Three hours later, Ranger kissed me awake. He smiled at me as I came to. "You scared Ella. She came in and saw you lying here, and she thought something had happened to you. She couldn't wake you up, so she came and got me. I told her I knew how to wake you." As I woke up more fully I realized where his hand was, and what he meant by saying he knew how to wake me up. He was right. There were parts of me waking up more than others. I sighed and Ranger laughed. "Come on", he said, helping me to my feet, "let's go reassure Ella. She is in the kitchen."
When Ranger guided me into the kitchen, I found that Ella had started a fresh pot of coffee. The aroma was heady, and reminded me of the sexy morning Ranger and I had enjoyed. I looked at Ranger and, seeing his knowing gaze upon me, I blushed. I turned to Ella. "I am sorry for upsetting you. I am fine, just sore, and I took a pain pill to help with the discomfort in my ribs. I should only need them for the first day or two, thankfully. They knock me out. I don't like taking them."
"I'm just glad you are okay. As the only other female staff member, we have to stick together." She smiled at me and went to the fridge to pull out a couple of pieces of chocolate cake, and then turned to the freezer and pulled out a small tub of Haagen Daas butterscotch ripple. "I thought we could take a break together."
My eyes lit up and a smile stretched across my face. Ranger laughed, shook his head, then came over and gave me a kiss. "I will be gone for a couple of hours. If you need anything, call Tank. I will be teaching my staff a lesson at the laser tag facility."
"Go show them how it's done", I said as he walked smilingly towards the door.
I listened for the door closing, then turned to Ella. "How did you know I am going into dessert withdrawal?"
"Ranger asked me to buy a couple of chocolate bars for you. I put them in the cupboard next to your peanut butter." Peanut butter for me is a staple, and one of the previous times I used his apartment as a safe house I brought my own peanut butter. Just like I have my own drawer in his bathroom, I also have my own shelf in one of his kitchen cupboards. It felt like I was slowly moving into Ranger's space. I don't know what Ranger thought about all this, but I was surprisingly okay with it. "I knew if Ranger was giving in to providing you with chocolate, you probably needed it. And when you were accosted today, I figured you could use a little lift. Do you want ice cream with your cake?"
"Is the Pope Catholic?" I smiled as Ella handed me a piece of cake with a large scoop of ice cream.
Ella put the leftover ice cream back in the freezer. "I will leave that here for a midnight snack." She sat down at the table. "I can't believe Ranger bought you chocolate. I used to make cookies for the boys in the break room, but Ranger banned me from making any more because he said the boys were getting fat."
"I am surprised as well. I am a stress eater. I have been having a hard time since I shot Brodie, and I have gained so much weight in the last month I am now unable to button any of my jeans or fatigues. I can only fit in my yoga pants and sweats. It's been good going on, but I will pay having it come off again. Don't tell Ranger this, but I was actually kind of enjoying the self-defense lessons so that I can work some of the weight off. I felt like I was doing something good for myself. If you ever tell Ranger I said that, though, I will adamantly deny it", I said with a laugh. "Now, because of this stupid rib and arm, I won't be able to train for a few weeks."
"When you first started here a month ago, you weren't sure you would stay. Do you think you will stay now?"
"For the next little while, for sure. Ranger's work is boring, but it pays the bills. I like skip chasing, but the income from it is uncertain at best. Working part time in both is good for me. It gives me stability as well as diversity."
"Will you move in with Ranger on a permanent basis?"
"I doubt it. Ranger hasn't asked me, to start off with, and I know he likes having his own space."
"If he asked you, would you stay?"
I paused. That was a good question. "I don't know. I also like having my own space." I tried to imagine what it would be like sharing closet space with Ranger day in and day out. It felt amazingly right. Deciding to think about that some other time, I settled back as Ella told me about her deceased son. She had only had the one child. He was also Special Forces and had been in Ranger's unit. He died on a mission. Ella said she would always be grateful for everything Ranger did to try to save her Emanuel, and was thankful that the government recognized his valor with a Silver Star. Apparently that was not the first one Ranger had received.
I forked in another mouthful of cake and thought about Ranger and his selflessness, his integrity, his honour, his ability to focus when faced with problems, and his ability to rise above it all to do what needed to be done. I felt very lucky to know him. He had obviously been doing well in the army and I wondered why he had retired. I had never asked him. I put the question aside to think about another day and had another forkful of chocolate cake and ice cream.
Ranger walked in an hour later, smiling as he held a trophy made out of toilet paper rolls and paper plates in front of him. "I take it you were the victor?" I asked.
"Yes. I got the most kills and was hit the least. I am sorry you weren't there. I think you would have had a good time and it's important for team building."
He walked through to the office and put his trophy on one of the bookshelves. It was the only piece of him in the apartment. Everything else was decorator approved. I liked the hominess of the homemade trophy and thought it was a good addition to the space. I told Ranger that.
