Joanie awoke to birds singing and the bright light of sunshine streaming through the window. She covered her eyes, then slowly opened them and looked around. Things felt familiar to her. It smelled like home, but she had no idea how she got there. Her bed felt safe and warm, and she was happy to be under her own covers. But before she was able to get too comfortable, memories from the previous night began filtering into her head. She closed her eyes again, hoping this would stop the recall, but it didn’t. It only made it worse.
“Well hello. Look who’s awake.” Joanie jumped, but relaxed when she saw who it was.
“Oh, Ruthie, I’m so glad you’re here,” Joanie sighed. “What happened? Where is everyone? Where’s Jake?”
“Which question do you want me to answer first?”
“Sorry.” Again, Joanie closed her eyes. All she could see was Jake’s face, sullen and stricken with pain. Then the vision faded into an image of Peter looking cocky and pleased with himself. He sneered at her from across the dance floor. She shook her head in an attempt to get rid of this frightful picture, but it wouldn’t go away.
“Ruthie, please tell me what happened? I remember some things, but not everything. Was it as horrible as I think it was?” Ruth was quiet for a minute. She tucked Joanie’s blankets around her chin, and rubbed her shoulders encouragingly.
“Oh, Joanie.” Ruth sat back and contemplated where to begin. Just then the apartment buzzer vibrated through the room. Ruth looked at Joanie.
“No, but it might be Jake. Would you mind?” Joanie nodded toward the door. Ruth stood up, smiled kindly and went to answer it. Joanie rolled over and closed her eyes against the sunlight. She was too tired to think about last night or even about Jake at the moment. Plus she had a screaming headache. She thought about getting up to get some aspirin but could not even muster the energy for that. Within minutes she was fast asleep again.
“Oh, hello,” Ruth said, once she’d opened the door.
“Hi. You’re Ruthie, aren’t you?”
“Ah, yes, that’s right. And you are…?”
“Peter. Peter Thompson. I’m sure Joanie’s mentioned me,” he said with confidence.
“So, what are you doing here, Peter Thompson?” Ruth was taking the cautious route. She knew snippets of the Peter saga, enough to put her on her guard. Fortunately for her, she hadn’t stuck around the Grand Ballroom last night, long enough to see the final floor show. Mind you, Carlyle had filled her in with plenty of details – more than she wanted – and had suggested Ruth go over to give Joanie’s place to offer some female TLC.
“Same as you, I suppose,” answered Peter. “Here to take care of my Jo Jo.” He paused. “I feel slightly responsible.”
“Ya think?” Ruth glared at him. Peter ignored her, and continued.
“Joanie told me what a good friend you are to her. I can see why. You’re really sweet to come over here to take care of her, especially after a long work-week and such a late night, not to mention all the hard work and prep for the fashion award night. That was quite the show.” Ruth’s shoulders softened a little, her grip on the door jamb loosened.
“So, do you always look so fabulous the morning after?” Peter looked her up and down, grinning. Ruth blushed. She had on her old boyfriend’s college t-shirt with University of Texas emblazoned across the front and a pair of sweats from back in her rugby playing days. She felt completely unattractive and couldn’t understand why Peter seemed so mesmerized. Then she realized she wasn’t wearing a bra. However, with her hair in a messy up-do, and remnants of make-up still on her face, she did feel surprisingly sexy, and Peter seemed to really appreciate her natural beauty, something many men just didn’t see. He reached out and brushed a tangle of hair from her eye. She smiled shyly.
“You must be tired, Ruthie. Listen, why don’t I relieve you? I don’t mind.” Then, as if he just thought of the idea, he said, “I know. We can take shifts. That way we can see each other every time we take over from one another. Kind of like a changing of the guard.” Completely taken in by Peter’s charisma, Ruth considered this, and more. It did make sense and she had to admit she was exhausted. Besides, if she went home now, she could rest, shower and be back later in the evening looking better than ever.
“Well, if you’re sure, Peter. But Jo Jo is my responsibility. Her friends are very worried about her. She’s been through a lot, what with all the work involved in the show, the pressure of her new stardom, and then there’s her Dad. He’s sick you know?” Ruth walked down the hall and poked her head around the corner into Joanie’s room. All was well. Joanie was still fast asleep. Ruth didn’t dare waken her now, knowing what a night she’d had. Peter would explain everything to her and to Joanie when Joanie woke up. Peter took her by the elbow and slowly led her away from Joanie’s bedroom and down the hallway toward the door.
“She’s real worried about him. And Jake...that’s her new boyfriend. She’s kinda upset about Jake being upset, if you know what I mean. I mean, they’re real tight and all, but Jake is sensitive and Joanie needs to reassure him if she going to hang onto him.” Ruth babbled on, completely oblivious to who she was talking to. Peter pretended not to be interested but he took it all in, like ammunition for the impending battle.
Peter grabbed Ruth’s coat from the hall closet as she continued talking. He helped her into it before hanging his own jacket up in its place. The apartment was quiet, except for the hum of rush hour traffic coming through the half open kitchen window and the clock ticking above the stove.
“Alright, Ruthie. Y’all take care now. Get some rest so you can come on back here and give me a hand, okay?” He winked at her and grinned one of his cheap, schmoozing grins. Ruth soaked it all up like a sponge.
“Y’all call me now, Peter, okay?” Ruth said teasingly, as she stepped out the door. She was grinning from ear to ear. “I’m on call, right?”
“You are on call, Ruthie. You’ll be the first to know of anything out of the ordinary. Now go on home and get some much deserved rest. I only wish we didn’t have to take shifts, that maybe I could be going home with you.” Peter looked Ruth right in the eye. Ruth turned a bright red and hung in the doorway a moment longer. Was he serious? She looked up hopefully, but Peter only smiled. “See you later, Ruthie. I’ll be in touch.”
Once the door closed behind her, Peter got right to work. First he went to the fuse box and unplugged the fuses to the hall and bedroom lights, then the kitchen. Next he cut the telephone wires from the main connection and disconnected the front door buzzer. He peeked into the bedroom from time to time, ensuring Joanie was still fast asleep. He didn’t need trouble. Not now, not later. He went into the kitchen and removed any sharp objects he could find, including all the knives, and hid them in the pantry cupboard under the tablecloths folded neatly on the top shelf. Trying to cover every angle, Peter found Joanie’s purse sitting on the entryway table. Beside it sat her iPhone and car keys. Grabbing them all in one swoop, Peter shoved her purse under the sofa and hid her keys and iPhone under the sink in the bathroom behind the bleach and Mr. Clean. He made sure her keys were tucked well out of view. Rather than risk the annoying jingle he knew the iPhone played when turned off, Peter quickly slid the side button down and set it to silence mode. She’ll never find them in here, he thought. Scanning the room for anything he might have missed, Peter breathed deeply. He felt satisfied he’d covered everything. He walked softly into Joanie’s room to wait. She looked so peaceful laying there, the feather pillow fluffed-up around her head. Peter thought she also looked ravishing with her messy hair, flushed, rosy cheeks, and red lips slightly parted. For a brief moment he considered kissing her but realized that not only would that surprise her, it might cause her to be suspicious of his motives. He had to be careful not to create unnecessary angst or worry with Jo Jo. She was such a sensitive woman, he thought. He had to play his cards right if he was going to secure her love and their ultimate happiness.
Sinking down into the overstuffed armchair in the corner of her bedroom, Peter settled down to wait. It would be a long day, but he had nothing but time for his Jo Jo, nothing but time.
...Stay tuned. Chapter 13 will be posted next Tuesday, June 14th...