Truth Be ToldBy: Holly Ryan
The relieving sight of Lorelei brushes all other thoughts aside, including ones of the man who helped me. I slide out of his hand and run to her with the last of my remaining strength. “Lorelei,” I breathe. It feels so good to be back in her familiar presence.
“Stella?” She turns from the man she’d been talking and smiling with. Things have remained casual here, without a hint of drama. She had no idea I was in any trouble. “What’s wrong?”
I hold my forehead. I’m exhausted, and I need to find my boss to report all this to her and to take the rest of the night off. After I do that, there’s nothing I want more than to get home, lock my door, and slip out of this outfit and into a hot bath with candles, a good book, and a big slice of cherry pie.
“You’re freezing,” she says. “What happened?”
The fire truck must have arrived several minutes ago because the alarm now shuts off. The firemen start to exit the building and give everyone the all-clear to head back inside.
“Here. We need to get you in where it’s warm,” she continues, briskly rubbing my shoulders up and down from underneath the fabric covering me. I didn’t realize how cold I truly am. I feel hot. I guess adrenaline will do that to you. The coat is helping now, though. It was already warm when he put it on me, and the silk interior feels comforting and smooth against my skin. I stop.
I’m about to explain what happened to Lorelei, but my mind comes back to life. I remember what happened, who helped me. I turn, scanning the crowd for any sight of him. I can’t see much through the crowd as they try to make their way back inside the building, but finally I spot a tall man with dark, mussy hair. He’s walking away from the building and crowd with his hands in his pockets and his head down… and he doesn’t have a coat on. I rush up and touch the sleeve of his upper arm. The man looks over his shoulder and then pulls away from me.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I say, my stomach dropping. It’s not him.
He scans my body as he continues walking away, no doubt surprised to see a woman approach him who’s dressed – or rather, undressed – the way I am, and then he shakes his head and leaves me.
I turn back around.
It’s safe to say my heart is somewhat broken; I desperately want to thank the man, not to mention return what he kindly gave me. But really, the biggest part of me desperately wants to learn what it was about him when I saw him watching me dance – why he acted so mysteriously, and why he disappeared so quickly once he knew I was watching.
And especially why, minutes later, he reappeared when he did.
Although no words were exchanged between us, he ignited something inside me in the midst of my dance, in that moment of confusion, and he ignited it further still when he pulled me to safety, away from those who were dead set on hurting me.
I’m alone now. Most everyone has returned to the club, and from here I can hear the music resume. The bass pumps through my chest. I’m about to return to Lorelei when I hear the screech of tires. I turn, holding his coat closed so tightly around me that it strains against the nape of my neck. I’m just in time to see a black BMW sedan speed its way out of the parking lot, pull out into the dark, empty street and in the blink of an eye, disappear down the road.
I sit up in bed, startled by a sudden pounding against my bedroom window. I fling off the covers and walk the few feet from the bed to the window, drawing open the curtains and peering outside. It’s storming out, and the tree that lives on this side of the house whips in the wind.
My father planted that tree before he passed, leaving his business to me, and that tree has been through exactly one hundred and forty-two storms. Major storms, at least. That tree is one tough son of a bitch. My father was a self-taught meteorologist; it was a kind of quirky hobby of his, and one that he shared with me at each possible opportunity while I was growing up. The numbers of those opportunities just so happened to reach one hundred and forty-two until finally, one day, there were no more available to us.
We haven’t had a big storm like this since he passed.
One hundred and forty-three, I think to myself.