The next day I hung around during the early morning hours. I could see from where I was that it was a windy day out. Trees swayed in the wind, small twigs and other debris blew past the doors. I wrapped my arms around myself and shivered as I rubbed my hands up and down my upper arms for warmth.
I showered and dressed in a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved, blue and white checked shirt that buttoned down the front. Then I added a touch of makeup. I watched a little TV, then paced with what appeared to be nervous yet excited anticipation for a while before pulling a gun from the top drawer of the filing cabinet and tucking it in my purse. Finally, I upped and headed out the door.
A few hours later, an old car pulled up in front. Its occupants seemed to be studying the building. I couldn’t tell from where I was just how many people were in the car, but I knew there were at least two. Finally, a middle-aged woman emerged from the driver’s side. She was of average height and weight and had long, thick, overly curly brown hair. She approached the door. Then she placed her hands by the sides of her face and peered inside.
Another person exited the car while I could see someone else still inside it, fumbling with something in the front passenger seat, telling me there were at least three people.
The second person was plump, short and darker skinned with straight shoulder-length black hair. She walked up to the first person by the door. Together they went and spoke to the person who remained in the car. Next, they appeared to be laughing about something.
The car door opened up, and then I saw her. If it was possible for a picture to faint, that’s exactly what I would have done. I knew it was Rosemary right away. She was so beautiful. There was no mistaking that face even with the fifty or sixty feet that lay between us. Her very long hair flowed loosely in the wind as did the bone-white crepe dress she wore which slung over one shoulder and fell to the middle of her thighs on one side and to her knees on the other. It contrasted beautifully against her tanned skin. She wore a beaded necklace, bracelet and anklet which matched the color of her dress, a gold arm bracelet, and brown flat strappy sandals. Her hair hung just inches above the middle of her butt. It was thick and somewhat curly and also a lighter shade of brown than I remembered it to be. Perhaps the desert sun was responsible for this as it seemed much too natural to be dyed. I didn’t remember her having bangs years ago either, which seemed to suit her well.
She walked up to the door, and, taking the key she held in one hand, she unlocked the outer door, letting in the faint sounds of laughter, which grew even louder once the inner doors were swung open.
The trio took a few steps inside and stood and gazed around the huge room.
“Damn,” said Rosemary. “Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz would be saying a lot more than just, Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.” The last part of this sentence was spoken with Dorothy’s shrill voice in mind.
Her curly-haired friend laughed loud and hearty as she slowly veered towards my right saying, “Oh, awesome! A jacuzzi.”
Rosemary and her other friend came towards me. The closer they got, I could see by Rosemary’s muscle tone that she was in excellent shape. She wore eyeliner, mascara and blush with a hint of purple eyeshadow and glossy pink lipstick that had lavender hues. She was a stark contrast to her plain-looking friends, particularly the lighter skinned one. Her beauty both stunned and amazed me. Gone was the cute, chubby kid I once knew, and present was a very sexy young woman, though she was still a cutie. Despite her youthful, innocent looks, I could sense that she was anything but innocent. Unlike in the past when she had given off an air of naivete, I could now sense an air of experience and wisdom underlined with a tone of wariness and doubt.
Though she looked more Native American than Hispanic, her other friend said something in Spanish which Rosemary responded to with ease.
I felt the heartbeat I didn’t really have thump wildly within me once her gaze settled upon me and the others.
“¿Quien ellos?” asked her friend, obviously questioning us.
With a shrug, Rosemary replied, “Yo no se,” which I took to mean I don’t know. She then turned to face her curly-haired friend. “Hey, Marilyn.”
Ah, so it was Marilyn and Rosa, her roommates.
“Yeah,” said Marilyn, trotting over to where Rosemary stood with Rosa.
“Rosa and I were wondering who these people are in these pictures. You know?”
Marilyn gazed up and studied us closely. “I’m not sure, but they do look familiar.”
Rosemary repeated Marilyn’s answer to Rosa in Spanish that was impressively fluent and well-spoken.
A phone rang from somewhere I couldn’t see, then Rosa pulled a cell phone from her pocket and began to speak to the caller in Spanish. They only spoke for a minute, then when Rosa hung up, she said something to Rosemary which she relayed to Marilyn.
“She’s spending the night with Juan,” Rosemary told her. Then, “Come on, let’s explore this place some more.”
The trio ventured down towards the bathroom, peering into it and then into the refrigerator. “Ah, Miss Computer Illiterate likes chicken,” Rosemary said with a smile.
“She even has a sweet tooth. Look. Chocolate chip cookies!” Rosemary said with mock childish excitement.
Marilyn laughed some more as Rosemary spoke in Spanish to Rosa before handing her and Marilyn some cookies. After they ate them, Rosemary said, “Ok, let’s see what we can chase these down with. Ooh, vanilla soda!”
Again the mock excitement, and again Marilyn laughed.
Rosemary opened a two-liter bottle in which the trio took sips from.
“Shouldn’t we have used some of those plastic glasses she’s got stacked on the table there?” asked Marilyn.
“Ah, who gives a shit,” Rosemary said with a wave of her hand.
After washing down their snack, they headed towards the computer. Rosemary sat in the chair with Rosa and Marilyn beside her and said, “Let’s power this piece of shit up and see how bad this nightmare’s going to be.”
“Think it’s that bad?” asked Marilyn as they waited for the computer to boot up.
“Probably. Especially if she doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing.” When the computer was fired up, Rosemary placed her hands on the keyboard and said, “Ok, ladies. Let’s see what we’ve got.”
Though I could not see the monitor from my position on the wall, I could tell by the expression on her lovely face that it wasn’t much.
“Oh, please!” Rosemary moaned. “She’s going to need everything in the world installed.”
Marilyn chuckled, then said, “At least she’s got internet access, judging by the satellite dish out front.”
“That alone tells me what I’m dealing with,” said Rosemary with sarcasm, making Marilyn laugh harder. “If I wanted to be really mean in exchange for all this stupidity, why I could just turn them loose,” she said with a nod towards the car, “go hide somewhere and let her stumble upon them all by her lonesome.”
Marilyn roared with laughter.
“¿Que dice?” asked a confused Rosa.
