“Better Sweets to Prove Than Sleep” by Lisa Mantchev is the story of a woman caught between men, between demands on her time, and between life as a microsleeper and the pressures of a comatose society.
[ IMPORTANT NOTICE: This story is NOT covered by the Creative Commons License that covers the majority of content on Futurismic; copyright remains with the author, and any redistribution is a breach thereof. Thanks. ]
Better Sweets To Prove Than Sleep
by Lisa Mantchev
Jenna retrieved four poems memorized in third grade, the capitols of the fifty-four states, and the molecular structure of hydrogen. She dumped them in the recycle bin, shuffled around her free memory and recategorized the Townsend project as High Priority.
Zach grunted above her but she couldn’t concentrate on little things like his sweating body and enthusiastic penetration with so much junk swirling around in her head.
Distracted by the look of gleeful concentration on his face, Jenna lost her grasp on the sorting process and slipped into microsleep. Finalization of the new changes. Rapid cell repair and regeneration on the soles of her naked feet. QuickDreams of Cinderella at the masquerade, frolicking in fountains and surrounded by pink and gold fireworks. Then she jerked awake to the panicked repetition of her name accompanied by gentle slaps to her face.
“Oh my god, are you all right?” Zach pulled her into his arms and cradled her against the broad expanse of his sweaty, naked chest. “Did I hurt you? Your eyes rolled into the back of your head!”
Jenna struggled to breathe normally. She pulled away from him and shook her head. Residual dream glitter cascaded through her vision, sifted over her and disappeared.
“I’m fine. I was just… a little dizzy.”
“I’m calling an ambulance.” With his bare buttocks clenched, Zach rolled over and grabbed the phone.
Jenna grabbed his arm. “Really, that’s totally unnecessary!”
His fingers hovered over the touch pad. “You sure?”
“Positive.” She nodded and wrapped the sheet around herself. “I just didn’t sleep very well last night, that’s all.”
Zach hesitated and then set the phone down. “Insomnia again?”
She almost told him. Nearly kicked down the door of the closet and leapt out, so to speak.
I’m a 24/7 girl, Zach.
“Yeah, insomnia,” she said.
“Sometimes I think I’m the only person in this world without a freaking sleeping disorder.” He scowled and rubbed a hand through his hair. “My sister’s decided she’s a freaking microsleeper.”
Chills. “You’re kidding.”
“I wish. And Crescent Lake is buzzing with the news by now.”
“It’s not a very big town, Zach. It’s hard to keep secrets there. We both know that.” Jenna pleated the sheet. “Did she tell your parents?”
“Yeah, but not before she’d packed all her shit in the car. I guess she said she was going to the city where people weren’t so backward about these things.” Zach snorted.
“Sophie’s here?” Jenna sat up. “Have you talked to her?”
“Not yet. She hasn’t called.” The muscle in his jaw clenched.
Jenna reached for him. “You have to be supportive, Zach. She’s your sister and you love her.”
“Hey, I’m not the one that decided to be a freak of nature.”
Jenna’s stomach knotted. “She can’t help the way she is. It’s a biological process—”
He pulled on his pants and turned to face her, half-dressed. For a moment, all she could see was the captain of the hockey team. Her date to the senior class dance. Her first love. A boy from a small town, a small town filled with people with small minds.
Which is why I never told you. Never told anyone.
“You’re right. I’m being an asshole.” He sighed. And then he smiled, that slow sexy smile that never failed to win her over.
“I don’t want to talk about Sophie anymore.”
“Just what do you want to do, then?”
“I think I want to finish what we started this morning.”
The sheet slipped down an inch or so. WakingDreams crept around the edges of her consciousness and trickled through her filters. For a moment, she was a Degas nude, neck tilted in a welcoming curve and curls tumbling over her shoulders. Clean lines traced the swell of her breast and hip—
Jenna shook her head and smiled up at Zach.
So he’s ignorant of my circadian rhythms. So most microsleepers aren’t compatible with hibernators. Big deal. Buck the trend. Prove them wrong.
It couldn’t be all about timing compatibility and biorhythms. Sometimes you just needed to get laid. With a little sigh, she let the sheet fall to the bed.
