thump thump thump
Connor shook himself awake. He had fallen asleep against his laptop. And someone was knocking on his door.
There was a peephole, but the hall light had burnt out.
thump thump thump
He opened the door to see a woman in a nice suit jacket and slacks. He stepped back, let Rosalind in.
She looked around. “It’s not as bad as I remember.”
“And that’s saying … what?”
“It’s still pretty bad.” She set down a paper bag. “Chef gave me the leftovers from the kitchen, you like shrimp boil?”
They dumped the seafood and steamy potatoes onto two more paper bags and ate. The tv displayed a program that could hardly be heard through the constant crackle of static. They went through the meager supply of take-out napkins quickly and resorted to sucking their fingers to clean them of butter.
“How do you like your new job?”
“It’s okay, I guess. I liked the old one better. At least you got to smile there. Here, you smile at a woman, she gets all weirded out. You smile a guy and he takes it as an open solicitation, or the girl he’s with thinks you’re comin’ out to him … they act like the people serving them should be robots.”
“That’s why they pay so much to go there, so they can act like that. Though I have to say, it’s kind of funny to hear you complain about not being able to smile, Rosalind.”
“Look, I’m not a smiley kind of person, you
know that. But I’m not used to being treated like I’m disposable either. It’s just the work environment, I guess. I’ll get used to it, or I’ll quit.”
“And after you quit, you gonna become a cop?”
She looked up at him, trying to judge if he was joking or not. His face gave her no help.
“… I don’t really think that’s in my future.”
“You should think about it. We both already know you’d make a fine special agent, but you could always go into the forensics side of things. You’re good with computers—”
“Is the department hurting so badly that they’d recruit a felon?”
“You might be surprised.”
She stood. “Well, thank you for the hiring pitch, but it’s not going to happen. Do you have hand soap somewhere?”
He offered her the bed when she came back out as there was nowhere else to sit. She accepted, and lay back, resting. The worn-out tv droned on monotonously.
“So you like this place?” she asked after a while.
“Not really. The current in here is so weak that using my laptop sometimes sets off the circuit breakers, and I just found out that the oven’s thermostat is off, it cooks about 15 degrees too high. Not good at all.”
“No,” she agreed, and they went back to gazing at the tv show that they couldn’t hear clearly.
The next time he asked a question, she didn’t answer because she had dozed off. He covered her bare feet with the comforter and went back to the tiny dinette to transcribe more notes from the other agents working on this case alongside him. The shorthand seemed smudgy and the transcription he was coming up with didn’t make any sense. If he was reading this correctly, the suspect was hiding stolen jewels inside of the family cat! (98)
The lights flickered, dimmed. Connor stopped writing and quickly saved his files. He had lost an hour’s worth of progress to a brownout before, and he’d learned his lesson. Now at the first sign of fading power he gave up on work and turned his computer off. That way the resulting power surge couldn’t fry the machine, another issue he’d had while living here. He didn’t normally complain about work, but this was easily the worst assignment he’d been on in quite some time.
As the ‘saving’ progress bar reached 75%, the lights went out completely.
“No! ….” Connor gasped. “Damn it, c’mon! …”
The bar crept up to 95% … and hung.
“My god,” he sighed. If the file wouldn’t save now, he didn’t want to see it. He snapped the computer closed and stood, stretching out his back. Then he walked around the tiny space in the dark, turning the light switches off one by one.
Rosalind woke up suddenly at the sound of … something
… exploding. As she scrambled across an unfamiliar bed, she barely had the time to register that there was a body underneath her legs and well, when it moved and she thought “hairy … male … stranger,” she instinctively kicked. There was a furious grunt, a mad scramble, and up
she went, face-down in the mattress in a classic restraining hold.
“What the hell was that for?” Connor demanded angrily. If he had been asleep before, he was wide awake now.
“Could you let go of me?”
“Are you gonna give me another knee?”
“It was a reflex!”
