We made it back to Rosalie's apartment without further incident. Once inside, she unbuttoned my jacket and vest. "You poor kid, let's get you comfortable," she said.
"I need to sit down," I stammered, and flopped down on one of her dining room chairs. I pulled my tie open and unbuttoned my collar.
"How's your head?" she asked.
"Sore. I got the spins and I haven't even had that much to drink."
"You probably have a slight concussion. Come on, let me help you out of your jacket and vest." I took my tie off and tossed it on the table, then let my suit coat and vest slide down my back into her hands. She hung them on the back of the chair, then said, "Go sit over by the window. I'll be with you in a second."
I flopped down on the loveseat and stared out the window, not at the magnificent view, but at the blackness of the sky. It was the only thing I could look at that didn't make me feel dizzy. A few minutes passed, and I was starting to feel calmer and maybe a little sleepy.
Rosalie joined me, carrying two aspirin, a glass of water and an ice bag. She had taken a moment to change into a pink t-shirt and a pair of jeans and to pull her hair back into a ponytail. She looked younger with her hair like that, and I was struck by how pretty she was with her hair pulled away from her face. She set the ice bag on my head and made a silly face, then handed me the aspirin and a glass of water. She waited until I had settled myself before talking.
"I guess you've figured out that I'm not a clerk in a law firm downtown." She sounded like she was apologizing.
"Um, yeah," I said. The cold was starting to sink through my hair and into my scalp. It felt good. "So, what do you do?"
"I'm...for lack of a better way to describe myself, I'm an undercover police officer," she said.
"OK." Sounded plausible. "So, why didn't you tell me that sooner?"
"I was hoping that it wouldn't come up until we were a little further along in our relationship. Lots of guys have trouble with a woman doing what I do."
"Either that, or they have trouble with nearly being mowed down by some crazy person who's trying to kill their date, and them in the process," I said, slipping the ice bag off of my head and setting it on the armrest. I was starting to feel more than a little upset.
"There is that side of it, yes. I wouldn't be surprised if you wanted to get up and walk out and never see me again." She winced slightly when she said that.
It sounded tempting. Here was this woman who had already lied to me about what she did for a living. What else had she lied about? "Would you blame me if I did?"
She bit her lower lip and stared out the window. "No, I guess not." I couldn't tell if she was crying.
Part of me wanted to do just that, to get up and walk out of her apartment and out of her life. That was maybe 51 percent of me. The other 49 percent wanted to sit there and look at her for the rest of my life. My head was telling me to go, my heart was telling me to stay. I moved closer to her on the loveseat and took her hand. "I don't want to go, Rosalie."
She blinked and a tear rolled down each cheek. She put her other hand on top of mine. "I'm glad. You're a special man, Tony. Don't ever change."
Whatever anger I was feeling dissolved when she said that. Everything was all right. We were there together, holding hands and looking out at the night sky, just the two of us. "Rosalie..."
"I'm 31." She turned and smiled.
"That's not what I was going to ask."
"Well, I'm not going to tell you how much I weigh."
"No, I was just going to ask your last name."
"Because I didn't know. I don't know a lot about you."
"I don't know a lot about you, either, sweetheart. That's part of the fun." She looked up at me. Her eyes were beautiful. "Of course, I'm sure that you could make the case that it would have helped to know what you were getting into before tonight..."
That was true. "Yeah. That's true. What time is it?"
"Ten thirty. Do you have to be somewhere?"
"No, I was just thinking that you'd like to get to bed..."
"I would. But that doesn't mean you have to go." She smiled. "Well?"
It was too soon. It was too fast. "You're kidding..." She shook her head slowly, then tipped it inquisitively, raising one eyebrow. We stood and stepped behind the partition.
Nothing to Do but Think
Something brushed against my cheek; that's what woke me up. I opened my eyes, and saw Rosalie sitting there, running her finger on my cheek. The sun was bright outside, and streamed in through the huge window. "Good morning, honey," she said. "How are you feeling this morning?"
"I'm OK. What time is it?"
I sat bolt upright. "Oh, shit, I've got to get home, I've got work at one!"
"Honey, work's right across the street."
"But, I've got to shower, and get dressed, and..."
