She smiled as she poured tea into his cup. 'I hope you find your rooms comfortable?' 'Quite.' He took a too-hasty sip of tea and scalded his tongue. 'The view is to your liking?' He had a view of a brick wall. 'Indeed.' She fluttered her eyelashes at him over the rim of her teacup. 'And the bed. Is it soft and... yielding?' He nearly choked on the bite of cake he'd just taken. 'Or do you prefer a firmer bed?' she asked sweetly. 'One that refuses to yield too soon?' 'I think'-he narrowed his eyes at her-'whatever mattress I have on the bed you gave me is perfect. But tell me, my lady, what sort of mattress do you prefer? All soft goose down or one that's a bit... harder?' It was very fast, but he saw it: Her gaze flashed down to the juncture of his thighs and then up again. If there hadn't been anything to see there before, there certainly was now. 'Oh, I like a nice stiff mattress, ' she purred. 'Well warmed and ready for a long ride.
Fear tugs at me and I'm falling. I grab at the mattress, dig in with my fingers, flop onto my stomach, hold tight. Press my face into the pillow so hard it hurts. The quilt twists like it wants to smother me. I can't scream out loud, but there has to be some release. I kick my feet against the mattress in a muffled frenzy, legs flying fast and hard enough to carry me miles away. And when it's done, nothing's changed. I'm still stuck right here.
For eight years I dreamed of fire. Trees ignited as I passed them; oceans burned. The sugary smoke settled in my hair as I slept, the scent like a cloud left on my pillow as I rose. Even so, the moment my mattress started to burn, I bolted awake. The sharp, chemical smell was nothing like the hazy syrup of my dreams; the two were as different as Carolina and Indian jasmine, separation and attachment. They could not be confused. Standing in the middle of the room, I located the source of the fire. A neat row of wooden matches lined the foot of the bed. They ignited, one after the next, a glowing picket fence across the piped edging. Watching them light, I felt a terror unequal to the size of the flickering flames, and for a paralyzing moment I was ten years old again, desperate and hopeful in a way I had never been before and never would be again. But the bare synthetic mattress did not ignite like the thistle had in late October. It smoldered, and then the fire went out. It was my eighteenth birthday.