Sunday, July 1, 2018

Love Bites, Chapter 2

I sleep like shit.  Not that it’s any surprise.

Jamie came upstairs with me and sat with me for a long time.  He even went back to his own apartment to get some hot chocolate to make for me.  He limped over to the kitchen, heated up some milk in the microwave, and brought me out a steaming mug of chocolate.  It even had little marshmallows in it.  I felt a bit childish drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows, yet it did make me feel a little bit better.  But when he looked like he was going to pass out on my sofa, I told him to go home. 

“Are you sure?” he asked me.  “I could sleep on the sofa if you don’t want to be alone.”

I desperately wanted him to sleep on the sofa, but I know he has back problems and I’ve got the most uncomfortable sofa there ever was.  (It’s from Ikea—‘nuff said.)  So I sent him home for his own good.  And then of course missed him desperately.

As I lay awake in bed last night, I kept replaying the last time I ever saw Sydney.  We met up for drinks after work, and I remember when Sydney breezed into the bar, she was the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen her.  She was glowing.  I thought she’d gotten engaged.

“This mystery guy must really be good in bed,” I said to her.

“Oh, he is,” she assured me, crossing her legs in a way that made at least two guys turn to stare at her.  “Among other things.”

“So when do we get to meet him?”

Sydney flashed me a coy smile.  In due time.

“Can you at least tell me his name so that I don’t have to keep calling him ‘mystery guy’?”

She shook her head.

I let out an angry huff.  “Can you at least tell me what letter his name starts with?”

She shook her head again.  “Come on, Brooke. Don’t pitch a dying duck.”

“C?” I guessed.  “Does it start with C?  B?  L?  Please just throw me a bone here!”

Sydney laughed.  “I promise you, you’ll meet him soon enough.”  She twirled a lock of blond hair around her finger. “It’s getting serious.”

“How serious could it be if you won’t even tell your friends the guy’s name?”

“Okay…” Sydney took an onion ring off the plate in front of us.  I’d have been jealous that she ate so much yet never seemed to gain a pound, but I’d seen Syd’s fridge at home and knew that she starved herself when she was alone.  “His name starts with H.”

H,” I repeated.  “So… is it Henry?  Harry?  Hank?”

Sydney just smiled at me and patted her hair, surreptitiously adjusting one of her bobby pins.  Syd was really into bobby pins.  I thought it was funny how this girl who was otherwise the height of fashion always had a ton of bobby pins stuck all over her gorgeous blond hair.  She was addicted to them.

“Is it Hayden?” I asked.  “Like the planetarium?  Syd, are you dating a planetarium?  You can tell me if you are.”

“You’ll find out soon enough,” is all she said.

Well, now I’ll never find out.  Because Sydney is dead.  And Hayden the Planetarium is probably the one who killed her.

I drag myself out of bed, pushing away that dizzy, nauseous feeling I always get when I haven’t slept enough.  I’m tempted to call in sick, but at the same time, I feel like work might be a good distraction.  The last thing I want to do is sit home all day, thinking about how it could have just as easily been me lying in a body bag right now.  I’ve certainly gone out with enough sketchy guys over the years. 

Maybe it’s time to rethink the dating scene.  Maybe it’s time to get more serious about settling down with a decent guy.

I manage to shove my body into some clothing and applied the necessary creams and concealer to hide the fact that I spent the whole night awake.  I’ve got my clogs on and I’m ready to leave my apartment when I hear three loud thumps on my door.

Yes, it’s eight in the morning.  Yes, it’s broad daylight outside.  But that doesn’t mean those thumps don’t scare the crap out of me.

The entire time I was at Gramercy Park, I couldn’t shake that feeling of being watched.  But then when I went home to try to escape that unpleasant sensation, something occurred to me:

If someone was watching me at the park, they now knew where I lived.

The whole thing put me in a panic.  I couldn’t even tell Jamie why I was so upset because he would have thought I was out of my mind.  Normal people don’t think they’re being followed.  There’s a word for people who suddenly decide they’re being followed and that word is not “perceptive.”

I tiptoe over to the door and let out a breath when I see that it’s only Mr. Teitelman behind the peephole.  I unlock the door and find my downstairs neighbor standing at my door, his eyebrows bunched together in a frown. Mr. Teitelman is in his seventies and one of those men who has more hair in his eyebrows than he has on top of his head, and has never worn anything but checkered shirts in all the time I’ve known him (well, occasionally bathrobes).  He moved in two years ago, after his wife of forty years died, and he’s really the sweetest guy ever.  Well, aside from when I so much as breathe too loudly in my apartment.

