“Why’d she call you?” Trey asked dribbling the ball slowly, not looking at his friend.
“Because I’m a police officer?” Darren suggested.
“Who investigates murders and 7-Eleven hold-ups,” Trey said.
“She didn’t know that . . . and what difference does it make? If you were a crime victim in the District, I’d expect you to call me too.”
Trey took a shot from the three-point range, still not looking directly at Darren, controlling his growing impatience.
“That’s not my point,” he said as the ball danced along the rim and failed to go in.
Darren took the ball and attempted the same shot. It went in.
“What is your point?”
“The point is she didn’t call me to let me know my fucking food got stolen, she called you.”
“Don’t get your panties in a bunch, she said she would cover the loss,” Darren said, once again entirely missing the point.
And that was probably just as well, since Trey would have been hard-pressed to explain precisely what was bothering him, if it wasn’t the loss of hundreds of dollars worth of food.
Their one-on-one game turned out to be a lot more aggressive than usual, with both men working up much more of a sweat than they normally did. And Trey told himself that the two or three hard fouls that he inflicted on his best friend had nothing to do with the fact that suddenly, Darren had become Shayla’s preferred shoulder to cry on.
It was late afternoon when Trey got back home. He’d stopped in at the gym on his way, wanting to work off some of the residual energy he still had, even after running back and forth, up and down the court with Darren. It had been a long and grueling work week, with the Chasen case heating up, and Trey had been spending many long hours supervising a crew of junior associates as they reviewed the documents he sent back from San Diego.
It was expensive using in-house associates that way. Generally speaking, they would call in temps to do the review, but Banfield was giving Trey the room to decide stuff like this lately and so he’d made the call to use their own folks. So far, it hadn’t proven to be the most prudent choice. They hadn’t made any eureka discoveries among the hundreds of pages he’d shipped back, though one or two were worth pursuing. Trey was beginning to wonder whether he’d made what amounted to a very costly mistake.
Over the last few days, coming home late and more than a little stressed out, it would have been welcome to sit in the kitchen with Shayla for awhile to talk. But she hadn’t been there the way she normally was, nursing a cup of tea. Instead, Trey heard the faint sound of her television, emanating from the basement. She still couldn’t sleep, it seemed, but had chosen to stay out of the kitchen, out of his space.
He couldn’t say he blamed her completely. He had been somewhat of an ass since his return from San Diego, pointedly ignoring all of her usual gestures, blatantly flouting their routines. Trey hadn’t run with her, eaten with her, or had morning coffee with her since coming back, and today, sending her to Costco on her own was the cherry on top. He knew when he handed over the membership card that he had officially crossed the line into being petty but he did it anyway, not quite knowing how to initiate the ceasefire. Particularly since in this one-sided war, Shayla hadn’t fired a single shot.
Shortly after he took a shower and headed downstairs, Trey could hear movement in the basement. He hadn’t been certain she was home because her car wasn’t in the driveway when he pulled in. Darren told him that she had some damage to her car door, so she’d probably dropped it off to get it taken care of. Trey fussed about in the refrigerator for awhile, grabbing an orange, beginning to peel it with his fingers, waiting for her to come upstairs and explain. The minutes ticked by, but she didn’t show.
He ate the entire orange, washed his hands, drank some water, still waiting. No Shayla.
Damn, you would think she would feel some obligation to tell him what happened.
Finally, he knocked on the basement door and waited. It took her a minute, but she finally opened it. She was wearing shorts and a white tank, and her feet were bare. She’d pulled her braids back and up into a loose, messy ponytail. If he didn’t know better, Trey would say she looked . . . nervous.
“C’mon down,” she invited, leading the way back to her sitting room.
Trey followed without comment and watched as she resumed what looked to have been her previous position on the couch. The television was on with some true crime show on A&E, but the volume had been turned down low. As he watched, Shayla moved to the corner of the sofa furthest from him. There was an emotion in her eyes he couldn’t identify.
“So Darren told me what happened,” he said.
“Sorry. I was about to come up and . . .”
“You should have dropped everything off here before you went into the city,” Trey interrupted her.
“I know,” Shayla said, her voice sounding tiny. “I . . . but I ‘m going to cover it so you won’t be paying twice for . . .”
