Price of Angels
Copyright © 2015 by Lauren Gilley
I want to understand, Holly wrote, because she couldn’t settle down and relax. I didn’t know a man had it in him to refuse. Deny himself? Or else he doesn’t like me. Yes, that has to be it. He doesn’t like me. Then I won’t have another shot with him. No means no. What will I do? He was my best hope…
The telephone on the end table rang beside her, startling her, sending her leaping from her spot on the couch.
“Damn,” she murmured, pressing a hand to her stuttering heart. The journal had flown out of her hands and landed with a smack on the boards. She bent to retrieve it, closing it up tight and holding it to her chest, before she answered the old curly-corded landline.
“Holly, dear,” Mrs. Chalmers’ voice filled her ear. “Are you alright? You sound out of breath.”
“Fine, ma’am.” She took a deep breath and forced herself to smile, knowing the expression would work its way into her voice. “What can I do for you?”
“Nothing,” the kindly old widow assured. “But someone rang the doorbell in front.”
Holly hadn’t heard it, above the rumble of her TV. She felt something like panic twirl through her. She couldn’t afford to be so lax. Couldn’t miss a single sound, couldn’t let herself be surprised.
“There’s a young man down here,” Mrs. Chalmers continued, “who’s here to see you.”
“Oh,” Holly said, and all the breath left her, the panic heightening, closing around her windpipe with a relentless squeeze. So this was it, then. They’d found her, finally. It had taken longer than she’d expected, but it had to be them. She had no friends; she didn’t go on dates. There were only three possibilities as to who might have come ringing doorbells in the dead of night looking for her…
“He said to tell you,” Mrs. Chalmers said, “that his name is Michael, and that he wants to ‘pick up where you left off.’ ”
Holly released a deep breath, shoulders slumping, the terror turning loose in a rush that left her light-headed. “It’s Michael?”
“That’s what he says, dear. Very stern-looking fellow.” Mrs. Chalmers lowered her voice to a whisper. “Unpleasant, really. But I told him I’d ring you and I told him he could wait in the parlor for you to come down.”
Her relief was so great, she could have done cartwheels across her loft. Instead, she said, in a too-bright voice, “I’ll be right down to see him, Mrs. Chalmers, thank you so much.” As an afterthought: “I hope the doorbell didn’t wake you.”
“Oh no.” The old woman made a dismissive sound. “I couldn’t sleep. I was doing my night baking again.”
Holly thanked her once more, then hung up.
And went straight to the bathroom mirror.
She hadn’t showered yet, so her careful makeup was still intact. Her hair she’d tied up, though, and she’d changed into baggy gray sweatpants and a shapeless black long-sleeved shirt. It would have to do. She didn’t want to keep him waiting, especially if he wanted to “pick things up.” She didn’t know a man to care what covered her body. She pulled the elastic from her hair, shook it out so it fell in dark waves down her back, and stepped into her slippers before she disengaged all the locks and let herself out.
She loved her slippers. About three bucks at Target, they were lined with fluffy fake Sherpa, and looked almost like real leather, if you squinted. They were soft. Comfy. She’d never owned a pair of slippers before, and she hadn’t been able to resist them, an impulse purchase when she was shopping for milk and detergent.
Light, silent steps down both staircases, and her heart was hammering by the time she swung around the post at the foot on the main floor. The house was mostly quiet and dark around her, save Eric’s record-cutting noise and Mrs. Chalmers’ soft business in her back rooms. The foyer was illuminated by a series of table lamps, set on antique pieces flanking the walls. By their light, she had a view into the parlor, the front-most room of the house, one that had been kept as a public space where residents could meet with guests.
It was a dainty, feminine room. Long, tufted white sofa against the far wall, bracketed by ornate rosewood tables, lamps with belled, beaded shades. A sequence of old portraits marched along the wall above; Mrs. Chalmers had no idea who any of the subjects were, just dead people, she’d said. In the bay window, two French-style chairs of pale blue velvet framed another rosewood table, another lamp. The floor-length drapes filtered the light from the streetlamps outside.
This was where Michael was sitting, in one of the chairs in the bay window, one ankle propped on the opposite knee, so his jeans rode up and the spur strap of his heavy black boot was visible. He had his elbows resting on the arms of the chair, hands draped loosely over the ornate curves of wood. His head cocked a fraction at her appearance, eyes narrowing even more as he studied her with unself-conscious intensity. People don’t look at other people like that, she wanted to point out to him. It seems rude. He didn’t seem to care, though, just stared at her a long moment before he finally turned to glance at the chair beside him, and then back at her, a silent request for her to come sit down.