“Too loud!” Mr. Teitelman greets me.  “Why so much stomping around, Brooky?  You woke me up!  Your shoes are so loud!”

“But I only just put my shoes on like one minute ago,” I point out.

“Eh?” Mr. Teitelman says.

That’s the kicker.  Mr. Teitelman can’t hear worth a damn.  I always have to repeat everything I say a hundred times and yell at the top of my lungs so he can understand me.  But then I have to tiptoe around to keep the noise from bothering him.  It’s like he has some sort of hearing disorder where he can only hear stuff directly above him.

“I’M SORRY,” I say.  “I’LL BE MORE QUIET.”

“That’s my girl, Brooky.” Mr. Teitelman’s face creases into a smile. “By the way, my grandson is having his bar mitzvah this Saturday and I’m having a party over here in the afternoon when it’s over.  You’ll come?”

Um…” I’m trying to think of a nice way to tell my neighbor that I don’t want to spend my Saturday afternoon at a thirteen-year-old’s birthday party.

We’ll have catered food from Katz’s deli,” he says.  “It’s going to be the good stuff!”

Um,” I say again. 

Mr. Teitelman winks at me. “James said he’d stop by.”

I cringe.  Much like Gabby, Mr. Teitelman is convinced that Jamie and I are meant to be together.  We are literally unable to have a conversation about Jamie without him winking meaningfully at me.  Still, he’s right—if Jamie is coming, that makes the party more appealing.  The truth is, the thought of seeing Jamie there is enough to convince me to go.

Hmm.  Maybe we’re not as much in the Friends Zone as I had thought.

“Okay,” I agree.  “I guess I can come by for a bit.”

He cups his hand over his ear.  “Eh?  What’d you say, Brooky?”

“I’LL COME TO THE PARTY.”

Mr. Teitelman claps his hands together.  “Wonderful!  I’ll order extra chopped liver.”

Before I can tell my neighbor that I would never consider eating chopped liver in a million years, he’s heading down the hall, whistling a little tune to himself.  He’s really a very nice man—maybe I should get carpeting.

***


If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my years of working as a phlebotomist, it’s that men are the worst babies there are.  The bigger and burlier the man, the greater the chance he’ll be terrified of my itty bitty butterfly needle.  My current patient is proving this adage correct.  Mr. Ramirez is built like a pro-wrestler, with biceps the size of my waist, but he’s hemming and hawing about letting me draw his blood.

“What is this test for anyway?” he asks me.  Even though the test he’s getting was written clearly on the slip of paper he handed me when he came in, and also, I’ve already answered this question for him.  Twice.

“It’s a test of your cholesterol, Mr. Ramirez,” I tell him patiently.

“Yeah, but I’m saying why?” he presses me.  “Why do they gotta know my cholesterol?  What does it even mean?”

“I think that’s more of a question for your doctor,” I say, “but generally, high cholesterol can cause stroke and heart disease.  So I’d imagine that’s why your doctor wants to know if your cholesterol is high.”

Mr. Ramirez looks at the needle doubtfully.  “But do you gotta draw so much blood?”

“It’s not that much.”

“It’s a whole tube!” he points out.  “Can’t you just take a few drops from my finger?”

I’m trying to patiently explain to him that the lab can’t run a test with just “a few drops of blood” and that a test tube of blood really isn’t very much.  A test tube literally does not even fill an eighth of a shot glass, but this guy acts like I’ll be sucking up his life force.  Except before I can talk him into it, our receptionist Cathy pokes her head into the room.

“Brooke?” she says.  “There’s someone here to see you.”

“Okay, it’ll be a few minutes,” I say.

Cathy’s voice drops a few notches.  “He says he’s a detective.  Detective Richard Bateman—that’s what his badge said.”

I nearly drop the needle I’m holding.  I look at Mr. Ramirez, who looks relieved by the interruption.  “That sounds important,” he tells me.  “You should probably go talk to him.”

I sigh and put down the blue tourniquet I’d been trying to persuade Mr. Ramirez to let me wrap around his forearm.  I go out to the waiting area, my knees trembling under me.  I don’t know why I’m so scared.  It’s not like I killed Sydney.  I want her killer to be found more than anyone.

