My first attempt at a novel. Chapter 4.
Gerty’s was the best place to get hamburgers in town. During high school, it had been the only place, but Nera had noticed several well-known fast food chains between here and the station, all boasting lower prices than Gerty’s, yet there was still a line to the door when she and Scott walked in. Her hunger threatened to overtake her before they could get to the counter, but she’d managed to hold it together, and was still humming the new song of happiness when she finally ordered her Gerty burger: a cheeseburger with extra pickles, just as she had always ordered it while she was in high school.
Nera had made it through her time at the station, though her stomach growled halfway through her statement. She had felt the sergeant’s glossy eyes glaring at her from his desk in the corner. She and Scott—Detective Michaels—had passed by it on their way to Detective Michaels’ desk, and the sergeant had seemed somewhat shocked to see her there again, all smiles and lightly giggling with his junior officer. She couldn’t help but notice the fast food wrappers sticking out of the top of the desk drawer and the greasy spots on some of the very official looking papers there. Even his nameplate was crusted over with some dried special sauce obscuring the letter “s” in his name leaving it to read “Sergeant Dicker_on.”
As filthy as Sergeant Dickerson’s desk was, Detective Michaels’ desk was clean. His deep green desk blotter was perfectly centered, with the matching pen and card holders at precise forty-five degree angles from the left corner. A mesh desk organizer sat on the right side of the desk, barely overlapping the blotter just enough to hold it down. In the various sections, Scott had sorted and color coded his different cases by status.
Every time she looked, she could see the influence of a military training on that boy. The orderliness of his desk, the shortness of his haircut, the clip of his walk, all screamed well-trained soldier. Even now, the way he had ordered his food and the manner in which he stood perfectly straight at attention while waiting for her to be seated belied his military training.
So why wasn’t he still in the military?
“You’re in an awfully good mood, considering,” Scott said as they sat in a recently vacated booth by the window. He pulled a napkin from the holder along the wall and wiped down the table himself. At Gerty’s, waiting for a clean table meant you might not get a place to sit.
“I’m trying not to think about the sad parts,” Nera responded. She knew that after lunch she’d have to get down to business. She still had a funeral to finish planning for, and she’d been avoiding the persistently vibrating phone in her tiny handheld purse since before they arrived at the station. “I want to enjoy myself before I get mired down in the funeral stuff.”
Scott’s eyes darted away out of embarrassment while he crushed the napkin he’d been using in his hand, causing the veins in his forearm to bulge and twitch. “I’m sorry,” he said in an earnest apology. For a cop, he wore his emotions like a neon sign.
“There’s no need to be sorry,” Nera said, touching his arm lightly with her fingertips. Her tan fingertips contrasted on his pale, freckled skin, skin that was tough and weathered from his time out in the elements. She saw him shiver lightly at the touch.
Yes, he would be easy to break. Nera found herself thinking about how fun it would be to run her hand over that short cropped head of his, wondering if it would be soft, or bristly. She could see it in her mind’s eye, slowly climbing into his lap her breasts inches from his face, while both her hands ran over and down the sides of his head just behind the ears and then bringing her face to his for a slow, sensual kiss. She imagined him grabbing her, surprisingly gentle given how toned and hard his arms and chest looked.
She felt the flush rise in her cheeks, and Scott shivered again as he pulled his arm away from her.
A deep cough from nearby brought her back to reality hard and fast as Bobby Kippeli, dressed in an overpriced suit, slid into the booth next to her, roughly pushing her over, almost slamming her head into the window. Nera noticed a blur of black and the glint of something shiny out of the corner of her eye as her head wobbled from the sudden jostling.
“Imagine running into you here, Nera my dear!” He’d regained his salesman voice from the night before. It was uncharacteristically fake of him, sounding like some stuffy businessman who was drinking a bourbon on his yacht instead of just a local boy running into his ex at the local diner.
“Hi, Bobby,” Nera said, the annoyance prevalent in her voice. She really hated this new Bobby. What had happened to the sweet boy she’d known? The one who was always thoughtful of everyone he met and who would never have interrupted two people the way he just did.
“Whoa!” Bobby snickered, showing that sadistic grin of his. “Nera, put that attitude on a leash! We wouldn’t want your friend here to see your dark side.”
He nodded at Scott with a wink and extended his hand. “Bob Kippeli; Nera and I go way back.”
“Detective Scott Michaels,” Scott said with a nod, but not accepting Bobby’s hand, “and I know who you are. We had Trig together for a semester.”
“Senior year? So you graduated with us, did ya?”
Bobby grabbed a fry from Scott’s plate and dipped it into the ketchup on Nera’s.
