... whatever it takes or how my heart breaks
I will be right here waiting for you ...
- "Waiting for You," Richard Marx
Many thanks to everyone who follows this story, and an especially BIG thanks to my furry collaborator--and if you're not caught up on "Tales From the Childhood," drop everything and go read it RIGHT NOW! I'll wait. Promise. :)
I will be right here waiting for you ...
- "Waiting for You," Richard Marx
Many thanks to everyone who follows this story, and an especially BIG thanks to my furry collaborator--and if you're not caught up on "Tales From the Childhood," drop everything and go read it RIGHT NOW! I'll wait. Promise. :) By the time a patrol officer radioed back to the precinct to report the make, model, and license plate of the little convertible that he found out near Petrel's Pond, the owner of the car was far, far away. Bradley Steel returned from the bathroom in time to hear the repeat of the broadcast and cautiously listened to the dispatch, wondering if Connor would pick up. But Connor didn't pick up.
Connor didn't even move.
Connor was out cold.
“Damn,” Brad muttered as he went for cold water and paper towels. “Damn, damn, damn ...” He tried repeatedly to bring Connor out of his drunken stupor. Nothing doing. The man was down.
Brad began to panic. He had just meant to get Connor out of the office for a while until the computer techs could finish sabotaging the laptop. But THIS wasn't supposed to happen! Now what the hell was he supposed to do with a drunk cop at high noon? He couldn't LEAVE Connor here! "One step at a time, buddy?" he muttered. He did NOT want to see the contents of Connor's stomach--he already knew how cops ate when they pulled all-nighters. "Alright, wait here. Be right back."
"Suuuurrrr thinnnn, Ros'lin."
Hopeless man. Brad envied him for a moment.
He gestured to the bartender and settled the bill. The last thing he needed now was some tabloid scribbler blaring it out that he got a cop trashed on duty and then ran out on the tab. Then he pulled Connor to his wobbly feet and helped him outside again. He had to get the guy somewhere that wasn't here. And then he had to get the hell out of the area.
What a mess this turned out to be! He could totally understand why Simanski wanted to lay smackers all over Gwen, but why in blazes hadn't they just gone home and STAYED there? "How you doin' there, boss man?" he asked.
Connor was staring straight ahead at nothing. He blinked slowly. "I dunno," he said, finally. "Dunno 'nythin' 'nymore." Holden had gone to the back of the house, leaving Gwen alone to fiddle with her hair nervously. The rubber band broke apart and she winced. She found a forgotten hair clip in her pocket and fussed with her hair until she'd pinned it up again. Holden's voice in her ear made her jump.
"When he brought you back by the house, why didn't you just stay home?"
"Well ..." Gwen stuttered. She wasn't sure how much she should tell. Viv Miller had already given her quite an earful about how many messages she'd had to navigate when she first came into the office--
--calls from The Midnight Starz, The Foxgrove Voice, The Opera Fancy, among other publications,
--numerous complaints from the patrons of the WJ Billings Theatre, those who were scandalized that Gwen didn't play the entire setlist and those who were furious at the regular giggle fits, --very specific grievances from the parents of Niacella French,
--a stuttering apology from Eleanor Hooper, Gwen's understudy.
'I have a freakin' TON of damage control to do today, so please for heaven's sake just shut up and don't talk to anyone else.' But she and Holden were supposed to be best friends. And lately she'd been doing a pretty bad job of that.
“I didn't know if you or Harley were here, and I didn't want questions, and well … I was pretty sloshed, and ...”
“And what? Gwen, we're friends, aren't we?”
“Of course, but--”
Her phone was ringing. She squinted at the number through bleary eyes.
“Hello?” “May I speak to Gwen Glover?” A sharp, professional-sounding voice. Gwen winced.
Holden took the initiative and snatched the phone from her. He hung it up. “Maybe you'd better not take calls today that you don't know.”
An explanation. He deserved that much. She sighed. “I guess you've figured out that I'm not actually a lesbian.”
“Well, DUH. You're gonna have to do better than that.”
“But I didn't lie for the reason you think. I did it because … well, you know my parents.”
“Not really. Any time I came over after class your dad was still at the office and your mom was usually out.”
“But you've MET them--”
“Once, and they didn't exactly speak to me." Right, her folks were snobs. Gwen sighed again. This might not be as simple as she thought.
