Thanksgiving morning, Laura sat sipping coffee at a table in the End-of-the-Road Diner, looking out the window and wondering if Jodi would come. Aside from a brief conversation after David had resurfaced and Melanie had disappeared, they hadn’t spoken in weeks.
Laura had tried to call a few times, but it always went straight to voicemail. It had yesterday too, when she’d called to propose breakfast rather than drinks for their holiday get-together. Neither of them were looking for a date anymore, and it seemed silly to have the guys pick them up at a bar, especially since David was waiting at home for her. Was Jodi with Ty? Was she happy? Laura had hoped to find out. So much had happened over the course of the year...
She’d left a message. That’s all she could do.
The Kit-Kat clock read eight-thirty, and she’d asked Jodi to meet her at eight. She’d wait another half-hour, and then go home.
“More coffee?” the waitress asked, and Laura nodded, returning the friendly smile.
Just as the woman turned to go, Jodi slid into the booth across from Laura, a shy grin playing at her lips.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said, nodding when the waitress held up the coffee pot in a silent question. “I overslept.”
Laura shook her head, waving off the apology.
“I’m just glad you made it.” She took in Jodi’s happy, relaxed expression. “Sleeping in agrees with you, I think. Or is it a certain guy who agrees with you, perhaps?” She wiggled her eyebrows up and down, earning a wry chuckle from her friend.
Jodi shook her head, looking down at her hands on the table. “I have a lot to tell you, Laura. And to be honest, I’m not sure how you’re going to feel about it, but you need to know. I’ve made some really big decisions in the past few weeks. I’m still not sure myself if they’re good or bad.”
She looked up, and Laura saw the discomfort and fear reflected in her eyes. She reached over and covered her friend’s hand with her own, squeezing gently.
“You know you can tell me anything. Is it Ty? Did you two break up? Or does it have something to do with Melanie? Did she call you?”
“No, no...nothing like that. Melanie didn’t call, and as for Ty--”
The waitress stopped back to get thier orders, and it was all Laura could do to be polite and order quickly, wishing the woman away. When she finally left, Laura leaned forward again.
“So? It’s about Ty? Are you still together?”
Jodi nodded. “You’re going to think this is really crazy, but here goes.” She leaned forward, exposing the inner part of her right arm across the table. Just below the curve of her elbow was a penny-sized black circle with a three-pronged symbol inside.
“Do you know what that stands for?” she asked, keeping her voice low.
Laura shook her head. “Should I?”
Jodi smiled, a blush spreading over her cheeks. “You’ve heard of BDSM?”
“You mean like that book everyone’s reading? Fifty something or other?”
Jodi rolled her eyes. “Sort of, but not really. That book wasn’t...accurate.”
Laura frowned, fear balling up in her stomach. “What exactly are you telling me here, Jodi? Are you in some kind of trouble? Is Ty holding you against your will?”
Her friend laughed, shaking her head as she sat back in her seat. The waitress set their plates down and thankfully left quickly.
“No, of course not. I wouldn’t have been able to come if he was holding me against my will now, would I?” She threw her hands up and leaned forward again. “I’m into bondage and submission, okay? Whips, cuffs, yes sir, please sir...all completely consensual. Ty dominates me, and I submit. Willingly.”
Laura stared for a moment, trying to find words. Any words.
“People really do that? Outside of books, I mean?”
Judging from Jodi’s expression, it was the wrong thing to say.
“Oh come on, Laura. You’ve never played with David’s handcuffs before? Or heck - your own, for that matter? It’s not uncommon for people to be either submissive or dominant in the bedroom.”
“I...uh...honestly, Jodi, I don’t know what to say. Are you sure this is really what you want? I mean, he hasn’t brainwashed you or something?”
Jodi put down the piece of bacon she’d been nibbling and shot Laura an icy stare.
“No, I’m not being brainwashed. And yes, this is what I want. This is what makes me happy. You said yourself that I looked better today. Do I look like an abused woman to you?”
Laura had to shake her head. If anything, Jodi looked more alive and healthy than she ever had.
“You’re right,” she said, holding up both hands. “You look good - really good, and obviously you’ve found something, and someone special who can give you exactly what you need. I’m glad, Jodi. And thank you for telling me - I didn’t exactly make it easy.”
Jodi shrugged, picking up her bacon again. “Well, it could’ve been worse. I could have been a seri--” she stopped abruptly, but they both knew what she’d almost said.
