Dreams Unwind

[o n e]

“Dad? Can you feed Tubs for me?”

“Why can’t you do it?” Dennis calls back, and I roll my eyes as I shove my feet into a pair of boots.

“Because I’ve gotta get to class.”

“Ask your uncle.”

“Oh, my god, you’re making this far more difficult than it should be. Uncle Henry, feed Tubs! Love you, guys!”

I slam the door shut on their responses, rushing down the sidewalk to the cars. I barely check to make sure no one is at risk of being run over before pulling out of the parking spot. My phone beeps from where I tossed it into the cup holder, and I ignore it in favour of turning on the radio. The strains of piano keys fills the vehicle. My brows furrow when I doesn’t recognise the song immediately. It doesn’t matter - I find myself bobbing my head along to the beat anyway, and I even try to sing with the smooth-rough voice even though I know literally none of the lyrics. I’m just glad that I’m alone so no one can witness my spectacular screw-ups.

As is my luck, traffic slows to a crawl when I am only twenty minutes away from campus. I curse under my breath as I slam on the brakes, wishing a very unfortunate day on the person who’s just cut me off. The lanes bottleneck as everyone tries to merge and get around the wreck in the two far right lanes; lights flash in the rear-view, and I glance in the mirror to see the driver behind me throwing his hands up exasperatedly. I mimic his actions, flip him off, then focus on the road. His stupid little Honda zooms past as soon as the standstill bumper-to-bumper jam clears up. I get a quick glimpse of him yelling something at her before he’s too far ahead. Rolling my eyes, I signal to switch lanes and try to locate my exit.

Someone honks at me, and I manage a wave of apology at them even as I pull in between the lines. I grab my bag from the passenger seat, shoves my phone into the side pocket, and slide out of the driver’s seat. I hooks my keys to the belt loop of my skinny jeans and remembers belatedly to press the lock button before I get out of range. The car chirps as the alarm sets; I rush past the groups of students until I reach the building I need. I mutter out a litany of move move move move as I weave through the hall and stumbles to a halt outside the door.

Thankfully, the professor hasn’t taken her place at the podium yet, so I slip into the room and make my way to the closest empty seat. The kid next to me gives me a nervous smile then immediately turns his gaze back to his laptop. I raise a brow when I see he’s watching Pokémon, but I can’t really find it in me to actually be judgemental - not when I still watch the occasional episode of Sailor Moon. I open my own laptop and log in quickly, clicking the icon for Word. I’ve just finished typing the date at the top of the document when Professor Dalton clears her throat from the front of the room. I force my attention to stay on the woman and not the flashes of colour to my right.

I wait patiently until the mad rush for the door is finished before gathering up my stuff and standing. My steps out of the building are much more sedate now that I have over an hour before my next class. I heft my bag further onto her shoulder and dig out my phone, bringing up the text message thread with my uncle Henry.

>> Why did I have to feed your fat cat?
>> I don’t even like the bastard

<< Because you love me
<< Thanks for feeding Tubs for me. I really do appreciate it.
<< Even if you’re an asshole who hates my cat.

>> Anyone with half a brain is gonna hate that vicious annoying lump

I roll my eyes at my uncle’s theatrics and lock my phone before coming to a stop at the crosswalk. Someone bumps into me, tosses a Sorry, love my way. I shrug in response, stepping forward once the signal changes. My face screws up at the wall of noise as soon as I step through the door of Starbucks, and I wish I’d thought to grab my earbuds on the way out of the house. But since I didn’t, I’m forced to deal with the loud chattering of fellow college-goers and the fact they can’t have conversations at a lower volume. I stand in line, staring longingly at the espresso machine, impatient to get the coffee I desperately want. My brain decides, in the face of a caffeine-less existence, that now is a good time to replay the song I heard in the car on the way to class, and I hum idly to the notes I can remember.

Coffee in hand after another twenty painful minutes, I push through the crowd to the door. I’m halfway across campus to my Development of Sociological Theory class when my phone beeps. I pull it out to see that my dad’s sent a text telling me to pick up some pizza on my way home. Why can’t you get it yourself? I want to say but don’t, only sending back a thumbs-up emoji. I don’t know if it’s a good or pathetic thing that I already knows exactly what toppings to get on the pies and which place my dad and uncle prefer. I set a reminder on my phone, sidestep a guy running full-steam on the sidewalk, and duck under the branch that hangs far too low but maintenance refuses to remove - all without looking up. Routine is nice, I think, even if it does fill me with deja vu constantly.

Professor Callen is just as strict and unrelenting as usual. If anyone else was teaching the class, I am absolutely sure I would be able to pay better attention. Hell, I might even find it more interesting, but as it is, it feels like a massive waste of a couple of hours of my day. I manage to catch the more important bits of information, sparing through that is. My eyes land on a girl about my age diligently typing away on her laptop in the third row, and I wonders if she’ll email me a copy of the notes.

“I’m home!” I yells as I step into the entry hall.