He looked surprised. Looking around the room, you could see that he was assessing it in his mind. "I never really thought about it before. I did get a decorator to design the rooms. As long as I had a big closet, a hidden gun cabinet, and usable space, I didn't much care for what was put in here. Ella made a lot of the decisions for the colours, furniture and finishings. I only had a few requests. King-sized bed, large walk-in shower and comfortable office were my top three."
"You don't have any family pictures or mementoes around."
"In my line of work, the fewer crumbs you can leave that would direct felons to your family and friends, the better. If someone can find your weaknesses, like in identifying your loved ones, they then have a hold on you."
"But aren't you out of that dangerous line of work now? Can't you ease up and enjoy life a bit more, enjoy your family and friends more?"
"There is so much about me you don't know, so much you will never know. I will never be able to ease up and enjoy life. It is a path I chose a long time ago and it is too late to change my mind on it now."
"I don't understand."
"I don't expect you to understand. Someday I might be able to explain it to you. Today is not that day." I could visibly see him pull back into his aloneness, shutting me out of any further emotional connection. "How are you feeling?" he asked, changing the subject.
"Sore, but it's manageable. I spent half an hour with Ella talking about her son and her enjoyment of her boys here, as she calls them. I also spent half an hour on your computer surfing the internet and playing Solitaire. I'm glad you are home. I was getting bored." Ranger laughed, but you could tell that his mind was not on what I was saying. Instead, he was still in the conversation regarding the path that he had chosen and his protection of all his loved ones. My mind was there as well. I was curious about what he meant and wanted to ask him further, but I knew my questions would be rebuffed.
I told him I was going to have a bath. I was hoping Ranger would join me again. Despite being sore, I thought we could still manage to have some fun. He asked me if I needed help getting in and out of the bath. When I said yes, he ran the water and helped me into the bath. "I will be working in the office. Call me when you are ready to get out." He turned around and left, shutting the door on the way out. I relaxed in the bath for a few minutes, concerned about Ranger pulling back from me. I tried to figure it out. He was loving with me, competitive with Morelli, and protective of everything I do. To me that added up to an emotional commitment. But then there was this other piece. This pulling back whenever I get too close, his failure to explain himself, his lack of sharing in almost all parts of his life. He is so closed, and to someone like me, to someone whose life is an open book, that is hard to understand.
I could hear the murmur of the all-day news station on the television as Ranger worked in the office. I played with the water, sloshing it from side to side, trying hard not to get my cut arm in the water. I pouted a bit at Ranger's lack of connection, but I felt silly. I'm not a particularly introspective person, and pouting is not my style. I am more of an open, in your face type of person. If I cannot deal with a problem head on, I will either ignore and/or eat the problem away. Having already filled my belly with cake and ice cream, I was ready to ignore the inconsistencies in Ranger's behavior.
I played with the water until it started to cool, then washed myself in Ranger's body wash. I thought about how the scent of the wash was orgasmic, and I wondered idly if it was the wash itself or whether it was my association of that scent with Ranger that made me have that reaction to it.
Finishing in the bath, I called out to Ranger for help out of the tub. He called out that he would be through in just a minute. I waited, playing with the cooling water. A few minutes later Ranger came through. "I'm sorry," he said, "I was on the phone."
"No worries. I just played with the water." I let the water out of the tub. Ranger hauled me up, eliciting only a small hiss of pain from me.
"I'm sorry. Do you need me to get you another pain pill?" he asked, concerned.
"No. I will take one after dinner. Ella is making roast pork tenderloin and applesauce for dinner. I don't want to take the chance of missing that." I smiled.
Ranger just shook his head. "I can't understand why you aren't the size of a house."
"I have good Italian and Hungarian genes which allow me to eat lots of carbs, lots of protein, lots of everything, really. I must have a high metabolism or something. Having said that, I am trying to be more careful now that half my clothes don't fit. I was actually starting to like the self-defense lessons you were giving me. I felt like I was learning and like I could justify what I was eating a bit. Surprisingly – at least, it was a surprise to me – I didn't feel like eating as much when I was training with you. I even turned down doughnuts today at the Tasty Pastry. Do you know how soon I can return to the lessons?"
"I'm glad you like them. You are learning fast. It will be at least three weeks before you get back in the gym, however. Ribs heal fast and it wasn't a very bad break. So a few days from now you can start some stretches, three weeks for the more intense stretches, and a month for actual fighting."
"I can skip the stretches, can't I? I hate doing stretches. It feels like something is going to snap. I don't think the human body was made to do some of those things you are having me do."
"It will always feel tight if you don't work on stretching out your body. You need to regularly stretch to become limber. Being limber will improve your agility when you fight."
Oh goody. Stretching. Can't wait.