For Disclaimer, please see Chapter 1.
Misplaced People by Devize © 2004 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
* * * * *
Chapter 8: Where you’re going to turn
There are many advantages to being tall, was one of Striker’s first coherent thoughts the following morning. Others were simple words: warm and safe and loved. And the first fully conscious thought was: Well, damn, I actually slept.
They had barely moved during the night, only to shift closer together; so close together that Striker was sure that the next millimetre would take her inside Morien... and that way lay dragons.
So, Striker didn’t move. She simply relished her height and the way her long body contained Morien’s shorter length so perfectly. She could feel Morien’s heels resting against her own ankles. Their knees dovetailed, the pressure of skin on skin as soft as feathers. Morien’s firm, rounded backside was flush against... Oh God, she feels so good... that is truly... fuck, these hipsters are hot. Strikers breasts were wonderfully sensitive against the plain of Morien’s back. One arm was draped over Morien’s still form, her hand having taken up happy residence in the valley of Morien’s stomach; the other arm pillowed Morien’s head, and stretched out along the sheet, this hand gently surrounding Morien’s fist, like a shell treasuring its kernel. Her cheek rested comfortably against the top of Morien’s head.
She didn’t move, afraid that the slightest change in position would wake Morien. Would she be frightened? Upset? Angry? She had a girlfriend already, after all.
Sophie, I have her now. Right now, she’s mine. Now I can hold her in my arms, feel her breath on my skin, hear those little secret sounds of sleep that are meant only for my ears. She’s mine to touch.
Morien sighed in her sleep. A warm, contented breath in the still room. Striker closed her eyes, feeling every inch of body against body, her heart praying.
Morien, let me love you. Does she love you like I do? Does she treasure each word, each touch of your hand? And how does she touch you? Does she touch you like I want to touch you? Does she kiss you, caress you, does she make you moan? Does she make you sigh her name?
The morning sunshine filtered through the bedroom window, turning the room from a cold shadow to an enchanted bower. Just for the loveliest of moments, it was her bower, with her lady-love.
Striker didn’t want to move.
Then, she was jerked backwards by the force of Morien’s awakening.
"God, what’s the time? I’ve got to get to work!" she said as she sat up.
Striker felt breathless with the loss of the moment, but then realisation hit her. "There is no way in hell you’re going to work."
Morien looked round. "But, I can’t not...."
"Hey," Striker felt a inexplicable burst of anger. "You had a shit-ass day yesterday, there’s a shitload of stuff that still needs to be organised. You can’t do that and go to work. They’ll understand."
"I’ll call in. What’s the number." With a wrench of regret, Striker got out of bed."Striker...."
"Morien, I don’t care what you say. You are not going to win this. You are not working today. Now, what’s the number and who do I need to speak to?"
"Striker, please don’t tell them what’s happened."
"Fine, you’re sick. I’ll tell ‘em you’ve got the Ebola virus. What’s the number?"
* * * * *
Morien listened as Striker made the call.
"Hello, may I speak to Keith Tivison please? I’m on hold. Jesus, what is this shit? Can’t they get better hold mus... Hello, Mr Tivison? Good morning, Mr Tivison, my name is Striker West. Striker West, sir. No you don’t know me, I’m a friend of Morien Llewelyn. Yes, Morien. I’m afraid she’s sick today. I know, I know she has been off-colour lately. It looks like she’s come down with a nasty case of gastro-enteritis. Stomach flu, sir. She’s been throwing up all night, and, of course, it can be highly contagious. Yes, Mr Tivison, I think it’s best that she stays home the rest of the week. And yes, sir, I will make sure she gets to the doctor too. I’ll give you a call next week to let you know how she’s doing. You’re welcome, Mr Tivison, and you have a nice day. Goodbye." She put the receiver down. "You could have made some barfing noises in the background."
Morien’s mouth was hanging open. "Striker, you said a day...!"
