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Book 1 – Chapter 6 – Climax – Part 4

I rode back to Park Street and made sure I had Tigerlilac’s number on my phone. One sign of attitude from Della, and I would dial it. I arrived at the intersection at dusk. Cars stopped short from hitting me, twice. I withdrew a couple twenties from the ATM at the corner convenience store. I broke one into tens and the other into ones.

I rang the bell at Kelly’s building and spoke up the instant she turned on the microphone. “It’s Cheryl. I have some of the money. Can I talk to Della?”

“Hold on.” The buzzer went off and I dashed up to their room. I fluttered the money at the periscope, and Kelly opened the door as far as the chain would go.

“How much is there?” she said.

I flipped through the ones fast and lingered on the tens. Kelly reached out towards me. “Let me see,” she said, but I folded them up my sleeve.

“It’s not your money,” I said. “I’m here for Della.”

Kelly relented and let me in. Her living room had gained a new pile of cardboard boxes in the corner. Brand names of toilet paper and liquor were printed on each. Kelly orbited around me before she was certain I wouldn’t attack anyone. She knocked on Della’s door. “She’s up,” she said.

Della emerged in the heavy U-Cal sweatshirt she used to wear to bed. Her eyes were red. She whispered into Kelly’s ear. Kelly’s lips dropped, horrified.

Della’s face was more delicate than I remembered it. Something had eaten away under her skin, or perhaps it was the crappy light. She still had the soft folds in her shoulder where I would lay my head. I recognized the tufts of her hair which stood up despite her best attempts at combing them. We had become different people somehow, except I hadn’t changed at all.

“I heard about the girl who attacked you at the bakery,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

She shrugged. “It happens,” she said.

I showed her the money. “I want to talk about this,” I said.

She shook her head, though her eyes never left the bills. I’d seen that pride in our early days when I tried to take her out to dinner. “Keep it,” she said.

Kelly took two pounding steps beside her. “At least take the damn money,” she said.

Della scolded her with a look. She was smaller than Kelly, but had her buttons ready to push. “No,” she said, “the last thing I need is another girl going crazy on me.”

“I’m not after you,” I said.

“Jesus fuck, Della,” Kelly said, completely ignoring me. “I need it if you don’t.”

Della grabbed Kelly’s hand and dug her nails into it. “Just give us a few minutes alone, okay?”

Kelly winced and shook Della off her. “Fine,” she said, and slammed herself into her own room.

Della swallowed and collapsed on the futon. I joined her on the other side, carefully. I ran my tail down my leg instead of curling it.

“Look,” Della said, “the package is already on its way to Lanyi.”

My heart slowed. “I hope it was worth it,” I said.

Della banged a fist on the wall. “I didn’t mean to,” she said. “I thought you might show up, so I locked the package in my mailbox downstairs. I didn’t think the mail carrier would take it. They have a separate slot for letters and packages going out.”

“When was this?” I said.

“Saturday. A little after noon. I spent all day at the post office trying to get it back.”

I leaned back on my arm. Both our days were numbered. I watched this girl, shaped like my old Della but older and creepier. She had snapped long ago.

I didn’t have the heart to chew her out. “So,” I said, “want to have sex?”

She snorted. “Fuck you,” she said, and her lips broke out in a grin.

I cocked my head at the boxes. “Leaving this week?” I said.

She nodded. “One of Kelly’s friends near Amherst has a room,” she said.

“Do you have a job yet?” I said.

“I’ll find one,” she said. “I might have to stock Wal-Mart, but at least I won’t be here.”

“Yeah. I hope it works out,” I said.

“So what are you going to do?” she said.

I flicked my tail. “I’m going to tell the professor everything,” I said, “before he gets your letter.”

“You think he’ll let you keep it?” she said.

I stretched out my arm and lifted my tail to touch my palm. “I’m hoping I can show him a thing or two,” I said.

“Yeah, I’m sure he’ll care,” she said. “Anyway, good luck.”

I nodded. “Yeah. Good luck to you, too.”

“Thanks,” she said.

I laid the bills down between us. “You don’t mind hanging onto this for me?” I said.

“I couldn’t.”

“There’s not much here.”

She flipped through the stack, touching it with only one finger. “No, there isn’t,” she said. “But I still can’t.”

“Give it to your roommate,” I said.

“You’re serious?”

“I am. Take care of yourself in Amherst.”

She smirked the way I used to love. “I will,” she said, and nodded longer than she had to.