"I've got a shower here, and I've washed your shirt, your socks and your underwear. You can just wear the clothes you had on yesterday. No one will notice. Especially not that boss of yours." She winked.
I relaxed and laid back on the bed. "Wow. Thanks." I was going to say something about how it was like having Mom around, but I didn't think it would be a good idea.
"Sure, anytime. Now, are you going to get up, or are you going to lie there and make me make you late for work?" She stood and moved to the edge of the partition separating her queen-sized bed from the rest of the apartment.
"I can't be late again, or the boss'll fire me."
"We can't have that, can we?" She turned and gave me a rear view of her in her pink satin robe as she walked toward the kitchenette. "Breakfast will be ready by the time you get out of the shower."
I dragged myself out of bed and to the shower. I could get used to this kind of treatment. My head still hurt a little bit from the fall to the pavement the night before, but I wasn't getting dizzy. I checked myself out in the mirror in the bathroom, and it didn't appear that I had any bruises, either. I was still confused as heck about what had happened the night before, from about the time that the car nearly ran us over to...well, right about now. I tried not to think about it as I showered and dressed. It made my head hurt too much.
Rosalie served a fantastic breakfast. Eggs Benedict, English muffins, fresh cantaloupe, and coffee were waiting for me when I got to the table. We ate in silence, the only sound in the apartment coming from the light rock station she seemed to like so much.
She finished her breakfast, wiped her mouth on her napkin and set it on the table. "How is it?"
"You are a great cook, Rosalie."
"This from the guy who eats most of his meals in a dormitory cafeteria," she teased.
"Yeah, well, this was really great. This is like heaven. You're like an angel," I said, then blushed slightly when I realized what I had said.
She smiled and took both of my hands. "Listen, we need to talk." I felt a lump in the pit of my stomach. "Don't worry, it's nothing bad. I just wanted you to know that you're a real sweetheart. Your mother raised a fine young man." She rolled her eyes, realizing what she had said. "OK, maybe that wasn't the right way to put it, but honey, you are a gentleman. You're also young, and I know that sometimes young guys like to talk about things..."
"I wouldn't," I said.
"I know you wouldn't. You talking about us making love is the last thing that I'm worried about. I'm more concerned that you'd talk about the incident we had on our way back here last night. Honey, there are a lot of things that for all kinds of reasons, I can't tell you about. And last night, and what I told you I did for a living, are a couple of them. Please, don't share those things with anyone. Not even with your mother."
Talking about what had happened the night before was the last thing I was thinking of sharing with anyone, especially my mother. "I promise."
"I know that I've been really secretive with you, and I haven't always told you the truth, and I'm sorry. You deserve better than that, Tony. There will come a day when I can talk about them, or at least some of them, and I promise you, I will. I owe you that much." She moved her chair close to mine and put her hands on my shoulders, and looked right into my eyes. "Tony, in one week you've made me feel better about myself than any other person. I don't want to lose what we have, ever. Please be careful, honey." She leaned forward and we kissed, then just held one another for the longest time, not saying a word.
At quarter after twelve, I got ready for work. She held my jacket for me, then straightened my tie before kissing me. "I probably won't see you until next weekend. I've got a busy week ahead of me, and so do you, I'm sure."
"It's shaping up that way," I said.
"Give me a call on Wednesday again, and let's plan on seeing one another again next weekend?"
"OK." We hugged and kissed, and I was off to work.
I reached my station on the seventh floor and had everything in order before my boss came around. "Mr. Reardon, nice to see you on time again today," he said. "You had a phone call from your roommate a few minutes ago, he said that it was urgent. Don't stay on the phone too long." He walked toward the Gourmet Food department, trailing his scent behind him.
I picked up the phone and called Eddie's number.
"Eddie, it's me," I said when he answered on the tenth ring.
"Shit, Reardon, where the hell have you been? Never mind, I think I know." He chuckled lasciviously.
I ignored him. "So, what's going on?"
"Your mom called. Said to give her a call as soon as you got the message."
"Geez, when did she call?"
"Seven o'clock last night."
"Oh, Christ. OK, I'll call her at break. Thanks, Eddie."
"You gonna be home tonight?"
