My heart skips a beat and my blood runs hot and cold at the same time. I can't move for a second.
Melissa starts crying again and that brings me out of my stupor.
I grab her hand. “Hey, don't worry okay? Everything's fine.” I half say it to her, half to myself.
I squeeze her hand and then take a step back. I've spent so much time worrying about this, I have a whole procedure worked out in my head and I start to move with panic-fueled efficiency.
I open the window and put the litter box on the fire escape – if anyone asks, it's for stray cats. Then, I stuff the bag of dog food under my bed, covering it with layers of dirty clothes and junk.
Melissa sniffs. “Can I do anything?”
“No.” It comes out sharper than I meant it to, but I only feel bad for a minute as I shove the leash and collar in my pillow case and empty the bottom drawer of my dresser, stuffing the clothes underneath my bed with the rest.
Then I kneel down and face Tanya. She knows what's going on and she looks pretty scared. “Hey,” I put a hand on her head. “Don't worry. I won't let them hurt you. I promise.”
She whines but lets me pick her up and carry her to the empty drawer. It's a tight squeeze, but she fits and I don't think they'll look there. To be on the safe side, though, I take off my vest and cover her with it. She wriggles out and barks, looking at me worriedly.
“Shh...you just gotta be quiet, okay?” I think for a minute, then take my mom's ring and put it in the drawer next to her. “It'll be okay.”
She's quiet, staring at the ring and I close the drawer.
I stand up, close my eyes and let out my breath. My heart hasn't stopped pounding once this whole time, but I think I took care of everything.
I open my eyes again. Melissa looks even more scared than Tanya. “Now what?”
I reach out and hold her hand. “We act innocent.”
She looks puzzled, but when I sit down on the bed and pull her down next to me, she understands and smiles in a scared kind of way. “You really think that's gonna work?”
I lay down, facing her. “We just have to look like we've been here a while. Like we're not worried about anything but ourselves.” As I talk, I muss up her hair a little bit and clench my shirt to make it look wrinkled.
“I think I can do that.” She whispers, letting her lips brush against my neck.
I kiss her, but at the same time listening for sirens and making sure I didn't forget anything.
“Come on, Dash, focus!” She traces her fingers up my side. “You'll never convince anyone you've been here a while like that.”
I give her a small smile and kiss her harder, brushing her hair away from her neck. After a minute, I pull back. “Promise me something.”
She looks up at me, eyes half closed and a sexy smile on her lips. “Anything.”
Dammit, she's hot. “If they do find Tanya or something and something happens to me, promise me you won't get mixed up in it.”
Her eyes widen. “Like...pretend I don't know anything?”
“But I can't – ”
“Melissa.” I cup her face in my hands. “If you love me, you'll promise me this.”
She doesn't look at me.
“Do you promise?”
She hesitates, then nods.
Just then, we start to hear sirens. They're still kind of distant, but getting closer all the time.
We grab each other and start kissing fervently, almost painfully. Her teeth scrape against my lips and she's holding me too tight, but I'm too scared and freaked out to care. I shift her on top of me and slide my hands in her back pockets, getting into it in spite of myself.
“I love you.” I whisper into her mouth.
She breaks away and buries her head in my shoulder. “I love you too, Dash, please don't let anything happen, please...”
“Shh...” I lift her chin and kiss her more gently. “It's going to be okay.” I won't promise her that though. I can't.
The sirens are louder now, on my street. I can feel Melissa shaking a little bit and I hold her closer, sliding her sleeve off her shoulder and rubbing her back gently.
For the first time, I think of Wood. I was too tired to check for him when I got in earlier – is he home? Is he hearing this? He is going to hate me so much...
The sirens stop, but that's only because they've stopped in front of my building. I can't tell how many there are, but...
“Focus, Dash.” She whispers it this time.
I allow myself one last glance at the bottom drawer, then try to lose myself in Melissa's lips. I force myself to think about her, everything about her – her laugh, how she looks in a dress, the way she can sing – everything that made me fall in love with her...
They're coming up the stairs now. A lot of them.
I kiss her harder.
They're right outside the door.
I squeeze my eyes shut and Melissa whimpers softly.
They're inside the apartment now and shouting and knocking my door down and they're right there and my heart is about to explode right out of my chest...
We gasp in unison and sit up, trying our best to look puzzled.
The officers – there's about five of them – blink, not expecting to find a couple of kids making out.
I clear my throat, hiding my hands so they can't see that they're shaking.
The guy in charge regains his composure and puts a hand on the gun on his hip. “We received a call about an illegal animal on this property. Are you Daniel Chamall?”
“...do you have an illegal animal?”
I shake my head. “I think it was a prank call. Owen and Cheryl – ”
Suddenly there's a loud crack from the dresser and everyone turns to look at it, including me.
Please no. Pleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleaseplease...
No one listens.
Just as suddenly, there's a flash of movement and something huge and white bounds past the cops and down the stairs. Four of them run after it and though the last one stays in the bedroom, he stares after it, shouting into his pager.
I feel numb.
“Evolution can be sparked by a sudden change or a certain mineral...” Melissa murmurs disbelievingly. “Oh, Dash, we're in so much trouble...”
“No.” I remind her, nudging her arm away. “Just me.”
Melissa picks up on her cue and stands up. “Dash, what was that thing?” She's a good actress. She's putting just the right amount of confusion and fear into her voice. Then again, maybe she's not acting.
I reach for her, playing my own part. “Missy...”
“No!” She jerks away and runs for the front door, but is stopped by one of the officers. He tells her it's not safe, that they have to question her and if she could just sit down.
I'm even more tired now. Now that I've been caught, I feel kind of...not relieved, but separate. I can't worry anymore – my worst fear has been realized. Things can't get much worse.
Eventually, more cops come and question us, in different rooms. I mumble answers, truthful for the most part and insist Melissa had nothing to do with it. I only hope she's doing the same. They ask about my caretaker and I give them Wood's name as my stomach twists itself into a knot. They don't search my apartment – they don't have a warrant – but they look around carefully without touching anything.
Finally, they put handcuffs on me and start to lead me out of the apartment. I stop suddenly right in front of the door and face the officer interrogating Melissa.
“I love her,” I can feel the cops trying to drag me back, but I need to say this. “She had nothing to do with this. Don't arrest her. Please.” I let them jerk me back and I can hear her start to cry again.
Then I tune out the world.
I'm vaguely aware of being led down the stairs and of neighbors poking their heads out and being stuffed in a car...but I don't really care about any of it. I just want to rest my forehead on the glass and go to sleep. I can't deal with this...
I squint out the window for any sign of Tanya. Or the big white thing that is now Tanya. There are police cars racing in the direction of the park, but I don't see her anywhere.
I close my eyes.Maybe I'll wake up under the covers again.