She pulled him back into bed with her and managed to forget the mess in her head.
Jenna breezed into the foyer of Bailey, Cramer & Associates a scant ten minutes past the hour. Margott sat behind the massive console with a phone glued to one ear. Jenna slid a memo across the counter: Sophie’s name and request to locate her phone number.
Margott nodded and tried to beckon Jenna back with tangerine lacquered nails.
No time, Jenna mouthed to her, heels clicking against the parquet floor of the hall. I’m late.
She took a deep breath outside the conference room door, smoothed down her jacket and then entered.
“My apologies, ladies and gentlemen—”
Or rather, gentleman. A single devastating example of manhood rose from a leather chair and smiled.
“No apologies necessary, Miss—”
Jenna closed her gaping mouth and accepted his extended hand for a firm shake. “Morrow. Jenna Morrow.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Miss Morrow. I’m Phillip Townsend.”
Jenna started. “I had no idea you’d be handling the meeting yourself, Mr. Townsend.”
“Please, call me Phillip.”
“I assumed your advertising manager would be here with an army of associates and assistants. That’s why I booked the conference room.” Jenna indicated the brunch table, set with plates of pastry and carafes of juice and coffee. “Maybe we could help ourselves and adjourn to my office. I’d feel a little silly giving a presentation in this cave with just the two of us.”
Phillip grinned and retrieved his briefcase, which he then used as a tray for scones and fruit. “You bring the coffee.”
“Sounds like a plan.” She got a firm grip on the coffee cups and indicated that he should follow her. He ambled alongside her, thoroughly at home in his expensive silk-blend suit. Tailored, no doubt.
Jenna sat down and poured their coffee, then loaded the spot of skiers in the Pyrenees and couples frolicking in impossibly blue tropical water.
Phillip steepled his fingers and concentrated on the commercial spot.
“Townsend Private Charters and Retreats. Because special occasions deserve only the best,” the narrator intoned with silky assurance.
“It’s not bad,” he pronounced after the images disappeared. “What were you planning for release?”
“Spreads in the major print media and table top adverts in four star restaurants to start. A private mailing to our upper-tier client list.” Jenna took a deep breath and willed herself to relax.
Piece by piece, they sorted through her design mock-ups. He discarded and rearranged half a dozen layouts, quibbled over font style and size and drove her to distraction with his smile and easy laughter. By noon, her memo board was filled with notations and flagged changes. They batted around her brain, spilled over each other and created an unholy mess that summoned a pounding at the base of her skull and behind her right eye.
“So you want the scrolling text for the first ad, right?”
Phillip relaxed in his chair and cracked open a bottle of mineral water.
“Hold that thought.” His eyes alternated from left to right with lightning speed. His chin twitched a bit and he frowned. “Yeah, that should do it.” His lids fluttered closed.
Jenna gaped at him. One of the country’s foremost CEO’s was rebooting across the desk from her without so much as an “excuse me”. Phillip jerked awake a split second later and cocked his head to one side.
“You look pretty good in a bikini.”
Jenna pursed her lips. “QuickDream residue?”
“Yeah. You’re still sitting on the beach with me.”
“And just what sort of bikini are we talking about?”
“Skimpy.” He leaned back in his chair and tilted his head as though still enjoying the unlikely mental picture.
“Savor it. You’ll never catch me in a bikini again, skimpy or otherwise.” Jenna laughed despite herself. “How do you feel?”
“Better. Had to clear my head out a bit.”
“I understand. Not a problem.” Her own mind swam.
“Why don’t you?” He downed half the bottle of Perrier in one hearty gulp.
“Why don’t I what?”
He laughed. “Catch forty winks, Gorgeous. You look done in.”
“I beg your pardon—”
Phillip laughed. “Don’t play coy with me. You’re on the fast track to partner at a major advertising firm and you haven’t hit your thirtieth birthday.”
“Well, let’s just say I don’t microsleep at work.” Despite herself, Jenna smiled. “And I certainly don’t microsleep with clients.”
