Bethany awoke in a large, comfortable bed with several fluffy pillows and a big comforter wrapped around her. It was dark, but her eyes could make use of the dim light coming through a window behind a heavy curtain. She listened. Silence.
She moved her head and could see a lamp at the bedside. She reached over, and after some brief fumbling, found the switch at the base. Her eyes squinted at the light, but soon adjusted to its cool bluish glow. The whole room was blue – the walls, the pillowcases, the comforter, all an appealing midnight blue. She sat up, fluffing a pillow against her back, and rubbed her eyes. She looked to the window with its heavy midnight blue curtains and could see what appeared to be a streetlight outside. It was night. She looked at the bed next to her and saw that she was alone. She looked at the nightstand upon which the single lamp stood. No clock. She opened the little drawer, but it was empty. She figured she shouldn’t be snooping anyway. She was a guest, and so far, her host had been nothing but kind to her. He had saved her from an attack that would have otherwise been horrible and scarring, he had bought her breakfast, and he had given her a safe and wonderfully comfortable place to get some desperately needed sleep. Her internal clock told her that she must have slept for at least twelve hours. She shifted and felt something hard at her side. She reached down and produced her knife, lying open next to her. No blood on it, she saw, so that was good. She closed it and set it on the nightstand.
She didn’t have a very clear memory of the Uber ride. She had fallen asleep in the back of the car and had woken up when Adriel had opened her door and she had gotten out in front of a row of townhouses. From the look of the area they were somewhere near Highland Park, just up from the Pittsburgh Zoo. She had half-slept-walked behind him up to the front door, and sort of remembered leaning on him as he unlocked it. Once inside, he had shown her directly to the bedroom, showed her the bathroom, and a long blue robe that was hanging behind the bathroom door.
“Make yourself at home,” he had said, “Do whatever you need to do.” She had fallen directly into the bed, dimly hoping that he didn’t fall in with her, but not really caring at this point. All he had said was, “Just shout if you need anything,” and he had closed the door. He then re-opened it to let her know that it locked on her side, but she was already out.
Now she looked around the room, noticed the comfy blue robe still hung on the back of the bathroom door, and she was still fully dressed, except for her shoes which she had apparently managed to kick off. She lifted the covers. Her pants were still on, and still dirty. She checked the sheets, hoping none of the dirt from her pants had transferred there. They looked rumpled but clean. With some effort, she threw the heavy comforter aside and swung her legs over the side of the bed. She yawned, scratched her head, and wondered if she could take a shower. She had nothing to change into, but there was the robe… no, she figured, that was a little too forward. Although she felt well-rested, she still didn’t feel comfortable enough to get naked and wet in this weirdo’s house, kind though he was. She got up and went to the bathroom and turned on the light. She checked her face in the mirror. She still looked like hell. Her hair was a mess, and there was some dried blood on her lower lip. Out of habit, she opened the medicine cabinet. Inside she found a brand-new toothbrush, still in its original packaging, and a small travel-sized bottle of mouth wash, still with the plastic seal around the cap. After a brief hesitation, she cracked the seal and helped herself to a shot of the mouthwash as her eyes ran over the rest of the cabinet’s contents. Dental floss, disposable razors, one toothbrush travel case. She didn’t bother to open it, figuring it contained a used toothbrush. There was also a blister packet of pills of some kind, but with no markings. It was a ten-pack, and three of them had been popped. She closed the cabinet and spit into the sink. She ran the tap and rinsed her mouth with water. She noticed a jar of that blue liquid that barbers keep, Barbasol, sitting on the sink, and inside it was two black combs. She thought about using one on her rat’s nest but ended up just rearranging it as best as she could with her fingers. She eyed the shower. It was a glass booth with an appealing array of nozzles and buttons, probably a massager. She splashed a little water on her dry eyes and drank a little water from the tap. The bathroom looked unused, so she figured Adriel had been telling the truth about being new in town. He must have just moved into this place. She tried to rearrange her clothing, make herself look a little less street-weary, gave up, and decided she would see if Adriel was about.
She walked along the hardwood floor, slipped on her shoes, and opened the bedroom door as quietly as she could, but that never works. The hinges screamed an alarm and the cracking of her stiff ankle sounded like a gunshot. She stepped out into a short hallway, past two closed doors on either side, and down a short bending staircase, her hand sliding along the smooth polished wood of the banister. At the bottom of the stairs, she could see the end of a sofa with two feet protruding over it. As she came around the corner, a floorboard creaked, and Adriel sat up on the sofa, closing a book he had been reading.
“Ah, you’re awake!” he said. “Can I offer you anything? The kitchen’s just in there…”
“Hi,” she managed. She felt a little embarrassed for her condition, but he knew what she had been through recently. Still, she felt badly that she didn’t even have a change of clothes. She had lost her bag to the thieves at the shelter. She had a backpack stashed in a locker at the shelter, but a lot of good that did her here.
He stood up. “Let me get you some juice, and then you can shower if you like. As I said, you should make yourself at home. Make use of this place.”
“Thank you,” she said, following him into the kitchen. “Really, thank you so much. I don’t want to be any more trouble. You’ve already been so nice…”
“Don’t mention it,” he said, opening the fridge, taking out a bottle of orange juice, and in one smooth turn, opening a cabinet and removing a clean glass. “Besides, you will need to be rested and ready for what’s to come, so whatever you need… make use.”
