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Mattie or whoever she was took a step back from Jenna. Her blue eyes shifted nervously back and forth as if she were looking for an escape route.
Afraid she would run before Jenna could get any answers, the blonde backed up. She had to know why this woman had replaced Mattie in her dreams and what significance it held. Was she having a nervous breakdown or was there some reason for the dreams?
"I'm Leah," the raven-haired woman finally answered in a tone that spoke volumes of fear.
Jenna tried not to cringe, hoping she had not been the cause of whatever was troubling this beautiful woman. "I'm Jenna, it's good to meet you." She held out her hand and tried to smile disarmingly.
Leah took an uncertain step forward and clasped hands with Jenna, who was struggling with all her might to reconcile the soft touch with the fact that she was dreaming.
"I would ask if you come here often but it seems you're here whenever I am," Jenna told her in an attempt at humor. She hoped to get Leah talking so she could find out what was going on.
Leah pulled her hand away but did not move. Somehow, at that moment she reminded Jenna of a child though she was obviously a woman and stood a good two heads taller than herself.
"So," Jenna began uncomfortably. She was confused to say the least. She had come looking for answers and it seemed that Leah would stick around long enough this time that they might do just that. But she small blonde had no idea where to begin. She still did not have her mind around the fact that Mattie had been replaced by the woman standing before her. She hoped like hell that she didn't wake up before she found out what was going on.
"You said you were in a wreck?" Leah asked and broke her train of thought.
'Oh gods, not that!' Jenna thought and drew in a sharp breath. Letting it go, she answered any way.
"Yeah, just over a year ago."
"Is that where the scar on your face came from?"
Jenna's hand went unconsciously to her cheek. "Yeah it is. That's where I hit the driver's side window."
"That must have hurt," Leah commented, her voice a soothing blanket wrapping itself around Jenna's heart.
"You have no idea," she answered, thinking more of the loss of Mattie than of herself.
"It seems you have suffered much."
It was a statement that caught Jenna off guard and angered her at the same time. What did this woman know of her suffering or anything that she had been through? How dare she presume to know!
"You could say that," she answered tersely. Afraid to go any further with that conversation, she changed the subject. "What about you? Why are you here?"
Leah looked at her thoughtfully, then sat in the grass on the shore. She picked a pebble up and threw it in the water. "For a moment of peace," she answered matter-of-factly and volunteered nothing more.
Leah gave no sign that she had heard the question. In fact she took so long answering that Jenna was ready to throw her hands in the air and beg for mercy.
That answer was barely more than a whisper but the effect it had on Jenna felt like a hurricane gust hitting her full force. She immediately regretted the anger she had felt toward Leah for mentioning that she herself was suffering. It occurred to her then that perhaps she was not the only person in the world that had ever felt pain.
"I'm sorry!" she blurted, knowing nothing else to say. She moved and sat an arms length from the brunette.
"It's not your fault," she answered, turning a thoughtful gaze on Jenna.
Suddenly the small blonde wished that she knew the cause of this beautiful woman's suffering. Emotion boiled up in her and she knew that she would go to any length to ease the other woman's pain. She had to stop herself from reaching out and touching her.
"I know," she told the brunette self-consciously, wondering where all the emotion had come from for someone who was not even real.
Leah smiled and they were silent. The two women watched the water passing before them, each lost in her own thoughts. It was a long time before Leah spoke again.
"I have to go soon."
To Jenna, it sounded like a death sentence. "What do you mean? Where are you going?" She hoped she didn't sound as desperate as she felt.
"I have to go back now."
Leah stood and brushed her backside off. She smiled at Jenna. "I'm sure we'll meet again," she told the blonde then started away from the riverbank.
"But when?" Jenna called after her anxiously.
"Soon," the tall woman called over her shoulder and disappeared into a stand of aspen trees.
"Wait!" Jenna called and ran after her. When she got to the last place she had seen Leah, she could not tell where she had gone. There were no footprints, no nothing. It was as if the woman had vanished.
"Shit shit SHIT!" Jenna yelled and turned back to the water. "I still don't know what's going on!"
She sat down hard along side the water, so frustrated she was about to cry. The only thing she had learned was that this woman was not her Mattie, but a perfect stranger. Now she had more questions than before. It didn't look like she would get those answers any time soon, either.
Feeling the first drops of rain on her bare legs, Jenna got up and started in the direction of her house. She had not even realized that it had become cloudy and hoped she made it home before she got soaked.
