24: You Must Be Frank!

Being accused of kidnapping Taylor was too big a piece of news to be kept from Aunt Andrea, so Dori told her over brunch.  Okay, so it wasn’t really brunch, just the usual super-late breakfast, but still.  For some reason, telling on herself felt a lot like going to the teacher to announce that a kid had fallen off of the swings and everyone was saying she had pushed him, but she hadn’t.  While she was making her report Dori wondered in the back of her head why she was so prone to random grade school and junior high flashbacks.

Aunt Andrea was predictably horrified.  “I was afraid that girl would be trouble,” she said.  “Sometimes I just get a feeling.  You should probably talk to our lawyer.”

“You have a lawyer?” Dori asked, surprised.

“Of course.  I don’t think you have anything to worry about, but we should cover all of our bases.”  Mary toddled into the kitchen and sniffed at both their feet, looking for dropped crumbs probably.  Dori resisted the urge to kick the dog.  Well, not really kick it, just shove it away with her foot.  The snuffling noises and moist breath on her toes were creepy sensations.  “So…nothing ever happened, did it?” Aunt Andrea asked bluntly.  “Between you and Taylor?  Maybe because of what happened between you and Smile?”

“The chick is fifteen,” Dori said.  “Seriously, I’m not turned on by teenagers.  Taylor sort of came on to me, a little–well, actually she just asked if she could move in with me–but I don’t think she’s interested for real.  It’s just a rebellion thing.”

“So you didn’t touch her?”

“Aunt Andrea, you’re talking to me like I’m some kind of uncontrollable pervert.”

Her face collapsed into an ashamed grimace.  “Oh, no, I’m sorry, Dori, I didn’t mean to make it sound that way.  I trust you, and I support your decisions.”

“As long as they don’t involve minors, anyway.”

Aunt Andrea looked at the floor for a moment, at Mary, and then reached across the table to touch Dori’s hand.  “I’m really, really sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it.”  She let Aunt Andrea pat her hand for a second.  “Anyway, I’m not hot for Taylor or anything.  And I seriously don’t know where she is, either.  I don’t have to work today, so I should probably do something about it.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I have no idea.  Maybe figure out where she went.  I mean, if she just ran away, well, shit, it’s almost December, it’s freezing out there, and who knows what kind of freak picked her up in Ypsilanti.”

“It’s not exactly Detroit,” Aunt Andrea said.

“Well, in Detroit the crazy people are more obvious.  Out in the suburbs they look like everyone else.  Protective camouflage.  Anyway, I’ll think about it and see if I can maybe figure something out.  Plus I have to go to that stupid newspaper and yell at them or whatever, and I was going to do some apartment hunting.”  The word felt weird on her tongue.  Apartment hunting?  For herself?  Somehow she’d gotten to the age of twenty-four and it had never occurred to her that she’d one day get an apartment for herself.  It was a surreal, push-me-pull-you feeling, like she had control of her world, but at the same time it was spinning wildly out of her reach.

“Do you want to borrow the Explorer?  I don’t have any plans for the day.”

“Actually, I think I’ll just drive my car.  I kind of like being in it.”

Aunt Andrea smiled.  “You feel safer in that big car, I guess.”

“Shit yes.  Maybe I could just live in the back seat of that.  It’s not like I have any furniture or anything.”

“Oh, Dori, you know that Carl and I will be happy to help–“

She nodded.  “I know, I know.  I was just kidding.”  Dori finished her coffee.  She stood up to go, and the phone rang for the second time that morning.  She answered it, indulging at the same time in a very satisfying head scratch.

It was Nikki.  “Hey,” she said.  “I’m in New York.  It looks like I might be home tonight, or tomorrow at the latest.”

“Shit,” Dori said.  “This is weird, I’m not used to having friends who jet-set all over the world.”

“I’m in New York City, Dori.  It’s hardly the world.”

“Some people act like it is.  And anyway, I’ve actually been there, and it is like the whole world mooshed into one place.  So, um, how’s it going?”

“Good, I think.”  Nikki sighed.  “They’re dropping all of the charges against Lexi.”