I recognize the detective without Cathy having to point him out to me, even though he’s not wearing a police uniform.  He just looks like a cop. He’s in his early forties, with black hair and penetrating dark eyes. He’s wearing a dark jacket and tie, and you can tell he’s the sort of man who looks most handsome in a suit.

The detective rises when he sees me appear in my scrubs and long white coat.  Ms. Nelson?” he asks.

I nod, squeezing my fists together.

“My name is Detective Bateman,” he says.  He holds out his hand to me, and I’m embarrassed by how clammy mine is. 

“I’m Brooke Nelson,” I say, then feel like a moron because he obviously knows my name.

“Is there somewhere here we can talk privately, Ms. Nelson?” he asks.

“Uh huh,” I manage.  I glance over at Cathy, who is looking at me curiously.  She’s such a freaking busybody—everyone in the lab will know about this before lunch.  You’ll never believe it—Brooke almost got arrested. I cringe just thinking about it.

I lead Detective Bateman to a room that doesn’t seem to be in use.  There are two plastic chairs in the room.  He sits gracefully in one of them and I sort of collapse into the other.  The detective keeps looking at me with those dark eyes and it’s making me wonder if I did something wrong. I bet he’s good at getting criminals to talk. I feel a sudden urge to confess to him that I jaywalked on the way to work this morning.  Twice.

Ms. Nelson,Bateman begins, “I’d like to talk to you about Sydney Lancaster.  Have you heard the unfortunate news?”

Unfortunate.  That’s one way of saying that my friend went and got her throat slashed.

“Yes,” I murmur.  “It’s… terrible.”

He raises his eyebrows at me.  “You and Ms. Lancaster were friends, weren’t you?”

Yes.

“Close friends?”

“Medium close,” I say lamely.  Whatever that means.  God, I’m answering questions like I’m twelve years old.

“How long have you known her?”

Um… maybe… two years, I think?”

He nods.  I expect him to write down what I’m saying, but he doesn’t.  He’s just listening.  “How did you meet?”

I scratch my head, trying to remember.  “I think… I met her at a party.  Some friends of ours had a party and Sydney and I were both there. We got to talking and after the party we went and got drinks together and… well, that was it.” Ugh, this is the most boring story ever.  “We just started hanging out after that.”

The detective looks at me thoughtfully.  “Was it just friendship?  Or was it more than that?”

Oh my God, does he think Syd and I were hooking up?

“Just friendship,” I answer quickly.

He nods.  I look down at his left hand and notice a lack of a wedding ring.  He’s a guy who’s good-looking, smart, and obviously has a good job—I wonder why he’s not taken.  Maybe he’s divorced.  Maybe the long hours of being a policeman got to his wife.  Maybe she wanted him to promise that he’d take a safer desk job, but he was like, Dammit, I need to be out on the streets!  You can’t chain me to a desk, woman!

Or maybe not.

“I understand that you were supposed to meet up with Ms. Lancaster last night,” he says, breaking into my fantasy about his marriage gone wrong. 

My pulse quickens.  “How did you…?”

“We saw a bunch of text messages from you on her phone,” he tells me.  Right, of course.  “It sounds like you and Ms…. Gabrielle Lewis were supposed to meet her for dinner last night?  But she didn’t show up.”

“Right,” I confirm. “Gabby and I… I mean, Ms. Lewis and I were waiting for her, but she didn’t show up.”

“Where did you think she was?”

I shrug.  “I guess… she was dating some new guy.  We thought she ditched us for him.”  An idea occurs to me.  “Did you talk to the guy she’s been dating?  Does he have an alibi?”

Bateman smiles thinly.  “Unfortunately, we’ve been unable to locate Ms. Lancaster’s alleged boyfriend.”

“Alleged boyfriend?”

He sighs.  “Much like you, all her friends insist that she was dating someone, but none of them knew anything about him.  Including his name.”

“You don’t even know his name?” I breathe.

He shakes his head.  “He was obviously being very careful not to be found.  Did Ms. Lancaster ever mention a name?”

No.” I bite my lip.  “Except… well, one time she let it slip that his name starts with H.”

The detective gives me a look like I just told him the most useless piece of information he’s ever heard.  “Okay.  Was that his first name or his last?”

“I assumed first name, but it could have been last, I guess,” I say lamely. 

He looks disappointed, and I can’t blame him.  As much as I want to tell him something that will lead him to the killer, I know everything I’ve told him has been completely unhelpful.

