For disclaimers see parts 1 and 2a.
Special thanks to Jessie, as always, for keeping me on track and constructive criticism. This story would be nothing without her. And my thanks to those reading and feeding.
Feedback is always welcome at email@example.comForgive the delinquency in posting- illness is something I was not planning on. On with the story.
Something I Said
"There you two are," Elmer greeted us from his recliner. "I was about to send out a search party."
Ellison kissed his cheek and sat on the couch, indicating I should do the same. Once comfortable, I turned to Elmer, afraid of what he would say to me.
"First off, young woman," he announced in a scolding tone, "I wish you wouldn't have lost your head and run off like that. Wasn't nobody trying to hurt your feelings, but I have to admit that clip on TV of your little stunt today was downright funny. I'm glad you weren't hurt, though."
He chuckled and his granddaughter followed suit. "Secondly, this," he said with a wave around the room, "was the best surprise a crusty old man could come home to. Thank you, Conner. This'll be a Christmas to remember."
I felt my cheeks redden at the compliment and found an interesting piece of lint on the floor to look at. A weak 'you're welcome' was all I could manage for an answer.
"So tell me something," Elmer began, pausing until I looked up to see a devious glint in his bruised eyes. "Did it hurt when you landed on yer noggin in that snow bank? I noticed what you said when you finally got out and that camera was stuck in yer face. Made me blush!"
Ellison burst out laughing beside me and I rolled my eyes. I knew it would be a long time before I lived the incident down. I grimaced, and then explained how it was that the stupid buffoon on the roof had gotten us into that mess to begin with. That led, thankfully, to other conversation and soon several hours had passed in hearty discussion, including how I had come to meet Ellison.
"Yeah, that's an interesting story," she responded to Elmer's query of the subject.
"It must be. You two seemed like you hated each other."
"Just a misunderstanding," she answered after I looked at her questioningly.
That brought a smile to my face; I couldn't help it. After the kindness she had been prone to showing me since our first encounter when I got the snot bubbles knocked out of me, I had hoped that since we were on speaking terms again maybe we could stay that way. Friends were so hard to come by, especially friends as beautiful as she was.
I mentally kicked myself and reminded my brain that the key word here was 'friend'. Even if she were inclined to play for that team, she certainly wouldn't go for someone as deranged as me. Returning my thoughts to the conversation, I agreed with her.
"Yep, Elmer. It was a huge sheep-fuck misunderstanding."
Ellison laughed, her nose crinkling, and I had to look away. I was a gonner, but I would never admit it. Instead, I listened as she recounted the times we had run into each other since our first meeting. By the time she had finished, we were all laughing hysterically about it.
She sobered and looked at me before continuing. "I talked to Gramps about you the
day I was at your apartment when you came home. That's how I knew so much about you, Conner. He told me you never had friends over, how he thought it was strange for someone your age to be alone all the time."
I looked at my tennis shoes, embarrassed that other people had noticed my pathetic life enough to comment on it. She patted my knee before continuing.
"He also told me how he always heard a lot of 'noise' coming from your direction. I never let on that I knew you, though. I don't know why I didn't; I guess it would have saved everyone a big headache."
She smiled sadly, then turned her attention back to Elmer. "Any way, she went ballistic that day at the apartment, thinking I was stalking her or something. She threw me out on my ear before I could explain how I knew so much about her."
Elmer grinned and shook his head. "Good grief, I never seen nothing like it! I'm glad it's all straightened out now. I thought you two would come to blows."
I turned red and grinned at Elmer. "Naw, I wouldn't have ever hurt her. I was just trying to scare her because I thought she was crazy and had done something to you, old man."
"I'm glad you got my back, but next time look before you leap." He yawned and rubbed his eyes.
Getting the hint, I stood abruptly and stretched. "Well Elmer, I'm beat. I'll stop in tomorrow after work and see how you are. Get some rest."
I walked to the door and turned before opening it. "Ellison, I guess I'll see you around. I'm glad we got things worked out."
"Me too," she replied with a silky voice and a grin. "I'll stop by and say hi next time I'm town."
