Disclaimer: See part one.
A Sacrifice for Friendship
By DS Bauden
Help me I think I'm falling in love again. When I get that crazy feeling, I know I'm in trouble again. I'm in trouble 'cause you're a rambler and a gambler and a sweet-taIking-ladies man. And you love your lovin', but not like you love your freedom...
The morning came fast as I heard my clock radio turn on with Joni Mitchell singing. This was one of my favorite songs of old. The tune played on as I felt the person in the other half of my bed stir. I looked over to see mobs of brown curly hair coming right at me. The sight was very amusing and would have been even more so had it not been eight o'clock in the morning. Crystal came at me with the purpose of breaking my alarm clock.
"If you don't turn that thing off, I will, and then you'll need to buy a new clock." Crystal grumpily said.
"What, you don't like Joni Mitchell?" I playfully teased.
"At this hour, I don't like anything." She said matter of factly.
"Aww, not even me?" I continued.
"Especially not you. Will you please turn that off? God, I don't understand why you get up so damn early. Your shop doesn't even open for another two hours for Chrissakes!" She said as she pulled her pillow over her head.
"Come on Crystal, why are you such a grump in the morning?" I asked as I walked over to the window and peered through the mini blinds. "Just look at the sky! It's gonna be a beautiful day."
"Mmhmm, I believe you." She said as her eyes squinted from under the pillow. "Just don't make me get up to see it." She said as she continued to pull the covers over her head as well.
"Has anyone told you how adorable you are in the morning?"
She pulled the covers down and stared at me with daggers coming out of her eyes. "Has anyone told you that you are way too talkative in the morning? Especially when you have a woman in your bed that likes to sleep in?" She just stared at me and I couldn't help the grin that formed on my mouth.
She was truly adorable. Her hair was strewn all over her head and falling into her eyes. She rubbed her eyes like a four-year-old would. She used balled up fists to grind into her eye sockets while making a cute squeaking sound. As this exercise came to an end I watched as she focused in on me and finally gave me a good morning smile.
"Ah, there she is. Hi Crystal welcome back." I smiled.
"Keep it up girlfriend. I'll knock the other side of your head silly too." She winked. "How is that head of yours darlin?" She inquired finding her kind soul again.
"I'm feeling much better today, thanks to you. I really appreciate you taking care of me the way that you did."
"Yeah well, what was I gonna do; leave you on the floor of your shop? Next thing we know is we got another 'Murder at the Wax Museum' story on our hands."
"Ha ha very funny. How long was I out?" I truly didn't know.
"Well, I would imagine only a few minutes. I came after my last appointment, which was around six o'clock, thinking that you would want to get some dinner with me. Lucky for you, I have a key. I saw your head peeking out from around your desk. I got Mr. Hooper to help me get you upstairs. You really spooked me Frankie, I'm just glad that you are OK." She sincerely said.
"Me too, thanks again. You're a good friend Crystal." I replied.
"Right back atcha Frank." She smiled her special smile at me. That always would get the same response from me; I get this goofy ass grin on my face that won't go away even if I wanted it to, which I don't. Shit, why is she straight again? Someone please remind me.
"OK, I have to get in the shower. Are you going to be here when I get out, or are you gonna go back home and go back to bed?" I asked half teasing.
"Actually I'm awake now. I might as well start to get some stuff done. Do you want some breakfast?"
"Oh, you're gonna make me breakfast? Did something happen last night and I am just suffering from amnesia?" I set her up for the old joke.
"Baby, if I let you have me, you would have remembered. Trust me." She said the last part so close to my face that I had to control the sound of my swallowing. Damn she's good, and I need a shower… NOW.
"Well?" Shit, I think I missed something.
"Breeeaakfast?" She drawled out.
"Oh… um… sure. I'll be at your place in about twenty minutes." I recovered.
"Bullshit, I'm not messing up my kitchen. I'll be in there." She said motioning towards my kitchen.
I started laughing at this comment. "OK, I'll be out in a bit." I said as she was already walking down the hallway waving at me from over her shoulder.
I walked into the bathroom connected to my bedroom and started the water in the shower. As I stretched in the mirror, I noticed the swelling on my head had gone down considerably. I touched it gently and immediately flinched at it's tenderness. "Ow, dammit. I guess I won't be doing that again any time soon. You really did a job on yourself Frankie, you big klutz."
