|This Week’s Theme: Pick an adult character and write a scene where the character demonstrates one from a selection of childlike habits. (I chose this: Must sleep with a particular stuffed animal or blanket.)|
"What are you doing?" Claire's voice floated to me on the chilly night air with a hollow sleepiness. I heard her yawn behind me. "It's freezing out here. Come back to bed."
The lake stretching out in front of me was a vast field of black oblivion, half misted over with the reflection of silver moonlight. The hills on the far side rose up, ominous shadows against the paler blue-black of a sky littered with stars. The houses on the other shore, so lively with kids and dogs and boats during the day, were entirely invisible as if they'd just been swallowed up by the emptiness. "Couldn't sleep," I said without turning.
"Want a blanket?"
Maybe in the morning she'd turn out like Linda, like Sandra, like Anne, but her voice had a softness, an acceptance in it that suggested otherwise. My former girlfriends were all psychological woodpeckers, pecking and pecking away at me, never satisfied that there might be things I wasn't ready to talk about. Not yet.
I heard Claire disappear into the bedroom and return, sliding the glass door shut and joining me on the balcony. She pulled a plastic patio chair across the tile floor, its legs protesting with a chucka-chucka kind of grinding noise that filled the little space around us. She didn't seem to mind the noise or care whether it might wake anyone in the other condos around us. She hadn't brought me a blanket, but she'd wrapped a thick, white, terry robe around her. I watched her lower herself into the chair, ghostly and ethereal in the moonlight.
"It was a night like this my sister disappeared," she said, her voice calm and soft and shadowy as if it had come straight from the air. She stared out over the lake much as I must have been doing before she sat down. "Moonlit but dark, silent. If you listen close, it seems like even the normal night noises are gone." She paused, and we both listened. Then she turned, and I could see her smile at me. "See? There's a breeze out there on the water, you can see it in the rippling moonlight. But shouldn't we hear waves lapping on the beach, or the boat rubbing against the dock? Shouldn't we hear the trees whispering even a little?"
Her voice, so beautiful and smooth, held a mystery of its own. It sounded thrilled with the eeriness of such a still, dark night. But it also sounded sad, hinting of regret.
"This night has death written all over it," she whispered. I shivered, and not because of the cool breeze that snuck up my tee shirt.
We sat in silence a long time after that, both of us facing the oblivion before us. I thought of how we'd made love for the first time just a few hours earlier, how I felt so close to her. But sitting here a few feet apart, both dressed, silent... it felt even more intimate. I wanted to get inside her, touch her soul.
Quietly I asked her, "Do you know what happened to your sister?"
Claire, staring out at the lake, didn't move as she said, "No." After a moment, she added, "I spent the last three weeks of that summer in my room upstairs in our summer house, in Wisconsin. My window looked over the back yard, which sloped down to a small dock on the lake. I spent those three weeks at the window, watching Sheriff's volunteers drag the bottom looking for her." She turned and smiled at me. "They never found her. I like to think she's out there somewhere, living life like she always meant to." I tried to smile in return.
"Sixteen years ago," I said quietly, "my mother slipped out while my father and brothers were watching a football game on TV. I knew she was leaving. I was in my room, crying my eyes out into my pillow. I was fourteen. She writes me, but I haven't seen her since."
My gut tightened as I fought against tears I knew I couldn't hold back. At least it was dark. At least Claire wouldn't see them. Then, her hand settled softly on my thigh and just rested there, a warm touch in the darkness without expectation, without the peck-peck-peck of unending questions.
"I understand why you can't sleep," she whispered.
I snorted a wet laugh through my tears. "Actually," I said, not believing I was about to tell her my most closely kept secret, "no, you don't."
I felt rather than saw her straighten a bit. Maybe I'd offended her? Maybe she thought I was shutting her out, and I didn't want that. Not at all. "You see," I began to explain, "I can't sleep because... well, I guess it is because of my mom after all. When I was seven--my brother Luke was eleven, and--well, that doesn't matter, but he did something really mean to me, and my mom bought me this little, black bear, a stuffed animal. Dad didn't like her to do that, to make me feel better by buying me things, but she said this bear was our secret, that it could make me feel good no matter what happened. Hey, I was seven." I shook my head, getting lost in the memory of my mom glancing around as she paid for it, making sure Dad was still with Luke in the sporting goods store across the way. "It was a little gift shop in a Tahoe mall, and we were on vacation, and it was just a simple bear. I mean... anyway," I continued as I could feel Claire's confusion next to me, "I slept with that bear that night. And every night since. And now I can't sleep unless I have it with me."
"So... you came out here in the cold because you don't have your little bear?"
"No, I came out so I wouldn't wake you up. I couldn't sleep because I don't have my little bear."
She laughed, a bright, soft, musical kind of sound, and I smiled at my own childishness. Her laugh faded away, and her hand, still resting on my thigh, slid over to my arm and found my hand. She clenched it in hers. "Come on," she said. "Come back to bed. We don't need to sleep tonight." I stood as she led me up out of the chair. "But next time, bring the bear with you."
I figured I could wait until morning to tell her that Blacky was in my suitcase wrapped in a shirt. Like she said, we didn't need to sleep that night.
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