“Haley, I’m back. You here?”
Gail stepped through the door of her apartment and glanced around. Everything seemed to be in order and relatively clean which made her feel a bit more at ease. As she made her way over to the living room, Haley emerged from her bedroom. The moment she saw Gail, she ran over and threw her arms around Gail’s neck.
“I’m so glad you’re back. I’ve been worried about you ever since you told me…”
Gail let out a deep breath and hugged Haley for a long moment. “I’m glad, too. It was so suffocating at home. I don’t think I could’ve spent another second there without going crazy.”
Haley stepped back, holding Gail at arm’s length, and smiled a little sadly. “I took the day off work when you told me you were coming back today.”
“Oh, you didn’t have to do that. I would’ve been fine here on my own you know.”
“That doesn’t matter. You’ve been gone all summer and I’ve missed you, and then this on top of it…” Haley’s voice trailed off for a moment, then she squeezed Gail’s shoulders with a faint smile. “You got stuff you need to bring in? I can help you unpack.”
Gail sighed a little and nodded her head, managing a little smile in return. “Yeah, okay. Let’s go.”
Haley grinned and wrapped an arm around Gail’s shoulders as they walked out to the parking lot together. “I’m gonna take you out tonight, my treat. We can go anywhere you want. We could even go out and see a movie, or maybe just stay here and watch something.”
“I’ll think about it,” Gail said with a small smile on her lips, opening up the trunk of her car. “In the mean time let’s just focus on bringing this stuff in.”
A great sense of relief came over Gail when they had brought everything in. The past week or so had been spent with her packing and unpacking her car, but this would be the last time for now. Once everything was brought to her room, Gail collapsed on her bed and let out a groan.
“I’ve missed this bed so much. Nothing like being home in your own bed, you know.”
“Didn’t you technically have your own bed at your mom’s house?” Haley asked as she rummaged through Gail’s things to help her unpack.
“Yeah, but that place doesn’t feel like home anymore.” Gail sighed and sat up slowly, leaning back against her pillows. “You know, we can wait to unpack that stuff. There’s not really much there and I don’t need any of it right away.”
“Nope, don’t lift a finger, Gail. I can unpack everything for you, you just relax.” Haley stood and smiled at her, resting her hands on her hips. “It’ll just be something to help you get settled in quicker without you having to go to the trouble of doing it yourself.”
“Well… I suppose if you insist, I can’t make any arguments.” Gail smiled and kicked off her shoes before stretching more comfortably on her bed, half watching Haley as she went through everything they brought in and figure out where to put it all.
“You know, you never told me,” Haley said after a moment. “I hope this didn’t cut your trip short or anything.”
Gail was silent for a moment, then she shook her head. “Not really. Just by a week, actually. It wasn’t too much trouble. Still.”
“I wish I could have been there when you heard,” Haley said quietly. “I wanted to be with you so much and I knew you were all on your own and it just hurt me to know that-”
“It’s fine, Haley,” Gail said, cutting her off. “And if it’s all the same to you I’d rather not talk about it right now.”
“Right, of course.” Haley nodded her head, then smiled. “Do you wanna take a nap before we go out? You look pretty exhausted.”
“No, I…” Gail inhaled then shook her head. “Yeah, you’re right. I probably should take a nap. I was gonna run some errands but I can always do them tomorrow.”
“Good, because I’m going to spoil you for the rest of the evening before letting you get back into your life.” Haley smirked at her, peering over the room and sighing a bit. “Looks like we’ve got everything unpacked so I’ll let you rest.”
“Alright. Why don’t you go figure out what we can do later? Give me some options to choose from, but I don’t really mind whatever it is anyway.”
Haley nodded and straightened a little. “Sure thing. Get some rest now, Gail. You need it.” She left the room and closed the door behind her, leaving Gail alone in the quiet stillness.
Gail rolled over onto her side, peering at the closed door, then she buried her face in her pillows. She hadn’t been tired when she first arrived but now that she was lying in her bed she felt exhausted and didn’t want to do anything but sleep. She closed her eyes and pulled the blankets closer around her and before she knew it she was fast asleep.
