It must have been about 2 am when the sound of the doorbell jolted me out of a sound sleep. I lay there for a moment, unsure whether I had actually heard the noise or only dreamt it. The bell rang again, seeming somehow insistent. I groaned and rolled out of bed, pulling on my robe. I supposed it was possible that a visit in this ungodly hour of the night--morning--could bring glad tidings, but I didn't consider it likely. A doorbell at 2 am is a most ominous sound.
A flood of possible family emergencies ran through my mind as I trudged toward the door, but the most likely cause was work. I was a computer specialist for a banking firm, and they considered me on call basically 24/7. A two am summons to duty, while aggravating, would hardly be surprising. And some of the things these guys considered "emergencies"...
"Printer #2 is out of paper--do you know how to load it?"
"Outlook says it's time to Auto Archive. What should I do?"
"I know you keep telling us not to open email attachments, but this one looks so interesting..."
But when I pulled open the door, I could tell immediately that all my speculation had been way off track. It wasn't work; it wasn't some trivial computer "emergency".
It was worse.
Segment Two--contributed by Jesus J. Villa
"Wait," he interrupted. "Before you say anything--"
"Dammit, Carlos, I've got a restraining order."
He was probably right. How long had it been? I grabbed the phone off the counter. "I'll still call the cops."
"Don't," he said. "Look, I'm not gonna hurt you or anything. You know that." Then he coughed, and I heard the rain smacking against the window. I looked Carlos over. He probably could have just pushed his way into the apartment. But he hadn't. He was just standing there, shifting his weight back and forth, hands in his jacket pockets, and looking at me. God, I had forgotten about his eyes...
I shook my head. "What do you want, Carlos?"
"To come in."
"It's two in the morning."
"Two thirteen." He smiled a little, and his eyes shimmered. Oh, man--breathe. Get a grip.
"No," I said, letting out my breath.
"I got a job for you," he said. "You still freelancing?"
"What, did the work fall off?"
"I just thought I'd try making a living doing something legal for a change."
"No way," he laughed. "I thought there were no laws in cyberspace. Isn't that what you always said? Hackers unite? Keep the internet free?"
"Nothing is free," I grumbled. We stared each other down for a few seconds before his grin fell.
"Come on, baby, just let me in," he tried again. "Just to warm up and dry off. Just for a minute. I promise."
Segment Three--contributed by TR!SH
"Just long enough to warm
up -- 10 minutes, then you will have to leave." I closed the door and lead him
into the kitchen. "When did you get back? I guess you'd like some tea."
"Yes, please. Two days ago. You really can't stand me can you? Oh, M. Is ALL the wildfire gone, extinguished by hard rain like tonight?"
"I won't bore you with the repetitious. We have been over and over this so plainly, yes and yes."
"Even so, I think you should at least listen to what I came to tell you, it's nothing like what we pulled off in the past. It's not about greed."
"Here's your tea."
I turned abruptly to face him. "Am I supposed to believe it's purely by accident you came here, in the middle of the night, during the week, to offer me freelance work without any prior knowledge of my position at the bank? It's good news for you there is a storm tonight, the rain clinched my decision to let you in, not your sudden appearance." OK. Stop, breathe, slow down, don't yell, he'll get past your guard if you act nervous. And don't look into his eyes.
"M, c'mon. You don't need to act like this."
I put too much sugar in my tea, I needed to kill the taste of jasmine. He looked depressed. He hadn't had even a sip of tea and it was his favorite; of course I had saved the tea, stashed in the cupboard. But I was a fool, a fool to have allowed him in and for keeping the last two tea bags. He had been despicable and callous and self-serving.
"Hasn't time healed anything? It's been two years, I'm sure you have changed, moved on with your life but I hoped you would have at least few nice memories."
"I have all kinds of memories, Carlos. A broad spectrum from the reckless to the slime. When I revisit them or worse, when they revisit me while I am sleeping, I become more profoundly convinced that I am a strong person of unshakable character. I can survive anything now. The pain of the past maps my future and if means I go forward, alone, so be it."
"I know. It's all true. You are the strong one with a fine character. I know what I did, where I went horribly wrong. Even if it is the worst cliché in the book, I am here because I can make it up to you, for all of it. Offer sincere retribution for the pain I caused you."
"No, Carlos. You can't. No matter what you can propose by way of recompense, the damage has been done. Irreparable damage."
Segment Four--contributed by Breann Boustany
"It's time for you to go, Carlos.” Our bodies were dangerously close, I could feel the heat emanating off his hard chest and felt the hair on my neck raising from the smell of him. He stood about a foot taller than me and had to look down to stare at my face.
“I don’t want to go,” he said, his voice full of need.
“Carlos, please.” I let myself look up at him and found what I didn’t want, but knew was going to be there.
“I love you,” he breathed.
“I know… now please, go.”
To Be Continued....
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