“Riley!” boomed the loud voice just moments before someone pounded on her bedroom door. “Riley, someone’s here to see you.”
Riley sat on her bed, her crutches leaning up against the nightstand. She started to reach over for them when the door opened. Bruce eased his head in and gave her a weak smile.
“Hey,” he said sheepishly.
“Hey. Good to see you up and around.” Riley pulled herself up more. It was hard, what with her leg in a cast and elevated on a pillow. It was uncomfortable to sit like that, but her aunt had been extra protective since bringing her home from the bookstore.
Bruce eased down onto the bed. He looked nervous. Riley had to stop herself from giggling. Had he never been in a girl’s bedroom before? It was hard to keep the giggles down, but she forced it into a smile.
“I just wanted to make sure you made it home okay. When your aunt came down there like that, well…” He shrugged. “We were worried.”
“Yeah. What was up with that? How did she know what was down there? I thought you said it was a secret.”
“It was… Is…” He shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Well, somehow, my aunt knows all about it, and now I won’t be able to get within one hundred feet of there without her going nuts.”
Bruce chuckled. “She’s already nuts.”
“Okay. More nuts. Enough nuts to make a salad.”
“Never mind. You wouldn’t get it.”
“What’s there to get?”
“I said never mind.”
“Okay…,” Bruce said, a weak smile on his face as he turned away. The little banter they just shared had helped relax him a little, but as the silence crept back, his nervousness showed through.
“Bruce, what’s going to happen with Suzy?”
He furrowed his brows. “What do you mean?”
“Well, she was there when my aunt came for me. Are you guys going to wipe her mind now or something?”
He snorted. “We don’t do that. I don’t even think we know how to do that.”
“You go into people’s dreams. Why is it so surprising that you guys might have something to go in and wipe people’s memories?”
“It’s not the same part of the mind.”
“Are you sure?”
“Really?” Riley asked.
She was going to push harder when there was a slight knock on the door. A moment later, her aunt pushed it open. Riley’s jaw dropped when she appeared carrying a large plater that held two glasses of milk. When she lowered it, Riley could see a plate of cookies.
“Here you go,” Aunt Alice said. She smiled at Riley, then glared at Bruce as she straightened. “You two be good in here. I’ll be back to check on you in a little bit.”
“Thank you,” Bruce said.
His politeness was so earnest, Riley was shocked there was no trace of sarcasm. For her, it wasn’t that easy. She had to really fight to hide her frustration with her aunt.
Her aunt smiled at them both, then left the room.
“Watch out. They might be poisoned,” Riley said, unable to hold back the skepticism.
“She seems a lot nicer now,” Bruce said, reaching for his glass of milk.
Riley nodded. “Yeah, ever since we got back. I overheard my dad talking with her. He found out about her making me do the dishes and that I had snuck out to go to the bookstore. He blames her treatment of me as to why ‘his little angel’ was nearly hurt. So, yeah, no more chores.”
“Yeah, though I’m not even allowed out of bed until school starts. She waits on me hand and foot and makes me keep my leg up to rest it.”
Bruce smirked. “And you’re complaining?”
Riley raised a brow. “Do you know how hard it is to sit still all day?”
“Well, don’t try to skateboard down Deadman’s Curve next time.”
She pointed at him. “Ha! I knew I wasn’t the only one who called it that.”
“Oh, you are. I just overheard.” He gave her a sheepish look, a hint of a smile on his face as he looked at her. “Deadman.”
“Oh whatever Batman.”
“Hey! He’s the defender of the night.”
Riley pulled herself up more and motioned for Bruce to get closer to her. She looked at the door, then whispered, “Once I’m back to school, she’ll have no way to keep me from sneaking over to the store. I can’t wait to get back in there.”
Bruce pulled away, a pained expression crossing his face as he turned away, studying the milk in his glass.
“That’s what I came to tell you,” he said in a soft voice.
“You’re not allowed back there. You know too much already, but you’re not going to be allowed into the program. Mrs. and Dr. Phillips say you’ll never be a Dream Chaser.”
Riley gasped. “Why not?”
“They say it’s too dangerous for you and you’re too old to start the training.”
“Well, that’s a bunch of bull.”
Bruce nodded. “I know.”
“But it is so awesome. I want to do it again.”
“It’s also very dangerous.” He finally looked at her. “Do you know there were a few times they thought they were losing you while you were in my head?”
“They still don’t know what that was. It was the strongest dream wraith they had ever seen, and they’d never fought one that intelligent.”
“It wasn’t just a dream wraith.”
“What do you mean?”
Riley sighed. “I could feel it. The wraith was there, we saw it at the end, but it was working with someone. It gave whoever it was strength to control it, but the wraith was just in the background. I felt two distinct presences.”
Bruce held up a hand. “Wait… You’re saying someone was working with the wraith?”
“Who would be dumb enough to do that?”
“I don’t know. Someone who wanted to be powerful?”
“Well, that’s not very smart.”
“Obviously.” Riley eyed her milk. Of course her aunt wouldn’t bring them soda. That would be unhealthy.
Shaking her head, she flashed Bruce a wicked smile. “How about some video games? I have Elder Scrolls.”
He groaned as he shook his head, then broke out into laughter. “Sure.”
He’d been awake since he failed, afraid to sleep because he knew it would be waiting. He had trapped one of the Chasers in the dream world, yet had lost. It would not be happy.
He took another drink of coffee and continued to play his game. He needed to stay awake. Discarded soda cans, coffee cups, and tissues littered his room. The TV screen flickered as he played. As long as he kept playing and drinking caffeine, he would be safe. He didn’t need to sleep, right?
As the thought ran through his mind, he hadn’t realized just how heavy his eyelids had become. He sat in his chair, watching as the dragon swooped down to attack his character. But it never dodged, the controller having fallen from his hand. The dragon struck, then swooped up and flew out of the TV.
He jerked awake and looked around. Still alone in his room, he never knew how long it would be before he fell back to sleep.