My mother and I were in the parlor when someone knocked on the door. She got up to answer it and I saw a grin on her face. I stood, expecting it to be Thomas, but my stomach fell. Daniel sauntered in, grinning wickedly at me.
"Ah, dear Elvira," he said in a voice that echoed. "How wonderful to see you. Let me tell you, jail was just awful without your presence."
I couldn't speak as I backed away. My mother just stood, watching on with a grin on her face, her eyes flashing with malicious intent. I was confused. Why wasn't she helping me? Why was she letting Daniel approach me in such a way?
Suddenly, I was against the wall and Daniel's face was inches away.
"You're mine, Elvira," he whispered. "You're mine and you always will be. It doesn't matter who you throw yourself onto. I will always be there." His hands were roaming my body. "Always. You will never be free of me."
I gasped and sat up, sweating heavily. I looked around, my chest rising and falling heavily. I was in my bedroom and Bryant was standing next to me, his face terrified. When I realized I was safe, I cried into my hands. He sat beside me and put his arms around me.
"What did you dream?" he asked. "Tell me."
"Oh, it was awful Bryant!" I sobbed. I told him everything and his arm tightened. "He's right! I couldn't even kiss Thomas w-w-without seeing what he did!"
"Shh," he whispered, rubbing my arm and kissing my head. "Calm down, Elly. It was just a nightmare. You're okay. He can't get to you. He's in jail where he belongs."
I hiccupped myself into silence and he kissed the side of my head one last time.
"What time is it?" I asked, rubbing my eyes.
"Nearly noon," he answered. He was looking at me with an expression I couldn't read. "Thomas has come to call with his little sister but I can send them back if you're not up to it."
"No, it's okay," I said immediately. "Just give me some time."
"Of course, dear sister."
I rinsed my face in the bowl of water brought to my bedroom then changed. I left my hair loose today and applied light makeup; anything to hide that I had been crying. I didn't want Thomas to know about my nightmare. He would surely think poorly of me.
When I walked out of my room, I heard Megan giggling. It made me smile as I descended the stairs. My mother was standing by the parlor, a look of disapproval on her face. When she saw me, though, she quickly smiled and kissed my cheek. I smiled back as she walked off.
A small body collided into my legs and I giggled as Megan threw her arms around me. I hugged her back and looked up. Thomas was sitting on the parlor couch, shaking his head but with a smile on his handsome face. I grinned at him. Seeing his face made me feel better. I sat beside him and he frowned.
"You're shaking," he said. "Are you ill?"
"No," I said quickly and took a few deep breaths as Megan crawled into our laps. "I just had... an unpleasant dream."
He looked as if he wanted to press the subject but then Megan asked a question that turned us both red.
"So when are you getting married?" she asked then giggled at the looks on our faces. "You can come live with me and Tommy! It would be a lot of fun! We could color all day and-"
Thomas cleared his throat. "Actually, Megan, Miss Elvira and I are just...."
He struggled to find the right word as Megan looked at him expectantly. For some reason, I found the situation incredibly humorous. He looked to me, clearly asking for help, but I just blinked at him. His eyes narrowed slightly.
"We are just pursuing," he said finally and she brought her eyebrows together.
"I hate big words," she pouted and he groaned quietly.
I giggled, getting her attention.
"Your brother and I care for each other," I confirmed and her eyes brightened. "We're not quite at marriage yet, though."
"Oh," she said slowly. "So you don't have to worry about the dragon, Tommy!" she said with a grin.
"What dragon?" I asked and looked at Thomas, too. His eyes were downcast. "Hey, Megan. We got some new dolls. Go as Bryant to show you. If he says no, tell him Elly demands it."
She giggled and jumped off my lap. "Okay!"
She disappeared and I turned to Thomas, holding one of his hands. He was covering his eyes. I could tell I shouldn't speak so I waited. I laced our fingers together as the silence stretched onward.
"Her nightmares have come back," he said finally in a thick voice and I bit my lower lip, thinking to mine.
"What dragon was she speaking about?" I whispered and he cleared his throat, running his hand through his hair.
His eyes were moist as he looked at anything other than me.
"I can't think of any other way to explain our parents' death to her," he muttered. "Any other way would make her nightmares worse. I.... She loves fairy tales, you see, and a dragon was the best way. Now, when anything bad happens, she calls it a dragon." He shut his eyes. "I was talking with your brother and she must have heard."
"What were you talking about?" I asked.
His eyes shot open and he looked at me as if he just realized I was there. He bit his lip, looking into my eyes.
"Nothing," he said. "It was just... men stuff." He cleared his throat. "What about you? I can tell you had a nightmare."
I puffed my cheeks out. "Is that why you came? To speak of nightmares?"
"No," he said quickly. "No, I"m sorry. I didn't mean to upset you."
I sighed and moved closer. "You didn't, Thomas. I'm sorry." I put my head on his shoulder. "I shouldn't have said that. I was resting and just had a nightmare about a dragon of my own."
He nodded then put his head on mine. We sat in silence for a while, and he rubbed the back of my hand with his thumb. It calmed me down and I sighed, closing my eyes.
"I have a sunburn from the other day," I said with a giggle.
"I'm sorry," he said and I heard laughter in his voice. "That's unfortunate."
I laughed. "But I did have a lot of fun."
"Good," he said quietly. "I'd like to do something like that again, soon. Perhaps without losing our lunch."
I laughed again and looked at him, my cheek still on his shoulder. He was smiling down at me.
"Why do you look at me that way?" I whispered, confused at the strange look in his eyes.
'There's a trail that Bryant told me about," he said. "Do you like to walk?"
"Yes," I said slowly. "But why do you-"
"We'll go tomorrow," he interrupted and I narrowed my eyes.
"You're keeping a secret from me, Thomas."
He smiled. "Of course I am," he said and I felt offended. He kissed my forehead. "It will ruin the surprise of tomorrow's hike."
"That's not what I'm talking about," I said. "But we will play by your rules for now."
He chuckled and I caressed his cheek. Suddenly, his eyes turned serious.
"I meant what I said," he whispered. "I will help your wounds. And I will keep you safe."
I frowned, sitting up. "There's nothing to keep me safe from," I said.
He smiled. "There will always be something out there, Elvira. But you're safe with me."
I smiled back and put my forehead on his. I shut my eyes, still smiling, as he touched my cheek gently.
"Are you ready for me to kiss you?" he whispered.
I sighed, my smile fading and tears jumping to my eyes.
"Oh, Elvira," he groaned and pulled me into a hug.
"I'm sorry," I muttered, a few tears falling down my cheeks.
"You have nothing to be sorry for," he said, rubbing my arm.
"Can we just... sit for now?" I whispered and he leaned back in the couch.
"I love sitting," he whispered back.
I wrapped my arms around him and closed my eyes, inhaling his scent deeply then blushing. What a strange thing to do! But it felt nice and I enjoyed it. As he held me and we sat in silence, I smiled.
"I feel safe with you," I said quietly.
"Good," he said, "because I'm never letting you go."