I forced my way out of heavy sleep. I felt like I’d been beaten with a bag of nickels. My world was fuzzy around the edges, my body heavy and useless. I’d suffered not the deep restorative sleep of a good night, but the drugged fog of a bad one.
I scrunched my eyes and moaned. “This is not good,” I told Pepper. “Three nights in a row,” I trailed off, thinking. There weren’t any crickets. Where had the crickets gone? They had not been so demonstrative lately, but they still chirped occasionally.
Shrugging, I went about my day, hoping for a better night’s rest soon. Mother phoned that day while I was at lunch, wondering how I’d been. We kept in close touch, but something told her to check on me, she said. “Call it mother’s intuition,” she said.
A friend took me out to supper to celebrate. “It’s not every day one turns thirty, even if today were your birthday,” she said while refusing to allow me to pick up the check. A glass of wine with my food felt heavenly, and I supposed another couldn’t hurt in my quest for a good night’s sleep.
I poured one and searched out the light floral scent wafting through the house. “That scamp!” I exclaimed. “ooh, ow. Not so loud,” I told myself.
Mother certainly had been busy: she’d sprayed lavender and chamomile in my bedroom, changed the bedclothes, and left a little note. She wished me a good sleep and pleasant dreams of fairy tales.
“I think it’d be best to follow Mother’s advice, Pepper.” He gave me a look that clearly said, “feed me, then we’ll snuggle. Do whatever you like as long as you hold still on a comfortable chair.” That is one of his five favorite expressions.
Continuing on with my wine plan, I pulled down some of the lighter of Grimm’s tales. I read and read, sipping occasionally, and continued to scratch Pepper behind the ears as he demanded. When my glass emptied and I felt I could stay awake no longer, it was time to crawl into bed. My head hit the pillow and my eyes drooped. Sleep claimed me in the comforting, cricket-free silence.
I fell and jerked awake. “Ugh. That’s always terrifying, isn’t it, Pepper?”
“Who is Pepper and why are you in my bed?” He shoved me away and rolled over, grasping my shoulders and shaking. “Who are you?”