Rosemary explained in Spanish.
“Oh,” Rosa laughed.
“What do we have here?” said Rosemary, picking up the note I’d scribbled earlier. She read aloud. “Can’t get printer working.”
She rose to her feet and walked around to the back of the printer. She wiggled a cable, then said, “Well, of course you can’t, you geek. You kind of gotta plug it in all the way, you know?”
The three of them laughed, then Rosemary picked up a pen and added to the note, speaking aloud as she wrote. “If you want your printer to work, plug it in, you idiot.”
Marilyn laughed some more as Rosa turned to reach for a drawer of the filing cabinet. “No puedo abra,” she said.
Rosemary put the note down and turned towards Rosa. She strode over to where she stood, knocking the note she’d placed on the edge of the desk to the floor. It ended up wedged in between a wastebasket and a leg of the desk.
She removed one of her gold dangly earrings and tried to pick the lock with it, but didn’t succeed. “Can’t get it open.”
“Oh well,” said Marilyn as Rosemary put the earring back on. “Rosa and I should get going now anyway.”
“Ok,” said Rosemary, “let me get my stuff and my friends.” She trotted towards the door with Marilyn and Rosa following close behind.
The first thing they pulled out of the backseat was what appeared to be a large box covered with a thin blanket. Rosemary and Marilyn carried it into the building and placed it to the right of the door. She lifted the blanket and said, “Yeah, you can go back to sleep now, guys. Sorry to disturb you.”
I figured this was the rats.
Marilyn placed a suitcase and a couple of duffel bags by the outer door as Rosemary went back outside. She hugged her friends before they took off, then carried her stuff inside which she also placed by the rats. She opened the suitcase and gathered up a handful of things she put in the refrigerator. Then she headed back outside, gazing slowly around her, hair and dress flowing sensually in the breeze. She didn’t seem affected by the cool winds around her.
After a moment or two, she slowly sauntered off to the right. A few minutes later, I drove up from the left.
I exited my truck, unlocked the outer door and entered the building just as the phone began ringing. In my haste to answer it, I failed to notice the things Rosemary had left by the wall that ran alongside the space between the inner and outer doors. When I sat down in the chair, I still couldn’t have seen the stuff had I looked in that direction because the bed’s headboard was between it and myself, blocking it from view.
The caller was Melanie, from what I could make out. We chatted about trivial things.
It wasn’t long afterward that Rosemary drifted in front of the doors like a fairy who had flown in on the breeze. She was facing the wind, causing her long hair to stream back behind her along with her dress. She appeared to be studying something overhead with a delightful smile on her face. It took me a moment to make out what it was.
“Oh my God!” I exclaimed. “Maybe love at first sight really does exist… I don’t know. This absolutely gorgeous girl is hanging out front trying to catch a butterfly. A monarch, I think. My God, Melanie, I never saw anything so beautiful in my life! Looks straight out of a fairytale… Nah, it can’t be Rosemary. She isn’t supposed to be here for a few days yet, so let me go find out who this magnificent creature really is. To tell you the truth, she’s so small I can’t even be sure from here if it’s an adult or a child… Yeah, I’ll get back to you. Bye.”
I put the phone down and noticed the stuff by the door just as Rosemary entered the building. I froze, apparently realizing at that moment that between the stuff by the door and the fact that the person entering the building had a key to the door, that yes, it truly was Rosemary.
I heard my breath catch in my throat as she came closer to where I stood a few yards inside the door. I could see the human version of myself was just as taken with and as shocked by Rosemary’s beauty. “Rosemary?”
“Yeah, that’s me,” Rosemary answered without any particular emotion in her voice or expression on her face as she kicked off her sandals just inside the door.
I extended my hand with a wide smile. “Officer Hawkins. You can just call me Kay if you’d like. I’m very glad to meet you.”
Although Rosemary took my hand, she said, “Can’t say the feeling’s mutual till I find out just how much you don’t know that I’ll be stuck having to teach you.”
I chuckled. “Well, I won’t lie to you. I don’t know much, but I assure you I’m a fast learner.”
“A fast learner?” asked Rosemary with an exaggerated southern drawl. “Spent some time down south, I take it.”
“Yeah, Alabama,” I said. “I would’ve been here to greet you personally, it’s just that I thought you weren’t coming for a few days yet. Gwen said something about you doing some recording with a friend.”
“Yes, and she’s not a friend. Just an old acquaintance.”
“She got sick and we postponed it. You know how to run a word processor?” Rosemary asked.
I looked at her with confusion.
“Spreadsheets, databases, anything?”
“No, I’m afraid not,” I said.
“How about email, navigating the net?”
I continued to shake my head. “All I’ve been doing is entering data in a thing called a notepad.”
Rosemary sniffed. “You’re right, you don’t know shit.”
I chuckled. “Sorry.”
“I suppose you haven’t got a clue pertaining to computer lingo either,” said Rosemary, heading over to the computer.
“No, not yet anyway.”
Rosemary turned to face me with suspicion in her sweet yet hardened face. “So how much they paying you, Katie? It’s Katie, right?”
“Well,” I said with a smile, “actually it’s just Kay, but you can call me Katie if you want. Also, I’m not getting paid a cent. Think of it as a trade-off. I give you lots of space and you help me on this thing.” I motioned to the computer.
Rosemary smirked, then took a seat at the computer. “We’ll see. I don’t usually stay in one place for long.”
Rosemary turned to look up at me. “Let’s just say I have a natural talent for getting kicked out of places.”
“Oh, well I won’t kick you out,” I assured Rosemary with a smile. “As long as you’re…”
“Not a danger to yourself or to those around you,” Rosemary finished. “Yes, I know the drill, officer.”
“So your beat’s in the jail?”
“Sometimes. Sometimes I’m undercover, sometimes I’m in the jail.”
“Ever been to Arizona?”
“No, ma’am, I haven’t.”
“So you wouldn’t have known her.”
“Known her?” I asked with confusion. Then, “Oh. No, I’m sorry, I didn’t.”
“So what’s your girlfriend think about this little arrangement? I know you’re gay,” Rosemary said in a matter of fact tone of voice.
I laughed, heading for the file cabinet. “Yes, but there is no girlfriend at the moment.”
