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Waking Up is Hard To Do

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"Don't forget to call," Mike Noonan said, as he tried, and failed to disguise the worry in his voice. "Remember."

"I will," Kyra said. She looked at him, and he knew, just knew that she thought he was insufferable. "Don't worry. OK?" Kyra added.

"Ok," Mike said. "It's just, you know, this is --,"

"My first sleep-over," Kyra said. "I'll be OK. I'll call at 8." Her first sleep-over during her first summer after the judge finally awarded Mike custody of Kyra Devore, nicknamed, 'little guy'. She wasn't so little any more. Her blue eyes were wise beyond her years, so wise and sometimes made Mike want to cry.

"Seven," Mike said. "Call at seven." To Mike's relief, his eight-year old adopted daughter did not roll her eyes. She merely smiled, waved and got out of the car and ran to join her friends.

***

Mike went for a walk through Tidwell's Meadow, something he hadn't done since before Kyra came to live with him. He didn't like to think about that time, and if he did cast his thoughts back there, they inevitably went to Kyra's mother. Mattie.

It hurt to think of her. How much time he'd wasted being timid. How he'd worried that it wasn't proper. Here he was, a man in his 40s, sure, a successful writer in his 40s, but still older than her 22 years. People might talk. They talked anyway. The other worry was that a relationship might hurt her chances of winning her custody fight against Kyra's grandfather. In the end, even that battle never came to be. Nothing came to be. Especially the relationship. Thanks to that crazy old bastard.

Mike stopped and squatted on his haunches, suddenly winded and worn out. He gone back into the past again, and damn it all to hell, he did not want to stay there. He drew in a few sharp breaths, then stood up and walked back to Sara Laughs.

Sara Laughs hadn't changed much in the past five years since that day, with the exception of a few small repairs made here and there. He'd had the tile roof replaced with a tin one, sold on the promise that it would outlast the house. New windows replaced the ones lost in the storm. And inside, Kyra's rooms, her bedroom and the room Mike designated for her 'work' room, whatever work she may want to do, Kyra chose a sunny shade of yellow.

Mike also replaced the broken air conditioner.

Sweaty from his walk, he went upstairs and headed to the bathroom and undressed to take a shower. He started the water to get it at the right temperature. As he straightened up, he caught sight of himself in the mirror.

"Daddy," Kyra once asked, when she began to call him daddy, "why don't you eat?"

"I eat," Mike said. Not strictly true, Mike knew at the time, but sort of true. He just didn't eat well.

The reflection in the mirror showed him the results his bad eating habits finally had on him. He was . . .

"A bag of bones," Mike said, and shuddered involuntarily. He thought to himself, if he were reading this, this would be the point that the hero would have an epiphany, and start on his road to recovery. Instead, Mike got into the shower and washed up.

***

Kyra called at 7 P.M., just as she said she would. She told him what she had for supper, (Pizza) and for dessert (Apple Pie) and that they watched Shrek 3. Now they were playing Monopoly. Inwardly, Mike wished it had been some other board game. Anything other than one that reminded him of Kyra's grandfather.

"Are you OK?" Kyra asked.

Right as rain," Mike said with a smile on his face.

***

He sat on his bed, grabbed one of the nearby paperbacks to read. Mike had stopped being picky about his authors five years ago. He stopped being a lot of things five years ago. The paperback in his hands made him think of his late wife Johanna. He threw the book across the bedroom.

"Why now? Mike asked out loud. He knew no one would answer. No one had in five years. At least, not in a way that he could discern any message. He only knew that right now, he drifted into the past, back five years to be exact, quite a bit lately. It frightened him, and it hurt him. Mike covered his face with his hands. He lay back, his bare back in the pillow, and his head lightly touching the headboard. Mike slithered down the bed until he was comfortable, rolled onto his side and curled into a fetal position. then he went to sleep.

***

The finger traced his boney spine from the nape of his neck down to the tip of Mike's underwear. It sent a tremor through his body and he sat upright in the bed. The lights were still on. No one was in the room. The finger that traced his spine had had a long finger nail, and was itself, quite bony. It couldn't have been Sara.

"No," Mike said as quiet as he could, "it couldn't be."

Mike told himself it was a dream. Just a dream. Something he used to tell himself before he'd moved back to Sara Laughs. Before he knew better.

He got off the bed, and headed for the bathroom. He thought about his memoirs, and how frank his language was. Then considered what age he ought to give them to Kyra. After all. He thought, as he finished peeing, when a man discusses peeing while ghosts are screaming, it's kind of hard to figure a proper age to give that to one's daughter. Mike moved over to the sink to wash his hands and then felt hot fingers rub, and quite hard, the sides of his hips. He could see in the mirror the red welts the fingers left on his flesh. Then he could feel the fingers reach in the front of his Y-fronts.

"No!" He shoved his body away from the sink and ran, and tripped on the door frame. Mike stumbled into the hall. On his feet again, he ran into his bedroom, he pulled on his jeans and T-shirt.

"She's mine, sugar," a voice said, the air hot into his ear, "I've got her now."

Mike froze in his place, the T-shirt half way down his abdomen, his boney ribs jutted out. His eyes teared up and he could not focus. He shook his head and mouthed the word over and over, but it would not come out. When it did, it came out, not as a shout, but as a creak.

"No!" Mike said at last. "no, please no." Hot fingers caressed his cheeks. Played with his hair. Then the memory of a child under water, drowning in terror, came back to him. All of the things he'd seen, five years ago.

Mike turned and ran out of the room, down the stairs. He had to get to his daughter.

***

He didn't know how he ended up there, just that he was on Mrs. Stockerton's front lawn. Kyra cradled his head in her arms. She had been crying, he could tell by her tear streamed face.

"It's ok, daddy," Kyra said," "it's just a dream. Just a dream. White Nana can't hurt you."

Mike looked down at his body. He wasn't dressed in his T-shirt and jeans. He only had his Y-fronts on. His feet were muddy, and his legs were scratched and bloody. He cried then, if only because he realized the little eight year old had been a witness to his breakdown for the last five years.