Pretending Ch. 04
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Neither of them mentioned the kiss after that. They did agree to Simon's idea of going on dates and acting like a "real" couple.
Connie found she couldn't keep her guard up all the time. More than once she realized she had forgotten the "pretend" part of the whole thing, and she gave up on trying to keep a mental buffer. She rationalized that it would make things look more convincing when they did go home for Thanksgiving.
Simon was in similar straits. He loved taking Connie out. He even insisted, most times, that he pay, even though they normally went dutch. "We have to make sure we get all the details," he had told her. "Wouldn't want something like that to give the game away." Connie had nodded and gone along with it.
There were more kisses, though they were different. After the first one that had surprised them both, they retreated back to light, cautious kisses, such as Simon kissing her hello or Connie kissing him good night.
They continued to have their movie nights--more of them as the weather grew colder--but now Connie snuggled up against him while they watched like a girlfriend would. She knew it would be difficult to stop pretending when the time came. Until then, she couldn't help herself.
The Friday before Thanksgiving, Simon had stumbled home late, exhausted from work, at nearly nine o'clock. Connie offered to him fix him some dinner, but he just smiled and shook his head.
"I don't think I could stay awake long enough to eat it," he told her ruefully. "I need to brush my teeth and hit the sack. Good night, sweetie." He pulled her to him for a quick hug and kiss, then went to his room.
Connie sat on the couch, disappointed. She'd been hoping to cuddle up again while they watched something, because tonight she needed his company. Ever since the accident, she would have occasional nightmares about it. They were often brought on by stress, and right now she had plenty of that from both work and her parents. She had hoped to postpone the dreams by sitting with Simon.
She sighed. She could still watch the movie, then another one. Maybe if she watched enough of them and just let her brain roam, she would forget.
Simon's eyes popped open a little after one in the morning; he was awake, but slightly disoriented. He lay there for a few minutes, trying to remember why he was lying in bed fully clothed. Then it came back to him and he looked at the clock. Surprised at the time, he sat up and rubbed his eyes. He was hungry despite the hour.
He stripped off his work clothes and found some sweat shorts and a t-shirt, wondering if he was hearing noises in the other room. He opened the door and stood for a minute. Is that the television? He was still a little fuzzy. Connie could still be up, that wouldn't be like her, even on a Friday. She didn't generally fall asleep in front of the TV, nor did she forget to turn it off.
Curious, he walked into the living room. Connie was on the couch, in her pajamas, and staring rather vacantly at the screen. Even at times like this, he noticed, with no one around, she wore pajama pants that covered her legs. "Hey." He kept his voice quiet, not wanting to startle her.
She looked up. "Hi." She picked up the remote and began flipping channels.
Simon came and sat down next to her, running a hand over his face and then through his hair. "Couldn't sleep?"
Connie shrugged. "I haven't tried."
"Why not?" he asked, curious. She shrugged again. Simon sat up now, concerned. Connie rarely refused to discuss anything outright, but he knew the signs. When she shrugged, when she avoided eye contact--that meant something was weighing on her and she was trying to keep it inside. "Come on, tell me. You know I won't laugh."
"It's nothing." I should just tell him, she thought, but it seems so childish and silly.
"It must be something," he countered. "You never do this. I've known you for how many years now? And we've split this place for almost three years. I've never seen you up all night." She looked exhausted.
"It's all right. I just haven't wanted to go to bed yet."
"I'm your boyfriend, remember?" He smiled. "You have to tell me. That's what couples do."
Connie felt a lump form in her throat. He wasn't her boyfriend; they were just "rehearsing," as Simon had once called it. Sometimes she forgot, but other times, like now, she was hyper conscious of it. She shook her head. "No, you aren't, not really. But thanks for offering." She turned off the TV. "I'll try going to bed now. There's some leftover pasta in the fridge if you want it. I know it's a strange hour to eat but you didn't have dinner when you got home so late." Berating herself for babbling, Connie started to go into her room.
Simon winced when he realized he'd said the wrong thing, but he couldn't let her go like this. She was upset and he wanted to know why. He caught her hand and pulled her back to the couch. "I'm your friend, Connie, and I've never seen you like this. Come on, what is it?" He put an arm around her.
He nudged her head to rest on his shoulder and began to stroke her hair. It was wavy from being in a braid all day, but felt like silk and smelled faintly of strawberries. He took one of her hands in his and rubbed his thumb over the back, noticing for the first time how soft her skin was. "Talk to me, Connie."
Connie knew she would tell him, especially with the warm comfort of his body next to hers. As with any other situation, she knew he wouldn't laugh at her, or make her feel bad. She just felt embarrassed, although she didn't know quite why.
"Sometimes I have bad dreams," she said after a while. "About the accident."
Simon tightened his arm around her and kissed the top of her head. He leaned back on the couch and pulled her with him so that they lay next to each other.
"I get them when I'm stressed," she continued, "and between work and Thanksgiving, I can just feel myself getting worked up."