"Stick with me, kid, I’ll get you the month off."
"I don’t want a month off. I’ve had too much time off already."
Striker mentally kicked herself. "I’m sorry. But you need some time... just ‘til the end of this week, okay? Look after yourself, Morien, please."
Morien nodded, a look of resignation on her face. She went back into the bedroom and shut the door.
Striker stared after her, nervous about following, nervous about staying out. Instead, she went into the kitchen and found Danny hadn’t smoked all her cigarettes. She lit one and inhaled the smoke, letting it burn all the way down her throat. Then she looked around the sparse kitchen and thought of food.
She hadn’t eaten since... Jeez, Vinnie’s. Her search for food became more earnest.
* * * * *
Morien slipped into the shower. She felt tense, upset, guilty, nervous about the day to come, but somewhere inside a quiet chord of serenity played. Despite the fear of the last few days, despite the mess that was once her apartment, despite her current frustration with Striker... it had been a good night. She had slept well. She had felt sheltered from a storm, only to wake up in the arms of a balmy morning. And she had allowed herself just a few, drowsy moments of pleasure in Striker’s embrace before reality had struck.
The water drummed on her skin and scalp and she washed quickly, dried and dressed. Then, she reached for her spongebag and pulled out the pills, swallowing them down with a palmful of water from the tap.
Finally, the headscarf. Her hair was still a little damp, but it didn’t matter. With experienced and nimble fingers, she tied it around her head, and with it came a dejected sense of normality tinged with relief. And then as something as normal as air came beckoning to her from under the bathroom door. Hunger.Bacon?
* * * * *
"How d’you like it?" Striker seemed to know she’d entered the kitchen, even with her back to her.
She was still dressed in her night clothes: her t-shirt cut high and loose enough to give an agonising glimpse of a backside as sculptured as the rest of her: the full swell of her breasts, the hipsters clutching the top of her thighs....
How do I like it? Morien’s mouth was watering. "Um... as it comes?" she managed to splutter, sitting down at the table.
Striker turned her head. Her loose hair, tucked behind her ear, framed her face enough for Morien to see the arch of an eyebrow. Morien remembered the urge she had felt to draw her, paint her... the arch of that eyebrow, the curve of that cheekbone, the rose-petal lips moving....
"I hope bacon sandwiches are okay, but it was that or some green fluffy stuff that’s growing in the refrigerator."
"Yes... yes, fine."
"And I can do coffee. Or Danny might have some tea...."
"Coffee’s fine, thank you."
Morien continued to watch Striker, observe the way her hair flowed over her shoulders, the way that her body moved as she fried the bacon, buttered bread, brought a sneaky cigarette to her mouth from its resting place on the sill of the open window ² her lips closing round it, sucking at it, her throat moving....
And something between epiphany and cold dread hit her between the eyes. It had been so long, the feeling felt alien. Oh God, I think I’m....
There was movement behind her, and then a god entered the room. He was tall, taller than Striker, with smooth soft skin the colour of coffee; short, silky dreadlocks framing his face like a lion’s mane, and the face of an angel.
Morien found herself staring, and in a blinding moment of revelation, she completely understood Striker’s attraction to this man.
"Hi," he said and grinned at her: a warm, friendly, welcoming grin.
If she’d been straight....
"Morien... Danny... Danny... Morien," Striker said, flipping the bacon.
"Hi." Morien at last found her voice.
"Your guest gone?"
Danny smiled. "Yeah, she had to go early." He wandered over to Striker and, putting his arm round her waist, gave her a loving peck on the lips. "Hey, sis, how’re you doing?"
"I’m good, thanks." Striker looked up at Danny. And smiled. Morien could see her face glow with affection for this man.
She loved him.
And they made a stunning couple.
Danny’s hand slid down and came to rest on Striker’s bottom, and gave a tiny squeeze. And Morien’s heart gave a regretful little twang in response. Danny’s other hand darted into the pan to steal a slice of bacon.
