46 | Nightmares

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VARIOUS images of my dead mother's paper-mâché mask played in my unconscious mind like a film on a loop

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VARIOUS images of my dead mother's paper-mâché mask played in my unconscious mind like a film on a loop. Her floral scent caked my senses. Her laugh hammered my eardrums.

A definite nightmare.

Sometimes the masked figure would pull off the mask, but no face ever stared back at me. Only a black blurriness revealed itself, choking me until all air disappeared.

It felt like I was in my own slasher flick with my biggest fears costumed as the killer. Instead of the standard ninety-minute horror film, mine went on for what seemed like months, replaying over and over—

A pulsing pain etched across the back of my neck and skull, waking me from my nightmare-laced slumber. I moaned, head pounding like someone was beating me with a metal baseball bat.

Emptiness. That's the first feeling that smashed into my consciousness. Emptiness. Tini was gone. No longer could I feel her dark presence.

That's never happened before. I couldn't always feel her on the surface, but deep down I could always sense her, forever a part of me like an invincible tumor. Not now though.

Opening my eyes, they fluttered to a half-mast before white light stabbed at my corneas. A painful gasp released from my lips as my body jerked, almost falling downward, but strong arms pulled me close.

Thick eyelashes tickled my cheeks as I continuously blinked, trying to get my vision used to the sudden bright atmosphere — until fierce violet eyes blocked the light, gazing down at me with unshed emotions.

My heart stopped, the intensity of his stare causing everything to freeze for a minute. I took a breath, never letting my eyes fall from his.

Why did I desperately want to know what he was thinking right now? This — this... thing with Jookie was Tini's thing. Not mine. So why did a part of me wish that I could read his gaze? To know exactly what it meant when he stared at me like that?

Jookie spoke first, eyes never faltering. "You okay?" He loosened his arms, letting them fall around my body, which made me realize that I was cuddled into his lap.

He rubbed the small of my back, his lean fingers touching my skin, sending warm bubbles up my spine and into my stomach.

I was on his lap. His arms, so warm around me... My heart thrashed, cheeks tingling. I jerked away from him, flying onto the cement floor. Ouch.

Short pieces of his newly cut hair swept his forehead when he dipped low toward me, eyebrows rising in question. "Are you nervous?"

I licked my crusty lips, feeling the rough skin under my tongue. "Ah—um—" Every sound made my dry throat hurt more.

A smile tickled his lips as he watched me struggling on the floor. "Tongue-tied, my sweet peach?" He let out a teasing chuckle. "That's a first."

"I'm not," I said a bit too forceful, heart beating fast. "I'm just a bit disorientated."

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