Word Count: 3,060
"What is with you today?" Brenda asked Chris at lunch.
"See, that's exactly what I'm saying. You're not yourself. So, I'll ask again. What is with you today?"
"Oh, nothing, I don't know."
"Let me guess, Dan hasn't called."
Being seniors they had open campus lunch and were eating at a burger and hot dog place not far from school. Chris took a sip of her pop and shrugged. "No."
"It's not him I'm worried about."
"What?" Brenda asked, obviously confused and Chris couldn't blame her. Dan was … Cute and smart, generous and kind. It wasn't him she was fretting over not having called yet. It was Wednesday, surely one of the two should have called by now. Except, Dan hadn't exactly indicated he wanted to see her again.
The kiss certainly said he did, but he hadn't said so outright. He could have gotten back to the frat house and met someone else. Or woken up the next morning and realized he didn't want to date someone still in high school.
Joe, on the other hand, had said he'd call and he knew how old Chris was. Maybe he was just being nice or seeing if she'd say yes. She thought about it last night and realized maybe once the night was over with he'd changed his mind. He'd lost his job because of her. Okay, it was an illegal job, but it still meant a loss of income.
"Nothing. I said I don't know," she said as Brenda's order was called out as ready to pick up at the counter. Chris' was next.
"If you ask me," Brenda said once they were back at their table, food in front of them. "Dan is who you need to focus on."
"Well, yeah. I mean, really, what kind of future could you have with someone like Joe?"
"It's a date, Brenda, I'm not planning on marrying him."
"Still, though, should you go on a date with someone you know can't amount to anything?"
"Why couldn't it?"
"Chris. You met him while he was stealing a car," Brenda said, her voice so low it was barely a whisper as she said the last part. "How could anything good possibly come out of that?"
"I get the impression he didn't have much of a choice in the matter where he grew up, Brenda. Not everyone lives where we do. He did save my life, Brenda. He didn't have to do that."
"I know. I just. Dan's in college. You said he was cute."
"You date him."
"Chris, be reasonable."
"I am being reasonable. I liked him. Okay. He was nice."
"Right. Until he steals your mom's silver tea set."
"Oh my God, Brenda," Chris said with a laugh. "You are getting way ahead of yourself. I'm not going to invite him to my house. He even knew that, offered to meet me somewhere."
"And that leads us right back to dating someone you can't go anywhere with."
"I could go places with him."
"Not with your parents. Your dad would flip, Chris. You know it."
"It's a date, Brenda. After Mike," she said with a shrug, taking a sip of her pop in between bites. "I don't want to get involved again right away, and I honestly don't know I'd trust someone like Dan."
Brenda's question made Chris think she might be crazy for thinking that way, and maybe she was. She had a reason, though.
"He reminds me too much of Mike. I mean, that vibe he has, you know. Like he's too good to be true. Mike was."
"There has to be someone in the middle of guys like Mike and a criminal, Chris."
"Brenda, you don't even know Dan and hardly know Joe. Neither of them has called anyway, so it may not matter."
Brenda rolled her eyes, but apparently was going to let the subject drop. Thankfully. Chris didn't want to rehash her plans for the weekend. If they came to be. It was only Wednesday, she'd been telling herself that all morning. Just because he hadn't called yet didn't mean he wasn't going to. Maybe he was busy. He was giving her time to think over whether she really wanted to see a movie with him.
Maybe his boss had found him.
"Oh God," she said as her mind took over from there. Thoughts of him dead or in the hospital ran through her head. "What if he's hurt?"
"Chris," Brenda said, wiping her mouth with a napkin. "He'll call. It's Wednesday, it's not like it's Friday night and he hasn't called yet."
"I know," she said. "I just. God. I wish I was better at this."
"Two guys asked for your number in the same night. One punched out his boss for you. I'd say you're doing all right."
"That's not what I mean. My mom would be proud of me, though, I didn't get numbers from either one of them."
"Right, because sitting here stressing over why neither has called you is better."
"You know how my mom is about guys."
"I wish my step-mom had an opinion on whether I should call a guy. An opinion on anything would be nice."
"I'm sorry, Brenda."
"Don't be," she said with a shrug. "She's just clueless about what to do with me."
There was no love lost between Brenda and her step-mom. It was that fact that had led to Chris having to take the Anderson kids downtown to begin with. If she hadn't tried to run away the whole night would never have happened. That thought made her sad in a way. While she wished the night hadn't happened in some ways, if it hadn't who knew whether she'd have found out about Mike before she really got her heart broken. As it was, it hurt but she wasn't hugely invested yet.