Phillip checked his watch and rose. “Then I’ll excuse myself and let you do… what it is you need to do. What time shall I pick you up for dinner, Miss Morrow?”
“At quarter to never, Mr. Townsend.” She shook his hand and escorted him to the door. Her mouth twitched at his audacity.
“Phillip.” His hand captured hers again. “And I’m afraid I didn’t quite catch that. What time do you conclude your work day so we may continue our mutually beneficial business relationship?”
Don’t, Jenna. This is trouble, with a capital T and that rhymes with Z, and that stands for Zach…
“Ten thirty,” Jenna heard herself say. “I never eat dinner before eleven.
“The party you requested is holding on line one, Miss Morrow.”
“Thanks, Margott.” Jenna reached for the phone. “Sophie?”
“Hey Jenna. I guess you heard the news.”
“Zach told me this morning. Are you all right? Do you have a place to stay? Enough money?”
Sophie laughed. “I’m all right for the first freaking time in my life. I’m staying with friends and I have my savings until I can find a job. Or three.”
Jenna smiled despite the worry gnawing inside her. Sophie sounded like the same irresponsible, irrepressible kid she’d known in Crescent Lake. “Have you talked with your brother?”
Silence on the other end of the line.
“Yeah,” Sophie said with a dramatic exhalation of breath. “I can’t believe you’re shacked up with that Neanderthal.”
“I’ve been with that Neanderthal for almost eight years, Soph, minus the four I was in university. Cut him some slack. He’s still recovering from the news.”
“I will not cut him some slack, Jenna. The stuff he said to me was inexcusable. I’m not some stupid kid, and I don’t have to listen to his bullshit.”
“All right, I got it.” Jenna pinched the bridge of her nose against an oncoming migraine. “But you make sure you call me if you need something, you hear me? I still have the loft and it’s sitting empty.”
“Thanks, but I can do this.”
“And you’re sure you’ll be all right?”
“Jenna, I’m not lying to myself or anyone else for the first time in my life. I’ll be better than all right. I’ll be great. Love you!” Sophie broke the connection.
Jenna stared at the phone for a minute and then placed a call to Zach.
“Hey darlin’,” he drawled, “I was just thinking about you. I’ve got tonight all planned—”
“Bad news. I’ve got a business dinner.” Jenna tapped one manicured nail against the desk. “I’ll make it up to you.”
“You didn’t sleep for shit last night and you’re going to stay out late? That can’t be good, especially after this morning—”
Jenna cut him off. “I talked to Sophie.”
“She was a little upset. What did you say?”
“Look, Jenna, she’s my sister. I said what I needed to say.”
The migraine blossomed behind her eyeballs. “Great. What happened to being supportive?”
“Look, I tried, but then she went off the deep end, telling me about how her dreams spill over when she’s awake and how she can clear up a pimple while she’s knocked out. I couldn’t handle it.”
“There isn’t really anything to handle, Zach. She’s not a kid anymore.” I’m not a kid anymore.
“That doesn’t mean she can do whatever she wants.”
“Actually, it does. It means she can do what’s best for herself.” I can do what’s best for myself.
“Even if it hurts everyone around her?”
“If you love her, you’ll understand.” If you love me….
There was a long pause. “Maybe you should crash at your place tonight. It’s closer to the office and then you don’t have to drive all the way back here.
Ice crackled over the line. “If that’s the way you want it.”
He volleyed the accusation back at her. “It’s not how I want it, Jenna.”
“Fine. Whatever. I’ll crash at the loft tonight.”
“Enjoy your dinner, Jen. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
He broke the connection (and probably his receiver, but that wasn’t any of her concern, was it?) Fuming, she hung up the phone and then proceeded to kick the desk with the toe of her four-hundred-dollar sling back heel.
Jenna jerked as though live wires danced over her skin.
“Phillip. You’re early. It’s only nine.”
“And you’re pissed.” He lounged in the doorframe, eyes concerned. “Not at me, I hope.”
“Whatever gave you that idea?” Jenna smoothed a hand over her hair and prayed she didn’t resemble a wrathful Medusa.
“Those baby blues of yours are sparking fire, for one thing.” He crossed the room and presented her with the kind of bouquet of wildflowers and roses. “Maybe these will help.”
