Like Tonight

The butterflies have been gone for some time now. Every night, like tonight, she climbs into bed next to him, mumbles I love you while already drifting off into sleep. She reviews the day in her mind - lab reports barely completed by the deadline, a failed experiment, a miscalculation that could cost her her grant, a joke at a friend taken too seriously. The war starts: sleep begins to claim her, anxiety brings her back. It continues for some time, until her brain can't take it anymore and succumbs to sleep at last. But even in sleep the battle continues.

It's too easy for the worries to interrupt what's supposed to be a restful slumber. The dream features her lab partner and the unfriendly guy from the chemistry lab next door, both refusing to acknowledge her existence while she struggles to rewrite the grant proposal to study guppies. She stands in a tornado somewhere she instinctively feels is in the middle of Kansas; whirling within it is the debris of her shredded contract, an unfinished lab report past due, the friend with the serious joke staring at her, lab coats, too many aquarium fish.

At one point she shouts herself awake. Every night, like tonight, it takes her too long to orient herself once more before she recognizes where she is. The bed is still, the room dark; the light that comes in through the window just barely makes everything visible, but her eyelids are glued shut by crusty gunk that makes what is visible hardly useful. It's disorienting; she gives up, back to sleep.

The rest of the night, her brain is silent. It makes no sudden movements, creates no horrifying images - or if it does, she doesn't remember.

The morning light brings comfort in that it's disorienting. The light blares through the window; after a few moments of relishing the silence, the panic sweeps back through. The relief that her lab report was actually turned in yesterday, more than an hour before the deadline, is fleeting - social anxieties turn her stomach, the memory of the miscalculation still too fresh. It's possible that this is the only safe moment that exists; this moment tomorrow, there might be no grant. The might be no friends. There might be no guppies.

She can feel it slipping through her grasp: her solidity shifts, breaking into jagged edges instead of a clean break. The walls of the room fade away, making way for a panicked reality of failure and too many yesterdays and not enough tomorrows, and her breathing gets shorter and her memory clouds and finally she rolls onto her side-

-and sees him, lying there. The butterflies have been gone for some time now. Every morning, like this one, he's there.

But this morning, she smiles. Her breathing calms. The grant and the friends and the guppies melt away, and she can't believe she'd forgotten about the very fact that he's here,

just like he'll be tonight.