“No, I was a sophomore,” Scott said calmly, though Nera saw the muscles in his jaw clench.
“That explains it,” Bobby said, reaching over Nera to grab the salt.
“Explains what?” Nera asked as she grabbed the salt out of his hand before he could pour it on either her or Scott’s plate.
“Why I don’t remember him,” Bobby said, giving Nera an astonished look. “We were pretty much stoned all senior year.”
“Bobby!” Nera’s annoyance was quickly turning to anger.
“I can say that to you, right?” Bobby asked, casually crossing his arms in front of him on the table. “I figure the statute of limitations is well past for anything we did in high school, and besides, it’s practically legal now anyway.”
“I’m fairly certain that’s not how it works, Bobby,” Nera said through clenched teeth. “Have you ordered yet? Or did you just come in to be a pain in the ass?”
“It’s true, I saw you through the window and thought I’d come in to say hello. I wasn’t planning on staying, but if you’re inviting me to stay for lunch, I’d be happy to.”
He stood and turned to go to the counter, but before he could take a single step, Scott was in front of him.
“I’m pretty sure,” Scott said with the authoritative tone of a cop “that it wasn’t an invitation.” He added as he casually placed one hand on Bobby’s chest and the other on his gun. “Miss Attwater’s had a rough morning and, as I’m sure you are aware, her week’s not going to get any easier. I believe she’s got a busy day ahead of her and doesn’t need you interrupting it further.”
Bobby let his salesman mask slip for a moment as he glared at the cop. He ventured to lean forward in an attempt to establish dominance in the same way that rams stand off before they butt heads to prove which is the alpha male. In response, Scott clicked the top of his holster open to make it easier to draw his weapon.
The two stood there in a stale mate of alpha maleness for what seemed like forever. Just as Nera was sure it was going to end with her calling Bobby’s family lawyers to bail him out of prison, he pulled back.
“Well, I guess she’s in good hands,” Bobby said, slipping the salesman mask back on.
“She is,” Scott replied, snapping his holster shut once more and removing his hand from Bobby’s chest.
Over his shoulder Bobby asked Nera, “Is he going to help you pick out a suit for your dad? That why you didn’t need my help?”
“I hadn’t thought about it,” Nera muttered. “I was just enjoying my lunch.”
The sadness threatened to overcome her then. Bobby always brought back the sadness in her. The memories of how good they had been when young, but how irresponsible he’d been. She could see now that he hadn’t grown up at all. For all his talk of being a well-established, fully functioning adult, he was still really just the boy from down the street who liked to pull her hair and make her cry.
Her plate became blurry through the tears that threatened to spill forth from her eyes. She stared at the fries that quickly became a golden blob as she tried to will the tears not to fall. Nera knew that blinking would shake loose the first tears, and once they began to fall, she wouldn’t be able to hold them back.
Bobby turned around to look at her, and the sudden movement made her snap her head up just as she had almost regained control of her tear ducts. A single tear fell out of each eye as she looked up at her former lover. His shoulders slumped visibly and the silence between them became a chasm.
“I’ve disappointed you,” he said after a second that seemed to last eons. “I’ll go.”
Nera couldn’t speak. She just nodded and then looked back at her plate. She began counting the fries, trying to think of anything except Bobby. She heard him walk away, his patent leather shoes clip clopping as he stomped out of the restaurant. As busy as it was, she could hear every step. She counted her fries in time to his footsteps even after he’d gone.
She had felt Scott slide into the booth beside her, but she couldn’t look at him yet. Her emotions were running rampant lately. Every moment seemed to bring either a crisis or a blessing. She was swinging wildly from ecstasy to anguish, and her heart threatened to give out from the constant back and forth. Even now, she was torn between the sadness of her encounter with Bobby and the excitement of the potential with Scott. She hadn’t felt this confused about her own emotions since high school.
“Something about this place makes me a basketcase,” she whispered, more to herself than to Scott.
“Gerty’s?” he asked in an attempt to ease the mood. “If I’d have known it would have this effect on you, I would have taken you somewhere else.” He chuckled lightly while he placed a hand on her shoulder.
Nera sensed the hesitation. Just as he hadn’t been sure how to check for a fever, he was trying to determine how to touch her to appropriately comfort her. He began to move his hand in something that was part pat, part rub. His kindness made her smile.
“You’re not used to comforting people, are you?” she asked.
“Not pretty girls, no,” he said.
“Well, you’re doing pretty good, you must be a natural,” she said, leaning into him, forcing him to put his arm around her.
In the reflection in the window, she saw his face brighten into a beautiful shade of beet red. She stayed there, nibbling on her fries, which were getting colder by the moment, giving him time to regain his natural coloring, and then Nera sat up to devour her burger.