Rosemary swiveled around in the chair and watched as I took a key from my shirt pocket and began to unlock the cabinet. I appeared to be having a little difficulty. “This is a really tough lock on this thing.”
“Damn right it is,” Rosemary agreed. “I couldn’t pick the thing to save my life.”
I froze, then glanced back at Rosemary with a slight smile. “Ah, tried to pick it, did ya?”
Rosemary nodded. “I was curious about what I was staying with.”
“Well, that’s understandable,” I said, turning back to the now open file drawer. “But nothing in here will tell you anything about me. This is all just boring police business in here. Past and present cases I’m working on.”
Rosemary rose to her feet. “At least the cookies were easy enough to get into.”
I laughed as I pulled my gun from my sock and locked it in the cabinet, placing the key back in my pocket. When I turned around, I saw that I was in for a surprise. In the time I had my back turned, Rosemary had lifted up the blanket covering the rat cage and taken out two rats, one dark, one light. They sat perched on her shoulders.
Rosemary let out an amused laugh at the sight of the expression on my face.
“Uh,” I began hesitantly.
“Now, now,” said Rosemary with mock shame, “certainly the big tough officer isn’t afraid of a couple of rats, is she?”
“Well,” I said hesitantly, though with a smile as I ran a hand through my hair, still somewhat nervous. I inched my way towards the couch.
Rosemary’s smile widened, matching the white of her dress. “Old Baldilocks and Little Guy here would never hurt anyone. They like people.”
“Baldilocks?” I asked with a laugh.
Rosemary nodded. “That’s the brown one. I call him that because his fur’s really thin.”
Rosemary continued to pat the rats as they sat on her shoulder. “They really are lots of fun and they’re incredibly cute when they play together. Look. They even make good back scratchers.” Rosemary picked up the smaller crème colored rat by the base of its tail as she turned around. Then, holding the rat behind her close to her head, it began to instinctively paw at her upper back trying to get a grip on something. A second later, she placed the rat back on her shoulder.
This was when I burst out laughing with amusement. “That’s good. That’s really good.”
“She’s not going to be laughing in a minute,” Rosemary spoke into the other rat’s ear.
My smile dropped as Rosemary bent over and placed the rats on the floor. I threw myself on the couch as the rats took off to explore the unfamiliar surroundings.
“Won’t they chew and damage things?” I asked with concern.
“Nope. The rats are trained.”
“Oh, I see,” I said softly, still not sure what to make of my new roommates. “At least I’m safe here.”
“No, you’re not,” said Rosemary, just as the light rat jumped up onto the couch, sending me right back off of it.
“Oh my God,” I said.
“Hit the bed, officer Hawkins. They can’t jump that high.” A peel of that old familiar laughter that I used to wish I’d hear more often erupted from Rosemary. I could tell I was just as amused as I was terrified.
“Where are they now?” I asked frantically, peering over the edge of the bed.
“Over there by the desk playing. See, aren’t they cute? Just like little puppies.”
“Sort of. They’re still pretty creepy, though, because they’re still rats.”
“People are very misguided where rats are concerned,” Rosemary said.
Just then, with lightning speed, one of the rats ran towards the bed and the other gave chase. I reached down and tried to shoo them away with my hand. “No, no. Go play over there.” Instead of running away, though, they tried to reach my hand.
“No, Katie,” said Rosemary in between laughs. “They think you’re playing with them when you do that.”
“Oh God!” I cried. “You mean this is a game to them?”
Rosemary nodded with a broad smile. “Everything’s a game to them. Even you.”
“Oh great,” I said, flopping down on my back.
“If you want, I can call Marilyn to come and get us.”
I quickly sat back upright. “Oh no, you don’t have to go that far. They’re just rats after all.”
“Guess that means I oughta conquer my fears.”
Rosemary dropped to the floor and called the rats. They came running to her and climbed all over her in a happy, eager and playful manner, making her giggle with delight. My eyebrows raised as I watched in amazement. Rosemary then picked one up and said, “Watch. He even gives kisses back.” She kissed the rat’s side, and sure enough, the rat turned its head and pecked her cheek with a kiss of his own.
“Aw, how sweet,” I said with a soft smile.
“I’ll get them home now,” Rosemary said, rising to her feet. “I brought the smaller cage, not knowing how long we’d be here. Come on, boys,” she called as she led the rats towards their cage. They hopped along and followed obediently. “I’ll get your lettuce and cheese now.”
I sat at the edge of the bed, eyes following Rosemary as she ran down towards the refrigerator, then back to where the rats were.
“I’m going to pull them down closer to the refrigerator if that’s ok,” Rosemary said.
“Sure,” I said, rising to my feet, “do whatever you need to do to make yourself comfortable.” I sauntered over to the computer and sat in the chair. It was while she was pulling the cage down and feeding them that I noticed the note. I picked it up. My brows furrowed questioningly as I read it out loud. “If you want your printer to work, plug it in, you idiot?”
“Oh yeah,” said Rosemary with a laugh, “I fixed your printer.”
“Why thank you, ma’am,” I said with a smile, rising to inspect it. Then I sat back down, elbows resting on the armrests of the chair while I clasped and unclasped my fingers in a jovial manner. I seemed to be more relaxed than I’d ever seen myself before.
“Gotta go pee,” said Rosemary.
Just as she shut the door, the phone rang.
“Yes, it was her. She’s in the bathroom now… The person she was going to sing for got sick… No, not a flicker of recognition. Of course, we don’t exactly look like we do in our pictures. Close, but not quite… Things are going well… Yeah, she’s quite a spunky one,” I said with a wide smile. “Ok, I’ll call you tomorrow.”
I hung up just as Rosemary emerged from the bathroom with her hair now in two ponytails. Only the ponytails fell barely to her elbows. I noticed the difference right away, too.
“Thought I’d get rid of some of this hair while I was at it,” said Rosemary, now almost to where I sat.
“Wow,” I said with shock. “That was fast. It was so long before, but this is still a good length.”
Rosemary was right by me now as I continued to observe her hair. Suddenly, I frowned, leaning closer to her. “It’s not – you didn’t cut your hair, you silly girl. You tied it in a knot.”
