23: Wild Accusations

Liz and Nikki were getting together with some other friends for dinner, and Dori had to work, so they said their goodbyes and promised to meet again.  Dori got to work feeling positively buoyant; Nikki was back, and her friend seemed cool, too.  Nikki’s parting words had been to suggest that she and Dori go apartment-shopping the next day, if she was interested.

“Get a three-bedroom and I’ll move in in six months,” Liz said half-jokingly.

“Okay,” Nikki said.

Dori laughed.  “I should start making decisions like that,” she said.  “Just, bam, so be it.  I am woman, hear me roar, and shit.”

“You don’t need anyone’s permission to run your own life,” Nikki had said, and then she and Liz left.  Dori rolled the thought around in her head all the way to work.  It was kind of empowering at first, but then she thought about it too much and by the time she got there, she wasn’t even sure what Nikki had meant by it any more.

“Smile was here,” Amber told Dori as she walked in.  Dori gave her a smile, but was maintaining pretty well on her vow not to speak to Amber any more.  “He says you should call him,” she added.  “Did you know he got fired?”

Dori didn’t answer, and felt like she was being a jerk, but really, she didn’t want to talk to Amber any more.  She had a feeling that Amber wouldn’t notice anyway, in the long run.

Because she was in such a good mood, dealing with customers was fun.  Dori traded jokes, asked for home decorating tips, sang “Happy Birthday” twice even though it wasn’t Pandora’s policy that they do that, and made out like a bandit queen in tips as a result.

When she got home that evening, there was a message from Smile, one from Nikki saying something had come up and she wouldn’t be able to meet for lunch tomorrow after all, and one from Brian.  She didn’t feel like calling Smile, so she rang Brian instead.  “Hello, freak-boy,” she said when he answered.

“Hey, Dori, what’s up?”

“Nothing, just got home.  You called me?”

“Just to say hi, see how you were doing.”

“I’m okay.”  She flopped across her bed and looked at the ceiling.

“Bouncing back okay?”

“From what?”

“Gee, I don’t know.  A car crash, a breakup.  Any of this ring a bell?”

“No, I’m okay.  What’s weird to me is the way everyone seems to think I should be all fucked up about breaking up with Smile.”

“What’s going on with the car?”

“Insurance is going to cover it, I guess.  His, or whatever, since it was his fault.  But they say it probably won’t be enough for me to buy another car, unless I want to take out a loan all over again.”

“Man, that sucks.  Are you going to get another car?”

“No, I don’t want another tiny car,” she said firmly.  “That scared the shit out of me.  I’m never driving a little car again, dude.  I’m keeping my big shitty tank.”

“Actually, a newer car is safer, even if it’s smaller, you know.  Airbags, and stuff.”

“Do you have your own life, Brian?”  Her voice was cheerful.  “What’s going on with you, anyway?  Did you hook up with that girl from Utah, the one who looks like a man?”

Brian laughed.  “Leilani?  I don’t know about her.”

“What’s to know?  She’s got big shoulders and big tits and like seventeen piercings in her face.  What’s not to like?” she giggled.  “But seriously, I thought you were into her.”

“I was.  I think I got a little turned off when she kept making a big deal out of how much she likes to have threeways with her roommate and her boyfriend.”

“Dude, you are so conservative it’s funny.  You’re like a minister when it comes to sex.”

“A boy’s gotta have a hobby,” Brian replied.  “That’s all that’s going on with me, though, my life’s been pretty boring.”

“I wish mine would stay that way.  It’s official, I’m going to move out.”

“Serious?  When?”

“I dunno, whenever.  I might have found a roommate–this girl I know from way back named Nikki.  She was away in California or something like that, and now she’s back in town and she needs a place to stay too.  So, you know, it’s all providential.  Anyway, I’m going to go and look at places tomorrow I guess, if I wake up early enough.  Want to come?”

“Sure.  I enjoy being amoral support.”

Dori giggled.  “I’ll give you a call around noon then.  Are you doing anything for Thanksgiving?”

“Going up north.”

“Why do I even ask.  You guys always do that.”

“That’s why they call it a tradition,” Brian said.  “Go to bed, sleepyhead.”

“G’night.”

Eight hours passed in a blur and then the phone rang again. Dori ignored it as she always did when it rang before eleven in the morning.  Unfortunately, Aunt Andrea knocked on her door gingerly.  “Dori?” she asked.  She’d been walking on eggshells around Dori for days, ever since the semi-official ‘okay-dammit-I’m-moving-out’ declaration.  At least she wasn’t passing on the calls if the caller didn’t identify himself.

Dori sighed and picked up the phone.  She was awake, but the phone call was an annoying interruption to her carefully laid plans of lounging in bed for another half hour or so.  “‘Lo?”

“Taylor told us what goes on when she stays with you,” a woman’s voice snarled.  Dori had never met Taylor and Bree’s mother, but the venom suggested that this was probably her.

“Good morning, Mrs. Gatineau,” Dori said, hoping that was Bree’s last name.

“Gastineau,” was the icy reply.  Dammit.  “Are you aware, young lady, that Taylor is Only Fifteen?”

“I know that, and–“

“There are laws, you evil, evil predator!”  Mrs. Gastineau’s voice rose with righteous anger, and was getting more righteous by the minute.

“I don’t know what she told you, ma’am, but nothing ever…”  Dori trailed off, uncertain as to how to finish that sentence without mentioning lesbian sex, which would just make the woman flip out worse.  “I asked her to stay here those nights because it was too cold for her to be outside, that’s all.  You can ask my aunt.  She slept on the couch.”

“I should be calling the police right now.”

Dori squeezed the phone.  “Ma’am, seriously, nothing happened.  If she said something it was probably just because she was pissed at you.”  She hoped that Taylor would own up to lying.  Would the kid understand how serious a statutory rape charge was?  Once again, Dori was considering how much it would suck to have her life ruined because of something she didn’t even do.  It woke her up, at least.

The thoughts distracted her so much she didn’t even realize she’d said “pissed” until Mrs. Gastineau took a deep breath.  “Don’t you dare use that kind of language with me,” she hissed.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.  Can I talk to her?  No, never mind, you talk to her.  Ask her.  Nothing ever happened, I’m telling the truth.”

“She isn’t here,” Mrs. Gastineau said.  “And she isn’t in school, either.  I’m thinking of sending the police over there right now, because I know you’re hiding her.”

“Go ahead.  She isn’t here.”

“Why should I believe someone like you?”

“You don’t have to.  Send them.  She’s seriously not here.  The last time I saw her was a few days ago, when I dropped her off at school.  After she crashed here.  On the couch.  She wanted me to take her to the mall, but I made her go to school.” 

There was silence on the line for a moment.  “She isn’t there?”  Mrs. Gastineau’s voice had lost its enraged edge, and a thick thread of worry began to creep in.  “But…she ran away again last night.  Bree said that she goes to the pizza parlor and looks for you.”

“I wasn’t working last night,” Dori replied.  “Sorry.”

“I…oh, my.”  Mrs. Gastineau started to stammer something else.  All Dori could tell was that it wasn’t an apology.  Then she hung up.