Eileen Galvin had never held a gun in her life. In fact, she had never even seen one. Before the incident with Walter Sullivan guns had been a distant and foreign thing to her, as abstract a concept as history or the current events of other countries. They were things she knew existed but she never really paid any mind to them in her everyday life, unless something brought them to the front of her consciousness, like the news sometimes would.
In this case, Walter Sullivan was that catalyst.
After she was attacked in her own home, brutally, by a man who was more beast than man, really, suddenly her innocent view of reality was shattered. As soon as his fists bore down upon her skin, making her feel far more violated than the stare of any drunk frat boy she had encountered in her college days, her view was eternally changed. It was madness. She couldn't sleep at night and when she could, she dreamed dreams of pounding fists, of the sight of her own blood spilling into the carpet of her otherwise safe living room.
Eileen Galvin had never held a gun in her life, but after the attack by Walter Sullivan, after that terrible, dark time of traversing haunted and terrifying worlds with only Henry Townshend as her constant, she bought one. It was something she didn't want to do, but it was something she felt she Ihad/I to do. She had to ask her father for advice, and it took a lot of deliberating… more so than something she didn't even want to do should have, anyway. In the end she decided on a Kel-Tec P-32. It was lightweight and small enough that she could conceal it in her apartment. The feeling of it in her hands was a vaguely powerful one, but cold and unfeeling like holding a dead hand.
"You don't belong in a world like this," her reflection whispered to her as she brushed her hair morning after morning, dressed in bright colors and ready to face the day with more gusto than she really felt. "A world where you have to be afraid, where you need a weapon to shield yourself from a man who's dead."
Eileen liked to think she could ignore that voice, but she could not. She had spent her entire life as a happy, carefree person, always friendly and always cheerful. Though some part of this Eileen remained after the attack, most of her receded inside a shell, too afraid to peek into the unfeeling world that no longer loved her. There were still parties and friends and coffee dates, but none of it went beyond the surface. More and more as time went on she was worse instead of better because she was so afraid. She wore her cheerful optimism like a mask and she drank in the world like a timid little mouse, terrified that if she bore her heart in earnest, this cold world would somehow swallow it up. The cold and bitter bile that was fear in her throat was really the only thing she was fully aware of.
"I just want it to go away," she whispered to the mirror one night, as she brushed her teeth. Little by little she swore the days were starting to steal her sanity. She would wind up just like Joseph, she told herself. Just like Joseph. He had felt the coldness of the fear, had started to question, and then he had disappeared. No one ever saw him again. Joseph had gone crazy. Eileen had bought a gun to protect herself from a dead man.
She was halfway there, she thought.
With a soft, resigned sigh of restlessness Eileen finished brushing her teeth. She rinsed her brush with gentle, automatic hands. The mundane motions that went into her bathroom routine were starting to blur together under the unmistakable mask of the Fear. With every beat of her heart, the cuts on her back burned. They were just scars now, pink and white ridges on the otherwise flawless skin, but they felt as though they still gaped open to spill blood. They had healed fast, because Eileen was a fighter. Everyone said so, and they always had. Eileen never allowed anything to get her down.
"That's still true," she said aloud. "I just need… a little more time."
It had affected her to her core, though, as much as she tried to deny it. Plopping down onto the downy softness of her bed, Eileen reached for the knob on the bedside drawer and drew out the .32, feeling its stark coldness in her hands. This world was different. Strange. Had it always been the kind of place where someone who had never done anything to wrong anyone had to sleep with a gun beside her, just to keep from going crazy with fear? She didn't think so. The gun passed from hand to hand. It was a steady rhythm, and the metal was cold under her fingertips.
The soft knock on her front door was unexpected, and she jumped, the gun slipping from her hands and onto the bedspread with a soft thump. Quickly she grabbed it again, fear taking its hold. Who could be coming to call so late at night? He had come late, had come to hurt her and destroy her normalcy. It was with this remembrance that she got up to answer the door, holding the gun behind her back with one hand. With the same kind of skittishness that a baby deer would move toward a thrown treat, Eileen inched into the living room and toward the door.
"You can't let fear rule your life,"she reminded herself. "Just answer the door, Eileen." It was with this inner mantra that she managed to get on her tiptoes and peek through the peephole, the ever-present fear threatening to close up her throat. She had to be strong and push forward, or she was never going to get her life back.
At the sight of Henry Townshend's benign face fisheyed through the glass of the tiny hole, Eileen's breath all went out of her in a long sigh of relief, and she felt as though she had dropped ten tons of lead from her shoulders. With careful precision she unlocked the new chain lock she had screwed onto her door and then clicked the normal door lock before she could open the door. Henry looked rather uncomfortable on the other side of the door, but Eileen barely noticed. She was happy to see him.
"Henry," she said, though it came out more like a sigh of relief would than a greeting. It felt like letting loose layers and layers of tension, simply to say his name. She wondered if he knew. "What are you doing here?"
Henry shifted uncomfortably. It wasn't like him to come calling, especially this late. Eileen glanced toward her clock and could not see it around the corner but guessed it had to be almost eleven.
"I came to make sure you were okay," he said in his low, husky voice that had always reminded her, secretly, of a Calvin Klein model.
"Of course I'm okay," Eileen faked brightness. "Why wouldn't I be okay?" she raised an eyebrow at him. "Have you been spying on me again?" she knew it couldn't be possible; she had moved her desk in front of that telltale hole in her wall that she somehow before had not been able to see. But she said it anyway and watched the results.
"No," Henry said, earnestly. "I just had… a feeling."
"A feeling?" Eileen asked, staring straight at him and wondering if she was making him uncomfortable. He stared back, however, with that unwavering stare of his with eyes that gave away nothing but benevolence, no sense of what was happening behind them. "What do you mean, a feeling?"
