Max.

birdpaintingHow many stages of sleep are there? When is the point that you’re so asleep someone has to shake you to wake you up? At what point do your dreams become so twisted you won’t remember them in the morning? How long does that in-between stage last? The one where you’re not fully asleep but you’re not awake either. When you’re aware of the world around you, but in a distant sort of way.

            I wish that stage lasted longer. It’s my favorite part of sleeping. My mind wanders to anything and everything yet I still have a small amount of control as to where it goes. In those moments, I’m no longer awake, but I know that my feet are still crossed one over the other. I can still smell the food that Max hasn’t eaten yet. I can feel the sheet on my bare shoulders and I’m aware of the breaths I take.

I can hear the steps outside, coming up the stairs.

My mind is shutting down, not wanting to react fully to what I just heard, but a few moments pass and I’m positive I hear someone walking up the stairs. I wake up completely and assume its Will, but he’s out of town for the weekend, visiting his fiancé and her family. I blink three times, my heart beat racing.

This isn’t happening. It can’t be happening. Someone is in my apartment. Maybe they’re lost? Maybe it’s one of Will’s friends? Maybe it’s some drunken college kid? Except I know it’s none of these things. I know what’s really happening and suddenly the back of my neck is sweating. I roll over in my bed, careful to not make any noise. Maybe if he-I assume it is a male-doesn’t hear me, he’ll turn around and leave. Or if he comes in here, thinking no one is home, it’ll give me a surprise advantage. Maybe I can attack him. I could wait until he’s close to the bed before I pounce on him. It’s dark in here, so he won’t know I’m here until he hears me. But what if he has a weapon? He’ll most likely have a weapon. And he’s probably much bigger than me. I was never really good in a fight, anyways. I remember once, when I was just ten, a bigger kid on the playground wanted to know why I didn’t talk much. I had told him it was because I like observing and listening. That wasn’t the answer he was looking for, apparently.

I went home with a black eye that day and Lizzie had immediately started fussing and asking questions. She’d sat me down and nursed my small wounds, wanting to know what had happened. I remember her saying, “I will mess up whoever did this to you. No one messes with my little brother.” At the time I had found that comforting, but it wasn’t till later that I figured out having a girl take care of you wasn’t very honorable. Even if that girl is your seven-year-older sister who is much stronger than you.

Lizzie’s a big shot lawyer now. Exactly what mom always wanted her to be. She lives in the country with her husband, two kids and a cat. I still see her often, but all she wants to talk about is my new job at the marketing company. I always put on a smile, chatting away about my coworkers and the office gossip. She seems happy.

The steps are getting closer now. My eyes are wide open, adjusted to the dark room. I see Max is asleep and unmoving. Good. Hearing a bird while intruding into someone’s house would probably set off his warning bells. And then he’d probably come in and kill Max. I don’t think I could handle that. Cassie gave me Max for my birthday this year. It was the best birthday present ever. I had spent the entire day painting him with my signature tie draped over my shoulders.

“Why do you wear that thing?” Cassie had asked from her seat on the windowsill.

“The tie?” I had asked. She’d nodded. “I don’t know. I have to wear one for work, but I’ve always liked how they look. Especially untied like this.”

“But it’s called a tie.” I’d laughed at her overdramatic gesturing. “By definition, it’s meant to be tied.”

I had just shaken my head and continued painting. That was a beautiful painting. At least Cassie had thought so. No one else had, or has, seen it.

My eyes itch. I want to reach up and scratch them, but I find all my muscles are frozen in place. The man is almost to the top of the stairs. That I can tell. I wonder what kind of man he is. What does he look like? Tall? Big shoulders? Bald? Tattooed? I bet he doesn’t look like a murderer. Hey, I don’t look like a business major. Not with my big ears, skinny frame, and long nose. But I don’t look like an artist either. I did. Until my mom made me cut off all my hair. I had liked it long, but she’d said it was unprofessional. I guess she was right. I got a job the next day.

I wish I still had my long hair.

He’s outside my door now.

Max wakes up and starts chirping.

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