Cooper jerked awake, arms windmilling, punching the air, kicking the sheet off the bed. "No, I won't, I won't, get away from me --"
"Cooper, calm down! You're okay, you're okay."
"What? Where -- where am I?" he gasped, staring around in the dimness.
"In our apartment. Remember?" I climbed back onto the bed and crawled to him across the twisted bedclothes.
"J-jessie?" he stammered, his eyes finally seeming to focus. "Oh, man am I glad to see you."
He caught me in a strong hug and kissed me. His naked skin was slick with sweat, and beneath his usual pleasantly garlicky smell was the faint, sharp odor of brimstone. Smoky padded out from under the desk and hopped up onto the bed.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
"Yeah. Think so. Dream can't really hurt me, right? I can't even remember what it was all about." He laughed nervously and patted Smoky's smooth head. "Serves me right for falling asleep when I didn't need to."
"You almost never get enough sleep. You go 'til you finally pass out from sheer exhaustion. Then you get REM rebound and a worse nightmare than you'd have gotten otherwise."
I chose to ignore the little voice inside my head reminding me that I, too, had been going without sleep. When things got bad, I'd been taking sleeping pills to blunt the dreams. But not very often; the drugs left me groggy and stupid the next day.
"Hmm, much sense you make, young Jedi," he said. "But sensible man I am not."
Cooper stretched, his spine popping. I couldn't help but admire the play of muscles across his lean torso. He was thirty-eight, but easily passed for thirty; there wasn't an ounce of fat on him. Some dumb relationship calculator I'd found online -- the kind that divides your age by two and adds seven years and tells you that's the youngest you can date -- said that I wasn't old enough for him.
I know I'm immature in some ways, but inside me there's a cranky old lady yelling at the damn kids to get off her lawn. She's been there a while. I've decided to call her Mabel.
When I was a teenager, most of the other girls got on my very last nerve -- all the stuff they obsessed over just seemed stupid and trivial to me. I mean, seriously, who gives a shit about what shade of eye shadow to wear to a pep rally? I'd rather skip the whole thing and read a book. I thought Ohio State would be better than high school, but mostly it was just bigger.
Maybe I'd have felt different about things if my mom hadn't died when I was eleven. After she was gone, there was nobody around to make me feel particularly excited about makeup and shoe shopping. I started the existential angst early, started feeling like I was way older than the other kids, and that never got better. The day I turned twenty-three, I felt ancient, even with Cooper there to celebrate with me.
Cooper, on the other hand, is nothing if not bubbling with youthful energy. He could be fifty and would still be hotter than half the twentysomething guys I've met. Of course, most of the guys I've seen at OSU would only have six-packs if they bought them at the 7-11. And the boys I've dated didn't have Cooper's brains, or his heart, or his guts. And his Southerly anatomy isn't too shabby, either. Top that with him being the real thing when it comes to magic ... well, whoever made the relationship calculator can kiss my rosy pink butt.
>> Go on to Spellbent: Chapter One, Part 3