I walked in my apartment and listened to the still emptiness. Rex was running on his wheel. He did not seem to be particularly perturbed about the fact that I was late getting home from work. I put my gun in my cookie jar, put my stun gun in the charger and sat down on the couch. I turned on the TV, but despite getting a million and one channels, I could not find anything good to watch. I walked into the kitchen and looked around. There were no dishes to wash, nothing to tidy. I fed Rex and changed his water. Then I went to the fridge and looked inside. There was a lot of good food there, but I was full from chocolate cake and did not think I could fit more food in. I took out a blueberry and put it in Rex's dish.
I thought about taking a shower, but since I had just finished showering a couple of hours before, I decided that it would be a little redundant. I sorted through my purse, throwing out the old tissues and stale candies, old receipts and dead bottles of hand sanitizer and hand lotion, and organizing everything back into the appropriate pockets. At the same time as I was going through my bag, I pulled out the three outstanding files that I had. I reviewed all the information that I had on each of the outstanding skips. When I finished that I brushed my teeth, brushed my hair, and washed, toned and moisturized my face. I put on the shirt that I had scammed from Ranger's cupboard and a pair of hot pink boy briefs. I was ready for bed. And since I didn't have anything better to do, that is exactly what I did. I went to bed.
I lay in bed for quite some time, unable to fall asleep. I tried to sort out my feelings about Ranger. I knew I was addicted to how he made me feel as if I was the most important person in the world to him. And I knew he made me laugh, and he had the power to make me cry. The problem, I decided, was that I cared so much about him, and I had no clue as to how he felt about me. Sure, he indicated he might want to see where a relationship with me would go. But that doesn't really say what he feels, does it? And he has entrusted me with knowledge of his secret government work, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he wants to get together, does it? Or does it? I felt so confused.
The truth of the matter is that I felt so uncertain about Ranger. I knew we were good friends. And I recognized that I understood as much or more about him than most people. I knew he would never purposely hurt me, and I was aware of some of the details of his life. But I also knew, if we were going to move past the "friends with benefits" designation, I would have to learn more about him as a person. I would have to know his thoughts, his feelings, his hopes and his dreams. I would have to know him almost as well as I knew myself. And that was my main stumbling block. I knew him, all the parts that were essential, the gift inside the present. But I wanted to know all of him, the wrappings as well. I didn't know whether I would ever know that.
I curled up in the middle of the bed, hugged my knees into my chest, and worried about where the relationship was going.
Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, after hours of tossing and turning, I heard a click on my door. I grabbed my phone and called Ranger. His phone rang in the living room as he walked through my apartment to the bedroom. "Shh, Babe. It's okay. It's just me."
"Jeez! You scared the crap out of me." I hung up my phone and put it back on the bedside table, turned on the light and rolled over to look at Ranger. He looked dangerous. He was not smiling, his eyes were dilated black, he had five o'clock shadow, and he looked tired. "Why are you here? Not that you aren't welcome, but why are you here?"
"I couldn't sleep without you there. And as I was tossing and turning, I wondered why I was doing that when you were all snuggly in a bed over here. I thought that I would come over here to see if you would mind sharing your bed."
I smiled and lifted up the blankets. Ranger quickly shucked everything except his boxers and climbed under the covers. I turned off the light and he gathered me into a spoon position, his hand cradling my breast, gave a huge sigh, smoothed my hair away from where it was tickling his nose, kissed the top of my head, and fell asleep. I tumbled down into sleep milliseconds later.
The next day I woke up at eight o'clock, the smell of coffee brewing in the air, the sound of the shower running in my bathroom, the feeling of stiffness in my muscles. I got up and shuffled out to the kitchen, taking out the bottle of ibuprofen and taking two tablets. I poured both Ranger and me some coffee as I heard the shower stop running, and put some cream in mine. I carried them through to the bathroom, giving Ranger's to him as he dried off. I then quietly drank my coffee as he shaved. There was something nice about watching Ranger shave. It was a peaceful way to start the day. I like the scent of his shaving cream, the quietness of watching him shave, the soft smoothness of his cheeks afterwards.
"What do you have on today, Babe?" he asked as he ran his razor over his cheek.
"Lula and I are skip chasing this morning. Lula sent me over the info on another two files that came in yesterday. Then, since it is Saturday and a half day at the office, I will be dropping Lula back at her car and returning to Rangeman. I have a number of files to research, and I hope to be caught up by the end of the evening, although I doubt that is possible."
"I was wondering, if you felt caught up enough, if you would like to come for dinner at my parents' house tomorrow. Before you say yes or no, you should be aware my family will consider us almost engaged. I haven't brought anyone home since Rachel. It could be quite uncomfortable for you." Ranger looked at me in question, his eyebrow raised.
"It could be even more uncomfortable for you", I remarked drily. "What should I wear?"
"Whatever you want. You always look nice."
I followed Ranger into the bedroom and watched him get dressed. "What are you doing today?" I asked.
