Reckless Caution


Ryan dropped the full super-sized cup of Diet Coke. It burst open with an impressive splash up the side of the front desk and onto his dusty work boots. Ice cubes skittered around the linoleum like the thoughts in his brain.

The new girl at the front desk reddened. “Don’t worry, sir. We’ll get that taken care of. I’m sorry your wife didn’t—“

“No,” Ryan shook his head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make this mess.”

“I’ll call someone. Don’t worry about it.”

You mean I have enough to worry about. “Thanks.”

Ryan set down the bag of hot burgers and stooped to pick up the plastic cup and lid that still clinched the straw. He brushed a few ice cubes into the cup before slamming it in the waiting-room trash can. The front desk clerk was already on the phone when Ryan snatched the crumpled bag of food and left the dentist office. When he got to his truck, he threw the bag into the cab so hard it smashed against the passenger door and landed with a dull plop.

Ryan turned the ignition key; the radio blared “Jack & Diane” before he switched it off. If she’s not at work, and she hasn’t been at work for two weeks… she must have some new routine, because she’s not at home either or I would’ve seen her car. Damn it, Mel. He inhaled deeply and blew it out. It was another dream. I know she had another damn dream.

Gym or library, babe? He peeled out of the parking lot.

Melanie was at the Racquet Club, swimming laps in the pool wearing her tight blue cap and goggles. Ryan ignored the wet floor signs and stood at the end of her lane. The pungent smell of chlorine mocked him. She had smelled like chlorine lately.

“Brought you lunch at work,” he said when she reached the edge.

“I can explain—“.

“You had a dream, didn’t you?”

She pulled off her goggles, scowling. “This is why I didn’t tell you. I knew you would get mad.” She hoisted herself out of the water.

“You quit your job because of a dream! And you know we need the money…the insurance…

She grabbed a towel off the bench. “I know you don’t understand. You hate the dreams. I get it, but I can’t just ignore them. They warn me. It was about my boss, and he . . . he was a total perv. I had to quit. I’ll find another job.”

“This is ridiculous, Mel. It’s one thing to cancel a trip, or avoid rotten meat, or call in sick. But quitting your job? You’re just paranoid—“

“It’s not like that!” She brushed passed him, hugging her towel.

“Mel,” he stayed on her heels. “None of your dreams have actually proven to be right. Ever. We even postponed our honeymoon for crying out loud and nothing ever happened at that resort or to the plane—nothing. Will you just stop acting on these dreams all the time and whatever it is, don’t listen to them. It probably won’t even happen! Please. Because I wonder if you just need to go see a—“

“Nope. No doctors.” Her hand was on the locker room door.

His voice softened. “Then let’s just see what happens next time. Talk to me about it, and we’ll get through it. No more running. I can’t fight this dream-business forever. It’s too crazy.”

She tightened her lips and inhaled. “Fine. The next time I have a dream, I won’t act on it. But, it’s going to be killing me. Killing me.”

“Well, so’s our bills.”

Every morning, Ryan asked Melanie if she had one of those dreams, and often added a lecture spattered with suspicion of delusions and doubt. It was at least thirty days before she hysterically answered, “Yes.”

Melanie stood barefoot at the end of the bed, trembling. He grasped her slender hand and looked her straight in the eyes. “Whatever it is—it won’t happen, and we’ll be fine.”

“It was about you,” she breathed. “Please. Don’t drive down Telegraph today . . . you won’t make it.”

“I’ll be fine,” Ryan’s face burned. I’ll take Southfield instead.


(Writing prompt provided by WD Your Story Competition #77)