I awake the next morning, still cradled in Gerard’s arms. His head lolls to the side and he’s making a cute little whistle with each breath. I smile seeing that my staunch partner in crime has left a sizable drool mark on his couch.
Ten gongs echo from the hallway clock. Ten! My eyes go wide and I roll from his lap to land on the floor with an “Oof”. I scramble to my feet.
“What, what?,…what? Gerard jumps up and does a ninja crouch.
I ignore his antics, I have to find a bathroom. Then I need to make a mad dash for work. I was supposed to be there an hour ago to help Cindy pull dough.
“Shit, shit, shit! I’m so late!” I find the bathroom down the hall and make use of it as quickly as humanly possible. I fix my crumpled hair, wash my face and finger brush my teeth with a bit of stolen toothpaste. I just finish washing up when there’s a knock on the door. “Everything all right Pennelope?”
“Yes! It’s just that I’m late for work.” I fling open the door and pass him on the way to front door. “Pennelope! Wait, I’ll drive you. It’s at least a couple of miles away.”
“Thank you, that would be great. You’re a life saver.” I say and attempt to put on my damp converse. By the end of my shift I was going to have wrinkly old lady feet from all the damp.
I follow Gerard to his garage, “So I get a ride in the bat-mobile huh?”
“Indeed!” he smiles back at me, then extends his arm to showcase his tiny black Fiat 500. I laugh, “The bat-mobile looks bigger in the movies.”
“Everything looks bigger in the movies” he says with a suggestive eyebrow wiggle. I shake my head and smile at his attempt of dirty humor.
The drive to my work takes us past the abandoned dress shop. I gasp, “What happened?”
Gerard shrugs, “Looks like someone started a fire after we left.” There’s police tape across the doorway and scorched smoke trails up the building. Seeing the destruction gives me a bad feeling in my gut and I can’t help but think that the fire may have something to do with last night. Somehow…
We pull up outside Sunnyday Pizza an hour and twenty minutes late for my shift. “Before you run off..” He hands me a business card designed to look like a leather book. “Please contact me if you need something or want to dine together again..or anything.” His nervousness is so adorable.
I nod and look at the card, “Okay, I will. Book design and editing huh?”
“It’s my cover, when I’m not being a superhero. And it pays the bills.”
“Well, I better get in there while I still have a job that almost pays the bills.” I step out onto the curb and bend to wave goodbye, “Thank you for the ride and an…interesting night. Oh..and..I don’t have a phone, so you’ll have to track me down if you want me.” I push the car door shut and prepare for my reprimand from Dan. It’s never too bad. He ends up just giving me the old, don’t let it happen again speech.
On my lunch break I swivel in Dan’s squeaky office chair and use the phone. Calling Bruce three months after our break up was tricky, but I don’t know anyone else with his particular expertise. He’s the best man to help me pick out my new best friend. I’ve decided to overcome my fear of handguns.
My rainy-day fund is minuscule, but I’m justifying my purchase with the logic that it’s an investment against a possible torrential-flood-day. He picks up at one ring, “Detective Bruce Hamish here.”
My brain freezes up at the startling effect his familiar voice is having on my emotions. Remembering the loss tugs at my heart. I really did like the guy. I’ve lost the ability to produce the correct words while my brain goes off track. Crap! He’s a detective now. Is he working the Parsons case? I stuff down my panic with rational thought. There is no way in hell he could know of my involvement. Not unless I trip up and say something stupid. Get your shit together Penny.
“Hello. Anyone there?” He’s annoyed, a sexy Texas accent emerges when he gets upset.
“Uh. Hi Bruce. How have you been?” I say meekly.
“I’m just fine. Who’s this?”
I smack my forehead. “Sorry, this is Penny.”
“Well hey Penny how ya been? It’s been a while.”
I feel like such a user calling him for a favor. I gave him the “lets stay friends” speech when I dumped him and never called again. Cindy said he came by my work a few times but I didn’t have the guts to respond.
To be honest, I have a bit of a phobia about chatting with people on the phone. Since I can’t read facial expressions there’s a fear I may be upsetting the person or offending them without realizing it. It’s weird, I’m aware. Subsequently, I don’t make unnecessary calls, and don’t feel the need to own a phone. I mean, I’m not totally antisocial, I joke with people at work and talk to my neighbors. It just seems easier to keep people at arm’s length.