When Gail finally woke up, she let out a little groan and rubbed her eyes. She glanced at her clock and saw she had been there for nearly two hours. With a yawn, she pushed herself off her bed and got to her feet, moving to the door and slipping out into the living room.
Haley was stretched out on the couch playing with her phone and she glanced up when Gail came out of her room. She moved over to make some room for Gail and patted the empty cushion of the couch. “Hey. Ivan texted me and apparently he got here this morning. I told him you were here and he wondered if maybe we could all get together.”
“What, tonight?” Gail asked, raising an eyebrow.
“If you want to,” Haley said with a shrug. “I told him you might not want to. Besides, I’d rather have you all to myself tonight.”
Gail rubbed her face a little blearily. “Um, yeah. No, I’d prefer to wait a bit. Maybe tomorrow or Saturday even. That’d probably be better, really. I have things I need to get done tomorrow.”
“You got it.” Haley tapped her thumbs over the screen of her phone, presumably sending a text back to Ivan. “So are you hungry or do you just wanna hang out here a bit longer and then go get some food?”
“I need some time to wake up, but we can figure out what we’re gonna do.” Gail leaned forward and grabbed a magazine that was sitting on the coffee table and flipped through it absently. “You said I could choose absolutely anywhere I wanted?”
“Mmhmm, my treat, wherever you wanna go, whatever you wanna do. If you wanna walk around the mall and find something you want, I’ll even buy that for you.”
“You have terrible spending habits, you know that?”
“I don’t hear you objecting,” Haley said with a grin.
“Well, no, I suppose not.” Gail smiled and pushed herself up to her feet. “Let’s go, then. I could use some time out.”
The two of them spent the rest of the afternoon and most of the evening out on the town, walking around the mall and mainly window shopping. The store they spent the longest time in was the book store, and after Haley got Gail to stop objecting so much, she bought Gail a leather bound photo album.
“When you get your pictures printed out you can put them all in here. They’ll look great!”
“Well, I have been needing a new one anyway.” Gail hugged the bag with the album in it and smiled. It really was quite nice. She might use it for all the pictures she took while she was on her trip that summer. Or, she thought, she could put all the pictures Axel had been saving into it instead.
They ended the evening by going to Gail’s favorite Italian restaurant. As they waited for their food and filled up on bread sticks, Haley peered across the table at Gail. “Is it okay if I ask how your trip went?”
“Yeah, I’m okay with it. The trip itself was great, it was just how it ended that… you know.” Gail made a vague hand gesture, trying to put that last part out of her mind.
“Right.” Haley cleared her throat then smiled faintly. “So, what all did you do anyway? Do you have a lot of pictures?”
“That would be an understatement,” Gail said, snorting a little. “I can show you when we get home. I stayed at some nice places and ate some good food. It would have been nicer if I hadn’t been alone the whole trip, but I had fun otherwise.”
“Mm.” Haley glanced down at her glass of wine and grimaced a little. “I wish I could’ve gone with you, but I had other things I needed to do this summer.”
“It’s fine, Haley. You don’t need to worry about it. The trip was great, really.” Gail gave her a reassuring smile. “I am glad to be back, though. Getting back into a regular routine will be good for me I think.”
“I think so, too,” Haley said with a nod of her head. “Are you gonna talk to your boss tomorrow about starting back to work?”
“That’s the plan. I need to double check my class schedule too. I might go out and take some pictures as well once I’m done with all that.”
“That’s a great idea. I’m working tomorrow anyway so you should just take some time for yourself.” Haley smiled at her. “We can get together with Ivan on Saturday, then. I’m sure he’ll be happy to see you.”
“Yeah, probably. Honestly I’m just relieved to be back here in general. It’s so suffocating being around my family, regardless of circumstances.” Gail frowned a little and muttered as she took a sip of her own wine, “And those circumstances were the actual worst anyone could ask for.”
Haley fell silent, not quite seeming to know what to say after that. The waiter came to the table with their food and they had an excuse not to continue the conversation any further.
Gail slept in the next day and only woke when Haley knocked on her door to ask if she wanted anything since Haley was going out on a coffee run. Gail spent the time she waited for Haley to come back with staring absently at her ceiling in a state of half sleep.