"Like you were in danger," Henry told her simply. He was a man of few words, that much was certain. And he still looked scruffy. Eileen had supposed that his appearance during their time in Walter's Otherworld could be explained by the fact that he was running through hell itself, but at this moment his hair was just as disheveled, his face just as unshaven. She had come to accept it as a part of his normal appearance during the times they had spent together since the ordeal. The times, however, were rather few and far between. Henry was not exactly a social butterfly.
"In danger?" Eileen felt like a parrot, simply repeating the words Henry said back to him. He was not exactly proficient when it came to conversation but tonight she was no better. She wondered if their exchange would start to move in circles. "Here, come inside. You can explain."
"Alright," Henry did not look completely comfortable with the idea, but when Eileen opened the door fully and stepped back he sauntered inside and she closed the door behind him.
"Can I get you some coffee?" Eileen asked, and he shook his head. With a soft sigh she leaned with her back against the door. "Okay, so what do you mean, in danger?"
"I just had a feeling like something was… going to happen," Henry explained, gesturing with his hands in a helpless way as though he was not entirely sure how to convey what he was feeling. Eileen smiled a little, a jab of tenderness for the awkward photographer hitting her somewhere between the ribs.
"Were you worried about me, Henry?" she asked. "Is that it?"
"I guess you could say that," Henry rubbed the back of his neck. Eileen just smiled rather dumbly at him for a moment. He's the only person I trust, she realized. The only person. With the fear had come the darkness, creeping into her life, but Henry remained illuminated with the blindingly bright glow of a savior in her vision, and it had not changed because of the incident because it was perhaps his actions during the incident that had caused him to be upheld in such a way in her view.
"So you were just worried? You had no reason to think something was wrong?"
"No," Henry admitted, sighing. He held his hands out in front of him and looked at them as though they held answers, seeming slightly confused. "I couldn't sleep. I kept thinking, what if something was happening to you. I had to make sure… you were okay."
Eileen smiled gently at him. The darkness and self-doubt from earlier seemed to be dissipating in the face of his warmth. "I think that's what you call caring about someone, Henry." she teased gently. They both understood that he surely knew full well. "But I'm okay, Henry. I really am. And I care about you, too."
Henry looked unspeakably embarrassed, and it was hard not for Eileen to laugh at him. There was something endearing about the way he didn't seem to want to look at her. His straightfaced stare instead turned itself toward her living room wall and she wondered for a moment what he was thinking. There was a long silence during which Eileen's hand began to shake. The gun was becoming heavy in her hand, as though it weighed much more than its few pounds. With a hard sigh she gave in, withdrawing the weapon from behind her back and striding forward to place it on the counter.
"I must be going crazy," she said, glancing sideways at Henry, who was watching her again. "I went and bought myself a gun to protect myself from someone who… died. And here I am answering my door with it in my hands like I expect the damn boogeyman."
"You're not crazy," Henry sounded extremely sure, and it was this that made her slowly stare up at him through strands of her hair. "You've seen horrible things and it's… normal to be scared. After all you've been through, you need to have something to make you feel safe."
With a weary sigh Eileen turned toward him. "But I shouldn't need a stupid gun," she protested. "I already have you, don't I?" she hadn't really meant to say it, but the result was fascinating. She swore she saw a bit of pink break out over Henry's cheeks. Just a bit. His unwavering stare wavered just a little. Eileen wondered if it was presumptuous to think that maybe he really did have a bit of a crush on her, and she had to press a hand to her mouth to suppress a small giggle at the thought. It was hard not to entertain some sort of feelings for the man who stood so uncomfortably against the wall, as though he was afraid to turn his back to an open room. It was impossible to tell if they were merely born from the way she saw him as a hero or if there was some genuine chemistry behind it, but for now it was simply nice to have him here. It made her feel safe… normal… human.
There was a long pause during which Eileen wondered if possibly she had felt that veil of fear lift completely, if only for the moment. Henry was quiet and now and then he watched her curiously, alternating his soulful stares with curious looks around her apartment, as though he wanted to memorize every detail. He was a strange man, but a likable one. It was impossible not to like him. Eileen wondered if she was trying to remind herself not to kiss him goodnight as he ambled toward the door. Part of her wanted to.
"Well… goodnight," he said simply. He glanced at the gun on the counter and gave her a strange look. An almost searching look. Eileen did not think she had ever been looked at that way before. "Can you promise me that if you're… ever in any sort of trouble, you'll let me know?"
"Of course," Eileen said with a nod, standing where she was and feeling helpless, scared at the thought of him walking back to his own life. Even with just a wall separating them, she knew that overwhelming terror. That gun… it seemed a trivial piece of machinery now. Funny how he could change everything without even trying. "And you can be my knight in shining armor again," she grinned playfully at him, and he looked like he wanted to smile but couldn't quite make it. He also looked embarrassed again.
"Good," was his unsatisfactory reply. For a long moment he stood with his hand on the doorknob, simply frozen, and then he happened to look back at her. Eileen swore she saw fear in his eyes too, in those pale green irises that were still faintly bloodshot, even now. The fear that bound them also froze them, and for a moment they were held transfixed in all their common uncommonness.
Eileen wasn't quite sure how, but somehow Henry Townshend ended up sleeping on her sofa that night. She dozed quite easily without the hindrance of nightmares in her bed, and she knew it had to be the start of something. The fear that consumed them both lifted, just for that night, and Eileen could see everything illuminated even in the darkness. Through the open bedroom door she could see him sleeping peacefully on her sofa in the dimness, the faint glow of distant streetlights casting themselves soft over his features. For the first time in a long while, apartment 303 knew peace.
The .32 lay on the counter, forgotten in its coldness.