Liz woke to the smell of Southern Comfort and only the barest memory of the swoon. She’d already been on the floor, nowhere to fall, and she opened her eyes remembering the fight with Papa and knowing only that she’d been crying, hard (her chest still hurt, her face was sticky with dried tears) and now she wasn’t any more. Beyond that, there was nothing. No emotion. She was scoured clean, it seemed.
She turned on the vent fan over the stove, and then crawled into bed with her boots on, hoping to fall asleep. Maybe she’d call Andrew later and tell him about it, or maybe she wouldn’t. Thinking about telling Andrew made the stinging ache of tears return to her throat, so Liz shut a door inside her mind and closed the feelings off as best she could, closing her eyes.
Liz slept for most of the rest of the day. It didn’t seem like a full day; the sleep disoriented her, and when she woke after five with the whiskey-smell still burning in her nostrils, it felt like morning.
She tried to call Andrew again, and got him this time. “Hey, Ondrew,” she said.
“Liz!” he bubbled. “You sound tired.”
“I’m not, I just woke up. Listen, are you doing anything tonight? I can’t stay home alone.”
“Sure. Want me to meet you somewhere? We were thinking about doing dinner at Fishbone’s.”
“No,” she sighed, “I don’t want to go out in public tonight.”
Andrew was silent for a moment, wondering if Liz’ dour mood had something to do with Charles. “Is something wrong?”
“Yes. I had a fight with my father. A bad one. I just…I just need a safe place. To think.”
“Cool. Should I tell Peach not to come over? We were going to do nerdy computer stuff all night.”
“No, don’t cancel for me, Ondrew, please. If you don’t mind me sitting in the corner not saying anything, that’ll be good enough. Thanks.” She could feel the tears wanting to come back, burning in her throat, and swallowed hard. The feeling subsided. She was in control again, but she’d cry if she talked about it. “I just need to sit where I won’t…you know. I gotta go. I’ll be there in a while.”
“You can make it, Liz.”
She’d just been wondering if she would. There was a 7-11 right on the corner. “Don’t read my mind, dammit.”
She hung up, looked at the phone for a while. She wanted to call Papa, but knew it wouldn’t do any good. Maybe he’d get her dinner invitation, and call to accept it.
She knew better than to hold her breath. Ted had issued his verdict, and that was that. He was gone. She didn’t have a father any more. Liz looked at the mess of glass in the kitchen…no, she couldn’t clean that up right now. She might even have to ask Andrew to do it.
While she packed an overnight bag, Liz wondered if Charles would look for her at aikido class next week, or if he would even bother showing up, assuming she wouldn’t talk to him if he did. Thoughts of him, and of the danger he had suggested Nikki might be in, occupied her mind while she quickly packed a bag for the night. She hadn’t asked specifically, but she was planning to sleep on Andrew’s couch. The invitation was unspoken and open at all times anyway. She wouldn’t make it to the fish store on time in the morning either, assuming she went at all, but odds were Papa had already talked to Mr. McIntyre by now, and she’d need a new job anyway.
Liz barely glanced at the short man standing on the sidewalk in front of the building as she went to her car. It was cold, and he had hunched his shoulders, pulling the too-thin jean jacket he wore up around his ears to protect him from the wind. Even if she’d given him more than a passing glance, she might not have realized that it was Eric. He didn’t follow her as she pulled out of the parking lot.
The long drive across Metro Detroit to Andrew’s was curiously refreshing, the freeway traffic rolling along with her, no traffic lights to hold her up. It made her think of her motorcycle, now lost somewhere in LA. Maybe she’d get another one. She should be able to afford it by, oh, her fortieth birthday or so. Andrew and Peach both had bikes; perhaps she could borrow theirs come summer.
Liz’ original plan had been to curl up in Andrew’s bed while he and Peach blasted away at each other on their computers, but she wound up making them dinner. No one asked her to; they were both deep into a linked game of Doom when she got there and half an hour later she was hungry. Since she had vetoed Fishbone’s she popped the fateful question, “Are you guys doing anything for dinner?” Her answers were a shrug and a “whatever,” so Liz looked in Andrew’s fridge to see what was there. Amazingly enough, he had a slab of ham and some canned vegetables. It was a start. Liz went deeper into the cabinet, finding spices that might have been there since Andrew had moved into the house.
“What are you making?” Peach called from the living room.
“I don’t know yet,” she replied. “Ondrew, do you mind if I use up this cheese?”
“There’s cheese in there?”
“Kind of a big hunk of it, yes.”
“How’d that get there?”
“I think Crotch and his wife brought it over,” Peach suggested.
“That’s right, it’s Crotch cheese. It’s from Wisconsin, or something.”
“It’s Crotch sauce now,” Liz announced. Cooking was nice; it took her out of her head for a while, and that was just where she wanted to be. Moping in the corner was an attractive option as well, but ultimately not as satisfying. Getting laid would’ve been nice, too, but that inclination worried her somewhat; the wantonness with which she’d pursued Charles disturbed her, if only because of who she’d found out he was. It wasn’t just him, though. There had been the guy at Cellar Dweller, and Dennis, and the quickie at the mall–oh, shit, she’d forgotten about that. Put it right out of her head. And it wasn’t the only one. Fuck.
