Awakening Iris

(The Dreamcatchers Saga #1)

by Jessie McClain

Dreamcatchers and dreams. Iris has them both. Dreamcatchers to catch her bad dreams. And dreams of what life was, but none of what life could be. Until her familiar Stranger engulfs her life and changes everything. Is he a new dream of the future or destined to be a repeat of the past? Can she allow herself to love again or will the pain from the past be too great?


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Chapter 1

My day starts just like usual. My mother, Cassie, staring at me as I wake up screaming and drenched in a cold sweat. I glance at the clock on my nightstand. Too early for me, six fifty-four. At least yesterday the screams didn’t come until nine. My mother continues to stare at me with a strange look of pity on her face. I hate that look.

“Iris, you need to move on. It’s been four years and you still scream almost every night. I’m going to send you to therapy.” The look on her face twisted from pity to annoyance. Why does she even pretend to care? It’s all under false pretense.

“Mom, just stop. First off, you don’t have to come in here every time that I have a bad dream, and secondly, you can’t send me anywhere. I’m an adult.” Now I’m starting to get irritated.

“Are you going to look for a job today?” she continues, part of her daily harassment.

“No Mom. I have a job. Two actually. I sing. I know you don’t like it, but I do. It’s my only enjoyment. Also, I work at the shop. You don’t like that either, but I don’t care.” The irritation is growing.

“Well, I really wouldn’t consider either of them jobs,” she says as she huffily walks out of my room, shutting the door noisily behind her. Her footsteps echo down the hall and then disappear completely. I roll over on my stomach and press my face into the pillow, breathing in the scent. Lavender, my favorite scent since I was a little girl. It reminds me vaguely of open fields and windblown days.

As the irritation subsides, I roll over onto my back once more and look around my room. It’s not the best looking, but it suits me. Cozy even. I scan my domain, eyeing my terra cotta colored walls and a small collection of posters containing the legend of the dreamcatcher. Next to them, a few more of my favorite movies and books. And then there are plenty of posters and photos of wolves, my favorite animal. I have always been jealous of their carelessness, freedom, and above all, their fearlessness and strength. Characteristics I ache to possess. Then I count my dreamcatchers in every corner, including the black one hanging directly over my bed. In spite of my infatuation with them, it’s been my experience they don’t seem to work. I got them over time with my discount at the shop, Sun Spirit, where I work during the week. Charlie started me on them. I woke up one morning with a solid black one with big fluffy feathers hanging over our bed. It was a gift. Ever since then, I’ve had trouble passing one without buying it. The black beauty still hangs delicately above me.

Charlie. Finally, my eyes rest on one solitary picture underneath my window on a stand. A picture that seems like it was taken a lifetime ago. A beautiful guy, nineteen at the time, with tousled black hair and hypnotic blue eyes. Standing next to him is a girl, not as beautiful as him, but close, with ivory skin, clear and perfect, and long wavy auburn hair that falls down to her waist, eyes the color of the forest. Deep green. I was prettier then, I think. That was the last picture taken of us before…but I can’t think about that now. Not unless I want to spiral down into a hopeless frenzy.

Feeling a little inane, I pull myself out of bed in an attempt to distract myself from the disturbing feeling of sorrow slowly creeping over me. I’ve had enough of that feeling to last me, not one lifetime, but possibly two. Sluggishly, I walk over to my full-length mirror and look in it, a little scared of what I might see. There I am, staring at myself, wondering where the girl in the picture is. I lean in a little closer, examining my face. A little pale, but still clear. At least something stayed the same. I still have those green eyes, but with a little bit more pain added to them and they are somewhat glazed over. The dark circles from lack of sleep stand out more than they should for the paleness of my face. I don’t remember being this drained. Was I getting sick? Slowly I back up, a little tired of the strange reflection.

After pulling my clothes on and brushing my teeth, I decide to head downstairs for some breakfast. My mother must have gone back to bed, and my dad, Jim, was at work. So I was alone. My dad is a machine operator at a local company. He never made much money, but enough to take care of Mom and me.

I started working when I was fifteen to help get extras around the house and different things that I needed. I moved out of the house and into my van when I was barely eighteen. Much to my surprise, my make shift bed, clothes, guitar, keyboard, and battery-operated stereo fit into the van and I had all I needed. During the day I would play my music and sing in coffee shops or on sidewalks for money, and at night, I’d come home, fix dinner for my dad, clean the house, and take a shower. When all was done, I’d go back to my van and turn on my battery-operated night light and go to sleep. That’s the only thing that sucked about living in a van. No electricity when you’re terrified of the dark. It was better that way though. My mom and I fought too much. She’s an alcoholic. And not one of the funny ones.

