Author’s Note: I was going to write a role reversal bit with Mackenna being the one with the nightmares. It didn’t end up that way, but a part of why she is the way she is slipped out anyway.
“I’m going to shower before I go to sleep. Just fair warning,” Carson said, not sure he wanted to look at Mackenna. Things had been awkward ever since she snapped at him in the car, and a part of him regretted ever bringing up the subject of their sleeping arrangements. He hadn’t meant anything by it. If they didn’t have the complication of being of the opposite sex, he would have suggested sharing, but they were, and it was different. They could ignore it most of the time, but they weren’t related, they weren’t dating, and he didn’t want her thinking that he was… after that. He needed her, needed her friendship and her guidance and the way she always pushed, and he didn’t want to lose that because of any kind of misunderstanding.
Of course, it almost felt like he’d lost it already because she’d been so cold on the walk over, and now that they were in his apartment, the tension was worse. He thought it best to separate for a while, and he did need a shower anyway. “Mackenna?”
He wasn’t sure if that was distraction or fatigue he heard in her voice, but he didn’t like it much. “I’ll grab my sleeping bag out of the closet and bring it out to you.”
She nodded. He turned and went to grab it, wondering if they’d still be like this in the morning. He had to to back to get his car when he was finished at the doctor’s, and maybe then it would be better if he didn’t talk to her again. It wasn’t right, dumping his issues on a stranger, and no matter what she’d been through, she wasn’t obligated to help him.
He grabbed the bag out of the closet, taking it back to the front room. She’d take up a spot on the loveseat, staring out into space, and he set the bag down next to her, not getting any kind of reaction. He hesitated, not sure he should leave her like this. “You okay?”
“What?” Her eyes went to the bag, and she grimaced. “Wow. I’m more tired than I thought. I didn’t even hear you come back.”
“Are you sure you don’t want the bed? I should have an air mattress or something, but Larry’s got all our family’s camping gear, and camping was mostly about hunting, and I’ve never been much of a hunter.”
“Worse. Animal lover.”
“Mackenna, really, take the bed. I’ll be a while before I’m ready to sleep, and if you’re that tired, you can have it. You drove, and I kept you up last night. Fair is fair.”
He knew she wasn’t, but he decided not to push this time. He didn’t need to set her off again, didn’t need to hurt her by forcing the issue. He didn’t like the feeling he got when he thought about her reaction to this, and he wanted to pretend he didn’t see it. “I didn’t offer it to you because I was hoping to trick you.”
“Is that what you think I—I don’t do men’s bedrooms because that’s where I found my uncle, okay? It’s not what you think.” She twisted her hands together. “I could still smell his aftershave, his deodorant, everything that made up his unique scent, you know, that one that someone has that lets you know that they’re there? My aunt shut that room up, and every time the door opened, that smell was still there. I don’t know if she went in there and sprayed or spilled that stuff just to be close to him or not, but you wear the same deodorant, and there is no way I’m walking into your bedroom, Carson. Don’t push me again.”
“I won’t. I’m sorry. I… I just couldn’t… couldn’t let you be scared of that with me.” He fidgeted. “I’m the surrogate brother, right? You should be able to feel… comfortable with me.”
“Okay. Good. So… I’m going to shower. I’ll check on you after I’m done, just before I turn in, all right?”
She smiled. “You don’t have to do that.”
“I know. I want to.”