Chapter Thirty-two

Dawn broke through the shades of my window, waking me up before my alarm could.

I decided working from home would be best. Being in the office today with my nerves doing the jitterbug was not a good idea. At least from home I could venture out to make time pass, especially since I completed the weeks’ work yesterday. And despite being done with work there was always my own projects to continue. That constitutes as ‘work’ right?

The clock on my bedside table read nine-fourteen. A yawn accompanied by stretching. Felt good to wake up this late. Well, this is late for me. I’m so used to being up about four hours earlier.

I cooked breakfast slowly and chewed liberally. No need to rush. Plus I had the entire apartment to myself so the quiet of my surroundings added to the tranquil mindset I currently had.

A knock at the door.

I walked over to it slowly. Another knock. “Johnny are you home? It’s Melina.” I quickly opened it.

She brushed past me and began surveying the room. I closed the door. “Good morning to you, too.” I said.

“Is Ralph here?” She asked. I shook my head. “I don’t know where he is. I woke up and found the apartment empty. Must be nice for him when I’m not home. It’s so quiet, no wonder he gets a lot of writing done.”

A flicker of hesitation in her eyes, then, “Has he said anything to you lately?” “In regards to what?” “A new girlfriend perhaps?”

I thought for a moment. That would be a huge announcement given what transpired in his life with the last one.

I shook my head again.

“He hasn’t mentioned anything to me. Did you ask Freddy?” “Yesterday. He said the same thing.” “Has he been acting as though there’s a new woman in his life?” “Not really.” “So…why the sudden inquiry? Has his behavior indicated this possibility?”

“I saw him with a woman a few days ago.”
“Where?”
“Tompkins Square Park.”
“Who was she?”
“If I knew would I be asking?”
“Why didn’t you just walk up to him and introduce yourself to her?”
“That’s not something you do.”
“Why not?”
“It’s complicated.”
“You’ve been friends with Ralph for years how could a question brought on by concern be complicated?”

She fell silent. I became confused.

The clock read quarter past ten. Still no word on where exactly I would be meeting Wendy for lunch. Perhaps she sent the location via MySpace, but it was too risky to check while Melina was here.

She needed to go. She wasn’t making sense anyway.

“If I see him later I will make some inquiries, okay?” “Just don’t hint that I was the one asking.” “Why would it matter?” “Just…don’t. Please Johnathan.”

She used my full name. She did so only when it were serious. “I won’t. Promise.”

Melina then walked out of the apartment. I got to work.

There was a message icon on the home screen along with page comments. I clicked the new messages icon.

There it was. I clicked the link. The body of the message contained one sentence: Meet me at the diner by the Astoria Boulevard station at noon.

I knew of the place. It was about ten minutes away from the Astoria-Ditmars station by foot, which meant it was close enough proximity to Sofia; the person she’s holding over my head.

I got ready in less than twenty minutes and headed out the door.

I arrived at the diner fifteen minutes early but didn’t go inside for a table. Instead, I went upstairs to the train station to survey the surroundings. Like a stakeout, so to speak.

The diner was a popular establishment that has been rated some top honors over its lifespan in the neighborhood. The neighborhood itself saw good pedestrian foot traffic as well as vehicle, mostly due to it being located near a highway.

But that highway also led to LaGuardia Airport.

The M60 bus was across the street. One block up was a Burger King, which was to my right in my current position. Past that were mostly mom and pop places, and cement road.

I watched the foot traffic heading into the diner. Old couples, mostly. Occasional middle aged couples with kids, too.

Five minutes to noon I saw Wendy walking in. But she wasn’t alone. A dark haired girl held the door of the diner open for Wendy and then she walked in. Why would she be accompanied by someone?

No time to think about it. I left the train station and walked to the door of the diner. From here, I watched Wendy and her mystery guest being seated in a booth meant for two. Wendy took the seat with her back to me. Her friend then sat down.

I flipped through my memory Rolodex for any signs of familiar features and found none.

Its strange though, I thought as I touched the handle of the door and then let go, why wouldn’t she request a table for three? Perhaps the girl will be leaving when I got there…?

I turned the handle and walked in. Different smells hit me at once: coffee, bacon, sausage, bread baking. My stomach growled despite just having eaten breakfast.

The waitress who sat Wendy approached with a cheery grin. “How many?” “My party is here, actually. I’m just going to go join them.” Her smile brightened. “Very well. Enjoy.”

My nerves danced faster as I began my approach. How dare she attempt to threaten me, and then not even have the nerve to do it by herself? I was more angry than scared of being exposed.

Exposed. I still am not sure how she found out about Sofia in the first place. Was she really going to try to bargain with me? An image played in my head. Last time we were in a public setting she threatened my life with a broken bottle to my neck.

What am I getting myself into?

The mystery girl paid no mind as I approached but became silent as I stood between them and then faced Wendy.

Wendy. Her eyes widened in surprise. Her mouth dropped open. And then what seemed to be a hint of excitement suddenly filled her eyes.

“Johnny! Wha- what are you doing here?” My eyebrows crossed. “What do you mean? You invited me.” “I what?” “No need to play dumb about this now, Wendy. Or are you acting this way because your friend is here. Why is she here in the first place? Surely you would want to discuss discovering my indiscretions in private.”

Confusion filled her face. Her mouth stammered. “I- honestly have- no idea what you’re talking about. B- but it’s good to see you again. I’ve missed you. God help me, I miss you.”

My turn to look confused.

“You sent me a message on MySpace telling me to meet you here.” “I don’t have a MySpace page. Not anymore.” “How long has that ‘anymore’ been in effect?” “Four months, I think.” “Would you like to join us? We can grab another booth. I’m sure-”

I walked out of the diner and into the sunlight without allowing the mystery girl to finish her sentence. I had to get out of there.

I made it home in a half hour, showered again, and just sat in bed.

This doesn’t make any sense. First there was the incident with Sofia, and now this?

I jumped out of bed and went over to my computer, signing into MySpace. Opening the last message “Wendy” sent I hit the reply link. In the body of the message I typed “who are you?” and hit send.

Five minutes later I got a response:

You’ll find out soon enough.

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