Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Goddess of the Rose, Page 2

P. C. Cast

Chapter Two

  Nelly cleared her throat before she attempted to speak. "Oh, my dear sweet Lord, I agree with you. That was definitely more realistic than the other dreams - and sexier. " She fanned herself with a napkin.

  "I could have seen his face, Nelly. It was there, right beside my own face the whole time, and I knew that even though the pit was foggy, there was enough light for me to be able to see him. I could even feel him staring at me, but I refused to open my eyes. I didn't want to see what he was. " Silently, she acknowledged that she had lost her nerve. After she'd felt the horns, she'd been afraid to see him. She hadn't wanted the fantasy to be shattered by the reality of what he might be.

  "Was that because even though you were excited, there was a part of you that was afraid, too?"

  Mikki took her time answering Nelly, wondering if she was talking to her friend or the psychiatrist. "Maybe. But I don't know whether my fear was because of what I might have seen, or because if I saw him the spell might be broken and I would never dream about him again," she admitted.

  "The spell?"

  Mikki shrugged her shoulders and smiled sheepishly. "What would you call it? What's happening feels more like magic than psychosis. Or at least it does to me. "

  Nelly returned her smile. "You know my attitude about that kind of stuff. I think there are many magical things about the human brain, but they all have causes rooted in science. "

  "Now you do sound like a shrink. "

  "Stop, you flatterer. " Nelly's eyes shifted to her watch. "Oh, crap! I have to get going soon. "

  "Scary freak coming in to unload his problems on you?"

  "Of course. It's my favorite part of my job. " Nelly dunked her biscotti in the remaining cappuccino. "Wait, didn't you say something earlier about the dreams becoming more realistic and the world around you seeming less real? Did something weird happen?"

  "I thought you had to get going. "

  "Soon, but not this instant. I still have biscotti to devour. So give up the rest of it. "

  Mikki sighed. "You never forget anything, do you?"

  "It's all part of my very expensive training. " She waved the soggy biscotti at Mikki. "Continue, please. "

  "Okay, okay. It happened yesterday. I was crossing Twenty-first Street, going from Woodward Park to my apartment. Thursdays are the evenings I volunteer at the Rose Gardens, remember?"

  "Yep. "

  "Well, it was a little after dusk. I got finished later than usual - there's just so much to do to get the roses ready for winter, and with the pain-in-the-ass construction in the third tier, well, we're way behind. Anyway, I was crossing the street, and I heard something weird behind me. "

  Mikki paused and squinted her eyes in reflection.

  "Something weird?"

  "I know it sounds crazy. " Mikki gave a nervous laugh. "But who better to tell crazy stuff to than my shrink girlfriend?" Nelly narrowed her eyes at her. With a little unconscious gesture of defiance, Mikki tossed back her hair before she continued. "Okay, I heard this . . . this . . . noise coming from behind me. At first I thought it had something to do with the play they're rehearsing in the park. "

  "Oh, yeah. Performance in the Park runs the first week of November. I'd almost forgotten. What is it they're putting on this year?"

  "Medea," Mikki said, slanting a grin at her.

  "So a weird sound coming from that play wouldn't have seemed too surprising. "

  "Exactly, except I heard a roar, and even though I haven't read the play since high school, I don't think there are any wild animals in Medea. "

  "You heard a lion?"

  "I don't know . . . It sounded a little like a lion . . . only different. "

  Mikki paused again. She knew very well how the roar had differed from any normal zoo beast. It had sounded lonely - heart-wrenchingly, totally, horribly, lonely. And somehow human, too. But there was no way she was going to admit that to her friend. She wasn't that crazy - at least not yet. Instead, she hurried on with the rest of her explanation.

  "Yes, I realize the zoo is way over on the other side of town, and even if the lions or whatever animals were roaring their heads off, there's no way I could hear them at Woodward Park. But I swear to you I heard a roar. As you can imagine, it surprised me, so as soon as I reached the sidewalk I turned around. The park was hard to see because the air was filled with waves or thermals or . . . I don't know what the hell to call them. You know, like currents of air rising from a hot black-top road in the middle of summer. I thought something was wrong with my eyes, so I blinked and rubbed at them. And when I opened them again, the park was gone. "

  Nelly's eyebrows drew together. "What do you mean, it was gone?"

