9 Seconds of Freedom, Part 12 Original suspense fiction, includes links to first 11 parts.
I choked on my beer. I spun around. She was sitting on the bed, moonlight hitting the side of her face from the street.
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Leeanne chuckled, low in her throat. Her eyes moved down. I grabbed the towel. She turned on the lamp by the bed.
“What the hell are you doing in here?” I asked.
“Well, I didn’t know where else to go,” she said. “And now, I’m glad I came.”
“Yeah? Enjoy the show?” I asked.
I was mad. I didn’t know how I’d handled romantic interactions in the past, but now I was a private person. Not a prude, or maybe I was, I didn’t know. But being ambushed was not high on my list of favorite things.
“Sorry,” Leeanne said.
She sounded sincere.
“I didn’t actually mean to get a peep show. I came up here after the mayor came by. I hid in the attic, but then I came down here and fell asleep. You woke me up when you started started the shower,” she said.
The pipes knocked. One of the hazards of old buildings. In spite the interruption, I was glad of the company. But, I wasn’t that comfortable with strangers.
“Uh, could you give me a minute?” I asked.
“Oh, sure, Mr. Modesty. You got nothing to be embarrassed about, as far as I saw,” she said.
She stepped into the hall and left the door Open.
Fred had said he’d get me some clothes, and the wardrobe had everything I needed. It seemed he was good at guessing sizes, since he hadn’t asked, but everything looked right. I found a soft pair of flannel pants and a T shirt.
“Sorry about this afternoon,” Leeanne said. “I’m just not ready to face her yet.”
“Okay, whatever that means,” I said.
I didn’t want to get involved. I kind of had my own identity crisis to deal with, and although I could see she was in trouble, I didn’t know if that meant danger or not. Plus, for all I knew, she was a serial killer.
Leeanne sighed. “Right?”
I walked out of the bedroom and headed toward the kitchen. Leeanne was sitting in the hall, slumped against the wall. She stood and followed. I found two cups and some tea bags. I pulled out a box of microwave popcorn.
“Can I just stay here tonight?” she asked.
“Whoa, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. First, let’s talk. Cool?” I said.
“Cool,” she said. “You’re different than I thought.”
“How so?” I asked.
I put tea bags in each cup and filled a kettle with water. It took a second to light the old gas burner. Soon it was hissing away.
“I don’t know, just different,” She said.
“What did you expect?” I asked.
I opened the microwave, which looked brand new. This place was a contradiction in terms. I placed a popcorn packet in and closed the door. I hit the popcorn button.
“You seemed like a Dude Bro at first, you know?” She said.
I didn’t know.
“Like, a jock or whatever. Perfect hair, nice abs, and everything is ‘dude’ this or ‘bro’ that. You know?” she said.
“I guess I’ve never met a ‘Dude Bro’, I think I’m okay with that. They sound obnoxious,” I said.
“You have no idea,” she said.
I poured boiling water into the cups and found the sugar and a spoon. The microwave beeped. I tossed the hot bag of freshly popped corn to Leeanne and inserted a second one. She thought I had perfect hair and nice abs? Huh. I wasn’t sure if I liked that. We had to work together.
“But, you’re serious,” she said. “And confident. Not in a bad way. I think it Like it.”
I handed Leeanne a cup of tea and set the sugar bowl on the table with the spoon. She took four spoons full.
“Have a little tea with your sugar?” I said.
“You got dad jokes? Oh man, nope, I’m out!” she said.
She pushed the chair back and pretended to leave. She laughed.
“Dad jokes, you are just full of surprises,” she said.
“Thank you,” I said.
“See, there it is again. It’s a weird package, but it keeps coming back to you’re so damn charming,” she said.
I wanted to change the subject. If we kept talking about me, eventually she was going to start asking questions I didn’t have answers for. Worse yet, some that I did, but didn’t want to share.
“Enough about me. This afternoon? What happened to you?” I asked.
The microwave beeped. I took my popcorn out and dropped a big bowl on the table, shaking the contents of the popcorn bag into it. She added hers. There we set, like two friends, sipping tea and snacking on hot buttered popcorn.
“I just freaked. I haven’t seen mayor Skinner in a long, long time,” Leeanne said.
She was staring a hole through the table with a far-away look.
“So, you weren’t friends, I take it,” I said.
I hoped I wouldn’t regret learning more.
“No, no you wouldn’t say that. She’s not what she seems Dalton. Not at all. I’ll tell you all about it sometime,” Leeanne said. “Let’s just say, I came back here to settle an old score. Did I say that right? What was that? I’ve never said that in my life! Ha, I sound like my dad.”
“In a world filled with dad jokers and Dude Bros, she was a woman with a score to settle,” I said.
Giving it my best movie trailer announcer voice.
“You’re funny, Dalton. She took something from me that I can never get back. I just want to make sure she doesn’t do it to anybody else,” Leeanne said.
“Well, I don’t know how much help I can be, I’m kind of here temporarily,” I said.
“On your way to where?” she asked.
She leaned in, putting more popcorn in her mouth. She placed each kernel on her tongue and took it in, sucking on it.
“Not really sure,” I said. “Finding my bear first.”
She laughed again. “Oh, that’s right. The Teddy Bear Quest. I feel like there was something missing from that story,” she said.
She looked at me with raised eyebrows. I didn’t respond.
“Well, you can tell me, or I can fill in the details myself,” she said.
She looked up at the ceiling, leaning back in her chair.
“Let’s see. Too young to be an antiques collector. Didn’t really buy the whole sentimental mommy thing. Got a psycho ex somewhere, with a teddy bear that has your sex tape hidden in it on a thumb drive?” she asked.
“You got me. I’m planning to run for president, and if that gets out, I’m screwed,” I said.
“Or, you already were, and don’t want people watching it!” she said.
We both laughed.
“So, can I stay, or what? I’m really worried they’ll be waiting for me at my place if I go back,” she said.
“How do they know where you’re staying if they haven’t even met you?” I asked.
“Oh, you’re not from a small town, are you? This is the mayor and the sheriff we’re talking about here. They know. They probably know I’m here, but Fred and Ben seem to have some pull, so…” she said.
“Okay, sure. I’ll sleep on the bed and you can have the couch,” I said.
“How chivalrous of you. But, if it’s okay with you, I’ll just curl up on the floor at the foot of your bed,” she said.
I got up and went to the bathroom. There was a narrow door in there that I was guessing held a linen closet. I opened it. I pulled out a blanket and an extra pillow and went back to the living room.
“Seriously though, you can have the bed. I’ll sleep in here,” I said.
“Well, if I can’t talk you into taking advantage of me on the first night, I’ll guess that will have to do,” Leeanne said.
The girl could cook! When I woke to the sound of sausages sizzling, I knew it was going to be a good day. I’d been in town two days longer than I intended. I still hadn’t gotten to number one on my to do list.