Returning to the loft, Sofia lodged herself back into her nest. Sol-Dog flopped in beside her, curling his spine around his long, folded legs. Without further ado, the fleabag fell into a heavy slumber, unconcerned by their intruder’s abrupt departure.
Sofia’s brain wasn’t so easily forgetful, and it tumbled around her latest defensive shove. Yeah, she knew she was good at pushing people away. But this guy practically tripped over himself to get out the door. So what if she told him to beat it. He didn’t have to bail from the barn like she was Medusa.
Jesus, was she that bad?
Beside her, Sol heaved the air out of his deep lungs, and Sofia ran her hand down the broad chest. “Thanks, pup.” Like his airbags were sympathetic.
Comforted, as only her dog could do, she let her mind’s fingers slip from the scene that had played out just below them in the milking station. Instead, she let her physical senses take over, as though her hand on Sol was a conduit to the animal lying so close to her.
For a moment, their breaths synced, until hers grew slower, a little deeper. The sweet aroma of curing grass warmed her all over, inside and out, until she had no form and drifted into sleep.
The dreams returned as vivid as ever, and the sleeping Sofia flinched and sweated as she lay cocooned within the loose hay.
The beautiful woman was back, standing beside her tree which, thick of girth as it was, swayed and scratched its bare branches in concert with the woman’s form beside it.
Sofia was mesmerized, and moved as if she were a mirror image of the amber-eyed woman before her. Then the woman lifted her hand, such a strange hand only found in dreams. She held out her fist and uncurled it, palm side up, the long fingers unfurling. But it was the placement of the thumb, higher up by the wrist, that always stilled the dreaming Sofia, and always, always it was at this time that her blood would feel as if it were lava itself.
She’d wake up then, soaked in her own sweat, even when she’d been a little girl. Yet, no matter how many times she’d had the dream, she’d never shaken the fear of her blood being on fire, of the woman’s eerie hand.
Until this time.
This time Sofia stuck it out, willing her dream-self to hold on, to figure out what the amber-eyed woman wanted, even as her blood boiled within her veins.
Her knees buckled to the forest floor and she threw her hands out to catch herself. Then she lifted her face to the woman at the tree, who smiled like the Peita herself, her lids heavy with thick, long lashes.
It was the first time she’d ever heard the woman speak, and it was as if the tree itself whispered with the breath of its age.
Sofia’s heart swelled with the strange woman’s pride. It filled her chest until she thought the cage of her ribs would splinter and shift to accommodate the thumping.
Her blood burned beneath her skin.
But she locked her eyes on those amber ones in front of her.
Then the woman at the tree smiled.
She bolted upright, lodging the scream in her throat, and knew instantly she was awake and no longer dreaming. Her blood wasn’t burning, for one thing. Sol was next to her for the other.
But her brain clutched the dream like a cobweb does a fly, and Sofia found herself pursuing its sticky strand, straight back to the last image she’d seen before waking.
Her heart still hammered, but at least it wasn’t flapping like a startled partridge while she was awake and remembering. Because she did remember. Vividly. As she always did.
This night, the woman had smiled. And even though her eyes had remained beatifically warm, her lifted lips had revealed a strong row of sharp teeth Sofia had only seen in horror movies.
The tree-woman had fangs.
Pair that with the freaky hand? Equals the dream gets classified as nightmare.
Just another component of the orphan’s fucked up life, Sofia figured. Ten more pounds to the ball and chain that was the punishment of her life.
Sofia rubbed her palms across her face, then glanced over at her dog, who’d laid his head back down once he realized she wasn’t getting up.
It was morning. The sun had yet to split the darkness, and when she craned her neck to peek out of the open window at her end of the loft, she could still see a few dazzling stars stuck to the pewter sky.
She’d have to milk the cows shortly. Round them up and bring them down from the pasture. Until then, though, she could spend some time thinking about her nightmare.
With her heart rate settling back into normal range and her dog lying beside her, the woman in her dreams lost the aura of horror.
In circumspect, Sofia realized, not for one second had the woman lost that look of acceptance in her amber eyes.
The idea stilled her.
Sofia had been on the receiving end of acceptance.
For the first time in her life.
Of course, it was only in a dream. But, hey, a girl had to take what she could.
You’re pitiful, Sofe.
Probably. But she’d basked in that feeling while she’d been dreaming, and it had felt so good. Like water to a straggler in the desert.
Okay. So that’s not so bad. Especially since that warm, fuzzy feeling was
real, because she was feeling it right then. Maybe the dream, for once, wasn’t as bad as she’d initially thought.
All right, she’d freaked out. But not the next time. The next time the amber-eyed woman smiled at her, Sofia vowed she’d force her dream-self to remain on her hands and knees to find out why she’d received such adoration.
Surely, straddling like a dog on all fours wasn’t the reason.
With resolve replacing her fear, Sofia stretched to her feet.
“Get up, lazy ass.” She nudged Sol’s butt with her toe before heading for the stairs. “You’re wasting daylight.”
The dog yawned and stretched, too, then happily doddered his huge frame after her.
Sofia smiled down at him, remembering her dream. Nope, she supposed, it wouldn’t be so bad to act like a dog if it meant getting loved.
Installment #10 coming December 14, 2013.