Jenna shook her head and took half a step back. “I couldn’t possibly accept.”
He glanced at his offering. “Too hideous? No problem. I’ll just chuck them in the trash.”
“No!” Jenna cried as he moved toward the steel bin next to her desk.
Phillip hesitated, risked a smile with the bouquet hovering inches from destruction. “Changed your mind?”
Jenna muttered something under her breath about damned exasperating men and what they could go do with themselves. Then she held out her hands.
“Yes.” The weight surprised her, but the gentle fragrance charmed and soothed. “They’re lovely.”
Phillip moved a fraction closer and studied her face. “As are you.”
Jenna lifted a hand to her face, could almost feel the canyon-deep circles under her eyes. “I didn’t have time… I mean—”
“You haven’t recharged.” He took the flowers from her and set them on the desk. “Take a moment for yourself. I’m in no hurry.”
Jenna sighed. “Let me sit down for a moment—”
His arm encircled her waist. “I won’t let you fall.”
She put a hand against his chest. “I’d really feel more comfortable if you—”
“Close your eyes,” he said. “Doctor’s orders.”
“You’re not a doctor.” She frowned at his suave overconfidence.
“Just shut up and sleep.”
The business of the day flew through her mind in a thousand blue-black dragonflies. Microsleep crashed over her and Jenna drifted to the bottom of an ocean in his arms. The QuickDream spiraled around her, unbidden. Her mermaid’s tail winked its silver scales. Seaweed coiled around her shoulders and drifted through her hair. Phillip’s mouth covered her with kisses as they twined together in a double helix, bright and hot.
A rush of air burned through her as consciousness slammed into her chest. It wasn’t a WakingDream that his arms held her upright, but he drowned her yet. Jenna detangled herself, shaking a bit and cursing them both.
“I’m better, thanks.”
He didn’t reach for her again, but his eyes never left her face. “Ready to eat, then?”
Jenna’s stomach growled in agreement and Phillip’s eyes crinkled at the corners.
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
It didn’t surprise Jenna that the maitre d’ greeted Phillip with effusive yet subtle delight, or that they were seated at a superlative table with a view of the city. What did surprise her was the arrival of a silver champagne bucket and an appetizer before they so much as received their menus.
“That souffle took at least an hour to prepare,” she noted with authority.
“I called ahead.”
Moisture pooled in her mouth. “You must be a very good customer.”
“No, I’m a very good tipper.” He handed her a spoon. “Now dig in before it collapses completely.”
“Good thing I’m not on a diet.” She took a bite and smothered a groan.
Phillip ran inroads in the souffle with enthusiasm. “No, you’re allergic to dog hair and citydust, but not cheese.”
The spoon froze halfway to her mouth on a return trip. “How the hell did you know that?”
“Same way I knew to get you wildflowers and not some monstrous funeral arrangement of lilies and ferns.”
Jenna considered this with her mouth full of Gruyere. “Margot.”
“She was most helpful,” he acknowledged.
“She’s usually very discreet. You must have extensive powers of persuasion, Mr. Townsend.”
“Phillip,” she amended. “But I must admit, between the champagne and the informal use of your first name that this doesn’t much resemble a business meeting.”
“I could zap you with my laser pointer if you like.”
“That won’t be necessary.” She cleared her throat. “I want to thank you for… back at the office.”
“It was my pleasure.” He could have dismissed the intimate moment with a flap of his hand, a shrug of his shoulder, but he didn’t. “If you don’t my saying so, you don’t seem very comfortable with your ability.”
Jenna glanced up at the silent waiter that cleared their plates and refilled their glasses. He set the next course with a flourish.
“I was the only one in my family that I know of. It wasn’t something we talked about. I grew up thinking I was weird instead of gifted.”
“That’s a shame, really.”
Jenna shrugged. “It was a small town, and the people there had small minds to match. My parents didn’t want me to be persecuted. I’m still getting used to the idea that I don’t have to keep it a secret.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “I bet you had tutors and special classes to maximize your abilities.”
