Becky came up swinging. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. I let her wail on me for a few minutes until she got a lucky clip to my eye and then I forced her to stop.
“You bastard, GC! Bastard!” she screamed over and over. I subdued her, but she kept thrashing and kicking. I had to turn a bit to avoid severe damage to my equipment.
“Fuck, Becky, you almost kicked me in the balls! Stop this.”
“I want to kick you there, you jerk. Put that dick of yours out of commission, damn it!” She lashed out again, but I was easily able to block her.
“Becky, calm down. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.” I said, though I had meant it. I was sorry, but not because I’d said Alex’s name. I was sorry that I’d given in to Becky even though I told myself I wouldn’t. I was also sorry that I’d hurt her. She didn’t deserve this. I really was a bastard, just like she said.
Eventually the fight went out of her and she started to cry. I hated seeing her like that, especially since it was my fault. I still held her, rocking her and rubbing her back in what I hoped was a comforting way.
“I’m sorry,” I said over and over.
When she cried herself out, I offered to let Becky sleep in my bed while I slept out on the couch. I didn’t think she was in any shape to go home, and I knew that I didn’t want to take her there in the off chance that I’d run into Alex. My feelings about him were too raw, too new. I didn’t want him to see me with Becky. I really didn’t want to explain to him what I had done to her.
I guess Becky didn’t want to go home either because she agreed to my suggestion when I thought she’d insist on getting out of my apartment. Instead she just gave in and let me tuck her into my bed.
As I left the room, I heard her tell me that she hated me. I knew she meant it just as much as she’d meant it when she told me she loved me just a few hours earlier.
“I’m sorry.” It was a pitiful set of words, but the only ones I could really say to her. I was so sorry. For everything.
Taking Becky home the next day was harder than I expected it to be. She got up, dressed, and was waiting in the chair next to me when I finally woke.
“Let’s go,” she demanded. Her eyes were red, like she’d been crying, but her expression was hard and her voice was angry.
“Lemme get dressed,” I said blearily.
We drove out to the Fairbanks’ in strained silence. I didn’t know how to make this right between us. I pretty much figured our friendship was over. Once again I regretted that long ago night after prom. If only I hadn’t let her come to my room…
Before we got to her driveway, I tried one more time to apologize. “It’s my fault, Beks. I should have known. I mean, I did sort of know, but I was in denial,” I said earning me another glare.
“Shut up, GC. I don’t want to hear this now.”
“But I have to explain…”
With a sigh, I pulled up to her house and she got out of the truck. She practically ran to her front door before I could get out. When she went inside and shut the door afterwards, I knew I couldn’t follow her.
I didn’t drive home right away. Instead I headed over to the station. I didn’t want to see anyone right then. I figured I could work out in the station’s gym or grab a hammer to upgrade the alarm or fix the truck. No one bothered me when they saw me. Some of what I was feeling must have shown.
When the alarm went off, I suited up alongside everyone else. It was my day off still, but I had to go. Maybe I wouldn’t feel like such an asshole jerk who destroyed the feelings of people I felt were friends if I managed to do some good today, save someone. Lord knows I couldn’t seem to save myself.
The fire was at the theatre. The arsonist had struck again. And this time a lot of people were in danger. There was an Adam Blake concert that afternoon. Hundreds of people were there.
Luckily, we were able to respond before things really got out of hand. The concert was evacuated, the theatre staff and the band’s roadies got the people out in a somewhat orderly fashion. We went in and found where the arsonist had gone into a restroom to start the blaze.
“Seems like he’s getting bolder,” TJ said to me afterwards.
“Maybe we’ll catch him this time,” I said. I really hoped so. The way the arson investigators explained it, the arsonist’s first fires, the smaller ones, were just practice. They figured he was working up to bigger things. They even suspected that there’d been earlier incidents, like the ones at my school, which they thought might be attributed to the same person.
“Do you think the arsonist was someone in our class?” I asked dad when I found this out.