"Probably, unless someone died." Mom had a habit of calling me home to go to wakes and funerals for obscure relatives.
"I hear you, my friend. Roast beef tonight in the barfeteria."
"All right. See you."
I called Mom at break from one of the public phones in the atrium.
"Tony! Why didn't you call last night?" It was her "someone died" voice.
"I'm sorry, Mom, I didn't get the message until late, and I didn't want to wake you."
"What time did you get in?"
"It was after twelve. So, what's going on?"
"Out until after twelve on a work night?"
"Yeah, Mom, I know. So, what's going on?"
"Your uncle Ken died Thursday night."
"Uncle Ken?" I had no idea who this was.
"Yes. You know him. He was your father's uncle. You met him a few years ago."
"Oh," was all I could say.
"Anyway, the wake's tonight from seven to nine at McGillivray's. You will be there, won't you?"
Do I have a choice? "I've got school in the morning, Mom," I protested.
"Tony, everyone in the family's going to be there. You have to come. Just for a couple of minutes."
"Mom, it's all the way out in Evergreen Park. How'm I going to get home?"
"You can stay at home for the evening. I haven't done anything to your room. You've still got clothes here...."
I wasn't going to win this argument. "OK, I'll come after work," I said.
"Thank you so much, Tony dear. Aunt Ethel will be so happy to hear that you're coming. We'll have something to eat after the wake. All right, dear?"
"Sure, Mom. I'll see you tonight."
"Love you, Tony."
"Love you too, Mom." I hung up the phone and called Eddie to let him know that I wasn't going to be at the dorm for dinner. I lit a cigarette and sat next to an ashtray in the mall. I was in for a treat tonight, a one hour train ride followed by a half hour bus ride, and God knows how much waiting I'd have to do. The trains and buses didn't run very regularly on Sunday, especially not along 95th Street. Well, that's what being part of a big family is all about, waiting for buses and trains to go to wakes and funerals for people you don't know. I put out my cigarette and went back up the escalator to the seventh floor. I wouldn't have time to eat anything now.
Nothing's Wrong, Honest
The rest of the afternoon was quiet. There wasn't much for us to do except to clean the area, which was done by 3:30, and then to stand around and pass the time. I had considered asking the boss for the rest of the day off, but decided against it. I needed the money more than I needed to make it to the wake this evening.
At about 4:30, not long before we were going to close, a fairly well-dressed man came in and was wandering around the Wine Shop. I went over and asked him if I could help. He told me that he was going to a dinner party and needed a nice bottle of wine to bring along. I went through the department with him, pointing out all of the different wines that we had, showing him the labels as I had learned to do. He seemed to be hanging onto every word, and the way he was looking at me made me feel funny. It wasn't like he was coming on to me. That happened fairly regularly, and I could generally handle the people who did that. This was more like he had been sent to watch me by someone. He finally chose a bottle of burgundy. I rang him out and, with a wave, he left. I relaxed a little after that, and cleared out my register.
I rode down on the escalator with Kate. "So, how are things going with that woman you met last week?" she asked.
"Oh, fine. I saw her again last night. She's really nice."
"Uh huh. And, did you spend the night with her?"
"Huh? What's that all about?"
She patted me on the shoulder. "If I'm not mistaken, you wore that suit and that tie yesterday."
"So? That doesn't mean anything."
"I think it does, especially since I saw you coming out of the Hancock Center this morning. That's where she lives, doesn't she?"
"Tony, I don't care. I'm happy for you! She seems like a really nice lady. I'm glad that you met someone." We were outside the store now. "Listen, I'll see you next week. I've got to catch the bus." Before I had a chance to say goodbye, she was gone. Confused, I headed in the direction of the subway station, being extra careful when I crossed the streets to watch for out-of-control cars.
I paid my fare and went down to the southbound platform. I lit a cigarette and paced around a little bit. The station was fairly crowded; it had been a nice day, and it was still pretty early, even though the sun had started to set. I looked down the tracks to see if there was a train on its way from Clark and Division, and didn't see one, so I glanced down toward the other end of the station. The well-dressed customer who had been my last sale had just entered the station, carrying the wine box. He turned and looked down toward me, smiled and waved, making me feel terribly uncomfortable.
