My steps were light as I made my way out of the building, and I couldn’t contain my smile when I sat in the passenger seat of the BMW.
“You talked to Jared,” Bex said with a knowing smile.
“He’s coming home,” I smiled.
“We better go move his stuff around and hide his home gym,” Bex smiled, pul ing away from the curb. “He’ll hate that.”
I laughed. “You’re in charge of the home gym. I’ll mix up the forks and spoons.”
“I got it covered,” Bex said with an mischievous grin. “You have dinner plans.”
“Oh. Right,” I said, sinking into the sink with a huff.
Bex sped to Cynthia’s faster and with more precision than any television car chase I’d ever seen, much less been a part of. He jerked the wheel, and let the Beemer slide, counter-clockwise, into the loft’s paral el parking spot.
“One of you wil get pul ed over one of these days, and I’m going to laugh,” I said, trying to steady myself once my feet hit the pavement.
“Our boss has plenty of money to bail us out,” he smiled.
“I won’t bail you out. I’ll laugh.”
“Even if it was Jared?” Bex said, escorting me up the iron steps.
“Especial y if it was Jared.”
“I don’t believe you. And if Claire found out about it….”
“You’re right. I’d bail you out,” I nodded.
I changed clothes quickly, and then fol owed Bex to the Beemer once again, letting him drive like a control ed maniac to my parents' home.
Arriving within minutes, Bex jumped out of the driver's side to open my door. We traded smal talk as he walked with me up the concrete steps, both of us hoping it would be one of our shorter visits. Just as I reached for the handle, Cynthia opened the door, startling me.
“Agatha is il today. I’ve barely been able to tend to dinner. Of al days for her to get sick….” Cynthia said, looking uncharacteristical y disheveled.
Her eyes targeted Bex.
“Good evening, Mrs. Grey,” Bex said.
She nodded politely. “Wil you be joining us, Bex?”
“No, Ma’am. Simply covering a shift.”
Cynthia’s cold eyes narrowed at him as she held out her arm to usher me into the house.
“I'l wait here,” Bex whispered.
“Probably safer,” I mouthed.
She wasted no time. “And where is Jared?”
“Er…resting,” I said, cringing at my words. Surely I would be better at lying on the spot by now.
“Hmm….” she said, clearly unconvinced. She didn’t press the issue, I assumed it was because of the fact that I was safe. Beyond that she didn’t bother to question.
The table had been set, but I helped bring out the soup and salad, and entrée.
“I’m sorry I always have to ask,” I said, waiting for her infamous scowl.
“You're predictable,” she snapped. Her expression soon smoothed as she scanned the table. “I thought I would try something different. Chicken Coconut Soup, and wild mushroom fricassee over Polenta.”
“Whatever that is,” I said, overwhelmed.
“Nina, real y. You act as though you were fed take-out your entire life. I have always enjoyed cooking.”
“And you never cease to surprise me,” I said, smiling.
She didn’t ask about Jared’s whereabouts again. We stumbled over the smal talk, and politely discussed the weather. Cynthia hadn’t mentioned my father since I returned home from the hospital. I wondered if she ever would. The residual circles under my eyes were a brief topic of conversation, and then I helped her clean the dinner dishes before saying goodbye.
“Dinner was uneventful?” Bex asked, holding the passenger door of the Beemer open.
My eyes narrowed at my former home. “She’s up to something. You’re sure she hasn’t call ed or talked to Jared?”
“Haven’t heard a word,” Bex shrugged.
At the loft, I found myself struggling to stay awake to witness Jared’s homecoming. Reality television kept my attention for a while, but I final y trudged up the stairs in defeat.
“Aw…but they’re going to get in the hot tub in a second. The girls get in a cat fight, its funny!”
“Wake me when he gets home,” I said.
“Aye, aye, El Capitan,” he responded.
“You know you’re not supposed to speak foreign languages to me,” I grumbled, fal ing into the bed with my clothes on. My voice wasn’t loud enough to travel to the first level, but Bex could hear, regardless.
“I wasn’t…never mind,” Bex said, too involved in the hot tub disco party to argue.
Just as I closed my eyes, they popped open again. The alarm clock on Jared’s side read nine-thirty.
“You okay, Nina?” Bex call ed up. “Bad dreams?”
“No,” I whispered. Just that minuscule bit of effort was al I could manage. I hadn’t realized I was so tired, and it was so much easier to fal asleep without the fear of screaming myself awake.
Ice was beneath me, and my bare toes wiggled against the smooth, shiny whiteness below. That was the only way I was aware it was dream—my feet were warm and comfortable. My father’s office window came into view above me. I was standing alone in the middle of Fleet Rink. Soon my naked feet were adorned with a pair of new ice skates, and Jack stood in the window, smiling down at me. A crowd of people, young and old, circled the space where I stood. Sporting matching red noses, their misty breath puffed out with each word or laugh.
I waved to him, and he waved back. Pushing forward, I could hear the blade of my skate scratching the surface of the ice. Looking up again, I noticed Jack was no longer smiling. Instead he bobbed in and out of visibility, pacing back and forth in his office, and then I saw Gabe.
They were arguing.
Oh no, I thought, feeling the tugging feeling again. No!
Back in the dusty, stale office, I landed on al fours again. Anger surged through me. My nights were just returning to normal. I wanted to sleep al night in Jared’s arms. I wanted him to see that things were getting better, that I was getting better.
“I’m not doing this again!” I yel ed, storming Jack and Gabe.
They ignored me, repeating the same scripted dialogue from before.