From a prompt that my friend Victoria gave me: "900 words about changing sheets on a bed." It's, eh, not exactly that. And, um, apparently this is the only Jimmy/Amelia story on FF.N? My mind, it is boggled.

Threads and Days

(the things we count)

She spends the night on the faded flannel sheets of her old bed. Everything's been moved out of the apartment she'd shared with two girls from the choir, packed into boxes and put in the garage at the house in Pontiac that Jimmy's uncle sold him for cheap. The house that would be their home, as soon as they got back from the honeymoon.

Tonight, between the day she is a young woman and the day she is Amelia Novak, she is once again a child, surrounded by pictures of herself, hair unkempt and face naked of all cosmetics, with her arms thrown around friends at youth retreats and Bible camps. Twenty-three feels pretty different from seventeen.

She buries her face in the forget-me-nots printed on her pillowcase, unable to tell dread from excitement.

Jimmy keeps asking if she's okay.

She doesn't know how to tell him that she's fine, that she's been prepared for this since she was twenty and picked up a sexual health book for teens in a second-hand store. She'd hid between aisles and read, heart thudding hollowly. It'd been her first education, the first time she had seen facts presented without misinformed whispers or an admonition to avoid temptation. She hadn't dared buy it, for fear someone would see her and she'd be shamed. But the words she'd read, the illustrations she'd seen, they'd been locked in her mind ever since.

Jimmy is balancing above her. His face says half a dozen things at once. Concern is there, and pleasure, and the fear that maybe this is still a sin, enjoying something so carnal, despite their marriage. He's entirely rhythmless, and he keeps stopping to ask how she feels, which is becoming infuriating.

It kind of hurts, which she'd expected. She herself doesn't feel anything resembling an orgasm, but she figures they can work on that later.

They spend the next day at the beach, looking for shells and getting vicious sunburns, and when they get back to the hotel the blood-tinged sheets from the previous night have been replaced with fresh white ones. Amelia can't help but feel like it's a new beginning, like the formalities are finished and now the fun part can begin.

That night she helps Jimmy figure out a better way to use his mouth than asking if she's okay.

She lies back, letting the technician manhandle her belly. When the fuzzy black-and-white image appears on the monitor, she sucks in a breath. Jimmy stops nervously shredding the butcher paper she's lying on and for a moment looks scared witless.

She snags his hand, saying It's gonna be okay.

He smiles then, big and open and still scared but happy. I think that's my line.

She doesn't really think they're ready for this, but it's not like they've got a choice now. The paper crinkles as she shifts closer to Jimmy. They'll make it. She knows they will.

Amelia, Jimmy calls. There's something wrong with our bed.

She's in the kitchen, so she goes to the bottom of the stairs and says, Oh?

Jimmy's head pokes out from around the corner at the top. There's this lump. It won't go away.

So up she goes, concern about the price of new mattresses forming. When she gets to the bedroom, though, the problem is immediately identifiable from Jimmy's wide grin and the giggling from under the fitted sheet.

Oh, I've seen this before, she says sagely. Bed bugs. Got a big one here. Best way to deal with it is to just squish it.

The bedding goes everywhere in the resulting toddler-appropriate rough-housing, until Claire dozes sprawled across Jimmy's chest and she lies against his side on the bare pillowtop of their mattress. She can't remember being so happy.

For three months she's consumed with finding him, afraid he'll hurt himself or—Lord forbid—hurt someone else. She prepares the same amount of food, continues to pay for the paper that only he reads, firmly forbids Claire from panicking.

But at night, she lies small and wounded on her half of the bed, not daring to encroach into the space he should occupy. Before, she would've snuck a hand under him, or allowed him to pull her into an embrace, or just swung up on top of him if she was feeling into it. Now she can barely put her head on his pillow, seeking the reassuring scent of Suave for Men and aftershave.

In month four, she decides he isn't coming back, and that it isn't her fault. The pillowcase now smells like Tide and dryer sheets, and she tells herself it's therapeutic.

She almost goes to her mother's house. Then she remembers Roger lying dead outside her pantry, and she realizes that she can't ever go anywhere near home again. She drives until she's exhausted, then rents a motel room.

She holds Claire tight against her and thinks back to having that demon inside her. She thought she was going to die. She thought she was going to kill Claire and Jimmy. And she might as well have—Jimmy is never coming back. She presses her face to Claire's hair and something smells off—like icy mornings, the same smell that'd permeated Jimmy's clothes when he'd reappeared. She shudders.

She finds she can't sleep, pinned between the starch-rough sheets of the motel bed.

It's the end of her world.