"Goodnight," I said and returned to my own place. I didn't figure she'd follow through with what she had said, and I could easily understand why she wouldn't. Who wanted to spend their time with someone who had to struggle just to get a sentence out without cussing?
I sighed and made myself comfortable on the couch. Even though things were fine between the three of us, I couldn't help but notice the twinge of loneliness still tugging at the back of my heart. I knew it was useless to think of how Ellison's smile made my insides turn to jelly. All it would do was make me miserable, and I already had enough of that sentiment in my life.
Closing my eyes, I pushed those thoughts from my mind and waited for sleep to take me.
I awoke on the twenty-third of December in a relatively cheery mood. All I had to do was make it through the day and I had a four-day weekend. As I got ready for work, I thought about what I wanted to get Elmer. I had considered a gift certificate to the vet so he could get Jackrabbit de-clawed, but, to my disappointment, I couldn't afford it. I thought about a new shirt, but that seemed too impersonal. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I didn't know what to get the old man. All I knew was that I wanted it to be something special. I didn't want the best friend I had feeling unappreciated.
I shrugged into my shirt, figuring I would worry about it after I was done that afternoon. I knew I would have plenty of time that evening to at least window shop and maybe then I'd have some ideas.
On my way to the dispatch center, I took my time. I was early and having time to spare, I glanced into store windows on the way. There was everything but the kitchen sink for sale, and I figured if a person were to ask around, they could probably get that too. I passed jewelry stores, coffee shops, tourist traps, and every kind of store imaginable. Some of them I had never seen, or at least paid attention to.
I shoved my hands deeper in my pockets, a cold breeze trying to numb them. I was ready to start walking double time before I froze to death when I saw it- the perfect gift. Only it wasn't for Elmer. A fuzzy green scarf jumped off the rack of a clothing store display and caught my eye. It was almost a perfect match with the color of Ellison's eyes, and I imagined if she were to put it on one could get lost in the emerald depths.
'Whoa, killer, where did that come from?'
It was no secret to me that I was attracted to her, but to suddenly get all wishy-washy about it was so unlike me. I shook my head, resisting the urge to purchase the item right then and there, and trudged the rest of the way to work with a scowl on my face.
After getting my assignment for the day, thankfully not a roof job, I went about my tasks trying to keep my head clear. I kept thinking about the scarf I'd seen that morning, about how much I'd like to see it on Ellison. The more I thought about it the more distracted I became, and it wasn't until the third time that I smashed my thumb with a hammer that I totally put it out of my head.
When the job was done, I collected my paycheck and headed for downtown. I still had a frown on my face, but I didn't feel like I could help it- that scarf had not left my thoughts for more than a minute all day and I was about to go clear into hysterics about whether or not to buy it.
I focused my attention as I passed by several windows, noting that each time I saw my reflection there was a perplexed look on my face. It reminded me of something my aunt Johnetta had always told me as a child. 'If you make that face long enough it will stick that way,' she had always told me when I got upset about something. I couldn't help but smile at her memory. It warmed me to remember the little things she had always told me.
I wondered what she would say to me now as I contemplated buying an almost complete stranger a Christmas present. A soft whispering in my heart told me that if I was thinking about it, I should probably do it. Elmer loved Ellison so much and she had shown me nothing but kindness; I knew that I should get her something. And since the scarf was there, why not?
I made my way into Racks, as the sign in the window proclaimed. As soon as the door shut behind me a bell jingled and a young clerk looked up from a book she was reading behind the counter. I almost turned around and left when I saw all the pointy things sticking out of her face.
"Holler if you need help," she mumbled before returning to her book.
I glanced around the cramped store and wondered why they hadn't called it 'Claustrophobic'. The place probably only had four hundred square feet if that and was crammed with shelves and racks full of odds and ends that most people could get by without ever having seen in their lives. Brightly colored 'hippy' clothing screamed at me from hangers and hats that could only be Dr. Seuss come to life dangled from the ceiling. My fingers reached out to feel a furry boa and I jumped back in surprise when the thing moved by itself.
"Jesus naked in a parade! What the fuck!"
A head full of brown hair with huge spikes peeked out from behind the offending object, followed by an eyebrow ring and something sharp sticking out of the lip of what I finally figured out was a woman.
