Ranger and I went up to his apartment. "Are you hungry at all? Ella defrosted some of her chicken noodle soup for dinner and she said she will make us grilled cheese to go with it when we call her."
"Ella's chicken noodle soup is definitely tempting, although I don't think my stomach is up to a grilled cheese sandwich." Ella's soup is amazing. Not that long ago I was using Ranger's house as a safe house and got strep throat. Ella made me some of her famous soup and it was like a warm hug in a bowl. Definitely homemade, it had chunks of chicken, fat egg noodles, peas, carrots and leeks. There was nothing I could think of that I would like better to eat. I walked into Ranger's bedroom and smelled the smell of fabric softener and smell booster. I peeked in the closet to see several garbage bags of clean laundry, all of it smelling good. I looked at the bags, dejected. I did not know which of the eight bags of laundry held my sweatpants and oversized sweatshirt. It all suddenly seemed overwhelming to me, and my shoulders went down and stared at my shoe as I fought tears. I turned around to head into the bathroom for a shower and a good cry, literally running into Ranger on the way. He steadied me on my feet then, looking at my face, wrapped his arms around me.
"That was nice of Ella to do my laundry for me", I said, choking back tears.
"Ella is a nice lady."
"I will have to sort through it tomorrow to pull out things for me to wear. I cannot find anything right now and I don't have the patience to go through it tonight."
"Why don't you wear some of my sweats and a t-shirt? I know they are too big on you, but they seem to work when you have worn them before, and if you want to have a shower I will find some underwear for you to wear when you get out." And strangely, the idea of Ranger going through my clothes looking for my underwear wasn't as uncomfortable as it probably should have been. That was something to think about later, when my head didn't hurt so much.
"Thanks. But no thongs." Because in my mind, when you are trying to get comfortable you don't want to be wearing butt floss.
I headed into the bathroom and turned on the water, standing under it until I had turned lobster red and wrinkly, and had cried myself out. Wrapping myself up in a towel, I came out of the shower to find Ranger coming into the bathroom carrying a pair of underwear, one of his t-shirts, a pair of his sweatpants, and one of his hoodies. He put the clothes down, looked at me and said "are you all right?"
"Your eyes are all red."
"I must had got soap in them."
He came over, gave me a hug and kissed the top of my head. "Liar", he said with a smile. "Ella brought up dinner while you were in the shower. It is warming on the stove. Should I dish it up while you get dressed?"
"I am sorry about everything that happened. I know you wanted to work on your new client this afternoon, and waiting in the hospital waylaid that."
"Don't worry about it. I needed to be with you. You scared the hell out of me when I couldn't rouse you at the laundromat and your pulse rate and breathing were so slow. Besides, Tank brought some work for me to do. I split the time while you were sleeping on working on our new client and reviewing the information we have on Lundel. Morelli also got me the clip from the cameras of Lundel spiking your drink."
We sat down on the couch, Ranger in the corner and me leaning against his side, tucked under his arm with his hand resting on my waist in a one-armed hug. I picked up my phone and sighed.
"They only badger you to quit because they care, Babe. You might as well get it over with. They will only worry more if you don't call." He turned on the ball game and turned the volume down low so I could hear.
"I know." I sighed again and then, gritting my teeth, phoned my mother.
"You finally called back! I thought you were dead! Frank! Ma! Stephanie's on the line."
"No, Mom. I'm not dead. I was just sleeping and could not call you back. Besides, they don't like it when you use your cell phone in the hospital. It can interfere with all the monitors they have there."
"Does this mean you are out of the hospital? Why are you out of the hospital? You didn't get yourself released early, did you? I spoke with Tina's mother, who was told by Tina who was told by Rosie who was told by Karyn that you almost died. What did Joe have to say about you getting yourself released early?"
"I didn't get myself released early, Mom."
"But you almost died."
"I didn't almost die. My drink was spiked with GHB, a drug which gives you the feeling of a really nasty hangover. It also makes you really tired. I slept most of the time I was at the hospital and after I finish talking to you I am going to bed again."
"Tina said the drug you were given is a date rape drug."
"Yes, it is often used as a date rape drug. I was not raped though."
"Thank God." In my mind's eye, I could see my mother crossing herself. I heard my grandmother and father come into the room in the background followed by muffled conversation. "I am putting you on speakerphone. Your father and grandmother are here and want to talk to you." I heard her switch the phone to speakerphone, followed by my mother shouting "your grandmother and father are here in the kitchen with me."
"Hello, Stephanie. How are you feeling? I heard you almost died", said my grandmother. My Grandma Mazur moved into my parents' house when my grandfather drove his Buick to the big car show in the sky. My grandmother is a teenager trapped in a senior's body. In outlook and attitude she is more hip than me, and I think she finds living with my staid mother and father to be difficult. On my parents' side, I think constantly having to live with my grandmother has given my mother more gray hairs than my sister, Valerie, and I put together. My dad deals with it by just trying not to be in the house very often. It's either that or kill my grandmother in her sleep.