In light of the rain, Jenna wondered if her time with Leah had been real. She did not remember waking up nor did she think she had fallen asleep. And if that was the case, she really had no idea what the hell was going on. Unless…
"No fucking way!" she yelled out, remembering the time as a child that she had been put in a mental institution by her stepfather. He had nearly come undone when she had told her mother one day that her dead grandmother had been talking to her and that sometimes they played together. It had all seemed so real to her then that she had never questioned it until he had freaked out over it. Jenna had not been visited by her grandma since then. In fact, she had all but forgotten that horrible time in her life until just then.
Suddenly she stopped. Her eyes widened and she hurried back to where she and Leah had sat only a short time before. The river bank had been damp- there would be footprints on the shore if Leah had really been there!
Even as she hurried back, the cynical voice in the back of Jenna's mind was already working overtime. It wondered what made her think she would find anything if she had seen none when she had tried to follow the tall woman away from the water. It demanded to know what she thought this all could be other than madness.
Ignoring the voice and the rain that was now falling in torrents, she bent down and searched the ground. She immediately saw the familiar tread of her own sneakers. Knowing she had to hurry before the rain washed away any evidence of Leah's presence, she got down on her hands and knees to continue the search before she marred what was there.
After crawling around like that for several minutes and finding nothing, Jenna gave up. She could see nothing other than the tracks she had left behind. The rain was rolling down her matted hair and into her eyes, finally rolling off the tip of her nose and to the ground.
Suddenly, she laughed. Jenna rolled over onto her back and enjoyed the tightness it was causing in her abdomen. She ignored the squishy mud that was now plastered to her back and legs.
"I'm crazy!" she shrieked through her laughter. "Mad as a hatter!"
She jumped to her feet, trying to catch her breath.
"A few goats short of a herd!" she burst out and began laughing all over again. "A few hairs short of a mustache. A few fries short of a happy meal!"
And so it went the whole way back to her house, until Jenna finally stumbled into the front door. She went into the bathroom to peel herself out of her sopping wet, muddy clothes. The glimpse she caught of herself in the mirror sobered her up.
"Oh fuck," she whispered, her hands involuntarily flying to her ruddy cheeks. "What's happening to me?"
'That's obvious,' the voice in the back of her mind taunted. 'You've completely lost it now!'
"You don't have to sound so damned happy about it," she muttered and began cleaning up.
After drying off and changing into a pair of sweats, she tried very hard not to think about what was happening to her. The blonde went into her living room and sat down in her recliner. She stared at the phone for a long time, trying to muster the courage to call Laura. She had no idea what she would say to her even if she did call. 'Hello I've lost my mind can you help me' just didn't seem to cut it. Especially after the way they had last parted.
Jenna growled in frustration, wishing she had not been in such a hurry to get to the river earlier. If she had been thinking properly, she would have called one of her doctors and got a prescription filled for the oxycontin. Then she could have braved the trip to the pharmacy and forgotten about Leah.
"Leah," she murmured aloud. She liked the way the name sounded as it passed her lips.
The blonde snorted. Who was she kidding? She liked the woman period. And she wasn't even real!
Jenna got up and snatched the phone off the coffee table, punching in Laura's number as fast as she could. She needed to talk to someone because this was already out of control. And she was thinking that it didn't have anything to do with the pills.
The phone rang once, then twice, and a third time. Jenna started to panic, thinking that maybe Laura did not want to talk to her, that maybe their friendship had ended that day when she had stormed off.
'You can't blame her, it's not like you tried to reconcile anything!' the voice told her in a mocking tone.
"Shut up!" she yelled.
"You don't call for a month and then when you do, that's all you can think of to say?" Laura's voice told her in a short tone.
"Laura! I'm sorry, I wasn't talking to you."
"Who's there that you're talking to like that, then?"
"Uh…" Jenna chuckled at the absurdity of the situation. It was either that or cry, and she knew that laughing would only keep the tears at bay for so long. "No one's here, Laura. That's the thing-"
"You're loaded on those pills aren't you!"
"Right, and I had Xena over for dinner last night. She's quite entertaining, what with her skills and all."
"Laura, I swear it! I haven't had any pills in two days. I already had the DT's coming down off of them," she admitted, and then began to cry. She felt ashamed on top of everything else.