As I brushed my teeth I felt the hairs on the back of my neck start to stand on end. I glanced into the mirror and saw a flash of something behind me. I whipped around and started to choke on the toothpaste.
What the hell is going on?
I finally got the remainder of paste out of my throat and began to breathe again.
A knock on my bathroom door startled me; I walked over to open it. Crystal was there with a concerned look on her face.
"Frankie, are you ok?" Crystal asked.
"Yeah, I um… I stuck my toothbrush too far in the back of my throat. I started to gag. Didn't know that I was being loud enough to cause alarm."
"Well, I had come back to steal your slippers and I heard you coughing hard."
"My hero… again." I smiled at her.
"Hurry up, breakfast is gonna be done soon. Remember… If you're too late… you know I won't wait… and you'll get nothing but an empty plate." We both finished the last line together and started laughing.
"OK, OK, I'll be out in a bit. Go on you." I said as we exchanged a kiss on each other's cheeks.
"I'm out! I'm out!" She said as she walked down the hall.
"I wish..." I said to myself.
I stepped into the shower and began to wash my body. I just don't understand what is going on. What is with the voice of the girl? Now I'm seeing shit too. What t hell is gonna happen next? Wait, scratch that, I really don't want to know. I refuse to tell Crystal about this morning. She will insist on doing an exorcism on me, or whatever it is that she does. God! Why me?
I washed the remainder of shampoo down the drain with the usual handful of hair that accompanies it, and turned off the water. I got the excess water out of my hair and reached out to get my towel from the rack. To my surprise it was handed to me. I screamed and whipped open the shower curtain to reveal an amused Crystal staring at me.
"Chill out Frankie, I just needed to brush my teeth. I just thought I'd give you a hand. What the hell is the matter with you?"
My heart was racing. "Nothing you just startled me." I said as I took the offered towel from her hands. "Thanks Crystal." I said as I stepped out of the shower naked as the day I was born.
"Never were a modest one were you Frankie?" She smiled as she gave my body a mock once over.
"Never saw a need for it. You don't like it, don't look at it." I said back to her smiling face. For some reason I wished she liked it more than she did.
"I didn't say it wasn't nice to look at. Unfortunately for you, I am only window shopping." She said with a wink and a smirk and walked back towards the kitchen.
I swear she does that on purpose.
I finally finished getting dressed and dried my hair. I walked into a kitchen that had the most incredible smells coming from it. God what a way to start the day. I could get used to a life like this. Waking up with a beautiful woman in my bed, and then meeting that same woman for breakfast in our own kitchen.
"Hungry?" Crystal asked as she spooned scrambled eggs onto my plate.
"Oh yeah. Thanks so much for making me breakfast." I smiled.
"Oh it wasn't for you, I was hungry and I haven't gone shopping yet. I just used you for supplies." She teased.
"Women, they use and abuse me, then they eat me out of a house and home. Figuratively speaking of course." I smiled back at her.
"Of course." She played along. She handed me my plate, which was now filled with bacon and English muffins with grape jelly on them.
"Ooh, you spoil me. This looks great Crystal, thank you." I said as I sat down and started to eat my food.
"It's about time someone gave you decent food to eat. You can't live on burgers and fries your whole life."
"Says who? Meat is an important part of the food groups, as is bread, potatoes, and the cheese on my burgers, and especially the milk that I wash it down with. I think it is very healthy." I mocked.
"Oh you are incorrigible." She said as she threw her hands in the air and then back on her hips.
"Yeah but you love me." I winked at her.
"Yeah, I guess I do." She winked back. "OK Frankie, I'm gonna go home and shower and stuff. I have an appointment at noon. Have a great day." She said as she kissed the top of my head. "And please be careful today, huh? I don't want any more head wounds from you this week ok?"
"I promise I'll be careful. I'll watch my footing at all times today. Cross my heart and hope to die." I said as I drew an imaginary X on my chest.
"Well you're lucky I have no needles or I would stick them in your eye."
"OK Frankie, I'm outta here. I'll tell Nonnie that you're feeling better. She was worried about you, you know?"
"I do, you guys have been my family since I can remember. Tell her I'll come by to see her after work tonight." I said sincerely.
"OK, will do. I'll see you later, babe."
"Thanks again for breakfast Crystal, and for everything yesterday."
"No problem, I'm just glad that you are better. Take care." She said as she walked downstairs heading for home.