“Could be, or it could be someone associated with the school.”
“But you said there hadn’t been any more incidents there since we graduated,” Laura said. She’d been really concerned when she found out that the fires at the school might have been the arsonist’s early work.
“No. Which is why we think maybe he was a student at the school back then. We have a few leads.” Dad looked grave when he said that.
“What aren’t you telling me, dad?” I asked, concerned.
“Let it go, GC,” Laura warned me. “It’s nothing, right dad? We already ruled it out.”
“Ruled what out and why are you involved in this, Laura?”
“GC has a right to know this,” Dad said to my sister. “Who was the one pulling all of those pranks at school, GC? Do you remember?”
I thought back on it. Barbara and Becky had done quite a few, most notably the frog incident. But when Barbara started dating Eddie, they’d set those stink bombs. Surely dad couldn’t suspect…
“It’s not Barbara,” Laura assured me when I looked up at her, concerned. “I know it’s not. When the fire happened at prom, she was with me and Becky in the bathroom.”
“You don’t think it’s Eddie?” I asked Dad. I knew that Eddie had been a rebel back in school, but he’d grown out of it in adulthood, I thought. He and Barbara were married now and he was in the military.
“We’re not sure,” Dad said. “We’re still investigating. But he’s one of the people we’re looking into. He was at prom and he was also in the school building during that fire before your graduation. He could have been behind these other incidents as well.”
We all looked at each other, concern for Barbara in our minds. If Eddie was the arsonist, was she in danger?
“I’m going to talk to Barbara,” Laura told me. “You can come, too, if you want.”
I agreed. Barbara hadn’t been around a lot lately. She was working I had thought, but maybe it was more than that. Maybe Eddie was keeping her from her family. I’d heard that some abusers were like that. If Eddie had threatened my sister in any way, I was going to kick his ass.
“Let’s go see her now,” I said, but Dad and Laura shook their heads.
“The police will be questioning Eddie tomorrow. We’ll go then.”
Barbara was royally pissed when she saw us. The cops had come to take Eddie down to the station for questioning. When she saw us, she knew we were involved.
“What the fuck is going on?” She demanded. “Why were the cops here and why did they take Eddie downtown?”
“Barbara, maybe we should go sit down,” Laura tried to reason with her.
“No. I want to know what you two know right now. I’m not going anywhere.”
“You know about the arson fires around town?” I asked, opting to go with the direct approach. That had always been best when dealing with Barbara.
“Well, the cops think it might have been Eddie.”
Barbara looked incredulous. She started to laugh, like I’d made a joke. “You can’t be serious.”
“Yeah. He fits the profile. He was a student when the fires happened at school. He’s an inventor, so he knows how to make things like incendiary devices—and as a military guy, he knows how to set them. He’s a loner, and has always been a bit hot-headed.” I shrugged.
“That’s all circumstantial,” Barbara said. “I can assure you that Eddie didn’t do anything.”
“How do you know for sure?” Laura asked Barbara.
“I know because I was the one who set the school fires. The first one was an accident. It was just supposed to be another stink bomb, but it went wrong and the lab caught fire. The second one was on purpose. I thought it would get us out of the last month of school.”
“Barbara! I can’t believe you’d do that!” Laura was so shocked. I was too, but privately I had wondered about Barbara. What I don’t think anyone knew about the last arson fire was that it had started in a lady’s room.
“I think you better come to the station and tell Dad what you did,” I said. I shook my head. “I can’t believe you’d start all those fires, Barbara. After what happened to us when we were little? I would never have thought you’d do it.”
“Wait a minute!” Barbara turned to me, shock and panic in her eyes. “You don’t think I set all of those other fires, do you?”
“Did you?” I asked.
“Oh Barbara,” Laura was crying.
“No! I didn’t do it. I may have pranked the school, but I’m an adult now. I don’t have any reason to do something like that. I swear.” She looked at me imploringly. “GC, honestly. I wouldn’t start fires like that. The two that I started didn’t affect anyone. They were nothing.”