“Charges?  Who’s Lexi?”

“I’ll introduce you later.  Shit, I didn’t explain, did I?  Basically, she was in a lot of trouble with the Packard family–“

Dori had heard of them, they were like the Rockefellers.  Was Nikki really talking about those Packards?  “Those rich people?”

“Yeah, them.”

“Dude, you are jet-setting and meeting all these famous people!”

“I didn’t meet them, and don’t want to.  Anyway, they settled with her, and it’s all over.  I don’t even know if I needed to fucking come out here, but Eddie seems happy that I’m here.  I don’t mind really, I guess.  Lexi’s here, and that makes me happy.  I guess they were worried she was going to kill herself.”

“Now I’m really confused,” Dori said.

“Sorry.”

“S’okay, I’m used to it,” she joked.  “So Lexi has something on this rich family so they got her out of jail.”

“That’s pretty much it.”

“And now they’re going to do some horrible thing to get their revenge next, right?”

Nikki sighed again.  “I don’t know.  I got that vibe, but I don’t know for sure.  I’m new to this political intrigue shit.  They made some kind of deal, the lawyers, and there was a bunch of shit with people offering Lexi deals on one thing or another, to keep quiet about one thing or another.  And in exchange, they got the cops to drop all the charges against her.”

“It was really cool of you to go all the way out there to help her,” she said, meaning it.  “What did she do?”

“Drove a race car from Detroit to New York City.  Got chased by the cops half of the way, and then all the way through Manhattan.  Then she drove onto the Packards’ estate, to the graveyard where her fiancée is buried, and set the car on fire on his grave.”

“Dude!”

“I know, I know.  They gave us a lot of shit about how it was a miracle no one was killed, and crap like that.  It was mostly a bunch of fucking bullshit, of course.  As far as I could tell, the cops were pissed off because they couldn’t do anything about the strings the Packards were pulling, and the Packards were pissed off because they couldn’t do anything about the strings Lexi was pulling.  You know what I really want to do, Dori?”

“What?”

“I really want to not have to do some of the things I do, just for a little while.  I hate this political shit, trying to figure out who’s my friend and who’s not, because everyone smiles at you the same way.  I don’t have the instincts for this shit.  I’d rather run errands for Eddie and not have to play fucking man-with-the-plan.”  Nikki’s voice dropped a register.  “I want to come and live a normal life in Michigan for a while.  Maybe forever.”

“Is that the thing I can do for you?”

Nikki laughed–more of a tired sigh, actually.  “I forgot, you remember shit I said to you two days ago.  Lexi does that, too.  You guys will like each other.”

“I like Liz, too.  You make good friends.”  Nikki didn’t say anything.  “Well, I’m going out to look at apartments today.  I’ll look for a two-bedroom instead of a one-bedroom.  If, you know, you think you’d like that.  ‘Cuz I’d like living with you again.  That two weeks in Nashville was cool, but we didn’t get to do the fun shit like picking furniture and towels and shit.”

Nikki made another sigh-laugh.  “Yeah.  I’d like that, Dori.”

“Cooool, so would I.  I’m gonna get going, then.”

“Do you still need my help with that newspaper?”

“I was going to go today.”

Nikki’s voice changed immediately; she was suddenly more businesslike, almost brusque.  “I’ll call and let them know you’re coming.  It’ll intimidate the shit out of them.  Which one was it, the Michigan Daily?”  Dori affirmed that, impressed by the change in her friend.  She’d be impressed if she got a call from a voice like that, that was for sure.

“Um, yeah.  The student paper.”

“You shouldn’t go alone,” Nikki said.

“Why not?”

“Because you’re too nice,” was the matter-of-fact reply.  “You’ll agree with the first thing anyone says, and they won’t do a goddamn thing for you if you do that.”

She had to admit that Nikki was right.  “I could call Brian, maybe.”

“If not, call Liz.”

“Serious?  Idon’t think she’d–“

“Yes, she would.  Call her, okay?”

Dori felt weird, but decided to trust Nikki.  “I will.”