She was running and she felt out of breath. It was dark and cold and she had no idea where she was, but she knew she could not stop. Every time she looked behind her, she didn’t see anyone, but she knew someone was after her. Someone dangerous. Someone evil. Her body was in pain and she was holding her arm. She looked in front of her, hoping to see some sign of a road or house, some sign of help. A shadowy figure stopped her from continuing. He grabbed her arm and she screamed. The pain was overwhelming.
“Alicia, wake up.” She heard the deep, familiar voice as if from far away. “You’re just dreaming.”
She opened her eyes and saw her brother’s face hovering over her. She released the breath she was holding. Looking around, she realized she was safe in her own bedroom. “Oh god, Ray. Every time I think I am going to see my attacker, I wake up.”
Ray sat on the edge of her bed and hugged her. He was a strict older brother and they often argued about that, but she knew he loved her. She knew he would protect her. She was scared her family would get hurt and she couldn’t even remember why. “Your mind needs time. The doctor said not to force it.”
“I know. I just want to remember. I remember running through the dark, but that’s all,” she cried. Her mom had given her a glass of water earlier, and Alicia took a sip. Her throat hurt. She had lain here for hours trying to fall asleep. When she did, she had a nightmare. “Did I wake Mama and Papa up?”
“They’re fine,” he assured her. Their bedroom was downstairs and hers was upstairs. “I am more worried about you.”
Alicia laid her head on the pillow and assured her brother she was would be okay. When he got up and closed the door to her bedroom, she picked up the phone by her bed. She missed her cell phone. She had no idea where it was. Alana had canceled the services for her. She needed to hear Tony’s voice. She was still mad at him, but she hoped the sound of his voice would help her sleep. She dialed his number, her fingers dialing automatically.
They had spent so many nights chatting the hours away. She had never sat talking on the phone as a teenager like her sister Alana had. Alicia could never sit still that long. With Tony, it was different. She loved his deep voice and his small chuckle, as if he was afraid to just let go and laugh. She had yearned to change that, to make him smile and really laugh aloud. Maybe she should just hang up. What if Dee was with him? It would break her heart.
He answered right away. She wondered if he’d been awake all this time. He had told her before that he often had trouble sleeping. It was part of his PTSD. He had gone through counseling, but he still had trouble sleeping a whole night, he had confessed. She had wanted to offer to spend the night with him, but she had not been brave enough to say it aloud. Now she’d lost her chance. She wasn’t sure she would be able to forgive him.
“Hello?” His voice was hard and she knew he didn’t recognize the number.
“It’s me, Alicia. This is my parent’s phone I’m using,” she explained before he hung up on her. She didn’t even know why she called him.
“What’s wrong? Are you okay?” She loved the concern she heard in his voice, the way it softened as soon as he knew it was her. Maybe she was fooling herself, but it made her feel good inside. She wondered if he spoke to Dee that way, too.
“Yes. I had a bad dream and can’t fall back to sleep.” She snuggled under the covers, keeping her voice low. She didn’t need her overprotective brother asking who she was talking to. He had made it clear he did not like Tony.
“Want to talk about it?”
She sighed. She had missed his voice, his glossy green eyes that showed the emotions he thought he hid. It had left a hole in her heart and that was what hurt the most. “I’m always running and I always get caught, but I wake up before I see his face. I feel like there was more than one man involved.”
“Maybe your mind is protecting you. Let it come slowly. We’re sure it was Novak, and maybe he had one of his flunkies with him.” She could hear covers rustling and she wondered how he slept. In the nude? Boxers? Tighty-whities? The last one almost made her giggle. She wanted to ask, but she held it in.
“I’m sorry I woke you up.” She had been rather cold to him when he visited the hospital. He hadn’t come back. He’d sent his gift with Holly instead. She figured she’d run him off for good.
“I was just lying here,” he assured her. “My window is open and all I can here are crickets. They are a noisy bunch. I want to tell them to shut up. I’m not sure they will listen.”
She smiled, glad he was all alone. “It’s so quiet in this house. I am afraid to breathe too loudly. Ray is asleep in his old room down the hall. I forgot how loud he snores.”
“Want me to come and sit with you? I know your parents would not be happy with me in your house, but we could sit on the porch and complain about the crickets keeping us awake.” He sounded eager and she knew he really was sorry. He meant well, but he did hurt her. He hurt her more than John had. That cemented the fact she had not been in love with John as she had thought.
It had been pure lust, but she had labeled it love so she would not feel guilty. She had been raised in a strict environment. Sex was between married couples and that was that. Her parents were very old-fashioned. Alicia knew Ray slept around, and she was sure their parents knew, but he never got lectured like she and Alana had. It was a double standard and she hated it. If a man could sleep around, a woman should be able to also.
“That’s okay. It is late and cold. I just wanted someone to talk to. It gets lonely sometimes. Holly and Alana are old married ladies with husbands to take care of. Jasmine is busy with wedding details. Janice and Kelly were fun. They made me forget,” she said, feeling a little pity party coming on. She tried to hold back her tears. She hated crying. Her nose always turned red and her eyes wo
uld swell. It was not a pretty sight.
“I understand completely. Matt has always been my closest friend, but now he is always with Holly. That is how it should be, but I get lonely, too. I had you and I enjoyed it. I let doubt cloud my brain and I hurt you. That will always weigh heavy on my heart,” Tony murmured softly. “I was stupid, Alicia. I made the wrong decision in letting Dee hang all over me. I regretted it instantly. I swear I never slept with her. I told her that same night I was wrong in leading her on, and I told her I had no feelings for her. She showed up at the restaurant to cause trouble. If you forgive me, I will let you beat me at pool for a month.”
Alicia stifled her laugh with her hand. She ached to have him back in her life, but at the same time, she was weary of letting him back in. “You don’t have to let me. I have the skills to become a hustler.”
He laughed softly. The sound warmed her up inside and she yawned.
“I want to forgive you, Tony. I know I was so angry because I was jealous. Dee is very attractive. She dresses in all those short skirts and low-cut tops. She is skinny, too. I tried not eating as much but my hips are here to stay.”
“Stop that nonsense,” he stated firmly. “I don’t want to hear of any kind of weird dieting. I love your body, Alicia. It has given me some hot dreams all these months. I felt guilty because you are so much younger than me.”
She blushed and grinned at the same time. She was glad he couldn’t see her.
“I don’t like to hold grudges, but you hurt me. You were someone I could count on. Maybe it’s my fault for leaning on you too much. Age is just a number. What matters is how you act. I’m scared Novak will hurt my family, or Holly and Jazz. I’m scared to forgive you and have you hurt me again. My mind is just filled with chaos right now.” She was scared to depend on him again. She must be lacking something to make a man stay interested. John had used her for sex and moved on. Tony had been her friend, but he had chosen to mess with Dee instead of being honest.