Blair had wakened unusually early. He checked the time - 4:27 am - and rolled over for another two hours of shuteye, but he remained completely wide awake.
Why? he wondered. He concentrated, but could hear nothing, although he was certain that Jim would be aware of a lot of noises that were too distant for Blair to hear. And then he heard a soft moaning from upstairs.
That surely couldn't be something wrong with Jim... But he swung his legs out of bed, pushed his feet into his slippers, and headed for the stairs.
He found Jim tossing restlessly, moaning - no, whimpering - softly, and frowned. The older man was clearly in the throes of a nightmare, but his first instinct, to shake Jim awake, he smothered before he had time to act on it. He had tried once before to waken Jim from a nightmare, and Jim's reaction had been instant and brutal; it had taken nearly two weeks for the bruise on Blair's cheek to fade. Oh, Jim had been very apologetic, explaining that hitting out was an automatic response if he was wakened abruptly. So Blair thought for a moment, then blew gently into Jim's ear. He took a deep breath then blew again. Jim shook his head and opened his eyes.
"You were having a nightmare," Blair said.
Jim grinned slightly. "At least you found a better way to waken me this time," he said.
"What were you dreaming about?" Blair's voice was very gentle.
Jim was silent for a moment. "Basically... a memory from years ago. You know how I don't like deep water..."
"Dad... He sometimes had the weirdest ideas. Recreation just for fun was - well, a waste of time. It had to be something we could compete in, but only if we could bring home a medal. He read something about a surfing competition and had the bright idea that having a son winning a surfing trophy would be unusual, and give him bragging rights at the Country Club. So when I was in my early teens, he arranged for me to have surfing lessons. I enjoyed surfing, did well at it, got that valued medal - I still go surfing sometimes."
Blair nodded again. He had accommpanied Jim on a couple of trips to the coast so that Jim could indulge that hobby, though he himself had preferred to sit and sunbathe. He could swim, and swim well, but he wasn't going into the water on a beach suitable for surfing!
"And then one day... I'm still not sure what happened, but somehow I was carried well out to sea. Really far out. The water was deep, and there were sharks... I lay on my surf board, hanging on... and not far away I could see someone else who had been carried out by the freak undertow, or whatever-it-was, that had taken me so far from the shore. But he had lost his board, and before I could even try to paddle over to him, a shark took him... and all I could do after that was lie on my board, watching the fins circling me, scared to put my hands in the water to try to paddle anywhere...
"Luckily someone on the shore had seen the pair of us carried out to sea and contacted the coastguard, and a few minutes later a lifeboat arrived.
"It didn't stop me surfing, though I never went back to that particular beach."
"I don't blame you," Blair said.
"Dad wasn't pleased - he claimed I should have faced my fear. He even told me I should have tried to swim to shore - even though I told him I'd seen that other guy taken by a shark. It was almost as if he'd rather have had me eaten by a shark than - well, chicken out of going into the water with them. That was one of the reasons why, as soon as I was eighteen, I walked out. But that experience with sharks in fairly deep water... I'd guess that was what caused my fear of deep water... "
"Just as my experience of falling out of Mrs. Danbush's tree when I was six made me nervous of heights," Blair agreed.
"Anyway... last night... I dreamed I was back there and the sharks were getting closer and closer... but there was no sign of the coastguard, and I just knew a shark was going to get me... and then you came. Woke me up... But if a shark had grabbed me while I was still asleep... would I have died in my sleep?"
"I don't think so," Blair said. "Over the years I've had a few dreams of falling - wakened in a cold sweat, but always wakened." He thought for a moment. "We've got today and the next couple of days off - how about heading for the coast - maybe one of the beaches a little south of here - and just sitting sunbathing? Staying out of the water, not even going paddling, just relaxing."
Jim thought about it for a moment, then nodded. "Sounds good," he said. "Camping, or a hotel?"
"Normally I'd say camping, but this once...let's just indulge ourselves. Take a few minutes to decide where to go, check out the availability of a nice middle-of-the-range hotel, and head off. Unwind. Then come back to work rested and prepared to deal with the daily grind."
"Okay - you have a shower then get breakfast going, and I'll check out hotels. And Chief - one of your better ideas. I think I'm going to enjoy this weekend."