"It's all right," he said. "I know they must be scary, but they're just dreams."
She snuggled closer to him, seeking comfort in warmth and physical contact.
"They're horrible." She looked up at him. He saw the unshed tears in her eyes and put both arms around her. "It's all in slow motion." Her voice caught as Simon rubbed her back. "I see the SUV coming, I try to warn Rachel but I can't talk, then the cars hit and it feels like we're flying and flipping for hours." She couldn't stop the tears. "I feel like I lay there for days, and it hurts so much. It's like no one will find us, and we're all bleeding and Rachel's crying and . . . ." She buried her face in Simon's shoulder and sobbed.
Simon murmured soothing words through a tight throat and continued to comb his fingers through her hair. He'd never seen her this upset and it made his heart ache. After a few minutes, Connie had herself back under control.
"I'm sorry." She gave him a shy smile. "I didn't mean to fall apart like that." Her green eyes were bright from the tears.
"It's all right." He smiled back. "That's not an ordinary nightmare." He didn't tell her that he had dreams about that night as well. They were torture for him because nearly every time, in his dreams, Connie died. Sometimes she'd been thrown from the car; in others, she had a punctured lung after the airbag exploded and broke her ribs; there were more instances, and he awoke from every one in a cold sweat.
She sighed. "Anyway, that's why I'm still up. I know I'll be exhausted tomorrow, but I can't help it. I don't want to go in there and go to sleep." She pressed closer to him. "I've tried sleeping with the light on, and with music, and anything else I can think of, but the dreams just come."
"Here's an idea." Simon relished the feel of her body next to his. Her curves fit against him perfectly. "Why don't you stay in my room?"
"There's no need for that," Connie said. "Besides, you're still exhausted. You need to sleep, too."
Simon realized she'd missed the point of his offer. "What I meant was, why don't you stay in my room--with me?"
Connie raised up on one elbow and stared at him. "Simon, I--"
"I'm not proposing anything untoward, you brazen hussy," he teased. She blushed. "I'm just saying we both need sleep, and you've already told me a dozen reasons why you can't sleep in your own room. So why not stay with me? You won't be alone, and you'll have different surroundings. Maybe that will help. If you do have the nightmare, then I'll be there, okay?" Please, say yes, he begged.
As soon as she'd begun telling him about it, all he could think about was cuddling up with her in his bed and keeping her safe from the demons. Since the night he'd tickled her and imagined that she'd appear that way waking up next to him, he'd been dying to have her do just that.
Connie looked at him, her brow furrowed. Sleeping with Simon was one of the pipe dreams she kept stashed away in a corner of her mind, along with winning the Olympic gold medal for gymnastics and finding a way to beat her father at chess. These were interesting things that were safe because they were not going to happen.
Every step she took like this, in the name of pretending, would make it that much harder when it ended. Connie knew that. So far, she had rationalized her decisions on the basis of how much easier it would make being home at Thanksgiving. This was different.
Simon broke into her thoughts. "You know, this just popped into my head, but--what will the sleeping arrangements be when we visit your parents?" He was curious to know if they'd have separate rooms or not. That might affect his plans.
"Oh, I guess . . . I guess we'll be in the same room." Connie considered the question. "Emily and her husband are coming, and there are only three rooms. Mom wouldn't want anyone sleeping on the couch, you know how she is."
Simon chuckled a little at that. Lydia wasn't exactly obsessive about neatness, but he could just imagine her trying to clean up or cook while Simon was sprawled on the sofa. She'd probably dust him; better yet, cover him with a drop cloth.
"Then I guess we'd better get used to sharing a bed." He was pleased he managed to keep his voice even instead of triumphant.
The hell with it, she decided. She was tired of doing this on her own, tired of being scared, and now she had the chance of some comfort. The rest of it, she could deal with later, and at least "later" was a week away. "All right."
"Come on, then." Simon stood and held out a hand. "I'm too tired to eat, and I'm sleepy again."
Connie nodded and turned off the TV and the living room lights. Enough light came in from the streetlights outside that they could see dimly to go down the hall.
"Your room is still pretty messy," Connie noted as she stood in the doorway. Simon had never been the most organized person.
"I can find anything I need." He cut a path through the debris on the floor.
"How about the bed?"
"Careful, or you'll be sleeping on the floor." He moved a heap of clothes onto the floor and gave her a warning look.
"That's okay, I could use the clothes to build a nest." She pointed at the laundry on the floor, then wrinkled her nose. "Although it probably wouldn't smell very good." She yelped as Simon grabbed her around the waist and tumbled onto the bed with her.
"That's enough out of you, smartass." He tickled her ribs and she squirmed while laughing. Then he stopped, reached back to turn out the light, and pulled her close. "Good night, sweetheart," he said, and kissed her cheek.
"Good night." Connie's cheek burned where he kissed her and her heart was running a mile a minute. This was most definitely not a good idea, she thought as she tried to calm down to sleep.
To be continued :)