As she left my house, I sat and stared at the emptiness around me. Wow, this place really gets quiet when no one is here. I really have to get out more.
Ten o'clock came as it always does, right on schedule. I unlocked my door and welcomed another day of business doing what I loved. I had a few mannequins that needed to be dressed so I put that on my list of things to do for the day. I stepped in the workroom to grab some clothes for the dummies when I heard the doorbell chime to let me know someone had arrived.
I poked my head out to find no one. I scanned the store and decided that I must have been hearing things. I grabbed the clothes that I needed and set off to do my work. I hated trying to get the shirts on the mannequins, because these days they are so anatomically correct it's almost embarrassing when people walk in and I have plastic boobs in my face.
I had almost finished the first mannequin when I noticed that I had knocked her hand off. I looked down and I couldn't find it anywhere. 'What the hell happened to it? It's not like it got up and walked out of here.' I got down on my hands and knees and began to crawl around like an animal looking for the hand. 'God this is ridiculous.'
"It's over there, under the table." She said.
I was under a display and was so surprised by hearing someone's voice that I smashed the back of my head on the shelf above me.
"Ouch! Dammit." I silently cursed as I rubbed the back of my head. "Thank you, I have been looking all over for this." I said as I grabbed the hand and stood to thank my customer.
"I can't believe I couldn't find…" I started to talk in the direction of the voice when I noticed that my shop was empty. I frantically turned around looking for the owner of that voice. Thinking about it a little more, I realized that I had heard that voice before… in my dreams. "Oh my God. It was her! It was that same voice." I steadied myself against one of my shelving units before I fell on my face again.
God, what the hell is going on? If this is some kind of joke, I really wish the prankster would show themselves. I'm not finding this at all funny.
I have had enough of this, I was really starting to get pissed. "If you are still here, show yourself! This is really getting old!" I screamed into the empty store.
I stood there and waiting for what seemed like an eternity, when I returned to my work. "This is getting outta hand… anymore of this and I'll be forced to tell Crystal. Oh, she'll love this. God I'm never gonna live this down." I breathed out. "I really must have hit my head hard yesterday. That's gotta be it. It has to be…"
I shook my head and began to work harder than I have in a long time. I really needed to stay focused. If I have anymore confrontations with this voice again, I will ask Crystal what she thinks it could be. I could ask her a hypothetical question, that way she won't know it's me. Yeah right, like I would just pull a question about ghosts out of my ass. She would see right through that. She knows me far too well. "Ah shit. This sucks."
All day I had in the back of my head that nagging question of "who is the owner of that voice?" I just wish I knew.
I looked at the clock and again I missed lunch. If no one reminds me, I seem to always forget or have too much have to do to go and get something for myself. Crystal usually reminds me of my poor eating habits, but today she had a lunchtime appointment and didn't show up. I look forward to our lunches together.
"Oh well, maybe we'll grab dinner or something together." I said to one of the mannequins. "God I really need to get out more." I said as I walked back up to my front desk.
I looked around and felt a loneliness I never felt before. I had a pulling in my gut that I just couldn't explain. It didn't hurt or anything physical like that, it was just something very foreign to me. "I think I need a vacation." I sighed and put my head in my hands.
Crystal came bounding into the shop at 5:45 with a huge grin on her face. I had given her a key to the shop years ago. It was much easier for her to let herself in. God knows she would just keep banging on the door until I let her in. That got real old, real fast.
"Hey girlfriend! You done yet? I'm starving!" She exclaimed.
I turned from my paperwork and smiled back at her. It was so hard not to when she was in a mood like this.
"Yeah, I just have a few more things to finish up. I'm quite hungry myself. I forgot to eat lunch again today." I knew this would get a rise out of her.
"God dammit Frankie! That isn't good for you! How many times do we have to talk about your eating habits? It's a damn good thing that I fed your ass this morning." She seriously said with her hands on her narrow hips.
"Crystal I'm sorry." I love that she cares so much. "I didn't have my usual alarm come in and remind me."
"What would you do without me?" She asked mockingly.
"I really don't wanna know that answer darlin." I said truthfully.
She smiled at me and took my hand in hers. "Come on, let's go eat. Nonnie is expecting us."
"Alright, give me two seconds here and I'll be done." I said as I finished the rest of my paperwork for the day's business.
