Cooper woke me up before the nightmare did.
He caught me square in the shin with a jerking kick and I bolted up, my heart
hammering like a small demon trying to break through my ribcage. Already the
dream had slipped from my mind, leaving nothing behind but my wrecked nerves.
Cooper twitched and ground his teeth. Sweat plastered his curly black hair
against his forehead, and his tattooed arms shook as he crushed the pillow against
I wanted to hold him close, wake him up. I
hated seeing the man I loved in that kind of pain. It didn't matter that he was
the teacher and I his apprentice. But I knew he'd lash out at anyone near him
when he came out of the dream. So I wiped the sweat out of my eyes and scooted
away from him on the bed.
"Cooper," I called. My throat felt
like it was lined with steel wool, and I could taste pennies where I'd bitten
the inside of my lip. "Wake up."
My heart was slowing, finally, but my hands
still shook as I wiped my eyes again.
I'd never had nightmares before I started sleeping with Cooper. The
first couple of times we'd both gotten bad dreams the same night, I dismissed
it as coincidence. But after a dozen nights? It was pretty clear that the terror I saw in his fractured sleep mirrored the terror fading inside my own
We were having the same damn nightmare ...
and lately I was having it whether I was sleeping beside him or not.
He writhed and groaned.
Cooper's white fox terrier, Smoky, was
cowering under my computer desk, whining. The dog was giving me a scared look: Wake
him up before something bad happens. I'd seen the dog take on creatures ten
times his seventeen pounds when he thought his master was in danger; the dog
had once torn the ear off an ogrish no-neck who was preparing to brain Cooper
with a tire iron in a bar parking lot. But when the nightmare came on, fierce
little Smoky was helpless.
I could hear the rustling of my 6-month-old ferret racing around in his cage in the corner.
What's going on inside your head? I
wondered, staring down at Cooper.
I slid off the bed, took a deep breath and
let loose a shout that shook the floor: "Cooper!"
He jerked awake, arms windmilling, punching
the air, kicking the sheet off the bed. "No, I won't, I won't, get away
from me --"
"Cooper, calm down! You're okay, you're
"What? Where -- where am I?" he
gasped, staring around in the dimness.
"In our apartment. Remember?" I
climbed back onto the bed and crawled to him across the twisted bedclothes.
"J-jessie?" he stammered, his eyes
finally seeming to focus. "Oh, man am I glad to see you."
He caught me in a strong hug and kissed me.
His naked skin was slick with sweat, and beneath his usual pleasantly garlicky
smell was the faint, sharp odor of brimstone. Smoky padded out from under the
desk and hopped up onto the bed.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
"Yeah. Think so. Dream can't really
hurt me, right? I can't even remember what it was all about." He laughed
nervously and patted Smoky's smooth head. "Serves me right for falling
asleep when I didn't need to."
"You almost never get enough
I chose to ignore the little voice inside my
head reminding me that I, too, had been going without. When things got
bad, I'd been taking sleeping pills to blunt the dreams. But not very often;
the drugs left me groggy and stupid the next day.
"Hmm, much sense you make, young Jedi," he said. "But sensible man I am not."
He stretched, his spine popping. I couldn't
help but admire the play of muscles across his lean torso. He was thirty-eight,
but easily passed for thirty; there wasn't an ounce of fat on him. Some dumb
relationship calculator I'd found online -- the kind that divides your age by
two and adds seven years and tells you that's the youngest you can date -- said
that I wasn't old enough for him.
I know I'm immature in some ways, but inside
me there's a cranky old lady yelling at the damn kids to get off her lawn.
She's been there a while. I've decided to call her Mabel.
When I was a teenager, most of the other
girls got on my very last nerve -- all the stuff they obsessed over just seemed
stupid and trivial to me. I mean, seriously, who gives a shit about what shade
of eye shadow to wear to a pep rally?
I'd rather skip the whole thing and read a book. I thought Ohio State would be better than high school, but mostly it was just bigger.
Maybe I'd have felt different about things
if my mom hadn't died when I was eleven. After she was gone, there was nobody
around to make me feel particularly excited about makeup and shoe shopping. I
started the existential angst early, started feeling like I was way older than
the other kids, and that never got better. The day I turned twenty-three, I
felt ancient, even with Cooper there to celebrate with me.
Cooper, on the other hand, is nothing if not
bubbling with youthful energy. He could be fifty and would still be hotter than
half the twentysomething guys I've met. Of course, most of the guys I've seen
at OSU would only have six-packs if they bought them at the 7-11. And the boys
I've dated didn't have Cooper's brains, or his heart, or his guts. And his
Southerly anatomy isn't too shabby, either. Top that with him being the real thing
when it comes to magic ... well, whoever made the relationship calculator can
kiss my rosy pink butt.
"What time is it?" he asked.
"A little past nine -- the sun's just
Cooper rubbed his face and scratched his
chin through his short dark goatee. "How's the sky?"
"Dry. The nearest cloud is in Indiana,
"Well, then it's time for us to earn
our rent money." He reached over the side of the bed to retrieve his
jeans. "Three thousand from the farmers for a nice little rainstorm -- not
a bad payment for a night's work, huh?"
The doorbell rang downstairs.
"I'll get it," Cooper said,
slipping on his Levis.
He thumped downstairs. I peeled off my
sweat-soaked tee shirt and panties, tossed them in the hamper, then started
digging through the dresser for some fresh clothes. Everything in there was a
hopeless jumble, but at least it was clean. A year back, Cooper pissed off a sylph and she nixed all his housecleaning charms; it took us forever to get our
laundry mojo working again. As curses go that one was pretty minor -- probably
the faery equivalent of writing on your face in Sharpie marker while you're
passed out -- but there are few things more embarrassing to a modern witch or
wizard than being forced to use a Laundromat.
I heard the front door creak open, and then
our neighbor's cheerful greeting: "Hey, man, everything okay over here? I
heard someone holler."
"Hey, Bo," replied Cooper.
"Yeah, we're fine, sorry if we disturbed you."
"Oh, ain't no thing, just makin' sure
you folks is okay," Bo replied. "Miz Sanchez brought me some of her tamales earlier 'cos I fixed her tire, and she told me to make sure you folks
got a couple dozen."
I heard a paper grocery bag rattle open.
"Hey, these smell great," said Cooper. "That was really nice of
"She's real grateful for what you two
done for her little girl."
I clearly remembered the afternoon Mrs.
Sanchez was running from door to door, panicked to near incoherence because her
6-year-old daughter had disappeared from the apartment complex's pool. Cooper
knew enough Spanish to ask for one of the girl's dolls. After that it was easy
enough to go back to the privacy of our apartment and cast a spell to track the
kid's spirit to the other side of the complex. We found the little girl in a run-down
garden apartment. Thankfully, she was okay; the creepy old pedophile who rented
the place hadn't done anything more than feed her ice cream.
Once the girl was safe with her mother --
and no one the wiser that we'd used magic to find her -- I called the cops on
my cell phone while Cooper impressed upon the old man that he was never, ever
to go near a child again. The old guy was so frightened by Cooper that he
practically raced to the police cruiser like jail was going to be some kind of
Cooper can be pretty fierce when he gets
angry. To me, that's one of his sexiest traits. It's not just about being able
to tear the house down; it's about being willing to do it in a heartbeat to
protect the people who genuinely need your help.
"Anyone would've done the same,"
said Cooper. "Please be sure to thank her for us."