She abruptly changed the subject. “Well, I didn't come home because I thought you might be here with River.”
“Why would I be here with River when I've never brought her here before?” “I wasn't thinking straight, I was drunk!” Lack of sleep, too much excitement and over-caffeination was taking its toll. They were getting nowhere fast.
“And why would it bother you even if I WAS here with River? It wasn't as if you liked me--”
“Yes I did! But how was I supposed to tell you when--”
Gwen's phone was ringing again. She looked at the caller ID and gulped. “... it's my father.” “Star Type Talent Agency, Viv Miller's office, this is Louanne.
“... e-e-excuse me, sir?
“... I don't believe …
“... one moment, please.”
Louanne put the caller on hold and took a deep breath. This had been happening all morning. ALL morning, since she'd turned on the phones. And of course she couldn't transfer calls like this through to Viv. There was a very set, very small list of people that Viv was actively talking to, and random press agents weren't on it. Which meant SHE had to learn and perfect a stalling technique very fast. This was draining! She turned over a few of the papers that Viv had thrown on the desk. Big, full color shots of Gwen and some guy in a hot tub. The shots were so clear, she could make out individual water droplets.
This was the first time in memory that Viv had beaten her to the office. Of course, this was probably the biggest scandal that had ever hit Star Type. Or Foxgrove, for that matter. …
The sun was high overhead, and Rosalind was completely sick of it. She'd been walking since 8 a.m., she didn't know where the hell she was, and thanks to an epic crying jag, she was tired and thirsty. And she didn't have her wallet. Or her keys. Or her phone. Or her CAR, for that matter. It'd been towed.
Damn it. She kept to the hills and woods. The direct sunlight made her walk too miserable to endure. She saw happy children playing happily in their happy yards and happy people happily talking to their happy neighbors. No one saw the conscience-stricken woman sneaking through their neighborhoods.
The ground became more familiar. She recognized the east end of a small park that she had visited once or twice while at Gwen's house--
Gwen's house? It was right there.
She approached the back door.
Holden had just finished cleaning up the kitchen and was getting ready to lie down for a nap when he saw the face at the sliding glass door. He clutched his chest and cringed. "Jeez ... first your husband and now you! You're ... you're like friggin' GHOSTS or something!"
When Rosalind didn't laugh or even really respond, Holden took a close look at her eyes. They were an angry red. He swallowed hard before asking, "Wanna come in?" Rosalind came in, looking around as if she had never been in here before. The silence was awkward. In the distance, they could both hear Gwen's squeaky voice.
"Your husband was here earlier."
"Was he?" Rosalind asked hoarsely.
"And I heard that you left Gwen at the police station?"
Rosalind nodded, but offered no explanation. Holden raised his eyebrows. "... oh!" Gwen shrieked and threw open her bedroom door. As soon as she saw Rosalind, she shouted, "Where the hell have YOU been?" and marched forward before seeing her friend's bloodshot eyes. She skidded to a halt. "... are you okay?"
"I knew," Rosalind said in a shaking voice. "I knew ..." "Knew what?"
"Harley ... I knew it the first time I met him ..." She looked around fearfully, and her voice dropped further. "I knew he was a housebreaker. But I didn't do anything. I was afraid ..."
"What, how--" "Connor said something to me too," Holden said, shifting uncomfortably. "I ... I didn't know what he meant at the time--"
"Wait a minute! Wait a minute! How did everyone know but me? And if everyone KNEW, why didn't anyone TELL me?"
"I didn't know what he was talking about," Holden insisted. They both turned back to Rosalind, who was flushed with shame. "I was afraid that if I told Connor, you wouldn't have a roommate ... and I already knew how hard it was for you to find one at all and that you didn't want to have to rely on your parents. And then I thought, 'What if I'm wrong and he's innocent?' I didn't want people to look at him the way they look at me." At this, Gwen and Holden took a long look at each other, both feeling little birds on the verge of a mighty long drop. Something very wrong had apparently been going on right under their noses for months! And neither of them had the first clue about any of it!
But before they could ask for a further explanation, there was a knock at the door, Gwen's phone began to ring, and Rosalind herself slipped away just as silently as she had come.