“I really want to believe you,” I said, “but I think you better go to the station and confess to the school fires anyway. Maybe that means they’ll stop thinking Eddie did it, or maybe they’ll suspect him even more. I don’t know.”
Now Barbara was crying, too. “Neither one of us would do it,” she insisted. “Eddie spends all his time working and I’m…well…I’m pregnant. Why would I do something like this? Why?”
In the end, both Eddie and Barbara were cleared of suspicion. Eddie was cleared because of Barbara’s confession and because the investigators were starting to suspect that the arsonist was a woman, not a man. Barbara, they thought might have done it, but it turned out that she had an alibi for the fire at the theatre. She’d been at the hospital for a pre-natal appointment.
“I’m not ready to believe that this was the work of a woman,” Dad told me later, “but that’s what they now suspect. The fact is that most arsonists are male.”
“Women can do some terrible things,” Mom reminded him. She and I exchanged a look, remembering her mother, Candice the Vampire. I shuddered. I hadn’t thought about her in a long time.
“Woman or man,” I said, “We have to figure this thing out. Arsonists always escalate their damage. Next time people will get hurt. We can’t let that happen.”
The arson fire and investigation took my mind off my personal problems, at least for awhile. I hadn’t expected to see Becky, but I knew that I couldn’t avoid Alex. If nothing else, he’d probably want to know what I’d done to Becky if she didn’t tell him the whole sorry story.
But I’d been spending a lot of time at the station and not very much at home or anywhere else. I’d called Alex and left messages on his voice mail canceling out on our regular workouts.
It didn’t surprise me then, when I checked my own voice messages, that I had one from Alex. A little tremor of excitement filled me when I saw his number. Did he know? Did he want to see me? I hit the button on my phone to listen to the message:
“Jesus, GC. What the hell have you done? Stop avoiding me and meet me at the Watering Hole tonight. We’re going to talk. You better have a good explanation or I might have to kick that fine ass of yours.”
Shit. She hadn’t told him. I listened to the message again. He sounded mad, and sort of exasperated. She hadn’t told him. Of course she hadn’t. Why would she? She hated it that I was interested in Alex. She’d been jealous of his interest in me before she knew that maybe I reciprocated it.
Fuck. I had to meet him at the Hole. He’d come over and demand to talk to me at my apartment if I didn’t. I wasn’t sure I wanted him in my house yet. Not after what had happened there with his sister. Would he hate me, too, when he found out? Would he be surprised? Happy?
I couldn’t stand this. I felt like I was going on a date…a blind date. I didn’t know if it would go well or if it would be a miserable failure. And what was I supposed to wear? Alex had never seemed to care when I dressed in a ratty t-shirt or sweatshirt, but maybe he’d respond better if I looked my best.
I opened one of my drawers and peered in at the array of t-shirts and sweatshirts folded there. “Fuck! Don’t I even own one nice shirt?” I slammed the drawer shut.
I ran upstairs to barrow something from TJ. He was usually a better dresser than myself. I settled on a T-shirt and one of TJ’s vests, but opted for the more casual look of jeans. I didn’t want it to look like I’d gone out of my way to dress up. Then I brushed my teeth, made sure my hair didn’t look stupid…Alex had said I had good hair, right?…and I headed out the door.
“Where are you going, GC?” my sister-in-law’s voice sounded, just as I came down the stairs.
“Watering Hole,” I said.
“Got a date?”
“No. Just meeting a friend there.”
Roselyn smiled. “You and Becky have a good time,” she said. I groaned.
“I’m actually meeting Alex,” I told her.
“Oh. Well tell Alex I said ‘hi’.” Roselyn quickly dismissed me, turning back to little Theo who had started fussing again.
“Sure. See you later!” I called. I was so thankful that it hadn’t been TJ who caught me. I wondered if he’d be able to tell how nervous and excited I was. Would he suspect that I felt more for Alex than friendship? What would he think of me going out to meet a dude?
