Hey, Sutter, I think it’s time we told the world who the real chickenshit of our group is. But if they’ve been reading along, they already know who. That would be me. Would you keep posting these for me? Unless, of course, the author gives you hell for it. Tell her I started it, because I did, and send her to me.
Early the next afternoon, McCallister drove toward the department’s garage for her mandated oil change. When her phone sounded on the passenger seat, she grabbed it to discover an unfamiliar number. “McCallister,” she greeted.
“Hi, Detective. This is J.”
Her stomach lurched.
“Sorry to bother you, but I ended up with your jacket yesterday.”
“Oh, I guess you did,” she said. “I’ll get it Monday when I stop by to see you.”
“Okay,” she replied.
She did not like the sadness that came with the simple word. A pang of guilt forced her to ask, “Is something wrong? Did you need me for something?”
After some silence, she said, “I’m sorry I’m such a needy pain in the butt.”
“Oh, yes, I am, and we both know it. I just don’t have anyone else. You’ve been so kind to me, and this time, I actually have something good to share, and I wanted to share it with you. Maybe it will make all you’ve done for me not seem like such a waste of time.”
“It’s never felt like a waste of time. Tell you what—” She glanced to her wristwatch. “I was headed to the station, but I’ll swing by and see you first. About ten minutes?”
The woman eagerly affirmed, and McCallister swerved into a right-hand turn.
A short time later, she entered the elevator and mindlessly stabbed the button for the second floor. When she leaned against the wall, though, she remembered the woman’s transfer to the psych unit and quickly corrected her error. That glitch made her think the woman was becoming a habit, and she once more summoned the hound to her mind.
As the door opened, she thought of Chad, the one who had come so close to jumping. She hoped he was still up here somewhere, getting help, but she thought it best not to look for him—or at him in the event of an accidental encounter. She didn’t want him thinking she was checking up on him.
Halfway to the nurse’s station, she saw the woman bounding down the hall toward her. They exchanged a friendly greeting, and McCallister couldn’t resist noting, “You’re all smiles today.”
“I am. It’s about time, huh?”
“It really is. What’s your good news?”
“I had my first hypnosis session today. I think it’s actually going to work.”
“What makes you say that? Did you remember something?”
Her face lit up. “My mother’s name, and I’m so close to hearing her call me my own name—so close I can almost taste it.”
She matched her smile. “That is amazing. Good for you.”
“Yes, it is amazing, totally amazing.” Nervously, she laughed. “It also seems so stupid. None of this should seem like earth-shattering news. I have a mother named Lenore. Big whoop, huh?”
Her stomach seemed to soar under the power of a thousand butterflies and then violently plummet.
“And apparently, I had a dog named Pickle, a chocolate Lab.”
Her throat constricted, making it seem impossible to breathe.
“Although, I’m not at all sure why a dog would be named ‘Pickle,’ especially a chocolate one.”
Because he tripped your mother in the kitchen and she spilled a jar of pickles, she thought to say. “Good for you—that you’re remembering,” she said almost dismissively. “I’m sorry I can’t stay longer, but I have an appointment at work. I have to go.” Abruptly, she turned and hurried for the elevator.
“Detective!” she called after her. “Your jacket! You came for your jacket.”
She stopped but made no effort to turn around.
“Wait here. I’ll run to get it. I’ll hurry.”
She didn’t move. She didn’t really think she could.
A moment later, the woman handed off her jacket. “Here you go.” She seized it just as the woman asked, “Can you still visit on Monday, or am I pushing it? It’s just that—”
“I’ll try. You have a good weekend.” She flew the rest of the distance to the elevator, and when her finger took aim at the button, she predetermined it would be agonizingly slow. Instead, she dashed to the stairwell door and leapt down the steps two at a time.
Once outside, she breathed deeply enough that her lungs felt near bursting. She lit a cigarette and slowly walked to her car, willing everything in her mind to leave.
But then, she made a grievous error.
As she seated herself behind the wheel, she lifted her bomber jacket from her lap with the intent of simply tossing it to the passenger seat. But before she did, she brought it to her nose. “Jaye,” she said, and when it seemed the tears were about to move beyond her control, she whipped the jacket into the backseat and then smashed her fist onto the steering wheel. The need to cry didn’t abate, and her entire body trembled as it fought. She desperately thought of Holly, of adolescent boys, of oil changes, and the smell of oil paint when the sun streamed into Holly’s studio.