"Hey!" Striker said, slapping his hand with the spatula she’d been using.
Danny dodged back, his mouth full, and gave Morien a conspiratorial wink. "You wouldn’t deprive a starving man of his breakfast, would you, sis?"
"I will if he doesn’t put any underwear on," Striker retorted.
Danny looked down at his unclad body. "Fair enough," he said. "Good to meet you," he said to Morien, and with another bite, he was gone as quickly as he’d come.
An apologetic look on her face, Striker placed a large bacon sandwich in front of Morien. "So, what are your plans now?"
Morien took a big bite, happy to get her mind from dwelling on what she’d just seen. Chewing thoughtfully, she finally said, "Phone the police, go to the flat, meet the forensics people, tidy up, get on with my life."
Striker played with her bacon sandwich. "Do you want some help?"
Yes. Please yes. "Don’t you have to work?"
"Day off today. Back on days tomorrow. I’m yours if you want me."
Morien forgot to chew for a moment, as she looked up into Striker’s eyes. I want you. And I can’t want you. You’re straight. She swallowed. "Well, we’ll see how it goes." Striker looked down. She was playing with her food again. "But if you are free... maybe later?"
* * * * *
Morien was only waiting for Striker to get out of the shower before she left. She didn’t want to leave the flat without saying thank you. Without ensuring that Striker knew just how important the night had been to her.
She sat on Striker’s bed, her two bags in front of her, listening to the sound of splashing water from the bathroom. Her stomach was fluttering: aware at just how nervous she was at the impending day, and aware at just how much she didn’t want to leave the sanctuary that Striker’s apartment had become. And aware now how excitingly tense the American’s presence was beginning to make her.
Then something caught her eye, a dark shadow peeking out from underneath the big bed. She reached down, half apprehensive and half hopeful of finding dirty underwear. Instead her hand hit something hard. She drew it out. It was a hardback book: the cover worn, the pages fingered, the corners of some folded as a marker. Carefully, she let the book fall open at one of these marked pages, and found an illustration, a colour plate of a beautiful woman, red-haired, pale-skinned, with a starling perched on her finger, ready to take flight. It was entitled ‘Branwen, Daughter of Llyr’.
This was a treasure, as in this most impersonal of rooms, she knew she’d found something that was cherished by Striker, and an extraordinary key to this extraordinary woman. She held the book as if it were the most fragile of living things, as if it were Striker’s heart.
The bathroom door opened and she heard Striker’s voice. "Hey, Morien, I’ve been thinking. You don’t want to take both bags on the Tube at this time of day. What if I brought one on later?" And then she was in the doorway, her hair dripping from the shower, her mouth open, looking as if she’d been more grateful if Morien had found soiled underwear. "Shit."
"You read The Mabinogion?!"
"Yeah, what about it?" Striker’s attempt to be nonchalant was made unsuccessful by the slight blush playing along her cheekbones.
"I’m surprised, that’s all. I’m sorry."
Striker looked at her, and at the way she was holding the book with a reverence she understood. Morien, she knew, would understand, as she’d known the moment she’d looked in her eyes.
Her voice was quiet, shy almost. "My mom used to read me stories when I was a kid, okay? She loved fairy stories, myths, legends, fantasy stuff. She read to me right up until.... I guess stuff like that... it’s always been..."
Striker nodded, then strode forward, dropping to the floor by Morien and heaving out a dilapidated suitcase from under the bed. She threw the lid open and Morien’s eyes widened. Striker kept her life in a suitcase. It was full of books, paperbacks, hardbacks all of them obviously read and re-read: Grimm’s fairytales, classical myths, a copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, barely able to stay within its covers, poking out of the back pocket; books of poetry, Tolkien. Morien grabbed a dog-eared paperback and held it up to Striker’s face with a grin. "Harry Potter?"
