Okay, people, the author has been majorly slacking off as of late. We need to crack the whip! Since posting a snippet of her rough draft got her moving, let’s see what happens if I post Chapter 2.
And… Since it has been frickin’ forever since you read Chapter 1, it may be helpful to read it again before this new chapter. You can find the whole of it here.
For nearly half an hour, we followed that blue van away from the city and into the openness of the country. We spoke very little; we were biding our time, wishing it to go faster. We continued to exchange glances that sought reassurance. But, it wasn’t the classic: Are we there yet? It was the unfamiliar: Is she okay? Even the occasional faces in the van’s back window wore the same fretful expression.
Was she okay? Despite being right next to her, I had no clue, and she was hardly one to make an announcement if she wasn’t—which was why we were in this situation to begin with. She kept things to herself, and when she wouldn’t even let Holly in, whatever it was, wherever she resided, was not good.
Hurry up, van! Hurry up, car!
Edgy as all hell, I started counting cows, and that kept me occupied until I spied Laura’s leg bouncing up and down.
Kris must have noticed, too, because she snatched Laura’s hand and clutched it. “You’re anxious, Laura, aren’t you?”
Laura did not answer, but I watched her hand squeeze Kris’.
In a hushed voice, Kris asked, “Are you anxious to be away from Holly or to be away from home?”
“They’re the same thing,” she calmly answered.
“That they are.” Her other hand came and patted Laura’s, still holding hers. “You can trust us, sweetie. We’re as trustworthy and as predictable as we’ve ever been.”
“Are you?” Her calmness was gone. This was a plea, and I felt sick to my stomach.
I looked to Janice’s panicky eyes in the rearview mirror. I saw Maggie’s head whip around. And who the hell let throat demon in the car?
“We are,” Kris assured.
“Promise? Do you promise?” Laura challenged. “I’m really not in the mood to be f-ed with.”
“Nobody’s f-ing with you,” Kris replied. “Everybody here loves you. Just trust us.”
“Fine,” she said, and I could see her body relax a bit. “If nothing’s changed, if you’re really as predictable… We’re on 56 East, about ten miles from Wellington, headed to Crappie Cabin.”
“Shit!” the vegan yelled.
“I knew it! Five bucks, Maggie!” Janice exclaimed. “I told you she flippin’ pays attention to everything. My head would still be back in their driveway, wondering how bad red hair looked in a blue bra.”
Laura continued, “And, if you’re trustworthy—which you goddamn well better be—then Holly’s following us, or maybe in front of us … probably with everybody else … probably with Ginny driving the van.”
“Shit!” the vegan yelled again.
“Is she? Am I right?” Laura damn near demanded. “Please tell me Holly’s there.”
“She’s right in front of us,” Kris told her. “I’m sorry, Laura. I didn’t think this was a good idea, but Holly said—”
“Holly was right,” Laura interrupted. “I can do this. It is good for me.”
I felt relieved, although I wasn’t quite sure what specifically she thought was good for her.
Maggie said, “Laura, since the jig is up, why don’t you just take the bra off your head?”
“No, I can play along. Let Holly have this—whatever it is. Just please don’t F with me, at least not anymore than you usually do.” She cracked my thigh a good one, and while it smarted, it felt good. She was in there. My friend, our friend, was still in there.
“You b-word,” I whispered.
Once more, we sank into silence, and everyone covertly monitored her. I kept an eye on her motionless legs. Kris still held her hand. I thought of egg shells, pins and needles, and tenterhooks. It seemed so weird to me that she felt like a stranger, one that made us horribly uncomfortable.
Hurry up, van! Hurry up, car!
A short time later, we entered the hodunk town of Wellington. Janice pulled the car to a curb, and we watched the van—its passengers waving—continue its journey. Very quickly, the horizon swallowed it whole.
Maggie informed Laura that we needed to kill half an hour while the rest of them went on ahead. It was all part of the plan, she told her.
After being reassured a hundred times that no one would ever know, Laura agreed to remove the blindfold. Her hair was a mess, and the elastic had given her red creases on her cheeks and forehead. Still, it proved damn good to see her scowling face.
We piled out of the car and stretched as though it was the seventh inning of a women’s softball game. I ached all over, and I knew it came more from tension than contortion.
Once we were limber again, Kris and Maggie went on a donut run to the bakery down the block. Janice headed for the nearby convenience store’s restroom and coffee machine. Laura and I took to a bench to share a smoke.
She still appeared somewhat anxious, her eyes continually scanning the area, and again, I wasn’t at all sure why. Deciding to leave the psychoanalysis to Kris, I simply let her be. Wordlessly, we puffed.