The train came a few minutes later, and I got into the last car and found a seat near the door. I could see the stranger get into the next car and take a seat facing into my car. A bit strange, I thought, but I let it go. I got off of the train at Washington and State, and made my way up the stairs to the Lake-Dan Ryan line, which I would take to 95th Street.
I walked to the far end of the station and waited for a train to come along. I had just missed one, so I knew I'd have a few minutes to wait. I lit another cigarette and started thinking about what Kate had said. It almost seemed like she was jealous that I had something going with Rosalie, and that made no sense. I had asked Kate out not long after she and I started working together, and she told me flat-out that she had a boyfriend, so I figured to let it drop, and I'd just wait until she showed more interest in me. It wasn't as though I wasn't attracted to her. The fact was that I had been waiting my turn. Maybe she was going to tell me that she was available just when she saw Rosalie and I together, and she felt bad that she didn't get a chance to tell me. I didn't know. I finally decided that I would make myself crazy trying to figure it out.
I looked across at the other platform, and saw the guy with the wine box standing there. Good, he's not following me, I thought. I saw a train coming from the west side and put out my cigarette. I noticed that the guy with the wine box suddenly bolted toward the bridge that connects the two stations, as though he realized that he was on the wrong platform. I jumped onto the train and took a seat behind the door, with the idea that if he was watching me, I'd have a chance to get off in a hurry. At least, that would be the plan. As the train left the station, I thought I saw him standing on the platform.
It took me until 63rd Street to relax. By then, I realized that I had really seen him on the platform and that the soonest I'd see him would be at 95th Street, if at all. Relax, Tony, I told myself. What's gotten into you? One bad thing happens and suddenly I'm paranoid. I settled back on the plastic seat and looked out the window at the cars on the Dan Ryan Expressway, and thought about how different my life had become all of a sudden. I wasn't about ready to tell my mother about her. In fact, I wasn't sure that I was going to tell my mother anything more than I had to. I certainly wasn't going to share anything about what had happened of late.
A westbound bus was waiting at the station when I got off at 95th Street. I showed my pass to the driver, took two steps and froze. The guy was sitting at the back of the bus, the Wine Shop box between his legs. Something's going on here, I said to myself. I sat on the bench at the front of the bus and looked straight ahead, not wanting to make eye contact with him. How had he made it to 95th without getting on the other train? He couldn't have taken a bus that got here earlier. He must have gotten in a cab that brought him down. I was feeling very nervous now. I wanted to jump off of the bus right then, but I figured that I would be better off staying put and not letting on to the guy that I knew he was there.
Around Kedzie, the bell rang in the back of the bus. I looked, and the guy I thought was tailing me was getting off the bus. I breathed a sigh of relief when the exit door closed and the bus moved away from the curb, then thought, geez, Reardon, what a weenie you are. What did I have to worry about? OK, so someone might be after Rosalie, but that didn't mean that anyone was after me. Yeah, she told me to be careful, but she didn't tell me to be paranoid, and that's just what I had been, paranoid. The guy was probably in a hurry to get to his dinner party, the one I sold him the wine for, and probably took a taxi to 95th so that he could catch up with the bus. Weird, yes, but diabolical? Nah. I leaned back and started to doze off.
"Hey, kid, how far are you going?" the driver asked, waking me up.
"Cicero," I answered.
He pulled over to the curb and opened the door. "You got about a two block walk back, then."
I got off the bus and walked east, feeling pretty stupid. You're just tired, Tony, go easy on yourself. This hasn't been an easy day, and you've had a lot on your mind, and now you have to go to a wake and be charming.
Mom, Francis and I stopped at an all-night restaurant a couple of blocks from home after the wake.
"Tony, you don't seem like yourself," Mom said.
"Then who do I seem like?" I asked, half joking. My brother snickered.
She kicked me under the table. "Don't get smart with me, young man, I can tell when something's wrong."
"You've always said that, Mom, and I don't know whether or not to believe you. How can you tell?"
"Oh, I know."
"I'm not going to tell you." Mom was playing her usual mind games with me. "A mother can always tell when something's going wrong with her children. You have ways that you tell me without saying a word. Now, is everything all right at school?"