Finally, I was able to save up enough money to get a small apartment in our town close to my mom and dad. Falls City, Oregon, population 966. Life was going pretty good for a while, and a routine set in place.

Unexpectedly, I fell in love. Charlie. He was my best friend that I had grown up with. I’d known him since I was in kindergarten. I knew everything about this boy. I had gotten it down and memorized the way that he walked, how he would shove his hands in his pockets when he was nervous, the slight tilt to his smile, and even how his hair would fall when he ran his fingers through it. I liked watching him, listening to the subtlety in his voice, and the ring in his laughter.

Our relationship dates back to him stealing my toys behind the teacher’s back, then apologetically handing them back when I started to cry. He never could stand tears. He had too much happiness for that. It eventually moved to going to the movies and dinner on the weekends, and then swinging from a rope into Lake Honey on summer days. And it finally progressed to him sleeping on my couch. I woke up one morning just to find him sprawled out, half of him on the couch, half of him on the floor. I always told him he could sleep in the weirdest positions, ones that I would easily find impossible.

I knew that he had been dying to get out of his parents’ house. I happily invited him to officially live with me. I say ‘officially’ because he was basically living with me anyway. I didn’t have it in me to tell him to go home. I tried telling myself it was for his benefit, but if I was to be honest with myself, it was for mine. I was tired of being alone. Our friendship turned into something more and neither of us could have been happier. For the first time, things were adding up. We were both nineteen, broke, and inseparable. I could have done without the broke, but I was used to it.

September twenty-first rolled around and we celebrated my twentieth birthday. I always teased him because I was six weeks older than he was. His birthday fell on November third. One of our mutual friends, Dane, took our picture, which is the one underneath my window. As he snapped it, with all the laughter, clanking, and chatters around, the furthest thing from my mind is that Charlie would die soon.

His death devastated me to say the least. I lived in between my bed and sorrow for months. It was Christmas before I dragged myself out of bed and went to my parents to celebrate. Mostly for my dad’s sake. I had always been real close to my dad. He had lost most of his spunk due to the years of hard work and arguments with my mom, but you could still see the shadow of it that was left behind. He was thirty-eight at the time with auburn hair just like mine, but he has brown eyes. He and my mother married straight out of high school when she was pregnant with me. A shot gun wedding as you would call it.

When I got there, my mom proudly announced that she was pregnant. I was a little shocked and by their facial expressions, I think they could read that shock on me like a book. Besides, I had always been a bad liar and could never hide my feelings easily. She managed to slow down her drinking during her pregnancy with Danny, except for her one glass of red wine a day, and even though I didn’t like that idea, I was pretty impressed. The glass of wine was a lot better than the whiskey I’ve witnessed her chug like Kool-Aid. I thought she might be getting better because she had something to look forward to. Someone to get better for. It was a relief to me, and I think to Dad as well, though he never voiced it. However, we came upon a twisted turn in the road. Soon after Danny was born, Uncle Dave died in a car accident and she spiraled back down into her depression. And she has never recovered.

My dad was working full time and taking care of newborn Danny, and he was exhausted. I knew the situation was inescapable, so I packed my things and moved back home and basically became Danny’s mother. Danny was barely two months old at the time. He had my old room though, so I moved to the last available bedroom in the house. The room wasn’t quite as nice, but Danny needed the better one anyway. I painted the walls my favorite color, terra cotta, redecorated, and I must say, the room looked pretty good by the time I was finished.

Let’s be honest, I knew nothing about how to raise a baby. I read, learned, and taught myself, and he taught me as well. Only he taught me in different ways. Like with teething for instance. Don’t just use Tylenol, teething tablets, or Orajel. Use Tylenol, teething tablets, and lots of Orajel. Load him with a teething cocktail. If that doesn’t work, which ninety-nine percent of the time it does, late night TV has nothing on. So stock up on DVDs. Situations such as that started my DVD collection. Right now I have five hundred and thirty-three. Of course, half of them are cartoons for Danny.