Rosemary and I laughed as she undid the knots, letting her hair fall back to its overly long length.
“Pretty funny,” I said with a smile. “And where’d you get the metallic nails?”
“They’re not metallic nails, it’s metallic nail polish.”
“Oh, I see. Pretty neat,” I said, studying her shiny blue fingernails.
“The silver’s on my toes.”
I glanced down towards Rosemary’s small feet. “Yup, those are some pretty silvery toes.” I looked back up and smiled softly, eyes ablaze with admiration and attraction. It was obvious that Janet’s predictions had been accurate.
I sensed the feeling was mutual.
“That your natural hair color?” I asked.
“Yup, it is, and I hear you knew my sister.”
I blinked in surprise, smile widening. So this was a sample of the quick-changing subjects. “Sort of.”
A flicker of suspicion crossed Rosemary’s features. “Well, which is it? You either knew her or you didn’t.”
“I knew her, though I hardly saw her over the last decade or so.”
“Bitch drive you away, too?”
“You could say that. I hear you two didn’t get along and that you disowned your parents
and your brother.”
Rosemary nodded. “Sure did.”
“I hear they weren’t too nice to you, though I thought maybe you could tell me about it in your own words.”
“Not much to tell. They were very abusive, negative, moody, contradictory, narrow-minded and hypocritical people. You know, the kind that’ll tell you in one breath that they don’t swear, smoke or drink, while in the next you hear, goddamnit, I left my cigarettes at the bar!”
I erupted with laughter. “I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s not that I don’t empathize with you, but that sure was a funny way of putting it.”
Rosemary laughed too, then grew serious. “You know what’s really scary, officer Hawkins?”
“Growing up thinking everyone but yourself is ok, only to end up realizing that you’re ok after all and it’s really the rest of the world that’s crazy.”
I laughed again. “Yes, I think I can understand how you could say that.”
Just then a squad car pulled up in front of the doors.
Rosemary turned towards the doors, then back to me. She began to tremble. “I didn’t do anything. I really am a hundred percent innocent.”
I smiled assuringly. “Relax. I’m sure it’s just friends of mine.”
The car came to a halt and two female officers stepped out. One was tall and thin, the other short and wide.
I walked over and pushed the outer doors open. “Hey, you two,” I said. “What’s up?”
“Just thought we’d check out your new fort,” said the tall one.
“Oh, well come on in then and meet my new little roommate.”
“I think we’ve met,” said Rosemary.
“Rosemary!” exclaimed the tall officer as she entered the building. “What’s up, babe? You hanging out with this here computer illiterate thing?”
“I think that’s why I’m here,” said Rosemary.
“Got any vibes on my new date?” asked the short officer.
Rosemary shook her head.
“Any on how to win the lottery?”
“Shit, Chambers, I ain’t that psychic. If I were I’d have won the lottery myself years ago.”
Again everyone laughed.
“Got a joke for us?” asked the tall one, who then quickly glanced at me. “Every time we see each other we exchange jokes.”
“Oh,” I said with a smile.
“Let’s see,” said Rosemary with a thoughtful expression. “Ok, here’s one. What do you call a gay guy who becomes a nun?”
I could see a mixture of shock, amusement and curiosity written on my face.
“Hmm, a gay guy who becomes a nun?” the tall officer said as she pondered Rosemary’s question. “I’m stumped, girl. What do you call them?”
The officers and I burst out laughing.
“Hey, I got one, I got one,” said Chambers, rubbing her hands together in eager anticipation of the amusement the joke she had in mind would bring. “One day, during a lesson on proper grammar, the teacher asked for a show of hands from anyone who could use the word beautiful in the same sentence twice. First, she called on little Suzie who responded with, my father bought my mother a beautiful dress and she looked beautiful in it. Very good Suzie, replied the teacher. She then called on little Michael and he said, my mommy planned a beautiful banquet and it turned out beautifully. Excellent, Michael! said the teacher. Then she called on little Johnny who said, last night at the dinner table, my sister told my father she was pregnant, and he said, beautiful, just fucking beautiful!”
The foursome roared with laughter.
After they left, Rosemary jogged over to the computer while I made sure the outer door was locked securely. Then I turned and headed towards her.
“Can I activate the surround sound system?” asked Rosemary.
Rosemary glanced at me and said, “My God, woman, were you in a coma worse than mine, or what?”
I smiled. “I’m not very up to date on technology.”
“I guess not. See those speakers up there?”
I followed Rosemary’s gaze.
“Their wires run along the ceiling and meet in the center. Then they run down this pole over here and hook right into the computer. It’s for a reason, you know?”
“I’ll take your word for it,” I said with a chuckle.
“I also brought along some software to install.”
Again Rosemary rolled her eyes. Then said, “To run any programs I think we could use.”
One of the rats started squeaking.
“Yeah, Little Guy, you can sit on my shoulder and watch.” I watched as Rosemary fetched the light-colored rat and placed him on her shoulder. “Don’t worry,” she said, “I’ll keep him where he’s at.”
“Ok, and while you set up whatever you need to, I’ll just go through my mail.”
“You get your mail delivered here now?”
“Mmm hmm,” I said with a nod. “They slip whatever they can in the mail slot that’s in the outer door.”
Rosemary took hold of the mouse and began exploring the computer while I opened an envelope.
“Gotta update your drivers,” Rosemary said.
I smiled. “For all I know, you could be telling me I gotta get someone to drive me to work and to the store or something.”
Rosemary turned her face towards her rat and said, “Definitely computer illiterate.”
I smiled some more.
“At least she’s good looking.”
After a series of clicks and keystrokes, harsh rap music suddenly came blasting from the ceiling-mounted speakers, nearly sending me right out of my skin.
Rosemary then turned it down. “A little loud for you?” she asked with a smile.
“Yeah, more than a little loud. I didn’t realize such little speakers could be so loud.”
“It used to be that bigger was better, but those days are long gone.”
“Obviously. What is this stuff you’re playing?”
“I downloaded copies of some of my home files.”
Rosemary nodded. “MP3 files, which are compressed music files. I told Marilyn to leave my computer on so I could retrieve the copies.”
“Wow, it’s amazing that you can do that.”
