same room as you. You need your sleep.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. It was only a nightmare,” I say, but he’s shaking his head again and puts one arm up to cover his eyes.
“I wish it were. Unfortunately, it’s a memory, not a nightmare, or well the nightmare is the memory. I never know when it’s going to strike, but it usually happens at night. It’s one of the reasons I work so late. I hate going to sleep. I shouldn’t have shared this room with you.”
“Why did you?” I ask since he sounds so certain. It makes no sense. I can’t see his eyes, but I can make out the faint smile that appears on his lips.
“The two nights we slept together. Those two nights ... I got probably the best sleep of my life. I thought being here with you would keep the nightmare at bay. Looks like I was wrong.”
I want to help him. I want more than anything to make him feel better the way he has done for me so often. As I get out from under the quilt, he pulls his arm away to see where I am going.
I grab a lighter blanket from the bottom of the bed and I join him again on top of the heavy quilt. I cover us both with the light blanket and move my little cub to the other side of me, but not before kissing the top of the stuffed animal's head.
“What are you doing?” he asks perplexed, as I snuggle in with him under the blanket. I lay my head on his chest, listening to his still rapidly beating heart, and I wrap an arm and leg over him.
“Those other two times we were snuggling,” I say, not looking at him, fearing I will lose my courage if I do.
He doesn’t say anything but his hand reaches over and strokes my bare arm. He grabs my hand and pulls it close to his heart which allows me to feel his heartbeat slowing down. “Cat, I…”
I hush him again. “Think of me as a substitute teddy bear. I’m here, and I’m not letting you go until you fall asleep. I promise to stick close. You have nothing to fear because I won’t let anything happen to you.”
He rolls over to face me and gathers me up in a way that makes me feel like a stuffed animal in his arms. “Thank you, Cat.”
I smile against his chest and snuggle in under his chin. “Sweet dreams, Alex.”
He rubs his chin along the top of my head. “Sweet dreams, Cat.”
I’m not sure how long it takes but I begin to feel every muscle in his body start to relax and slowly but surely his breathing becomes deep and even. Truth is I sleep way better too, just knowing he’s here. I enjoy the feel of his arms around me, his head resting on mine. My one leg is now trapped between both of his. I feel my eyes getting heavier and yet resist sleep. I love this feeling right here, right now and I don’t want it to end, but sleep claims me anyway.
_ _ _
Morning arrives and I find it wasn’t a dream. I’m still curled up in Alex’s arms and I sigh. How can something so wrong feel so right?
I feel him stroke my hair and I freeze. He’s awake. I lift my head to look at him and find him smiling down at me. “So, it would seem your theory worked. You found the missing ingredient.”
I giggle. “It would seem so. I'm guessing you slept okay?” I ask.
“Never better,” he tells me, “but I think if we stay in this bed much longer your family is going to start talking about us.”
I think of Dillion and know he’s right, but at the same time, I feel so reluctant to let him go. Seeing no other choice, I sit up and Alex’s look appears to be one of disappointment.
He confirms it by saying; “Well, it was nice while it lasted.”
I get out from under the blanket. “No worries, I’m here all week, remember? If you’re ever in need of a cuddle buddy, you know where to find me.”
“Is that a promise?” he asks, still not getting out of bed.
To his surprise, I shake my head no. “That’s a guarantee.”
He laughs. “Good to know.” The image of him lying there is now permanently etched in my brain.
I grab my clothes for today and head towards the door.
“Thanks for the sweet dreams, Cat,” he says and I look back to see him sitting up. The blanket is now at Alex’s waist, giving him the appearance of being naked in my bed.
Forget that last image, this is the image I now have burned in my mind. “You’re welcome,” I say smiling. I smile to myself all the way down the hall to the bathroom.