This is a work of fiction. Characters, places, and events are products of the author’s imagination, or are used in a fictitious manner. No portion of this excerpt may be used without the expressed permission of the author.
Elsie is waiting for Peter when he returns to his apartment. She’s parked in the space out front. Her laptop is open, and she’s surrounded by books in the backseat of her car. Peter taps on the window and music screams at him when she rolls it down.
“Hi!” Elsie shouts over the wailing radio. She picks up a remote from the pile to her right and shuts the music off before Peter has to ask. Elsie is always using the remote like it’s the hippest accessory, even though she could just lean over and press the buttons on the dashboard like everyone else. “I was wondering when you’d show up.”
“Homework?” Peter gestures to the mess.
“Morin has us doing research on singular organisms.” She snaps the laptop shut and somehow exits the car without spilling books onto the pavement. “Did you know there’s a forest in Utah made up of one tree? It shoots roots out and sprouts more tree trunks, but they all stay connected to the same ginormous root system.”
Elsie shuts the car door with her hip as she reaches up to peck Peter on the cheek. She turns and begins walking toward Peter’s apartment. Without turning back to the car, she pushes another button on the remote. The windows roll up and the car doors lock themselves. Peter rolls his eyes, bothered by her elitism, and follows her to his front door.
“Sounds interesting. How long have you been out here?” Peter becomes frustrated as he struggles to get his keys out of his pocket. By the time he wrestles them out and points the correct key at the lock, Elsie is watching him with an impatient glare.
“About an hour. I need the bathroom. Where were you?”
Peter turns the key in the lock and Elsie pushes by him before the door is fully open. She rushes down the hall without waiting for him to answer. Peter shoves aside the odd guilt he feels for leaving work early. Ignores the lingering electricity of Jeanne touching his knee in their session.
Instead, he focuses on trying to remember if he’s left any weird man paraphernalia out on the counter. Elsie has shut herself in the bathroom before the image of Peter’s nose-hair clipper sitting by the sink pops into his mind. He shrugs his jacket off and is hanging it in the closet when Elsie bursts out of the bathroom.
She explodes into and out of things everywhere she goes. Peter used to joke that she’d never be able to sneak up and murder anyone like that, but she didn’t like it. Regardless, he doesn’t think anyone taught her how to tiptoe as a kid.
Elsie grabs Peter’s face in her hands and looks up his nose. “You missed a hair.”
Peter feels his skin catch fire with embarrassment when she laughs. He realizes it’s a joke and pretends to laugh with her. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to leave that thing out.”
“Don’t apologize,” she chastises. “It’s your apartment. You’re allowed to keep whatever bizzaro crap in here you want.”
Elsie hugs him, lopsided, reaching behind him with one hand while she still cups his face with the other. She pulls Peter’s coat back off its hanger and races across the apartment with it. “Except this. This thing is awful! What kind of fabric is this, anyway? Tweed? Come on, Peter, could you possibly wear anything more boring?”
“The woman at the store said it looked nice. Dignified, I think, was the word she used.” Peter sits down on the sofa. He knows Elsie won’t give the coat back. There’s no use in chasing after her.
“This woman you speak of… Was she the same woman who sold you the jacket?” Elsie raises a suspicious eyebrow. Peter nods, and a tidal wave of Elsie’s laughter crashes against him.
“You’re so naïve, Peter.” He watches as the brown and gray cloth flutters across the living room. Elsie waves it like a flag as she skips toward the garbage can. She steps on the bin’s silver pedal, drops the coat in the plastic-lined cylinder, then reaches for the day-old pot of coffee on the kitchen counter. She pours its contents over the jacket.
A flash of anger consumes Peter for a second. He bites the inside of his cheek and pushes the feeling aside. He knows there’s no use yelling. Elsie will just throw his outburst back at him tenfold and fly out of the apartment. If that happens, she won’t come around again until she’s sure her transgression has blown over and she’s ready for Peter to apologize.
After his appointment with Jeanne, Peter doesn’t want to be alone. Instead of fighting with Elsie, he leans back against the couch cushion, determined to make light of the situation. “At least she didn’t charge me full price.”
“Thank God,” she says with a skittering laugh. She lets her foot slide off the garbage pail’s pedal and the lid snaps shut. Elsie looks over at Peter and flutters her eyelashes. “So, did you save enough money on that jacket to take me out to dinner?”
“Of course,” Peter answers.
“Good.” She smiles. “Let’s go somewhere expensive.”
Find out more about Peter’s dysfunctional relationship with Elsie, and how it ties them both to a horrific secret…
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