“So you can copy all your favorite songs and have them over here on this computer?”
“Yup. In just a matter of minutes.”
Rosemary looked at me curiously, seemingly unsure of what to make of me. After all, we were apparently living in a time when most people knew at least a little something about computers or at least some of the things they were used for. She looked back at the monitor, then said, “Oh cool. The thing’s got software for setting up vocal commands.”
I looked down at Rosemary as she sat beside where I stood, confusion on my face.
“It’s to play songs by vocal request. Let’s see how well it works.” A few more keystrokes, then, “Ok, before I activate the microphone, tell me what you want to hear.”
“Uh, how about something by Linda Ronstadt?”
“Heatwave,” said Rosemary.
A male rapper began a steady stream of personal hardships and profanities.
I laughed as Rosemary cut the music. “What is this you’re listening to anyway?”
“I got everything from hardcore rap to the Partridge Family.”
“The Partridge Family,” I said with another quick laugh. “Play something of theirs.”
“I think I love you.”
A mellow country song began. Rosemary closed her eyes and shook her head while I giggled.
“Go to hell,” Rosemary said next.
Upbeat salsa music began to play, sending us both into a fit of hysterical laughter.
After a minute, Rosemary rose to put her rat back in its cage, leaving me to continue browsing through the day’s mail. With the rat back in its home, Rosemary then turned her attention to her stuff by the door. She pulled a short, skinny stick from her suitcase and lit the end of it. I was too engrossed in my mail to notice. Rosemary blew out the flame from the end of the stick and sauntered over towards me, holding it like a cigarette. For a minute, even I wondered if it were a real cigarette what with the way she held it.
“You smoke?” asked Rosemary.
I turned to face her, dropping the envelope I’d been holding onto the desk. “Hey. Hey, they said you quit that crap. There’s no smoking allowed as long as you’re with me, Rosemary, and I don’t want…” my voice trailed off.
Rosemary began to giggle.
“Oh!” I exclaimed, realizing I wasn’t seeing what I thought I was seeing. “That’s incense, isn’t it?”
Rosemary nodded, grinning impishly.
“I’ve never seen incense sticks that short.”
“These are the mini sticks. Cow sticks.”
“I used to use them in the car when going by the smelly cattle farms out west.”
I put my hands on my hips and said, “You really are going to keep me on my toes and be full of surprises, aren’t you?” Then I sniffed the air. “Don’t know what it is, but it smells mighty fine.”
“It’s booty call.”
“It’s similar to patchouli, only sweeter.”
“Oh, well let’s see everything you’ve got with you, shall we?”
“Don’t have any no-no’s I should know about, do you?”
“Oh yeah, officer, all kinds. Grenades, pistols, bombs, drugs, you name it,” Rosemary said with sarcastic humor that drew a smile from me as she flung the cover of her suitcase back open.
“Wow,” I said. “You really are heavily armed with incense now, aren’t you?”
Rosemary nodded, placing the mini stick inside a tie-dye painted bottle that sat on the floor.
I squatted down to observe the names of the fragrances listed on the various bags. “Jasmine, angel, brown sugar – that oughta be interesting – chocolate, butter rum, cedar, grape, honey, watermelon, vanilla, puddy cat… puddy cat? What’s that?”
“It has sort of a fruity scent.”
I continued inventorying the fragrances. “Morning mist, majmua, sexy, pussy… pussy?”
“I’ll burn one next. Just don’t be too disappointed if it doesn’t turn out to smell like the real thing.”
“Oh, ok,” I said with a chuckle and a slight blush as I stood upright.
“You were so funny back there. Classic expression on your face,” Rosemary said laughing as she imitated me. “Hey! Hey, they told me you quit that crap!”
“I’m sure I was hilarious.”
“Almost as hilarious as when I hit them with blanks.”
Rosemary nodded. “I don’t have any blank incense sticks here to show you or the oils I use to dip them in, but I’ve played a few jokes on some friends where I gave them a blank stick, which simply looks like a tan colored stick, and told them it was a certain scent. Meanwhile, it had never been dipped in any of the incense oils.”
“The sticks will still burn if they’re not dipped in fragrance oil?”
Rosemary nodded again. “They’ll just smell smoky.”
“And when they’re dipped, they don’t?”
“Well, you tell me. Does this incense smell smoky?”
I sniffed the air. “No, it doesn’t. How long do they burn for?”
“Minis burn for a half hour, and the long ones burn for an hour.”
I turned back to the bags of incense and asked, “What’s majmua and morning mist?”
“Majmua’s kind of got a deep, nutty smell to it and morning mist has a rich powdery smell.”
“What’s your favorite?”
“It’s a perfume.”
“Oh,” I said, turning to face Rosemary. “Angel incense for the lady with the big green angel eyes.”
Rosemary smiled, then said, “Speaking of which, let me jump online and see if I have any orders I gotta get cracking on. If you’re sure you want me around, and since you have a truck, can you drive me over to the duplex tomorrow to get more stuff?”
“Of course. You work hard, huh?” I asked, taking a seat on the couch, observing Rosemary at the computer.
“Hard enough to make enough money to live on, but not too hard that I don’t have a life, unlike most women these days.”
“Yeah, I guess the women and work movement’s going pretty strong.”
Rosemary nodded. “It used to be you got married and had kids. Now you get married and go to work. Or maybe you skip the marriage altogether, but either way, you go to work or else!”
I chuckled. “So how do you feel about it all?”
“I work because I need to in order to survive and not because society thinks I ought to. I’m not married because the woman who played the role of my husband was killed. And lastly, I’m childless because the artificial insemination we tried three times failed to take. To sum it all up, I feel people should follow their hearts and not statistics and norms.”
I smiled and said, “You know what?”
“I think I like your attitude, though I don’t know if that means anything to you.”
“What people think in general doesn’t faze me, but the more I care about someone, the more I care about what they think and feel.”
I smiled again. “Any orders?”
“Yup,” Rosemary said with a nod. “A few new orders, plus I got stuff drying out in the cellar at home ready to be bagged and shipped.”
“You soak the incense for twenty-four hours, then you air dry it for two days.”
“What do you soak and dry them in?”
“In labeled Tupperware containers and soda bottles that I cut the tops off of.”