Finally steeled, she called to tell dispatch she was headed to reinterview a witness. But instead, she simply drove from bridge to bridge, minding a mission until it was time to make her soda drop to Dylan and the boys.
Shortly after 5:00, she received a text message from Holly wanting to know when to expect her home. The prospect of being with her soothed, and yet, she knew the quiet niche they shared together would allow all her thoughts to roam untethered, her feelings to fester. And she wasn’t ready. She knew she wasn’t ready. Some things were just too big to fathom without raising unrealistic hopes. It was easier for her to view herself as skeptical, cynical even, than as someone who allowed herself to be buffeted by things not grounded in fact. Her relationship with Holly was the only realm where emotions ruled, where she let them rule, and at that moment, she found that a terrifying reality.
She texted her to say she’d be home shortly and that she’d bring dinner. She decided to do one more check of Granger Bridge before heading home, knowing it was the last time she would until Sunday night.
She had not made it very far before her phone blasted the ringtone unique to Kate. Welcoming the intrusion, she quickly answered, “Hey, Sutter. What’s up?”
“I’m hoping you’re still at work.”
“I am. Why?” she questioned, suddenly suspicious that it was the reporter calling and not her friend.
“I’m stranded. My car’s in the shop. Claudia was supposed to pick me up, but she’s stuck at work for at least another hour. I thought maybe if you were—”
“Where are you?”
“The Journal. Everybody else is gone. I really don’t want to be here.”
“You’re afraid to be alone?”
“Hardly. It’s Friday. I don’t want to be at work anymore.”
“You don’t like your job anymore?”
“I love my job … but apparently not as much as you. Why the hell are you interrogating me?”
“I’m not interrogating.”
“What do you call it?”
“Stalling. I call it stalling.”
“If you can’t give me a ride, just say so. It’s really okay.”
“But I can.”
“Then why are you stalling?”
“Because in another 30 seconds, I can be a smart-ass extraordinaire and tell you that I’m already in your parking lot.”
“No shit, but I’m not so sure you’ll be thrilled about the cab fare I charge.”
“Why? What is it?”
She turned into the Journal’s lot and said, “Get your ass down here, and maybe I’ll tell you.” Promptly, she disconnected and eased her car into the stall marked “K. Sutter.” She lit two cigarettes and waited, willing her mind to remain void of all thought.
A moment later, Kate slid into the passenger seat, and McCallister handed her a cigarette.
“I really appreciate this,” Kate said as she slammed the door.
“The cigarette or the ride?”
“Both,” she answered and then nervously laughed. “But you better tell me what the fare is.”
“Um, you have to go shopping with me.”
“Shopping? You hate shopping. Hell, I hate shopping.”
“That’s beside the point. It’s a necessity. See, you’re coming home with me for dinner. So, we need booze and something to eat. Oh, and you have to get your little woman to show up at our house when she’s done with work. I’m thinking burgers on the grill. It’s chilly out, but what the hell, huh?”
Kate stared, her face squinched up in confusion. “What is up with you?”
“Nothing. Why? Can’t I ask the two of you over for dinner? You don’t like us anymore?”
“You’ve been smoking something besides cigarettes, Laura, or you’re Holly in disguise.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Holly arranges things like this, and you usually just bitch and go along with it.”
“Well, I never!”
“You’re right you never. And booze? Your idea of booze is—”
“I’m a repressed party girl. Apparently you didn’t know that.” She shoved the car in reverse and swiftly backed up. “We’re going to the market. Hang on, Sutter, and in the meantime, keep talking.”
“About anything. It was a very strange day, and I don’t want to think about it. So give me drivel, Sutter. Lots and lots of drivel.”
“It’s Friday. All I have left is drivel.”
And she driveled: about editors, mechanics, the price of coffee.
They had just entered the store’s parking lot when McCallister’s phone sounded. A glance told her it was Holly’s sister. “Noelle. Noelle. Noelle,” she greeted in a very chipper voice.
“Who is this?”
“Christ, it’s Laura. Isn’t that who the hell you called?”
“Okay, now you sound like you. Hey, do you know where Holly is?”
“At home, I assume. I just heard from her a bit ago.”
“Well, she doesn’t answer her cell.”
“Maybe she’s busy. Maybe she’s in her studio.”
“All right. I’ll keep trying.”
“Hey, how does a burger sound?”
“A burger! If you want to talk to your sister, be at our house in an hour. We’re grilling out. Kate and Claudia are coming, too.”
