Michelle was awakened by the sound of traffic and the sun streaming into the window. Lazily, she rolled over to put her arms around Tammy -- except no-one was there.
She sat up. "Tammy?" she called. No answer. She looked around the room. While the surroundings were neat, the room itself looked dingy -- the walls were cracked, and the ancient wallpaper was peeling. Looking up at at the ceiling, she saw the bare light bulb that hung by the wire. Slowly, she got up, pulled on a threadbare robe she found hanging over an old wooden chair, and walked into the hall.
"Tammy?" she called again. Still no answer.
Tammy was essentially a neat housekeeper -- possibly due, in part, to the fact that there was very little in the apartment in the way of furnishings. Michelle realized that this was the first time she'd ever been to Tammy's place..
The entire apartment looked as though it had seen some hard use over the years. Everywhere Michelle looked, there were holes in the plaster, cracks in the wall, and/or worn wallpaper. The hardwood floors might have been beautiful, once, but from the scuffmarks and scratches, one might never guess that. Michelle peeked into the bathroom -- the tiles were stained grey; the faucet over the washbasin dripped slowly. The curtain around the old-fashioned bathtub was an old plastic job from K-Mart; judging from the thick mineral deposits, it must have been twenty years old.
Finally, she went into the kitchen. It might have been remodeled sometime in the 1970's, by the look of it; the linoleum had a tasteless flower pattern on it, and the contact paper on the counters, like the wallpaper, was peeling. On the avocado-green stove was a tea kettle, stained and ugly. Michelle walked over and picked it up; it held water, and was still warm. She switched on the electric burner (and was not surprised to find that only two of them worked).
The refrigerator was an old "monitor-top" from the 1930's; it still seemed to be in working order. They sure built them to last in those days, Michelle thought -- at least that's what her grandmother had always told her. She opened it and found it nearly empty; there was a small brick of moldy cheese, a jar of jalapeno peppers, and a half-eaten loaf of french bread.
In the cupboard she found several cans of black-eyed peas, a large bag of rice, and finally, what she had been seeking: tea bags.
As she sat at the venerable formica table and sipped her unsweetened black tea, she looked around the room and thought to herself: Ye gods...this place is a dump! Slowly, she pulled back the curtain and looked out at the street below...oh yes, she thought, realizing where she was. The "Student Ghetto." Tammy's place was about a mile or so from PLU. This was the neighborhood where most of the poorest college students wound up taking off-campus lodgings. The only good thing that could be said about most of the living spaces in the area is that they were comparatively cheap. Michelle and Kathie had shared a rather nice -- if spartan -- on-campus room while she had been a student; Michelle had heard of the notorious "keggers" and "pot-parties" that took place in the Student Ghetto, but had never been to any of them...in fact, in five years of college, undergraduate and master's candidate, she had never even seen the neighborhood...
Where is Tammy? Michelle kept wondering. She wandered into the living room and found the phone...Tammy had left no note. Neither did she have an answering machine. She had simply left, with no word of where she had gone, or when she would be back.
She went back into the kitchen and looked at the clock on the stove; it read 2:30. No surprise there, Michelle thought dryly, realizing that the stove clock probably wasn't working either. She went back to the bedroom and found her watch sitting on top of her clothing, which had been neatly folded and placed atop the dilapidated dresser. Funny, I didn't notice that before, she thought. She looked at her watch. 10:15. She decided to wait for Tammy.
By 12:30, Tammy had neither come home nor called. Disappointed, Michelle reluctantly decided she should probably get home and check her answering machine. Then she realized she probably didn't want to go home in the clothes she'd worn the previous night. She and Tammy were about the same size and had similar measurements; she decided she wouldn't mind if she borrowed something. She went through the dresser drawers and found a pair of jeans and a grey sweatshirt labeled "PROPERTY OF SAINT MONICA'S HIGH SCHOOL PHYS. ED. DEPT." Realizing that she'd given almost all her cash away to that transient woman last night, she dug into her purse and found a dollar bill and some assorted change...enough for busfare. Before leaving, she left a note:
I borrowed some clothes. Last night was wonderful -- where were you this morning? Call me when you get home.
Love you -- M.
She arrived home about an hour later. There were three messages on the machine. Quickly, Michelle checked them; the first was from Kathie; she had called last evening after Michelle had left, asking if she wanted to go see a movie. Sorry, Kat, Michelle thought guiltily. Next time -- for sure. She still hadn't decided how -- of even if -- she was going to tell Kathie about Tammy.
The other two messages had come in this morning before she arrived home; Angela from the library; some new crisis had come up with the Cherie and the computer system. The other one was some someone named Lianne. Lianne -- ? I don't know -- then she remembered. She replayed the message:
"Hi, Michelle -- this is Lianne, from last night. Look, I want to say thanks for helping us out -- and -- you thought you might have some ideas. If you know about a job opening somewhere -- well, look, I don't have a phone, so I'll have to call you back. Thanks again -- God bless."