The moment Haley returned and presented the coffee to her, Gail sat up straight and chugged nearly half of it down in one gulp. “You’re my guardian angel, you know that,” Gail said after she took a breath. Haley laughed and headed out of the room.
“I got donuts too, if you want any.”
Once Gail got dressed and got some food she actually felt alive and like she could take on the day at last. Haley was just heading out to go to work when Gail was considering going out to do her own errands.
“I get off at seven, so I’ll see you tonight. We can figure out what to do for dinner then, okay?”
“You got it.” Gail waved as Haley left the apartment. She waited a little while longer before she left and checked her phone messages. She found two text messages that she hadn’t yet read: one from Ivan, just to say hello, and one from her dad. She frowned when she looked at her dad’s message, growling low in her throat. She didn’t even bother with it and decided not to reply, pretending she hadn’t received it at all.
By that time Gail decided it was best to head out and get all her errands done. Getting her school schedule and then letting her boss know she was back and could start work again. She also did a little bit of grocery shopping so they would actually have a good supply of food and not have to rely on takeout like they so often did.
It was mid afternoon by the time Gail got everything finished. Haley wouldn’t be home for several more hours, so she took her camera bag and went out for a nature walk. The best thing about this town was its beautiful scenery, perfect for taking pictures just about everywhere she went. Photography helped her feel calm and relaxed, grounded. She could just clear her mind and focus on everything around her without worrying about anything.
As she walked and admired the beautiful sunny weather, she heard a voice behind her. “Excuse me, miss?”
Gail stopped and glanced over her shoulder, raising an eyebrow. A tall blond man with glasses stood there staring at her, and although she couldn’t quite put her finger on it, he seemed strangely familiar. “Can I help you?” she asked.
“I-I’m sorry, this might be weird,” the man said, sounding rather flustered and somewhat shy. “Are you Abigail Wellers?”
Gail blinked at him, turning full to face him. “Yeah, I am. Is there something you need?” she asked, then she paused and squinted at him. “Wait a second… aren’t you that guy that I ran into the other morning?”
The man stared at her for a long moment, then he nodded his head a little stiffly. “Yeah, that was me. I do apologize for running into you like that, truly.”
“What are you doing here of all places?” she asked, then scowled a little and took a small step away. “Did you follow me or something?”
“Um…” The man rubbed the back of his neck, grimacing. “I did say this would sound really weird, didn’t I?”
“You did follow me?”
The man held up his hands. “Just give me a moment and I’ll explain. I guess it makes sense you don’t remember me right away, you were pretty young.”
“What are you talking about?” Gail took another step away from him, frowning.
“It’s me, Abbey,” he said, mustering up a smile. “It’s Cecil. We met a really long time ago. I think you were only six or seven, actually. Do you… remember me?”
Gail stared at him for a long moment then slowly shook her head. “No, I don’t. I don’t remember knowing anyone named Cecil. Were we like… friends in elementary school or something?”
Cecil sighed a little and shoved his hands into his pockets. “No, not exactly. We were… well, I guess it doesn’t matter. We didn’t know each other for that long and I had to… leave. I’m sorry. I guess it was silly of me to think you would remember me after all this time.”
“Well, how… how did you know who I was if you haven’t seen me since I was that young?” Gail asked.
“It’s, uh…” He chewed on his bottom lip, turning his face away from her. Gail frowned a little deeper and took another step back, then Cecil sighed. “I’m sorry. I probably shouldn’t have bothered you at all. It’s just that when I ran into you I thought you looked so familiar, and then I realized who you were and I…” He stopped himself, glancing at her for a moment, then he turned away. “I’m sorry. I should be going. This was a mistake.”
“Wait a second, you can’t expect me to be okay with you saying all of that stuff and then not explaining yourself at all!” Gail shot back, taking a step toward him. “Just who are you anyway and how do you know me?”
Cecil glanced at her again and smiled a little sadly. “Well… I don’t think I can tell you that right now, but maybe later.”
Between one blink and the next, the man had completely vanished. Gail gasped and turned around to look for him but there was absolutely no sign of him. She stood there in stunned silence for a time, gripping the strap of her camera bag a little tighter.
“What the hell just happened?”