Another thing I learned from Danny occurred in the earlier days of dirty diapers. Unpin the diaper, but keep it close to closed. When the air hits him, he will pee. It’s not he might pee. It’s he will pee. You can use the diaper as a barricade. That’s my idea that I’m pretty proud of. I didn’t discover this new concept though until several showers later. Looking back, I wouldn’t have done anything differently. Even though he’s not mine, I love him more than I could ever love a child that is not my own. I always say that he is mine. I just didn’t give birth to him. But I love him, I take care of him in every way, and I have been a good mom to that little boy. He’s the best thing that my mother had ever given me.

Shaking the feelings that are welling up inside of me, I focus on the cereal that I’m eating, pushing the memories of Charlie and how I came to be back here as far back into my mind as they will go. I can’t think about that now. I need to keep moving on.

Suddenly, a shrilling scream breaks through my reverie and I jump, a little startled, and head toward the stairs. There, three-year-old Danny is at the top with crocodile tears streaming down his face. I run to him and grab him in my arms. He always gets so scared when he wakes up and I’m not there.

“Mommy! Mommy!” he cries. The drawback of raising him, he thinks I’m his mom. I tried explaining to him that I’m his sister, Iris, but he didn’t listen, or understand, so I quit trying to explain something with no relevance. Now I answer to Mommy.

“I’m here. I’m here,” I coo in his ear while rubbing his beautiful blonde hair. He got that from my mom. I got my dad’s looks altogether, and Danny received our mom’s. We both have the green eyes though, down to the shade. That is the thing that I did inherit from mom. His sobs soften.

“Toons, Mommy, toons!” he exclaims excitedly with a stretched ear-to-ear grin.

“Okay, I’ll put cartoons on for you. Do you want some cereal too?” I ask, knowing what he will say anyway.

“Yes, ceweal, ceweal!” he squeals.

With that, I truck back down the stairs with Danny bobbing on my left hip. It’s become our routine every morning. Tom and Jerry with a bowl of cereal. If Tom and Jerry isn’t on, you can’t go wrong with SpongeBob. I sit him down with Tom and Jerry in front of him and head to the kitchen. As soon as the cereal is in front of him, he squeals with pure delight.

“Fank you Mommy, fank you!”

Smiling, I sit next to him, looking forward to my morning with Danny, Tom, and Jerry. Every now and then I’d glance at him sideways and watch his wide eyes flicking all over the screen and laugh at his infectious laughs when Jerry drops something on poor Tom’s head.

All too soon morning leads to afternoon and I have to get ready to go to work. I work from two to six at Sun Spirit and tomorrow I’m going to the coffee house to sing for extra money. I need it for Danny. Danny won’t be happy about me leaving, but our Grandma Esta babysits and I know he will be happy about going to see her. Danny and Grandma had become real close over the years. The only person that he will come home for is me, but on some weekends he stays with her. I jump up from the couch and clap my hands together, trying to act excited.

“Hey Danny, you know what?” I ask.

“What?” Danny asks back, eyeing me skeptically.

“You’re going to go visit Grandma while I work for a little while!”

“No, Mommy, Tom and Jerwe,” he says, his brows slim and furrowed.

“Grandma wants to watch Tom and Jerry with you though, Baby. You don’t want to rob her of that pleasure! Besides, it’s just a little while!” I explain.

“Ummm…” his eyes scrunch and his lips are puckered. “Alwight,” he finalizes.

“Okay then, let’s get ready Kiddo!” Yes! I have triumphed!

He jumps up and climbs the stairs, going at a slow pace for me, but it was fast for him. I very quickly get him dressed and brush his teeth. I pack his toy bag and put some of his favorites in it and snacks too. I slide on our coats, pick Danny up, and head toward my pick-up truck. I traded my van for an older model dark blue Chevy pick-up in an attempt to escape some memories of Charlie. Come to find out, memories aren’t just in objects. They’re implanted in your mind as well.

I used to just have to play my music for the money I needed. Within that first year that Danny was born though, I had to find another job to go along with it. So I hired on at Sun Spirit and have been working there ever since. When I’m off at work and not playing with finger-paints, I still go sing at the same coffee shop, or on the sidewalk by a lot of little log cabin and cottage stores bunched together near some restaurants. A cute little tourist attraction. That’s where I have found the most generous of people. Why anyone would want to come to Falls City, Oregon, I don’t know. That is usually on the weekends that Danny decides to stay with Grandma though, or if I go directly after I get off of work at Sun Spirit, which I often do.

