The next thing I knew, I heard Audioslave’s “Like a Stone”. My phone’s ringtone. I swept a hand out to it, my eyes still shut, only a quarter of the way awake. When my hand slid across what felt like smooth, cold stone, I woke up a little more and forced my eyes open.
It took me a few seconds to figure out what I was looking at: the toe kick of one of my dark blue kitchen cabinets. And a small piece of almond, a runaway from Sunday night’s salad. I was curled on my right side on the kitchen floor, slowly becoming aware that my shoulder and hip were aching from being pressed against the hard ceramic tiles for God knew how long. It was daylight, I knew that much. Maybe late morning. I was naked, but that wasn’t a concern. I slept naked.
I sat up, wincing because every muscle in my body was sore. I felt like I’d done an intense workout, one of the punishing ones I did to drive away the cravings and the feeling that I’d utterly and irrevocably screwed up my life. The phone finally shut up. I swept a hand through my hair.
Okay. I’d gone to sleep in my very own bed, and I’d . . . what? Sleepwalked? To the kitchen.
Why had I sleepwalked to the kitchen? Why had I sleepwalked, period? That was a first. I prepared to stand up, and my hand touched something. I looked to my left. It was a pink styrofoam tray, the sort that grocery stores package meat in. I stood up, bent over to pick it up. The thin plastic wrap that had protected it was balled up on the quartz countertop by the microwave.
I tossed the tray into the kitchen sink and took a couple steps to the refrigerator, already knowing what I would find when I pulled open the door: the package of lean ground beef, my planned cheeseburger dinner, was gone. I closed the door. I had to pee. And check my phone.
I hit the bathroom first, splashed some cold water on my face, and then sat on the edge of the bed. I picked up the phone. Fifteen minutes past noon on Tuesday. What time had I made it to bed? Nine, I thought. I’d fallen asleep almost as soon as my head touched the pillow and slept for fifteen hours.
David had been the missed call. He’d called twice, the first time at nine-thirty, and somehow I’d slept through that one. He’d sent a couple of texts after that, before this recent call. There were voicemails too, but I skipped them and read the texts. Standard stuff, he was on-duty, now he was off and too wound up to sleep, did I want to hang out.
I took a deep breath and called him back. He answered on the third ring.
“Hey, how was your night?” I asked. I ran my tongue over my teeth. Was it my imagination, or could I taste raw hamburger?
“Uneventful, thank God. How was your day?”
Jesus, that might be raw hamburger I was tasting. “Kind of a bust. We only nabbed two guys.”
“Too bad.” A pause, then: “I don’t want to be ‘that guy’, but why didn’t you answer any of my texts? Or call me back?”
I was trying very hard not to lie to him anymore, so I said, “I was asleep. I just woke up.” I stood up and went into the master bathroom.
“What time did you go to bed?”
I opened the medicine cabinet, pulled out the Scope. “Uh, nine, I think. Around nine.” I spun off the cap and took a big mouthful, swished it around.
“Nine? You mean nine at night, right? So you slept for . . . fifteen hours?”
I did a final swish, then spat into the sink. “Yeah. I have no idea how that happened. I haven’t slept that much since that time I had the flu.” I wanted to tell him that I had woken up on the kitchen floor, that I had apparently eaten raw hamburger meat, and had been bitten by a werewolf. I had promised him no more lies, after all. But if he didn’t ask me where I had woken up, what I had eaten, and whether or not a werewolf had bitten me, there were no lies to tell, right?
David considered a moment, then said, “Are you okay?”
If I was indulging in piss-poor rationalization, then he was . . . doing something I had no words for. But there was more to those three words than just Are you okay?
“I’m not using.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
Bullshit. “Well, just so you know.”
He blew out breath. The connection crackled. “Elizabeth, I wasn’t accusing you. I’m concerned, that’s all. You usually don’t sleep that much. Maybe you’re coming down with something?”
Yeah, full moon fever. “Maybe. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. You want to get lunch?”
“I’m not hungry. Raincheck for dinner tonight? You can pick.”
“Oh wow, Christmas came early! Anywhere I want?”
I narrowed my eyes. David had a fascination with hole-in-the-wall places that shut down one step ahead of the health inspector. “I get one refusal.”
