Thursday, June 9, 2016

Vradin, Chapter Ten

Rent came due by the end of the week, and I have to admit that I was not comfortable leaving such pesky little details like paying bills on time to my roommate. Jody always had the money for what she bought; that was never the problem. She just always forgot to do things like buy stamps and walk down to the letter box or over to the property manager's office and hand over the money. I would love if we could deny it, but she's right to credit me with the improvement in her credit score.

I picked up Jody's half of the rent and added it to my half, and stretched my legs on a walk over to the property manager's office. Sandra was new by a few months, but she was nice to chat with and seemed competent from the tenants' view point. I hoped she'd stick around longer than her three predecessors.

I was quite surprised to discover that our rent was already paid up -- for the next three months. Sandra looked into the records, and it turned out that Jody's ass hat boyfriend had decided to be generous to us. I was frankly rather shocked by that, and a little leery of just what exactly he would expect in return.

We exchanged a few pleasantries, and I went back to the apartment, divided out Jody's part of the rent again, and dialed her up. I got her voicemail and, at the beep, I said, "Hey, sweetie. Did you know that our rent's been paid up for the next quarter? Give me a buzz when you have a chance, 'kay?" and then I hung up.

I was cleaning out the oven when the door bell rang. So I wasn't supposed to do anything strenuous, sue me. I mean, you can only sit on your ass watching TV for so many hours in a day before sticking your head in an oven sounds reasonable. And I was resting frequently.

I wasn't feeling especially awesome, though, so it took me a little longer than usual to get into a vertical position. The doorbell rang once more before I got to the door and looked out the peep hole -- and saw Carl.

I debated not opening the door, but he seemed genuinely worried, so I drew in a deep breath and started unbolting the door.

"Hey, what's up?" I asked, standing in the doorway.

He tipped his head to the side and looked me over. "You haven't been cleaning house, have you? Jody shouldn't be letting you work like that!"

I drew back a little and said, "Excuse me?"

"You been hurt, Clare Bear. You need to be resting, not running around like a drudge." He started to step forward, but I was having none of that.

I put a hand to his chest and said, "No. For one, I am an adult. I do have the ability to think for my own damned self, and the wisdom to actually listen to my own damned body. I am hurt, I get that, but I am not lying on my death bed! If Jody was here, she'd tell you the same damn thing!" Of course, one of the reasons I started cleaning while she was out with her sisters was to avoid this self same lecture from her, but to anyone not me, especially anyone with a penis, she was fierce about women being just as capable as any man.

I'm not sure where all the frustration I felt was coming from. I mean, yeah, shorter tempers are something that were listed on my release papers as possible short term side effects of the concussion, but this was getting a little too close to my "can't push" temper, and Carl had not yet even approached that line.

So I took a breath and thought my "breathe in peace, breathe out stress" mantra a time or two. I followed that up with saying out loud, "I'm sorry, Carl. My temper seems to just be on a hair trigger right now, and I think a lot of that is the forced inactivity. So, what brings you to my door?"

He stepped back and looked me over again. "Well, I wanted to make sure you were doing okay. I don't think I got the chance to tell you at Tank's place, but I feel terribly responsible for what--"

I cut him off right there. "Bullshit, Carl. You did nothing but act the upstanding gentleman. You are blameless. Don't even go there."

He looked like he wanted to say a lot more, but what he did say was, "May I come in, please?"

I felt a tug on my conscience that felt a lot like all the times the conversations had turned around at Tank's place, and my ornery side set in. "Carl, I am just not feeling up to entertaining guests. I appreciate that you came by to check on me, but if there's nothing more, I need to rest."

He looked like that was the last response he had expected, and his mouth flapped a moment (it was really quite amusing, reminded me of a gold fish) before he found his voice. "I wanted to make sure you're all set, financially speaking, with you not being able to work--"

"We're good."

"--and see if you and Jody might care to accompany me to the movies tonight."