He poured orange juice into the glass and slid it across the counter to her. She took it.
“What’s to come?” she asked. “What are you talking about? My triumphant return to the streets?”
He sat at the table and gestured to the chair across from his. “No, you won’t be returning to the streets,” he said. “Unless you want to, of course.”
She sat down sideways in the chair, holding the orange juice in her lap. “You don’t want me staying here,” she said, looking down at the glass and feeling embarrassed to have even mentioned staying.
“No,” he said. “Neither of us will be staying here. This is a temporary location.”
“Don’t you live here?” she asked. “I mean, it looks like you just moved in…”
“I did,” he said, “and it will soon be time to move on. A person in my line of work doesn’t stay in one place for too long.” He looked around the kitchen like he was seeing it for the first time. “Not here, anyway.”
She was looking at him now, and she thought he seemed a little sad.
“I don’t get it,” she said. He looked at her.
“You do,” he said. “You just haven’t realized it.”
She figured she knew what he meant. He had said that he was new here, he couldn’t get involved in anything official, he couldn’t talk to the police… this wasn’t even his world, according to him. So either he was certifiably crazy, or he was essentially an illegal alien. Either way, he probably couldn’t stay in this townhouse. It probably wasn’t even his.
“If I were to look in the basement of this place,” she asked, hoping she sounded like she was joking, “I wouldn’t find the corpses of the owners of this house, would I?”
He grinned. His eyes twinkled a bit when he did this, and she noticed he had brown eyes. Normal brown eyes with whites and all. She remembered the night before when she had thought they had looked all black under the streetlights. Now his eyes were looking straight into hers.
“Bethany, there are two things you need to know about me,” he said, “And you need to know that I take these two things very seriously. They are the rules that I live by. Rule one, never hurt any other sentient being, physically or emotionally. If I do, and I will – I am human, after all, and I make mistakes – I will apologize.”
“What about those two guys from last night?” she asked. “You fucked them up pretty good.”
“They had it coming, and I was acting in your defense. If I see them again, I will apologize.”
“Don’t bother!” she said, swirling her orange juice. “They deserved it.”
“Yes, they did. Rule two, I never enforce my opinions, beliefs, or ideologies on anyone.”
“But what about all the stuff you were telling me…”
“I was just sharing ideas, things that I believe to be true, things I believe you need to know, but you don’t have to believe them.” He sat back in his chair. “Who knows? I could be wrong.”
“Do you believe them?”
He held her gaze as he said, “With all my heart.”
She almost said, “Me, too,” but figured it would sound like she was seeking approval, so she just finished her orange juice in one swallow and set the glass down on the table. He scooped it up and delivered it into the sink.
“So this isn’t your house, though?” she asked.
“No, this house is leased under another name, the name of someone who helped send me here. It’s legitimate, but still, not a permanent arrangement. I’m not planning to stay more than another seventy-three hours.”
Forty-eight hours. That was when she was supposed to check back with the police about her case. More like thirty-six hours now. She found that she wasn’t too concerned about it at the moment.
“Where will you go next?” she asked. “Back to your own world?”
He glanced back at the refrigerator, and slowly nodded his head, lips pursed, as if contemplating his options. “Perhaps. In the meantime, you need to make use of this place. I took the liberty of stepping out while you slept and making some purchases.” He walked back out into the living room. She followed. “Based on your current style and size, I bought you some new clothes.” He lifted a large bag from H&M from an armchair and handed it to her. “I’m afraid I’m not the best at shopping for ladies’ wear, but I tried to get something similar to what you have on now.”
She looked in the bag. Inside was a fresh hoodie jacket, a midnight blue sweater that reminded her of the comforter she had slept in, socks, a white T-shirt, assorted undergarments, all with the tags still on them.
“Oh, my god!” she said. “You didn’t have to do this! You could have just sent me back to the shelter, I have a bag…”
“You’ll feel better in fresh clothes,” he said. “Trust me. More like yourself. And that’s what we need.”
“We?” she said. “Who’s ‘we’?”
“You and I.” He sat in the armchair. “Do you remember everything I was telling you before you fell asleep?”
“About the origins of humans, the Biblical stuff?” she nodded. “Yeah.” Somewhat, she thought.
“There’s a lot more. That’s just a brief recap of the story so far. There’s a lot more ground to cover, and if you choose to assist me, then you’re going to need to be in peak mental condition.” He sat forward and tugged at the corner of the large bag she was still holding. “You’re going to need to feel comfortable.”
She looked in the bag again. New clothes smelled so good…
“If I choose to assist you?” she asked. “Assist you with what?”
He sat back, sighing deeply. “Why don’t you hit the showers first? I find an aquatic environment helps prepare the mind. If you hadn’t noticed, there is a fresh toothbrush in the bathroom of the Master bedroom – the one you were in.” He nodded at the bag in her hand. “There is another bag of assorted toiletries at the bottom you may find useful.” She looked back in the bag, and moving the bulkier items aside, she saw a bag from CVS at the bottom.
“I don’t really know,” Adriel said, “but I did my best.”