I let myself out of the apartment. She didn’t move an inch, or wave.

And that’s how Della and I ended our relationship. We’ve only spoken once since then.

I ran into the laundry room in Kelly’s building for some privacy to call Tigerlilac. I hopped on a washing machine to take the load off my feet.

I hadn’t expected she would answer. “Hey, it’s Cheryl,” I said. “How was your trip?”

“Productive,” she said. “What’s this about?”

“Professor Lanyi,” I said. “Have you talked with him at all?”

“Not really,” she said. “Why?”

I bent over the phone in case anyone was coming. “My ex sent the professor a package of photographs and blog entries that show I have the tail. The one we picked up the other night,” I said.

Tigerlilac mulled my words over. “Well, I don’t have time to keep checking his mailbox tomorrow,” she said.

“I’m not saying that. I was thinking about coming out to him.”

“You can’t do that,” she said.

“Well, what am I supposed to do?” I said. “He’s going to find the package and he’s going to know. I figure, I can probably score some brownie points with him. You should see the tricks I can do with it.”

“You’re still wearing it?” she said. “How’s it working?”

“Great,” I mumbled. “It eats D-cells like candy, but otherwise, great.”

“All right, we need to get you in to see him immediately,” she said. “Give me a few minutes?”

“Sure,” I said and she hung up.

My foot tapped against the metal washer and I could only calm it so much. I leapt to the floor. I was scared and my tail went down. I defended myself and my tail stuck out straight. I crouched and hid, and my tail swept over my nose. That was too much to lose.

I wanted the universe to skip over tonight and tomorrow, and pretend everything that was meant to happen had occurred to the satisfaction of everyone. I wanted change to be merciful, although it rarely is.

My phone rang after a quarter of an hour. “I caught up with Terry. He’s agreed to meet with you,” Tigerlilac said. “He’s meeting up with his wife at Beechum University. That’s in Medford. I told him you’re working on a project like his. That’s what you’re going to say you told me, right?”

“Yes,” I said, “I told you I was working on a project like Lanyi’s tail.”

“And you don’t breathe a word about me,” she said.

“I’m not going to,” I said.

“Do you need a ride?” she said. “He’ll be there until six-thirty.”

“I can get one,” I said. “What’s the address?”

I had the pen from Best Buy buried in my pocket. I copied the street and building numbers onto my hand. “I’ll meet you by the loading dock in the back,” she said. “Terry says it’s the quickest way in.”

“I’ll be there,” I said.

“Don’t be late,” she said and clicked off.

I wasted no time in contacting Elory. She was at home.

“Hello?” she said.

“Hi, it’s me again,” I said.

“What’s the story?” she said.

“You won’t believe this. Della sent the evidence by ‘accident,’” I said. “I have to see Professor Lanyi. He’s in Medford with his wife. I have the address. I hate asking, but could you give me a ride?”

“That depends on what you’re going to do,” she said.

“I’m coming clean to him. He’s going to find out anyway,” I said. “I need to persuade him that I’m better off with the tail than if he scraps it.”

“So you want more than a ride?” she said. “You want me to help make your argument to him.”

“You don’t have to,” I said. “But I would be very grateful if you helped.”

She paced around her room. “All right,” she said. “Where are you?”

“Kelly’s place,” I said.

“Wait out front. I’ll be there in fifteen, twenty minutes,” she said.

“We’ll add this as another favor I owe you?” I said.

“No,” she said, “this one is because I’m your friend. Okay?”

“Thank you so much,” I said.

“See you,” she said, and I went upstairs to wait. And I swear, I saw the flashing seconds slow on my cell phone as they counted down. I could take two breaths by the time each number had vanished and reappeared.

Her Toyota glided to a stop, but I only knew it was hers when it flashed its emergency blinkers. I ducked inside, where she had her arms folded in her lap.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” she said, even though she wasn’t. “I was reading up on Mr. Lanyi on-line, the poor guy.”

“You made it here fine,” I said.

“Humor me,” she said, and pulled us onto the road. “Will Tigerlilac be joining us?”

“Yes, she arranged the meeting,” I said. “She’ll be there, but I don’t know if she’s coming in with us.”

“Hmm,” she said. “It shouldn’t be a big deal either way. And how are you?”

I hunched down to arch my back easier. “Pretty well, considering,” I said.