“Paying twice?” Trey said.
Was that why she looked so apprehensive? She thought he was worried about the fucking money? That was the last thing he was concerned about, and it irritated him that they would think he was so . . . small.
“You won’t have to,” Shayla said quickly. “I’m covering it. I’ll go back a little later and . . .”
“No, I’ll go,” Trey said. “I should have gone in the first place.”
“No,” Shayla looked up at him hastily, her eyes glancing by his, not holding, not quite making contact. “You shouldn’t have to. I messed up, so I’m going to . . .”
“It’s no big deal,” Trey said wearily. “We should have gone together the way we always do. We can do that tonight a couple hours before they close when the crowd thins out some.”
This time Shayla did look directly at him. There was relief in her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said again.
“How’s your car?” he asked. He had been standing this entire time but now ventured to sit at the other end of her sofa. Trey detected a slight tension, a watchfulness about Shayla as he did.
“I had to put it in the shop,” she said. “I had triple A come get it. The door won’t stay shut. Darren tied it off for me but . . .”
“Why didn’t you call me?” Trey said suddenly.
Shayla looked at him and finally shrugged. “You were here at home. Darren’s in DC. Why would I call you?”
Trey felt a resurgence of his earlier irritation and it was betrayed in the pitch of his voice. “Because some of what got stolen was mine? Because I’m your roommate, your friend? Maybe one of those reasons?”
Shayla looked at him and her eyes were watchful again, but otherwise unreadable. She said nothing but he got the distinct impression she was poised for movement, as though prepared to run. Trey’s eyes narrowed and he slid closer. The moment he moved, she was up, standing with her hands slightly up, hovering about her hips. Trey could see her chest moving as she breathed.
Was she . . . frightened?
“Shay,” he said, standing as well. “Wh . . ?”
She took a step backward and Trey moved fast, holding her by the shoulders. Shayla’s breathing was almost labored now and she was cringing at his touch. Trey released her. Shayla lifted her eyes to his for the first time, and Trey watched as something changed in her, like a realization surfacing. She finally relaxed her shoulders, and shook her head.
“I just . . . I thought you might be angry. I was going to . . .”
“Why would I be angry? You got robbed. That wasn’t your fault.”
But as he said it, he felt like a fraud. He had been angry. Not because she got robbed. Not because of the food. Not because of the money. But because she’d called Darren first. Not called him at all, in fact.
“It was a lot of stuff,” she said. “I was stupid to . . .”
“I might have done the same thing,” Trey said, though he seriously doubted it.
“And you have to let me cover the cost.”
“No,” he said. “It wasn’t your fault.”
She was still standing there, still not fully comfortable. Trey knew she would remain that way, as long as he was there. It pained him to realize it. What the hell was it?
“Look, I’ll holla at you later and we’ll go get the shopping done, okay?”
Shayla nodded, and he turned and left.
He probably thought she was some kind of basket-case. But Shayla had been powerless to control her reaction. She was expert at detecting male anger. From the moment she heard his car, and the way he shut the door, she knew Trey was irritated. He hadn’t even slammed it, but she knew. And as she listened to his footsteps above, the way he dropped his keys, the coiled awareness inside her unfurled itself. She almost expected him to break down the basement door to get to her, to come raging into her sitting room.
But she knew it was all in her head. That was not Trey; that was someone else entirely. Still, when he’d knocked and Shayla saw his face she could feel that he was not pleased with her, and then she heard it in his voice. The room suddenly felt small and the old instinct to map out her escape options had been revived. Cross the room and up the stairs; over the couch and into the bathroom. Or past him and into the bedroom, locking the door behind her. And another option: toward the rear door out into the yard. In a span of time no longer than three seconds, she considered all the routes available to her should she need to flee. She did this even as her rational mind told her: this is not Justin.
The problem was that all week she’d been tense. She’d known Trey was annoyed with her and while his avoidance of her had been uncomfortable, it had also been preferable to facing an emotion that could easily morph into anger. The slow build of tension had felt all too familiar. That was how it had been with Justin. Something very small could build and build for days, sometimes even weeks, and when the eruption came, the initial irritant was irrelevant and all that mattered was his rage and the outlet for it.