A couple of months before his birthday and Christmas, I save all the money I can so he can have presents. Dad always does what he can, but it’s not a lot. Due to all of the money that I end up hoarding back, he usually gets loaded. I say that they are from Santa or Mom and Dad except for one special gift that I keep back that is from me. Right now he already has lots of presents under the tree, but since Christmas is only ten days away, I really need to focus on finishing his Christmas shopping. This year he’s really into lions. He finds them absolutely fascinating and always crawls around the house growling at me. Also, I had to redo his room in a jungle theme. He loves it. So for my special gift, I got him a stuffed lion. When you pet it, he talks to you.

After I place some candy in his hands, he gladly lets me strap him into the car seat. I know I probably shouldn’t let him get whatever he wants, but sometimes it’s just easier that way. Easy is good for me. He likes it because it spoils him. As soon as I sit in the truck, I realize it’s just as cold inside as it is outside. I should have thought about warming it up before I put Danny in. Now he’s going to freeze. Good going Iris. Great way of taking care of him, I scold myself. I crank the truck and it stutters and stops.

“Please, please start,” I beg quietly, patting the dashboard as if it’s going to help. I try again and breathe a sigh of relief when I hear it catch and then, the roar of the engine. I crank the heat on high.

I look over at Danny shivering in his seat; chocolate from his Reese’s treat smeared around his mouth.

“Are you alright, Hon?” I ask with concern.

“Alwight Mommy. Cold!” he shivers.

“I know, it’ll be warm soon. Just try and hang on.” And with that I pull out of the driveway.

The drive to Grandma’s is short. In a town this small, the drive anywhere you want to go is short. All the way there I try to focus on the road, a little afraid of sliding on the black ice that covers it. It had rained the night before and then reached freezing temperatures, making everything outside a deadly ice sheet. If I was going to wreck, I’d rather not do it with Danny in the truck. Luckily, with God on my side, we make it to Grandma’s in thirty-five minutes. It usually only takes about twenty.

I watch as Grandma peeps through the window and then disappears, on her way to open the door. I imagine she was probably worried. Grandma is a kind, loving person that is very easy to get along with. I mean, really, she could just walk up to a stranger and have a conversation without even the slightest bit of an awkward silence. She’s my mother’s mother, and apparently mom didn’t take much after her. Unlike my mom, Grandma is very motherly and adores Danny. The sun rises and sets with him, though I’m sure most grandmas feel that way. It’s hard not to. She baby-sits for free. When I had offered to pay she said, “You don’t pay family! You especially don’t pay a grandma for watching her grandson!” and wouldn’t hear any more of it. Grandpa Everett agrees with Grandma. They both have been lifesavers. I don’t know what I would do without them.

Grandma is sixty-two, five-foot, like me, with a gentle face, and short, wavy silver hair. My mom is a little taller. I got my lack of height from Grandma. It’s a little hard to reach top shelves when I need to, but I’ve always managed. Grandpa is sixty-five, also gentle, but with a quick temper. He has calloused hands from years of hard labor and work. He stands at about five-eight and is stocky, not real big.

“Iris! Danny!” she calls from the door as I step out of the truck, trying not to fall. “Get in here! It’s freezing and I have some warm tea for you.”

“Hey Grandma!” I call back. “Let me get Danny. I’ll be there in a second.” She disappears back inside. I slide my way to Danny’s door on the passenger side, clutching the side of the truck the whole way. Once the door opens, the cold air hits him and he cringes back where it’s safe and warm. I can’t say that I blame him.

“Come on Danny, Grandma’s waiting,” I say as I unbuckle him from his car seat. I pull him out of the truck and he wraps his legs around my waist and buries his face in my neck. I grab his bag with toys and snacks in my one free hand and pray that I can make it to the house without falling. With my luck, I should’ve known that wouldn’t happen. Half-way there, I lose my balance and my feet going flying in front of me. I land hard on my back and feel my head crack against the frozen unforgiving ground. I guess I must have had a death grip on that stupid bag because it stayed in its original place in my hand, his toys and snacks in one piece. Danny is fine, clutched to my chest like a spider monkey. I close my eyes, deciding on whether or not to just stay where I am. Then, I realize Danny must be getting cold. Suddenly, I feel little icy fingers pushing my eyelids open.

“Mommy, are you alwight?” he asks.