She grinned and stepped out from behind the clothing that had obscured her, her eyes traveling the length of my body before finally coming to stop on my face.
"Hey yourself," she drawled. "You always greet a girl like that?"
I felt my face redden and I wanted to run screaming from the confines of the shop, scarf or no scarf. "Usually," I mumbled. "Sorry about that."
She grinned again, her white teeth in stark contrast to her olive skin. "Can I help you find something? You look a little lost."
"Uh…" I hated it when my tongue failed to find words. The girl probably thought I was a stuttering dork. "Actually, I came in here for that green scarf in the window," I answered, pointing to the window where I had seen it.
"Mhmm." She stared at me expectantly.
"So I guess I'll just go check that out," I said and headed for the window. I could feel the walls closing in and it was getting hard to breathe.
"I'll help you with that," the girl said as she caught up with me. She took the scarf down from the display and handed it to me. "Anything else I can get you?" she asked, her voice spinning a sultry web around my brain making it hard to think.
I gritted my teeth and forced a smile. "Uh… Um… Got anything an old man might like?" I asked, my fingers making their way to twirl into my hair. I quickly pulled them away, remembering what had happened the last time I did that.
"Hmm, let me think," she said, stuffing her hands into her pockets. "What's he into?"
"I don't know. He kinda has everything already, so I'm stumped."
Whew, another sentence out without making a complete ass of myself.
She bit her lower lip, thinking. "How old?" I ran a hand through my hair nervously. Her close proximity and the confines of the shop were getting to me and I knew if I didn't hurry, it would not be long before I said something vulgar again.
"I think he's in his seventies or eighties."
"Yup, old. Okay, we've got some World War Two things around here, what do you think about that?"
"I think that's great, where in dirty whore's legs are they?" Oops.
She raised a pierced eyebrow but said nothing. I followed her to the back of the store. In a small corner, she pointed to some baseball hats, some T-shirts, and a worn looking book.
"Not much," she shrugged apologetically, "but that's all there is."
I picked up the book and flipped through the musty pages. There were pictures of the holocaust victims and the soldiers that rescued them, maps of Germany, France, and other countries, and a detailed timeline of the years Americans had spent at war. As far as I could tell, it would be perfect; he had mentioned once that he'd been in the war, but had never gone into any detail about it.
"I'll take it," I said and headed for the register, where the checker was still engrossed in her book. I couldn't take the way Spike was looking at me one minute longer.
The checker put the book down and rang up my gifts. As she was fumbling with my change, I glanced at the book lying on the counter and my mouth fell open.
Ellison's face was on the dust jacket of the book, but it wasn't her name on the cover. Someone named Mary Jorgen had written it, and if my mind hadn't failed me she was quite a popular horror writer. I leaned closer to make sure my eyes weren't deceiving me, and as soon as I realized I wasn't seeing things my mouth let out my surprise.
"Ass-jacks on an enema slide!" I screamed, slumping over the counter because my knees had suddenly become very weak.
The checkout girl jumped straight into the air, coins and dollar bills flying across the countertop. Suddenly alarms were going off and the terrified cashier was ducking behind the counter.
"Don't hurt me! Just take the money and go!"
Before I could figure out what she was talking about, I felt something blunt pointing into my back. "Think you can come in here and rob us, do ya?"
It was the girl with the spiky hair and if I was not mistaken, that was a gun of some sort poking me in the kidney.
"Sierra come out from behind there, I got it covered."
"W-wait!" I spluttered as it dawned on me what was happening. "Fudge-packed assholes! I didn't do anything!"
In the distance, sirens were getting closer. My only hope was that the police would talk some sense into these two loony birds and that I could get out of there without going to jail.
"Don't move or I'll shoot," she warned, and I could tell by the tone of her voice she meant business.
"I swear, I didn't do anything!"
"Just shut up before I lose my temper," she growled.
Tires screeched in front of the building outside and soon the place was swarming with cops. Rough hands grabbed the back of my shirt and I found myself face down on the floor with a knee planted firmly on my neck. When the cuffs snapped firmly in place around my wrists, I knew it was going to be a long day.
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