"Jenna?" Laura's voice was full of concern. "Jenna, I'm coming over there. Don't you go anywhere!"
The blonde hung up the phone, relief washing over her. She was afraid that if she had to face this by herself a minute longer, she wouldn't need a good therapist- she would need a rubber room.
As she waited for Laura to arrive, Jenna tried to pull herself together. She didn't want to alarm her friend any more than she thought she already had with her teary appearance. She figured she had probably scared Laura half to death.
Several minutes later the door burst open and Laura rushed in. She paced quietly back and forth in front of the recliner Jenna sat in. She inspected her friend with a frightened look on her face. Finally, she stood still.
"My God," was all she said.
Laura's expression was all it took. The blonde erupted into tears again, this time unable to get herself under control. She felt her friend's arms wrap around her and leaned into the touch. She took great security from the fact that at least Laura was real.
When the deluge finally subsided, she felt aura cautiously pull away. She looked into the brown of her friend's questioning eyes.
"It's such a long story," she whispered.
"I'm not going anywhere until I hear it all," Laura told her gently. "And I mean all of it."
The brunette left the room and reappeared a moment later with a handful of tissue. She handed it to Jenna and sat down on the couch. "Okay, let's hear it."
Jenna blew her nose and thought about where to start. In light of her friend's presence, it all seemed like a dream. If she had not experienced it herself, she knew she would not believe it. And knowing her friend's skeptical nature, the blonde knew that she would have a hard time accepting it as the truth. But knowing she had nowhere else to turn except farther into the insanity that her life had become, she let the words come out on their own.
"I think I've lost my mind, Laura. And I don't think it has anything to do with all those pills."
She told Laura everything. She admitted how she had realized in her pursuit of Mattie that she had been taking too many pills. She told her how Mattie had slowly been replaced by Leah, and about the hallucination or whatever it was she had had earlier that day. She explained that she did not think she had been asleep when it happened. She finished by telling Laura about the bruises and the way Leah acted like a frightened animal around her, and the utter and sadness and pain that seemed to cocoon the beautiful raven-haired woman.
When she finished she took a deep breath and looked over to where Laura sat on the couch. Her face was an unreadable mask and Jenna was certain she thought that she had flipped her bean.
"Wow," she said after a long silence. "That's wild."
Jenna smiled dejectedly. She knew her friend was having a hard time with it. "I know. But I swear Laura; if I hadn't been there myself I wouldn't believe it, either. I know what I saw and heard- it just seemed so real."
Laura leaned forward on the couch. "Jenna, you said yourself that when you went back and looked for footprints that you didn't find any. What about that?"
"I don't know!" Jenna cried out in frustration.
She got up and limped to the window. It was still raining and if the pain in her leg were any indication, it was not going to let up any time soon. She pulled the drapes shut and turned back to her friend, trying to ignore the throbbing sensation in her hip.
"I wasn't asleep when it happened today. What about that?" She plopped down in the recliner and looked at Laura.
Laura ran a hand through her brown hair. "I don't have any answers either." She grew quiet before speaking again. "Maybe it's time to talk to a professional."
Jenna's eyes widened in fear. "Gods no, Laura! They'll lock me up and throw away the key. You know I can't go through that again!"
Laura sighed. "I guess not," she murmured. "Do you think this has anything to do with that?"
The blonde knew that Laura even had a hard time believing in that. If it weren't for the fact that Jenna had shown her the records one time, she knew her friend would have never even taken it into consideration. For her to try to correlate that experience with this one was a big leap, even for her. And to Jenna, it meant so much that she was at least trying to understand.
"I'm not sure. Granny was already dead when that started happening."
"And this Leah person isn't? I mean, what about the bruises you were telling me about."
Jenna shrugged. "I'm not sure about anything right at the moment."
"Okay, what about the pills? You said yourself that it has only been a couple of days since you got off them. Maybe they are still in your system. Could it be that you just need more time to come off of them?" The blonde had known that eventually that would come up. She closed her eyes for a second before answering. "Yeah, you're probably right Laura. I'll bet that's all it is."
Jenna awoke the next morning to a loud pounding on the front door. It reminded her of when she was a teenager and had stolen a neighbor's car. When the police had come banging on the door, her stepfather had nearly dropped dead of a heart attack.
"I'm up for shit's sake!" she yelled and flung the door open, shielding her eyes from the bright sun light.
