I just sat there after that trying to absorb what little I had learned. I realized with a start that Cal was leaning on me awfully heavy and from there realized that he had fallen asleep.
I got up but when I tried to ease him over so he could sleep on the sofa he startled awake and I barely had time to squawk before he had me in a headlock.
“God Aria, are you OK? I didn’t mean …”
Trying not to give into the urge to rub my throat I told him, “Only part of my just desserts for shooting you.”
Impatiently he said, “It was just a knick and I don’t want to hear anything else about it.”
We walked upstairs together after Cal had satisfied himself once again that none of the doors or windows had magically become unlocked. He followed me to my room and then checked the windows in there but instead of leaving he said, “I’ll be right back. I’m gonna grab my gear.”
“Why?” I asked thinking I was just being the kind of stupid you can only be when you are tired.
“I’m sleeping in here tonight.”
I froze. “No … you’re not. I’m … uh …”
Cal slumped a bit but said, “Aria … on the floor. You’ll be on the bed. I’m too tired to fight about this on top of everything else. I’m sleeping in here until we see how things go.”
I still felt stupid. “Cal … you aren’t making any sense. At least not to me.”
He sat on the end of the bed. “Point taken. Too bad. I’m beat, you’re beat. I’m sleeping here and that’s all there is to it.” He slowly collapsed backwards. “I’ve got to get some sleep. I won’t sleep if I can’t keep an eye on you two. Don’t give me a hassle about this.”
I gave it a couple of seconds then opened my mouth to try again only there was a snore … not from me but from Cal. I did not want to risk another headlock so I covered him up with an afghan crocheted by my mother and then literally turned in two circles like a dog chasing its tail trying to decide what to do. I decided to sit down and think about it … I never got back up.
I woke up after some of the best sleep I’d had in a long while. I was warm, comfortable … and oh my goodness I wasn’t alone. I nearly flew out of the bed. Somehow during the night we’d managed to move from our respective ends of the bed, turn the right direction, and meet in the middle of the mattress. I could see dawn coming in around the edges of the shutter on the window and tried to focus on that to gather my thoughts.
I was a healthy, adult woman built with the desires of both the body and the heart that God gave me. He also built in some commonsense … at least I hope he has … and my family instilled some morals. I loved Daniel with all of my heart and part of me always would despite what he had done. I believed that Daniel also loved me with all of his heart … it was his mind that seemed to lose that love in his illness. For so long had I not expected nor wanted to ever feel anything like what I felt for Daniel ever again. I was happy to have all of those needs and wants die.
Only apparently they don’t die, they just go into hibernation for a while. For some people only a short time and for others a much longer time. And Cal was handy to have around and a good man … I told myself it was because he was “safe.” I knew as sure as I was standing there that he would always have my best interests at heart, even when he was so bossy I couldn’t stand it. I’ve been thinking of him like a brother for so long that I was blind to a lot of things. And then for his divorce from Lily to be finalized … maybe that was the trigger, I don’t know. What I did know at that moment was that I had no business enjoying waking up snuggled up to Cal. I had no claim on him, none. He’d made none on me, not that he would. Part of me wanted to gag because I had been thinking of him as a brother/cousin for so long and to suddenly feel those kinds of feelings made me feel like a deviant.
But most importantly there was no way I was going to let Cal know how I felt. It would ruin everything. I tried to take those suddenly awakened feelings and shove them back where they came from, in the box that was hidden at the bottom of my heart.
I’d no sooner done that than Cal woke up and a groan was literally ripped from him as he rolled over on the arm that I had shot. I let guilt replace the other feelings. Guilt was more appropriate … for a lot of reasons.
I did my best to make up for what I had done … and for what I was feeling. I made a decent breakfast from the few fresh eggs I’d gotten the day before and despite myself enjoyed watching him inhale it like it was the first food he’d had in days; I later found out that was pretty close to true. I washed his clothes; both uniform and civvies. I explained why there were things missing from his room and where they were. I even cooperated when he wanted me to walk him through all of the physical details of the situation with the three men.
