His response came quickly: Got called into ER. Brought Toby with me. Nothing from Anna.
Grace turned around and drove to the ER. She found Toby in his Star Wars pj’s playing with his Zhu Zhus in the nurse’s station. “They have popcorn here,” he said happily, clutching a full bag of it.
Grace turned to the nurse’s aide watching him. “Is Josh with a patient?”
“Yes. And he’s going to be busy for a while.”
“Can you ask him if I can take Toby home for him?”
The aide came back with the okay, with absolutely no indication on what Josh thought about Grace showing up. She took Toby home and tucked him back into bed before making herself comfortable on the couch to wait for Josh.
But he never came home.
Maybe man cannot live on chocolate alone,
but a woman can.
Grace woke up at 6:00 a.m., her face stuck to the couch, someone tugging on her sleeve.
He’d liberated Tank from behind the baby gate. The puppy was prancing like a miniature dancing bear. A miniature dancing bear that had to go potty. Scooping him up, Grace ran for the front door, getting him outside just in time for him to race to the closest tree and lift a stumpy leg.
Toby, still in his Star War’s pj’s, trotted across the yard to join him in anointing the tree.
Grace didn’t bother to sigh. When Tank finished, he pawed at the grass with his back feet, head high, proud of his business. Toby loped back to Grace, grinning with his own pride.
Grace gathered both the dog and child back inside and checked her phone.
She was playing Scrabble Junior with Toby when her cell finally buzzed with an incoming call, which she pounced on. But it wasn’t Josh.
It was Anna. “Hey,” Grace said, “I’ve been so worried.”
Anna didn’t say anything. Grace checked the phone to make sure she had reception. “Anna?”
Nothing, but she was there; Grace could feel her in the gaping silence. “Anna,” she said softly. “You okay?”
Anna didn’t say anything.
“Just tell me where you are,” Grace said, heart aching. “I’ll come get you. Are you at Devon’s?”
“Road trip,” Grace said to Toby.
He immediately hopped up and grabbed Tank and his Jedi saber. Grace was too worried to argue with him. “Get the leash.”
“Tank can’t be a Jedi on a leash,” Toby said.
“He’s not big enough to be a Jedi,” Grace said.
This caused Toby to beam with pride that he was apparently big enough, and he went for the leash.
Grace drove to Devon’s building. The place looked dark and still, as if no one was there, but Grace couldn’t get rid of her bad feeling. Not in a hurry to get out of the car in this neighborhood, she tried Anna’s cell phone again.
It went straight to voice mail this time, so either it was off or it’d run out of juice. While she was still staring down at her phone, unsure of her next move, it buzzed.
Oh God. She’d wanted to hear from him, needed to hear from him, and now that he was calling, she wanted to fall into a big hole and live in Denial City. The phone vibrated more intently, and she imagined Josh waiting impatiently on the other end of the line. “Hey,” she answered, wincing at how breathless she sounded.
“I’m off work,” he said. “We have to talk.”
Even knowing he was right, she couldn’t go there right now. She couldn’t do anything until she knew that Anna was okay. “About that…”
“What? Where are you and Toby?”
She didn’t want to tell him where she was, not yet. Anna had told him she was with friends. If she turned out to be here at Devon’s, Josh wouldn’t be happy to know it. “Give me a few. I’ll meet you back at the house.”
“What’s going on, Grace?”
Shit. He was too damn smart for her. “Okay, fine. I’m outside Devon’s place. I got two hang-ups from Anna. I think she wants help and she’s too stubborn to ask for it. I have no idea where she might have gotten that stubbornness, but I have a feeling it has to do with her last name.”
“Stay put,” he said. “I’m on my way.”
“Staying put.” Gladly.
“And, Grace? We still have to talk.”
Oh boy. She could hardly wait. She disconnected and stared at the dark apartment.
“Is Anna in there?” Toby asked.
“Not sure.” A text beeped in and she glanced at it, figuring it would be from Mallory or Amy wondering how it’d gone with Josh.
Which of course, it hadn’t gone at all.
But the text wasn’t from Amy or Mallory. It was from Anna.
I need you.
Grace called Josh. “I’m going in,” she told him. “Anna needs me now.”
“Wait for me. The neighborhood is shit, and so is that building. I’m five minutes out.”
She wasn’t going to wait five minutes, not after Anna’s text.
“Grace,” Josh said, voice tight.
