SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION, CONNOR STYLE
Bad days were relative. If you were John Connor, which he was, bad days when you were six meant that your mother was pissed because you hadn't listened. Ten years later, when you were sixteen, bad days took on a whole new meaning.
He stretched out on the stained bedspread and stared into the darkness of the motel room. Sleeping had been Cameron's idea, not his, and honestly John wasn't exactly sure how he'd ended up here, in the dark. With a truck full of weapons parked outside and Cameron standing watch behind the nauseating striped drapes.
Tonight too many ghosts danced behind closed eyelids to sleep.
At nine, a bad day was watching your mother dragged away screaming about metal and machines while a woman in a suit held you in a death grip, muttering about apples and trees, while you matched your mother's screams.
At ten and eleven, a bad day was when you realized that maybe, just maybe, your mom did belong in a padded room and that the only thing left to love in this world was your dog, Max.
The bedsprings protested his movement and the sound was loud in the quiet of the room.
"You're not. You need to sleep."
"How about," John sat up, tugged a pillow out from under the bedspread and punched it into submission before lying back down," we play let's pretend?"
"I don't know that game."
"You can pretend that everything is fine and I can pretend that I'm sleeping."
"And in the end, who wins?"
At twelve, a bad day was having your nightmares come to life and hating yourself for not believing your mother. At twelve a bad day was learning for the first time that people died because of who you were.
Six degrees of separation, Connor style.
At thirteen, a bad day was coming home to find your mother had made pancakes and packed the truck. At thirteen, a bad day was finding out your mother wanted to move on the same day you kissed your first girl.
At fourteen, a bad day was being poor with bare cupboards, existing on the food your mother brought home from her job at the diner. At fourteen, a bad day was being so sick your mother had to borrow money from a stranger to take you to the doctor.
John inhaled deeply, trying to fill his lungs with oxygen but it didn't work, and he coughed, turning to the side in an attempt to bury the sound in the pillow.
"Stress lowers the immune system. Are you sick?"
Too late. "No."
"But you coughed."
"I'm fine," he assured her.
"That's right, we're playing let's pretend. Does this mean I lost?"
"No." John tucked his hands under his armpits for warmth. "Let's try for best outta three."
At fifteen, a bad day was waiting for the other shoe to fall. At fifteen, a bad day was forgetting that you were John Connor and for that reason alone, the future wanted you dead. At fifteen, a bad day was lying to the only family member who bore your father's name.
At sixteen, a bad day was having a birthday that started out with hope and ended with death.
"What are you doing?" John skirted to the edge of the bed when he felt the mattress dip with Cameron's weight. "Shouldn't you be keeping watch?"
"How about I pretend I'm keeping watch and you pretend you're sleeping?"
Instinctually, his hand sought the pocketwatch under his tee shirt. "I tried that, didn't work. I think I suck at playing games."
"Sometimes the proximity of a familiar objection brings comfort enough to allow the insomniac the ability to rest."
"Damn, I left all my stuffed animals at home."
"I'm a familiar object."
"So's my gun," John sighed. "Do me a favor, Cameron, just shut up, okay?"
At sixteen, there were only bad days. Death. Disappointment. Betrayal. Deceit. Loneliness. Fear. Failure. And ticking time bombs that wore the face of someone you used to trust. You learned at sixteen, contrary to whatever your mother believed, you had been listening and hands that could help a little girl tie her shoes were capable of breaking a man's neck.
At sixteen, you learned you always were John Connor no matter how many pieces of paper said otherwise and that deceit, disappointment and betrayal came in the form of beautiful girls with long blonde hair and a quick smile.
At sixteen, you learned your mother will always love you even if you've kept secrets from her.
"What are you doing, John? You're talking in your sleep."
He stretched, rubbed his forearms and brought his knees up in a valiant effort to maintain some semblance of body heat. It wasn't working. "Not sleeping, I'm counting the dead."
"Oh. Is that like counting sheep?"
At sixteen, you learned that Charley fit into your life whether years, or months, or weeks had passed. At sixteen, you learned there's never enough time to say what you wanted to say. Like goodbye. Or thank you. Or I love you.
The bed shifted again and a wave of colder air flowed over his body followed by warmth as scratchy heat from the bedspread on the other side of the bed was placed over his body. John cocooned himself in the bedspread but still remained curled in a fetal ball.
"You were shivering."
"And now I'm not, thank you."
"All you had to do was ask."
At sixteen, you learned not to ask for things that were out of your reach; because sometimes your requests would arrive gift wrapped with horrific consequences.
At sixteen, you learned winning isn't everything, even if you were John Connor.
"I'm sorry for your loss."
"Losses. Cameron. I'm sorry for your losses. Plural. My foster parents. Enrique. Doctor Sherman. Michelle. Riley. Charley..." John couldn't say the name. Not yet.
"Is this what you meant by counting the dead? Does it make you tired? Like counting sheep?"
"No, it doesn't and we've already had this discussion."
Cameron carded her fingers through his hair, while her thumb drew tiny circles against his temple.
"Stop that." John shouldered away her touch.
"You found it quite effective when your mother did it. You fell asleep."
"You're not my mother."
"No, your mother is sitting in—"
"Goddamn it, I know where my mother is."
"Then you know that tomorrow we're going to rescue Sarah Connor," Cameron paused, "and I'm going to kill Ellison."
"You're going to have to stand in line behind me."
At sixteen, you learned that Derek was wrong. Terminators didn't carry death, John Connor did.