Wonder if she knows anything about computers, Michelle thought. I've had just about enough of that ditzoid blonde kid. She was very glad to find out that the woman she had helped last night was for real.
And disappointed to the point of heartbreak that Tammy had not called.
Michelle sighed and picked up the phone. First she dialed Tammy's number. There was no answer. Next, she dialed the library.
"Hi, Angela Ross, please...this is Michelle Devereaux."
She was put on hold momentarily, then Angela came on the line.
"Nice of you to finally call, Miss Devereaux," she said dryly.
"Yeah, yeah...cut the crap, Angie. What's the problem?"
Angela described the latest problem with the database. Cherie had managed to delete several important files. Michelle was livid.
"Damn it! You tell that bimbo she's outta there!"
"Michelle, do you really want to -- "
"You heard me, Angie! I spent most of the last year on those files, and now I'm probably going to have to redo everything from scratch! I want that girl out of there by the end of the day! In fact, I'm on my way -- I want her gone before I get there!" With that, she slammed down the reciever.
You're just pissed because Tammy left this morning and hasn't called you, said the small voice in the corner of Michelle's mind.
Shut the fuck up, said Michelle, grabbing her handbag and keys and storming out of the apartment.
The situation at the library was even worse than Angie had let on. Cherie had managed to delete most of the archives Michelle had so painstakingly worked on over the previous year. She had backups for most of it, of course; but several recent entries would have to be recreated -- from the beginning.
Michelle, with her firey Gallic and Irish heritage, was no stranger to anger -- but until today, she had never believed herself actually capable of murder.
She was extremely grateful to whatever gods and godesses there were that she wouldn't find out; Angie had dismissed Cherie immediately.
As Michelle stared miserably at the computer monitor, taking stock of the damage, Angie sat down next to her.
"You know we don't have a secretary now."
Michelle didn't even glance in her direction. "We didn't have one before," she replied.
"What's Mr. Rolling going to think?" Mr. Rolling was the actual personnel director; he had the final say on all hirings and firings.
"That old goat can eat me, for all I care," commented Michelle. Angie put a hand over her mouth to stifle a laugh.
"I'll bet he'd like to," Angie commented.
"You know damn good and well why he hired that incompetent slut," growled Michelle through gritted teeth.
"Whoa, girl -- chill! You don't know that."
Michelle looked up at Angie. "Since when are you the defender of the weak and brainless?"
"Since when do you start ragging on a poor dumb girl you don't know anything about?"
"I know that she undid the better part of two months' work," replied Michelle, turning back to the computer monitor. "And I also know she never knew a hard drive from a hard-on."
Again, Angie had to stifle a laugh. "Jee-zus, girl...what's your problem today? I never seen you like this."
"Oh, goddam it to hell!" she suddenly exploded. "Look -- look at this!" She waved at the display. "How the hell did she do this?"
Angie looked over Michelle's shoulder and shook her head slowly. "You got me," she said slowly.
Michelle dragged herself home finally about 9:30 that night. It had been a shitty day all around. She would be putting in many long hours reconstructing the deleted files over the next few months...
And the capstone of the day came when she arrived home to find no messages on her machine. She picked up the phone and dialed Tammy's number once more, letting it ring eleven or twelve times. Finally, she hung up the phone, went into the kitchen and poured herself a tumbler-full of cabernet.
She went to the deck outside her bedroom. The beautiful spring weather they had enjoyed for the past several weeks was past -- typical Northwest drizzle had returned. She stood there, brooding as she looked out over the city lights, and the bay beyond. She watched as a freighter majestically sailed out of the harbor to the accompaniment of screeching seagulls.
All she could think of was how badly she wanted a cigarette right now.
Finally, she tossed off the remainder of the wine, peeled off her clothes, and fell into bed.
She woke up suddenly. Looking over at her clock, she saw it was 2:15 in the morning. She felt a great pressure against her bladder. Serves me right for drinking all that wine, she chided herself; she was also feeling a bit queazy. All at once she heard the pounding noise. Someone was at her door....
Who the hell -- nervously, she pulled on a robe. The pounding continued; it was probably what had awakened her.
"Who's there?" she asked cautiously.
"Michelle, it's Tammy. Please, let me in."
Immediately, Michelle unlocked the door. Tammy stood there looking disheveled, wet, and miserable.
"My gods, sweetie -- what the hell's going on? Get in here!"
Tammy came into the apartment. Michelle immediately took Tammy into her arms, forgetting how angry she had been with her earlier. Tammy was trembling.
"Sweetie, what's wrong?"
"Oh, mija..." Tammy began to cry softly.
Slowly, Michelle walked her into the living room and sat her down on the flowered sofa. "Look, honey -- I'll go make some coffee. Will you be okay for a few minutes?"
