Bear was awoken from a sound sleep by a human torpedo as Girl thumped into his side, quivering. At first, he was puzzled, but then, when he heard the crash of thunder overhead, realized that she must have been frightened by the noise.
He stroked her head. "It's okay, Girl. It's only thunder." That didn't seem to help, and every fresh flash of light and crash of thunder seemed to produce an electric shock in her body, causing her to dig further into Bear's tummy.
She was shaking and whimpering. "It's okay, Girl. I'm here. I'll keep you safe."
He continued to stroke her hair, and gradually, she stopped shaking as badly, although she did keep trembling and jumped each time there was another crash. He huddled around her, hugging her close, murmuring soothing sounds.
Eventually, the storm passed, and Girl slowly started to relax.
Finally, she heaved a deep sigh, sat up, wiped her eyes, and, looking at the floor, said, "I…I'm sorry, Bear. I didn't mean to disturb your sleep."
She sniffed, then continued, "It's silly really. I ought to have grown out…"
Bear put up his paw. "Stop it, Girl. We all have things we can't stand. Thunder and lightning just happen to be one of yours. It's okay. I understand."
Girl, tried to smile, without notable success, then slowly started to get up. “I…I don’t think you do understand, Bear,” she said, looking at the floor.
Bear waited, but she said nothing further. “If you want to tell me, I’ll listen,” he said. “Or not if you’d rather not talk about it.”
She stood for a long time, staring at the floor, not moving. Finally, she sniffed. “It was something he did,” she began.
Bear thought for a moment, then decided she meant her former husband. He kept still, waiting to see if she’d go on.
“He…he knew I was afraid of thunderstorms, and used to laugh at me when I would shiver each time there was a crash.
“Then, one day, when he was drunk … and mean … he grabbed me during a thunderstorm, dragged me outside, and threw me in an old dog cage we had on the property – outdoors. He locked the cage, left me there, and walked away, laughing.”
She was shivering now. “Bear, it was awful, truly just…”
She gulped, and tears started coursing down her cheeks. “I was completely soaked, and cold, and crying, and screaming, and scared out of my mind … I …”
She couldn’t go on but broke down, collapsed on the floor, and started sobbing uncontrollably.
Not knowing if it would make any difference, Bear gathered her in and hugged her to himself, rocking her and crooning wordlessly. She turned her face into him and continued sobbing until she was exhausted. She went limp, barely breathing.
After a long while, she looked up at him, her face a mess, her eyes miserable. “Thank you, Bear, for listening.”
All Bear could do was shrug, then thought for a minute.
"Girl, would you do me a favor?"
She looked at him. "Yes, Bear. Anything. What?"
"Would you get your blanket and come sleep here? I was getting chilly, now that the fire has died down."
Girl looked at him, and was going to say something, then stopped, bit her lips, and said, "Sure, Bear. I'll be right back."
She walked quickly back to her room, and as quickly returned, almost running … and would have knocked the wind out of him had he not been anticipating her arrival.
She snuggled down into his tummy, and pulled the blanket over her, with one foot sticking out – as usual.
Bear smiled, pulled the blanket over her foot, smoothed her hair, and said, "Good night, Girl. Sweet dreams."
"Mmm…" was all she said, exhausted and already mostly asleep, her face finally smoothing out into something like peace.
Bear smiled to himself, kissed the top of her head, then lay back down…and stared at the ceiling, impossibly, helplessly angry at her former husband, but glad he was dead and out of her life.
Finally, he took a deep breath, tried to shove the thoughts from his mind, and eventually fell asleep. He held her all through the night.