The sound of cheering comes from the living room, and I roll my eyes at yet another sports game on the television. I carry the pizzas to the kitchen, grabs a paper plate from the holder. After getting a slice of cheese pizza and another with pepperoni and bacon, I make my way down the hall to my bedroom, shouting “Soup’s on!” as I pass through the living room to the hallway. Tubs jumps onto the bed as soon as I sit down, purring and chirping as he examines my plate; I nudge him back gently.

“Nope. This is mine, ya fat brat. You know Doctor Simmons wants you on a diet.”

“Mrewr?”

“Okay, fine, here.” I rip off a small chunk of cheese and toss it toward the cat. “That’s all you’re getting. Now leave me alone.”

Tubs pounces on the cheese, licks happily at it, and I roll my eyes and wish I was ever as easily pacified as he is. Unfortunately, I was born a human, not an overweight elderly cat, so I have more worries to weigh me down. Namely, homework. I take a huge bite of one of the pizza slices and drag my bag towards me. Tubs decides studying isn’t important and drapes across the book, and I poke his nose, giggling when his tongue darts out to scrape against my fingertip. Muttering affectionately at him, I push him away, open my book, and start reading the lessons I completely ignored in class.

It isn’t ten minutes later that I realise it’s entirely too silent in the room and everything I’ve read basically escaped my brain instantly. I open the Pandora app on my phone, scroll through the various stations I have created, and decide on Stevie Nicks. Something about the woman’s voice just makes me happy - Stevie has always been one of my favourite female musicians, and I’m hopeful that listening to her music will help me retain the information I need to know in order to graduate. Thankfully, Stevie’s a miracle worker: I close the book, successful enough, after another half-hour, and the song cuts off when I exit out of Pandora, And if you don’t love me now, you will never love me again echoing slightly in the sudden silence of the bedroom.

My dad looks up from whichever teams are playing when I enter the living room, Tubs padding along at my feet. “How’d school go today?”

“The usual. Loud assholes in the coffeeshop, Callen refusing to slow down and actually explain things properly, traffic was a nightmare. As I said, completely the usual.”

“Well, I’m proud of you, if I haven’t told you that lately.”

I roll my eyes and reach for his beer, take a swig. “Thanks, Dad. Who’s playing?”

“As if you care,” he snorts with a laugh. “Class tomorrow?”

“Uh, I have one at nine, but I have to skip the one o’clock because Tubs McFatty here has an appointment.”

“I still can’t believe you adopted a cat named Tubs McFatty.”

“I can’t believe you didn’t try to make me change it.”

“Hey, you were an adult, I couldn’t make you do shit.”

“Damn skippy. We got any ice cream?”

“Yeah, Henry picked some up on his way home. Get some Rocky Road, will ya?” he calls as I head to the kitchen.

“Do I look like the pizza and ice cream faerie to you?” I retort even while I grab out a second bowl and the desired tubs of frozen goodness.

The rest of the evening goes quickly; before long, I’m “cheering” along with my father as yet another game plays, my voice lacking any emotion whatsoever though his is exuberant. Henry doesn’t come back out from his bedroom, but I can’t blame him. He’s never been one for sports, either, preferring to read or muck around on his guitar. I’m only out here watching the teams run around on the field because being around my dad is always the best part of my days.

It’s been the three of us since I was thirteen, and I have never wanted it any other way. Henry allowed a man struggling with an impending divorce and his young teen-aged daughter to move in without hesitation, and we’ve become a rather well-adjusted family. I had tried to move into a house on campus when I first got accepted into college, but I had quickly found that my housemates weren’t nearly as easygoing as my father and uncle. Far too many nights, I went to bed wondering which of the other four would attempt to murder me in my sleep. Or drug me so I wouldn’t wake up as they dragged my mattress to the curb. I’ve seen that happen, and I would be damned if it happened to me. So I’d made it through the first semester just fine then immediately packed up my stuff and came back home as soon as break started. The jokes at my expense were much easier to handle than the stress of fearing for my life and watching my grades slip because I couldn’t study due to said fearing for my life.

Then I’d moved out again once I got married at twenty. It was mostly a whim, a passing desire come to life, but I hadn’t regretted it. I still don’t. Marrying Wil, creating a life together with him… I’ve been left with memories I’ll always cherish. We’d gotten an amazing, perfect nineteen months together. We actually adopted Tubs as a belated marriage gift to ourselves five months after the wedding; there had been no discussion before we agreed that an older cat viewed as un-adoptable was the better choice. Kittens have always been a hot commodity, but a senior feline rarely got the same chances, especially when they were overweight and cranky like Tubs had been. I ended up selling the house and moving back in with my dad and uncle three months after - after.

Dennis takes the bowls to the kitchen, rinses them out in the sink, and I gather up the empty beer bottles on the table and dump them into the recycling bin. I lean against my father’s chest when he hugs me tightly. I feel like a child again, safe and secure in the embrace. He smells just the same as he always has, and it’s comforting. He drops a kiss to my hair and tells me to go to bed. I sigh, ordering him to do the same.

“I’m not the one who has to be seventeen stories up in the air.”

“No, but you have to deal with an angry cat who hates confinement, the car, and the vet.”

“Touche, old man. Well-played. Night, Dad.”

“Night, starlight.”