Chloe’s feet were on his chest. She was wearing her Christmas cool-dog jacket, from New York City, black Gortex with a sheepskin lining. She seemed happy to see him.
Annie stood next to the bed in the red wool coat he had given her for Christmas, which looked so good with her blond hair and still kept her warm, if she wore enough layers underneath it. She smelled of fresh air and the newsprint in her canvas bag and, possibly, coffee.
Annie regarded him, concerned, and sat down on the bed, so they were all there together, and Andrew could feel his stomach unclench for the first time since he had woken up last night.
“Did you have a hard night?” she asked.
“I had a lousy night. But now you’re here, right? This is real?” He took off her multicolored mittens; her fingertips were cold from outdoors, so he gathered her hands in his.
“Did I call you at six o’clock?” he asked.
“No . . .”
“Hm. What day is it?”
“Sunday. You and Chloe are going to hang out while I go to church. I’ve got coffee here, and home-baked bread from Kathleen, and all the newspapers you could need to entertain yourself for two hours . . . did you take your meds yesterday?”
“I did. Last night all my little containers were empty . . .” Andrew sat up. “Speaking of which . . .”
When he came out of the bathroom, Annie had set the table in the middle room with coffee cups, bread, peanut butter, oranges and hard-boiled eggs. He stared at it, from the white of the cups to the blast of the orange with all the shades of eggshell and bread in between, at once normal and miraculous.
He sipped his coffee. He should tell her. “I dreamed you died.”
“Yikes . . . wish fulfillment?”
“It’s not a joke.”
“I’m not joking. I wonder sometimes if it’s boring for you to be with someone . . . so ferociously normal.”
“You’re not normal. Remember, we talked about this. I told you, you were the craziest girlfriend I ever had, and you agreed.” Andrew smiled, despite himself, at the way this was going.
“Anyway,” he said, “no. Classic anxiety. I was terrified.”
“—How did I die?”
“—I don’t know.” He described the dream, leaving out her strange puffiness.
“You’ll keep Chloe in your sight?” Annie asked when she left for church.
“When you take a shower, she’ll sit in the bathroom with you.”
“We’ll take care of each other.”
Annie walked the four blocks to church, and with careful timing, Andrew and Chloe drove to the diner half an hour early, so he could jockey for a parking place, then tip Tony, the owner, to hold a window table for him when it came available.
“Keeping an eye on the car, huh,” said Tony.
“—Come by tomorrow.”
“I need a cop.”
Tony nodded once, then turned back to the cash register and the next customer: “Everything taste good this mornin’?”
* * * *
“How was church?”
They were seated at their window table, the car parked in front of the diner.
“Good.” Annie shrugged. “It gives me perspective. Of the eighty people there, forty of them had no idea my car had been set on fire. Until the other forty told them. Even when people are gunning for you, there is a bigger picture.”
“Theresa and Glaron stay away from the news. I had to tell them. But I thought you meant heaven.”
“—I used to believe that we would be reunited with people we loved. And dogs. But now I think, what if we don’t want to see them? Like Ed.”
“What if we dread seeing them. Like Polly.”
“—We’ll ask Paul. He’ll have an answer . . . Tony’s trying goat cheese?” Annie stared at the menu insert.
“It’s really good,” said Claudia, putting the coffee pot on the trivet, nodding with a smile as she pocketed Andrew’s $5. “Have you had it before? I tried it this morning, who knew those little goats could do that.”
“Two specials?” said Annie. Andrew nodded, and Claudia left them, pleased.
“Did you say anything to Paul about talking to us?” asked Andrew.
“No. He knew about the car, so we got through that. I’ll call him this week.”
“You still want to do it—talk to him, about us.”
“Yes. I think it would be a good idea.”
“A good idea.”
“Perspective. I mean, should we get new IDs, move to another state?”
She was changing the subject, but he couldn’t blame her, so he followed it. “Let me talk to Tony first. That’s tomorrow.”
“That leaves us talking to the Witches today. I was hoping we’d head for San Diego after breakfast.”
Claudia brought their chèvre omelets. “I just want to say,” she said quickly, her voice low, placing their plates carefully, “I’m real sorry about your car. Awful. I hope they get the guy.”
“What guy,” said Andrew.
“Look, your water glasses are empty, let me get you a pitcher!”
She returned with a clear plastic pitcher of water. “Ask Tony. Everybody knows.”
“You should know,” Andrew said as Annie drove them east, and he spoke to her high cheekbone, her slightly upturned nose “ . . . I may say things to Wendy and Tina that sound like I don’t care. About you. I do care. The only way they—the cops—can put me off this story is by threatening you.
“You should know, I’m reconsidering it. But I don’t want to tell Wendy and Tina that.”
“You’d give up? After five months of work?”
“The work remains. It’s not going anywhere. And remember—when I go to New York on Thursdays I copy everything onto Rosendo’s computer. In case mine gets stolen. Or I have to throw it in the river.”
They pulled into the Observer’s parking lot.
“Shit,” said Annie, “the husbands are here too. Those are their cars, the Beemers. Are you sure you don’t want to head west?”
Copyright © Debby Mayer