I pop my eyes open and scrutinize his face. His eyebrows are furrowed and the chocolate is still smeared all over his pouting, worried mouth. His nose, getting red from the cold, had snot starting to drip. Narrowing his eyes, he starts squealing and laughing, bouncing up and down on me in pure delight once he sees that I am in fact “alwight.”

“Do it again, Mommy! Do it again!” His laugh is so amazing, I can’t help laughing too, despite the slight pounding I feel surfacing to the back of my head. Suddenly, the front door swings open.

“Are you two crazy? Its nine degrees out! Get in here before hypothermia sets in!” Grandma calls dramatically.

Carefully, I sit up and poise Danny on my left hip. Trying to balance myself, I struggle to my feet and walk to the warmth of the house, thinking about how hot tea sounds really good right now.

“Let’s get your nose wiped, Baby,” I whisper in his ear.

As we walk inside, the smell of Jovan Musk and apple cinnamon hits me. I’ve gotten well used to these scents over the years. The Jovan Musk is Grandma’s favorite perfume and her apple cinnamon candles never quit burning. The scent is always welcome and feels like home. I walk through the living room and into her small, eat-in kitchen and set Danny’s bag down. Grabbing a tissue off of the counter, I wipe Danny’s red nose. Grandma takes Danny from my arms, hands him a cookie, and then sets him down. He clings to her leg, mouth too full with cookie to really say much. Yeah, like he needs any more sugar, I think to myself. The drooping of his eyes and the redness around them tells me he is in desperate need of a nap instead. Grandma grabs a cup off of her tidy, yet cluttered counter and hands it to me. That’s the way her house is. It’s cluttered, yet organized neatly, almost as if it’s just a neat mess. It’s a little hard to explain.

“Here you go Iris, decaffeinated mint tea. Though by the looks of it, you could probably use some caffeine,” she remarks, eyeing me with timid concern. “You look tired and a little pale. Are you okay?” she asks. So the way that I thought I looked apparently wasn’t just my imagination like I was hoping it was. I sigh.

“I’m fine, Grandma. I just haven’t been sleeping well,” I reply with a forced smile. Sometimes I forget how much she notices. Often I’m afraid she can see right through me. I prefer to suffer silently.

“Is it that same dream? I wish I could do something for you. I know you two were close.” There’s that look of pity again. I look away quickly, rejecting it. She continues, “Maybe some sleeping pills would help?”

I take a drink of my tea. I do that when I get nervous if there is a drink in my hand. Drink it without even thinking, or half of the time, knowing that I am doing it. And the turn in the conversation is making me nervous. The tea is too hot. It burns my tongue. I set the cup down to wait for it to cool. “I can’t get sleeping pills, Grandma. I’m afraid I won’t wake up if Danny needs me. I’d rather get what sleep I can and go without…” I’m quickly interrupted by Grandpa, who must have been listening in from the other room.

“No! You shouldn’t have to go without any sleep. Another thing you shouldn’t be doing is over-working yourself like I know that you are! For God sakes, tell my lazy, useless daughter to get off of her drunken ass and join the family again!” he yells a little too loud. Danny, who is singing to himself, turns and looks at him quietly.

I should have expected Grandpa’s explosion when Grandma started on about my lack of sleep. Grandpa is just as easy to get along with as Grandma, unless you upset him, and his easiest upsets are lack of respect or not taking care of your responsibilities. Such as Mom. Grandpa and Mom haven’t spoken to each other since he found out I was raising Danny, which was when he was four months old, if that’s saying anything.

“Grandpa, not in front of Danny. He repeats everything!” It’s too late. Danny spins around in uneven circles, singing the same word over and over again, “Ass, ass, ass…” and so on.

I lean down, stop his spinning, and take one hand to capture his attention. “Danny, that’s not right to say. Grandpa didn’t mean it,” I pause, “Just don’t repeat anything he says…for safe measure.”

Danny looks at me innocently; his lower lip jutted out into a pout, “Alwight Mommy. I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright. It’s Grandpa’s fault anyway,” I whisper, slipping him a smile. Danny returns the smile and starts his uneven spin again. I stare at him, almost jealous of the innocence that he holds all for himself. With innocence come dreams and no worries or pain to have to try to figure out and deal with. How lucky he is.