  "Just that. " She shrugged one shoulder. "Gone. Disappeared. Absent. No longer there. Instead, there was a huge forest of trees. "

  "Well . . . Woodward Park has trees," Nelly said, as if that was explanation enough.

  Mikki made a scoffing sound through her nose. "Oh, please. I don't mean some attractive, well-manicured trees conveniently spaced around man-made waterfalls and azalea hedges. This was a real forest. The oaks were huge, and it was dense and dark. " She shivered. "If I had walked into it, I would have been swallowed. "

  "Did you hear the roar again?"

  Mikki shook her head. "No, everything was very silent. Weirdly silent now that I think about it. "

  "Did you experience any other sensory impressions during the hallucination?"

  "You sound like a shrink when you talk like that. "

  "Just answer the damn question. "

  "I smelled roses. " Mikki's lips curled in a smile.

  "At least you're consistent. " She grinned at her friend. Then her look sobered. "What caused it to end?"

  Mikki grimaced. "Some bubba in a pickup drove by, gunned his motor, and honked while he yelled something incredibly articulate like 'Whoo-hoo! You are one hot mamma, Red. ' That effectively killed the fantasy. "

  "As it would any fantasy that took place anywhere except a trailer park," Nelly said.

  "Ugh. " Mikki nodded in agreement. "So am I bananas?"

  "I don't think 'bananas' would be the medical term I would use. "


  Nelly shrugged. "Clearly, you're some kind of fruit. " Then her expression turned serious. "All kidding aside, Mikki, I need to know how this is making you feel. Are you afraid?"

  Mikki answered slowly, maintaining eye contact with her friend. "I'll admit it makes me nervous. I wonder what's going on inside my head, but I'm not afraid. It's never made me feel afraid. " She drew a deep breath before she finished her answer. "Honestly, I don't want to sound like a freak or some kind of a pervert, but the dreams have become incredibly sexy. Hell, even the weird vision made my heart pound and gave me that fluttery feeling like I'd just been kissed by someone who really knows what he's doing. I hate to admit it, but I'm more horny than horrified. " She bit her bottom lip. "Is that awful?"

  "Nope," Nelly assured her quickly. "I'm glad you don't feel anxiety or fear. Actually . . . " She gathered up her purse and checked her lipstick. "My professional opinion - although you didn't technically ask for it - is that your imagination is working overtime because it has been forever since you've been laid. "

  "That's what you'd tell one of your patients?"

  "You are not one of my patients. And my friend, you are not crazy. "

  "I'm just creative and horny?"

  "That's my guess. Or I could write you a referral to a good neurologist. "

  "A neurologist!" Mikki's panic caused her voice to go shrill. "Do you think I have a brain tumor or something?"

  "Please do not freak. There are a variety of neurological problems that can cause symptoms like you have been experiencing. " She stood, grabbing her briefcase from beside the chair. "If it gets worse and is really bothering you, you might want to have some bloodwork run or whatnot. "

  "Is 'whatnot' another medical term?"
/>   "Just like 'bananas' and 'nuts. ' " Nelly leaned down and gave her a quick, hard hug. "Don't worry about it. Just go on with your life as you normally would, because you are normal. Oh, and don't forget that I'm fixing you up with that professor who is in town to lecture at TU. "

  Mikki groaned. "Now I really do wish you thought I was nuts. "

  "Stop it. This date will be good for you. Just don't act like you hate all men. It really doesn't make for a good first impression. "

  "I don't hate all men. I even like men. In theory. It's just that the past thirty-five years have trained me to believe that they will eventually disappoint me. "

  "Uh, that's not such a positive attitude either. "

  "Fine. I'll try to be good. "

  "I didn't mean for you to be good - just don't be cynical, and don't worry. You're totally okay. " Nelly hugged her again and then hurried out the door.

  Mikki frowned and checked her watch. She'd have to get going soon, too. Drinking the rest of her coffee, she muttered to herself. "Don't worry? Oh, sure. I saw Phenomenon. John Travolta thought aliens had visited him - until he died from his brain tumor. Aliens . . . a sexy beastlike dream lover . . . what's the difference? I think we're both screwed in more ways than one. "