I stressed about the meeting with Alex the whole time I was driving. Alternatingly, I worried that Alex might not really like me like I liked him, or I worried that he did like me but he’d hate be because of how I’d treated his sister. Maybe he wouldn’t want to go out with me because I had dated her, slept with her.
“What the fuck am I doing?” I cursed at myself. In addition to being worried about Alex, I worried how my family would react if I started dating a man. Alex’s parents had been shocked at first. They were disappointed. I’d always believed that my folks would support me, but what if they wouldn’t?
“I should turn around.” I signaled left to make a u-turn. Maybe Alex would accept that I had to work or something. It might work. “No. I need to face him. Tell him the truth,” I said out loud. I knew that I had to do better in my relationship with Alex than I had in my relationship with Becky. If he even wanted a relationship with me, that is.
I didn’t make the turn. I kept going until I pulled into the parking lot at the Hole. Alex was already there. He was waiting for me. just inside the bar.
“Took you long enough,” he said.
“What? It’s 7. You left that message at 5. How was I supposed to get here quicker?”
He shrugged “I actually thought you wouldn’t come. I’ve been here just waiting to get a phone call telling me you had to work or something.”
“No. I worked over-time the other day. They wanted me to go home.”
We went to the bar and ordered some drinks. I figured I needed the fortification if I really meant to tell Alex what had happened with Becky. I planned to, but I didn’t want to start the conversation. I waited for him to ask.
“Becky’s pissed at you,” he said. “She’s been crying a lot, too. Did you guys have a fight? Break up? I thought you weren’t dating.”
“We weren’t,” I said. Alex raised an eyebrow. “Not officially, but we did sort of go out sometimes.”
“And?” He gave me a hard stare. I knew he knew there was more to it.
“And we were together the other night. I took her to a show, dinner, the whole works. I felt bad that I’d been neglecting her, you know?”
He nodded and waited for me to continue. I took a drink and looked away.
“I didn’t mean it to happen,” I said finally.
“We had sex,” I admitted, looking down so that I could avoid seeing how he reacted to that news. I didn’t want to know if it would hurt him.
“Well I figured that out, GC,” Alex’s exasperated tone brought my face up and I looked at him. He looked annoyed. He waved his hand, “What else happened? Just having sex wouldn’t make someone cry like she’s been doing.”
“God, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt her.”
“You hurt her?!” Alex set his drink down and looked like he was about to kick my ass.
“No, no! Not like that. I mean, I sort of hurt her feelings. Ok, not sort of. I really hurt her feelings. I let her know that I didn’t love her.”
“Oh,” Alex’s look stayed dark, but he didn’t seem like he was about to take a swing at me anymore. “Well, you shouldn’t have slept with her if you didn’t love her.”
“I know,” I looked ashamed. I was ashamed. “But that’s not all I did. I sort of told her that there was someone else.”
“You what? There is? Why did you sleep with her if you liked someone else?”
“I was in denial,” I tried to explain. “I didn’t want to like this other person. I was trying not to. I knew that Becky loved me, and that I should love her back, but I just couldn’t.”
“That’s bullshit, GC. You either love someone or you don’t. If you didn’t, you should have left her alone. No wonder she’s such a mess. You slept with her and then told her you were in love with someone else.” Alex shook his head at me, disappointed. Unfortunately, he didn’t even know the worst of what I had done.
I motioned Alex to sit down. Then, I drained my drink and ordered another. “There’s more,” I said, when my second drink arrived.
“Becky called me a bastard, and she was right about it. I am. You see, I…I mean, we were…you know… and I sort of…um…I…” I took another swallow. I didn’t want to tell him the next part. This wasn’t how I wanted him to find out how I felt about him.
“Oh God, Alex. This is so hard!”
“Jesus, GC, what more could you have done? You didn’t shout the other girl’s name did you?”
I shook my head yes, and then no, because he’d gotten it only partially right. I downed the rest of my second drink.
