Chapter 6: Mismatched shoes

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"It's coming back."

The words hung in the air between us. A breeze stirred the curtains, leaves rustling outside the windows. I cringed. It was out there, somewhere, waiting for me. 20 foot tall death with eight legs and swarming offspring.

There were two possibilities. Henry was crazy, or lying, or both, and my biggest problem would be finding a way to turf him and get back to my peaceful life. Or, he was telling the truth and my days were numbered.

Well, shit. I reached for decisive, and all I found was dazed. I should... I should... do something... say something...

"I need to go to work." Not quite what I'd had in mind, but accurate, at least. Henry made a sound of protest and shifted in my peripheral vision.

"April..."

"I do. It's Friday. I'm going to be late."

"April."

I think he was learning. Henry held his spot perched on the top of the couch, though his fingers were digging into the cushions rather. Smart boy; I was not in the mood to be comforted, consoled or otherwise distracted. He clearly wasn't pleased with where this was going. I, on the other hand, was warming up to the new direction I'd stumbled upon.

I pushed away from the table and rushed for my room before Henry could figure out what I was up to. I'd have locked the door behind me, but like most apartments, the bedroom wasn't individually secured. I stood against it instead, just breathing for a moment. I felt relieved. No eyes on me, no demands or expectations. Space to think.

"April, that's not going to help."

I jumped at the sound of his voice, so close. He was just on the other side of the door, invading my space again.

"Don't come in here! I-I'm getting changed. For work. I'll be out soon."

"April, I really don't think that's a good idea..."

"I think it's an excellent idea. I'm not wearing this outside the house."

"You know that's not what I meant. It's not safe out there."

I'd taken a few steps away from the door and opened the closet. Suiting up against the day, against him, sounded like a great idea just then. A good sturdy layer between me and all this weird couldn't hurt. Too bad jeans weren't on the office dress code.

Too bad I didn't care.

"What if you call in sick? Everybody loves a sick day." He sounded hopeful, like maybe I'd magically get all enthusiastic about his great plan or something. As if. I wiggled into my jeans, wincing where they grazed the bandaid-padded cuts and scrapes, and layered on a couple loose shirts. I'd grab a jacket on my way out to cover the scrapes on my arms. And a hat, because there was no dealing with the state my hair was in. Of course, then I'd have to wear the hat at work all day...

"OK, fine, I'll just have to go with you." Henry said.

No. Oh no. I grabbed a hat and jammed it over my head before throwing open the door.

"You are not coming to work with me."

"Great, so you're calling in then."

"Sure, right, fine. Can you grab my phone? It's by the TV."

The moment his back was turned, I scooped a pair of shoes up from beside the door.

"I don't see it? Where did you say-"

The door clicked shut on the end of his sentence. I dashed for the stairwell, a shoe clutched in each hand. No time to put them on, or he'd catch me. He had no idea where I worked; he might be able to invade my privacy at home, but I wasn't about to let him take over my entire life.

It wasn't until I'd hidden in the bushes between my apartment and the next block, grit chafing between my toes and my hat slipping down over one eye that I realized the flaws in my plan. Dirty feet, plus no socks, plus - oh, lovely - I'd grabbed mismatched shoes.

Which seemed like a bigger problem until I caught sight of the cobweb. I'm not great with spiders at the best of times, but the reminder that my worst nightmare was on the hunt for me - and I'd just run straight out at it - didn't help any. I jumped backward, caught my heel on a root and landed flat out on the lawn behind me.

Henry towered over me, holding up the missing, mismatched pair of my shoes with raised eyebrows.

"Ladies fashion isn't my forte, but..."

"Just hand 'em over."

I put on my shoes in silence, rubbing as much of the dirt from my feet off on the grass and lower portion of my jeans as I can. He let me. I ought to have been grateful. I wasn't. I wasn't sure what it was about him that brought out my inner recalcitrant two-year-old, but even I was getting tired of it. He'd been nothing but kind, nothing but helpful - seriously helpful - and I'd done nothing but push him away. It wasn't his fault he'd drawn an antisocial freak for protection duty. Maybe I should've stopped punishing him for his bad luck?

Nah.

I set off to work. He followed. When we get there, he tried to follow me in. Which would have been a problem at the best of times, but in his current shirtless, bandaid-plastered state, was out of the question. I stopped in the doorway and gave him a look.

"I'll just wait out here then," He held his hands up in mock surrender. Good enough.

Except it wasn't. I couldn't concentrate on work for a moment, between wondering if he was still there, wondering if he'd left, wondering what I'd do if he'd gone... not that he had - the buzz in the office around the hot shirtless guy outside warred with reports of the latest attacks for most distracting. Then there were the questions about what I'd been up to and the pointed looks at my muddy jeans and scratched arms.

Which was good news, all things considered. At least they weren't talking about my tragic demise, just the mystery crater that had shown up several blocks away.

I thought I showed great restraint, stubbornly sitting at my desk and ignoring the chatter for a solid eight hours. I did steal a peek at lunch time - he was sitting under a tree beside the sidewalk. When he saw me looking, he waved. I quickly withdrew before anyone noticed.

By the time the day was over, my desk meticulously cleaned, the lights half off and the main rush for the door cleared, I finally got tired of stalling. But when I reached the door, he was still surrounded by curious, chattering office workers, not all of them female.

He looked happy enough, smiling as he spoke to my coworkers. Perfect. He was distracted. Maybe I'd beat him home and get a few minutes of peace. I waited until he'd turned to answer a question before bolting out the door. I'd nearly succeeded in slipping away when I caught my name.

"Oh, just waiting for April to finish." He was saying loudly. "Do you know when she'll be out?"

I nearly fell on my face. Shit.

"Yeah, I'm staying really close. April's place is just a short walk from here."

Oh no. He didn't. That idiot.

My first impulse was to run for it. Thankfully reason won out; who knows what else he might have said if left to his own devices?

"Henry," I called, without looking back. "Hurry up."

The crazy thing was, he caught up in seconds. Totally just dropped the conversation and the crowd of curious admirers to follow me.

"How was your day?" Oblivious, he loped along like like a puppy beside me.

"I don't want to talk about it."

"Lovely weather we're having today."

"Stop talking."

He paced along in silence for a few minutes. Then the screaming started.

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