My eyes shot open and darted around, searching for clues in the darkness. I gulped for air. A suffocating panic punched me in the sternum and my heart pounded, a barrel drum reverberating in my ears and my rib cage threatening to crack open with each pump. Sweat pooled in the crevices of my collarbone as salty droplets formed along my upper lip.
I jerked my head toward the faint tick of the second hand on a clock. 3:24 a.m. My breathing slowed as I recognized the room. Our room. I turned to Julie. Her chest rose and fell rhythmically, evidence she was sleeping in complete peace. I watched for a moment and listened to the gentle whoosh of her inhale, the purr of her exhale. A tip of hair fanned out on her pillow, and I fingered the edges gingerly. Touching her was like caressing a talisman. She was everything that represented goodness, strength, and courage. It had been that way from the moment we met.
Sliding out from under the heavy down comforter, I shivered as hot air evaporated from my body. Slowing my movements to avoid waking Julie, I crept to the bathroom window, slid the frame open, and thrust my head out. The sharp March air slapped my face as I filled my lungs, over and over. They burned with a cold, painful pleasure that wrenched me away from my nightmare. The dream was occurring with more frequency, each time returning me to the one place I wanted to escape.
In my sleep, I was a teen again.
Dannie was at my side, her hand in mine.
And we were back at Black Bear Lake