When We Sleep, We Dream
(A response to Challenge No. 4)
He could feel himself being pulled from the drowsy comfort of sleep to waking and he tried to resist it. However, he couldn’t ignore the fitful stirrings of his sleeping companion and he soon cracked open an eye to glance at the bedside clock whose luminescent hands were closing in on 1:00 a.m. Rubbing his eyes, he rolled onto his left side to look at the woman who lay next to him. Besides a general sense of restlessness, she was also muttering something that he couldn’t understand. However, he could guess where her dreams had taken her.
In the year that he had known her, she rarely spoke of her tour of duty as a nurse in an Asian war. It was only their recent intimacy that had led him to begin to understand what she had experienced there. Sometimes her dreams became nightmares filled with long lines of soldiers waiting for triage or filling operating tents. No matter how hard she worked, she could never take care of all of them. But every one of them would reach out to her and ask that she stop their pain. Other nights, her sleep might be filled with visions of the enemy breaking through the perimeter and wreaking havoc. The medical units’ Red Cross did little to protect those beneath it from rape, torture or death. And those were the night terrors that he knew about; there were probably others that she had yet to mention.
While his quick temper wanted to harangue the US Army for sending her into combat, he also wanted to be there to calm her now unnecessary fears.
Slipping his left arm around her shoulders while the fingers of his right gently caressed her cheek, he murmured, “Shh . . . everything’s all right. You’re home and you’re safe.”
Gradually his soft words of comfort penetrated the horror her subconscious was playing out in her mind’s eye and she began to wake up. Wiping at her eyes, she briefly pressed her face against his shoulder before throwing back the covers and hurrying to bathroom.
Even with the door closed he could hear the sink’s faucet turned on to full force while she splashed cold water against her face. When the sound of running water stopped, he knew she was going to the kitchen and he could imagine the sound of ice cubes dropping into a glass then it filling with Scotch. There would also be the click of a lighter against the end of a cigarette and a long drag from it. The cigarette would eventually burn itself out in the ashtray on the coffee table and while a few sips would be taken from the drink, the ice would melt long before she dumped the drink into the sink then went back to bed.
After giving her a few minutes in which to begin her ritual, he got out of bed and went to the living area. Reaching it, he narrowed his eyes against the glow of a lamp as he looked at her sitting on the couch with her hands pressed to her face.
“Want some company?” he asked, his deep voice filling the room.
Her hands fell away and her blue eyes filled with tears when they turned toward him.
“I’m sorry,” she cried, lowering her eyes and reaching for the glass that sat on the table. Briefly swirling the ice cubes around in the Glenfiddich before taking a long swallow of it, she set it aside and then without looking at him said, “I seem to come with a lot of excess baggage that wakes you up in the middle of the night. I wouldn’t blame you if you walk out of here and never want to see me again other than at work.”
Biting his lip, he leaned against the door’s frame, surprised at the matter of fact tone she had taken. Usually, she would offer him a silent nod and once he had taken a seat beside her, she would tell him a little bit about why sometimes during the night she was terrified. She had accepted him being there and never asked if there was someplace else he’d rather be.
Watching her wipe away the tears the kept forming in her eyes, no matter how hard she tried to fight them back, he took a seat next to her. Taking her hand, he said, “If I did that I wouldn’t have anybody to watch ‘All in the Family’ with . . . or ‘Hawaii Five-O’ . . . or ‘Gunsmoke.’ Not to mention the John Wayne marathons on Channel 2 when we’ve got that rare Sunday afternoon off.”
She looked up at him with a pale version of the smile that she often used to soothe situations in the Emergency Room. That smile was something that he had been drawn to since the day he had met her. It could be charming or sarcastic; sly or loving; tired or laughing. But whatever its form, he had come to adore it.
“So, watching TV together makes up for me keeping you awake a lot of nights that we spend together? I must be a real dream date,” she said with a shake of her head.
Laughing, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “That’s just a small part of what I like about you. There’s also walks on the beach, dancing to whatever it is you call music or going out for spaghetti on Monday night . . . or sometimes just talking to you after a long day.” With a slight sigh, he relaxed against the sofa’s cushions, drawing her back with him. Feeling her head come to rest against his chest, he toyed with the idea of a further admission of how he felt.
“So Sporting Life, without hearing tonight’s jewel from my suitcase of horror stories, you’d rather keep an old maid company than remain autonomous?” she asked skeptically. Independence was something that he radiated and ties were something that he seemed to cut quickly not to mention patience was hardly his strong point.
Kissing the top of her head, his left hand cupped her chin then lifted it so that his gray eyes could look into the blue of her own. “When the company is an intriguing as yours, yes.”
