seven. One Night Stand Etiquette

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My breath was stuck in my throat and I felt dizzy after I finished reading the brief message.

There was a rushing sound in my ears and for a moment, my vision darkened and my head spun. I felt almost too weak to stand upright, but I took a huge gulp of air and my head cleared slightly. Panic surged through me as I looked up with huge, teary eyes at Gabriel --he was watching me.

I tried to read his expression, tried to guess what his intentions were –was he angry enough to hurt me? But his face was impassible and his eyes as devoid of emotion as stone.

“This wasn’t here yesterday,” I finally muttered, stating the obvious.

Gabriel nodded and took the note away from me as I leaned against a nearby tree, drained of all energy. I was tired of being scared and stress was making my stomach hurt. I felt filthy –I was filthy and I longed to take a shower, but I didn’t voice my complaints. When I raised a hand to run it down my face I saw that it was shaking. I clenched my fingers into a fist and stuffed it into the pocket of my coat.

Gabriel re-read the note and slipped it back into the metal box, which he held under one arm. Then he squatted down, pointed at the ground and my eyes followed his finger. “There are our footsteps,” he said. He stared at the snow at our feet, scanning it slowly and methodically, and then pointed to another set of prints. “And judging by the size and by the way they seem a bit faded, I’d say that these are your footprints from yesterday.”

He stood up and started circling the tree and then pointed at the ground once again, but on the opposite side of the opening we’d both searched. “And these are probably the prints of whoever stole the packages from you.”

He knelt on one knee and observed them more carefully. “Judging by the size, I’d say that they belong to a man.”

I tried to get rid of the haze of panic that still clouded my mind, but to no avail. Fear was still making me nauseous and I felt as if taking one step away from the tree I was currently leaning against would cause me to lose my balance and crumple to the ground like a marionette whose strings had been cut loose.

I didn’t say anything and Gabriel looked up at me again. “You don’t look too well,” he said and I had about a thousand snarky replies at the ready, but none of them escaped my mouth –which was clamped shut at the moment.

He observed me for another moment pensively and then he stood up. “Well. We might as well get going.” He started toward me and a spike of adrenaline in my blood let me take a couple steps away from him.

He grinned, looking amused. “I thought we established that I wasn’t an enemy… In fact, in your current situation, I might be your only ally.”

“Why?” I asked, genuinely curious. “Why are you helping me? You could just give me up to your boss and let him decide what to do with me, so why are you doing this?”

“I told you: my sister worships you. Let’s just say I wouldn’t want her role model to end up in headlines about a settling of scores between mobsters. She looks up to you and I believe that she has reason to, even though your ways of collecting money for good causes is a bit unconventional. Let’s make something clear though.” All amusement had vanished from his face at that moment. “After this, you will never steal anything from anyone ever again. Understood? If you want money for Little Breakfasts in the future, you’ll organize a damned fundraiser.” I simply nodded, still digesting his little speech. “And if I ever catch you doing anything of the sort in the future, we will have a serious conversation.” His face was once again cleared of all menace and his voice light, almost friendly.

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