"Things are fine, Mom. I've only been back for a month now."
"Are you getting along all right with your roommate?"
"Yeah, Eddie's a great guy."
"You told me that he was a slob."
"He's not as neat as Jerry was last year, but sometimes that's not a bad thing."
"Well, he forgot to give you the message."
"No, he didn't, Mom. I just didn't want to call you and wake you up."
"Well, weren't you worried when I called?"
"Not really. If Francis called, I would have been worried that something had happened to you, and if Claire had called, I would have known that something was wrong..."
"Did you know that Claire and her...girlfriend were talking about having a baby?"
I really didn't want to get into it with her. "Mom, I really don't want to talk about Claire and Vera. And I'm doing fine at school, I love my classes, I like my roommate, and I like living on campus. The only thing that could make me happier would be the White Sox in the World Series."
"Well, you seem edgy to me," she said. She sat quietly and ate her salad.
I wanted to give her my theory on why I was so edgy, but I decided against it. Instead, I finished my salad and lit a cigarette.
"How much have you been smoking, Tony?" she asked.
"Not a lot, Mom." Oh, geez, now she was going to start on this.
"Well, that's about the fifth cigarette you've had since you got to the wake."
"It keeps me from getting edgy, Mom." I sipped my coffee.
"Maybe it's the coffee, Tony," she offered.
Francis spoke up. "Mom, don't fight with Tony, it's giving me indigestion."
"See, Tony, now you've upset Francis."
"Mom, I'm sorry. Francis, I'm sorry, too. Now look, it's been a long day, and I'm tired. If I'm a little on edge, maybe that's the reason. OK? I'll feel better when I have something to eat and get some rest."
"Of course, dear. I understand. I'm glad that you came to the wake, dear, it meant so much to your aunt." The aunt that I barely knew who was married to someone who I barely remembered. "And to me."
I smiled, more because dinner had just arrived than anything. "Sure, Mom," I said.
About halfway through dinner, I looked up and saw the guy from the Wine Shop, and the train, and the bus, sitting at a table by himself, drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette. Oh, shit, now he's going to be following us home, I thought. I excused myself and went to the bathroom.
As I stood at the urinal, I heard the door open behind me. I knew it was him. He walked into the stall and closed the door.
"So, we meet again," he said jovially.
"Yeah. How'd that burgundy work out?" I was nervous as hell with him in the room. I wanted to just zip my fly and leave, but there was nowhere to run.
"Like a charm. That was a good choice. Thanks a lot. So, you live out in these parts?"
"Yeah." I wasn't about to tell him that I lived in the dorm at Loyola.
"Nice neighborhood," he said. He walked behind me and stood at the sink, washing his hands. "I live up north. I'm not used to this part of town." He dried his hands on the towel, then went to the door. "I'm off. Take care."
"You, too." When he was gone, I rested my head against the tiled wall, letting its coolness sink into my forehead. I asked myself for the umpteenth time why I had gotten myself into this relationship. Then I remembered Rosalie, with her beautiful brown eyes and gorgeous face and graceful neck, and how warm she was beside me in the dark, and how loving she was this morning, and I decided that it was worth every minute of it. I stood and convinced myself that the guy in the suit was a huge coincidence, finished my business and went back into the restaurant, noticing that the guy was now gone.
Mom watched me sit down and resume my eating. "I was starting to worry about you, dear. Are you feeling all right?"
"Mom, I'm feeling fantastic." And I was.
Nothing To Regret
The alarm blasted me out of bed at 6, and I felt disoriented. I had forgotten what it was like to wake up at home, even though I had only been back to school for a month. I showered and dressed, put my clothes from the night before in a plastic bag, and ate a quick breakfast. After promising Mom that I'd be home the following week for Election Day, I left for school via a different route. I didn't want to run into the guy who had been following me again. It was worth having to stand on the Archer bus from Cicero all the way downtown to avoid him. At least I'd have a seat up to Archer. I bought a Sun-Times from the newspaper box on the corner to occupy myself on the trip to school. Normally I'd study, but I didn't have my books with me. Fortunately, it was still early in the school year, so there wasn't much of a chance of having a quiz.