I had just extinguished my cigarette when we saw Maggie and Kris exit the bakery and begin the trek back to us.
Laura’s head pivoted to me. As though seizing the final moment of our aloneness, she implored, “Sutter, this kidnapping… You’re not dragging me off on some intervention kind of thing, are you?”
“Intervention? What do you mean?”
“Confront me with stuff so I get my shit together?”
“No!” I assured but then realized I had no idea what Maggie and Alison had actually planned, but my gut told me it wasn’t that. I admitted, “I don’t really know what we’re walking into, but I don’t think that’s what it is. I can’t imagine any of them arranging that or doing something like that to you.” Peripherally, I saw her nod and then dared, “Do you need to get your shit together?”
Again, she nodded, albeit tentatively, saying, “I’m working on it.”
“Laura, if there’s anything—”
“I know, Sutter. I know,” she said, obviously sensing that I was about to remind her of my friendship.
Claudia once told me that being taken for granted was a compliment in some way, a trust thing. I hoped to hell that’s what this was, that she believed I was there for her and didn’t need to hear it. It certainly felt different from her recent stiff-arming of me in my quest for information.
“We’ll have fun,” I tried to persuade. “We all could use some fun.”
“I’m not sure I remember what that even feels like.”
I elbowed her. “I’ll bet you five bucks you will by the time we go back home tomorrow.”
“You’re on,” she said just as our donut bearers neared the bench.
Laura declined the offer of a donut. Oddly, I found myself doing the same, even though I knew my stomach growled in anger at having been denied breakfast that morning. Maybe it was some moronic show of solidarity. Maybe I just needed more important things first. Both of us, however, readily accepted the coffee Janice soon offered.
On schedule, we were back on the road and nearing our destination. With Kris’ and my help, Laura put the bra back on her head just moments before we reached Crappie Cabin’s driveway. The tires crunched the gravel, and the sound of it seemed to chase the anxiety out of us. We had arrived.
When we came to a stop next to the van, Claudia, Holly, Ginny, Susan, and Alison came barreling out of the cabin and aimed for the car. Holly made a beeline for the back door, and I quickly scooted out so she could get to Laura.
“It’s me, babe. I’m here,” she quickly said. “They took me, too.” She grabbed Laura’s hand and tugged her out of the car. Then, she bellowed, “This goofy blindfold is coming off, you guys. I don’t care what anyone says.” With a careful flick of her wrist, she sent the bra flying.
Immediately, they embraced, and Holly asked, “Are you all right, babe? They didn’t hurt you?”
“I’m fine, Hol. Just fine. Did they hurt you?”
“They wouldn’t dare.”
They just stood there holding each other and whispering. It seemed relaxed, not desperate, and so, each grabbed her partner. I flew into Claudia’s arms, feeling a ton better just to be close to her again. Since the shooting, I had become very clingy, and surprisingly, she acted the same way. I didn’t frickin’ understand that, either, but I greatly appreciated the fact that it was mutual.
We were all grooving when Laura suddenly shouted, “For shit’s sake, what the hell?”
I pulled back from Claudia and followed Laura’s eyes. Instantly, I quite agreed: What the hell?
In a wooden chair near the pier sat Lover Doll, her wrap-around arms jutting out, encircling nothing but the country air. She seemed pensive, peaceful, as though gazing out to the lake, maybe looking for loons. When I loaned her to Maggie last week—against my better judgment—I had not imagined her here like this. Decidedly, her fate could have been much worse.
Laura tried again, “Somebody tell me what Sutter’s little blowup friend is doing here.” She turned to me.
I defended, “Don’t look at me. I don’t know. I gave her to Maggie.”
Eyes turned to Maggie, who shrugged. “Don’t look at me. I don’t know. I gave her to Alison.”
We turned to Alison only to hear her say, “Well, don’t look at me. It was Maggie’s idea. I only gave her a ride.”
“What kind of a ride, Alison?” Ginny asked with a snorting laugh, surprising the hell out of all of us. She swatted Janice. “Those two were awfully cozy on the ride up here.”
“Al! Is there something you need to tell me?”
“Ginny!” Alison shrieked as she latched onto the redhead’s arm. “Janice, don’t believe a word she says.” She reached to swat the vegan. “Tell them, Maggie.”
Maggie approached Laura and threaded her arm through hers. “Laura, remember we said we know where your missing parts are?”
Laura fearfully nodded.
“Lover Doll has them.”
“Christ, please don’t tell me you’re talking about her mouth or her—”
“No! No! The inside stuff. She has your things in safekeeping.”
“What things?” she challenged.