“That’s an understatement. Both my parents are microsleepers and were delighted that their little protégé was going to follow in their footsteps. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t studying two or three languages and a musical instrument.” He ticked them off on his fingers. “Latin. French. German, Italian, Japanese. The piano, the violin and the flute. Art appreciation, opera. All in addition to prep school, rugby and homework.”
Jenna raised her eyebrows in mock surprise. “Whenever did you find the time to perfect that lady-killer smile of yours?”
“In the halls,” he said. “And every social event my parents sponsored from here to Europe.”
She shook her head and took another glorious mouthful of caviar. “I’m amazed that your ego isn’t bigger than this room.”
Phillip laughed, apparently delighted. “You’re not at all impressed, are you?”
“Maybe a tiny bit jealous,” she admitted. “But I’m happy enough with my own success.”
“College at fourteen, master’s degree at twenty.”
“You do your homework, Phillip Townsend.”
“I surely do. And the moment I saw your credentials, I knew you’d land the account.” His gaze remained locked on her face and she knew she was blushing. “And I was glad, because I wanted to meet you.”
Jenna wanted to squirm in her chair, hide behind her napkin. Worse than that, she wanted to blurt out that she had a boyfriend-thank-you-very-much and vault from the table.
“Now I’ve made you uncomfortable,” he said.
“Maybe just a little.”
“Because I’m a client, or because you’re unavailable?”
“Both.” Jenna set her spoon down.
“I have a boyfriend.”
“So that’s why you were kicking your desk when I came in.” Phillip held up his hand. Another waiter whisked away their plates and replenished the silver. “True love always provokes abuse of the furniture.”
“He was upset I’d be home late.” Which was true. No need to elaborate.
“Relationships are difficult enough without mixing sleeping patterns.”
“Relationships are difficult, period.” Jenna refused to let the memory of the argument with Zach ruin her dinner. The waiter hovered at her elbow, quivering like a spaniel anticipating a bone.
Phillip nodded to him. “Please ask Jean-François to prepare his specialty.” He winked at Jenna. “You’re going to love this.”
“This is when I’m supposed to protest and claim I couldn’t eat another bite,” Jenna said. “But I won’t.”
“Good girl,” he said with approval. “So would it surprise you to know that I plan on pursuing you?”
“Is that what you’re doing?” Jenna’s pulse kicked against her ribs.
“There are more weapons in my arsenal,” Phillip said. “Beginning with dessert.”
An impossibly architectural tower of chocolate, fruit and gold foil arrived. Minute espresso cups released twin coils of fragrant steam. Jenna touched a finger to the cocoa stenciled on the foam.
“And if I asked you not to?”
Phillip constructed a bite of mousse and raspberries and offered it to her.
“Tell me that you’re not the least bit interested and I’ll ride off into the sunset, no questions asked.” He wagged the fork at her until she accepted the mouthful. “But if you’re the least bit attracted to me—which I think you are—you owe it to both of us to consider the possibilities.”
“Such as?” She held her breath.
“We live in a twenty-four hour society, Gorgeous. You and I are the same kind of people. We want the same things, we need the same things from a partner.”
“In business or in bed?”
“Is there a difference?” Jenna opened her mouth to argue, but Phillip lifted his hand. “Not as much as you think. But don’t give me an answer right now. Take some time to think it over.”
Time to think it over.
Phillip’s proposal was the sort of thing that kept hibernators up all night long with their heads stuck in the refrigerator.
Not that there was anything worthwhile in her refrigerator.
Jenna moved around the loft, opening windows to vent the stale air. A fine layer of citydust coated every surface and her nose twitched. In fifteen minutes, the apartment hummed with Rovers polishing every vertical surface.
Jenna changed into a softly faded pajama set; a ridiculous habit but one she couldn’t resist. She stretched out and wriggled her toes, unused to the lack of activity. The projects that usually occupied her nocturne hours were held captive at Zach’s. None of the books in the shelves held any allure when the information in her head swirled like so much snow and refused to settle.
Out of desperation, she switched on the television.
“With this amazing product, you’ll be able to master the art of interior decorating in no time. Amaze your hibernator friends with the perfect foyer—”
“Sleep like your loved ones. No need to lay awake all night!”
