cross legged on the couch on chatting with my volunteering friend Sera after
work on Thursday, enjoying some time to just forget about my woes for a while
and be myself. Of course it didn’t work all that well, since the first thing
she did was ask how everyone back home had reacted to the full tale of why I
left and what I’ve been doing. So I had to full her in on the situation.
At least I was now able to give an explanation for why Hal reacted the way he did. Apparently he was shocked and concerned for me, and was having trouble processing the situation. Cal had said he just needed time, but I’m pretty sure the sooner I give him the low down on everything I did and why the better. I definitely did not want another nightmare like Lester on my hands. Not that I thought Hal would ever hurt me, but then, I hadn’t thought Lester would either. And hurting others like he was just made me feel worse, because he was taking the emotions I was causing in him out on the other men.
Eventually, we got past that topic of conversation and I was able to relax into the easy back and forth I’d become so accustomed to over the last six years. It was how I imagined conversations with Ranger would go if he ever got past his one were response stance. In a way, the relationship I had with Sera felt a lot like the one I had with Lester back in the day. She was able to easy my worries about Ranger with a few simple words and a hug, just like Les.
That realisation gave me pause. Under the new light I had that Lester had been (and possible still was) in love with me, I wondered what that meant for Sera. Luckily, she was in the middle of showing me the beautiful tapestry one of the families in the new village she was assisting had woven for all the volunteers, and didn’t notice my stricken expression before I managed to wipe it off my face.
“That’s beautiful,” I told her honestly. And it was; a stunning mix of reds, golds and browns with just a hint of forest green.
We chatted a while longer until the phone rang and I was forced to end the video call.
Rushing across the living room, I snatched the phone from the side table, answering it without so much as glancing at the caller ID. I realised my mistake as soon as I heard the voice on the other end.
“Hello?” I greeted, slightly puffed from my hurtle over the coffee table.
“Who is this?” came a stern female voice. I was no expert but I’d place her in her fifties or sixties.
I almost blundered even more at that question and responded with my real name. Luckily, I remember who I was supposed to be just in time. “Kit Danger, ma’am. And you?”
“Why are you answering my son’s phone?” she demanded, rather than be polite and answer my question first.
Eek! Tank’s Mama!
“I... uh... he...”
“Out with it already,” she spat, clearly displeased. Can’t say I blame her. I doubted Tank – or his sister – would have told his mother about the complicated scenario playing out here in Trenton.
“I’m staying with, uh, P-P-Tank,” I finally stuttered, deciding at the last moment that I was too chicken to use Tank’s given name, even to his own mother.
In a much softer voice, she asked, “What did you say your name was?”
I was instantly on edge. Tank always got quietly when he was angry. What if he’d inherited that trait from his mother? She certainly sounded scary enough. Gulping back my fear, I replied just as quietly, “Kit Danger, ma’am. I’m a friend of Tank’s.”
“Then why haven’t I heard of you?”
All I could manage was a strangled, “I don’t know.”
“Well.” She paused a moment as if contemplating the situation. Finally, I assume she decided to just give me the benefit of the doubt. “When he gets home tell him to call his mother and explain himself,” she said briskly, and the next thing I knew, she’d hung up.
Before I had a chance to properly freak out, my cell phone, which I’d left on the coffee table next to my laptop began ringing. Quickly making my way back across the room, I took the time to glance at the caller ID this time before hitting answer. Tank.
“Tank,” I said by way of greeting, and had had every intention of telling him about his mother’s phone call there and then, but he interrupted before I could utter a single syllable more.
“I have good news and bad news,” he announced.
“Oh Christ,” I moaned.
“I thought I told you not to call me that,” Tank joked, ignoring my turmoil. “Continuing on, though, the good news is, the guys have organised a poker night at my place for tonight and have agreed to let you join us.”
“And the bad news?” I croaked.
“Ranger is coming too, so you need to remove all traces of your presence from the house and be gone by eight o’clock.”
I glanced at the time on the DVR, noting that it was a little after six. That gave me less than two hours to uproot myself so I could pretend today was the first time I’d been here... “Great...” I muttered.
“Hey, you should feel honoured, we’ve never let a girl play with us before.”
Rolling my eyes, I informed him, “I could make so many comments about that, but I’ll save them, because I don’t have time.”
“You can make them to Lester,” Tank suggested. “He’ll be there to help you out any minute now.”
As if on cue, the doorbell rang and I could only assume it was Lester coming to my rescue. “I’ll see you tonight,” I said, but he was already gone. Like mother, like son.