We walked into Crystal's place to find Nonnie waiting for us on their couch. Their home was unlike what most people would expect from them. They lived very normally, if you want to use that word. They had a couch, a couple of lights, some nice artwork on their walls, the usual décor for a family room.
Nonnie looked up from her crossword puzzle and smiled at us. "Hey girls, are you hungry?" She asked.
"This one forgot to eat again, so let's make sure we stuff her to the gills." Crystal said while motioning towards me.
"Oh, I see. Well, lets see if we can make her eat some of my spaghetti."
"Oh, Nonnie, you know I could never turn that down." I said as my mouth began to water at the mere thought of eating her pasta. If Nonnie was in it for the money, she would make Chef Boy Ardee go out of business. Yes, it's just that good.
Dinner was eaten in silence since it was rude to talk with your mouth full. Nonnie's spaghetti always did that to me. I usually ate the stuff until it didn't taste good anymore. This night was no exception.
Crystal got up and walked into the kitchen to start the dishes. I patted my belly and leaned against the back of the chair. "God Nonnie, you did it again. That had to be the best meal I have had in weeks."
"Aww, thanks child. You only say that since you don't eat on a regular basis." She smiled at me.
"No it's not like that at all. I really just love your cooking. You can taste every ounce of the time you spent making it. Thank you again for inviting me over to eat with you." I said as I stifled the air trying to escape through my throat.
"You are welcome. I'm going to go to my room and make some phone calls. Have a good night." She said as she got up.
"Good night Nonnie." I got up to go help Crystal in the kitchen.
"Do you want some help cleaning up?" I asked as I peeked my head into the kitchen.
"Grab a towel. I'll wash 'em if you dry 'em." She smiled.
"Man, you guys have a dishwasher, why don't you just throw all of the dishes in there?" I asked as I motioned to the appliance.
"Nonnie hates the smell of the dishwater soap. She much prefers her glasses to smell like Palmolive." She smirked.
"Oh come on, you are gonna tell me if you snuck in a few glasses in the dishwasher, she would know the difference?"
"You bet your sweet ass she would. Then I would have to deal with her, so don't even try it." She accused.
"OK, OK" I laughed.
I was trying to figure out how to ask Crystal about this voice in my head without her freaking out on me. God knows I have never shown an interest in this stuff before. She will probably have a heart attack. I figured I should just get over it and just come right out and ask her. The moment I reached this decision her eyes pinned me with a questionable stare.
"What?" I asked nervously.
"Are you going to ask me your question or not. You have had the strangest look on your face for like the last fifteen minutes. It must be a doozy since you can't come right out and say it." God she knew me so well.
"Well... actually I do have kind of a strange question for you."
"Well spit it out. You look like you are going to waste all of that food that Nonnie made for you."
"I'm not going to be sick, Crystal." I hoped. God I was so nervous. What if she thinks I am going insane? Just say it dammit. I took a deep breath and met her eyes again. "Crystal, have you ever had the feeling that you were being watched, I mean not by a physical presence either… I mean… oh God, what do I mean?" Crystal touched my arm and took me to the kitchen table.
"Come here and sit down and really try to tell me what is going on, OK?"
"OK." I took another breath. "Last night, ok, I had this dream, remember? Well I had a couple of them."
"I remember. What about them?" She softened her voice.
"Well, this morning when I was in the bathroom getting ready for my shower, I could have sworn someone was watching me brush my teeth. When I turned around, no one was there, but I swear I saw something in the mirror. That's what made me start coughing, it wasn't my toothbrush I was just freaked out. Then when you handed me my towel, I thought I was gonna find a person that didn't belong in my bathroom."
"What did you hear? Anything?" She was genuinely concerned.
"No, not at that time. All I know is that I felt the strangest sensation in my belly, and then the hair on the back of my neck was totally standing on end. Then it was gone." I took a deep breath and looked into her eyes. She wasn't going to razz me, I can't believe it.
"What else Frankie. I have this feeling that you have more to say." Shit, how does she do that?
"Today in the shop. I heard the bell ring when I was in the stockroom. I looked out to find that no one was there. So I continued doing my work. I was dressing up one of the mannequins. I knocked off one of her hands and couldn't find it anywhere. I got down on the floor and started to look for it. Then someone said 'It's over there, under the table', I banged the back of my head on the shelf above me I was so startled by the voice. I grabbed the hand and stood to thank my customer for finding the elusive appendage, but there was no one there."
