For disclaimers see part one.
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I awoke two days before Christmas to the sound of my cockroach roommates scavenging through the bare cupboards. My own stomach rumbled and I felt sorry for the poor little guys. I hadnt eaten in at least a day and a half myself.
After the disastrous encounter with Ellison, I had locked myself in the apartment, rewinding the horrible scene over and over in my mind- what I should have said, what I should have done. I hadnt left the apartment; I hadnt even answered the door when Elmer came banging the previous afternoon. I figured he had spoken with Ellison and was there to kick my ass for being such a jerk when all she did was try to help me out. I couldnt bear the thought of facing him and seeing disappointment in his watery old eyes.
I stood and stretched, then made my way to the small window in my living room. It was late afternoon, and figuring there was not much I could do with the rest of the day, I headed for the shower. I was damned hungry and I felt a little better than I had the last two days- good enough to even consider bringing my little roach friends a doggy bag.
After showering, I made my way slowly through the frozen streets, letting the cold air numb my face and ears. The change of scenery from my apartment was doing me wonders and I was glad that I had finally gotten off the couch and moved around.
I stopped into the nearest grocery store, ignoring the look of trepidation I got from the familiar cashier, actually feeling, for once, at ease. I picked out a simple meal and made it through the checkout line without causing a scene. I even managed to smile at the young man, who was probably more surprised than I was that nothing bad had happened. On the walk home I munched on an apple I had picked out. I was deliberating whether I should go and see Elmer. On one hand, I was afraid that he would be upset with me, but on the other hand I thought maybe I could talk to him about what happened. I almost choked on the piece of apple I was chewing at that thought- since when did I talk to anyone about anything on purpose?
I chuckled and continued on my way, carefully avoiding the patches of ice making a quilt out of the sidewalk. But the more I thought about it, the better the idea sounded. It wasnt as if I had to come right out and tell Elmer I had a huge crush on his granddaughter. I didnt have to tell him that the reason I acted like a complete moron around her was that I knew she would never be able to return the sentiment.
As I tromped up the stairs to my apartment, I wondered what the hell I would tell him. If I omitted those things, there was nothing left to tell. I sighed as I let myself in the door, relishing the feel of warm air on my cheeks and nose. I set about preparing my dinner, ignoring the wistful stares the cockroaches were sending in my direction.
"Get your own," I muttered to them as I sat down on the couch to eat.
After devouring my dinner, I cleaned up the kitchen area and paced the living room. I could hear Elmer cackling next door and figured he must have been on the telephone. At least he sounded like he was in a good mood.
I chewed absently on a cuticle, trying to listen through the wall and discern whom he was talking to. Muffled tones were all I could hear and I decided that since the only thing I could make out was laughter, that couldnt be a bad thing. After waiting for an extended period of silence, I shoved my feet into my slippers, let myself out of the apartment, and knocked softly on Elmers door.
I shifted my weight nervously as I heard his footsteps draw nearer to the door. I was so afraid of how he would react to me that I wanted to take the knock back and return to the safety of my own place. Knowing I couldnt do that, I put a smile on and awaited my fate.
The door flew open and Elmer stuck his head out. "Why Connor!" he exclaimed in surprise. "Where the hell you been?"
Before I could answer, he grabbed my arm and pulled me inside. "Get in here outta the cold."
That was certainly not the reaction I had been expecting, but I wasnt complaining. Feeling more at ease, I made a beeline for the couch.
As I was about to sit I felt a sharp pain in my backside. I squeaked in bewilderment as the pain shot up my back, onto my shoulder and off the top of my head. A blur of white fur flew past my head and raced into the bathroom.
"Rotten pig liver on a fan! Elmer that psycho cat is going to kill me someday!"
I sat and looked expectantly at him, hoping that for once hed do something to that feral beast. My hopes were dashed by the shit-eating grin that threatened to swallow his whole face.
"Now Connor, Jackrabbit just misses you. That and shes getting into the Christmas spirit!"
"More like the Apocalypse spirit, I muttered, rubbing the place on my head where her claws had just sunk in.
Elmer shook his head and plopped down into his recliner. Giving me the evil eye, he asked, "Well?"
I swallowed hard. "Well what?" I asked, feigning innocence. It didnt work.
"You know damned well what Im talking about young lady. Whats been going on with you?"
I sighed in frustration and leaned back on the couch. I couldnt tell by his question whether he knew about the latest fight between his granddaughter and I. Figuring Id sink my own ship by trying to dig around too much, I decided that starting out small would be my best bet.
"Ive been depressed," I began and looked at the floor. It was true at least, and I could live with that.
"Ill say. You aint been outta that place in days. I heard yer TV goin so I knew you were there," he answered when I looked at him questioningly. "So what happened?"
I immediately felt guilty for the look of concern etched into his wrinkled old face. I knew I was the cause of it.
"I got thrown in jail," I mumbled.
"What?! What the hell for?"
I told him the whole sordid story about my Christmas shopping adventure turned nightmare and how I ended up at the county hotel under suspicion of attempted robbery. I even told him about the hookers that had visually molested me. I finished by saying that finally Id been released when the stupid cops had realized I hadnt done anything.
I decided to leave out the part about Ellison showing up down there.
"Which reminds me," I added. "You never told me that Ellison was a famous author."