She shifted her gaze from his eyes to the cigarette that smoldering in the ashtray. “But . . . what about the other times when I can’t sleep because--”
Cupping her face within his hands, he kissed her then said, “When we sleep, we dream. It’s not always pleasant and can keep us awake. But your dreams don’t have me wanting to pack my bags and never see you again. It would take a lot more than that.”
Easing herself away from him, she sat back against the cushions so that she could look at him fully. “Are you sure about that Doctor?” she asked, brushing a hand over his dark hair.
“Nurse, there are very few things that I’m sure of. But you are one of them. And I’m certain that spending time with you is always better than spending time alone.”
Putting out the cigarette that was slowly burning its way down to the filter, he took her hands in his and drew her away from the sofa then led her toward the bedroom. Tucking her between the bed’s covers, he kissed her cheek then took his own place on the other side of the bed.
“Sweet dreams,” he whispered in her ear as he wrapped his arms around her.
“Squad 51, your instructions are clear. No treatment beyond immobilizing the fractures is authorized at this time. Is that understood?”
Standing at Rampart General’s base station, Dr. Kelly Brackett released the call button of the radio that linked him to the firemen/paramedics in the field and waited for a reply. The men on the other side of the radio were trained for emergency medical response but they were outside their element in this situation.
Tapping his fingers against the desk, the doctor began to count to ten before he would repeat his orders. He had reached eight when he heard the radio crackle and Roy DeSoto’s voice acknowledge his instructions.
“Affirmative Rampart. We’ve begun splinting the male victim’s legs and will set the first female patient’s arm. The third victim is still unconscious and her vital signs remain as last reported. But she could start to lose ground very soon. Please advise how you want us to proceed.”
Kel heard Roy’s partner, Johnny Gage, curse at the treatment procedures they were being forced to follow. But the doctor could think of no other way to deal with the motor vehicle accident he was hearing about through the link. Three people injured, two of which should live. The third’s life was in limbo. He couldn’t help but think that she never should have been hurt in the first place and now everything depended on her living long enough to reach the hospital. But as the ranking doctor of Rampart General’s emergency room, he could not and would not authorize the paramedics to treat her.
Stabbing a finger against the call button on the radio, Kel said, “I understand the third victim’s condition 51 but help’s on its way. Stay with them until it gets there and keep me informed.”
This time it was Johnny’s voice that answered him. “Understood Rampart,” he said, and Kel could hear the anger in his voice. “Roy and I’ll sit on them if we have to until your ‘help’ arrives.”
Five minutes before the ambulance carrying the third victim backed into a slot at the emergency doors, Kel knew that she was dead.
Hopping out of the ambulance beside the stretcher that held the body covered with a sheet, the usually unflappable Roy DeSoto glared at the doctor then turned to take the hand of the nurse who been sent to assist the paramedics. The tears that fell from her eyes were not lost on the doctor.
“Sorry, Doc,” Roy said, watching the stretcher roll into the hospital. “Maybe if we could have given her an IV and Atropine right after the accident . . . she might have lived. Instead we had to wait until Helena got there. Everything was a little too late.”
The ambulance carrying the others that had been injured arrived and Roy went to meet his partner who had ridden in with them. Falling into step next to Johnny, Roy went with him into the hospital where Kel guessed they would grab a cup of coffee and wonder if they had done the right thing when it came to delaying treatment.
The doctor wanted to do the same but instead turned his attention to the surviving victims. The man had arrived with no other complications than his broken legs but the woman was slipping into shock and he began the battle to save her life.
Only when he had won it, did he retreat to his office. Behind its closed door, he hung his white lab coat in the closet then went to sit behind his desk. Opening a drawer, he removed a photo of a woman with long blond hair and a smile that could make almost any man turn around for second look.
Propping the picture against the stack of files on the desk’s surface, he found that he couldn’t look at it. Everything about it was something that he had memorized the moment it was taken.
It had been a day in which he had impulsively grabbed his camera before picking her up for a trip to the beach. However, the day did not lend itself to picture perfect conditions. Clouds gathering over the Pacific promised gray skies along with cool temperatures.
But despite the weather conditions, they had enjoyed walking along the sand and the white capped surf that met it. At one point she had take a seat on a rocky outcrop, drawing her legs against her chest and wrapping her arms around them. Her lips lifted in a smile as she gazed out at the approaching storm, the wind tousling her hair. Intrigued by the image she presented, he had taken her picture. He had kept it within his desk since the day the film was developed.