"Hey, don’t knock it ‘til you’ve read it," she said snatching it out of Morien’s hand.
"I have read it. I’ve read all of them. Why do you keep them all hidden away like this?"
"Habit," Striker said. Another habit.
Morien didn’t want to push but the look on her face must have asked a question.
"My dad always said it was stupid, that I’d end up with my head in the clouds, and when my mother left..." Striker sensed Morien’s intake of breath, "...he would get so mad... he got rid of everything to do with her. And so I hid them. I guess I’ve hidden them ever since.
"Does Danny know you have them?"
Striker shrugged, "I don’t know. I’ve never shown him. It’s not something that would interest him." There was a shade of regret in her voice. "Besides, like everyone, he thinks of me as the big, strong, straight-thinking, down-to-earth type."
"But you aren’t?"
"Oh, yeah, they’re right, I am the big, strong, straight-thinking, down-to-earth type... I just like...."
"...to escape once in a while."
Striker smiled. "Just think of me as a closet fantasy transvestite."
Morien laughed, her eyes sparkling. "I can’t get my head round that one," she said. Then paused. "Striker, are you close to your dad?"
Striker sighed. "’Was, for a while, when I was a kid. We used to do stuff together." An inexplicable, cheesy grin burst onto her face. "He taught me how to play baseball, I ended up playing Little League.... You get it...?"
Morien’s face was blank.
"Little League baseball."
Morien’s face was still blank.
"You know, big bat, hard ball, cool caps, Joe Di Maggio, except in miniature...."
"I know what Little League baseball is, I just don’t get what I’m supposed to get."
"I thought that was football...."
"I was a damn good pitcher...."
"So you didn’t fall on your arse like Charlie Brown, so what?"
"Strike One... Strike Two...."
The penny dropped. "And that’s why you’re called Striker?"
"So, what is your real name?"
Striker closed her eyes. "My ‘real’ name is Striker, that’s the name I’ve gone by since I was ten."
And she’d closed off again. Morien felt disappointed, annoyed, at herself as much as Striker. "You’re not going to tell me?" Striker didn’t answer, just started putting books back in the suitcase. "Your mother named you, didn’t she?"
Striker still said nothing, her head bent over her task. "Hey..." Morien’s hand reached out and took the book from Striker’s hand. Reverently, she opened it. "’Once upon a time there lived a King and a Queen, who lacked but one thing on earth to make them entirely happy’," she said. A strange feeling of recognition. "Is this what you read to me?"
Striker suddenly looked shamefaced.
"Please, please don’t feel embarrassed," Morien said. She caught Striker’s hand and held on to it. "You don’t know how much it meant to me."
"It did?" Striker’s look was so anxious, Morien almost laughed. But she couldn’t.
"Why did you do that? You had no reason...."
"You were alone," Striker interrupted her, at a rush to explain herself. "You didn’t have anyone... and..." But how could she say those words now, now that she knew that Morien’s affections lay elsewhere? She started again. "I know it helps to talk to coma patients, and the nurses in the ICU are pretty cool, but they’re busy, you know? They wouldn’t have had the time...."
"But you didn’t need to do it, and you did. Thank you...." Morien knew that those two words would never be enough, and hoped that Striker knew that.
* * * * *
Morien felt like a infant in the outside world. This was a foreign area of London: the sounds, the sights, the people, everything about it seemed new, and Morien was keenly aware that Striker was not at her side. She clutched her holdall closely, and headed for the Tube station.
She felt like a newborn... as if everything had changed. She wondered what was to come: would the phone calls continue now? Would the burglars return? Had they really been searching for something? Would she ever feel safe again?
And then there it was, that sweet kernel of security that had been planted in February, but had grown overnight, now tinged with regret at what she’d learnt. She had loved Striker for opening up to her, she had felt privileged with her trust. She would treasure the fact that this most secretive and private of women had confided in her.