Which had been the problem with Bruce. He wanted it all. Marriage, kids, a sedan parked in front of our three bedroom, white picket fence home.
It just isn’t me. I can’t do conventional. Even the thought makes me feel like I’m withering up. But I still need his help, so I will swallow my guilt and ask.
“Yeah, I guess it has been a while. Sorry bout that. But I’m all right…Bruce, I feel like shit for asking, but do you think that you could help me get a gun?”
There’s a long pause and a long sigh, “Why, Penny?”
“Well… you are the only person I know that knows about these things and I don’t..” He cuts me off, “No. I’m askin’; Why do you feel ya need a gun all of a sudden. Did somethin’ happen?”
Uh oh. I forgot to make up a reason. One other than I killed my would-be rapist, ended a street brawl, and thought how nice it would be if I could curtail the whole situation in the future. “Nothing’s happened. I’m just thinking that it might be nice to have one. You know, just in case.” I’m the world’s worst liar.
“So..you call, after completely ignorin’ me for months, because you thought it would be nice to have a gun. Penny, I believe your exact words were “paranoid freaks carry guns”. So I ask again, Why?”
“Well…” See, Worlds. Worst. Liar. My voice is way too high when I answer after too long of a pause. “Umm…some pretty scary looking guys hang out by my building and I thought it would make me feel safer.” See that was better.
“Still not buyin’ it Honey. I don’t know why you feel you can’t tell me, but I’ll help ya. When do you want to start your shoppin’ spree. I got day shift all week so maybe this Saturday or next Tuesday. Can you wait that long or is it an emergency?”
“No. No emergency, like I said. I work Saturday but Tuesday would be great.”
He cleared his throat loudly, “I’ll be at your place by eight a.m., so be ready. And Penny?”
I squeak back, “Yes?”
His voice drops deeper, more authoritative..and so damn sexy. “I’ll be expecting some real answers when I see you.”
“Yes, Sir.” I answer softly. I’m anticipating the reunion, and also dreading it. Coming up with a believable lie and delivering it convincingly is going to take some practice.
The rest of the week flies by, uneventful and mundane compared to its beginning. I madly wish that Gerard will show up today. Saturday, date night. He doesn’t. It’s already 10:30 and closing time. I think about calling the number from his little card but chicken out and talk myself into a quiet night snuggled in my bed; finally cracking open the mystery novel I’d borrowed from the Public library. I don’t want to wake an insomniac if he’s sleeping. I wave goodbye to Dan and head for home.
My habit now is to walk with my taser in my coat pocket, securely in my hand. Another cold front is hanging over Talula and the similarities to the night I was attacked are disturbing. There’s a bone chilling wind, and no one but little ol’ me is out walking. I cross the road to avoid the alleyway I was pulled into that night. I pass the corner store where I buy food when I absolutely have to, relaxing as I near my familiar street.
There is an echoing male laugh and I can’t pin point it’s origin. My heart is about to explode from my chest with fear. I have the thought that it might be Gerard playing a joke on me, I don’t think he would ever be that cruel. But I hold out hope that it’s him. “Gerry! That’s not funny!” I yell and my warm breath disappears into the night. The only response it a howling dog in the distance and I feel stupid. I continue on.
I hear it again, this time it’s a low menacing chuckle directly into my ear. I scream, then pull the weapon from my pocket and twist to electrify my stalker.
There is no one there. Just my scream echoing back at me.
I spin around and search for a retreating figure. There is no way they could have gone that fast.
Am I so frightened that I’m hearing things? I’m not taking any chances.
My curls are everywhere and I’m gasping for air when I fling the door to my building open. I slam the door behind me like there is an invisible demon on my heels.
The teenage boy from apartment 102 and the girl from 206 are making out in the lobby. They pause their all too public display of affection to watch me, like I’m a crazy lady; there is pity and wariness. I smile to appear less panicked when I pass by on the way to the stairs. The sixth floor is a long way up after that run.
Convinced that I may need a shrink, I shake my head and forget the strange walk home. Now is the time to enjoy some reading. I make it two measly chapters in and fall fast asleep.
I am awakened by a noise I don’t remember. All I know is that its pitch black in my apartment. The light is out. I never put the light out.
“Hmm. My…you smell yummy Penny.”
The deep gravelly voice is next to my bed.
More to come…