And his motives suddenly made sense to me. I couldn't hold back a grin. "Come on in. I think we have some coke in the house, but that depends on when Jody bought it last. Personally, I put a little sparkle in my fruit juice and call that good 'nuff."

My mood swing seemed to have thrown Carl for a loop, but he was quick enough to take up the invite. "Whatever you're having will be fine, and I'd be happy to--"

I shot him a grumbly look that withered the words in his mouth. He raised his hands and trailed behind me toward the kitchen. I closed up the oven, satisfied that I had gotten to a decent stopping point with that chore, and washed my hands before pulling down a couple of glasses from our cupboard. I retrieved a bottle of orange juice from the refrigerator along with a smaller sized bottle of seltzer water.

"Lot or little on the fizziness for you?" I asked, pouring my glass about half and half juice and seltzer.

"Middling looks fine to me, thank you. So, am I reading you right that going to the movies isn't out of the question?"

I smiled, back to being amused. "I think you'll have to ask Jody that. She's out with her sisters, but they were expecting to get back here in a short while. You really have a thing for her, don't you?"

Carl's gaze shot up to mine and then fled back to the glasses in front of me. He started sucking on his teeth, finally asking, "Is that, ah, is that what you see?"

I shrugged. "She's a beautiful woman who knows her own mind and enjoys life. There's a lot to respect there. She might be a bit, mm, flighty on occasion, but she's fearless and she has a strong sense of integrity. A man with the strength of character to appreciate a powerful woman could do a lot worse in this world than Jody Garcia."

Carl seemed to find a lot of meaning in the way I poured his orange juice based on the intensity of his scrutiny. It amused me to think the big guy was coming all over shy on liking Jody, and I felt a bit giddy on the pleasure of it.

"So ..." he started out, but seemed to falter about where to go from there. I was having too much of a happy moment at seeing his flustering to help him out, and just leaned up on the other side of the kitchen counter.

"So?" I parroted back at him.

He flicked his gaze up at me and back down to his juice, then licked his lips. His face screwed up with a fair bit of concentration. After a moment more of sucking on his front teeth, Carl asked, "Might you have any idea how Jody thinks of me?"

I raised my glass to my lips to hide the shit eating grin I could feel trying to escape. I nodded at him, having fun dragging this out, and took a swallow.

He scrunched his nose at me. "You aren't going to make this easy on a fella, are you?"

I gave back theatrically wide eyes. "Why ever would you think that, Mountain Man?"

"Mountain Man?" he asked.

I shrugged. "Jody's pet name for you."

"Mountain Man?" he asked again, looking a little worried.

"Because you're as big and solid as a mountain. You know she likes hiking, right?"

Carl shook his head in negation. "Somehow we haven't made it to talking about outdoor activities. So, do I have a chance? With Jody?" he asked, coming to the point.

I held out my hand and tipped it like a seesaw. "She likes you type of likes you, and she's been burned by guys she likes before, so you're both up and down on that one. That would be the main reason why she hasn't made it to a serious flirt-on with you. She also isn't the type of girl to sit by the phone for a guy who hasn't decided she's worth foregoing all other girls for, so even should you get past the burn line she won't be exclusively yours until you've given her reason to be."

Carl's eyes hooded at that, and his face took on a grim cast. "I'm not much for being played," he said, but not in the angry tones that would have matched his features.

I shrugged. "She's upfront about how she dates. Most of the burn marks on her heart came from lying cheating bastards, and she won't lower herself to that. By the same token, though, if you don't want to be exclusively hers, she won't be exclusively yours. As far as she's concerned, it's not cheating if you know about it."

Carl leaned back and looked at me like I was some kind of puzzle box he was trying to figure out. "Is that how you feel?"

I shrugged. "Intellectually, it makes sense, but I haven't decided on the emotional side yet. I haven't dated all that much, either, so it's not like I have much personal experience to go off of. It works for Jody and it's her life."

He shifted on his feet and asked again, "But you'd be fine with your man stepping out with other women as long as he told you he was stepping out with them?"