"You are sure you heard someone say that, and didn't imagine it?" She asked.
"No Crystal I heard it with my own ears. It wasn't just any voice either, it was the same voice from my dreams. I don't know what is going on here, but it is starting to get to me." I confessed.
"It must be since you are actually talking to me about this. I know how you feel about all of this stuff." And she really did know.
"So what do you think this means Crystal? Am I just hallucinating from the blast to my head yesterday?" I really needed to know.
"No I don't think that is it at all." She stopped.
"Well, what DO you think it is. I can't take much more of this. Things like this may happen to you everyday, but it is really not my cup of tea." God this is just so weird.
"Frankie, do me a favor OK?" Crystal looked at me dead on with a totally serious expression on her face.
"When you go to sleep tonight, if you have another dream like you had, write down anything you may remember from it when you wake up."
"What will that do?"
"When you awaken from a dream all of it will be really fresh in your mind. I wanna get a better idea of what is going on. It may be that someone is trying to reach you from the other side."
"You have GOT to be kidding me. Why me? What did I do to deserve that?" I said more loudly than I had wanted.
"I don't know Frankie, but it sounds like she is looking for you. Just do as I ask , please? If it doesn't happen, then we can just write it off as a strange happening. If it does happen again, maybe Nonnie and I can help whoever it is find out why they are here."
"Oh God, you aren't gonna tell Nonnie are you? She will never let me live this down. She has always called me the non believer."
"This isn't something that Nonnie will joke about. Trust me on that. She takes this very seriously and won't kid around." She said with a serious look on her face. "Where is Nonnie?"
"She went to her room to make some phone calls." I answered.
"Oh alright. So tonight try and write down anything you remember." She said again.
"OK Crystal... if anything happens tonight, I will write down as much as I can remember." I agreed.
"Good girl. Let's go to your place and watch a movie." She suggested.
"OK, you are on." I smiled.
"What do you want to watch?" She asked.
"It's your night to pick."
"Aw Frankie, I picked last night." She whined.
"OK, OK, how about The Matrix?" I asked knowing that she would cringe.
"What no argument?" I couldn't believe it, she always argued about that movie. So what if I've seen it 25 times already.
"Nope, I said it was your turn to pick, so you get to pick."
"OK, now I am scared."
"Don't be scared, but don't be surprised either when the next film we watch is something not to your liking."
"Oh no, not another romantic comedy." I dreaded those. She would get all teary and mushy on me.
"You'll just have to wait and see."
"I can't wait." I said as we walked out her kitchen door, which led to the stairs to my place.
The movie ended with Crystal sound asleep leaning against my shoulder. How could she sleep through a movie like that? There was more gunfire in the last half-hour to keep the dead awake. But here she is, sleeping like an angel on my shoulder. It's late though and I need to go to sleep myself.
"Crystal? Crystal honey, wake up." I gently nudged her.
"Mmm, is it over?" She said as she stretched on the couch.
"Yep… and you missed it."
"I'm sorry Frankie, I guess I was sleepy."
"You're always sleepy, but it's a cute quality."
"Gee thanks." She smiled and rubbed her eyes again with her fists, God I love that.
"Ok sleepyhead, I think I need to get to bed myself. Do you want me to walk you down?" I said as I stood. I took her hand and helped her to stand.
"Nah, I'll be ok. Night Frankie, and remember what we talked about." She said as she hugged me.
"Yes, I remember. I will bring a pad and pencil to bed with me tonight." I hugged her back.
"Good, I look forward to hearing from you tomorrow. Bye." She said as she gave me a wink and headed home.
"Bye hon." I waved and headed down the hall to get ready for bed.
I turned down all the lights and walked into my room. I went to the bathroom and washed my face and brushed my teeth. I clicked off the light to the bathroom and headed to bed.
I stripped off my clothes and jumped into cool sheets. 'Damn I forgot the paper' I got up and walked my naked self into my kitchen. I grabbed a pad of paper and a pencil and walked back to my room.
I put the two items on my night table and got comfy again.
"Alright whoever you are, I am ready for you now. Come and get me." I wasn't sure if those were the right words to use, considering I didn't know what was going on or who the voice was for that matter. Oh well what's said is said.
I closed my eyes and waited for my body to surrender once again to sleep. I didn't have too wait long.
To Be Continued in Part 3
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