None of this is real.
Joan's blouse is unbuttoned, hanging loosely from her shoulders. Her bra is old, a not-quite pristine white, and leaves whorls and lace imprinted upon her skin. Joan is burning, the air-conditioner is blasting , and she can't make her fingers obey her long enough to pull her shirt closed.
The clock is directly overhead: she can't see the time; doesn't know how long she has left until she's (safe) (humiliated). She can hear people moving around, talking, just outside the closed door of the classroom. They're close, and this is much, much worse than those dreams of old.
"Trust me," Judith murmurs. Her mouth is hot against the curve of Joan's neck.
Joan watches stars explode against the darkness of her closed eyelids. "This isn't happening. This isn't real."
The truth: Judith is
(in a better place)
(rotting in the ground)
She wakes up (fingers clutching the front of her top).
"You aren't Judith," Joan says.
Judith lifts her head from Joan's trembling thighs. Tilts her head, and smiles--long and slow--from behind a curtain of glossy hair. "I could be," she says. She traces patterns against Joan's stomach, nails stinging. "Wouldn't that be fun, Jo?"
"You'll get a second chance," Judith says, "a chance to do everything you've ever wanted to do." She falls onto her back, laughing: "Everything, anything--I'm not the one who punishes you for doing what *you* want, am I, Joan?"
Joan stares at her knees, at her clenched fists, and doesn't look at Judith sprawled out on her bed. "I have free will. I have choices."
"But He always makes sure that you know you've made the wrong one."
She's not listening.
She won't listen.
"She was in love with you," Judith says.
She's smiling again, always smiling as she looks at Joan. She sits at the foot of the bed, legs crossed, drawing Joan's brush through her hair. She's wearing one of Joan's old nightgowns: too tight, too short. Joan wants to throw up, cry, run away--and can't do anything at all; can hardly keep on breathing.
Maybe she *is* crazy.
Judith sighs, and throws the brush aside. It slides across the floor, beneath the dresser, and they're shouting too loud downstairs to hear it fall. Judith crawls up the bed, hovers over Joan, mouth at her ear: "you aren't crazy, Joan. You're special."
I'm *tired,* Joan thinks.
Are You listening? I need help. Please, please tell me what to do, Joan prays.
Judith hums, and presses a kiss to Joan's cheek. "No need for that, Jo. I'm right here."
Joan thinks: this is worse than being crazy.
She'll call this a dream. It can't possibly be anything else.
The art classroom is empty, quiet. Joan is sitting on the desk, Judith between her parted legs. There is a sculpture left unfinished in the middle of the room. Joan stares at it from over Judith's bent head. From the mass of clay, Joan can make out one of His many faces. His hands are cupping Judith's face as she gazes up at Him, rapt.
"I don't understand," Joan says.
Judith shrugs. "It's your dream," she says, and pushes Joan backwards. Pencils and brushes roll across the desk, jab Joan in the shoulders, back, hips. Her toes barely brush the ground, and Judith is heavy on top of her.
Joan wants to wake up.
(Is it still possible?)
Judith's hand is hot, burning against the flesh of Joan's stomach. Her fingernail drags across Joan's bellybutton, painful against the scar there. She kisses Joan's tear-streaked face. "You're adorable," Judith says.
"You're not real," Joan says, voice shaking.
"I'm as real as you," Judith says, hands moving, burning across Joan's skin.
Joan's fingers flex against the surface of the desk. Her head rolls back, eyes wide. She's breathing too fast, her heart racing--she feels alive, terribly alive, and every second of life makes her ache. "God--"
"He isn't here, Joan. He doesn't love you the way I do," Judith says.
"Liar." (liar) (*liar*)
Judith's smile is wide, and sharp. "I don't have to lie, Jo--not when the truth hurts so much more."
Joan closes her eyes. None of this is real.
(she misses Judith).