“One more question,” he says, uncrossing his legs and leaning forward slightly.  “Do you know a woman named Angela O’Malley?”

The name doesn’t sound familiar.  I shake my head no.

The detective smiles grimly.  “Okay, never mind. Shot in the dark.”

I don’t know what that means.  But I file the name Angela O’Malley away to Google when I have a chance.

Bateman stands up from his plastic chair, which creaks angrily at his shifting weight.  He holds out his hand for me to shake.  “Thank you for your assistance, Ms. Nelson.  That’s all for now.”

“Oh.” I wipe the sweat off my hand before I shake his this time.  “Do you… I mean, are there any leads?  Do you think you’ll catch the guy who did this?”

He hesitates.  We’re doing everything we can.”

That probably means no.  They probably have no clue who killed Sydney.

That means whoever did it is still out there somewhere, probably laughing their head off at how inept the police force is.  Maybe ready to strike again.

For a moment, I consider telling Detective Bateman about that feeling I got yesterday, like I was being watched.  But no, he’ll just think I’m nuts.  Even I think I’m nuts.  I don’t have to let the cute detective think so too.



***


I can’t sleep.

I started out in my bed at eleven-thirty.  At midnight, I moved to the couch and read for a while.  At a quarter to one, I went back to my bed.  And I’ve been there for over an hour now, doing my damnedest to turn off my brain.  I’ve literally counted sheep jumping over a little white fence in my brain. I did a relaxation exercise I found online.  I masturbated. 

But somehow, I’m still awake.

I lie on my side, staring at a crack in the paint of my wall.  I keep thinking about my interview with Detective Bateman.  About they can’t find Sydney’s boyfriend.  No trace of him anyway.  Yet he’s out there.  Somewhere.

And if he might not have just killed Sydney.  He might have killed that other girl too.  He might be looking around, trying to choose his next victim right now.

I get a prickling sensation in the back of my neck.  It’s the same feeling I’ve had multiple times now, ever since I found out about Syd—like I’m being watched.  But this is the first time I’ve ever felt it while in my own home.  Yet it’s the strongest I’ve ever felt it.  I feel nearly complete certainty there is someone behind me, watching me in my bed.

I roll over in bed.  The walk-in closet is right behind me.

The door to the closet is partially ajar. The lights are off inside.  There’s nothing in that closet except my clothes.

Except then I hear it.  A loud creak from within the closet that fills the entire room. 

I sit up in bed, clutching the blanket, my heart pounding in my chest so loud I can hear it.  Holy shit.  There’s someone in my closet. 

But no, how could there be?  How is that possible?

I slowly get out of bed, never taking my eyes off the closet door.  The door doesn’t budge.  There are no further noises from within.  The closet appears empty.

Maybe I just imagined the noise.  Or maybe it was the building settling.  Or maybe it was a rat.

Please, God, let it be a rat.

I stare at the closet door for a minute, willing myself to check inside.  I’m certain there can’t be anything in there.  How could there be?  I’ll just turn on the light, look inside, and then I’ll know I’m alone in here.  And then I can go back to sleep.  (Yeah, right.)

I take a step toward the closet, my heart beating so fast that it nearly hurts.  I might have a heart attack over this, I swear.  I hold my breath, trying not to think of how relieved I’ll feel when I open the door and see nothing but clothes and (way too many) shoes.  After all, that’s what’s likely to be in there.  How could there be a person hiding in there?

Yet.  I did hear a noise.

Screw it.  I can’t do this.

I back out of my bedroom, still keeping my eyes on the closet.  I find my iPhone, plugged into the outlet in the living room.  I reach for it, wondering who I should call.  I have Detective Bateman’s number in my purse, but I would feel ridiculous telling a policeman to come check out a boogeyman in my closet.  No, I can’t call Bateman.

Really, there’s only one person I can call.  Only one person who won’t be furious at me for waking them up at two in the morning over something this lame.

I select Jamie’s number from my list of favorites.  It rings several times and I’m already freaking out he’s not going to answer when I hear his sleepy voice on the other line, “’Lo?”

“Jamie?” I can hear the fear in my own voice.

“Hey, Brooke.” He instantly sounds more awake.  “What’s going on?  What happened?”

“I…”

I need you to make sure there isn’t someone hiding in my closet. 

Wow, that sounds really ridiculous.

“Brooke?”