“What are the labels for?”
“The fragrance, of course. I don’t want to be accidentally sending the person in California the blueberry incense that belonged to the person in Maine while they get the California person’s vanilla incense.”
“Makes sense,” I said.
“Now let me check my email real quick to see if I’ve got any questions from anyone,” said Rosemary. A moment later she said, “Someone’s asking if I think the incense smells good.”
“No,” Rosemary said sarcastically, “I make only stuff I think smells like shit.”
I laughed again, then said, “Well, it’s just about dinnertime. What would you like? Do you
want to rummage through the stuff I’ve got here, or would you like to go out somewhere?”
“I don’t have much money on me right now,” said Rosemary.
“Oh, that’s ok. I can cover it.”
“I’ll go see what you’ve got and I’ll let you know.”
“Ok,” I smiled, obviously amused by Rosemary’s cuteness as she walked down to the refrigerator to check out its contents, along with what was laid out on the table. After a moment she turned back to me. “I think I can make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. What do you want?”
“You sure a sandwich is enough for you? I’ve got lots and lots of stuff over there.”
Rosemary nodded. “What do you want me to fix you?”
I rose from the couch. “I can fix something myself, but thanks for offering.”
“Sure you don’t want a sandwich, too? I can throw two of them together in a snap.”
“Ok,” I said with a smile. “You throw the sandwiches together and I’ll get the drinks. Is diet Coke ok?”
Rosemary nodded as she opened what appeared to be a jar of peanut butter. I watched as she smeared it on two slices of bread, then struggled to open the jar of what I took to be the jelly.
“Yeah, I think so,” Rosemary said just as the cover popped off.
“Strong one, ain’t ya?”
“Yeah, scary, isn’t it?”
“Why would it be scary?” I asked.
“Well, I just thought one might find it rather unnerving when the so-called subject can kick the shit out of the officer,” Rosemary said with a devilish grin.
I smiled and said, “I didn’t know she could.” It was obvious to me that while Rosemary may not have been overestimating herself, she was certainly underestimating me.
“Where would you like to be served, Katie?”
“How about we pull out one of these tables and a couple of chairs? I had one set up, but I ended up using it elsewhere and it’s a bit small for two anyway,” I said as I grabbed a folding table, opened it up, then trotted over to the table where the food was by the refrigerator for something to dust it off with. “Let me just get it dusted off, then we’ll eat.”
“I hate spiders and webs. Can you make sure there aren’t any?” Rosemary asked.
“Sure can.” I finished dusting and inspected the table and chairs carefully. “All safe.”
We sat at the table just a few yards from where the refrigerator was and began eating.
“You make a good sandwich,” I said. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” Rosemary said as she surveyed the huge room. “Feels kind of weird staying in an old gym, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, it does.”
“Something like a hundred and twenty feet by sixty feet. Not the biggest gym, but big enough.”
“So just how in the world did you end up in a place like this anyway?” Rosemary asked curiously.
“It’s where the prisoners at the local prison were working for a while.”
“Repairs, painting, things like that. I’m not sure what it was used for before, but once the prisoners were done doing what needed to be done with the place, I contacted the owner and leased it not only as an office to work out of, but because I needed a place to stay.”
“I was just coming out of a two-year relationship,” I explained.
“Oh. Do you mind my asking why?”
“It just wasn’t going anywhere and she turned out to be a bit of a nut in the end.”
“Her moods. One minute she was ok with the breakup, the next she’d be flipping out on me and saying I was dumping her when in fact we both agreed it was for the best.”
“You been with a lot of people?”
“Just one other lady before this one.”
“What happened there?” Rosemary asked.
“She decided she didn’t want to be with a cop and I didn’t want to be with anyone who cheated on me which I found out she was doing in the end.”
“It seems like ninety-nine percent of the relationships out there fail.”
“Yeah, a lot of them do, but not all of them. I mean, you were happy with the officer you were with, weren’t you?”
“Very much so. She had her moody sides as well and she could be a bit of a slob at times, but there was definitely much more good to her than bad. If there wasn’t, I would never have married her in the first place. My standards are, as some might say, ridiculously high.”
“Nothing wrong with that. Were you with many people before her?”
Rosemary nodded. “I was a regular little slut, though not a happy one.”
I laughed at her blunt humor.
“I’d call it more of a settler. Most of them were one night stands, though I can assure you I’m anything but loose these days. Don’t let the way I dress or the things I may say or do fool you. Nonetheless, I definitely had my share of losers before Teddy Bear. Almost all of them were sexual misfits, to say nothing of the faulty wiring up here,” Rosemary said pointing to her temple. “It was getting to the point where I was practically asking people up front when we’d meet, so what’s your problem in bed?”
“And what kind of mental defects do you possess?”
We both laughed this time.
“I know it sounds cold, but I was like, why me? Whether these people couldn’t help themselves or were the cause of their own problems, why me? Don’t know who I was more embarrassed for, them or me. Here’s one that’ll really make you laugh,” Rosemary continued. “I met this guy once who goes into this huge spiel just days after we met on how he expected me to work when we got married and that there’d be absolutely no sex without some form of birth control, but of course, we could always get out of that if I got fixed. And so he goes on and on to explain the difference between men and women pertaining to the subject of kids. Just like more guys are into sports than women, well, having kids isn’t really a guy thing, he’d tell me. On and on he went. I must’ve let him ramble for a good ten minutes straight when I finally felt it was definitely time to spill the beans on him, and I came out and said, guess what, buddy? I don’t intend to marry you in the first place.”
I burst out laughing. “So he wasted his time rambling away like that for nothing, huh?”
Rosemary nodded as she popped the last bite of her sandwich into her mouth.
“So is sex in a relationship just as important to you as the relationship itself?”
“No. I mean, I’ve never been big on sex, if that’s what you mean. A woman doesn’t have to have her face between my legs to show she loves me. Sex to me is an extra, a side dish to be taken or left. I know I have to have attraction, though. Beautiful assholes don’t cut it for me any more than nice, sweet pimply geeks.”
I laughed heartily, took a sip of my soda and said, “I hear you on that one. Did you ever cheat on Teddy Bear?”