Running out of time, they hurried up and finished their lunches so they could get back to school and finish their day. She had a load of homework to do that night, which made her kind of glad for a change. Something to take her mind off whether Joe would call.
She'd gotten caught daydreaming in more than one class after lunch. Only they weren't so pleasant. She couldn't shake the feeling that something bad could have happened to Joe because of her. He was a nice guy, but clearly based on who they encountered the other night he was the only one. She doubted the guy he'd worked for would hesitate at hurting or killing him if he wasn't afraid to have three kids killed.
"How was your day, Chris?" her mom asked.
"Fine," she said.
"Do you want something to eat?"
"No, I'm fine. I'm going to start on my homework."
"Okay, honey. Your dad and I have dinner plans tonight. So you're on your own."
"That's fine. I can manage."
"I made some chili if you want some later it'll be on the stove. Bread's in the oven."
"Thanks, Mom," she said, giving her mom a kiss on the cheek. She was still kind of mad about the college brochures she'd snuck into Chris' purse the other night, but she knew why her mom was doing it. She had to admit, she'd spent Sunday afternoon looking at a couple of them.
College. Being away from home. It was scary and exciting. Freedom yet her parents would pay for it so she wouldn't be completely on her own. The idea had merit. Maybe. Her mom had schools like Northwestern and University of Illinois in mind. Chris was thinking more along the lines of Southern or Eastern Illinois.
"I'll check on you before we go."
"Okay," Chris said, heading down to the basement where she could work on her homework and watch MtV at the same time. She was pretty sure there was a new U2 video due out, if it hadn't already been released.
She was in the kitchen, looking over the options available to her in the fridge when the phone rang. Her parents had already left for their dinner out. She wasn't sure if it was a business dinner for her dad or something else. She hadn't asked, and it really didn't matter except they didn't usually go out for a formal dinner like they were dressed for tonight in the middle of the week. So, Chris was guessing business dinner. That meant they'd be out late and her dad would come back having had a few too many gin and tonics.
"Hello," she answered, stretching the phone's cord out as far as it would go so she could grab a pizza out of the freezer. She really wasn't in the mood for chili.
'Is Chris there?'
"Speaking," she said, closing the freezer door without taking a pizza out. She knew who it was because she didn't know anyone else that sounded the way he did. Something she hadn't really thought about until now.
"I knew that," she admitted. "How are you?"
Neither said anything for close to a minute. She wasn't sure what to say, and imagined maybe he was in the same position. It wasn't as if they knew anything about one another to talk about. That left her wondering what to say to him that wouldn't sound stupid.
'I tried calling the other day, but didn't get an answer,' he said, breaking the silence.
That thought hadn't entered her mind. This wasn't the first time she wished her parents would get an answering machine for her. They insisted it wasn't necessary, that anyone who wanted to get a hold of her would call again. Getting her own line was a huge deal, until her dad's country club friends started complaining they couldn't get through because the line was busy all of the time. Then all of the sudden it was urgent.
She could have bought her own answering machine, but she didn't have a phone in her bedroom so wouldn't have anywhere to put it. As it was, her line wasn't very private. It could be accessed from any phone in the house using the little button that switched between her line and her parents'. Every phone in the house included the one in her parents' bedroom, which meant no one could call her very late. (Not that that stopped her from calling her friends who could take calls later.)
'Yeah, Sunday afternoon.'
"We were at lunch after church. We go every Sunday," she said, taking a seat on the stool at the breakfast bar closest to the phone.
'Right, I should have thought of that.'
"Church isn't your thing I take it?"
'I went as a kid, sure. Every Sunday with my mom. She still goes. Nothing against it or anything.'
She gave a soft laugh. "Well, that's good."
'You assumed I wasn't going to call.'
"The thought had crossed my mind. Not that I'd blame you. I mean, our lives aren't exactly similar," she said.
'You think that bothers me?"
"I think it would bother some people, yeah," she said.
'Well, I'm not some people, but I suppose I should be worried about you.'
"Are you asking for more than a movie and dinner?"
'For this weekend? No,' he said.
"Well, then I'm not worried."
'I admit, when I didn't get an answer I figured I'd wait a couple of days, let you think it through.'
"Is there a reason I should beyond the fact I like you?"
She felt herself blush as she twirled the phone cord around her finger. "Well, yeah, I mean you're a nice guy, saved our lives, what's not to like."
'Right,' he said, sounding disappointed.
She liked that sound just then, because it meant he'd been expecting more from her answer. She closed her eyes, setting her head on the counter. She was so stupid, opening herself for who knew what but she couldn't help who she liked. Dan would certainly be a better option, she wasn't sure either of them were safe options. They were both older like Mike.