"... not NOW, Tommy!" Gwen snapped her phone shut. She looked around. "Where'd Rosalind go? And who's at the door?" ... and in came River.
"Holden!" she crowed and hugged him hard. "I was wondering where you went!" She caught sight of Gwen and suddenly looked sheepish. "... oh. Err. Should I leave?"
"No, it's okay," he said quickly, even though the expressions on both women's faces told him that this was most definitely NOT okay. "What's going on?" "Well, I'd been trying to call for a while since you were needed at the station, but then I realized you'd turned your phone off, so I came over."
"If they could spare you to come over, he must not be too needed," Gwen said, pointedly.
"Enough," Holden begged. "Listen, I've probably handled this badly since I never introduced the two of you. Gwen, this is River--"
"And River, this is my roommate, Gwen." "Nice to meet you from the front," River said. She still had a mischievous glint in her eye. "Because your BACK is all over every paper in town. Oh, calm down, for crap's sake! It's really not that big of a deal. You'd get to see just about the same thing at the pool any day of the week. Who's the guy in the hot tub with you?"
"None of your business, you--" "You know what," Holden quickly interrupted. Gwen was going red to the roots of her hair. "Maybe I'd better just get dressed and we can go--"
"Oh, don't worry about it. They let me know that Johnny finally showed up. I was already here though." She eyed Gwen once more. "So, roommate. Not psycho stalker ex-girlfriend."
"NO," Gwen bit out.
"Alright, alright," River conceded, and left. Gwen glared at Holden, who shrugged helplessly. "I swear she's usually really nice."
"I'm sure she is."
"Okay, enough. Turn your phone off, we need to talk."
He took her by the wrist and led her back to her bedroom. The place where they'd had their first big fight. The scene of the crime. He sat down at the foot of the bed. She leaned back against the headboard.
"What do you want to know?"
"Tell me about this ... whatever it is you're hiding from your parents, for starters." "Fine. My parents have been trying to marry me off since I hit puberty. It's pretty common for executives of corporations to try to marry their kids to each other--'keep it in the family'--and my folks were no different. "My father's head corporate lawyer is named Buddy Blofonzki. Mr. Blofonzki's wife is state senator Helene Pippendorfer. Their youngest son is Thomas. You never met him, he went to Smugglesworth Prep. "I met Tommy at one of his parents' fundraising dinners. I was bored and he seemed nice enough when he talked.
"Afterwards my parents congratulated me on 'what a catch I'd managed to land.' We were pretty rich, but Tommy was likely to be a millionaire by age 20 without ever having to do a day of work. My parents couldn't have been happier, and I was okay with it, I guess. "Then a couple of months later Tommy invited me to another party that was just his extended family.
"I've never seen anything like it, Holden. Every woman in that room was some kind of former beauty queen or model. And you can imagine how they looked at ME, with my red hair and freckles. What was I next to them? And how was I good enough for their little darling nephew Tommy? "And of course he doesn't do a damn thing. Just stands there while these bitter old hags insult me to my face.
"And finally one of 'em--a former Miss Colombia or Miss Brazil or something--she says, 'Well, exactly what do you have to offer, Miss Gwen?' "And that just made me mad. What did any of THEM have to offer besides a fake rack and a pancake of makeup? "So I walked over to the grand piano at the farthest corner of the room and started playing. And I played every classical song I could think of for forty minutes straight while they all just stood there and stared at me. "Those botox'ed broads couldn't do THAT! I might have actually gotten their respect! "And at the end, Tommy totally freakin' RUINS it ... he says 'Wow, Gwen, that was a really cool recital, but you don't have to do that to impress me.'
"A recital, Holden! The works of Bach, Chopin, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Handel, Wagner, Beethoven, Haydn--a RECITAL? That MORON hears the work of the best classical masters and he thinks I'm just making it up to show off for him? "So I got up and locked myself into a bathroom. I couldn't face him after that. Not only would he NOT stand up for me, but he was just as dumb as all of his aunts were! "And after a while someone tried the door and asked me to unlock it, and it was Mrs. Helene.
"And she came in and she looked me for a while, and she finally said, 'There's nothing here for someone like you, Gwen. Why don't I take you back home now... '... and why don't you get to work pursuing a career in music.'
