Sliding Past Vertical

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Authors: Laurie Boris
stairs, he hugged her like he’d just returned from war.
    Sarah had never permitted any
display of affection from or for him to go too far. But this time she didn’t
want to leave his arms or scold him about the kiss he planted atop her head. There
was something new in his embrace. It was stronger. Safer. Or maybe she just needed
it more.
    But she knew she ought to
stop, before it went too far.
    She was slow about it, though,
dragging her hand down his arm, fussing with the dishtowel she’d tucked
apron-style into the waistband of her jeans, unable to muster the small talk of
greeting.
    She was slow to meet his
eyes, because she knew what she’d see: Emerson looking back. Oozing back.
Giving her one of those baby-chick looks. Like he would gladly spend the rest
of his life feeding her warm milk through an eyedropper.
    When they were dating, he’d
looked at her like that after they’d made love.
    This time the look held only
a shadow of its former intensity, but it still made her squirm a little.
“Where’s Rashid?” she asked, smoothing a hand over her hair.
    “Parking.”
    She turned toward the stairs
and then stopped. “He knows which house?”
    “He’s got the number.”
    She started to turn again. He
followed her for a step, until she stopped again. “Maybe we should wait.”
    “He’ll be okay. He’s got a
good sense of direction.” Em paused and gave her one of his long, liquid looks.
“Unless you want to wait.”
    The landing was too small for
the two of them, too close. He smelled like the road and cologne that must have
been Rashid’s, since Emerson didn’t wear any. Maybe he should. It smelled nice;
maybe his girlfriends would like it. She fussed again with the dishcloth. “No,
that’s all right, we don’t have to—well, the light’s on, he’s got the
number, I guess—anyway, I hope you guys are hungry.”  
    Emerson followed Sarah up the
stairs and into the apartment.
    “You should have seen it
before I started cleaning,” she told his slack-mouthed expression.
    His knapsack slid onto what
was left of a chair. “The police came?”
    “Yeah.” Sarah shrugged a
shoulder. “There was really nothing they could do.”
    He faced her, a hand on her
elbow. Waiting.
    “I’m scared,” she whispered.
“I’m scared they’ll come back.”
    He made noises of comfort,
and she let him hold her again and let him pet her hair.
    “They won’t come back.”
    “Yes, they will,” she said
against his shirt. “I know what they came for. They didn’t find it. Something
must have stopped them before—”
    The doorbell rang. Sarah
practically jumped out of Emerson’s arms. It was time she was out of them,
anyway.

 
    * * * * *

 
    So
much for big and dangerous.
    Trailing behind Emerson on his
way back up the stairs was a slightly pudgy fellow, about Sarah’s height, maybe
an inch or two shorter. His wavy, dark hair looked recently combed. Small
gold-wire glasses and a wispy mustache floated over fleshy lips. He wore neatly
pressed designer jeans and a baby-blue polo with a pony stitched over the left
breast. The placket of the shirt was open. A fine tuft of black hair poked out,
and Sarah wanted to tuck it back in. When Emerson introduced them, Rashid offered
Sarah a soft, paw-like hand and nodded slowly, marble-dark eyes widening into
hers, as if they had just sealed some sort of agreement.
    “I’m sorry for your
troubles,” Rashid said. “I hope you won’t find my tagging along to be a
burden.”
    After hearing his accent, she
remembered Rashid and smiled. His was the voice that answered the phone when
she called Emerson. He always asked about the weather in Boston. Once Em wasn’t
even home and she chatted with him for fifteen minutes about nothing in
particular. She was glad Emerson had brought him and not some stranger.
    “Not at all,” she said, and
realized at the same time Emerson did that she was still holding on to Rashid’s
hand.

 
    * * * * *

 
    Sarah didn’t get

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