The sound of Grandma’s clock chiming twice brings me back to earth. I always hated that clock. I’ve had images in my mind of breaking it to pieces just to stop the annoyance of those chimes on every hour, but I never did. It was either lack of guts or the fact that Grandma does her best to try to hold onto anything that she has. Or it could just be that Grandma has a love for clocks just as much as I do for dreamcatchers. Either way, I glance at the old piece wide-eyed. Two-o’clock. Great, I’m definitely late for work, considering that I’m supposed to be there right now. I bend to give Danny a kiss with a promise for my return a little after six to pick him up.

“Bye Mommy, I love you!” I hear as I rush towards the front door.

“Bye Danny! I love you more,” I call back with a quick wave.

When I arrive at work, Mr. River, or Joseph, greets me half-heartedly with a fake smile. You can tell that he is trying real hard with this one. I have to give him some credit, this isn’t the first time I’ve been late. To be honest, I’m lucky that I still have a job. I think that it may be my useless promises to show up on time from now on and pathetic attempts to keep myself busy at all times that keeps me from getting the boot. It could also be that over the years we have found somewhat of a friend within each other too. It’s bound to happen when you see someone all the time. You end up loving them or hating them. And to be honest, Joseph is the nicest boss one could have. So his company was bound to blur into friendship at some point.

Joseph’s medium built with beautiful russet color skin and long, black, silky hair. He still keeps the traditions of his ancestors. For instance, in Sun Spirit we sell things anywhere from clothes and incense, to jewelry, most made by local Native American craftsmen.

Yeah, Joseph is great. He never lets anything bother him and is the definition of ‘giving.’ One day a little boy and his mother came in looking around. I was leaning on the counter that I was just a moment ago pretending to clean and casually watching the boy, who looked about five years of age, observing everything. His mother was flipping through a book on the meaning of Native American symbols. He wandered his way over to the jewelry counter that I was standing behind, took his tiny finger, and pointed to a ring.

“I want to get this for my mommy,” he whispered excitedly, his eyes darting from the ring to his mother, back to the ring.

I reached in and pulled it out, sterling silver with real black onyx in the center. Beautiful and forty dollars. It was worth a lot more, but Joseph always has his prices lower than other stores would. He says, “Some people can’t afford expensive things. I want everyone to have a chance at any little piece of beauty.” I set the ring on the counter, and figuring into account that a five year old probably doesn’t have forty dollars, I pulled what money I had out of my jeans pocket and discreetly counted through it. Forty-six dollars. At least I’d have enough money left over to pick Danny up a happy meal.

I rang up the delicate piece of jewelry on the register, noticing Joseph peeking at me from the corner of his eyes with a sly smile as he wiped the counter next to me.

“Forty-one fifteen sweetheart,” I told the boy. He looked down at his pocket, pulled five dollars and some pennies out, and sat it on the counter, pushing it towards me. He looked back up at me, a smile spread across his face. “I was going to get that drum,” he said fidgeting, bouncing from one foot to the other, “But mommy gets me things all the time so I want to get her something too.”

“Well, that’s very sweet,” I replied, with an unforced smile that usually only Danny can pull from me, a feeling of reverence spreading through. “And where did you get all of that money?” I asked.

“I help Mommy with dishes and then save it in my Froggy bank,” he exclaimed proudly.

I scooped his five dollars and change into my hand, added it along with my forty, and dropped it in the register. I slid an extra dollar in to cover the cost of the drum and after putting the ring in a small leather pouch with a tie, I told him to go get his drum. He said thank you and skipped away, heading straight for his mom. I looked over at Joseph, narrowing my eyes.

“What?” I asked in mock innocence. He just shrugged and continued wiping an already spotless surface. At closing he’d left early. I finished soon after and headed for my truck. Grabbing the keys in my jacket pocket, I also found an envelope. Opening it, I discovered forty dollars and a note. It read…

I’m not sure how much you had spent out of your money, but here is forty. You have a kind heart Iris, don’t try to hide it. Be like the wolf. Persevere and rise above all circumstances. There is beauty all around. Joseph

Thanking Joseph silently, I shoved the forty and note into my pocket, hopped into my truck, and drove in the direction of the local McDonalds.

“What are you thinking about Iris?” Joseph asks, bringing me back to the present, “You’re staring at nothing and you’re eyes are glazed over. Oh, I’m sorry, nothing out of the ordinary then, hey! Daydreaming again aren’t you?”