Alison answered, “We’re not really sure. Despite her open mouth, she’s not very talkative.” She paused to laugh. “We just know she has them, and all you have to do is spend time with her, and she’ll give them all back to you.”
Laura’s eyes narrowed to distrusting slits. “What exactly does ‘spend time with her’ mean?”
Holly’s hands raced to her hips. “Yeah, Alison, what does that mean?”
“You’ll see,” Alison said, and both the artist and the detective stared at her and then Maggie.
“But first,” Maggie shouted and clapped her hands like one who spent the majority of her time with a schoolteacher, “we need to get settled.”
Alison ordered, “Chop-chop! Get a move on!”
We unloaded the vehicles and got ourselves nestled into Crappie Cabin’s bosom. It struck me that it had missed us as much as we had missed it. Truly, it felt like a home away from home, which made sense only when I banished Natalie and a nasty fight with Claudia from my mind. Without those disturbing memories, I saw it as a place that healed us, and we needed that one more time.
In a fire-ass hurry, Claudia and I headed onto the porch, assuming—or maybe asserting—that the hanging bed was ours. Unceremoniously, we dumped our belongings into the corner, and then we climbed aboard, seizing the opportunity to snuggle.
Our minds drifted for a bit, and then Claudia said, “Kate, I think the bed remembers us.”
Indeed, it swayed very gently as though cradling us. And, it didn’t seem the least bit offended by the fact that we now had a hanging bed of our own.
We lay there quietly, and I soon heard activity on the other side of the French doors. Before the impending summons barged in, I asked, “Honey, nobody’s going to come down on Laura or anything, are they?”
“Kate, name one who would do that to her right now.”
“That’s what I figured. I just wanted to make sure nothing changed.”
She kissed me and said, “I don’t know what the plan is, but I assume the goal is simply to give her a good dose of what she’s been pushing away.”
“I think we all could use a dose of that.”
“I sure could,” she replied, and then she quietly laughed. “Honey, do you remember how these weekends used to make us so anxious?” When I easily affirmed, she said, “It’s sure not that way anymore. Well, maybe it is this time, for a different reason, though. But I’ve been feeling lost without it. I’m really glad we’re here.”
Lost without it? Maybe that was why Laura seemed to be missing. My little mind seized that as proof that this was all she needed. I was beyond ready to watch that happen.
I sat up and grabbed Claudia’s hand. “Come on. Let’s go see what the plan is.”
We shimmied out of the bed, and for supposedly sentimental reasons, we promised to come out together on the other side of the weekend.
Hand in hand, we entered the living room to find Holly and Laura on the bear skin rug. Kris and Ginny were making coffee. Susan and Janice were descending the staircase. Our non-coupled hostesses were nowhere to be seen.
We got comfortable and listened to the coffee pot gurgle. When it finished, Kris and Ginny headed back to the kitchen to fill carafes. They claimed they were under orders to keep the coffee away from us, which proved a damn good thing. My bladder was about to burst from the stuff. I excused myself and sped to the bathroom.
Upon my return, I found nothing new, except for an uptick in the impatience with our AWOL hostesses. We discussed sending a search party, but finally, the cabin door opened.
On a huge wave of yoga-vegan energy, Alison and Maggie rolled into the room. They smiled excitedly and went to stand in front of the fireplace. Holly and Laura sat up and scooted back to the couch, where Janice’s and Susan’s legs made them a cubbyhole.
Alison asked, “Laura, did anyone tell you that Maggie and I are in charge of the weekend activity?” After Laura winced and shook her head, she explained, “Well, because you and Holly gave up your weekend, we are, and we’re about to tell you what we have planned.”
“But this isn’t a setup, Laura,” Maggie quickly assured, perhaps remembering her anxiety in the car. “Nobody else knows what we have planned, either. It’s not that big of a deal, though.”
Very dramatically, Alison said, “We just want you to have a nice relaxing weekend at Crappie Cabin.”
“Christ!” Laura wailed, and the rest of us groaned. “Where have we heard this line of BS before, Mayor Alison?”
She giggled most cockily and then said, “Okay, maybe there’s one itty-bitty fly in the ointment.” She elbowed Maggie, who laughed as well.
From the devious looks on their faces, I knew that itty-bitty was humongous and a fly in the ointment would end up as a bug up somebody’s butt. Some of us were indeed predictable.
Maggie said, “There’s just one little thing we’re going to do while having a nice relaxing weekend.”
Smirking, they simply stared at us until Ginny finally cleared her throat. Her hand made a rolling motion, and she dared to ask the obvious, “And that one little thing would be?”
In perfect unison, they answered, “Partner swapping.”