We rolled out towards the signs directing us to the Mass Pike. “You asked me about Aam once,” she said, “and I don’t think I answered you well. You know the old saying, actions are louder than words? I believe the energy we put into actions and people affects us more than how we think we feel about them, whether it’s love or hate. I feel bits of those in everything I’m passionate about. When I was with Catherine I worshipped the ground that woman walked on, but she had the blandest Italian palate you could imagine, and her feet were so dry in the summer they left scratches on me. Hate and love are so mixed, sometimes there isn’t a distinction. The opposite of love is disinterest. And that’s basically what Aam is – passion mixed in with all the little things. Bill O’Reilly has so much Aam for the left wing, he might as well marry them.”

I considered what brought this on. “This is about Della, right?” I said.

“It is if you’re still interested in her,” she said.

I gave it a thought. “Not really,” I said. “Not anymore.”

“Good,” she said. “That’ll make this a lot easier tonight.”

The Mass Pike was clear enough that she could drive at full speed. Then again, every highway looks empty to me when compared to Mass Ave. I stuck my boots in the heating vent to soak up as much warmth as I could.

“What do you think he’ll say?” I said.

“I have no idea. I’ve never met him,” she said, which was becoming her catchphrase. “I hope you’ll be reasonable with him no matter what he decides. That said, he may choose to be stupid, and you shouldn’t be afraid to remind him of that.”

“Believe me, that won’t be a problem,” I said.

“He’s sitting on a goldmine of a patent and you’re the perfect viral marketer,” she said. “That’s what I’ll tell him.”

“That’s right, you’re in marketing,” I said.

“It pays the bills,” she said. “Rule one – people don’t know what they want. You have to tell them.”

“Is that real?” I said. “I always thought that was an urban legend.”

She chuckled aloud. “Ha!”

My phone buzzed while we passed into a green-lit tunnel. It kept ringing, so I checked caller id. I didn’t recognize the number.

“Hello?” I said.

A girl my age was catching her breath. “Hello, this is your doctor’s office calling,” she said. “Is this a bad time? We just found your results from your visit a few weeks ago.”

The air vents blew loud enough that I was sure Elory couldn’t hear. “Okay,” I said. “I didn’t know you guys were open Sunday.”

“We’re not. I handle processing on weekends,” she said. “I want to apologize first. We had a mix-up, but we did get your results last week. Do you want to schedule an appointment to discuss them with your doctor?”

“Can you give me them now?” I said.

“Sure,” she said, “you don’t mind?”

“I don’t know yet,” I said. “I’ll let you know after you tell me what they are.”

“Well, here’s the thing,” she said. “They tested for simplex 1 and 2, and your viral counts for both were under the amount that’s considered an infection.”

“That sounds like good news,” I said.

“Oh, it is,” she said. “I thought you’d want to know as soon as possible. Your count is a little higher than normal, though. That doesn’t mean it’s going to flare up anytime soon, but you may want to talk to your doctor about it.”

“Can I do that tomorrow?” I said.

“Oh sure!” she said. “I’ll leave him a note… that… you’ll… call… tomorrow… morning. Okay. Tenk you… I mean, thank you very much.”

“No problem,” I said. I wasn’t entirely relieved.

Elory guided us out of the tunnels up the Bunker Hill bridge, with its huge struts whipping by my window. Each one had its own colored spotlight. We were driving through a rock concert.

“That was my doctor’s,” I said. “My results say I’m somewhere between having it and not having it.”

“And that’s not a bad thing,” she said.

From the top of the overpass, I had a good view of the truckyards and warehouses below, and the tall spire of the Schraft’s building beyond them with its name on top in neon. “We’re almost there,” I said. “Aren’t we?”

“Another five minutes, maybe,” she said.

“I don’t want to do this,” I said.

“None of us do,” she said. “And I’m sure Terry doesn’t want to hear it. It’ll be over soon, though. He’ll make his mind up fast.”

I clutched the door handle and squeezed all my tension into it.

“‘Mr. Lanyi, I’m sorry I stole your tail,’” I said. “‘Mr. Lanyi, I have a confession. I took your tail from your presentation.’ ‘Mr. Lanyi, as you can see, I have your tail on, and it was worth it. And I’d do it again. Look at this.’”

“Let him make the first move,” she said. “Watch his expression when he sees your tail.”

She pulled onto an exit which took us to the earth’s surface below.

Categories: Book 1 - How Cheryl Got Her Tail, Chapter 6 - Climax.

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