I let Lester in and he handed me a bottle of Tequila before even greeting me. “What’s this for?” I asked, following him into the kitchen where he retrieved two shot glasses, the salt shaker, and a lime from the fruit basket on the counter. He then took the bottle back off me and set it on the bench beside the other items. “I thought you might be in need of some liquid confidence tonight,” he said.
A memory flashed through my head. A vague recollection of ordering shots. The bar was hazy and I got the feeling that it was from that fateful night six years ago. A blurred face I was pretty sure was Joseph Morelli heightened my belief and I shook my head hard. Partly to clear it, partly to deny the shots Lester was offering. No way was I doing shots now if shots were what started this mess.
“I’m fine,” I informed him. “Just help my get my stuff out.”
“Suit yourself.” Lester shrugged, and having already poured two shots, tossed them both back in short order and gestured toward the hall. “Lead on MacDuff,” he instructed.
Now that we’d gotten the bad vibes out from between us, hanging out with Lester felt just like it did in the old days. We joked, and laughed and had no problem keeping up a constant string of conversation. Most of it was bullshit, but that how I liked it. Too much serious conversation, or silence was a complete downer, which was why I enjoyed working with this man. He understood my needs and provided for them easily.
Before I knew it, it was seven-thirty and all my belongings were stashed in the trunk of my car. “I’m surprised it all fits in there,” Lester said, closing the hatch to hide it all. “Six years and that’s all you have to show for it?”
“Not hardly,” I informed him, leaning against the back of the car and wiping my hands on my thighs. They were clammy from the exertion of carrying bags across the back yard, but also nerves. I’d managed to suppress them pretty consistently while busy eradicating myself from Tank’s home, but now that I had nothing to keep me occupied, the reality of the situation was beginning to hit me. I was about to spend the night with seven guys who knew my true identity and one who not only didn’t know, but also was the scariest person alive when he was angered. What if I let my guard down for a split second and said the wrong thing? What if one of the guys slipped up and called me Steph? This night could end in a massacre and all because they’d decided to include me in their poker game. Maybe I should just not come.
“Oh?” Lester uttered, and I thought for a moment that he was referring to all the thoughts in my head, until I remembered that wasn’t privy to all that.
“I have a storage unit full of boxes of memories just outside of Trenton,” I explained.
“Can I see it some time?” he asked, leaning beside me. He made and awkward move that could have been him jerking in pain caused by his movement, or possibly a thwarted attempt to sling his arm over my shoulder. I’m not sure which it was, but he ended up crossing his arms over his chest to stop it from happening again.
“Tell you what,” I informed him. “You help me find a decent apartment at a reasonable price and lug all the boxes in and I’ll spend as long as you want going through all the terrible drawings and handmade gifts I’ve been given in the last six years.”
“Promise?” he asked, sounding like an excited preschooler who’d just been offered ice cream if he made it through an entire week without wetting his pants at school.
“Absolutely,” I assured him.
“Sweet.” And with a quick kiss on the cheek, he jogged back through Tanks yard, heading for his Rangeman issue SUV to do a couple laps of the surrounding blocks until Tank got home from work. I, on the other hand, found myself wondering over the flutter in my chest when Lester’s lips brushed my skin. The last thing I wanted was to develop deeper feelings for anyone else and complicate this whole situation tenfold.
Pushing all my feelings aside as best I could – which wasn’t very well at all – I decided to analise my reactions later. Alone in the dark of the bedroom I’d just cleared of my belongings. Probably, it was the mere fact that no one had really kissed me in six years that had my heart quickening.
With a sigh and a shake of the head, I slipped behind the wheel of my little white rental car and started my own lap of the neighbourhood. I drove to the nearest McDonalds and ate a cheeseburger and chocolate milkshake, and at exactly eight-oh-three, I pulled up to the curb behind several black SUVs outside Tank’s house, ready to pretend I wasn’t currently living here, and I didn’t really know the men inside. As I made my way to the front door, I kept reminding myself that being awkward was perfectly acceptable in this situation so I should probably play up that angle.
I knocked on the door, then remembered the doorbell and pressed that too. An awkward enough start. The men’s voices coming from inside were loud and jovial; just a group of guys gathering in a relaxed environment to wind down.
“Kit!” Tank boomed when he opened the door to me. “So glad you could make it!”
Although that ruckus continued from the dining room as I stepped over the threshold, I could feel at least one set of eyes glued to me, sending shivers down my spine.
“I didn’t think you would turn up,” Ranger’s low voice said from behind me as I shrugged out of my coat and hung it on the rack.
“I’m only five minutes late,” I replied matter-of-factly. “I had trouble finding the place.”
Ranger’s expression never changed, but he sounded slightly happier when he next spoke. “Well, you’re here now, we can get started.”