“Yeah.” Laura looked down at her own plate, pushing scrambled eggs around with her fork. “You haven’t heard from her, then?” She looked up, and Jodi shook her head. “I haven’t either. Did you hear what they found at her place?”
Jodi put her bacon down again and wrinkled her nose. “Paintings on human skin, is what they told me. I guess they’re testing for DNA to identify the victims now. Can you imagine? That’s probably what she was doing every time we saw her. I just can’t wrap my head around it.” She looked down at her plate, and then pointedly at Laura’s still mostly full one. “Not great breakfast conversation, is it?”
“Not exactly.” Laura sighed, and then grinned. “So you and Ty - it’s serious then? Mission accomplished for the year? Do I need to pick out a bridesmaid dress?”
Jodi laughed, the tension between them dissipating. “Yes, it’s serious - I’ve been staying with him for the past six weeks. I wasn’t sure I could...commit that far, but today’s the day I have to tell him whether it’s working for me or not, and I think it is.”
“That is really great news. I’m so happy for you!”
Jodi had been searching so long, with so little luck...Laura was truly happy for her. She made a mental note to buy Ty a drink the next time they were all out together. Maybe two.
“So what about David?” Jodi raised her eyebrows. “How are things going, after...”
Laura shrugged. “Some days are better than others. He has nightmares sometimes, and twitches...and he hates laying in one spot for too long, so he doesn’t sleep well. I’m worried about him, honestly. He spends most days at the gym or physical therapy, trying to get his body back in shape. And then he spends his nights going over all the files on Aaron and Melanie, all the photos and evidence, convinced that there has to be something to tell us where they are.” She shook her head.
“I understand, to a point. I want to find her too. And I know she needs to pay for what she’s done. But if he doesn’t find something soon, or find a way to relax, I think she’s going to kill him after all.”
“I’m so sorry. Is there anything I...or we, can do? Are there any new leads at all?”
“Thanks, but I don’t think there’s anything anyone can do, aside from finding Melanie. As for new leads...well, David doesn’t know this yet, but I got an anonymous tip early this morning that may or may not pan out. I didn’t want to get his hopes up if it’s nothing. And actually,” she looked up at the clock, and then reached for her purse. “I hate to do this, but I’m supposed to go pick up the supposed evidence now. I’m really sorry...”
“No, don’t be sorry!” Jodi waved her off. “I was late, and this is way more important. Call me if it turns out to be anything?”
“Absolutely.” Laura got out of the booth and smiled. “I’m glad you came, Jodi. We need to keep in touch, okay?”
Jodi smiled, lifting her coffee mug in a toast. “Definitely. Now go. I’ll be waiting to hear good news.”
Laura got in her car, checked the address one more time, and drove to the meeting place, torn between moderate excitement and the knowledge that this was probably like every other tip they’d gotten so far.
The unkempt park, abandoned by the city some years ago and now more of a home for transients was empty when she pulled up to the curb. The solid weight of the gun under her arm gave her only a marginal sense of security. Out here, it was her against whoever she was meeting. And if it went badly, no one would find her for days, maybe weeks. No one who cared, anyway.
Getting out of the car, she drew her weapon. The hair on the back of her neck prickled, and though the message had said to meet near a bench a hundred yards through the trees, Laura was loathe to move away from her car.
A tall, slender figure stepped out from behind one of the trees, walking towards her with an awkward motion, as if she were in pain. Laura blinked once, then twice as the woman’s face came into focus, and she knew she must be hallucinating.
Her old friend nodded, putting her arms out in front of her, wrists pressed together.
“You’re not going to need that gun, Laura. I’m turning myself in. How’s David, by the way?”
Laura kept the gun trained on Melanie’s chest. “Where’s your partner? We know you were working with someone else. Another...killer.” The word felt wrong on her tongue, but she could see the truth in Melanie’s eyes.
“He was gone before I even left. Honestly. And that’s all I’m saying until you take me in. So let’s do this.”
###Join us for the final installment of Laura's story right here on Christmas Day - December 25, 2013.
Curious about what led to Melanie's surrender, and what Jodi's been up to with Ty? Check in on Melanie at AlexWesthaven.com (horror), and Jodi at TrinityMarlow.com (erotic romance) - both installments will be posted late this afternoon/evening. Thanks for reading!
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