Nothing Behind Me
I woke up the morning after Election Day, and lay in bed for a while, looking out the window of my room, listening to Eddie snore away, and took stock of my life. My grades were good, I was getting along well with my roommate, and I had a job that paid about as well as any part-time job paid. On the other hand, I had nearly been run over by a car three times, one woman with whom I had been building a relationship had mysteriously departed, a girl who I was just starting to date had been injured and her father wanted to kill me, and my boss at work was a real idiot who picked on me constantly and never bathed. In my estimation, I was a little better than even, but if any little thing were to change, life could really begin to suck. I decided to concentrate on the things that were going good in my life and try as much as possible to avoid the things that weren't, at least for the three weeks between today and when I went home for Thanksgiving break.
I threw myself into my school work. I had a paper due just before the holiday, as well as several exams, and while I was doing all right, I knew that I could do better. I found myself leaving for school before 7:30 every morning and not getting back to the dorm until dinnertime most nights. I visited Kate in the hospital at least once a week, being sure to be gone before her parents arrived. Her mother was all right, her father scared the shit out of me. On the weekends, I made sure to be at work right on time and not to leave until my area was clean and stocked.
"What's gotten into you, Tony?" Eddie asked one Saturday evening when I got back to the dorm at about six. "You trying to make me look bad?"
"Nah, I just decided that maybe concentrating on the important stuff would help the time go by faster," I said.
"I guess. You gotta be just about ready to explode," he said. "All work, no play, no women..."
"You'd be surprised. It's like, I haven't even thought about it. I know that Kate's doing all right, and I know that when she gets out of the hospital and out of the cast, we're going to be together. Rosalie, hey, I don't know. She always said, it goes where it goes. Right now, it's not going anywhere. So, I'm not going to worry about it."
"Yeah, well, you're not looking over your shoulder like you had been," he said.
I stopped for a minute, and thought about what he had said. He was right, of course. I hadn't had another incident with a car trying to run me over, or with someone following me, in over a week. Ever since the note from Rosalie, life was like it had been before I met her. It made no sense at all; I mean, why would anyone be after me because of her? Or, was it that they were after her because of me? Or maybe, I was just unlucky. Maybe everything was a huge coincidence, the two near-misses and one accident nothing more than the alignment of the planets. I wasn't in a mood to speculate.
The Monday before Thanksgiving, I went up to the hospital to visit Kate, and was surprised to see her dressed and sitting up in a chair. "Hey! You're looking good!"
She kissed me and hugged me around the neck. "I'm going home today!"
"You are? That's great! It seems so sudden."
"No, they've been working with me, giving me physical therapy, and think that I'd be better off at home, so they're releasing me. Isn't that great?"
"It's wonderful! You'll be able to have turkey at home!"
"No, we're going to my grandmother's. Mom decided not to cook this year, and Nana came through. So, how's school?"
I never got a chance to answer. Her parents and the doctor walked in.
"All right, Kate, are you ready to get out of here?" the doctor asked.
"I've been ready for two weeks now, Doctor," she said.
"How are you, Tony?" Mrs. Molloy said. "It's nice to see you again. Kate said that you had come every day or so to visit, but we haven't seen you..."
"Well, I've been busy," I said. I looked over her shoulder and saw Mr. Molloy glaring at me. "Not too busy to come and visit, but I've had schoolwork to do."
"Well, that's understandable," she said.
"Peg! Do you mind? The doctor's trying to talk here," Mr. Molloy said.
"I'd better be going," I said. "Kate, have a good Thanksgiving, OK?"
She looked at me sadly. "Oh, you too. Give me a call over the weekend sometime, all right?"
Mr. Molloy piped up. "Hey, why don't you stick around, give us a hand with her, and I can drop you at the dorm?"
I looked at him in disbelief. He tipped his head and opened his eyes wide, as if to say, come on, kid, I ain't got all day. "I'd really appreciate that, Mr. Molloy. Thank you."
Half an hour later, we were in the Molloys' Impala, Kate and I in the back seat, her parents in the front. It took some doing to get her and her crutches into the car, but we managed somehow. When we left the hospital, Kate moved her hand down toward mine, and I took it.
"I'm going to miss you," she said, just loud enough for me to hear.
"Me, too," I said.
Mr. Molloy drove carefully, glancing up into the rear view mirror every once in a while. "Your dorm's on Sheridan, right, Reardon?"
"Yes, sir, just north of the L station."
He grunted. As we pulled out onto Sheridan Road, he glanced up in the rearview mirror again and shook his head. "Still there."
"What's still there, dear?" his wife said.
"Same old Galaxie 500 that was behind me when we pulled out of the hospital," he said. "He's sure following closely enough."
I turned and looked at the car behind us. This guy was following pretty closely, but not so closely that I couldn't read the front license plate. I wrote the number on my hand, and tried to see the driver. Unfortunately, it was dark, and the glare from the headlights behind him made it impossible to see him.
"Tony, what's going on?" Kate asked.
"What? Oh, nothing."
"What did you write on your hand?"
"Nothing! Just some numbers that I remembered from homework today..."
"Oh." She smiled. "OK, whatever."
We came to the stop light at Loyola and Sheridan, and Mr. Molloy put his turn signal on. "This is your dorm, right?"
"Right. You can drop me off at the side," I said, realizing that was just what he had in mind. I looked back and noticed that the Galaxie was still behind me. What was going to happen when we pulled up and stopped? I was starting to get nervous. Was I going to have to make a run for it when I got out of the car? Were the Molloys in danger from whoever it was that was following us?
The light changed, and I knew that I was going to find out. As Mr. Molloy pulled over to the right to let me out, the Galaxie turned and went around us. I breathed a sigh of relief.
"You all right, kid?" Kate's father said.
"Yes, I'm fine. Just glad to be home. Home sweet dorm." I chuckled.
He put the car in park. "OK, here you are. Have a good holiday." He extended his hand to me and I shook it, and shook Mrs. Molloy's hand.
"Thanks for the ride, Mr. Molloy. Kate, I'll talk to you later." She blew me a little kiss before I got out.
I went up the stairs to the dorm, stopped and watched the Molloys drive away, then walked across the concourse toward the door to the dorm. I stopped again. I was curious about the Galaxie. I knew that I was probably tempting fate, but I just had to see if it was anywhere on the block. I went back down the stairs, lit a cigarette and walked nonchalantly down Loyola Avenue toward the lake. I made it all the way to the end of the block before I finally saw it, parked in the lot at Campus Towers, the tall building right by the lake. I walked up to it and looked inside. There was nothing particularly suspicious about the contents. I shrugged and cut back through the campus, back to the dorm. You are getting paranoid, Reardon, I said to myself.