"If any other woman in that place had said that to me, I'd have thought they were making fun of me. But I already knew Mrs. Helene was the only lady in there who had something besides air under her hair.
"By Monday morning there was a rumor all over school that I was gay. I never did find out who started it, but I had my own ideas. "It got back to my parents pretty fast--a lot of their colleagues had kids who went to school with me--and they freaked out, of course. They wanted me to marry Tommy and they weren't going to have me shaming the family, blah blah blah. "So they called Mrs. Helene and Mr. Bud and Tommy and made them come over and ... it was just awful. Mom put me on the spot in front of everyone and told me to tell them if the rumor was true.
"So yeah, I lied to them and said it was. I've lied to a LOT of people about it. But what else could I DO?" Holden absorbed all of this new information in silence before saying, "But now ..."
"My father called to ask how the concert went last night. Viv hasn't told them yet, and they don't do their own shopping so they haven't seen the tabloids. They're about to go on a cruise, so they'll be isolated for three weeks."
"And then what?"
"And then what," she echoed.
"Really, Gwen? That's what this has been about? All this time? ... come here, for pete's sake." She felt Holden's arm slide around her shoulders and his hand, warm and solid, covering hers.
Odd. Twelve hours ago, sitting like this with Holden Wozny would have made her stomach flip. Now she felt something, but it wasn't the butterflies. Butterflies were all reserved for another man with messy dark-brown hair. No, this was relief. A very substantial, solid relief.
"We are always friends, Gwen. No matter what, okay? We are always friends." And now Rosalind, having gained a much better idea of where she was in the town of Foxgrove, was stumbling on half-lame feet towards 67 Water Lily Lane. At one time, that address had simply been "home." Now it was just another house.
But still, if she was going to run away, she had to get some of her stuff together. And once again, the lack of a proper key wouldn't make much difference. If she had to fall back on bad ways, she at least knew how to do it up right.
She approached the familiar adobe house with its double garage, and--
--her car was there. She moved towards it, not entirely believing. But here it was--muddy tires and all. Her purse and phone were just where'd she left them. Her keys were in the cupholder.
She checked her phone. Call after call after call from the same number. Eight identical texts--'Please come home.'
Connor ... She unlocked the front door and found him on the couch. He was a crumpled wreck. He smelled absolutely awful. He looked as though he might have actually been in a gutter at some point. His stubble was so thick it was actually becoming a beard. When she touched his arm, he turned over and she heard his joints pop, which meant he'd been in this position for some time ... possibly since he came home. And how long ago was that? Had he been waiting for her all this time, sick and lonely?
"Mmmph," he said somehow without moving his lips. He didn't get up or open his eyes. She carefully helped him to his feet. It was a struggle to get him back to the bedroom. She was strong, but he was so heavy, and he could barely walk.
"Are you okay?"
"Hasn't been my best day," he said dryly. When she lay down beside him, she noticed that he turned away from her. A wave of guilt constricted her throat, and she fought back tears. Would she be able to make this up to him? Would he forgive her?
She woke up the next morning with a terrible headache and a gnawing pang in her side. If she couldn't handle anything else, she could handle hunger. She lathered a pan with butter and began to fry pancakes.
As she finished a stack for herself, Connor appeared. He was wobbly. He had a few nicks where he'd misjudged with the razor. He wasn't smiling.
"You, uh ... you headed out already?"
"I never finished work yesterday," he said in a flat voice. She offered him the plate and the syrup. He was nearly done eating by the time she came to the table.
"Connor, I'm sorry."
"I am," she said.
He met her eyes, and he set his fork down. "Rosalind, honey, I can't stress to you enough that you CANNOT involve yourself in my cases. Between interrupting an interrogation and hacking a government phone system, you're gonna get yourself arrested and me fired." She pushed her plate away, appetite suddenly gone, and stood. Her throat closed up completely and made her voice sound strange. "If you want me to leave, I will."
He stood too, and boxed her in. "Hold on now, I never said that. I'm not leaving. You're not leaving. That's why I gave you the ring, remember? And what do our tattoos mean? 'Love forever,' right? I meant that." "So what if we had a bad night? We'll get over it." He leaned over and kissed her. "Gotta go. I'll see you tonight."
And as the squad car pulled away from the curb, she finally smiled.
Occasionally Yours: Episode Six
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