“No. I got offers, but I knew the guilt I’d feel in the end wouldn’t be worth the fifteen-second orgasm.”
I laughed again. “That’s a good way of seeing it. How do you feel about Gwen? Would you say you get along well with her?”
A thoughtful expression formed on Rosemary’s features. “She’s alright, I guess. I mean, I know she’s got my best interest at heart, but sometimes she makes me want to punch her in the mouth so hard she’d be shitting teeth for a good week or two.”
My eyes bulged. “Remind me never to piss you off.”
“It’s just that she makes me feel like a kid all over again, checking up on me and trying to get me to do this or do that. I try to be nice to her, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life it’s that as soon as you come off as too nice, you’re screwed, not that Gwen wants to screw me over in any way or take advantage of me. Nonetheless, and like it or not, you really do have to come off as a confrontational bitch at times to keep people off your ass.”
“Yeah, I hear you,” I said with understanding.
“I’m just so sick of all kinds of people having this grand hold on me that I can’t break free of and deciding my fate for me. For so much of my life, I’ve been this one’s puppet or that one’s puppet and it gets old. I’d really like, for a change, to have more of your normal, everyday problems instead of such fluky bullshit going on. You know, the kind that’s not supposed to happen to you but does anyway?”
“I’m no one’s slave, Katie. I’m determined to be my own boss and to be myself and if someone’s got a problem with that, I say fuck them. People have used and abused me all I’ll stand for, just so you’re given fair warning.”
“I’m not going to hurt you in any way, sweetie,” I said with gentle sincerity.
“I’ve heard that before. Actions speak louder than words, you know.”
“I know they do, and you’ll see that my actions will match my words so I’m really not worried about it. However, if you don’t give me a chance, I can’t prove to you that I mean what I say.”
“I hope for your sake just as much as mine that you do mean what you say because if there’s one thing I don’t take anymore it’s other people’s shit and I don’t care how defensive I sound. You want an example of just how much people’s bullshit has changed me over the years?”
“Sure,” I said.
“About five years ago I met this deaf chick who was glad I knew sign language. She wanted to know more people who signed whether they were deaf or not, and I wanted a friend I could sign with. Signing’s fun. When I told her I was gay she immediately went into a paranoid frenzy, telling me that I was wrong to be the way I was and that she’d dump me if I ever touched her. Well, the old Rosemary that was too nice and too polite simply said, I’m not attracted to you in that way so don’t worry. Meanwhile, I was still willing to be this person’s friend despite the fact that she was a bigot. If this were happening now, I’d have been like, get the fuck out of my life, and besides, you’re one ugly dog I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole, and this was true, too.”
I laughed, though I wasn’t without empathy.
“I could kick myself for all the bullshit I put up with when I should’ve just walked away, though finally, I did.”
“Better later than never,” I said.
“That’s true. Nowadays, I don’t forgive them, I don’t put up with them, I don’t try to change them. I simply dump them and move on. Cutting family ties was the best thing I ever did, as crazy as that may sound to those fortunate enough to grow up in loving households.”
I smiled gently. We sat in silence for several minutes before I spoke again, obviously unable to keep my eyes off of the beautiful lady that dined with me as the sun began to set. “So do you mind my asking how you got into the business of making and selling incense?”
“Nope. By accident.”
Rosemary nodded, draining her glass of soda. “It started with me searching the web for freebies. You know, free samples of various things like shampoo, perfume, that sort of thing. One of the sites offering samples was this incense site. I was amazed at the huge selection of scents. I didn’t know there was any such thing as bubble gum incense. I tried it and didn’t like some of the scents and at first, I was even tempted to return it, but then it grew on me. After a while, I thought about making and selling my own but was afraid to at first because I had failed to achieve so many things in life as it was. I give myself ample time to try and achieve something. If it’s not meant to be, I move on to something else and try not to let the things I didn’t achieve in the past hold me back or the what-ifs that can sometimes run through my mind. So I opened an eBay store for just ten dollars a month and it was a success. I was really surprised yet delighted to make money doing something I enjoy. I mean, it sure beats flipping burgers and cleaning houses.”
I smiled broadly. “I’ll bet it does. It’s amazing that you can own a store so easily these days, even if it’s an electronic one.”
“You can say that again. If someone had told me just a year or two ago that I’d own a store of any kind, I’d have laughed my ass off, but it’s great. No bosses breathing down my neck, no schedules to have to keep, no coworkers to have to fight with, no worries over write-ups, firings or layoffs, no nothing. At first, it was frustrating because I’d specifically state that I shipped to US customers only yet I kept getting all kinds of foreigners from Spain, Russia, China and France requesting this and requesting that. Someone advised me to be more flexible if I wanted to succeed, and at first, I was like, as flexible as France? I don’t think so!”
I laughed heartily.
“But then I decided, ok, if they’re willing to pay the shipping costs, I’ll ship outside the country.”
I gazed affectionately at Rosemary as I swirled the ice around in my soda glass. “So what’s the difference between the web and the internet?” I asked a moment later.
Rosemary stilled, eyes darting towards mine, then she burst out laughing hysterically.
For the rest of the day, I couldn’t seem to get Rosemary to talk much, though I respected her need for space and quietness. Especially since the only way to get any privacy in the giant room was to go into the bathroom.
I shut the blinds on the outer door and spent the evening sitting on the couch either reading or watching the big screen TV, while she worked on the computer and her own laptop which she showed me after our peanut butter and jelly sandwich dinner.
“Geez, can you type any faster?” I said with a smile at one point as I sauntered up to where she sat gracefully tapping at the keyboard.
Rosemary turned to me with a smile. “After you’ve typed as long as I have, you just may find you can type nearly as fast as you talk, too.”
“I’m sure I would.”
Rosemary rose and asked. “Ready for some pussy?”
I blinked, startled. My face turned beat red as I blushed. I didn’t realize I was capable of such shyness. Perhaps it was just something about Rosemary’s direct approach. “Uh, well…” I stuttered with shocked amusement.
“The incense, silly!”
“Oh, oh the incense!” I said over Rosemary’s roaring laughter.
Through her laughter, Rosemary said, “You just might be more fun to hang with than I thought.”
“Yeah, I’m sure I will be,” I chuckled.