I look at him behind the counter, a coy smile playing on my face. “Well Joseph, you know me. Spacing out and losing all touch with reality is an inept ability that I possess,” I reply sarcastically as I walk towards the back to join him.

The day passes pretty quickly, probably because we stay busy. Fridays usually are anyway and I’m sure Christmas being so close helps too. We sell quite a bit of jewelry and clothes, a few dreamcatchers that I’m sad to see go, and some figurines. All made by the Indian reservation nearby and a few that are out of state. I don’t’ leave until a good fifteen minutes passed the time I’m supposed to, due to being bombarded last minute. I couldn’t just leave Joseph in that mess, trapped like a rat during a stampede. When I do leave though, it feels good to be in the open night air as I’m feeling a little hot and claustrophobic.

I arrive at Grandma’s at six-fifty. I slide out of the toasty truck into the brumal night and glance towards the sky. The clouds in the distant don’t look promising. I shiver to my bones, thinking to myself that tonight is going to be a repeat of the night before. Rain and ice. I enjoy the rain until it turns into cold, hard pieces that pelt you in the head or try to kill you on the road. I could do without that. A small glimmer of light catches my eye and I turn my eyes to the direction that it is coming from. Danny is standing on the couch looking out the front windows.

Turning my attention to Grandma’s inviting house, I walk quickly up the steps, anxious to get out of the cold night air. The second that I walk into the door, Danny clings to my leg. Toys are scattered and a couple of the couch cushions have been ripped off of the couch. This is a prime example of what happens when Grandma gives him whatever he wants, including too many sweets and sugars. The good news is he should crash hard.

“Hey buddy, how are you?” I ask, rubbing his soft hair affectionately.

“Payin!” he screeches. His word for playing. With that, he lets go of me and throws himself into one of his crazy dances. I call it ‘break dancing.’ At least that’s what it looks like to me. I look around for a better glimpse at what mess we have got here and see toys are scattered from the couch to the table, stringing like a purposeful trail into the kitchen. I sigh and walk over to start picking them up and put them into his bag.

“Hey, Iris! How was work?” I hear. I look up to see Grandma coming around the corner from the kitchen.

“Uh, it was good. We were real busy with Christmas coming up and all,” I reply, returning my attention back to the toys.

“Speaking of Christmas, I was wondering if you and Danny could come over Christmas afternoon for an early supper. Of course Grandpa and I have gifts.”

“Yeah! That would be nice. I kind of thought you would have expected us. After all, we come over every Christmas and we’re sort of a novelty around here anyway.”

“Well, I know you get busy and all.”

By now I have all of Danny’s toys gathered in his bag. I grab his coat which is flipped over the back of the chair and put it on him.

“Thanks Grandma for watching him again. I appreciate it,” I say, giving her a hug good-bye.

“No problem at all. He makes me feel young again, that’s for sure.”

“Bye Grandpa!” I half-wave with Danny in my arms, making my way to the frostbitten outside, knowing he won’t pay much attention anyway since his favorite show is on. When he is interested in something on TV, it’s like trying to strike up a conversation with a wall. Most of the time, like now, he just grunts. I’ll take it!

Danny falls asleep on the way home. He usually does. Though it’s only seven-twenty, a little too early for bedtime, I let him sleep. By now I’m wearing down and truly feeling the lack of sleep, straight down to my inner core, which I have lost the past four years. As I lay him in my bed, not really wanting to sleep alone tonight, I cover him tightly as if he’s a precious gem that could be stolen, and take a small step back, watching him dream peacefully. Something hits me and covers my mind. Several thoughts jumbled together. The snow outside, his face, our years together, just the two of us clinging to each other, trying to keep our heads above water, trying to grab a hold of something that even young Danny knows is missing. I quickly grab my notebook on my nightstand and untie the leather bound. Sitting at my desk, I pick up a pen and try for a few words before exhaustion drags me under.

Danny’s got a smile that lights up the sky,
Danny spreads his wings and thinks he can fly,
Danny is wild and just as free,
He doesn’t even know the someone that he’s going to be,
And he doesn’t know he’s beautiful...

I want to write more, but the sandman lures me to the bed. The next thing that I’m aware of is a bright light shining through my window, trying to break through my eyelids. I squeeze them tighter together and roll over on my side, facing the opposite way. After a moment, when I realize that I’m not falling back asleep, I open my eyes again slowly and look at the clock. It’s nine-thirteen. To my surprise, I had the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a while and I don’t even remember any dreams, certainly not any that had the power to torment me. Maybe my brain finally short-circuited and shut down. I wouldn’t blame it. Or it could have been that heaven had smiled on me, even if it was for just one night. I take peace whenever I can grab it.

