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(Read by Author Esther Mitchell)

"Rick!" Tamia bolted upright in bed, terror scrambling along her nerves and sweat slickening her entire body. She flailed one hand out to her side, blindly searching for Rick, to reassure herself he was there.

 

Ice plunged through her when her hand dropped to empty sheets, cold from the air circulation system.

 

He wasn't there.

 

Her gaze flew instantly to the glowing digital display of the bedside clock, even as her hand lifted to clench around the silver necklace around her neck, the clinking of the rose charm and hololocket Rick gave her an eerie, jarring counterpoint to the harsh pound of her heart in her ears.

 

0400. Rick had been gone a little over an hour, and already her imagination was working overtime. God, she was paranoid.  And yet...

 

Tamia hugged Rick's pillow to herself, her face buried in the cool material as she inhaled the pine, mint, and smoke scent of him -- like Christmas morning -- clinging there and ignored the burn of the tattoo on her left breast.

 

Rick was okay.

 

He had to be okay.

 

He knew she couldn't do this without him. He promised he'd be back.

 

Images from her nightmare flashed in her mind, and she couldn't breathe.

 

Struggling for air, she rolled to the side of the bed and sat up, still clutching Rick's pillow to herself, and fought to fill her lungs around the crowding sense of panic flooding her veins.

 

She'd had dreams like that one, before, but not so clear. Always before, they were together in the dreams, and she let him down, somehow. She dropped him. But this time...

 

She shuddered. He'd been all alone, in this one. It was all so real...

 

Dampness slicked her cheeks, and she realized she was crying.

 

"Get a grip," she muttered to herself. "It's just another nightmare."

 

She shoved down the niggling little voice determined to remind her nightmares were how most of her visions started. She'd been avoiding reality for months, now. Had they all been trying to tell her to stop him, or to go with him, whether he wanted her there or not? Was she being warned not to let him go out there alone?

 

She laid there, staring at the ceiling, as she battled the demons of her fears and nightmares. If something happened to Rick, she'd never forgive herself.

 

Never.

 

Lost in her anxiety-riddled mind, she nearly jumped out of her skin as an unfamiliar cascade of notes filled the room. What the...? Oh, right. Rick recently changed the door tone to something more soothing than his old utilitarian buzz, in deference to Michael's impending arrival.

 

Glancing at the bedside clock again, surprise jolted her to realize half an hour had elapsed.

 

0430.

 

Tamia's heart caught in dread as the sick fear returned to strangle her, again. Rick's return wouldn't trigger the door tone, and the only other person who'd show up at their door at this time of the morning was whoever was on Comms. And if they were showing up in person, rather than calling...

 

The door tone sounded again, and ice shot up Tamia's spine. She didn't want to know who was out there, or why. She already had the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach whatever happened was about to change her life, and not for the better.

 

Michael kicked, hard, just then, and Tamia instinctively reached to soothe her son. "Shh, Mikey. I'm sorry."

 

No doubt, her distress was stressing him, as well. Hopefully, she was about to find out it was nothing, and she was stressing out for nothing.

 

Forcing herself to draw a deep, steadying breath for Michael's sake, she rose from the bed and made her way to the door, pulling on her robe as she moved through the darkened living room.

 

Dread dogged her every step and flashes of her nightmare haunted her. Her hand shook as she hit the lock release with a prayer everything would be okay.

 

Her heart came to an abrupt halt as she met Jen LaSaulle's somber eyes. Jen wasn't on Comms, tonight.

 

Oh, God.

 

"J-Jen?" The query stumlbed from her lips in a terrified whisper as the crushing weight settled back on her chest, sending a tremor through her, so hard she couldn't control her trembling hand as she latched onto her necklace.

 

Please, no. Whoever's listening out there, please...

 

Terror ricocheted through her. The only way to maintain her fraying calm was to stay focused on the soft clink of silver striking silver, even as she reached to steady herself against the doorjamb with the other. She tried to focus her gaze on Jen's face, but everything kept graying out.

 

It's just a nightmare. You're still in the nightmare. It's just a nightmare. You're still in the nightmare. It's just...

 

"There's someone here to see you."

 

Jen's words punctured the press of terror against her crumbling psyche, and she blinked at the other woman. She knew what those words, and Jen's sympathetic tone, meant.

 

This was no nightmare.

 

Strange. Everyone always said you couldn't feel your heart stop. She didn't just feel the abrupt halt, though. She swore she heard the crack, like thunder rolling through her soul, as it broke in half, fell, and shattered like glass inside her chest. She couldn't breathe again, as numbing cold spread through her. The world spun in slowing figure eights, even as she tightened her grip on the doorjamb and fought her buckling knees.

 

"Rick." His name slipped from her numb lips, and her nightmares rushed back over her like the high tide. Only, they were no longer nightmares, and reality drove her beneath the bloody swells as her world disappeared once again in an earth-shattering fireball.

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