All familiar characters and events belong to Janet. Mistakes are solely mine.
"I feel like I'm stuck in a hostage situation," I whispered, so Grandma Mazur wouldn't hear me.
Grandma had run away from my mother and my parents' home only three days ago and I'm already ready to formulate a similar plan to save myself. But as constricting as I'm finding life with Grandma Mazur as a roommate again in my dinky little apartment, I can't send her back to the Burg. I've lived with my mother … and I wouldn't wish that or her on anyone, especially someone I love as much as I do my grandmother.
Sensing my urge to bolt when he'd called to ask if I was hanging in there, Ranger appeared in my kitchen ten minutes later. I'm not kidding. One minute I had my head stuck in my fridge trying to decide which vegetable to give Rex, Grandma Mazur is a healthier shopper than I'll ever be, and the next … Ranger was standing right behind me.
"I've picked up on the fact that you're not good with sharing your space," he teased.
"I can share it … mostly. I just get antsy when I'm expected to shove my entire life aside to make room for somebody else. I had to do that my entire childhood, I felt that way with Dickie and then Joe, and although I love Grandma Mazur like crazy, having a human roommate in a space as un-private as this one, is starting to get to me."
He studied me for a beat before coming to my rescue once again. "Come on. Let's go for a ride."
I released the pent-up breath I feel like I've been holding for days. "That sounds good. It'd be even better if it's a loooong one."
"Don't worry, I've got you covered."
I smiled what I hoped was a grateful smile, and not one as maniacal as I'm currently feeling. "Grandma? Ranger and I are heading out! I'll be back in a little while!" I called out.
My bedroom door creaked open and Grandma Mazur stepped out of my room. "Hiya, Hotstuff," she said. "You sure you wanna steal my granddaughter away instead of hangin' out here with two beauties for the price of one?"
"We'll be back for you, Edna," he told her. "I just want to show Stephanie something first."
"Hot damn! I got me a date!"
I sighed. "No ... you got yourself a before and after glimpse of Ranger. He wasn't planning to camp out here too."
Now that I said it, I realize I'm actually disappointed by my comment. He's the only person I've shared a place with that I didn't need a break from unless I was actively trying to keep my hands off him at the time.
Her smile was so wide, I was afraid her dentures would slip right out of her mouth. "I'll take it. He's a walkin' sex dream. Comin' or goin', I'm enjoyin' the view."
"Back off, Grandma. He's taken."
"By you? 'Bout darn time!"
I can't say for sure that Ranger's mine yet, but my words accomplished my goal … protect Batman from an overly-hormonal grandmother. Feeling that I'm in very good hands, she disappeared back into what used to be my room, the only place I like in this one.
Ranger got my bag and jacket for me and held both up for me to slip into and then on.
"Where are we going? Or not going, if you weren't kidding about just riding around," I asked, after we got into the elevator.
He waited until we were walking out of the lobby to answer. "We're heading just over to White Horse. I do have something to show you."
"Are you talking about the town? Or are you planning on showing me a white horse? No, scratch that. A Range-stallion would have to have a uniform black coat, not a white one."
He opened his Porsche door for me, but didn't shut it even after I'd buckled up. I'm looking at him so I know he's watching me, but even if my eyes had been closed … I'd be able to feel his stare.
"Nervous?" He finally asked me.
"Uh … yeah!"
"You're acting more secretive than usual and it has something to do with me."
"It does," he said, clearly being playful because that's when he shut the passenger's side door and walked around the back of the Cayenne to get behind the wheel without saying another word.
"Are you really going to stop talking there?" I asked, when he continued to stay silent while he backed out of the parking space beside my shitbox and pulled out of my lot.
"Yes. I think I am."
I sighed. I know by the grin tugging at his lips that he's expecting my typical response … a game of twenty questions, so I went the opposite route and just crossed my arms over my chest and stared hard out of my window in case I can spot a clue to what the Man of Mystery is up to.
I shouldn't be surprised, instead of him doing something completely different himself, Ranger remained silent for the entire fourteen-minute drive. I can tell that he's enjoying himself because that hint-of-grin stuck around. I wanted to smile in return, but my nerves kicked into overdrive when he turned onto a street that had what looked like just a single house on it.
"Are we on a street or a driveway?" I broke the comfortable silence to ask.
"So we're on private property?"
Fine … I can do one-word replies too. "Why?"
"Welcome to your hostage solution," he informed me, pulling into a two-car garage after passing through a series of gate and fob security checkpoints.
Great, now I'm morphing into him. I took a deep breath and made a conscious effort to ask questions that will hopefully produce answers that'll help me figure out his endgame here.
"Okay, let me try this again … is this your private property? Or one you're interested in buying?" I asked him.
Considering how he's powering through every lock like he owns the place, I bet that he does. That there's already a shiny black SUV parked in the garage we pulled around to, solidified my guess.
"It's mine. I bought it a few months back in case Julie wants to spend school vacations with me, but also so you'd have a safe house close enough that you won't fight me on moving you to one if it's needed. You were looking in desperate need of a safe space, so here it is."
Now it was my turn to go silent. I'm touched that he'd bring me here for a reality-break, but I have to go back to my apartment and Grandma Mazur eventually. And when he refused to open his car door after turning the Cayenne off and pocketing his fobs, I told him as much.
"I appreciate you wanting to give me a few minutes of peace," I explained, "but honestly, this is going to make it a lot harder to go back."
"Which is why I'm about to show you around while letting you know that you don't have to go back. I'm not sharing this place with you for an afternoon, I'm offering you a peaceful place to move into, Babe."