I shrugged. "I get what you're saying, but so far as I can tell, when a guy starts dating around, he's stepping out with a lot of girls any ways. The girl who believes that a first date gives her a reason to expect that the fella she dated will be all church-going monogamous with her is kind of stupid." I took a sip from my juice before continuing. "Jody dates like a man, and she makes no bones about it. And unlike the guys who'll line up dates with three or four women in a week, she isn't going to hide it from the guys she dates. So, when things are starting and you don't know if he's 'your man' yet, I don't see that it's reasonable to expect a person, man or woman, to put everything on hold and only see one person. After you know that you're seeing the person you want to exchange claims with, then you got to figure out what works for the two of you. It's not like life is made up of cookie cutter people, you know?"

Carl tilted his head to the side and thought for a bit, sipping at his juice every now and again. It was kind of restful, truth to tell, and I liked that he was taking the time to consider a new perspective. The Garcia girls arrived before he had finished his mulling over.

Melissa was the first one through the door, a frown on her face and a scolding on her tongue that died when she saw Carl. "Oh, I didn't realize you had company over. Still, Zo, you need to at least put the chain on!"

I shrugged and threw out the good hostess question before she could really get started. Melissa had a thing about locking every outside door, all the time. "Up for a sparkling OJ?"

"Lovely! But shouldn't you be sitting down, or something?"

Anna Marie, followed closely by Jody, both with arms overflowing with boutique shopping bags came in at that point.

Jody laughed. "I've been practically sitting on her for the past few days, and the fellas-- Oh. Hi, Carl!" Jody blinked in surprise, a slight flush brightening her cheeks and making her eyes shine. She quickly dumped the bags behind the door, slinging it closed with a practiced movement of her heel as she pivoted toward the big guy.

She turned the big lights on for him, wide smile, happy eyes, a little extra shake in her shoulders as she glided forward, newly freed arms outstretched, and wrapped him in a hug that lingered a moment longer than was simply friendly.

I had another grin to hide behind my juice glass at that point.

Carl picked her up like she was a three year old, his arm under her butt, and raised her up so that they were eye to eye. "I was just telling Zoe that I have a couple tickets to spare to the new thriller that opened this weekend, so I swung by to see if my favorite ladies would care to join me tonight?"

Melissa started tapping her foot and crossed her arms. She was a total prude, and it could be hilarious watching her react to Jody's life. "Mm-hmm. You just happened to have a couple tickets for a movie?" she asked. Anna Marie and I nearly choked on our laughter, then caught each other's eyes and started whooping out gales of laughter together.

Carl made a face of perfect innocence ruined by the sparkle in his eyes and the grin tugging at his lips. "Doesn't everyone?" He chuckled a little at the sharp look Melissa gave him, or maybe Jody's hair tickled his chin as she ducked her head into his shoulder and started laughing, too.

"Oh, don't mind the preacher's daughter over there!" She said, leaning back, still laughing. "But do tell how you came to have spare tickets this early?"

Carl shrugged, the movement making Jody bounce a little, and he let her slide down his body to stand on her own two feet again. "We were going to have a get together for the crew, but boss man wanted them on another job and I've got too many hours in this week to join up. I'd already bought the tickets for myself, Davy and Mike, and now I'm holding two spare. It wouldn't be a hardship if all of you lovely ladies cared to join me," he quickly offered, "Just so you know it's a matter of friendship, you see," he added piously in Melissa's direction.

Melissa scowled at him, but she wasn't planting her hands on her hips, so a blow up was not yet imminent. If only she would get this mouthy with her father she might have more sympathy for Jody, but the sisters loved each other, that was obvious enough. It did get a laugh out of Anna Marie and Jody, though Jody would have laughed anyway. She really was into Carl.

I started pouring orange juices for the sisters, and snuck off to my room as soon as no one was looking.

Between cleaning the oven and managing Jody's love life, just a bit, I was ready for a nap.

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