Christine was tired. Her head was killing her and she hadn't managed to eat anything all day. She sat on the couch, aimlessly flicking through the television channels without really paying attention to any of them. Her phone had been quiet since she'd left Nadir at the police station almost six hours ago. It was kind of driving her crazy. She left a sitcom playing in the background and put a pillow over her head.
The phone rang.
She bolted upright and reached for it, knocking the pillow off the couch. "Hello?"
"Nadir. Oh, thank God. I was starting to worry."
She heard him smiling. "He couldn't have done anything to me. We have him under twenty-four hour armed supervision."
"Still." She paused. "How are you?"
He sighed. "I'm okay. Really tired. It's been a long day."
"Yeah. Me too." Another pause. "Will you come over?"
"I was just about to ask, actually. I'm worried about you."
"You're worried about me?"
"You were in the lion's den today. And you were remarkable - frankly, you scared me a little bit, you were so convincing - but I know you were shaken up."
"Okay. Point taken."
"I'll be there in fifteen."
"See you soon, darling."
She curled up with her afghan to wait, too tired to really watch TV or get a book. The soft apartment buzzer startled her out of her daze and she hurried to let Nadir in. He wrapped her in a big bear hug and she rested her cheek on his chest, remembering how to breathe properly for the first time that day.
"How are you?"
Christine shrugged. "I don't know." She looked up. "Well, I kind of know. Could we stay out here? On the couch?" His brows pushed together in confusion. "I just have a little lamp in my bedroom and I need all the lights on."
He stroked her hair. "Of course. Let's sit down, huh?"
They cuddled together on the couch, Christine's head resting on Nadir's shoulder. He rubbed her back gently. "What are you watching?"
"I have no idea," she murmured.
He chuckled. "Try to go to sleep, sweetheart. You're okay. You're safe."
"Mmhmm," she said. And she knew she was.
They woke the next morning in pins and needles and couldn't quite move for a while. Christine cracked her neck and Nadir groaned, stretching his arms above his head.
"Coffee?" she said.
He followed her to the kitchen. "Mind if I whip up some breakfast?"
"You can cook? Is there anything you can't do?"
"I dabble in omelets and waffles."
"Please, be my guest. I can't make anything but spaghetti." She smiled at him over the coffee pot.
"Your coffee making skills are unmatched, though. I couldn't hope to compete."
"I take coffee very seriously. It's my life's blood."
"Hyper little pixie." He kissed the tip of her nose.
"It does tend to have that effect," she agreed, and kissed him back. There was a moment of lovely distraction, then Christine murmured, "I really am hungry."
Nadir laughed. "Me too. Do you like peppers in your omelet?"
"Surprise me," she said. "I'm sure whatever you make will be delicious."
"You have an absurd amount of faith in my abilities."
"But not an unwarranted one."
He looked up from the frying pan and smiled at her. Christine's heart did a little dance in her chest.
"Thank you," she said softly. "For making me feel normal again."
"I just want you to be okay." He flipped the omelet pointedly. "I really care about you, you know."
"I know. I really care about you, too." She smiled so widely that it made her cheeks hurt. The coffee maker beeped. "Oh! Coffee's done."
"It'll be a couple minutes on the omelets."
Christine poured herself a cup. "I think I'm going to play the piano a bit."
"I'd like that."
She meandered out to the living room, where an ancient upright piano leaned against the far wall. Strangely nervous, she sat on the bench, placing her mug on top of the piano. She hadn't played for an audience - even an audience of one - for years. She rolled a quiet chord experimentally, and then began to play a simple progression, humming a counterpoint. And from there it was easy to move into a simple song, and then she began to sing. Her voice was thin and tired from disuse, but even she knew there was something that remained from her years of performance, something that she couldn't bury or toss aside like everything else.
Since she was sixteen, she'd been constantly reminded that she had the chest of a twelve-year-old boy, her hair was big and frizzy, and she was unfashionably pale and freckly, but when she sang, all of that went away. She felt beautiful, and she knew she looked beautiful. Maybe that was vain, and she was definitely more confident now, even finding herself pretty damn cute most days, but nothing compared to how she felt when she sang. Even softly and privately like this.
She heard footsteps and glanced over her shoulder to see Nadir leaning against the door frame, a plated omelet in his hands.
"Breakfast's ready," he said.
She took the plate from him and he leaned down to kiss her.
"You sound wonderful," he murmured against her lips. "Maybe you could do that more often?"
"Maybe I will," she said.
It was not exactly easy to forget that day, but as the weeks passed and Erik remained safely closeted away, Christine began to let down her guard bit by bit. She stopped checking around every corner for glowing golden eyes. She stopped jumping out of her skin every time someone said her name. It took a little longer to stop checking that her door was locked securely before she went to bed, but with Nadir's comforting, stable presence, that diminished, too. Maybe everything would really go back to normal.
She had formally withdrawn as the consulting psychiatrist on his case. Nobody had blamed her for it - in fact, they'd all been very understanding - but she still felt weirdly guilty. Not because she worried about her job...but because she felt like she was abandoning Erik.
That alarmed her more than anything. She was scared of what it might mean.
And what frightened her even more was how much she wanted to see him again.
She didn't say a word of this to Nadir. There wasn't any point in worrying him, especially considering she didn't plan to act on that impulse. She picked up other cases, moved on, did her work. Went out for dinner, dancing, drinks. Read, listened to music.
But that curiosity remained.
And sooner or later, it would get the better of her.
Thank you all so much for sticking with me. It's good to be back! All of your lovely, kind words really make my day. The fact that so many of you are still here blows my mind, and makes me very, very grateful. And, of course, welcome to all the new readers! I'm so glad you're here. So, here's the deal, folks: WEEKLY UPDATES! Yep, every Saturday. I've got a big ol' outline now and rough sketches of all the chapters, so I should be able to stick to a schedule no problem. I hope this'll make up for my disappearance at least a little bit.
Much love from me to you, dear readers.