She lifted her head again, shaking it slightly. No, there would be no thinking of Mike while talking to someone who wasn't him. She knew if it had been Mike in Joe's spot last weekend they'd probably all be dead. No way would he have done what Joe did.
"I'm just glad you're all right. If you hadn't called I would have wondered if something had happened to you."
"Oh, I don't know, the man you punched so we could get away. The guy you left hanging out the window. I'm sure there are others who could hurt you. Or worse."
'Huh,' he said.
'I'm not sure I've ever had anyone worried about me before.'
"Not even your mom?"
'Well, yeah, okay, but it's been a while for her.'
"I bet she still worries."
'Oh, I'm sure she does. You don't grow up the way I did and not worry about your kids, but she stopped voicing it a long time ago.'
"Is that a good huh then?"
He gave a soft chuckle and she wondered where he was and what he was doing just then. His voice was soft and low. She had no business thinking how nice it sounded when he laughed.
'Yeah, I guess it is.'
'So, this weekend?'
"Does that mean you don't want to talk anymore?"
'No, we can talk as long as you like. I just figured I'd get that out of the way so I don't get sidetracked.'
"As long as I like, huh?"
'I don't have anything going on tonight, so yeah.'
'Uh, no,' he said.
"I suppose not," she said.
'Yeah, kind of in between jobs at the moment. So, Saturday works?'
'You can get your mom's car again?'
'All right. I asked around and was told there's a mall with a movie theatre not too far from you in Oak Brook. Is that right?'
"Yeah, it's further for you, though."
'I'm not worried about me. Ten miles, twenty miles, I'm going to the suburbs, it doesn't much matter.'
'Well, here's the thing. I'm going to give you my number and when the paper comes out on Friday with movie times you look it over and tell me what show you want to see and what time.'
"Well, that's not very fair."
'I haven't been to see a movie in years, Chris, so it really doesn't matter to me. That means you'll have to call me, though.'
"All right," she said.
'You sure? I heard you with the other guy that night and you didn't ask for his number either, so I sorta took that to mean you don't call guys.'
"I think I can make an exception this once."
'You do, huh,' he said with a laugh again. 'Got something to write my number down with?'
"Yeah," she said, writing it down. "So any movie?"
"I've heard Lethal Weapon is good."
'All right. If that's what you want to see. Just call me with a time.'
"Well, you mentioned dinner. Are we eating before or after the movie?" she asked.
'Do you have a preference?'
'How about after then?'
"Afraid we'll have nothing to talk about before?"
'No, just would rather spend time with you after I guess.'
'You have school tomorrow?'
'Homework done and everything?'
She smiled a little at that. "Yes. I was just figuring out what to eat when you called."
"Yeah, my parents went out somewhere for dinner."
'Well, I'll let you go figure out your dinner then.'
"All right," she said. "Is there a time I should call on Friday? I don't get home until around four."
'That's fine. I've got a machine, so just leave a message with the time. I'll call back Saturday morning so you know I got it.'
"Good night, Joe," she said before hanging up.
She glanced at the phone, her first instinct was to call Brenda and tell her he'd called. She remembered, though, that Brenda wasn't exactly jumping up and down in support of Joe so she thought better of it. She hung up and decided on some of her mom's chili after all. It just needed to be heated up, and her mom did make the best homemade bread. She didn't make it often because it was time consuming, so Chris figured she'd better enjoy it while it was here.
She just had to figure out what to tell her mom about Saturday and what to wear. There were quite a few places around the mall he mentioned to eat. Most were pretty casual, but a few were nicer. He would have said he was taking her somewhere nicer, though, she imagined.
She went back down to the basement, chili and bread in hand, debating on whether she'd even tell Brenda in the morning that he called. She didn't like feeling as though she had to hide from her best friend, but she knew what Brenda would say.
Really, though, if he wanted to find out where she lived there were less time consuming ways of going about it than dating her. He knew her mom's car, the license plate number; he could find her that way. People did it, she wasn't sure how but he had to have resources like that available to him.
So, he wasn't asking her out on a date on the hope that she'd let him pick her up so he could case her house. The Parker's really wasn't that extraordinary compared to some of the others in the area. It was nice and all, but there were certainly flashier, bigger, and obviously richer family houses around the area if that was his intent.
She was getting way ahead of herself. She turned the TV on, hoping that Dynasty would take her mind off of her best friend for a while. She had to find out what was going to happen with Krystina after the heart transplant. Sarah didn't seem too stable to Chris, so she was curious where the storyline was going to go.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com