“You didn’t?” he asked, incredulous. “Man, that’s low.”
“I know. But there’s more.”
“How can there be more than that?”
“Well…” I gulped in a huge breath and then forced it out. “I didn’t call out a girl’s name….I called out yours.”
Alex spit his drink across the table. “You what?!”
“I called out your name,” I whispered miserably. I refused to meet his eyes. I felt horrible. This was worse than I had expected. When he said nothing, just sat there, I knew there was no way to salvage this. I just knew it.
“Fuck,” Alex finally managed. He wiped at the spilled drink on the table. I nodded, but I didn’t know if he saw it. I couldn’t bring myself to look up.
“What a mess,” Alex said once he finished cleaning up. He tossed his sodden napkins next to the wall. I didn’t think he’d been talking about the spilled drink, though. I knew he meant me and this situation between us and with Becky.
“Look at me GC,” he finally said. His voice was quieter and held a note of concern. I looked up into his violet eyes. “Do you really like me?” he asked. He seemed hesitant, like he wasn’t sure what I’d say.
“You’re sure your not just confused? You’re sure you aren’t just panicking because of Becky saying she loves you?”
“I’m sure.” Alex sounded like his dad, psychoanalyzing me. I smiled faintly.
“How do you know?” Alex demanded. “You had sex with her. A woman. How do you know that you really wanted to be with me, a man?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I was never really that into sex.” I tried to make him understand. “She was the one who wanted to do it. Each time.”
“But you did it. You had sex with her. And you said that she made you come, too.”
I shrugged, looking down again. “It was just physical.”
“But what makes you sure that you like me? Do you want to have sex with me?”
“I don’t know. Yeah, I think so.”
Alex actually looked more pissed off at me than he had when he knew I had hurt his sister. He looked like I had hit him in the gut. “You ‘think so’?” he snarled, reminding me of Becky when she was mad.
“I think so,” I repeated. I didn’t know what else to say. When I looked at Alex, I wanted him. It made me uncomfortable. I’d never wanted Becky. Not really. But I wanted Alex. But I wasn’t sure about the sex. “I’ve never thought of having sex with a man,” I finally said, trying to get him to understand.
“But you want to try it out with me, is that it?”
“No! Not like you’re making it sound. Shit,” I swore. “I can’t explain this very well Alex. I like you. I think about you. Hell, I even dream about you!” I ran a hand through my hair, frustrated.
“You have sex dreams about me?”
I nodded. I looked back at Alex because his voice held a hint of amusement instead of anger. This was another way he was like his sister. She could change emotions just as quickly.
“Were they hot?”
“We were in the shower,” I murmured.
“Hmmmmm,” Alex looked thoughtful, as if he was picturing how we’d be together in the shower. But then he seemed to snap out of it, and he looked at me again, more fiercely, some of that anger back.
“But dreaming about me and wanting to go through with it are two different things. Shit GC. This is like some bad episode of Jerry Simmer. You slept with my sister. I don’t care if you’ve discovered you’re now into guys. There will be no shower scene for us!”
“God, I’m sorry,” I apologized. I knew he was right. We couldn’t be together like that. It would be too weird.
“Me, too,” Alex said.
“Can we at least be friends, still?” I asked. I’d hate it if I lost both of my friends because of my mixed up feelings. I held my breath hoping Alex would agree.
“We’ll try,” he said. “But I don’t think I can see you for a few days. This is too much, too soon. Let Becky get over it. You get over it, too. Hell, I’m going to have to get over this.”
Alex got up and paid for our drinks. I just sat there, miserable, knowing that he was right.
“Don’t go home right away,” Alex told me. “You’ve had too much to drink.”
I nodded as he turned to leave. I raised my hand and ordered another. I wouldn’t go home right away, but I hadn’t had enough to drink either. I’d have the mixologist call me a cab or I’d call TJ to pick me up, but first I was going to get shit-faced drunk.