"I didn't almost die, Grandma. I didn't even come close to dying. I was just drugged and it took some time for the drugs to work their way through my body. I waited at the hospital while they did."
"What did it feel like?" asked my grandmother.
"It felt like the worst hangover you could ever imagine."
"I wish I could have felt what it was like." I could hear my mother, scandalized, say "Ma!" in the background. "So you were throwing up?"
"No, I didn't throw up."
"I am getting my hair done tomorrow at the beauty parlour and I need a better story than that. Do you mind if I tell everyone you almost died and you were puking your guts out all over the emergency room floor? That is a much better story", said Grandma.
"Yes, I mind! Do not say that, Grandma."
"I heard that bastard gave you a date rape drug. Were you raped?" asked my father. You could tell he felt uncomfortable asking, but he needed to know. It is every father's nightmare, having their daughters raped.
"No, I wasn't raped. I was just drugged, carried out to a car, and dropped on the ground." I could hear my father let out a huge sigh of relief.
"Damn. You weren't raped. That won't make a very good story", said my grandmother. I could hear my mother whisper "Ma!" in horror, and could mentally see her crossing herself again. Then Grandma brightened as she thought about what I had said. "But you could have been raped. That was probably why he was kidnapping you. That's what I will tell everyone. That you were almost raped."
"No, Grandma! Do not tell everyone I was almost raped. I was not almost raped. Do not make this into something it isn't."
"Well, if you weren't almost raped, why would someone be drugging you with a date rape drug and then kidnapping you?" asked my grandmother.
"I don't know. I don't have an answer to that."
"I know", said my mother. "It's your job! You need to change jobs. You need to settle down with Joe and let him support you. It is time for you to have children. You are not getting any younger you know. Your sister already has four, and you have none. Tell her, Frank. Tell her she needs to settle down."
"How is your car running? You can't be too careful with those foreign cars. Are you changing the oil regularly?" asked my father.
"Frank!" said my mother. "She needs to be more like Valerie. She needs to settle down and have children."
"This isn't a contest", I said. "Valerie has always been a better daughter to you, Mom. Just accept it." I cuddled deeper in Ranger's side. He rubbed his thumb against my side in comfort.
"No, not a better daughter. But she certainly seems happier. She is married to a lawyer and has those four lovely daughters. She has everything she needs to be happy. Whereas you, you are divorced. You have no children. You have just broken up with your long-term boyfriend and you have a dangerous job. You have been shot more than once, you regularly get bumps and bruises catching skips and now someone drugs you and tries to rape you. I can't take it anymore."
I broke in to her tirade. "Mom. He did not want to rape me."
"I agree with your grandmother. If he did not want to rape you then why did he drug you with a date rape drug? Why did he try to kidnap you?"
"I don't know, but I suspect it had something to do with the fact that using a date rape drug means I don't remember much. Everything is all foggy."
"Then he probably did want to rape you. You just don't remember."
"Mom! He did not want to rape me!"
"Then why did he want to kidnap you?"
"I don't know. He is just a very angry man who isn't getting what he wants because of me and he decided to take it out on me."
"What does he want?"
"He wants to get hired by a certain company but I told the company he was dangerous and should not be hired. He is mad about that. He vandalized my apartment, slashed the tires on my car, and now spiked my drink. He's very angry."
"He slashed the tires on your car? That's not right!" said my father, outraged.
I could hear the sound of my mother whispering "Frank!" at my father. "What does Joe say about all this?" my mother asked me.
"He's not very happy." I didn't want to tell my mother he blamed me for it. I didn't need to give her any fodder.
"What about Ranger? He was the person who stopped your kidnapping, wasn't he?"
"Yes, apparently he was. He also is not very happy about this."
"I am thankful he was there. You should bring him for dinner someday. I would make him stuffed cabbage rolls." I made a face. I didn't like stuffed cabbage very much. I much preferred lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, roast pork and applesauce, roast chicken, roast beef, steak, veal…anything other than stuffed cabbage.
"Thank you, Mom. I will keep that in mind."
"Where are you staying if your apartment was vandalized?"
"I am at Ranger's for the time being."
"You should stay with Joe. I saw him the other day and he looked terrible. You should never have broken up with him. He was a keeper."
"We have been over this, Mom. He doesn't want me. He wants a stay-at-home mom and two point five kids. I can't be the person he wants me to be."
"And I can't understand why you don't jump at that. You wouldn't have to work again, you could be happy having children and looking after them. He has a good job and even has his own house, benefits and a pension. I was happy with that. Why can't you be happy with that?"
"I'm just not, Mom. I want more. I don't care about kids, and I like having an interesting job."