On the ride, I thought about everything that had gone on since I had met Rosalie. It had been an eventful week. Part of me was wanting things to slow down, the other part of me was hoping that things would continue on this breakneck pace. I wasn't ready to think about falling in love just yet, but I was starting to entertain the idea of being with this woman for a long time. I couldn't remember what things were like before meeting her, and I couldn't envision what life would be like without her.
Then I began to reflect on the not-so-good things about our new relationship. Already, we had nearly been run over by some crazy driver who was evidently bent on killing her, I had someone tailing me for no apparent reason, and she was being evasive about who she was and what she did for a living. I mean, she had made up a story about how she worked at a downtown law firm, which was obviously not true unless her job involved carrying a gun and putting her life in danger. Then she tried to cover her tracks by telling me that she was an undercover cop, but that couldn't be true, either. I mean, if she had been an undercover cop, wouldn't she have called for help instead of rushing me off to her apartment? Wouldn't she have asked for witnesses or taken the license plate of the car? And what was the deal with jumping into bed with me just as I was starting to ask questions?
OK, so maybe she hadn't done that. Maybe it was my offering to leave that prompted that. Maybe it was my being angry with her that prompted it. I was starting to come up with explanations for all of the bizarre goings-on to rationalize them in my mind, and it was working. The truth was, I was whipped. I didn't want to leave her. I didn't want to break it off, because what I had was just so good. But I still had my questions, and while I could understand that she couldn't give me answers to all of them, I was going to start getting a little more insistent about answers.
The roar of a Lear jet taking off at Midway Airport reminded me that I'd be changing buses soon. When we did pull up at the corner of Archer and Cicero, I waited at the corner to cross, and only did so when the "Walk" sign appeared. About halfway across, I heard the squeal of tires, and jumped back as a big older car came flying around the corner from Archer, barely missing me, and sped down Cicero. "You son of a bitch!" I screamed after the car. I tried to get the license number, but only managed to get part of it, and wrote it on the back page of the paper.
"Kid, are you OK?" a Hispanic man asked when I got to the other curb.
"Yeah, I'm fine," I replied. "Thanks."
"Crazy fuckin' drivers around here. One of these days, someone's gonna get killed. Everyone in a big fuckin' hurry trying to get to work on time even though they left late. Know what I mean?"
I couldn't talk, I was too jittery. I lit a cigarette and dragged deeply on it, the smoke burning the inside of my mouth. I leaned up against a lamppost and said a prayer. My head started to hurt again, and I felt dizzy. I couldn't go to school like this; I wouldn't learn anything. I walked down a couple of doors to a coffee shop and bought myself a cup of coffee, then bought a pack of cigarettes from the machine and sat at the counter.
"You seem edgy, hon," the waitress said, setting the coffee in front of me. I wanted to tell her not to start on me, but I simply thanked her for the coffee and sipped it carefully. I wasn't going to make my 9:00 Statistics class, but right now, I didn't care.
I got to school at 9:30, stopped in the bookstore and bought myself a legal pad, then went across the street to Xavier Grill for another cup of coffee. I was feeling much better now, and it was a good hour and a half until my next class. I sat and read the paper, did the crossword, and had a couple of cigarettes to pass the time. I wasn't there more than a few minutes when I heard someone take the seat across from me and clear her throat. I looked up and saw a familiar green-eyed redhead sitting across from me.
"Aren't you supposed to be in class, Mr. Reardon?" She winked.
"Kate! What are you doing here at Lewis Towers?"
"I'm taking a couple of business classes this year, so I'm slumming three days a week." She pulled a pack of cigarettes out of her purse and lit one.
We chatted for a while, comparing notes on different classes and teachers. Eventually, the talk got around to work.
"You know, I'm surprised you put up with Mr. Stinky as well as you do," Kate said.
"It's a case of mind over matter. I don't mind, and he doesn't matter."
She laughed. "I'll have to remember that one. No, seriously, I'm surprised that they've put up with him for as long as they have. I mean, hasn't anyone said anything to him?"
"Maybe he's got pictures of the management or something. Or, you know, the other thing is, they probably can't find anyone else to do his job. He may be the best that they can find. Not everyone has the career options that we do."