Still laughing, Rosemary headed over to where her incense was and pulled a stick of incense from one of the bags and lit it. She stopped laughing to light the stick, but heading back over to where I stood, she began to laugh again.
“You’re never going to let me live this one down, are you?” I asked with a smile.
“Nope. Never.” She held the incense out towards me. “Doesn’t smell like the real thing, does it, officer?”
I sniffed the air. “No, I can’t say that it does. To tell you the truth, I don’t know how I’d really describe it. It’s pretty good, though, either way.”
Rosemary was still laughing. “This one’s even funnier than the geographical misunderstanding some friends and I once had.”
“Huh?” I asked, brows furrowed.
“I was friends with this gay guy named Emmet for quite a while until he died of cancer. He moved to Arizona before I did. He and I knew this loser named Fran who lives in this area last I knew, who knew another loser named Ann who also lives in this area.”
I smiled in anticipation of what was to come as we settled on the couch.
“Do you know what three-way calling is?”
“Wow. I’m amazed you even know what that is.”
I laughed and said, “I’ll catch up on my technology, don’t you worry.”
“I’ve got this on tape somewhere, but anyway, one day Emmet called me and I called Fran who called Ann. Emmet and I had never met Ann before. See, Fran was retarded, amongst other things, most of which wasn’t very good, and Ann was pretty much the same. They had the same social worker, I guess, so that’s how they met. I think they worked together at a place for people like them that were on disability for not being all there.” Rosemary tapped her temple. “So we were all gabbing one wintry day and at one point I casually mentioned the weather, saying, I heard it’s going to be in the sixties tomorrow. To that Ann says, really? I heard it’ll only be fifteen.”
“So she’s all confused and she goes, wait a minute, where are you guys, Florida? And so I tell her, try Arizona, why don’t you!”
I roared with laughter so hard I never thought I’d stop. “That-that’s just hilarious!” More laughter. “That’s a good one. You’ll definitely have to tell this to Melanie.”
“A good friend of mine.”
Not long afterward, Rosemary went to take a shower. She emerged from the bathroom wearing a long sleep shirt. I observed her movements as she strode over to where her suitcase was and pulled out a brush. She began running the brush through her long wet tresses when I asked how long it took to grow them.
“Not too long. I may have to cut it soon, though. I’ve been getting these killer headaches.”
“Think it’s cause of the weight of all the hair?”
“It’s never been a problem before, but I guess it is now. Can’t think of any other reason I’d get them.”
I rose and stretched my long arms overhead. “Well, it’s getting kind of late so I think I’ll get changed up myself and hit the sack.”
Rosemary put her brush down and walked towards me. “Is the clock on the wall behind you the right time?”
“Seems to be.”
“And this is what you call getting kind of late?” Rosemary asked with a smile.
“Well, for me it is.”
“Pretty funny, huh?”
“Well, as amusing as it may be, I’m going to turn in now, but you can keep the lights on down at the other end for a while. Just try not to stay up too late. I really do need your help on the computer, and besides, I enjoy your company.”
“Ok,” said Rosemary as she settled down at the computer.
“Where would you like me to sleep?”
“Well, where would you like to sleep?”
“In the bed.”
“So,” I said with a slight smile, unsure of what to do, “does that mean you want me sleeping
on the couch?”
Rosemary shook her head. “You can sleep wherever you want. I don’t bite, officer.”
“Oh, ok,” I said with a slight blush, heading into the bathroom with clothing draped over my arm. Just as I passed by the rat’s cage, one jumped at me with a shriek. “Whoa!” I yelled, startled.
Rosemary laughed with amusement. “They don’t like anyone they don’t know well going near their home.”
“I guess not,” I said as I continued on to the bathroom only to emerge a few minutes later clad in a sleeveless sleep shirt. I was just in time to see Rosemary pluck a can from the food table and start to walk off with it. As soon as she saw me, however, she turned around and placed it back on the table.
“Nice muscles,” Rosemary said.
“Thank you,” I said with a nod and a slight smile as I made my way towards the bed. “Remember, try not to stay up too late, and don’t hesitate to wake me if you need anything, ok?”
Rosemary nodded. “Sweet dreams, officer.”
“You too, when you go to bed.” I slid under the covers on the side of the bed furthest from me and where Rosemary sat at the computer.
My attention then turned to Rosemary, the girl I knew my physical self had come to love in a whole new way in just a matter of hours.
Rosemary sat at the computer for the next few hours, lighting one incense stick after another and munching on cheese crackers. Her little fingers flew across the keyboard as if they were mechanical. It was a rather comical sight to see.
At one point I saw myself sit up in bed and rub my eyes. I squinted, studying Rosemary’s shadowy form for a minute, then rose from the bed.
Rosemary turned at the sound of my movements. “Can’t sleep?”
“No, I can sleep just fine and I think you ought to as well, hon. It’s late.”
“It’s not late. It’s only 1:00 in the morning,” she said in a tone as if to say that my suggesting it was late was ridiculous. I could see she was amused, nonetheless.
I smiled. “Yeah, well, we had a little agreement, remember?”
“Yeah, so? I guess it’s human nature to say we’ll do things for people we have no intentions of doing.”
“I don’t. I mean what I say, Rosemary, and if you’re going to teach me what I need to know, then we need to be up at the same time which means we really ought to sleep together.”
Rosemary’s eyebrows rose suggestively. “Really?”
I smiled as I blushed, then continued on. “Therefore, I really think you ought to turn in for the night so you don’t go sleeping the day away.”
“Ok, let me shut down and cut the lights.”
Rosemary did just that as I lay back on my pillow. I could hear her making her way towards me in the dark a moment later.
“Careful not to trip over anything.”
“Nothing to trip over between the light switches and the bed,” Rosemary said. “I ain’t sleeping in this damn shirt. I hate the way these things twist around me in my sleep.”
“Do whatever you need to do to be comfortable,” I said.
After I heard the swishing of fabric, Rosemary asked, “What’s that light glowing by the bathroom, a nightlight?”
“Uh-huh,” I replied with a yawn.
“Good night,” said Rosemary, getting into bed. I could just barely make out her form in the dim, shadowy light.
“Nighty night,” I said.