from Chapter One:
The courthouse was already closed by the time Tom had driven into Rome, New York. He knew it wouldn’t have made a difference anyway. The district attorney’s office had been very specific about what time they wanted to see him. All they wanted him to do was identify the Tupper Lake High School ring with his initials engraved in it. All he wanted to do was get a look at the guy who had changed everything in his world. Tom had an almost masochistic need to put a face to the lowlife who had turned every dream he had into a nightmare.
Tom looked at his wristwatch and decided that as tempting as it was to drink himself into total numbness, he wanted to be aware enough the next morning to really get a good look at this guy. He’d been waiting eight years. Throwing a couple of bills on the counter, he paid for his last drink and stood. He took his car keys out of his pocket and weaved his way through the crowd towards the door.
Tom knew he was comfortably buzzed enough not to drive, but he also knew he had to get out of the bar before he lost total control of his emotions. He figured he’d see how he fared once the outside air hit him and if he had to, he’d just roll the car down the street to the empty parking lot of a closed supermarket and sleep there for the night.
He stood on the sidewalk outside of the bar and let the cool night air absorb him. The Subaru was parked just a few car lengths down. He decided that if he managed to put the key in the lock on the first try, he’d be okay to drive. When he first heard her, he thought he was imagining the sound. Then Tom was sure that he heard a woman sobbing. He continued down the block until he saw her.
She was on her knees and he could see that she was trying to stand but what looked like a broken shoe and a bloodied knee wasn’t helping.
The woman, an attractive blonde, seemed scared when she first saw him approaching from out of the shadows. She tried to stand again and he watched as her ankle turned in and she groaned. Her knee-length tan skirt showed dark smudges from the dirty sidewalk.
“Don’t come near me.”
Tom stopped where he was. “Hey lady, it just looked like you needed some help.”
“I’m fine.” She managed to get to her feet. She was tall, maybe about five-foot-eight, he thought. Her stockings were ripped over her knees, one knee was bleeding and the contents of her pocketbook were spilled out over the broken sidewalk where she had tripped. “Thank you, but I don’t need your help.”
“Okay.” Tom leaned against a parked car, crossed his arms and watched as she struggled to remain in an upright position and pick up her belongings at the same time.
The woman almost fell again and Tom lost patience. He came to her side.
“I’ll scream for help.” She looked frightened by him.
“Go ahead.” Tom stared at her for a full minute. Finally after nothing more was said, he bent to pick up her spilled possessions and put them back into the wayward purse. “Do you live around here?” He handed her the pocketbook.
She hesitated. “No. Why?”
“I was just wondering what a woman alone was doing out on these streets at this hour.” He raised his eyebrows.
“I don’t like your insinuation.” She looked around and seemed to realize how dark and isolated the streets were. “Not that it’s any of your business, but I had an appointment.”
“Okay, let’s get you home.” He surprised her by cradling her in his arms.
“My car is right over here.” She was a lightweight to carry.
“Put me down.”
“Yeah… sure.” He walked over to his car and put her down next to it. “You have your choice. I can drive you home. Or you can try to hobble along these dark streets by yourself. I can assure you I have no interest in attacking you. I can’t guarantee anyone else you might run into in this neighborhood at this hour.” This was an older part of town with lots of alleys and shadows to contend with. It was down near the courthouse and jail and had a forbidding feel to it in the dark.
She turned her head to look around. A few men stumbled out of the bar and headed in the opposite direction. “I don’t live far from here.” Their raucous laughter seemed to unnerve her. He noticed her slender hands which seemed much more suited to typing at a desk than defending herself on a dark urban street.
“So it won’t be a long drive.” He unlocked the passenger side door of his car and was pleased that he got the key in on the first try. He uttered silent thanks that his hands were steady enough and he wasn’t really feeling any of the affects of the alcohol. “By the way, my name is Tom.”
She sat in the car and just before he closed the door, she cautiously smiled. “Thank you Tom.” He couldn’t explain why, but he knew that was the kind of smile he would remember and enjoy.
It wasn’t far to her home. She gave him directions as he drove. Their path took them just past the local hospital to a small garden apartment complex. He parked in front of one of the Tudor style buildings.
“Thank you again.” She opened the car door and stepped out. She had to lean against the car when she found her ankle wouldn’t support her weight.
Tom got out of the car and came to her side of the car quickly. He cradled her again ignoring the gasp of her surprise. “Would you like to go to the hospital to have this looked at?”
“No.” She seemed to relax in his arms. “No thank you. I’ll just stay off of it tonight. I’ll be okay.”
Resigned to the fact that she did need help after all, she told him. “Second floor, rear apartment.” After a moment, she added “thank you again,” and loosely put her arms around his neck.
“Okay.” He carried her into the building and up the stairs. “Do you mind if I ask your name?” He really wanted a name to call this ethereal wisp of a woman.
“Nice to meet you, Alli.” He brought her to an apartment door. Tom stood there with her in his arms, enjoying the feel of her arms around his neck. Finally he looked at the apartment door. “Do you have your key?” There was a tinge of amusement in his voice.
“Really, I can manage…”
“I’ll just put you on your couch, get some ice for your ankle and then I’ll leave. Boy Scout honor.” Tom grinned. It was for his own benefit, he thought, to get in and out as quickly as possible. He was enjoying the feel of her in his arms entirely too much.
Alli thought about it before she pulled a key from her purse and unlocked the door. The door opened onto her living room. As he bent to put her on her couch, she started to chuckle. “Gee, if I had realized you were a boy scout, I wouldn’t have given you such a hard time.” He put a throw pillow behind her head.
Tom pointed towards what appeared to be the kitchen. “Ice, that way?”
He went into the kitchen and noticed it was immaculate. All the appliances matched with brushed metal finishes. The surfaces were pristine. The room looked like it belonged in a magazine layout. A hot and cold water dispenser sat in the corner of the room, no simple tap water for this lady. It was certainly not like his place at home where his mom had picked out a stark white fridge and he relied on well water for drinking. He came out a few moments later carrying ice wrapped in a kitchen towel and a plastic grocery bag. “Here, put this under your foot so the ice doesn’t get everything soaked.” He put the bag under her leg and then wrapped the towel and ice around her ankle. “Okay, I’m out of here…:
“Tom, thank you. I’m sorry I was being so difficult before.” He liked the way his name sounded when she said it.
He smiled at her. “Don’t worry about it. I understand.”
“I just never expected to find a truly nice guy…” He hid his disappointment at her words. A nice guy wasn’t the way he wanted her to see him. He would have preferred a handsome guy, an attractive guy, a sexy guy… Nice was just so bland.
“Don’t sweat it.” He looked around the room. She had a delicate collection of spun glass figurines on display in the living room. He thought of how the type of collection suited her, very beautiful, very intricate, very fragile. Probably very expensive. “Can I get you anything else before I leave?” He noticed that she had a few photos on display, probably family pictures. The frames were all highly polished chrome and silver. Except for an older man next to an older woman, she didn’t seem to have any pictures of a special man in her life.
It looked like she wanted to say something else but changed her mind.
“Bye Alli.” Discouraged, Tom left.