"Morning, Cheer Bear. Good to see you're up at this time of day."
"Fuck you very much," Jenna grumbled but stood aside to let Laura in. "What are you trying to do, kill me?"
Laura acted hurt. "Moi? The best friend you have? The on who treats you better than all the others?"
"You're my only friend," Jenna growled, and then smiled.
"Oh yeah, that's right!" The brunette snapped her fingers. "And in light of that, I think a celebration is on order."
"You want to celebrate the fact that I only have one friend? You are a sadist, aren't you?"
"Leave my whips and chains out of this. Yes, I want to celebrate! I think we should paint the town red, because guess what? My best friend has come back from the dead and I'm damned happy about it!" She gave her friend a hug and danced around her in a circle.
"Settle down, you're going to knock me over," the blonde groused but was inwardly happy. She had felt so out of touch over the last month that this renewed contact with reality made her feel like she had a second chance at life. She felt like Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning.
"Come on, get dressed!"
"Why, what are we doing?" she asked suspiciously.
"That is for me to know and you to find out." Laura playfully wagged her eyebrows.
"And you could come up missing."
"Fat chance, short stuff. Come on, the day is wasting!" she urged, pushing Jenna toward the bathroom.
Jenna took a quick shower and settled on wearing a pair of denim shorts and a t-shirt since she had no idea what her best friend was up to. She ran a brush through her hair and noticed when she looked in the mirror that the person staring back at her didn't look so dead. It warmed her heart.
"Okay, you scheming maniac," she told Laura as she entered the living room. "Let's go before I change my mind."
"NO WAY!" Jenna yelled and fastened her seatbelt. "I'm not going in that cheese ball, teeny-bopper, sell-your-soul-to-Satan-for-fascist-American-ideals mall!" She folded her arms over her chest and glared at the mall entrance.
Laura rolled her eyes. "Tell us what you really think," she drawled sarcastically and turned the engine of her Honda off.
"Laura Manon, you know how much I hate these places. I refuse."
"How old are you?" she asked, turning to the blonde. Since she wouldn't budge with teasing, Laura rolled up the windows and opened the door. "Fine. Have a heat stroke, see if I care. Just don't get my seats dirty when you melt."
She got out and shut the door. As she started walking toward the entrance, she silently began counting down in her head. When she reached one, she heard her car door slam shut and footsteps trotting up beside her.
"You suck," Jenna snarled.
"EW! I didn't need that picture in my head!"
Laura snickered. "Get your granny panties out of a knot. We're only here to pick up a CD my niece just has to have. Then we'll go do something fun."
"Promise?" Jenna asked, holding the door open so Laura could go in.
"Yes, I wouldn't want your first day back in reality to totally suck."
"Have I told you lately how much I hate you?"
Jenna followed Laura into the music store but soon parted ways with her. She had become distracted by all the new music that she had not heard yet. It had been sop long since she had been out of her house to anywhere but the pharmacy. She shook her head in disgust. She could not believe that she had been wallowing in a waking coma for so long that life was beginning to pass her by.
The blonde immediately went to the rock section and began digging through the CD's. Nickelback had a new one out, and so did Metallica. She became so engrossed in looking at them that she did not notice the two teenagers digging through the section next to hers until she heard the word witch.
"There's one here in town."
She looked up to see a blonde wearing black lipstick elbow her friend.
"Nuh-uh," her black-haired counterpart shot back.
"Yep. Over by the river. I heard she goes down there to practice her magic by the full moon."
Jenna's temper flared and she was about to say something when someone bumped into her and almost knocked her over.
She bit off the words when she found herself looking into a set of familiar blue eyes.
"Excuse me," came the soft apology. "I'm so clumsy sometimes."
Jenna's mouth dropped open but she was further distracted by another voice.
"Jesus Christ, can't you do anything right?" growled a man who wasn't as tall as the brunette standing in front of her, though he was quite muscularly built. Then he grabbed the woman by the wrist and began to drag her toward the store doors. It was then that Jenna noticed the bruises that lined the other woman's arms and she nearly fainted.
"Oh my God," she whispered to the woman who stared at her as she was being drug away.
"Jenna? Did you say something?"
The short blonde turned slowly to the voice of her friend, fighting the blackness that was swirling in the periphery of her vision.
"Are you okay? You look like you've seen a ghost."
"It was Leah," she whispered before the blackness took her down into its depths.
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