I stayed out from under foot as much as I could. The only thing that drew me up short was when he told me that the entire department was off for the week, possibly longer but for now it was with pay.
“What?! The … the entire department?”
He nodded then sighed. “I think they are going through personnel files and double checking to make sure that no one had anything to do with giving information to the terrorist group. They had inside intel, had to have had considering they hit in the middle of a shift change and knew just where to hit as well.”
Outraged I said, “That’s a different county. And even if there was inside information it didn’t have to be an officer, it could have been clerical staff or even someone’s spouse or girlfriend or something. What is up with all the cop haters lately?!”
He came over and stood beside me – too close – and said, “There have always been haters Aria. Why they are choosing this particular time to come out of the woodwork? To put it simply, just because they can. We put our lives on the line every day for our community. And it’s because we choose to, not because we are being forced to. We aren’t drafted, we apply. A lot of people don’t like the law … or at least they don’t like it when it is applied to them. There are always those that think they are the exception to the rule. And then when they do something that gets their butt kicked by the law they have to have someone to blame and it sure isn’t their own selves. For many cops are just the easiest target.”
“Still … it doesn’t make sense. Look at how things are. I want the cops doing their job. If you guys don’t we’ll wind up with worse things than a grocery store being burnt to the ground.”
He bumped me nearly making me lose my breath. “Don’t refuse to see the other side of the coin. I wish I could say cops are always the good guys but you and I both know that there are bad cops out there and some people have reason to be wary and afraid.”
Cal has always thought my name for PP was funny and this time was no exception. He snorted a chuckle and said, “Good example. There’s politicking and bureaucracy at all levels Aria. Some of it is good men that just get caught up in the system and in their ego but there are some legitimate asses that shouldn’t be wearing the uniform. Percy is just one of them.”
“So is that why people are treating you guys the way they are? Because of the few bad apples?”
He waited a moment and then said, “That’s some of it.”
It was another moment before he said, “Would you think I was crazy if I said it was being engineered on purpose?”
Thinking about it I answered, “Maybe not crazy but I guess it would depend on what you meant.”
He gave me a small smile for being honest. “You’ve heard of ‘the thin blue line’ right?” At my node he continued. “We do our job. We serve a purpose. It isn’t glamorous and sometimes the pay sucks. We get kicked, spat on, and shot at. The media bounces back and forth between treating us like we must know everything and like we know nothing at all; between us being heroes and being brainless robots with no soul and fewer morals. We can’t win for losing. But I’ve never in my whole life been able to imagine being anything else.”
“You’re a good guy and a good LEO Cal.”
He nodded and said, “I try to be Aria because it is important. But think of it, what if no one did my job … what if we were … were replaced somehow … but the replacements weren’t there to do the same job as we do?”
“Replaced? What do you replace cops with? The military? Even in the Middle East with all of their ‘springing’ here and there all the time they still have a civilian police force that is separate from their military force.”
“To a certain extent yes, but the line isn’t as clear and sharp as it used to be. But I’m thinking more along the lines of say peacekeepers.”
It took a moment for it to sink in. “Peacekeepers? You mean the UN?”
“Yeah. I know it sounds crazy but I think it is very possible that certain people are trying to lead things in that direction. More and more they were trying to orient national policy to fall in line with policies coming out of the UN … you yourself have mentioned the educational issues several times.”
“I know but …”
“No buts … Think of this, in some cities – New Orleans springs to mind – police departments have been declared so corrupt that they’ve been dismantled and the FBI has gone in and run the law enforcement for a while. What if they try the same thing here but instead of a state or national group going in, we get international oversight.”
It was a huge thought. A terrifying thought. It only added to the turmoil I was in. “So … were those men I saw shot … were they LEOs or not? And who did the shooting?”
“Sweetheart if I knew I would tell you. I’d love to be able to tell you that the men that were shot were the bad guys and the shooters were the good guys … but I can’t tell you what I don’t know for certain.”
Sweetheart? It zinged through my bloodstream like elixir and I had to escape before I did or said something stupid. As it was for a few moments I might as well not have heard any other word that he’d said.