Andrew couldn’t see her in the kitchen, but hearing Liz bumping pots around was a bit of a relief. Even Peach had been able to tell that she was holding something in from the moment she’d arrived. Actually, Peach was the sensitive one who’d noticed it first, but still. Liz’ face had a perpetual severity, but tonight she was frowning, just shy of the teeth-clenched anger she’d shown when Margo had tried to trick Ted into thinking she was drinking. Andrew had an inkling that the unspecified fight with Ted might have been about that, but wasn’t sure if he should ask or not.
The phone rang. Peach, who was closer, handed it to him. “Hello,” Andrew said cheerfully, noting with a glance at the caller ID that it was an unfamiliar number. Probably a telemarketer.
He was wronger than he thought possible. He hadn’t talked to her in over two years, but Nikki’s shadows-on-velvet voice was instantly familiar. “Hey,” she said. “Andrew?”
“Holy shit!” he cried, bounding to his feet in excitement. “How are you? Are you back?”
She sounded a little bit embarrassed that he was so happy to hear from her. “Um, soon, yeah. I tried to call Liz. I need to see her, and you, and–“
“Just a sec,” Andrew said, interrupting her. He held up a wait-a-minute finger to Peach and went into his bedroom, to make the conversation more private. He pushed the door to behind him, and sat on the bed. “Okay, sorry about that. Your timing is perfect, Nikki. How the hell are you?”
“M’okay,” she said shyly. “I was afraid you wouldn’t remember me.”
He made a raspberry of disgust. “Not remember you hell, we miss you! Liz left town a month or so after you did, and she’s back, too. I tell you, it’s gotta be something in the water. The only way to leave southeast Michigan for good is to die.” Oops. That was going to get morbid little Nikki thinking about Mikey for sure. “And now you’re coming back. I’m glad, I really am. Liz could use the support.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, she moved out to LA, and started drinking again, and got into a lot of shit. And she came back here because she wanted to quit. She’s doin’ okay, I guess. Kind of depressed. She met a guy, that’s not too shabby. But her dad and stepmom have been messing with her this week, and she hates her job. When are you coming? It would be great to surprise her.”
“I’m near…near Traverse City actually. I could be there tomorrow.”
“That would be great! What the hell are you doing up in Traverse City? Never mind, tell me later. Would you be back here for good?”
“Maybe,” Nikki replied. “I’ve got kind of a fucked-up job. I might be able to stay. Will Liz be okay, do you think? I mean, I know you don’t know for sure, but do you think she’ll be okay?”
“She’s over here right now, actually. Peach and I are keeping her company tonight; I think she’s going to crash here, too.”
“So she’s making you dinner.”
He grinned. “Well, you could put it that way, too. I think she had a huge fight with her dad today, but she hasn’t told me about it so I can’t confirm. Want to talk to her?”
Nikki thought about it for a moment. “No, I’d rather surprise her,” she said, her voice bright. “I’ll come there tomorrow evening.”
“You remember how to get here?”
“Yes, I think so. If I get lost, I’ll call.”
“I should make her a birthday cake,” Andrew said thoughtfully.
“Her birthday isn’t until March.”
“Then I’ll make an un-birthday cake,” he suggested, undeterred.
Nikki sighed in amusement. “I have a friend you have to meet. Maybe she’ll come too.”
“You’re coming back and you’re bringing me a woman, too? Shit, have I made some kind of deal with the devil or what?”
That made her laugh aloud, which was just great. Nikki had a loud laugh that she invariably stifled as quickly as she could, as if the volume of it shocked even her. If he got her going good enough, she’d snort uncontrollably, which was even funnier. “She’s not just for you,” she admonished.
“What, I have to share her with everybody else? Can I have her first, at least? If Peach isn’t interested, can I take his turn, too?”
“You’re a sick freak,” she said, not unkindly. “I have to go, okay? I’m glad I found you, Andrew.”
“Hey, I’m glad you looked. See you tomorrow.”
When he returned to the living room, Peach was focused on the Playstation, which he’d turned on while Andrew was gone. “What was that about?” he asked without looking away. They were good at having conversations without breaking stride in the game.
“Secret admirer,” he said.
“I know you wouldn’t be that happy if it was Drusilla on the phone.”
“Drusilla who?” Andrew joked. “I’ve got a much hotter prospect. Hey, Liz,” he called out. “Are you going to work tomorrow?”
She poked her head out of the kitchen. “I don’t know. Depends on if Papa told Mr. McIntyre to fire me,” she said in an overly calm voice that suggested she wanted them to think she didn’t give a shit one way or the other.
“Well, whether you do or not, plan to be here tomorrow evening.”
“To meet my new girlfriend,” he said.
Liz laughed. “That who was on the phone?”
“Yes, indeed, and I am a very happy man. What’s for dinner?”