Jeremy awoke rather suddenly to the sound of his girlfriend, Claire, shouting "get off of me!" and jerking out of his arms. He groggily tried to make sense of the situation as she jumped out of his bed and stood, clad only in a white t-shirt and black shorts, shaking ucontrollably.
After a few seconds of rubbing his eyes, he sat up. "What is it, Claire?" he asked, his words husky with sleep. She flinched at the sound of his voice and didn't answer. At least she's not screaming anymore, Jeremy thought tiredly. "Come back to bed." He knew he ought to comfort her, but he was tired and human and confused, and he had to be at work in a few hours.
Claire shook her head, her hand over her mouth, and began to cry.
Now Jeremy stood, truly awake. In two years of dating, he'd never once seen so much as a tear from the curvy brunette. He went to her and put his arms around her, but she seemed to shrink from his touch. "Babe. What's going on? Tell me. Please." An indescribable ache filled him as she sobbed into his bare chest.
"I'm sorry - I'm sorry," she finally said, hiccuping, as her sobs slowed and stopped.
"Don't be sorry, just tell me why you're crying," he pleaded, sitting back down and pulling her onto his lap. "Please."
Claired leaned against him, but said nothing for a long moment. Just as he was about to ask again - though he knew it wasn't the right thing to do - she spoke. "I just... had a nightmare, I guess," she said quietly.
"I figured that much out," he replied, just enough sarcasm in his voice to elicit a slight laugh from the girl on his lap. Then, more seriously, "but what was it? If you tell me, I can help you."
"No, you can't," she answered, surprising him with her vehemence. "No one can."
"Why? What is it?" he demanded, worry seeping into his thoughts and tone. She shook her head.
"I can't, okay? Don't make me tell you," and she sounded so young and sad in that moment that he couldn't bring himself to push her any further. So instead, he began rubbing her shoulders gently as she leaned against him, hoping only to lull her back to sleep. Eventually, though, she stood. "I should go home," she whispered. He frowned and got to his feet, wrapping his arms around her.
"Why?" he asked. "It's already morning, and you nearly always stay."
She shrugged. He wanted her to stay, but he knew how stubborn she could be; the more he begged her to stay, the more she'd insist on leaving. And he knew neither of them could deal with an argument that night. So he simply pressed his lips against her forehead, letting them linger for a moment, and then sighed. "Let me drive you, at least," he said.
After a moment of indecision, she agreed to allow it. As she gathered her things, he put on shoes and a shirt and found his keys. After finding them, he took her hand and they walked into the chilly early morning air together.
The short ride to the apartment complex Claire lived in was silent. He pulled up by the curb next to her door and kissed her gently. She half-kissed him back, but pulled away almost immediately and went to get out of the beat-up Cavalier. He put a hand on her arm to stop her.
"Listen, Claire. You can tell me anything, I swear. Whatever ghosts are haunting you, I'm not going to get scared away. I promise."
She smiled, and it seemed genuine. "I know, Jeremy, but I just... I'll tell you about it another time, alright? In the sunlight."
He nodded. "I believe you. And I love you."
"I love you, too," she responded, and then she kissed him good-bye.