"Oookay, I really don't know what to say now," I had to admit.
"Good. Let's go inside and you can think about what I said as I give you a tour."
I sighed with regret, because now there's something I know I have to say. "That's probably not a good idea. I can't leave Grandma Mazur even if I have a place to escape to. My Mom will have her back in the Burg if I'm not there to stop her."
He turned his torso towards me, rested an elbow on the steering wheel, and his dark eyes turned into laser beams again. "Have you ever known me to be unprepared for a fight?"
"So you should know that I would take your situation and your grandmother into consideration long before I brought you out here. What did you notice about the house as we drove up?"
"That it's huge!"
His smile's returning. "It's a good size, but I was talking about how the exterior looks to you."
I closed my eyes to try to get back my initial view of his home. "It's got a core brick building sandwiched between two taller stone ones, with this garage tucked out here behind them."
"You'll want to keep your day job. Talking up property definitely isn't your forte."
"I usually just go by … 'Can I afford it every month?' … when it comes to someplace to live."
He leaned in close and released my seat belt for me. "You can afford this, so let me show you around as you hear me out."
"Will you stun me and carry me inside if I refuse the whole idea of this?"
"No, but I will be hurt if you don't at least humor me after all the times I've helped you without hesitation and sometimes without asking any questions."
My eyes narrowed. He doesn't even need the puppy dog eyes or a pout, he can get his way without even trying. I pushed my door open and climbed out. He was right behind me, a hundred-watt smile making its first appearance of the day.
"Go ahead, Batman. Show me what you got."
The eye-scan he gave first my face and then my body, had me feeling uncomfortable in whole other way. To keep the pressure on, he took my hand and pulled me with him into his house. I suddenly wished I had six eyes so I could see everything at once.
"As you've seen from outside, there are three sections of the house. The two field stone additions were added on later. Why I believe this is the perfect solution for you right now, is each side is essentially its own wing that feed into a joint-kitchen. Even that was purposely designed to be spacious, since it's a meeting place for both sides. You could call it a duplex, just with a kitchen instead of a soundproof-barrier between two living spaces."
Hope is a horrible thing because it can crush you faster than a Semi. I can see where he's going with this, but I don't know if I wanna stop him or hold on for the ride. My eyes took in all the windows - likely bulletproof - the hardwood floors, and neutral walls that are literally light years ahead of my gold and avocado grips on the past. When we reached the common kitchen after a walk-through of both living areas, I couldn't stand not knowing exactly what his plan is.
"You want me and Grandma living in your house?" I asked him.
He reached out and released my bottom lip from the strangle-hold my teeth had on it. "It's sitting here doing nothing, so why not?"
"Ranger, this isn't just you being overly generous or saving me again, this is literally a life-changing decision … for all of us. You just said this place is for Julie when she visits, what are you gonna do if Grandma Mazur and I are living here and Julie wants privacy and you all to herself?"
He tipped his head slightly to the side, clearly just pretending to think about my question. "Buy another house."
He probably would, but somehow I know he's kidding. "No joking here. This is serious."
"Not as serious as you're making it out to be. Listen, Babe, you want Edna away from your mother, but you need some distance from her. Moving here will accomplish both. The property is secure, so your mother can only come here if you allow her to. Grandma Mazur will have her own apartment where you can keep an eye on her, yet still have your own space, and there is a link to the control room in place in case either of you stumble into trouble again …"
"And you and Julie?" I interrupted to ask.
"If things progress as I would like them too, I don't have to answer that … it'll be a decision you and I both come to. I like Edna, I love you, and Julie enjoys being around both of you. Now's not the time to start doubting that."
We've been taking things slow between us, real slow, because I didn't want Ranger to think I was 'dating' him just to stick it to Morelli, but this is sounding a lot like an insta-family proposal. Do I love Ranger? Yes. Can I live with him? Yeah, pretty peacefully too. Am I ready for a live-in daughter and full-time grandmother? I honestly don't know.
He wrapped his hand around my wrist and tugged me gently to him. "Don't overthink this. I'm still living on Seven until I'm not. I'm just letting you know that you're included in my future. Nothing has to be decided overnight except you leaving that shithole and moving with Edna here where you'll both be alright. There's plenty of time to figure out everything else."
I went speechless again, which was a mistake because it gave Ranger a chance to work his verbal voodoo on me.
"If you can't do this for yourself, do it for Edna. She deserves more than being a guest in your parents' home and holing up in an apartment neither of you can stand to be in. Did you notice the oven unit over there? There are two so you can bake multiple pineapple-upside-down cakes. There's also a built-in flat top for pancakes and a grill for burgers. I'm sure that alone will keep your stomach happy and fill your grandmother's need to take care of you, while keeping you both safely occupied here."
"And I'm sure you realize that if we do live here, Grandma Mazur is going to expect you to come over for dinner every night just so she can thank you properly."
His lips brushed mine before I felt them form a smile against my mouth. "I'm not afraid of her."
I slid my hands up his chest and into the ends of his short hair. "Well, I am. And she'll kill me if she finds out I turned this place and you down."
His hands started doing some wandering of their own. One settled on the curve of my hip and the other cupped my face so I couldn't look away from the intensity he was hitting me with.
"So don't," was his response.
For the first time in my life … I let my dreams, gut, and heart speak for me without second-guessing any of them. I grabbed his jaw with both hands and kissed him like I owe him my life and am never gonna let him regret letting me into his.