“Well Joan, I think that most microsleepers have a propensity to success. Sure, there are the lazy ones that spend their nights parked in front of the television, but by and large our brains are tuned for activity. That’s why so many are threatened by us—”
Click. Click. Click!
Jenna dimmed the lights with the remote and tried to relax. The blurriness around the edge of her vision reminded her of the long day and the sleep debt she owed herself.
Ten or fifteen minutes should get me back on track, plus give my cells time to regenerate before I completely fall to pieces.
Beauty sleep. Maybe she ought to give herself twenty.
Jenna struggled to recategorize her relationships with Zach and Phillip, to sort out her feelings in neat piles labeled “save” and “recycle”. But it wasn’t working tonight. The mental clutter multiplied. Thoughts and emotions slithered from her grasp and ran gleefully around her brain.
Sleep attacked her without warning. The QuickDream began and her turmoil spilled over into the dreamscape. The ground fell away from her, stones cobbled themselves around her. Masses of honey-blond curls tumbled over her shoulders and the mysterious swish of satin marked her footsteps.
“What are you doing, old woman?” she asked.
The crone by the window cackled and beckoned her closer.
Jenna reached out her hand and pricked her finger on the spindle of the spinning wheel. The evil fairy filled the tiny room with screams of malevolent laughter. Jenna tumbled back into the depths of the canopied bed, mouth twisted in a yawn. Then she could see herself, the even rise and fall of her chest, the perfect rosebud of her mouth wide open with snores.
The king and queen gathered at the bedside and wept, but with joy and exaltation.
“Our daughter sleeps at last,” Her Majesty said.
“Plant thorns and summon the dragon,” the king ordered. “Let no one disturb her sleep!”
An army of gardeners descended upon the grounds with spades and clippings. A mighty hedge coiled upwards, choking the fountains and blotting out the sun. The dragon manicured her tangerine talons and exhaled twin streams of cinnamon-scented smoke. The sun retired and the moon bobbed about the sky on an invisible string.
Then the Princes Charming began their assaults.
The first hacked and swore as he cut a path through the roses and thorns. After only a few minutes, his sword dragged in the dust.
“I am mightily tired,” he declared. He yawned and curled up behind a boulder to nap. He slept so long and so deep that the vines crept over him, painted his face and thickly muscled arms green. Before long, the earth swallowed him whole and only a mossy knoll remained.
Prince Charming the Sequel subdued the dragon with poems and flute song. The dragon, intoxicated by his perfect hair and dazzling smile, whispered all the princess’s secrets in his ear.
“Don’t ask to climb her hair,” she told him. “She has a tender scalp.”
“I never would,” he replied with his lady-killer smile.
The moon, just as charmed as the dragon, picked him out in silver filigree as he trained the hedges to grow in a parade of blooming elephants and unicorns. When the first rays of dawn edged over the land, he waltzed up the stairs to the tower room. But the thick oak door was barred from the inside.
“My love,” he called. The doorknob rattled and shook. “I must wake you with a kiss. Let me in, damn it.”
But Jenna pulled the covers over her head and slept on. She would wake when she damn well chose and not a moment before…
And indeed she did. After a hundred years, she opened her eyes to greet the morning with a smile.
Squinting, Jenna sat up and peered through bleary eyes at the windows. Rainbows winked back at her. Lemon-scented silence edged around her as she groped for her watch.
9:45. More than seven hours after she’d stretched out for a “rest”. It had taken all that time to sort out the welter of her thoughts and emotions. Maybe now it would all make sense…
I have to tell Zach the truth. If we’re lucky, he’ll be able to accept it. If not… well, I’ll pull a Scarlet O’Hara and think about that tomorrow.
Jenna stumbled to the window and pressed a hand to the glass. Though the vines had faded and the dragon was gone, she recognized the view and was content.
This sleeping beauty had waked without the aid of either prince. And that suited her just fine.
[ IMPORTANT NOTICE: This story is NOT covered by the Creative Commons License that covers the majority of content on Futurismic; copyright remains with the author, and any redistribution is a breach thereof. Thanks. ]