"You don't care about kids now, but you will in the future. When you are getting old and gray, you will appreciate having children then."
"I thought having children made you old and gray."
"Having you as a child does. Tell me, why did I have to find out what had happened from Tina's mother? Why could you not have called me?"
"I was unconscious, Mom. Since I wasn't in any danger, I guess Joe didn't think of calling you."
"Next time can you call me before I hear about it from one of our neighbours?"
"If I'm not unconscious or otherwise incapacitated I will try to. What you have to understand though, Mom, is that what is a big deal for you is just all in a day's work for me. Do you think Joe calls his mom every time someone shoots at him? Or tries to run him over? I know for certain he doesn't. You need to trust someone will tell you if something serious has gone wrong. Joe called you when my leg was shot, didn't he? And I called you when Lula shot my arm, didn't I? Things happen, but if they are really serious you will be one of the first to know. If they aren't as serious, we will be busy with dealing with the issue and will have to get back to you later."
"Perhaps if you got a different job. I heard the personal products plant is hiring on the line. You could do that. It is a good job. It comes with benefits and everything."
"I have two good jobs. And Ranger's job comes with benefits as well."
"But you are out, chasing criminals, getting into trouble. Joe says you aren't even very good at it."
I stiffened, and Ranger kissed the top of my head. "That may be what he says, but I still have a ninety percent capture rate. It just takes me a little more time to catch the skips than it should. I'm doing okay as a bounty hunter. Besides, you should be happy. In Ranger's job I sit at a desk."
"Then why don't you work full time for Ranger? You would be safe working in his office building."
"I could, but the work is boring. Working part time for Vinnie and part time for Ranger is the perfect mix for me. Not too boring, but money coming in on a regular basis. With Ranger giving me flex hours I can work around Vinnie's schedule for catching skips." I yawned.
"I guess working part time in an office is better than all skip chasing. I will count my chickens where I can find them. I should let you go to get some sleep. You have had a busy day."
"Thanks, Mom. I am tired. I think I still am recovering and just need a good sleep. Grandma, do not make up stories about what happened to me. People are still treating me like a murderer from the last stories you told at the beauty salon."
"People get excited so easily. All I told them was that you had killed three people now."
"Well, I may have said they need to treat me nicely or else", and she made the sound of a gun going off. I heard my mother yell "Ma!" at her and could see her crossing herself again.
"I will go to church and pray for you tomorrow", said my mother. "Good night and take care of yourself."
"I will, Mom. You, too. Good night, everybody."
I hung up the phone, put it on the coffee table, and cuddled into Ranger's side again.
"What had you so upset on the phone?" asked Ranger.
"Morelli told my parents I am not very good as a bounty hunter. I admit, I am not the best at it, but I could be worse. I used to be worse. I bumble around, but I usually eventually get them."
"Don't put yourself down. You have good instincts. You have luck and you have tenacity. Could you be better? Yes. Could you be worse? Hell, yeah. Are you better than you were five years ago? Yes. One year ago? Yes again. You do a good job. And as you said, you have a high capture rate. If Vinnie wasn't happy with your performance, he wouldn't be giving any skips to you."
"Thanks. But what Morelli said has given my mother fuel to add to her rant on me quitting my job. Do you know my mother spoke with Vinnie's wife to try to get Vinnie to fire me?"
"It's hard to remember sometimes, when you are in the middle of a lot of shit going down, that it is sometimes harder to sit on the sidelines and watch than it is to be in the middle of it. You have been through a lot in the last month. Between the incident with Brodie and this latest with Lundel, your house has been trashed, your car vandalized, your life threatened, your parents' house defaced, you shot someone in self-defense, and now you were drugged. It is a lot for you to handle, but because your parents care about you, it is a lot for them as well. And they can't do anything about it. You at least can train. You can do your job and put bad guys in jail. You can put one foot in front of another so you don't worry. For your parents, they don't have any of those coping mechanisms. All that is left for them to do is worry. The most they can do is badger you and try to get you on a safer path, no matter how boring that path may be. It's a tough life, being a parent."
"Do you find it tough with Julie?" Ranger had been married for about ten minutes in a previous life and Julie, his now-teenaged daughter, was the by-product of the union. Julie, his ex-wife and her new husband all live in Miami. Although Ranger does not have a close relationship with his daughter, he honours the connection and has a good rapport with his ex-wife.
"I do, at times. It is compounded by Julie living not only in a different city than me, but also in a different state. But I think with my line of business I have learned how to keep things in perspective and to not sweat the small stuff as much."
"But today you could not rise above things. There was no reason for you to worry."
"You weren't in my shoes, Babe. I thought you were dying."
I didn't have anything to say to that. I pressed my face into his arm, gave him a kiss, and smelled the comforting smell of Bulgari Green.