Mom's here, so I know it's a dream. Still, I follow her as we go wherever it is we're going. She moves quickly and without a walker through masses of people standing around or sitting at cheap tables--Is this Ryan's Steakhouse?--until we find a place in a corner. "Finally," she says, sitting down. "We have a few minutes to talk."
My eyes snap open. Again.
I don't believe in messages from the other side or crap like that, but it's become a disturbing pattern that Mom will appear to me in dreams, announcing she has something to tell me, and I wake up before she gets a chance to talk. It's the same every damn time, and the return to the waking world always comes with a tightness in my chest, a sense of loss so overpowering it seems nothing could heal it.
Right on cue, Staley appears.
When she first came into my life, Staley seemed odd and a bit reserved, the exact opposite of a pet me-pet me cat. She'd hide a lot, only occasionally appearing in corners of rooms, then venturing up onto the foot of the bed, or maybe sitting in chairs for a few minutes, only to disappear to whatever secret hiding place she'd chosen.
Lately, though, she seems to sense my moods, and is always there when I need her. As I wake from this dream with a sense of emptiness, she burrows in close to my chest, purring loudly. "You're not alone," she seems to be saying. "I'm always here." She stretches a front leg, the white toes on her otherwise gray paw gently stroke my open hand.
Most nights, I go to bed before Janie does, and Staley bounces in with me. She's always wherever I go. Cats aren't allowed up on my desk, but Staley is. She follows me to the door when I leave for work, and Janie says she frequently yowls for a few minutes after I leave.
The tightness in my chest is gone. I'm relaxed and feel myself drifting back to sleep, comforted to know that I have a fuzzy gray protector, that Staley's soul is here to give comfort to mine.