“Pretty bad,” said Mary. “I hadn’t thought about it, but I shouldn’t be have been surprised. He always trolling people online, or posting rants in Reddit forums and things like that. It’s unsettling because it’s directed at me. I guess I thought he’d forget about me. I mean, it’s obvious he didn’t like me very much.”
“What a piece of work.” Karen drank some coffee. “You were right to ditch him.”
“I know.” Mary laid her phone face down on the table. “It’ll all be over soon, right? I’ll get my stuff and never have to deal with him again.”
“Right.” Karen stood up with her mug. “Let me grab a shower and then we’ll round up the guys and head over. I’d better call Tony and make sure he’s up. And don’t,” she said as Mary leaned forward, “tell us we don’t need to come. We went over that last night.”
Mary stared at the table. “I don’t know. I should be able to do this myself. I don’t have that much stuff. I could call a cab or something.” She’d considered doing that before Karen had gotten up, but she found she couldn’t muster the energy for it. Mary felt emotionally raw, and didn’t like the idea of sneaking around on her new friends; it seemed like lying and she didn’t want to do that.
Karen sat back down. “Mary, look at me.”
With an effort, Mary did, and Karen’s concern and sincerity were apparent.
“If you don’t want us to go, we won’t,” said Karen. “But it isn’t a smart move. I’m sorry to be blunt, but he’s already hit you once, and in public. I’m really afraid of what he’d do if you were alone.”
Mary swallowed back the lump in her throat. “You hardly know me. I am so grateful for what you’ve done already, I feel bad asking for more.”
“You’re not asking, we’re offering. You’re our friend, and we help our friends.”
“A friend of less than twenty-four hours,” Mary noted.
Karen tilted her head. “A friend is a friend. I don’t know who told you there was some kind of time limit on that, but they’re wrong.” She smiled. “You’re not on some kind of probationary friendship period with us. I know we don’t know each other all that well, but there’s no scale that says ‘be this close, help this much.'”
Mary swallowed around a suddenly tight throat. She didn’t think anyone, aside from her father and aunt and cousins, had ever accepted her so unreservedly.
“Okay,” Mary said, then cleared her throat. “You’re right. I’m just used to doing things on my own, but I—I need help this time. I want help, really. I just feel like I shouldn’t.”
Karen smiled and patted Mary’s hand. “You do, and that’s fine, and you’re going to have it.”
Tony woke up early after a fitful night’s sleep and decided he’d try to paint. He went into the guest room he kept as a studio and flipped on the lights. He put a new canvas on the easel and tried to turn his thoughts to colors and designs.
He picked up his palette and glanced at the colors on it. There were a lot of reds, but that wasn’t what he wanted. Reds didn’t work for Mary, he thought.
He barely knew her but couldn’t get her out of his thoughts. Some people might put their thoughts into a journal; Tony put his into paint on canvas.
Mary made him think of cool blues and greens, with flecks of gold like the ones in her eyes, and also, some black. It bled into the other colors as he dabbed some paints and strokes on the canvas. He frowned; he didn’t like to think of her being scared, but he didn’t know what he could do about it.
He put down the paints when his phone chirped. Karen texted, reminding him of the morning plans, and Jackson’s text came next, saying he was ready to go.
Tony drove his pick-up truck to Jackson’s before heading over to get Karen and Mary. The truck had seen better days, but when it came to moving and hauling, it was indispensable. The trusty gray pick-up had been used to move him, Karen, and assorted other people.
He wondered how much stuff Mary would have, and hoped none of it was furniture. The quicker they could be in and out, the better.
“Can we stop for some breakfast?” Jackson asked as he climbed in. “I’m out of food.”
Tony snorted. “You’re not out of food. You’re just lazy. Come on, not even cereal?”
Jackson shook his head. “You are so mean. I’ll forgive you. I’ll put it up to a lousy night’s sleep.”
Tony had to laugh despite himself, even though his friend wasn’t wrong.
“Besides,” said Jackson, “I can’t cook, you know that. And breakfast is my favorite meal.”
“True.” Tony nodded. He’d known Jackson for years and could probably count on one hand the times he’d seen the man even use a microwave.
“What do you think the girls will want?” asked Jackson. “Wait, sorry. The ladies. The women. I shouldn’t say girls.”
“I don’t think they’d care,” said Tony, “but okay. Why don’t you text Karen and ask?”
Jackson jabbed at his phone, which always amused Tony. For some reason his friend seemed to think he needed to whack the phone into submission.
“Karen says she’ll take a sandwich, and Mary said she’s good.”
“Okay. We’ll swing by McDonald’s on the way. It’s easiest.”
“My favorite.” Jackson grinned. “Thanks, man. That gets the day off to a good start.”
“Happy to help.” Tony covered a yawn.
“I was kidding about the lousy night’s sleep,” said Jackson. “You okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Tony didn’t want to admit he’d hardly slept. He’d lain awake, staring at the ceiling or the wall, wondering what had come over him. It was all related to Mary, he didn’t question that. But then he was lost. Did he like her? Was he just feeling sorry for her?
And what next? Say he liked her—there was nothing saying she liked him. She’d been afraid of him, which he’d never intended. In the dark, he’d gone over the afternoon in his head repeatedly and each time his behavior seemed worse. When he’d at last fallen asleep, long past midnight, he had thought he was lucky Mary hadn’t cowered in the corner.
“You’re thinking about Mary,” Jackson said.
“What? What are you talking about? How could you possibly know what I’m thinking?”
“I’d say you’re an open book, but it’s really a matter of deduction.” Jackson held up a hand and ticked off his points with his fingers. “First, you’re going to help a stranger move. You’re a good guy, Tony, but not usually that good. Second, you haven’t been yourself since she came in yesterday. You miscounted the register three times when you closed.”
Tony wanted to protest but couldn’t. Jackson was right.
“Third, I know you feel bad you scared her, because going back to point one, you’re a good guy. So.” Jackson nodded for emphasis. “You were thinking about her, and couldn’t sleep, and are thinking about her now. Am I wrong?”
“No.” Tony sighed. “Nice going, detective.”
They pulled in to the drive thru and Tony ordered, making sure to include a sandwich for Mary. He was willing to bet she needed to eat, and if not, he was sure Jackson would take any extra food.
“What are you going to do about it?” Jackson asked as they drove to Karen’s.
“Mary. The fact that you’re into her. Going to ask her out?”
“Jesus, man. Give her a break. She just broke up with her boyfriend, and he hit her.” Tony was still angry about that. “I seriously doubt she’s looking to go out with anyone at the moment.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Jackson nodded. “She needs a little time.”