I hear slow heavy breathing next to me and roll back over the other way, remembering my bunk mate for the night. There Danny is, his blonde hair upheaved and sticking out in all directions, uncovered, and still sleeping. The sun is shining right in his face and he seems to not even notice. Poor little guy, must have been as exhausted as I was.

As slowly and silently as I can, I pull myself out of bed and head over to my closet, cringing at every creak the floorboards make. It took me a while to get the stepping pattern down, but I did. Usually Danny is a light sleeper. I sneak out my door towards the bathroom, directly to the right, for my grateful, long-awaited shower. I turn it on as hot as I can stand it and fight the urge to turn it down a little. My skin burns, but I know that it’s just because I’m cold. I’m always cold in the morning. Anything hotter than lukewarm feels hot on my frigid skin. I wash my hair and breathe in the scent of my freesia shampoo. My favorite. I have lilac body wash as well. The combination between the two actually smells really good. Like a field of wildflowers, and through my life thus far I’ve always chosen floral over anything tropical, fruity, or food related. After my shower, I wrap the towel around me and head back to my bedroom. I expect Danny to be up wondering where I am, but he’s still sleeping.

Not really sure what I want to wear today, I shuffle through my things and settle on an ordinary white t-shirt with a long sleeved camouflaged over-shirt and my favorite pair of jeans with my brown lace-up knee high boots. They have always been my favorite. I’ve never been a shoe freak, in fact I prefer to do without, but I admit I do have a love for boots, especially flats. They are so much easier to walk in and I don’t have to worry about falling on my face. These particular pair of boots I saw a picture of and I personally hunted for them online until I found a cheap pair for thirty dollars. Chances are I will be buried in these fellas. After I pull my clothes on, I concentrate on getting all the knots out of my wavy rats nest, also known as my hair. My mind wanders occasionally to what songs I plan on singing at the coffee shop today.

Grabbing my small makeup box, I head over to the mirror, hoping that what I see in it today is a little bit better than the unearthly reflection of yesterday. I don’t have much makeup, and yet, I don’t care. I really don’t want much of it. I usually stick to the earth tone colors such as browns, gold, rose, and beige shades. Never any foundation, always mascara. I always thought that girls who caked makeup on their face looked perceivably tacky. I try not to stare directly at them; it’s none of my business how people want to look. To each their own, I’ve always said. I peer in the mirror and notice how the circles under my eyes have subsided a little and a bit of my natural rose color has come back. The reflection is a lot better than yesterday. I just needed an uninterrupted night’s sleep from my own tangled thoughts I guess. My mind never stops.

I start thinking about the coffee house again as I lightly dust on the brown eye shadow. Just as I’m finishing, I see a little head pop up in the reflection of the mirror. “Hey Danny, good morning kiddo,” I say cheerfully.

Danny sleepily slides down from the bed. “Ceweal, Mommy, ceweal.” Now the day has officially begun.

I have to be at the coffee house at one. I get paid in tips and on good days, I can make a hundred easy for just one hour. I can’t find it in me at all to complain about that. So after I fix breakfast for Dad and Danny and I watch some Tom and Jerry, as usual, I head upstairs to pack Danny’s toys and overnight clothes since he is going to be staying the night with Grandma and Grandpa tonight. As I head for the door, Dad calls my name, always too loudly.

“Iris, I didn’t know if this was yours. It was in the laundry room mixed with stuff headed for the trash.” He pulls out an old black Polaroid camera. I eye it for a moment, curious, not even recalling as to how it ended up in the house.

“No Dad, it’s not mine. I have a digital.” He looks just as mind-boggled, grimaces, and goes to put it back in the box of junk when I take it from his hand. I shrug. “It’s cute though. Let’s see if it still works.” I give him a kiss good-bye on the cheek and stick the camera in my purse.

When I arrive at Grandma’s twenty minutes later, I’m greeted at the doorway with an ever-loving smile and yet another hot cup of mint tea. Never failing. I apologetically decline, trying not to be late again, and give Danny a kiss good-bye, promising him a call later that evening when I’m sure he has settled and eaten.

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