Tears gathering in his eyes, he finally focused on the picture before him. Never again would he take a snapshot of her on the beach. Nor would he have the pleasure of her company watching some silly sitcom or drama on TV. There also would never be another opportunity to dance with her to some pop song that she considered romantic while he would have preferred something tried and true like the “Tennessee Waltz.” And there would never be another night when he took her out for Italian food to celebrate surviving a shift at Rampart General. There would never again be the sound of her voice chiding him or congratulating him, or just simply talking to him.
“Oh my God,” he cried, the inventory of things that would never happen again becoming overwhelming. They were mingled with the guilt his own actions made him carry.
“Arrogance, pride and stubbornness were always my weaknesses. And today, they wouldn’t let anybody without a MD behind his name take care of you. But what am I going to do without you Dixie McCall?” he asked her picture, his gray eyes pleading for a response. “Dix . . . I’m so sorry . . .”
Pushing the picture away, he gave in to the grief that he felt and the sound of his sobbing filled the room.
Kelly Bracket sat up in bed, fighting off the nightmare that had claimed him. Taking deep breaths in an effort to slow the rhythm of his heart, he swung his legs away from the blankets and reached for the robe he had left on a chair. Pulling the garment on, he made his way unsteadily out of the bedroom, mentally rehashing the emergency call that had led to his recurring dream.
You’ve got no one but yourself to blame for this one Kelly ole boy, he thought, flipping a switch in the kitchen then blinking against the fluorescent lighting that illuminated the room. If you hadn’t been so hard headed, you wouldn’t have these little late night trips to hell.
Picking up a glass up from the stack of clean dishes next to the sink, he went to the freezer and added ice to it before opening the cupboard that held the liqueur. Glancing around the flagons containing gin, tequila or vodka, his eyes finally settled on a bottle of Dewar’s.
The perfect whiskey to help one recover from a trip to Hades, he reasoned, dumping some liquid into the glass then opening a drawer. Careful of the utensils it contained, he reached past them to the pack of cigarettes that he knew the drawer held. Smiling slightly as he extracted a pack of Winstons, he shook a white cylinder loose from the rest and lit it. Taking a deep drag from the filter, he filled his lungs then exhaled. The gray smoke swirled around the glass and the amber liquid it contained.
“Scotch and cigarettes in the middle of the night are my bad habit. I didn’t expect them to become yours,” a sultry feminine voice stated behind him.
Wincing slightly at her tone, he turned to face the woman who had joined him in the kitchen.
She stood in the doorway, in between the shadows and the light that filled the kitchen. But there was no mistaking the husky voice or the tousled hair that surrounded an oval face.
Looking at her, there were no bruises or cut lips that had once marred her characteristics but the memory of them remained. Turning away from the image that his mind superimposed over her features, he reached for the glass that sat on the counter.
“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked, coming up behind him and placing a hand against his shoulder.
Taking a swallow of Dewar’s and feeling it burn its way down to his stomach, he set the glass aside then stubbed out the cigarette. Taking a deep breath, he faced her.
“What would have happened if Gage hadn’t turned off the radio and DeSoto hadn’t begun treatment that day of the accident?” he asked, a hand lifting to stroke her cheek. “What if they would have followed my advice?”
Shaking her head, she replied, “I don’t know. The ‘what ifs’ don’t matter because everything worked out in the end.”
“It doesn’t matter?” he asked incredulously. “Then why is that sometimes when I close my eyes to sleep, I see how you died that day and I know that I could have prevented it?”
Wrapping her arms around his waist, she pulled him to her and lay her head against his chest, saying: “Like you told me a while back -- when we sleep, we dream. But when you wake up, no matter how bad the dream was, it’s not the reality.” Lifting her head, she pressed her lips against his. When they drew apart, she smiled slightly. “This is real . . . not my nightmares about a crazy war zone or yours about a car accident.”
“I get your point,” he said, putting an arm around her shoulders and beginning to steer her toward the bedroom. “But Dixie, doesn’t it scare you that I could have been responsible for --”
As they reached the bed, Dixie turned and pressed her fingers against his mouth. “Shh. No, it doesn’t scare me. Kel, I trust you more than anyone else.”
In the dark, it was impossible to read her features but her voice held a warm confirmation of her faith in him. Taking her hand, he squeezed it then helped her under the covers.
“Thanks Dix,” he murmured before kissing her. Her hand reached up to run its fingers through his dark hair until he broke away to go to his own side of the bed.
Settling into it, he felt her spoon herself into his body and heard her whisper, “Goodnight Kel, and sweet dreams.”
*Author’s Note: I’ve always wondered if Kel Brackett wondered “what might have been” after Dixie’s accident in the Pilot. This is my response. All standard disclaimers apply as to who owns the characters and who just has fun with them.
And, most importantly, a very big “thank you” to AJM for her input and encouragement for me to finish this little story!