“We don’t have any tunnels,” he said. “Don’t—”
She disconnected and winced. “Whoops.” She turned in her seat and eyed Toby, unsure what to do. And Josh was right; they were in a crap neighborhood. Leaving Toby in the car wasn’t an option, but she didn’t want to bring him inside with her either.
In the end, her urgency to get to Anna made her decision for her. “Okay,” she said on the sidewalk, hunkering down in front of Toby and Tank. The two of them, boy and dog, stood side by side, facing her like two little warriors, both so adorable and serious that her heart swelled against her rib cage. “Don’t let go of my hand,” she said to Toby. “No matter what. That’s your only job, to hold on to me at all costs, okay?”
Toby, holding his lightsaber, nodded solemnly. “Arf.”
Oh God, she couldn’t take it. He was upset; that was the only time he barked these days. Giving him a quick but warm hug, while silently sending Josh a please hurry, she straightened, and they went inside the building.
Devon opened the door to her knock. He took one look at the whole brigade, and a muscle tightened in his jaw. “Busy,” he said, and tried to close the door.
Not thinking beyond must get inside, Grace reacted instinctively and stuck her foot in the door to block it open.
Devon slammed it on her, and Grace doubled over from the oh-holy-shit pain in her foot. She’d seen a foot get slammed in a door on TV a hundred times, and not once did anyone scream in pain. But then again, none of them were ever wearing wedge sandals.
Devon opened the door wide with clear intent to slam it again, but then Tank squirmed through the opening. Even through the agony radiating up from Grace’s foot, she heard Toby cry out for his dog. She envisioned what the door would do to Toby’s lanky little body or Tank’s adorable, fat little one, and she threw herself at Devon. He fell backward, taking her down with him. She landed hard, writhing at the new fire in her foot.
“You crazy bitch!” Devon yelled. He rolled them so that he was on top, smacking her head hard on the floor. She saw stars, and then Tank was suddenly there, growling and snarling as he…
Bit Devon on the ass.
“What the fuck…” Devon shoved off Grace, hand on his butt, staring in shock at the little dog. “You little piece of—” Going up on his knees, he reached out and snatched Tank up by the throat.
Tank chirped in alarm, his eyes bugging out even more than usual, paws flailing like a cat on linoleum.
Toby, in his Star Wars pj’s and wild bed-head hair, cried out, “Let go of my dog!”
Anna appeared in her chair from the hallway. She was out of breath, like maybe she’d just been fighting to get into the chair on her own, but she rolled directly up behind Toby and snatched him up into her lap. “Hey!” she yelled at Devon. “What are you doing? Put the dog down!”
Devon staggered to his feet, Tank still dangling. “It bit me on the ass!”
“That’s my dog,” Toby yelled from his perch on Anna’s lap. He dropped his lightsaber and wrapped his arms around his aunt’s neck.
Tank gave a sharp cry, signaling that Devon’s grip had tightened, and Grace reacted without thinking. From the floor, she grabbed up the lightsaber and whacked Devon in the back of his knees. They buckled, and he collapsed to the floor.
Tank got loose and ran for Toby and Anna.
“That’s assault,” Devon snarled at Grace. “Twice! Not to mention trespassing. I didn’t invite you in here. I’m calling the cops.”
“Call them,” Anna said. “I’ll tell them it was self-defense. Grace came in to protect me.”
“I didn’t do anything to you!”
“You got me into your bed. You moved my chair out of my reach so that I couldn’t get to it. You—”
This was the last word Anna got out because Josh had appeared in the open front door. He picked Devon up by the front of his shirt and slammed him into the wall.
Devon, feet hanging off the ground by a good six inches, gave the same sort of desperate squeak that Tank had given only a moment before.
“Grace,” Josh said, not taking his eyes off Devon. “Call nine-one-one.”
It was his tone that made her react. The utterly calm tone that said everything was going to be okay now that he was here. She slapped her hands on her pockets but couldn’t find her phone. She sat up, moved her foot wrong, and cried out before she could bite it back.
“I wasn’t doing anything to her, man,” Devon said. “Nothing she didn’t want done! Tell him, Anna, Jesus!”
“It’s true, Josh,” Anna said. “I thought I wanted to…but I found his ex’s panties in the bed and I changed my mind.”
“For the second time!” Devon said.
Anna shook her head, like she couldn’t believe she’d ever liked him. “He didn’t hurt me,” she said to Josh. “He’s just a scum bucket.”