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Recap: John accidentally fries Diane’s car. After that incident, he gets anxious–as if the red dot of the sniper’s sight is constantly skating on his skin. He wants to leave but Diane tells him to stay. He does, mentioning he’ll leave soon. But he doesn’t. Oh Johnny boy, is this love?
Author notes at the end
It’s the weekend. Diane had been running errands all morning and returns, to my surprise, with a cat. It has a dark coat with orange flecks, golden eyes that watch every movement with unbridled fascination. He’s a boy named Boris, Diane tells me as she hefts the cat into my arms. “He’ll be your new friend so you don’t spend all day on Reddit while I’m at the hospital.”
“Who said anything about me staying? I said I had to leave.” I challenge as I stroke the cat. It becomes a little purring machine in my arms that thrills warmth straight to my heart. We had a dog growing up—a pitbull that was blind in one eye. It was a great dog, loving everyone with its whole heart and expressing said love with copious amounts of slobber. His name was Gimli.
I nudge Boris with my nose, my actions suddenly beyond my control as the Tom Cat turns the cuteness level up a thousand notches. God I’ve been lonely.
Diane shrugs, watching with open fondness the display before her. “I don’t know. If you leave, I’ll keep him—he’s a rescue, too old for most people to adopt, so I took him. I for one could use a friend if you leave.”
This catches my attention and I look towards her. With her blond hair tamed into neat banana curls and her beautiful, open face, I find it unimaginable that Diane might be lonely.
“Not that I don’t have friends,” she defends, blushing and ducking her head. She tangles a hand nervously in the end of her hair, bouncing on her toes as if deliberating between walking away or staying there and taking my judgment.
But I think I know where the loneliness comes from. I remember it from when my big brother moved out for college. “It’s jut uou miss your daughter, right?” Diane nods minutely. “What’s her name?” I continue.
“Caroline,” Diane says. “She’s going to school at UC Berkeley. Graduating this year and immediately moving to San Jose to work: I’m going to visit her, but not for awhile. She hates when I visit too much.”
I lift the cat up and he’s pliant in my hands, continuing to purr even as I level his eyes with mine. “Well, I guess Boris will just have to keep us both company, won’t you Boris?” I ask the cat, finishing the question with a bit of a ridiculous accent that I had previously only reserved for talking to my nephew when he could only drool.
“Wonderful!” Diane says, but I can hear the thankfulness in her tone. Little does she know she’s helping me out, too. After all, she was right: the city would be dangerous because the cameras would leave me exposed. Also, it took them less than a few hours to find me at the diner: I’ve been here edging on two weeks, I doubt they found me. Lord knows I left little to no trail this time. Maybe I’m safe.
Boris nudges my chin from his place in my arms. “You’ll keep me safe, right Boris?”
The cat purrs louder and I take that as a yes.
Something like hope blossoms, warm and fragile, in my chest.
(Or maybe that’s just the cat bundled up against it)
Boris and I get along swimmingly. Diane goes out on Sunday to buy him a bunch of little kitty features and calls the home phone to consult me before each purchase. We buy him a bed, a cat tree, and two litter boxes so that he has one on each floor. Everything is in a shade of blue, which I joke is odd since Diane is so partial to red. “Blue’s a boy color,” she defends and I can visualize her mouth twisting slightly in the way it always does when I question her authority on any subject. I’ve begun to want to kiss that look away, but the phone gets in the way, so I opt for laughing instead.
When she returns home, I realize her reason for being disposed to blue the whole day. She unceremoniously dumps out on top of me all the clothes she bought for me today. It’s a flood of blue and white—many very plain pieces, but also some plaid, which is Diane’s favorite pattern on a man. One sweater that she tries to immediately finagle me into, to see if it fits like she expects, is a deep, rich blue and I try to convince her I don’t need it—it’s almost summer—but she only coos that it goes so well with my eyes that I buckle under her praise. I also have to admit, as I turn in the mirror that we both scurry to after I put the sweater on, that the color does look damned good on me.
“You’re dressing me like the cat,” I grump, turning slightly in her arms she had looped loosely around my neck as we both watched me in the mirror. She only tilts her forehead into mine, a soft smile on her lips.
“I’m dressing you nicely,” she says with a playful edge to her tone. I see the spark in her eyes and it burns inside me, too. After a few days, I have a decent handle on the buzzing under my skin and send a small shockwave out that raises goodsbumps on her skin. “You do look nice,” Diane whispers, her voice husky.
I turn in her arms and hook mine around her waist, drawing her close and whispering in her ear. “I look even nicer out of them,” I murmur and I can feel her blush like wildfire on my skin. Sweat pricks my brow as excitement courses like lightning in my veins. “I bet you do, too.”
We lay in a bundle of limbs in the bed afterwards, slowly assessing which parts are ours and which we accidently gave to the other while we had made love. Diane slowly curls into me. I gather her to my chest, trying to calm her breathing down with a hand rubbing her back. Everything feels new to me. It was, by no stretch of the imagination, my first time, but that’s the only equivalent I can find. It all felt so new with Diane, so raw, and I can tell she felt that way, too.