"That's true. I'm starting to think that maybe I should just get a job at the Jewel or something. I mean, for all intents and purposes, I'm working in a food store anyway, might as well get paid union wages for it."
"Well, you can't beat the 20 percent discount."
"I can't afford anything from the store even with the discount. Why do you stay?"
"Oh, you know, to remind myself why I'm going to school."
She laughed, and her smile lingered long enough for me to get the full effect of it. As gorgeous as Rosalie was, Kate was something special. I liked knowing her and having her talk to me. I hadn't dated much when I was in high school, mostly because I was intimidated by girls, and a girl like Kate was way out of my league back then. Maybe she was really the reason I was putting up with my crappy job. "Hey, Tony, what are you doing Friday night?"
"Nothing, as far as I know, why?"
"There's a party at my church. You want to come?"
I thought about it, and nodded. "Yeah, that sounds like fun. What church?"
"St. Juliana. It's on Touhy and Oketo."
"Yeah, OK. I'll figure out how to get there and see you Friday night."
"Great." She stood up and picked up her books. "Listen, I have to run. Talk to you later."
I watched her walk across the room and out the door. She turned, smiled and waved when she left. I felt a little guilty all of a sudden, as if I wasn't being faithful to Rosalie. The feeling passed pretty quickly. I did know that I was feeling a whole lot more normal than I had been an hour earlier. The world was a good place to live again.
Nothing To Worry About, For Now...
"OK, I'm off to the library," Eddie said. "Say hello to Rosalie for me."
"I'll do that," I said. When I heard the door close, I picked up the receiver and started to punch in her number, then stopped and hung up again. I needed to make sure that I knew what I was going to talk about: the guy trailing me home, the near-miss at the corner of Archer and Cicero, Kate's invitation. I hoped that some of this would prompt a more thorough discussion that might just lead to my having a better understanding of what my gorgeous but mysterious girlfriend was all about. I took a deep breath and made the call, and she answered on the third ring.
"Hey, handsome. I was just wondering when I was going to hear from you," she cooed.
"How are you doing?"
"Oh, you know me. Trying my best to stay out of trouble. Everything all right with you? You sound a bit edgy."
"You know, you're about the fifth person that's said that to me in the last five days," I protested.
"Something wrong, honey?"
I told her about my ride home to Evergreen Park, and the mysterious man that was following me, and my interactions with him. "It was like, he was there, then he wasn't. He told me when he was at the store that he was going to a dinner party, then he gets on the subway with me, then he follows me to the L, misses the train, then when I get to 95th, he's on the bus."
"Maybe he took a cab to the bus," she offered.
"Yeah, but why? I mean, if he was going to a dinner party, it wouldn't have taken him that much time to wait for another train. And if he took a cab to the bus, why didn't he just take a cab all the way to his party?"
"Maybe he didn't have enough money to go all the way there."
"It still doesn't make sense."
"Honey, sometimes people do strange things when they're under stress. I mean, maybe he really didn't want to go to this dinner party, and he was taking a taxi just so he could get there earlier so that he could get it out of the way earlier."
I thought about that for a minute. Perhaps she was right. "Yeah, but then, we go out to dinner to some all-night place, and he's sitting there, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. Wouldn't he be doing that his dinner party?"
"Maybe they wouldn't let him smoke at the dinner party. You know, a lot of people don't like smoking."
"Rosalie, look. The guy got off the bus at Kedzie. The place we went to was at Pulaski. He walked over a mile to have a cigarette and a cup of coffee, at 9:00 on a Sunday night, when he had to go back downtown to go home?"
She was quiet for a minute.
"You still there?"
"Yes, Tony, I'm here. I'm just thinking...did this guy tell you his name?"
"No, he didn't. He paid cash, too, so I couldn't get his name off of his charge card."
"What did he look like?"
"A little taller than me. Kind of graying hair. No glasses. Dressed really nicely, dark overcoat, brown suit, white shirt, kind of a skinny tie."
"Hm. Doesn't sound like anyone I know. So you spent Sunday night at your mother's?"
"I sure did. That was a load of fun."
She giggled. "Not very fond of your mother?"