The next day I was absolutely determined to force my insides to behave. I stayed as busy as I could and did it as far away from Cal as I could get. I even mucked the animal shed intentionally getting disgusting to avoid all the talks that Cal tried to have.
Dinner that night was cordial yet at the same time strained. We both acted normal but I sure as heck wasn’t feeling normal. I kept cleaning after dinner to the point that I was stumbling.
After I put Feena to bed I tried to keep going. I was carrying some towels up the stairs and missed a riser and nearly fell. That was enough for Cal. “Look, I don’t know what is going on but enough is enough Aria. If I did something wrong then just spit it out. You don’t have to make work for yourself to avoid me.”
“That’s not it at all!” I told him, never intending my actions to make him feel bad. Just the opposite.
“Then what is it?!”
“You don’t understand.”
“Well duh woman, why do you think I’m asking?”
I just shook my head. “I am not dumping this on you on top of everything else.”
“Dumping something on me? I’m asking Aria. Whatever it is it can’t be as bad as you think it is.”
“You don’t understand.”
“Yeah, you’ve said that already.”
In frustration I started mumbling, “First you’re this … and then … and then I’m all … and you’re gone … only you’re not … then you’re here … and I realize … only I can’t ‘cause it’s so wrong … because you’re family right? … only you aren’t, not that kind of family I mean … I thought a brother only … then there’s the cousin business … which isn’t maybe as messed up as I’m making it but it really is … and then so maybe … only there is absolutely no way … and … you snore … only that’s OK too … and … Oh forget it. Just … just forget it. I’m losing my mind.”
Cal opened his mouth then shut it then opened it again then gave up. “You know, I don’t feel like playing games. When you finally feel up to being honest with me you can come to me for a change. I went through enough of this crap with Lily, I’m done with it.”
I felt like knocking my head against something big and hard and painful. I was trying to protect him; why was it so hard for him to understand that? Of course he didn’t know what I was trying to protect him from … protect myself from … because there is no way he could feel the way I felt … not ever … at least not for a long time … but probably not ever. And I didn’t want to lose what we did have because if I told him we certainly would. And now I had something else to make up for. Not only had I been a mooch on him … emotionally and every other way, not only had I taken him for granted, now I had shot him AND I had hurt his feelings … again.
I went to bed that night and tossed and turned for a long time despite being so tired I could barely see straight. I was ready to give up. I kept thinking how Daniel would get like this and a hot toddy was sometimes the only thing that would let him get to sleep. I knew part of his problems was the hot toddies – and everything else he used to self-medication with – but I also knew other people used them without problems. Papa enjoyed a toddy every now and then when his arthritis was acting up though Daddy couldn’t go near the stuff because of his heart medication. I was desperate enough to try anything.
I slunk down the stairs being particularly careful near Cal’s room. No way, on top of ever everything else, did I want to be why he wasn’t getting enough sleep. I dragged myself over to the locking cabinet in what I still thought of as Papa’s study and leaned my head against it. I mumbled, “Oh please let me sleep. Please. I know I shouldn’t but right now I just want to sleep and forget the big fool I am making of myself. Please.”
My eyes were still closed from my prayer and I had reached up to turn the decorative knob when something large and warm enveloped my hand. “A cup of warm milk is better for that and doesn’t leave you with a headache the next morning.”
“I’m sorry … I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you up.”
“I’m a light sleeper, you know that … and I do not snore.”
I sighed and told him, “Like a freight train. You sound like you are strangling on something sometimes.”
“You really are tired.”
“I’m so tired.”
I don’t even remember going back up the stairs. I don’t remember climbing in bed. I do remember what almost happened a few hours later. I do remember both of us waking up all of the way suddenly, realizing what we were almost doing.
“Uh … Aria …?” he started to say as I scooted up and away from him.
I told him, “I tried to warn you … I did. I told you … well, I guess I didn’t … but I was trying to protect you. Only now everything is all wrecked.”
So saying it all I promptly burst into tears.