Free Me (Page 30)

Free Me (The Found Duet #1)(30)
Author: Laurelin Paige

As I came home from work around six on Monday morning, though, it wasn’t JC I was thinking about, but Norma. She’d returned from L.A. the night before during my shift, and I was eager to see her before she went to the office. Not only because I wanted to hear every last detail about Ben but also because I was glad to have her back.

Maybe I’d even tell her about JC. I hadn’t decided yet.

“Morning, Kev.” I nodded to the doorman, and he let me in the lobby of our Uptown high-rise. He was my favorite of the doormen, older, probably nearing retirement, and despite my preference to remain anti-social, he always had a greeting that drew me out of my shell.

He tipped his hat as I walked by. “That’s two pretty Anders ladies in less than half an hour. It’s my lucky day.”

I stopped, puzzled, and turned back to him. “Norma was down here?” I tried to remember if we had milk and coffee. There wasn’t any other reason I could think of for her to venture out this early.

“She got here in a cab about five-thirty.”

“Huh.” If she’d gone for groceries, she would have walked to the corner store. I’d have to ask her about it.

I waved goodbye. Then, not wanting to wait for the elevator, I hurried up the three flights of stairs to our apartment. Norma wasn’t in the living room when I went in. I passed by the kitchen and smelled coffee brewing but didn’t find her, so next I headed for her bedroom.

Her room was empty when I got there, but I heard the shower going in the master bathroom. Anxious to see her, I sat on her bed and surfed the net on my phone until she finished.

“Good morning,” I said when she walked out ten minutes later in the silk bathrobe I’d given her for her last birthday.

She jumped. “Jesus, Gwen.”

Laughing, I hopped up to give her a hug. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“I don’t know what was more surprising—seeing you when I didn’t expect to or the fact that you’re hugging me without me initiating it.”

Her comment made me try to wiggle away, but she managed to hold me an extra couple of seconds. “What can I say? I missed you.” I had missed her. I hadn’t realized how much until I saw her.

“Maybe I should go away more often.”

No, I didn’t want that. I liked having her around. But I already felt too gushy with the hug so I didn’t say anything. Instead, I climbed back onto her bed to watch her get ready for work.

As I curled my feet under me cross-legged style, I noticed something. “Your bed hasn’t been slept in.” Which wasn’t like Norma. She usually left that for the housekeeper. Had she not slept at home?

“Oh.” She paused, her back to me as she reached in her underwear drawer for a pair of panties. Then she turned to me and waved her hand dismissively. “You know, I was so tired last night, I fell asleep on top of all the covers.”

“Wow. You must not have moved at all. It still looks so freshly made.”

“I straightened it this morning.” Not looking at me, she stepped into her panties and pulled them up. Then abandoned her robe to put on her bra.

I might have made more of a deal about the bed, but now her underwear distracted me. While I’d never been big on spending money on frivolous things, I made sure to always have nice lingerie. If a woman feels good in her underthings, she’ll feel powerful in her world, and all that bullshit. Norma never needed those kinds of head tricks. She was powerful and confident wearing cotton whites.

So when had she splurged on silk?

“You did some shopping,” I said, as she fumbled with her bra clasp. “They look great.”

She met my eyes in the mirror above her dresser. “A few months ago. I ordered from Faire Frou Frou. Decided to see what all the fuss was about.”

“And?”

“They’re nice. I like them.” She spun to look at me directly when I gave her a skeptical frown. “What?”

“Nothing. I’m just glad you’re finally treating yourself to something nice.” Also, I was beginning to suspect there was something up. “Did you go out before I got here?”

“Today?” She pulled out some pieces from her jewelry box.

“Yeah. Kev said you came in soon after his shift started. Did you go someplace?”

Norma was never as easy to read as I was. Yet her expression seemed even more unreadable than usual. Like she was trying harder to remain aloof.

After a few seconds, irritation replaced her stoicism. “Geez, Gwen. I expected Twenty Questions when I got in but about Ben. Not me.”

“Sorry. I’m simply making conversation.” I stood to help her fasten her necklace.

She held her hair up for me. “Thank you.”

But I wasn’t letting her off the hook that easily. “Also, I was curious.”

She let her hair down and straightened the jewel on her neck. “I went for a run, okay?”

In the winter, Norma usually kept her workouts to the apartment gym. I didn’t mention that. “Then you got tired and took a cab back?”

“I guess the trip to L.A. wore me out more than I thought it had.” She was hiding something, and that irritated me.

But I could tell that if I pried any more, we’d argue, and I didn’t want to fight when she’d just gotten home. “I’m sure the whole thing was exhausting. Do you have any new information? About Ben?”

I’d talked to her every day so I doubted she had anything left to tell me, but she managed to give me a few details about my brother that I hadn’t yet heard. The facility she’d checked him into wasn’t in San Francisco but rather Marin County. It was voluntary and he could check out at any time. His care providers, however, would make recommendations about his continued stay. Ben had still refused to see Norma, but he agreed to let his progress be shared with her.

She sat on the bed next to me to put on her stockings. Thigh highs with a garter belt. I was about to make another remark about her suddenly awesome lingerie when she said, “I met Ben’s boyfriend.”

This threw me. “I didn’t realize he was seeing anyone.” It was the one thing Ben was usually open about—his sex life. He always told me who his latest bang was, usually someone he hooked up with on Grindr. Where I had shut myself off from sex, Ben had thrown himself into it, both of us for the same reason—no interest in interpersonal connection.

“I didn’t either. They hadn’t been together long, and I guess Ben tried to push him away before he took the pills. The guy—Eric—is sticking around, though. Says he’s here for the duration. I think he’s good people. I feel better about leaving Ben with someone who loves him.” Norma attached one garter and began on the other stocking.