She disconnected and found Kate on the phone in mid-conversation with Claudia, she assumed.
With unexpected plans now firm, they shopped until they had enough food to feed the proverbial army. The booze the repressed party girl wanted amounted to two bottles of wine, and Kate simply rolled her eyes at her.
Twenty minutes later, McCallister unlocked the front door, and they both entered only to be shocked senseless.
Holly—void of even a stitch of clothing—reclined on the kitchen island as though an erotic buffet. “Uh oh,” she said when she realized McCallister was not alone.
The two of them gaped, and when what they saw finally sunk in, they screamed in sync, turned, and bailed out the front door. McCallister shut the door behind them, and for a long moment, they stared at each other.
“Holy shit, Laura! … Why the hell doesn’t Claudia ever—”
“Shit, Sutter, I am in big trouble.”
“I’ll just leave. Shit, I can’t leave! You’re my ride. I’ll just stay out here then.”
“Shut up, Sutter. Give me a minute. I’ll go take care of it.” When Kate’s jaw dropped, she clarified, “Christ, not that kind of take care of it. I’ll just explain myself.”
Just as she turned to head back inside, the door opened, and a robed Holly stood in the doorway.
“I’m very sorry, Kate,” she said. Then, she combined a glare with a smile and aimed it at McCallister. “I wasn’t expecting anyone but Laura.”
“I should have called, Hol,” McCallister quickly admitted. “I’m really sorry.”
Kate shook her head. “Both of you quit apologizing. You live here. I’m the odd man out.”
“You’re neither odd nor man, Kate,” Holly said. “You’re family. Now, both of you get in here.”
“How about I just get the grill going?” Kate awkwardly proposed. “Where’s your charcoal? I’ll do that, and you two do … whatever.”
“Charcoal?” Holly questioned. “Grill?”
McCallister took the grocery bag from Kate, saying, “It’s in the garage, Sutter. I’ll be out back in two minutes to help you as soon as I make things right with this gorgeous creature.”
Kate fled the scene, and when McCallister turned around, Holly grabbed her hand and yanked her in the house.
“I am sorry, Hol.”
“I’m not mad, and I’ll make sure everything’s okay with Kate, but first, tell me what’s going on.”
“Um, I kind of asked Kate and Claudia over for dinner,” she sheepishly informed.
She leaned and kissed her cheek. “I thought I was supposed to be in charge of deciding what we did this weekend.”
“Shit! You were. I’m sorry for that, too.”
“Actually, I thought about asking them to have dinner with us, but I figured—very wrongly, apparently—that you’d rather not socialize.” Then, she narrowed her eyes at her. “Are you all right, babe? Is something bothering you?”
“Not you, too.”
“Too? What does that mean?”
“Just because I do something out of the ordinary, Kate and Noelle seem to think—”
“Oh yeah, did I forget to mention Noelle’s coming for dinner, too?”
This time, Holly did the gaping. “Whatever got into you, babe? Just thought you’d surprise the hell out of me?”
She shook her head. “No, but speaking of surprises,” McCallister said as she clasped Holly’s hands. “Please, Hol, do not stop surprising me the way you do. I promise if I ever bring anyone home again, I will call. I promise. I did know better. I just wasn’t thinking.”
“Laura, it’s really okay, but a warning would be appreciated.” She giggled. “At least it was Kate and not Phil or Rick.”
The image of that would forever remind her to call first. She apprehensively inquired, “Did I mess anything else up? What exactly did you have in mind for the weekend?”
“Just remember you said anything.” When the expected dread overtook McCallister’s face, she smiled very cockily and said, “You’re going to let me draw you.”
“Draw me? Again? Hol—”
“You have not let me draw you in over a year. I love to draw you. But, just your back this time. You can lounge on the chaise in my studio in the sun. You can read, catnap, whatever you want. I just want to draw you.”
Very convincingly she groaned, but Holly merely laughed.
“Babe, with two apologies already under your belt since you got home, you might want to reconsider your complaining.” She smiled wildly. “I’ve got you, Laura! You are mine to draw.”
Again, she groaned, but this time, it merely masked laughter. She easily recognized the barrel beneath her—and the fact that she owed her for what she put up with all week. And a split-second of courageous clarity told her the situation would give her an opportune time to tell her all that swirled in her mind.
But she’d get to that. She’d tell her. Despite her overwhelming fear, she wanted to tell her. Just not yet.