She could feel herself falling gently in love with her. And there were so many reasons she couldn’t allow herself to fall.
Striker was straight, that had been made obvious to her. Striker loved Danny, and Danny loved her. Morien didn’t understand their relationship, it was obviously open, but there was a togetherness between them that couldn’t... shouldn’t be broken.
There was Sophie: her lovely, sweet Sophie. Sophie who had been her friend and lover for six years. How could she turn her back on six years?
Besides, how could someone like Striker, someone so exceptional, be attracted to her? I mean, look at my life, she almost said aloud. A disaster area. Even my body’s turned against me.
She got to the station and bumped the holdall through the ticket barrier, grateful that she had taken Striker up on her offer and had only one bag to handle. She felt the familiar prickle of being watched, the burning surety that eyes were following her; the shiver down her spine. People were staring at her ² the holdall bumping against her ankle. People were staring at her ² she was a stranger in their land. People were staring at her ² she shouldn’t have come alone.
She made her way onto the train, sitting with the bag on her lap, hugging it to herself - glancing round the carriage, but not making eye contact. It was busy. She was lucky to get a seat. Newspapers were rustled, books were studied, music was listened to behind the curtain of white noise, private conversations were murmured under the blanket of non-sound.
There was a man standing near the central door of the carriage, staring at her. He looked away when her eyes came to rest on his face. He was big built, tall with broad shoulders and chest; dressed in jeans and a smart-casual shirt. He wore trainers, but they were clean, newly-bought. He looked as if he shouldn’t be in casual clothes. His hair was crew cut, almost shaved, and dyed a strange bleach-blond that didn’t suit him. It made his skin look too pink, as if he was constantly agitated. There was something familiar about him.
Morien looked away, and she felt his eyes on her again.
She kept her eyes fixed on the advertisements above the seats opposite: air conditioning, cheap phone calls, a poem.
The highway is full of big cars
going nowhere fast
And folks is smoking anything that’ll burn
Some people wrap their lives round a cocktail glass
And you sit wondering
where you’re going to turn
I got it.
Come. And be my baby. [i]
She read and re-read and re-read until she had learnt it by heart.
A few more stations and she changed trains. Finally arriving at her local stop, she had walked down the high streets - the busy streets - even though it was the long route back.
She didn’t see the blond man again.
But she felt his eyes on her all the way home.
* * * * *
Striker threw Morien’s tapestry bag over her shoulder and slammed the apartment door behind her.
It had been two hours since Morien had left and the place felt empty without her, despite the volume of Danny’s music. Striker had kept seeing her: sitting on the bed, at the kitchen table. That morning... with the sunlight dancing through the window, inviting beauty out of the dullest things. The grimy kitchen had even looked hospitable. She’d felt Morien’s eyes on her, wondering what was behind those eyes, but afraid of what she might see had she turned round ² especially after Danny’s entrance. Striker had returned his kiss without thought, only realising as her lips left his what Morien might think. It was Danny; he was her friend, her occasional, former lover. But would Morien understand that?
She made her way down the familiar high street, to the Tube station, and launched herself into the nearest train, preferring to stand rather than sit. She took no notice of the people around her, staring at the whirring blackness beyond the carriage doors.
She lost herself in thoughts of Morien as the darkness and the people came and went, in a world of her own which moved with her like a protective bubble as she changed trains and finally left the Underground system. Until she found herself making a decision.
This must end.
She would help Morien with her flat. She would make sure she was okay, that she was safe and secure. She would go home. Have a quiet evening in. Read some. Sleep. Then the day would be over, this whole confusing shit would be over and she could get on with her life. Her empty life.
After which, maybe she’d call Morien and ask her out on a date. An honest-to-goodness date.
And have the phone slammed down on her sorry ass.
This is nuts. This is....
A burly arm reached round her neck and hauled her into an alley.
[i] "Come. And Be My Baby" by Maya Angelou. And yes, it has appeared on London Underground trains.