“So, you think this will work?” Riley asked. Since Mrs. Phillips had given them approval, Riley wasn’t sure she wanted to go through with it.
She wasn’t even sure she could do what she had previously done. It wasn’t like she made a habit of slipping into other people’s dreams. Not once in all the sleepovers she had with friends had anything like that ever happened. So what made her think she could repeat it now? Because everyone was counting on her?
Yeah, that reasoning just didn’t cut it, and she now had a rock inside her stomach. At least it felt like a rock. Maybe it was one of those lead weights fishermen used when they wanted to stay in one place. What were those things called? It wasn’t like she was ever on a boat, so how would she know? Whatever they were called, it was like one of those in her stomach, and it was growing.
She looked into the room at Patty and Mrs. Phillips standing next to the hospital bed where they monitored Bruce. They were trying to hide it, but Riley felt the worry radiating off them. She was also worried. They had only known each other for a short time, but she already considered him a friend and someone she wanted to hang around with. How cool would it be to go dream hopping with him? He was also kind of cute, in that nerdy, geeky sort of way…
Come on, Riley. Get a grip.
She let her mind wander in order to avoid thinking about what she needed to do. She hadn’t even stepped up to the bed yet. She hung back, afraid of even getting close. It was just a touch last time. What if all it took the second time was to just get close enough and, poof, she was off into la-la land to fight more dragons?
“You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to,” Mrs. Phillips said gently.
Riley looked up at her in appreciation, almost thanking her. Then she saw the anguish on Patty’s face, which quickly disappeared. There was no way this girl was going to show any sign of weakness, but the anger that replaced it was worse, scary. It was hard for Riley not to take a step back. If she wasn’t on crutches, she might have.
“What?! No. She’s got to do it.”
“Look at her. She’s terrified.”
Riley blew out a breath. “No, I’m okay. Really.” She even tried to convince herself that she was, but it took only seconds for the self-doubt to seep back in. “But how are we going to do it?”
Patty and Mrs. Phillips looked at each other. Finally, Mrs. Phillips let out a sigh and nodded.
“Well, last time, Patty was in the chair. Trying to get a connection to him wasn’t working, then we were suddenly able to get through. I assume that was right after you got in.”
“Okay, but what does that mean this time?”
She shook her head, furrowing her brows. “I’m not sure I follow.”
“Well, she’s standing here. Not in the chair. I would be all alone in there, and we don’t know what is going on inside his head.”
Patty growled. “Crap. She’s right.”
Mrs. Phillips studied Riley. She squirmed under the scrutiny, then with a deep breath, moved the rest of the way into the room.
She was actually committing to this. She hadn’t realized just how on the fence she had felt, but she just jumped over. Now she had to keep moving, focused on the how, not the what. Oddly enough, it helped clear away some of the nerves.
Mrs. Phillips seemed pained as she looked over at Patty and nodded. “Let’s get you hooked up.” She stepped away from the bed. As she did, Riley noticed her hand linger on the bedrail, as though she didn’t want to leave Bruce’s side. Then she placed her arm around Patty’s shoulders and started leading her out of the room.
In the doorway, she stopped and looked back at Riley. “You don’t have to do this, but thank you.” She looked at Patty, then back at Riley. “Once she is hooked up, I’ll call out to you. If you do anything before then, you’ll be on your own and there’s no guarantee we can protect you.”
Riley nodded, smirking. “I’m not crazy. I saw that thing last time. There’s no way I want to take it on by myself. Is there any way we can get an army in there?”
Mrs. Phillips cracked a brief, tight-lipped smile. “Dear, you are the army.” Then she turned away, leaving Riley alone with Bruce.
Riley moved closer to Bruce’s bed, gazing down at him. He seemed to be sleeping peacefully. Why were they going to disrupt that?
She looked over her shoulder into the other room and watched Mrs. Phillips help Patty into some strange suit that had wires running from it to a large machine. They both tried to keep the wires from tangling, and though they were obviously proficient, it looked complicated.
They were so sure something kept Bruce asleep. Were they right? How well did Riley really know them? Could she trust them? She wasn’t sure. She liked Patty. She was nice here, yet was a real beast in the dream. Maybe that was just because she didn’t know Riley, but it was still so different than how she acted now.
Riley’s thoughts interrupted, she swung back around to the bed fast enough that she felt a twinge of pain in her leg. Bruce thrashed, his face contorted in pain.
“It’s okay-” Riley started as she reached forward to push him back onto the bed, not thinking. The room around her disappeared