“So’s this,” he answered dryly, but released her and fell backwards onto a pillow. Rosalind fumbled for the lamp.
“Don’t bother, the lights are still out. The power transformer overcharged and exploded when the current came through.”
She looked at him, what she could see of him. The apartment had little light besides what came in through the cloudy screen door. She could see the messy hair and the outline of his bristly face.
“I should go,” she said, hesitantly.
“It’s completely dark in the hallway, you’ll break your neck trying to get down the stairs.”
That was probably true. After a moment she lay back with a sigh. The bed creaked.
“You know,” he said, “you kicked me like that in Coursavint too.”
“I did not,” she protested.
“Sure did, you were asleep and I woke up all tied up in a blanket, and I tried to wiggle past you to go outside for a minute and bam, right in the jewels.” He laughed and added, “It wasn’t funny then.”
“It’s okay,” he said. His voice was reassuring. “You were asleep. Though I’ve always meant to ask you, why did you let yourself get caught?”
“Remember when Lane and his friends stuffed me in that basement? You called it in anonymously. I already know it was you, I reviewed the tip-off that the ambulance drivers logged. You gave them too much information to be ‘someone in the neighborhood.’ Nice try, though. But why stick your neck out like that for a guy who was just going to arrest you?”
She looked up at the ceiling. ‘You already know
why. The same reason I’m here in a cockroach den with you than at my own place alone.”
His hand slid into hers, and their fingers tangled.
“And so … now what do we do?”
“I don’t know,” she sighed. “Jared’s right, after all. I don’t bring you anything but trouble—”
“That’s not true.” He rose up, shifting the mattress. She slid into the hollow that his solid body created. (99)
“One thing you brought me was a very firm understanding that I don’t like to be alone. Which is strange. I was fine with it for all of my life and after being around you for a little less than three years, I noticed when I was alone. And I didn’t like the feeling. And you already know if there was anyone else for me in this town, I would have found them by now.”
That was so; he had dated quite a bit before settling on Bebe. And even as little attention as Rosalind had given the matter, she couldn’t deny that he had tried, quite sincerely, to make a life with Ms. Hart.
“Listen,” he said, very gently. “We love each other. That’s more than good enough for me. But if there’s even a glimmer of hope that you want me, you know I’ll do the best I can to make it work. No matter what anyone else says. You know that, Rosalind.”
“A glimmer,” she repeated. She could see his pulse pounding in his throat. She ran her fingers along his rough jawline, drawing his mouth down to hers.
He slid out of his dirty clothing quickly and stood waiting, watching, as she carefully folded each piece of her work uniform. She hadn’t faced him yet.
Was she really going to do this? With her former parole officer?
She felt his hands on her waist as before, his lips caressing the skin at the nape of her neck, his hips meeting hers shamelessly. For the first time that she could remember, her own body responded in kind. Her skin flushed with heat as he claimed her, bringing little pain that was quickly forgotten.
She hadn’t truly understood what making love was. In her world, trust alone was a luxury, love was hardly to be found. She had long ago resigned herself to celibacy. Of course she hadn’t understood. If she had known this was what was waiting for her, she would have never endured thirty-six months of living under his roof without crawling into his bed and taking him in greedy, sloppy mouthfuls. She would have never let Bebe have him first.
This was happening.
She had always thought that it might.
But she had figured that they would confess their love by some lake, or at some fancy dinner, or something appropriately corny. She had never imagined that it would happen in some cheap flophouse and end with him holding her so tightly, breathing so fast that surely, surely he would pass out—
Connor shouted and abruptly became very still. When she waited, and crawled out of his arms to stare at him, and still he didn't move, she shook him hard and gave him lovetaps on his cheek. He swatted her hands away.
“Give me ten minutes,” he said, laughing weakly. "Kinda outta breath right now."
When the electricity reconnected they didn’t notice, as he had turned all of the lights off hours before. So they continued to make love in the dark, her arms around his neck, his arms under her shoulders, their eyes closed, their lips together. (100)