"No, it's not that. I love her, it's just that she makes me crazy sometimes. She was picking on me about just about everything. My shoes needed polishing, my suit needed to be pressed, my hair was getting too long, I was edgy, smoking too much..."
"I get the picture. Where's your father?"
"He died a few years ago, right before I started high school."
"I'm sorry, honey."
"Oh, that's OK. I'm over it now, for the most part. Anyway, so Monday morning, I go to cross Cicero at Archer, some clown comes roaring through the intersection and damn near hits me. I tried to get a license plate number, but he got away too fast. I only got a couple of the numbers."
"What were they? Maybe we can find out who it was." I gave her the numbers. "What kind of a car did he drive?" I told her that it was a big sedan, but I didn't know the model or the year, just that it was white. "Maybe I can work with some of my contacts and follow up on this guy. Of course, it might not be related to anything else that happened. He might have just been late for work and not thinking right. Sometimes people drive a little crazy after the weekend, because they're still hung over. But, I'll see what I can find out." Her tone changed. "Honey, I understand that you're upset by all of this, but don't lose any sleep over it."
"It just seems like this kind of stuff happens all the time lately."
"Lately, as in, since you met me?"
"You don't want to give up on me, do you?" She sounded as though the prospect of us not seeing each other really upset her.
"No, of course not!"
"Good. Got big plans for the weekend? I'm working, so I'm afraid we won't see each other this week."
"That's OK. I'm going to a party on Friday night."
"Really? That sounds like fun. Who's giving the party?"
"It's out at a church on the northwest side. This girl I work with invited me."
"Don't tell me, the really pretty Irish girl with the red hair?"
"Yeah! Kate! How did you know?"
"Just a lucky guess. I didn't figure that it was the older woman. You know, that Kate is really gorgeous. I'm surprised that you haven't asked her out."
"I did, actually. She has a boyfriend. You know, she figured out about us."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, Sunday, we were leaving work, and she was like, you spent the night with that woman. And I said, how can you tell? And she goes, you wore that suit yesterday, didn't you, and I saw you coming out of the Hancock Building."
Rosalie laughed. "Did she sound upset?"
"Actually, yeah, I think she was."
"Maybe she broke up with her boyfriend and she wanted you to ask her out."
"I don't know. Maybe."
"You should, Tony."
"I should what?"
"Ask her out, you silly kid."
What was she trying to say? "What about you?"
"Oh, I'll be fine. I'm not the jealous type."
"Yeah, but what if she and I end up really liking each other?"
"If you were happy, I'd understand. Tony, you're young, you're handsome, you're a real gentleman, and you're a hell of a catch for anyone. Girls probably line up hoping for you to notice them. You're too young to be involved in anything heavy."
"What about us?" I was feeling this pain in the pit of my stomach.
"Honey, it's like I told you when we started this: it goes where it goes. If there's going to be something heavy between us, I'd rather that you had a chance to play the field for a while, rather than making a commitment to me and finding out that things aren't what you had hoped for. Because, honey, when you decide you're mine, you're mine and no one else's. And that's the way it should be for anyone. I've been through a divorce already, and I'm not going to go through that again. I don't believe in divorce. I think once you make a commitment to someone, that's it."
It made sense to me. I was starting to feel better. "So, it's OK with you?"
"Awww, Tony," she said, the way my mother would. "You don't even have to ask. I want you to go and have a wonderful time. That's what college is for."
"Not according to my mother. She says it's so I can get a job and make lots of money so that I can support her in her old age."
"Well, yeah, there's that, too," she said, and laughed that wonderful, infectious laugh. I started to laugh along with her. "So, you going to vote on Tuesday?"
"Uh huh. I'm going home Monday night so I can vote early Tuesday morning before school." We talked for a few minutes about the candidates and issues, eventually coming to the conclusion that neither of us cared much about politics.
Finally, she said, "OK, hon, I'm going to hit the sack. Give me a call next week, OK?"
"I will. Take care of yourself."
"I will. Good night, sweetheart." She hung up.
"I love you," I said into the dead line. I put the receiver into its cradle and sat there for a long time, analyzing what she had said. Finally I decided not to worry about it anymore, pulled out my Business Law book, and began to read.