Daniel drives a Prius. He doesn’t talk to me, not even to ask for directions. The more he doesn’t talk the more I feel like I should find something to say. But what to say to the man you just found out was held prisoner by your husband? That’s not a usual problem someone can plan for. And its old news to everyone except me so it feels wrong bringing it up because he’s probably moved on and doesn’t think about it whereas every minute my brain zooms back to it like a bee to some poisonous flower.
All the while there’s this morbid other part of me who is able to forget everything that happened after Battery Park. This woman is excited. Yes, you know the way I mean. She looks for ways to touch him. I remember the girls at the senior center joking about a television show that demonstrated the way a man fondles a woman without her knowing. He stops the car suddenly as though to avoid hitting something and reaches across to keep her from pitching forward. But what does a woman do? It’s not so much an overt sex appeal thing as this strange culmination of years of…ugh, I guess I have to say it…fantasies. My body screams at me in a language I don’t really understand. It’s actually a little scary how realistic its becoming to unbuckle and climb into his lap. I just want to be close, skin touching close, and feel that he’s real.
We’ve arrived at my condo tower. The parking lot is filled with the sensory shattering lights of two cop cars. Daniel doesn’t even pull in. He stops in the street gripping the steering wheel like he’s preparing to drag race down the main as soon as I get out of the car.
“Thanks for the ride.”
He zooms off just in time for me to clear the door. Now I’m alone. My ulterior motive body calms down and retreats back to its usual repressed cave. And I am able to return to playing the game of chance. What are the chances that someone would break into my condo on the fifth floor? Slim to none unless the intruder knows me and knows I live there. I search the front line of onlookers being held in check by caution tape.
“I live here,” I tell the first officer who tries to stop me.
“Miss we’ve been trying to reach you for over an hour. Someone forced entry into your home this evening.”
Now I’m searching not only the crowd but the shadows around the parking lot, looking through car windows, wondering who is watching. My skin scrawls with the scales of unseen eyes.
“I broke my phone at work. Did you catch anyone?”
“No. And nothing appears to be missing, though you’ll need to go up and confirm.”
“That’s okay. I’m sure it’s all there.” I back away.
“Miss, you need to come upstairs with me.”
“I’ll be back in a minute.”
I sprint out of the parking lot down the sidewalk. What’s the best plan? Surround myself with people? Look for a quite isolated place where I won’t be found? They could be anywhere. I don’t even know who yet. Would Brandon come himself or would he have someone in the city come get me? Grace showed Tommy my picture. If she did it out of spite tonight from work, it was probably someone from the local network who broke in. How many supporters could the Vanguard have in LA?
But if she showed him three days ago when she took the picture…don’t ask why, but I can see Grace as the kind of girl who likes to show off her friends. Tommy told Brandon and Jason. Maybe all three of them are here, somewhere in the darkness, in a car, along the wall of a building. They’re watching me right now, waiting for their chance.
No phone, no car, my home compromised. I catch my breath beside the door of the In-N-Out. It’s just past midnight so the kids are still hanging out revving their cars and smoking. Once I pass the burger place the rest of the block is desolate and silent. If I can make it three blocks there’s a Super Eight but if I’m being watched they’ll trap me there. The bus station is three miles north. I can walk that, but again, if they’re watching, waiting for me to be isolated enough to swoop in and pick me up….
A car skids into the parking lot. I brace myself thinking, this is it. They’ve spotted me and I have nowhere to go. The car is a Prius. Daniel leans over and opens the passenger door. I make it three feet and collapse into the seat. The Prius squeals out of the parking lot and speeds down the main to the 405 and out of LA as fast as someone can drive without adding to the risk of being pulled over. I watch the passenger side mirror. After several miles we’re the only car on the road; I begin to breathe again.
In the roundabout that marks the turn for the road to Mrs. Helston’s house, Daniel pulls to a stop. He kills the headlights and checks the mirrors. No car appears to have followed us from the expressway. The neighborhood is quiet. I can even hear the ocean waves.
“What just happened?”
I shake my head. He sounds like he’s accusing me of something.
“I’m not letting you into my mother’s house until I know what’s going on.”
“Someone broke into my apartment.”
“Why didn’t you stay and talk to the police?”
“Were you spying on me the whole time? I thought you couldn’t wait to get rid of me.”
“In that part of town it’s wise to make sure a woman makes it inside.”
“Answer the question.”
“I ran out on my husband a while ago. He probably found me and broke in tonight thinking I’d be there.”
“This doesn’t have anything to do with your terrorist friends?”
“No.” Technically I’m not lying. This is a family problem and they’re not terrorists.
He waits to see if I’m going to say anything else. When I don’t, he starts the car up and drives us to the house. The garage is set into a sand dune beneath the sun porch. It stretches the length of the entire house with space for four cars, a jet ski trailer, and racks of surfboards. I sit crunched up in my seat listening to the door roll shut behind the car.
It feels safe, this garage under the sand with warm lighting and locked doors but I can’t stop shaking. No one knows you’re here. Would Grace be stupid enough to tell Tommy about the Helstons? She would lose her job if anyone could prove she’d actually done it. But this house has to be a pretty big secret. Someone like Steve Helston wouldn’t have his mother’s house listed in her name. Fans would be all over it.
Daniel opens my door and looks down at me like he’s just brought in a stray animal against his better judgment. “Can you walk?”
What kind of question is that? Of course I can walk, I sprinted a block to the In-N-Out. But that was twenty minutes ago and I’ve been cramped up in this position not moving since then. Yeah, the legs aren’t working. The shock is also starting to wear off so I’m returning to the rising emotional explosion that was threatening over an hour ago.
“Do you mind if I just sit here for a little while?” I pull the door shut and lock it before he responds. Now there are two layers of locked doors between me and outside. How determined will Brandon be to find me? All these years and I’ve never heard from him except for one holiday when I called Tommy and he snatched the phone away and started yelling. That was only a few years ago and he certainly sounded like he hadn’t moved on.
I climb over into the driver’s side seat and mash my nose into the seat fabric. It smells just like Daniel’s room but absent the heaviness of wood that permeates the entire house. Its sunshine and ocean spray and lavender shampoo. I’m going to stay in this car forever. No one can stop me. There isn’t anyone who cares enough to stop me.
Ah ha, there it is, the last hurdle of self-restraint blows over and the tears slip out two by two, faster and faster until I’m crying so loudly I echo off the garage walls. There’s nothing left. I’m not really sure what I had in the first place, just silly things like a job I enjoyed and a boss who thought I was the best she’d ever seen, and my own place to call home, friends. Grace was my friend.