I ran into Tank as I rushed into Ranger's office. Literally. It was like running into a brick wall. "Ow", I said.
"Are you all right?" he asked, steadying me on my feet.
"Fine. Just late."
"That's all right. I want to talk to you for a moment before we go into the gym", said Ranger. Tank left the room and shut the door behind him. I sat down and Ranger came around his desk to sit beside me.
"What's up?" I asked, worried by the concerned look on his face.
"Tank just came to tell me our general line received a disturbing call this afternoon. An unknown person called and asked who the researcher is on staff. The guard gave out your name. The person then said you should retract the report you made to Jay Technologies or else you would die." My vision went cobwebby and I started breathing really fast. He reached over and held my hand. "Breathe, Babe. Remember to breathe." He gave me a minute, then said "Tank said there was one person in particular who would benefit if that report was retracted."
"Yes. Nigel Lundel. He has a history of fraud but they can never convict him. He leaves no paper trail and all the witness rescind their testimony due to threats. He has done it three times now. He has the same MO each time."
"Tank has talked to the guard working reception, and has asked him to make sure he does not hand out any personal information again. In the meantime, I want you to be on your guard and to let me know if anything suspicious or unusual happens."
My breath hitched as I struggled to get control of myself. "Okay. I am sorry for acting so strongly to all this. I would not have if Brodie hadn't happened."
"I know, Babe. But there is no point getting too excited about this yet. It could just be someone blowing off steam."
"Are you up for some time in the gym? I think it would be good for you to blow off some steam as well."
"If I have to." Ranger smiled at my grumpy tone.
"Tell me, what made you late today?" I told him about Jack Sprat and having to bribe him with a beer to get him to cooperate in taking him back to jail, and I told him about Virginia Myaneski and how her apprehension had turned into a three-ring circus.
Ranger smiled. "I can just envision you walking down the hall with a beer in your hand, leading someone like he was a bull on a ring. You may not rely upon your self-defense skills much, but you certainly do well with your smarts."
"Does this mean I don't have to do self-defense training?" I asked hopefully.
"No, you still have to do the training. You never know when you will need it. You will only need it once to make all the hours training in the gym worthwhile."
Getting to the gym, Ranger scrambled the feed to the security cameras as I stripped down to my sports bra. We practiced getting out of a variety of holds, with Ranger attacking me from behind, from in front, and on the floor. By the end of it I was hot, out of breath, and frustrated to the point of tears. Ranger had barely broken a sweat. He threw me a bottle of water and a towel, and opened a bottle of water for himself. "You have definitely improved since you first started training. A few weeks ago you would not have been able to get out of anything. Are you ready for a shower and some dinner? If you want, I will give you a massage after dinner so you don't seize up."
I woke up crying to the same nightmare of seeing Brodie's blood spread across his shirt as he fell to the floor dead, once again hearing Morelli yell at me, telling me it was my fault for putting my family and friends in danger. An arm lay heavily across my chest and, still too asleep to register where I was, I instinctively pushed the arm back and rolled out of bed, landing on the balls of my feet and stood poised, ready to fight. I woke up fully as Ranger spoke soothingly to me. "You're okay, Babe. You're safe. You're all right. It's over. Everybody's safe."
My body slowly lost the tension. "I'm sorry", I said. "I didn't remember falling asleep here."
"You fell asleep during your massage and you have been so tired lately I thought I would just let you sleep. Want to tell me about your nightmare?"
"It's the same one that I have had every night for the past three weeks. I shoot Brodie. He dies. Morelli yells at me and blames it all on me." Shaking, I walked into the bathroom to wash my face, Ranger following me. "It's the same thing, over and over again. It was pretty awful when it was happening, but I thought it would be over now. It should be over now. I just can't seem to get my head above it." Ranger held a towel out to me to dry my face.
"Do you think Morelli is right? That this was your fault? I know what I think, but what do you think?"
"Sometimes I do think it was my fault. If I was more professional, maybe this would not have happened. Lula and I are like Larry, Curly and Mo. We get the job done eventually, but we are pretty inept along the way. If we were more professional, we would have caught him the first time when he threw mud in my eye. Or the second time, when he threw money at us and Lula dove for the money, tripping me."
