Ranger was avoiding me. Until today, that is. I was getting out of my car when Ranger came out of the office. Seeing me, he detoured to confront me.
"What do you think you're doing?" he asked.
"Getting some files?" I replied. He gave me a look that left me feeling two inches tall.
"What?" I asked. "What?" I was worried and scared and confused. What had I done? What was going on? Why was he so mad at me?
"It's too dangerous, Stephanie."
"Too dangerous?" I asked. Hadn't I been doing this for almost three years now? What made it so different now? "Are you kidding me? What are you talking about?"
He just looked at me.
"No more skips. You know better," he said, and he walked away.
Well, that was certainly different. I watched him get into his car, more than a little hurt and confused, before walking into the office. That, of course, just started a whirlwind of activity.
"Oh, girl! Tell me it's true," Lula exclaimed.
"What?" I asked. "Tell you what's true?"
"So are you gonna get married now? You're gonna have to, right? So it'll be in, like, a month or something. You don't wanna be showing in your wedding pictures," Connie said.
"Showing? Wedding? What the hell are you guys talking about?" I was seriously freaking out now.
"The baby, Steph. Duh." Connie rolled her eyes.
"Baby? What baby? Whose baby?"
"Your baby. The one you and Morelli made? Not that you told us any details," Lula said.
"My baby?" I asked, dazed. "Morelli's baby? I'm not pregnant. I'm not having a baby. You guys are joking, right?" At their looks, I knew they were serious.
"Well I'm certainly not pregnant," I said.
"You sure?" Lula asked.
"Definitely," I responded.
"Sure sure?" Connie asked.
"Guys, I just started my period today, and I haven't had sex in more than a month. I'm not pregnant." That stopped them cold, but it got me thinking.
"How did you find out?" I asked. They looked everywhere but at me. "Who," I demanded.
"Well, I heard it from Mary Lou who heard it from her cousin who heard it from her hair-dresser Missy who got it from her husband George who heard it from his nephew who works at the police station who heard it from Carl," Connie finally told me.
"And who did Carl hear it from?"
She was silent and avoiding my eyes.
"Who," I persisted.
That low down, dirty scuz bucket full of slug pus. I was gonna slam his head against something so hard his brains were gonna leak out of his ears. Then we'd see who was spreading rumors.
"You thought that if my mother thought I was pregnant, she'd pressure me enough that I would quit my job and marry you?" I asked, wanting to make sure I had it straight in my head. Joe paused, thinking it out, and nodded.
"What kind of ass backwards manipulative jerk are you?" I was screaming at Morelli, in the middle of the Police Station. The son of a bitch thought he could manipulate me into doing what he wanted, that I wouldn't find out, and that if I did, I'd be stupid enough to go along with it.
"Stephanie," he started in that voice he uses when he just wants to calm me down to shut me up.
"Fuck off, Morelli."
I was laying on my couch, not really doing much of anything when I heard my lock being picked. The low level hum in my stomach told me that it wasn't Morelli. That didn't mean I wanted to see Ranger, though. Why would Morelli start a rumor like that? What kind of sick, twisted mind would do something like that? I'd almost loved the jerk, and he had it in him to do something like this. And the burg, that God damn grape vine rumor monger, not even having the decency to check with me to see if it was true. And how could Ranger have believed it? Without talking to me first? I'd thought he would at least have the chutzpah to ask me about it, but instead he'd avoided me. And now he was picking my lock. The bastard.
Once inside, he came directly to me, sitting in front of me on the ground with his back resting against the bottom of the couch.
"I heard about today," he started.
"Don't talk to me," I said not looking at him.
"Don't talk to me."
"You're talking to me."
"I said don't talk to me." Finally, he was silent.
"How could you believe it?" I asked. "Why didn't you come to me? Ask if it was true?"
"Steph," he tried.
"I said don't talk to me," I bit off. "The others I could almost understand. But I thought you would come and ask me." Then we just sat there, silently, for a while.
Finally he asked, "Can I talk now."
"Sure," I answered.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"Don't worry about it."
Another ten minutes passed. "So, are you pregnant?"
"Ranger!" I squealed. He looked up at me and grinned.
"Just checking, babe." He paused, getting up and bending over me. "Wanna practice?"