"I have work to do on a couple of existing clients, overhauling their existing security systems. I also want to do a workout. Do you want to get together at four to go to the gym?"
"Not today. I want to make sure that I get all my work done so I can enjoy tomorrow."
"Will you stay at my place tonight or do you want me to stay here?"
"We can stay at your place. I will just need to swing by tomorrow before we leave for Newark to feed Rex."
"Why don't I just take him with me right now, and put him in my apartment?"
I looked at him. "Ranger, I know I love you. I have known you long enough to know I admire, respect and love your determination, your resourcefulness, your intelligence, your deep caring, everything about you as a person. But I don't know you at the same time. All those things I spoke about during the pizza lunch, your past, your present and your future – I don't know that. Your past you never talk about, your present you barely talk about, and I have no idea what your future hopes and dreams are. I have been enjoying our dates because I am getting to know you a bit better. We have started this a backwards. Normally it goes friends, then relationship, then benefits. We started with the friends thing, then we took a huge step forward to the benefits thing, and now we are taking a step back and trying to fill in what we missed on the relationship thing. Our dates have been normal, fun dates. I look forward to meeting your family. That will also fill in some of the gaping holes. But if you take Rex to your apartment again, we are jumping ahead to the benefits without filling in the relationship thing first. And I think, if we want to make this serious, we should slow it down a bit. I'd like to see where this could potentially go. I am trying to acclimatize myself to the need for increased security, and so far I have kept all the screaming in my head, so I think I am doing pretty well. But moving over my pet when I am not in danger seems like much more of a permanent step than simply staying over at your place periodically and coming home to look after Rex."
"That is what Elena said."
"Elena? Your sister?"
"Yes. I talked to her on the phone last night for a while. I told her what you had told the guys, and she said you sounded very wise. She said I needed to do the same thing, to fill in the blanks on my life. She was the one who suggested bringing you to dinner. To tell you the truth, I think she just wants to meet you. As I said, you will be the first person I will have brought home since Rachel. You are even the first person I have talked about."
"I look forward to meeting your family. Do you want toast for breakfast?"
"No, I think I will just have a banana. I want to have a workout when I get back to Rangeman."
I toasted a couple of slices of bread, spread peanut butter on one, chocolate hazelnut spread on the other, and smushed the two together in a sandwich. I took a bite and sighed with pleasure.
Ranger grinned. "It is always a pleasure seeing you eat. It is the restauranteur in me coming out. I like seeing people enjoy their food. Seeing you eat takes it up a notch and turns it erotic", he said, his eyes dilating black with desire.
"You must be very happy around me then, since I enjoy…eating."
He grinned again. "I am going to go", he said giving me a kiss on the lips. "Mmm…the chocolate/peanut butter mix is good. I have to go before I stay here and have a different sort of workout. And you have to go to meet up with Lula this morning. See you tonight?"
After Ranger left, I found his shower bag containing his deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, a couple of band-aids, a strip of condoms, shaving cream and razor neatly placed at the side of my sink. Not that I looked inside. Knowing Ranger, he had left it there on purpose. The last time Ranger did that was when Julie was kidnapped, and that time I wanted to scream. This time I didn't want to scream. This time I wasn't sure if I should feel threatened by Ranger taking over some of my space, or whether I should be amused that he was staking his claim, or whether I should feel intimidated by the speed in which he was moving things. I still didn't know where we stood, and I was feeling a bit pressured into making decisions that I was not prepared to make at this time.
I found it a bit ironic that I was so concerned about Ranger invading my space. I have invaded his space off and on for years, mostly as a platonic friend. It was only recently that we consistently added sex to the relationship. I have my own space in his apartment and, although few have seen the inside of Ranger's apartment, he has always been generous about sharing his space with me. Hell, I even had pads and tampons at his place. I recognized the contradiction in what I do and what I felt comfortable having Ranger do. It wasn't fair, but I could not change my feelings. I could only recognize the unfairness of how I felt.
I zipped Ranger's bag closed and put it in my bottom drawer. End of problem. I didn't have to think about it.
Ranger was taking steps towards solidifying the relationship in very real ways. Taking me home to his family was such a normal thing to do. I wanted to go. I was honoured to go. I was terrified to go.
I stepped in the shower and soaped up with Bulgari Green, getting comfort from the scent. Then, after blasting my hair with the dryer, putting it up into a pony tail, applying BB cream, three coats of mascara and my favourite lip gloss, I put on a pair of short cut-off jean shorts, one of Ranger's shirts tied off with a hair elastic at the waist, and my favourite running shoes. Between the shower, the three coats of mascara – I often find my self-confidence increases with each coat of mascara – and wearing Ranger's shirt, I was feeling much more settled. I packed a blue and white floral chiffon sleeveless summer dress – fitted on the top with a short, floaty full skirt on the bottom – a light blue summer cardigan, a pair of ballet flats and a shiny and modest silver heart necklace and hoop earrings into a bag. I didn't pack anything special for the upcoming evening. I was planning on working.
I fed Rex and changed his water dish, then locked up the apartment and left for the day.