"That doesn't give him the right to threaten you and try to kill you."
"I know." I walked past Ranger into his closet and borrowed one of his t-shirts to put on over the bra and underwear I had been wearing when Ranger had given me the massage. "But if I had been able to apprehend him sooner, I would not have given him the chance to make those threats." I stalked into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door. Looking inside, I saw some leftover lasagna, salad, cheese, pickles, milk, cream, apples, oranges, baby carrots, celery sticks, salad dressings and butter. On the counter was half a loaf of crusty bread and half a bottle of red wine. I pulled out the lasagna and put a piece on a plate. Ranger watched me in silence as I put the remaining lasagna back in the fridge. I got out a fork and scooped a bite into my mouth. I could feel my heart rate begin to slow as I chewed.
"Are you hungry? You aren't even waiting until it is heated", asked Ranger with a smile.
"No, not at all."
Ranger looked confused. "If you aren't hungry, then why are you eating?" he asked.
"Food makes me feel better. I feel like I can breathe when I eat. I know it probably doesn't make sense to you, but it works for me."
Ranger came over and took the plate out of my hands, putting it down on the counter. I immediately started feeling panicky again. He gave me a hug. "Come to bed, Babe. The lasagna will still be here in the morning." He kissed the top of my head and rubbed my back as shudders ripped through my body. "Breathe. I've got you. Everyone is safe", he murmured over and over again as I buried my head in his shoulder and cried out my distress. Then, when I was limp and finally empty of tears for the time being, he picked me up and carried me to bed, gathered me in his arms, and gently soothed me back to sleep.
"So, do you get up often in the middle of the night for a snack?" asked Ranger over breakfast the next morning.
"Enough that I am now unable to button my jeans", I said with an embarrassed bravado.
"So is this a nightly practice?"
"Yes. I usually wake up, eat until I feel sick, then get ready for work and come in here. That's why I have been here before sunrise every day for the past three weeks." I felt embarrassed to be admitting all this to Ranger, and my shame made it impossible for me to look him in the eye.
"Babe." He waited until I looked at him. "There is no shame to be going through what you are going through. What you are feeling is natural. However, how you are choosing to deal with it is self-destructive. You are only hurting yourself. You cannot continue this way. You know that, right?"
"I know. But I don't know any other way."
"There are lots of other ways. We can train in the gym every day, we can practice in the shooting range, you can get balance back in your life by spending time with family and friends, just for starters. You need to rebuild your life. You don't have to eat your problems away."
"Eating is easier."
"It won't be when you have to buy all new clothing because yours no longer fits."
And said like that, I could see his point. As it was, my wardrobe choices had narrowed considerably over the past three weeks.
"I will make some time this afternoon so we can train some more. Working out will release endorphins, which will in turn make you feel better. It will be much more effective than eating, I promise you. And if it doesn't work, at least you can eat extra knowing you earned the food. I would also be happy if you moved back in here until you get back on your feet. I am worried about you."
"I keep thinking that maybe if I face up to my fears, they will go away."
"That is important, too. But you may not be ready to do that yet and that is okay. Recover on your own time. Just make sure you are recovering, not masking your feelings." He reached across the table and played with my fingers, then reached up and tucked my hair behind my ears. "I love you, Babe. I'm here to help you through this, every step of the way."
"Thanks", I said, choking back tears.
"Now what do you have on for today?"
"I need to go home and get some clean underwear. These stink from training yesterday. Then I should probably go and make nice with my mother. I have some open files for Vinnie, and I have a few potential clients to research for Sales. So, a busy day doing nothing in particular. What about you?"
"I have a meeting at PXM this morning to go over the information you found out. Good catch on the drug related charges for that one employee, by the way. I will be doing a site inspection at the same time. I am having lunch here in the office, if you want to join me, and then I have work to do on a new client but at four o'clock I would be available to train with you in the gym again. Perhaps when you go back to your place you could pack a bag with enough clothing for a few days." When I started to resist, he said "think about it, all right? The offer is open any time. You may find it easier having someone there to talk to about the terror when your nightmares come." He put his dirty breakfast dishes on the tray for Ella and, dropping a kiss on the top of my head, he went into the bathroom to finish getting ready for the day.