They have me surrounded. All those eyes glowing out of darkened hoods. Fear rips through my bones, but it’s impossible to move. The owner of that arm around my neck has me pinned to his chest, choking me tight. His other arm is wrapped around both of my own, crushing them into my sides.
I can’t get free. Nothing I’m doing is working. My legs are like lead. They won’t move. Inside I’m screaming. Pleading. Begging for help. But the words can’t escape my blocked throat, which is sore and scratchy. If only I could–
I’m right here! Help! Help! Oh please, I’m right–
“Justine! Open this door or I’m breaking it down.”
The pounding on my door yanks me free from my attackers’ grasp. I blink in the dark, taking everything in.
You’re in your room. It’s all right. Was only a bad dream. Was only–
“Wait!” I pant, trying to catch my breath.
“Justine,” Dax says, his voice sounding frantic and pained. “Please open this door. You’re scaring me.”
I take another deep breath, before slipping out of the covers. “Coming.” I grab a hoodie from a drawer and zip it over my T-shirt, before opening the door.
“Justine,” he breathes, eyes looking wild, as they search me from head to toe and back again. “You OK?”
“Just a dream,” I say.
“Sounded like a damn nightmare,” he spits.
“Sorry,” I mumble.
He rubs the back of his neck and shakes his head. “Don’t be sorry. I mean, you took ten years off my life, but no worries about that.”
“Sorry,” I say again, getting ready to close the door.
“Look,” he says, putting a hand on the door.
I step back.
“Sh–” he begins and cuts himself off, eyes rolling to the ceiling, like he is praying to Jesus. “I only wanted…” He inhales a long deep breath. “How about I make us some coffee?”
“OK,” I whisper.
He nods and heads for the kitchen.
Cradling my hot mug, I blow gently on the coffee. I glance over at Dax, sitting on the sofa closest to mine. He’s spread out, nice and easy, but his eyes look tired. “What time is it?” I ask.
“Just before four,” he says. “I gotta open in a half an hour.”
A thought occurs to me. “Between walking me back from the bar and opening here, how are you getting enough sleep?”
“Power naps,” he says. “I’m not always studying in my room. Sometimes I’m catching up on sleep. You’re a quiet one, easy to live around.”
I snort. “Not quiet tonight.”
He shakes his head, and takes a long swig of coffee. “You’re having nightmares, often?”
“Haven’t woken you up before, have I?”
“No,” he says, watching me, careful-like. “But not everyone shouts in their sleep, either.”
I study my mug. “It’s not that bad,” I tell him. “Usually they’re short and as soon as I wake up, it’s over. Back to sleep, and done.”
He takes another slug of coffee. “Maybe you should talk to someone. I mean, I’m here and will listen, whenever you want. But there are professionals who help people who aren’t flush with cash. Guy would know, or maybe Anna. She’s a lawyer, you know.”
I look up in surprise. “No, I didn’t.”
He nods. “Well, now you do.”
“She’s so giggly.”
“Yeah, I think the dojo is where she lets herself just be, with no worries. Like a lot of us do.” He smiles at me, and I am struck again by how kind his eyes are. “You think about that counsellor, hey?”
Tell us: Do you think Justine should speak to a counsellor?