He shrugged. "Not my place to tell. Shes real picky about that. Its almost like shes ashamed to be famous or something. She doesnt like to talk about it. Howd you find out, anyways?"
"I saw her picture on a book cover at the store before I got arrested. Thats what got my mouth running in the first place." I tucked an errant strand of hair behind my ear and raised an eyebrow at him.
"Well Ill be," he commented absently, scratching at the back of his head as if trying to process the information.
I did the same thing, trying to see in my head what the distance in his eyes was seeing in his own mind. And I found that if I was honest with myself, that whole situation wasnt funny at all. It was hilarious.
I began to chuckle, and that quickly turned into loud guffaws. Elmer joined in and soon we were laughing like lunatics straight out of an asylum. Tears had begun to make their way down our faces when the door burst open and in came Ellison with an armful of grocery bags.
"What the hell is going on in " her voice trailed off as her eyes made their way across the room and finally stopped on me. "Here," she growled, disdain evident in her fair features.
"Why Mary, I wasnt expecting you until tomorrow," I heard Elmer say from what seemed like a long distance away. "Let me help you with that stuff."
Out of the corner of my eye I saw him move across the apartment and relieve Ellison of her load. All I could think of was how stunning she looked standing there, even if her face was an unveiled mask of contempt. I looked away before my face could reveal what I felt.
"Whats she doing here?" she asked after her grandfather had set the bags down on a counter. I could tell by her venomous tone she would probably never get over our last encounter.
Elmer immediately stopped what he was doing and looked up at her. "What do you mean, Mary?" His voice was hesitant and concerned.
"Exactly what I said." She leveled me with a scathing glare and crossed her arms over her chest.
"Connor and I were just visiting," he answered, apparently unsure about the sudden drop the temperature in the room had taken. "She was just telling me why I hadnt seen her in a couple of days."
"Let me guess," Ellison began, her hands dropping to her sides as she sauntered towards me. "She ran away and hid like a pathetic little mouse in her apartment. And then when she got tired of feeling sorry for herself, she came over here so someone else could feel sorry for her." She stopped next to the couch, her eyes burning an angry hole right through me.
"Ellison Mary Woodward!" Elmer burst out, shock evident on his face. "Thats enough outta you! Have you lost your mind?"
Ellisons words were just about more than I could handle. I could feel my face turning redder than a candy apple in a mixture of embarrassment and anger. But I definitely wasnt feeling candy coated. I felt dipped in shit and put on parade.
"No Grandfather, I havent lost my mind." She turned and faced him. "Im quite in touch with reality."
"Mary, thats no way to talk to a guest in my house. You were raised better than that!" The old mans face had gone white with anger and I worried that he might have a heart attack.
"Then I guess I was just leaving!" she spat and started for the door.
"Oh no you dont!" I yelled and jumped to my feet. "Ill go."
"Well isnt that just valiant of you," she said through a sarcastic laugh. "Always running away to save the day!"
I opened my mouth to try and get something witty in before making my exit when Elmers booming voice stopped me in my tracks.
We both turned and stared at Elmer with wide eyes and open mouths.
He pointed at me and said, "Connor, you sit down where you were. Mary, you git to the other side of the couch and sit down too."
When neither of us moved, Elmer yelled again.
"I said sit. NOW!"
We complied like a couple of scolded children. His tone of voice meant business and neither of us wanted any part of it. All I could think as I took my seat was how thankful I was that my mouth had taken leave of the country.
Elmer paced slowly back and forth in front of the couch. Occasionally he would stop, look both of us in the eye and shake his head, then continue wearing a path in the rug. After several minutes of this, he sat wearily in his chair and rubbed his stubbly chin.
"If you two werent supposed to be adults, Id take both of you over my knee and tan yer hides," he said finally.
Do I need to mention I felt like a complete idiot? Here I was being admonished by an old man who considered me his friend and equal for fighting with his own granddaughter. I hadnt been threatened like that since I had embarrassed my mother in church when I was twelve. It left a rather sour taste in my mouth. I was almost ready to say she started it but the look on his face told me to keep my mouth shut. Of course, it didnt work.
"Mud pies and ass stew," I muttered and was immediately given a dirty look from both of them.
"I just dont understand why you two cant get along. Every time youre alone you end up fighting, and I dont get it. If I didnt know better Id say you ornery kids were no better than a couple of five year olds fighting over a toy."
The look on his face pained me to see. He looked so hurt and dejected that it almost broke my heart to look at him. Especially since I was half the reason for it. I glanced at Ellison to see that she couldnt even look him in the face.
He sighed and looked at both of us pointedly. And I suppose that theres nothing I can say to the two of you to make you get along any better. So I guess its up to you two to fix it. I cant have my two favorite girls trying to kill each other off."
"What- what on a hairy cavemans back are you talking about?" I asked the old man warily. I had no idea where he was going with the discussion and I didnt like it one bit.
He ignored me and went on. "And I mean it, dammit. It all ends here, tonight."
"Grandpa, what are you saying?" Ellison asked in a guarded manner.
I stole a look at her out of the corner of my eye. She had leaned forward on the couch and she looked like a tiger ready to pounce. Even when Ellison was completely bewildered she was a sight to behold.
"I mean," Elmer began as his head snapped in her direction, "that you two are going to Connors apartment and neither one of you are allowed back here until you get this bullshit worked out. Or I disown both of you."
He got up and went into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him and leaving us in complete silence.
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