It took a few minutes before Shayla was able to comfortably take her place on the sofa once again and once she had, she recalled the look on Trey’s face. When he left, he’d been aware of her fear and thought he was the reason for it.
She sighed. She regretted that he believed that, but there was no way to explain without telling him more than she wanted him to know. So she would leave it alone and hope that he would forget it, or even begin to second-guess himself and decide that he was wrong and had misinterpreted her jumpiness as fear when it was something else entirely.
It’s not your fault, he’d said. He said it a few times, reminding her of another time when she’d heard that over and over, adding to her feeling of being disconnected from the present and catapulted once again into an unpleasant past.
Shayla turned the volume back up on the television and stretched her legs out in front of her, turning her attention once again to the program she’d been watching. She didn’t know how long it took, but she must have fallen asleep because the next thing she knew, she was back in Charlottesville. It was one of those dreams where you know it’s a dream, but you can’t make yourself come to wakefulness. Like a persistent memory that your mind refuses to purge.
In the dream she was coming home from class, turning the key in the apartment door. Inside she could hear furtive movement, shuffling. And when the door opens, Justin is inside but he is not alone. With him is a young woman who looks vaguely familiar. She is scrambling to right her blouse and she glances up at Shayla as she enters, her expression a mix of embarrassment and defiance. She brushes past Shayla as she leaves, leaving in her wake a sweet, perfume.
What’re you doing home so early? Justin asks, and his voice is hostile, as though she’s the one who was caught doing something wrong.
It’s not early, she retorts. This is the time I always come home.
For a moment it seems as though he’s about to argue with her but thinks better of it. She feels her own anger begin to boil.
I think you wanted me to catch you, she says. You like it when you see this look on my face. You enjoy it.
I don’t know what you’re talking about, he says.
As he makes as though to push past her, heading for the door himself, she feels a sense of desperation. She wonders whether he’s going after the girl who was just there. It heightens her sense of humiliation. In one reckless moment, she reaches for him and grabs his arm to stop him. He turns, and raises a fist.
“No!” Shayla screamed herself awake, sitting upright and breathing hard, immediately aware of where she is.
That wasn’t so bad. Not like some of the others. At least this time, she knew it was a dream. That was the thing. She knew it wasn’t happening . . . though her breathing has yet to slow.
As she was thinking this, holding on to that tiny sliver of optimism, she heard the door and then Trey’s steps on the stairs, running. Moments later he burst into the room, his face frantic. His eyes darted about, looking around and finally toward the back door.
Shayla stood shaking her head.
“It was just a bad dream,” she said holding up a hand toward him. “I sometimes . . . It was just a bad dream.”
Trey’s shoulders sagged and relief crossed his features as he looked at her. And then he was coming closer, concern etched on his face.
“You okay?” he asked.
His voice was gentle. He advanced closer, but very slowly. Poor guy probably thought she might bolt, given her nutty behavior earlier. Wanting to reassure him, Shayla went toward him herself so that they were mere inches apart. She looked up into his face, attempting a smile.
“Just a bad dream,” she said again.
And to her surprise, Trey’s hand came up and he was brushing her cheek with his thumb. She hadn’t even realized there were tears on her face. That happened sometimes with these dreams of Justin. She almost didn’t notice it anymore. At the end there, in those last few months, she could feel the tears threatening to surface almost as soon as he entered the room, anticipating the pain, be it physical or emotional.
“What’s wrong, Shay?”
He could tell. He knew there was something more going on besides a bad dream. She prayed he thought it was just post-traumatic stress from being robbed or something. She gave a half-shrug, marveling at the gentleness of his touch, his fingers on her face. It made her hold her breath.
“Why didn’t you call me?” he asked her softly.
For a moment she was confused and then she realized that he was referring to this morning again, to The Great Grocery Heist. Shayla felt a spark of frustration.
“Trey, Darren’s a cop. And he’s . . .”
“I don’t want you to call Darren when you need something,” he said, his voice unexpectedly vehement. “I want you to call me.”
The way he said it got her attention and she looked up at him, directly into his eyes.
“Call me,” he said, softer this time.