The feeling of my throat gasping in a lungful of air before screaming the most bloodcurdling scream is the worst feeling in the world. Waking up in cold sweat with my mind racing and my adrenaline heightening comes second. The tears come third — hot and irritated tears that flow down my clammy and sweaty face. These are the things I fear every night. I fear going to sleep because of them. I don’t want to be stuck in this nightmare forever.
My hands, trembling too hard, reach out to clutch the thing nearest to me. I sense that comfort of James, grabbing and holding on for dear life as the nightmare slowly starts to fade away, blinding my vision. James’s arms are tense, winding around my waist. He pressed his nose into my hair, breathing slowly so I can mimic him and calm down.
This happens every night.
Every night, I wake up screaming and crying and panicking. For a moment, I can’t hear… or see… or speak, traumatized by the nightmare that once clouded my mind. I breathe in heavy lungfuls of James’s scent and that seems to soothe me as best as it can — at least enough for my heartbeat to slow.
He’s always there, holding me through the night until I’m tired of thrashing around. His hands never cease against my aching back, his lips never leaving below my ear, his occupation never leaving my senses. Just there, in a whole, was the only thing I needed to feel safe. His shirt bunched against my tightened fists, my face hidden into his chest, his lips against my sweating skin… that’s all I needed.
It was even worse this time. Not just my reaction, but also my dream. Someone in a mask is chasing me with the bloody knife in their hand. They had just killed my whole entire family, my friends, everyone I could ever love… except James. Where was James? My mind didn’t have a chance to register it, because the next thing I knew, I was cornered against the wall as the person took off their mask, revealing their face. James. James was about to kill me.
I woke up, gasping, choking on my breath as salty tears wet my lips. My hands aren’t reaching out this time because I’m scared — scared that James will actually end up doing something to harm me and the ones I love. I’m scared that nightmares can come true. What if this — including my relationship with James — was all a nightmare?
Rustling movements around me scare me even worse. I start to cry harder, scrambling back onto my hands until I’m inches away from tumbling off the bed that I share with him. That monster in my dream.
”Mealida. Mea, it’s alright. Mea.”
That voice, ever so soft and light, is trying to bring me back to the present. That voice is wrapping around me, crawling closer, doing its best to pull me out of the reminiscence of fear. I can’t take it any longer; I press my palms against my tears, sobbing and begging for it to stop, for it to go away.
Those hands, rough and calloused, have no other choice but to grab me, pulling me swiftly into that chest that rumbles beneath my head. Those fingers are prying my hands away from my ears, shifting them into one hold against that heart. Those hands are holding them there, keeping me flush against that body.
That murmur, that whisper, that humming. It’s him. It’s James, fully woken up from his own slumber to save me from mine. He’s holding me now, rocking me gently with his muscles flexing tighter around me, keeping me put. He’s whispering in my ear, smoothing my hair back, promising that it’s all alright — that he would never hurt me, that’s he’s my safety, that he’s never going to let anything bad happen to me.
”It’s alright… You’re okay… I’m not going to hurt you… Just go back to sleep. It’s okay. I’m right here. I’m right here, Mealida, I promise.”
The pounding in my ears have subsided. The frantic thumping of my heart has slowed. The aching in my body has fled away. Calmness, serenity, comfort; that’s all I can feel now and it’s surrounding my body like those arms, warm and protective around me.
I’m okay. I can take a deep breath. I’m okay.
The tears aren’t slowing, though my mind isn’t reeling as much as before. The familiarity of James’s scent brushes against my nostrils, easing me with confidence. My hands are still under his much bigger fingers, in which they overlap mine and keep me feeling safe. James wouldn’t hurt me. He promised he wouldn’t hurt me. He said he would be here to chase the nightmares away. He’s chasing the nightmares away now…. I can sleep.
A soft kiss is pressed into my hair, a heavy inhale sounding off from above me. James murmurs something else, leaning back so we slowly settle against the pillows and sheets. He replaces one hand on the back of my neck, his fingers massing the progressing knots. He hums something low under his breath, pressing another kiss to my temple before tucking the covers around me.
Safe. I’m alright. Safe.
”Go to sleep,” James repeats in a much gentler voice, the exhaustion far gone, “I’ll keep you safe.”
Eyelids are drooping now, eyelashes fanning against my own cheek. I suck in a heavy breath, nuzzle my nose deeper into James’s collarbone and try my hardest to relax.
James didn’t get any sleep at all. He stayed there, just like that, holding me with his strong hands while making sure I was okay. That may seem selfish on my part, allowing him to do that, but he insisted that he wanted to — that he was more worried about me than his sleep.
My safety. Watching over me, keeping me protected.
My safety. Loving me, holding me.
My safety. Vowing that he would keep the nightmares away.
My safety was the only thing that kept me asleep. For the first time in many weeks, I was not again awoken by the one thing that scared me the most; losing that safety.