Then she starts laughing, which destroys any thought I had that, maybe, we just had universe-altering sex.
“Sorry,” she apologizes, burying her face in my shoulder. “I just—that’s the first time I had sex since Jack passed away. God I missed it.”
I frown slightly. “I hope that’s not the only reason you thought it was good…” I trail off at the end, turning my head so I can look at her expectantly. Diane smiles, which, like every other time, strikes me deep in the gut. God, I’m jealous of Jack for seeing that smile so many more times than I have; hopefully, I can change that.
“You were good, champ,” she says and pats my chest reassuringly.
“Damn right I was good!” I assert and roll over, trapping her underneath me. She laughs as I nuzzle her neck playfully, whispering more adorations for myself in her ear. Once she begins parroting them back, I stop my beard-scruff torture.
We fall asleep that night, in the bed together, which kicks off a trend for weeks to come. Boris joins us as well, curling between us like that’s precisely where he belongs. Diane slaps my hand away whenever I try to push him towards the foot of the bed, so eventually I stop fighting him.
Still, the damned cat is sleeping on prime real estate.
I discover the joy of cooking a week or two later. My fra diavolo becomes the talk of the break room where Diane works and, at an upcoming potluck to celebrate one of the nurse’s pregnancies, I make a big vat of shrimp fra diavolo for all the partygoers. Diane comes home glowing.
“My chef,” she coos as she wraps her arms around me. I turn in my crouch, having been trying and failing to coax Boris out of his cat bed, and kiss her softly on the lips. I feel her melt against me and I stagger to regain my balance. “I am officially everyone’s envy and they want to meet you. There’s talk of marriage.”
I smile into the kiss, her lips tasting like strawberries and cream: someone had brought shortcake, Diane’s weakness. “But we only just started a-courtin’” I protest with a laugh, “Your daddy might shoot me with his shotgun if I ask for your hand, milady.”
Diana laughs, standing up. Then her laughter dies and her face turns serious. It’s not the terrifying serious that precedes a fight (or discussion as she always wants to label them), but it’s the serious that means I keep leaving my dirty dishes in the living room and it has to stop. I swallow thickly, standing up and facing her.
“You’ve been here two months.” She says flatly. But no matter the monotone of her voice, I feel a switch in me flip on. Suddenly the house is too small, I’m too unarmed, and I just want to run. I feel the fight or flight response lance through my system with the surge of power—my new power—chasing it like a starving hound. The light flickers, Diane hardly glances at it. “They aren’t going to find you,” she promises and steps up to me, arms clasping my upper arms. It hurts.
“I can’t.” The words stumble out and I’m not sure what they’re in response to, but I can’t. It’s been a fantasy living here in the first place. I need to wake up from it. I can’t keep sleeping and dreaming and leading Diane to think, to think we can be more than just ships passing in the night. “I should leave.”
I go to move, but suddenly my legs are too heavy. I can feel the push of water against my skin and the rasp of the respirator over my mouth. I remember the glass cage I had been in as if it is there, right now, and Diane dissolves to the glowing fluorescent light that had been above my transparent prison.
I fall to my knees, gasping for breath that I can’t find. I distantly hear the light bulbs blow out and Boris hissing.
“Oh my god!” Diane screams and falls next to me. Her hands are on me, trying to turn my face, to see her. But I don’t. How can I? All I see is the twisted face of that man in the lab, being dragged away by armed orderlies, and him laughing. It’s him laughing at me that I thought I could escape—thought I could get away from and be done with it.
Pushing out of Diane’s embrace, I start running for the door. Once I step outside, the fresh air hits me like a sucker punch to the gut. The worlds reels around me, heaving like the ocean during a storm. I keep running down the block, then out of the development, and finally—after miles of delirium—I am back at where Diane had found me.
It’s disorienting to stand in that ditch. To stand dumbly as some cars drive by, mindless of me, and not see a tank or squad or, even, a Bearcat waiting for me at this precise location. It’s perfectly deserted with no helicopters swooping in search. No motorists who look at me and comprehension dawns on them. Anonymity is cold as I sink into it, as I finally realize how long I’ve been drowning in it. I hadn’t even known, but I had already disappeared.
After an hour, Diane joins me, pulling up in her Toyota Camry. Rather than yelling at me, she just stands beside me and loops one arm through mine. “See, they’re gone,” she murmurs. “You’re safe.”
And I believe her because—well—there’s no evidence otherwise. I lost them. Maybe I’ll stay underground a few more months to be sure. Now that my hair is grown out, I can dye it. But yea, she’s right, I’m safe.
“Let’s go home now,” she says softly and pulls me gently towards the car.
“Yea, let’s go home,” I agree, falling into step, because she is absolutely right. I’m safe and I have a home and maybe this tragedy is over. Hollywood, in these cases, always did have a tendency towards too much drama.
Author Notes: How did I get to Part 10? Like what–when did this happen?! Creepy. Climax is approaching guys. And if my foreshadowing hasn’t clobbered what will happen into your head, put on your seat belt! It’s gonna be a bumpy ride!
I also apologize for playing around with the lengths, but I think the parts will be around this length from now on. I LIKE LONGER.