“Can you come over?” I squeak.  “I’m sorry… I just… I’m feeling a little freaked out now over the whole Sydney thing and… I’m sorry…”

“Don’t apologize,” he says.  “I’ll be right up.”

I wait for him by my unlocked front door, one hand on the doorknob and one hand on my cell phone. I have the lights on in the living room, but between the blackness of the windows and the quiet in the room, I don’t feel comforted at all. Also, Jamie takes what seems like forever to get upstairs, although I realize that I pulled him out of bed, so he likely wasn’t dressed, and it’s not like he’s speedy at his best.  After a good five minutes, I hear a gentle knock on the door.

When I open the door and see Jamie standing there, the relief floods through me. He looks like a guy who just got pulled out of bed—his short brown hair is disheveled and his jeans and T-shirt are wrinkled.  He’s got his cane in his left hand and he’s leaning more heavily on it than usual, the tight muscles in his left biceps bulging as he stifles a yawn. Even his glasses are slightly askew on his nose. If I wasn’t so glad to see him, I would have felt horribly guilty for waking him up.

“Brooke?” His eyebrows scrunch together.  “What’s going on?”

I pull him inside, feeling comforted by the sensation of his strong forearm against my skin.  Having Jamie here makes my apartment non-scary again.  Now there are two of us versus whatever is in the closet.

“Listen,” I say, “if I tell you what’s going on, do you promise not to laugh at me?”

He scratches at his hair, which only makes it stand up more. “Uh, okay…”

“I think there’s something in my bedroom closet.”

Jamie frowns.  He glances at my bedroom door, then back at me.  “Like… a mouse?”

If I tell him the truth, he’ll really think I’m nuts.  I can’t tell him.

“Yes,” I lie.  “I think I saw a mouse.”

“Shit,” he says.  “Brooke, I’d be happy to take a look, but I honestly don’t know if I’ll be able to do much to catch it at two in the morning.  Tomorrow we can go buy some traps and—”

“Can you just look?” I interrupt him.  “Like, look in my closet?  See if you see a mouse?”

He shrugs. “Sure, but it might be hidden.  It’s a big closet and there are lots of places for a little mouse to hide.”

Yes, but not an adult man.

“Please look,” I say.  “I can’t sleep without knowing if I’ve got a… a mouse.”

“Of course,” he says. 

Jamie heads toward my bedroom, and now that the lights are on, I realize the room looks like a hurricane hit.  I’ve got a lot of clothes in my closet, but it looks like a good twenty percent of those clothes are currently strewn about the floor.  He hesitates, looking between the ground and his cane, clearly reluctant to take a step.  “Uh, Brooke…”

“Sorry about that.”  I race around the room, yanking clothes from the floor to clear a path to the closet.  How freaking embarrassing.

I walk a couple of paces behind Jamie as he limps in the direction of my closet.  It occurs to me too late that I should probably have a weapon.  At the last second, I grab my hairbrush, which isn’t a very good weapon, but oh well.  Better than nothing.  Possibly.

I watch Jamie’s hand on the closet door.  My heart lurches in my chest and I’m certain something will leap out at us as soon as he pulls the door open.  I grip the hairbrush tighter, but that’s silly.  I mean, there couldn’t possibly be anything in my closet.

Could there?

To be continued....

18 comments:

  1. Oooh, cliffhanger! Is he in there? Poor Jamie expecting a possible mouse and might be about to come across a man... a murderer man at that...

    Great story so far. I think I prefer your lighter hearted stories but this has got me gripped too and I want to find out what happens.

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    1. Hopefully, you will come to enjoy this one as much as the others!

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  2. Now we'll have to wait a whole week to know what comes out??? Sigh****

    Shape

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  3. loving this, and excited for more. I hope you’ll keep posting!

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    1. Seems like there’s interest so I will ;)

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  4. Love this so far! I'm going to go crazy waiting a whole week to find out what happens lol

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  5. Aaahhhk, I can't wait a week to know what's in the closet. Torture!

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  6. Please don’t stop this story!! My two favorite things are dev stories and paranormal stories.

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  7. Very cool plotting so far. I am sure he will find nothing in that closet . . . or will he ???!!!

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  8. I’m liking it, Annabelle! -Meghan

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  9. I am loving this story, can't wait for the next chapter!!

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  10. Once again, you have me crushing after only a couple chapters James is so sweet. Can't wait to see what happens next off to read chapter 3 now. Thank you!

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