I stared at J.T. for a long moment. Thom, scared? Thom wasn’t afraid of anything. “Scared of what?” He could handle all of it originally…he was okay that first time down in the ravine with Drew and I, when everything started to…to happen… I scrubbed my hand across my eyes. He was okay for months. This only started a few months ago. He was fine for months before. What changed?
J.T. shook his head a little. “He woke up screaming one night, Marin, like eight or nine months back. Wouldn’t tell me why. A nightmare. That’s what he said it was. Wouldn’t say more than that. He must’ve seen something, though, that scared the shit out of him. That was the weekend that you two were supposed to go up to Mackinac Island, remember?”
I nodded slowly. Eight months ago. He told me something came up, an emergency back home. He’d make it up to me, somehow. But that’s when he started denying all of it, saying it wasn’t real. “And he didn’t talk about what he saw at all?” My voice sounded so small. I drew my knees against my chest, setting aside my bowl. What could scare you so much, Thom? What did it? What…what made you want to convince yourself and me that none of it’s real?
“Didn’t tell me, and he tells me a lot. He’s hinted, but anything solid? Nothing.” J.T. made eye contact with me for a moment, then his gaze flicked toward the fire. “He loves you, though. ‘s why he didn’t go to Chicago this weekend, why he cancelled his interview. You were more important than that to him.” He frowned. “Good thing he realized it before it was too late.”
Before it’s too late. A lot of things need to happen before it’s too late. My mouth was dry and I just nodded, looking away from him, away from the fire, toward the rain—rain and sleet mix, it seemed. A gust of wind sent ashes swirling, carried them away. I shivered. Going to get a lot worse before it gets better. A lot of things will. I glanced back toward where I’d slept curled up with Thom, took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. What sort of nightmare would make him start denying everything he’d come to accept? Everything that he knew was real, even if we didn’t quite understand what it all meant. What kind of awfulness could scare him that badly? He’s never been scared of anything, not in all the time I’ve known him.
“You can’t tell him I said anything, Marin,” J.T. said quietly. “I wasn’t even supposed to tell you as much as I did just now. He’ll kick my ass and stop speaking to me, and we both know the bastard needs someone to talk to and it might as well be my sorry ass.” He looked at me and shook his head a little. “He’s my brother and I know how he gets. He’ll make me pay for it if he finds out.”
He looks at you the same way, Jay. Like the brother he never had. I patted his arm gently. “I won’t say anything. Not until you’ve had a chance to try to get him to explain all of it to you, anyway.” I smiled weakly. If Thom hadn’t told J.T. already, Thom wasn’t going to tell anyone what had gotten him so tied up in knots. They were like brothers to each other, and treated each other that way—like brothers that had grown up in the same wholly dysfunctional household together. I shook my head a little. “It just…it worries me. What the hell was it that could make him so afraid?”
J.T. shrugged, setting down his now empty bowl and standing. “Almost glad I don’t know, Marin. If I did, I might be trying to prevent whatever it is.” He raked a hand through his dark hair. “Honestly, that might be it.” He shook his head. “I’ve screwed around long enough. More than time for me to start figuring shit out. You sticking around here?”
I nodded. “Holding down the fort. My feet aren’t up for going all that far. What’s first on your list?”
“Firewood, I guess. Might as well not wait for folks to get back before we take care of it. I’ll round up your brother if you feel like you can keep things together here.” He glanced toward the pile of empty bowls that was slowly materializing. “…if I get some clean water up here, think you can get these clean?”
“Get me enough and I think I can.” It’ll just take a bit of engineering, that’s all. Figuring out how it’ll work. “I’ll make it work.”
J.T. nodded. “Right. Well. We’ll get shit organized and figure out who needs to go where and do what. Leave you and Thom and the professor and a few others here, probably. I think Leah’s still sleeping, so she can take care of the hurt folks.” He gestured a little toward the oatmeal. “Probably should see if you can get Thom to eat some of that.”
“Eventually,” I said. “Right now I’m going to let him sleep. Not sure how much of it he actually got.” More than we could’ve, if we’d…god, but that wouldn’t have been a smart idea. I’d have hurt him, and then where would we be? I glanced toward where he was still sleeping one more time, then sighed, looking back at the fire.
Want to help support Awakenings?
Want to chip in to support Awakenings? Buy Erin a coffee through ko-fi and fuel her creativity with a little caffeine.
Want to help support all of Erin’s writing endeavors?
Thank you to my supporters!
Thank you to all of my supporters at Patreon, especially Karen L. Klitzke and Brandon!
Where we’re listed