Karen Woods woke with a scream. Bolting upright in bed, she pressed her hand over her chest as she breathed deep and hard. Her pajamas were drenched with sweat, and her heart was pounding so fast that it felt as if it were about to race straight through her.
"Karen, Karen, what is it?" Grandma Shields flipped on the light and hurried into the guest bedroom.
The twelve year old sobbed once and held out her arms, needing comfort.
It was a dream she'd had before. Lots of times.
Her grandmother sat on the edge of the mattress, gathered Karen in her arms, and held her close. Karen knew she was too old to be cuddled this way, but just then she needed someone's arms around her.
"What is it, child?" Beverly Shields asked her softly, smoothing the damp hair away from Karen's brow. You're trembling something terrible."
"I had a bad dream," Karen managed to say.
"The same bad dream you had the last time you stayed overnight?"
"Do you want to tell your grandma about this dream that frightens you so much?"
Karen shook her head. The nightmare was bad enough without having to tell anyone else about it. Some parts of it she didn't even remember, and one main part she did and wished she didn't. Every time she thought about the dream, she wanted to crawl under the blankets and not come out for a long time.
Dreams can be real scary sometimes," her grandmother said gently, continuing to stroke Karen's brow.
"Don't leave, okay?" Karen asked. She felt like a wimp, needing her grandmother in bed with her, but she didn't care. She didn't want to be alone. In a few minutes she'd he okay, but not just yet.
Since her mom and dad's divorce, Karen had spent a lot of time by herself, She didn't mind that as much as she had when her parents used to fight. Before her father moved out of the house they'd done that almost all the time.
"Do you miss your mother?" Beverly asked. "Is that the trouble?"
Karen shrugged. Her mother's job as an auditor for one of the big Los Angeles banks often took her out of town. Karen didn't mind staying with her grandparents on the nights her mother was away. It was kinda fun.
"When I was a girl I sometimes had nightmares," Beverly told her.
Karen twisted around so she could see her grand mother's kind face. Even when she was only a little kid. she had liked her grandma Shields better than anyone.
"I dreamed a man with an ax was running after me, and no matter how fast I ran, he ran faster," Beverly Shields said, -and when he finally caught up with me, the ax would be rubber, and the murderer was my older brother. Then he'd laugh and laugh and laugh because it had been so easy to frighten me. That's when I'd wake up, shaking and afraid, and really mad."
"Did ... did you go back to sleep?"
"Sometimes. I learned that if I closed my eyes and talked to God, I felt a whole lot better. I found talking to God works in a lot of situations."
"Do you do it often?" Karen asked.
"Oh, sure, all the time. Any time of the day or night I feel like it."
Karen studied her mother's mother once more. "No one suggested you see a counselor or anything like that?"
Her grandmother laughed outright. 'Why would they suggest that?"
"Grandma, think about it. People don't exactly go around conversing with God, you know."
"Sure they do, but generally it's called prayer."
"Oh." Karen had pictured her grandmother carrying on a one-sided conversation with people listening in and thinking weird things about her. It was bad enough that Beverly put that fake hairpiece in her hair sometimes and stuck it there with bobby pins.
"I was thinking we might say a prayer together now, just the two of us," Beverly said softly.
"Mom and me used to go to church," Karen said, her voice dropping a bit, "but that was before the divorce and for a little while afterward. Then one Sunday Mom said she didn't want to go anymore."
Yes, I know, but don't fret about that you don't need to be a regular church attendee to pray."
Karen felt a little better knowing that. "Will you say the words, Grandma?"
"Some of them," Beverly Shields agreed. "But then you should say some of your own, too.
"Do we have to speak them out loud?"
"No, you can whisper them in your heart, too."
Karen closed her eyes and bowed her head. Then, remembering the pictures she'd seen in religious books, she gravely folded her hands. She wasn't entirely sure why people laced their fingers together when they prayed, probably so they wouldn't get distracted and wind their hair around their fingers or that kind of thing.
Her grandmother whispered a prayer, but Karen couldn't understand all the words. She did hear the part about asking God to "comfort Karen" and "calm Karen's fears." Grandma Shields went on for what seemed like a long time. After a while, Karen opened one eye and peeked and noticed her grandmother's lips were still moving.
Karen closed her eye again and waited. When the time seemed right she decided to pray, but she didn't trust God to hear her if she said the words inside her beheart.
"Dear God," she prayed, whispering like her grandma had done, only louder. It's me, Karen Woods. How are you? I'm fine. Well, sort of. I have bad dreams. Actually I don't mind the dreams so much...(Continues...)