Tammy sniffed and nodded.
Michelle got the coffee started, visited the bathroom, then returned with some towels and a blanket.
Tammy nodded quietly. Slowly, Michelle began to help her dry off, then wrapped the blanket around her. Once that was done, she fetched two cups of coffee from the kitchen, brought them back, and handed Tammy one.
"Gracias, mija," said Tammy.
Neither woman spoke for a moment. Then, Michelle said: "You want to tell me about it?"
Tammy didn't answer; Michelle continued: "I -- I was worried. You weren't there when I woke up this morning...I didn't hear from you...what's going on?"
"Mija, I need your help...por favor..."
"Yes, of course! Tammy, I love you -- I'd do anything -- just tell me what's going on."
Tammy looked up. "It's -- Antonio. He's been arrested."
Michelle arched one eyebrow. "Wait -- Antonio?" She stared at Tammy for a moment. "Your -- ex-fiance?"
"Is that what this is all about?"
Tammy said, "Mija, it's not what you think -- "
"Well then, why don't you tell me about it," replied Michelle levelly.
Tammy took a deep breath, drank some of her coffee, and began: "This morning -- I got a call from Tony."
"I never told you this -- he used to deal drugs."
"Why am I not surprised," commented Michelle, dryly.
"Oh mija -- he hasn't done that for two years. He's really tried to clean up his act and go straight -- hell, he wouldn't have started doing it in the first place if he could have found a decent job, somewhere -- "
"Yeah, yeah...go on."
Tammy sniffed. "Anyway, he finally got in at this fancy restaurant -- 'La Maison Blanche.' You know the place?"
"He's been working there since he went straight -- and he was finally looking at maybe being headwaiter, you know?"
Again, Michelle nodded. It was amazing to her how male waiters at upscale restaurants did exactly the same work as female waitresses at the local pancake house, yet made ten times the money. Always a fucking man's world, she thought bitterly. "Okay -- so?"
"So -- anyway, these guys he used to be involved with -- they came after him -- "
Michelle sighed. "Tammy, I thought you broke up with this guy."
"I did -- but, mija -- "
"Are you still involved with him?"
"Mija, it's not that simple -- "
"I think it is! Either you're with me, or you're still with him! So which is it?"
Now it was Tammy's turn to get angry. "Look, Mishi -- I practically grew up with the guy, okay? His family and mine were friends from way back, when we lived in San Juan."
"Yes, but you were engaged to him!"
"Yes, I was -- look, he may not be my fiance anymore, but you don't just forget someone like that!"
"And I remember you telling me how many times he broke your heart! How many nights you spent crying over this bastard! You don't just forget that, either!"
"Mishi, you don't know him -- "
"I know that he still seems to have this hold over you! He can screw you over nine ways 'til Tuesday, but the minute he calls, you go running to him! Ye gods!" Michelle turned away, angrily.
There was a silence between them that was almost tangible. Finally, Michelle spoke softly. "What can I do?"
Tammy sighed. "If I had anywhere else to turn -- "
"Cut to the chase, honey. What does he need?"
"About two thousand dollars."
Michelle turned back to Tammy, her eyes wide. "Wha -- Tammy, I -- my god, girl! Who do you think I am?"
"I thought you were my friend."
Michelle shook her head. "Tammy, I am your friend...and I'm also your lover! And you're asking me to shell out two thousand dollars for a guy you were engaged to, who's done nothing but hurt you -- "
Tammy looked away. "Look, if you don't care -- "
"Dammit, Tammy!" Michelle took her hands. "I love you! I have never felt this way about anyone -- the way I feel about you! I care more than you can fucking imagine!" She paused for a moment. She put a hand under Tammy's chin and turned her face to her. "Tammy, if it was just you -- I'd give you everything I have and not think twice about it. But don't expect me to help somebody who's treated you like shit, and now he's trying to take you from me!"
Tammy stood up. "You just don't get it, do you?"
"Then explain it to me! Help me 'get it'!"
Tammy shook her head. "I have to go." She turned and started for the door.
"Tammy, don't go -- "
"Mishi, I have to help him. And if you won't help me do that, then I need to figure something else out."
"I don't believe this! After the way he's treated you -- "
"Somebody I grew up with -- known all my life -- and you expect me to just abandon him? Fuck you, bitch." At that, Tammy stormed out the door.
Michelle started after her. "Tammy -- "
Tammy slammed the door behind her. Michelle started to open it, then stopped. She listened to the sound of Tammy's feet as they ran down the hall and down the stairs. Faintly, she heard the front door of the building open and slam.
Slowly, Michelle wandered over to the living room window that faced the street. It was deserted. Suddenly, her vision blurred; she didn't quite know why.
It wasn't until she put her hands to her face and felt her wet cheeks that she realized she was in firstname.lastname@example.org