“Deal. I’ll pick you up at six?”
“Sure. I’ll try to stay awake.”
– – – – –
Dinner plans made, I returned to the kitchen, not bothering to get dressed. Nudity is a perk of living alone. I tossed the styrofoam tray and the plastic wrap in the garbage can, then leaned over the sink, wondering if I should make myself vomit. I didn’t feel sick to my stomach. Thinking about eating the meat—the smell and texture of it—didn’t nauseate me. I’d rinsed out my mouth, sure, but fifteen hours of sleep plus raw hamburger made for some potent morning breath. It hadn’t been because of what I had eaten. The taste of it hadn’t bothered me. It should have, though.
I drank some orange juice, then decided to see what Molly was up to.
– – – – –
Molly Price opened the door a few seconds after I pressed the doorbell. She smiled, then her shoulders sagged. “Today? Really?”
I was dressed in Nikes, blue shorts, and a gray Houston Astros T-shirt, an outfit that my next-door neighbor hated. “Just if you’re free. And if you feel like it.”
She grimaced. “I thought today was a rest day.”
“It is. Like I said, just if you feel like it.”
She considered a moment. “It’s too early. We usually go at six. It’ll be too hot.”
I stayed silent. Finally, she huffed and said she’d go change.
I entertained her yellow Labrador, Mojo, while she dressed. Molly had asked me in January to help her lose weight; she was close to my height, five-eight, but weighed close to three hundred pounds. Walking was the only activity she was interested in, and there was a small park with a paved walking track about two blocks from our houses, so we’d walk to the park and then do some laps. Four times around the track equalled one mile. I’d gotten her up to one mile, then two, and finally three. I was trying to get her into the gym, get her on the weights and the elliptical, but so far she’d balked. She’d lost weight, but not enough, she said. She wasn’t ready for the looks she was sure she’d get, despite my promises to go with her.
So I stuck with the walking. I really wanted to do three miles, but based on the look I’d gotten earlier, I figured I’d be lucky to get her to do half that. And she was right, it was hot, but the park was named Pine Forest Community Park for a reason; there wasn’t exactly a forest of loblolly pines, but there were enough to keep the majority of the asphalt track shaded, even at one in the afternoon, and I had plenty of bottled water in the small daypack on my back.
When she finally plodded out, it was in track pants and a T-shirt.
I gave Mojo one last scratch behind his ears, then said, “You might want to wear shorts.”
“Well, I can’t. Because they’re in the dirty clothes, because I thought we weren’t doing this today.”
Now I wanted to bail, at least on her. But she’d pulled this crap before on multiple occasions, and she had said, when we’d first started, that she wanted someone who wouldn’t let her off the hook. She wanted a drill sergeant, a bitch.
Bitch I could be. I said, “It’ll be fine. I’ve got the water. Let’s head out.”
– – – – –
We made it twice around the track before she gave up. There was no pep talking her into continuing. I followed her out of the park and onto Mockingbird Lane, our home street.
I gave her a minute or so alone, then fell into step beside her. “Okay, Molly, what’s going on?”
She drank some water, then said, “I’m not into it today.”
“I can see that. Any reason why? I know it was a surprise, but you did say before that you were fine to go pretty much any time.”
She tucked the water bottle into a pocket of her track pants and then said, “I’m nervous. That’s all. Steve’s sister is giving us her baby.”
“Giving you her baby?”
Molly nodded. Her curly black hair was damp with sweat, and she ran her hands through it as she said, “She’s having some problems. Financial problems. She says she can’t take care of him, so . . . We get to be parents.” She ended the sentence with a grin. “What do you think about that? God sure does work in mysterious ways.”
“I guess so,” I said.
I did remember, even in the depths of my self-absorption, that Molly had mentioned numerous times how much she wanted a child. She said she’d been in a car wreck when she was a teenager and it had messed things up. She didn’t go into more detail than that, but once, when she’d lifted her shirt to wipe sweat off her face, I had glimpsed a network of scars on her belly.
“I can’t wait,” she said. “We should have him by the weekend.”
“Well, hey, congratulations! But this won’t get you out of walking. They make strollers especially for that.”