As soon as the door slammed, Janine began to cry. I put my arm around her awkwardly and she covered her face. My mom hurried down the hall. She took Janine's hands and led her upstairs where their rooms were. She would be able to do a better job at comforting her than I would.
I looked at Deidre's door. I know she said she didn't want to talk but she needed to get her lip cleaned. I took a deep breath for courage and knocked on the door.
"Go away," she mumbled.
I turned the doorknob and was relieved when it was unlocked. She was sitting at the desk, still wrapped in nothing but a towel. Her hair was combed out and she looked a little better now that the blood was gone.
"Turn around," I said quietly. "Your lip needs-"
"Please just leave me alone, Artemis," she sobbed.
"No," I said. "I won't. You're my fiancée and I'm going to take care of you even if I have to force you to be still."
Slowly, she turned to me. I sighed when I saw the cut. I got on my knees in front of her and put the first aid kit on the top of the desk. I got out a few cotton swabs, a small bandage, and some peroxide. I pressed the cotton gently to her lip to soak up the blood until it finally stopped.
"This will sting," I warned, dipping another cotton swab into the peroxide. Her body tensed and I wiped at her cut. "Sorry," I whispered when she hissed in pain. "Almost done," I added and put the tiny bandage on her lip. "It'll be swollen if we don't get some ice on it. Wait here."
I hurried down to the freezer and grabbed a random bag of frozen vegetables. She was dressed when I came back and sitting on her bed.
"Here," I said and pressed it to her lips.
She put her hand on mine and we sat in silence for a long time. I removed my hand so she was the one holding it in place. I had no idea what to say. Upstairs, we could hear my mom talking to Janine.
"Maybe this isn't a good idea," she mumbled and I stared at her.
"As soon as people read that you're dating me, they're going to do a hatchet job," she answered, taking the frozen bag from her lip. She wasn't looking at me. "You don't want that."
I held her hand and tightened my grip when she tried to take it away.
"Let them," I whispered. "I don't care. I don't want you to leave. Where would you go?"
She looked at me finally. "I was homeless for 10 years, Artemis. I'm sure I could figure something out."
I shook my head. "No. I won't let you do that."
"You're not the boss of me."
"That's true. But I do care about you and I don't want to see you homeless again."
She was crying but tried to hide it. "This will ruin your image."
I put my arm around her back and she winced. I frowned and lifted her shirt gently.
"Shit," I breathed. "There's some Tylenol in the bathroom. Hold on." I found it and filled a plastic cup with water from the tab. "Here, take two now and when you wake up."
She obeyed and looked at her hands. "Are you sure you want me to stay?"
"Positive," I said immediately.
She covered her face with her hands and began to weep.
The next morning, Deidre insisted on walking to work. She slipped out the back again. Although I was against it, I knew she needed space and time to process. Before I went into work, I stopped by a magazine stand.
Yep. There it was.
A picture of Deidre walking into the shop from the other day was plastered on the front with ARTEMIS' NEW GIRL: CHARITY CASE?. I threw the magazine back on the stand and got in my car, trying to stay calm as I drove. I couldn't even imagine what they were doing at the shop right now. I could only hope that she got there without any problems.
I texted Larry to find out when she got off work.
Says she wants to walk home again.
I frowned. It's not safe.
That's what I told her.
I'll be there at 7. Don't tell her.
You're the boss.
I sighed and got out of my car after parking in the parking garage. I jogged across the street to the building and pressed the up button on the elevator. The employees were all staring and whispering behind me; some had the magazine in their hands. When I got to my mom's office, the first thing I did was commandeer her computer.
"Excuse me!" she said indignantly.
I pulled up Microsoft Outlook, ignoring her, and typed up an email.
Employees are to refrain from speaking about the recent news article. Any employee seen talking to a news reporter about the personal lives of Mrs. Evelyn Kilgore or Mr. Artemis Kilgore's lives will be put on probation.
I leaned back in the chair so she could read it. She sighed. I put in the list of employees and pressed send. I ran my hand down the side of my face. My mom put her hand on my shoulder.
"Did you see it?" I muttered, getting out of her chair and getting a cup of water.
"Not yet. Is it bad?"
"They're calling her a charity case," I said. "We ought to sue that Carla."
"That won't do any good, Artemis, and you know that. Did you take Deidre to work?"
"She insisted on walking. According to Larry, she wants to walk home, too."
My mom frowned. "That's ridiculous. Tell me you're not going to let her."
"Of course I'm not. I'm picking her up at seven. What are we doing today?"
I pulled into the back of the coffee shop. There was still press outside the front. I turned my headlights off but left my car running, waiting. I had let Larry know I was there. The back door opened slowly and I saw her look around, probably for the press.
"Don't even think about it," I said firmly, stepping out of the car.
She jumped. "Artemis!" she whisper-yelled. "You scared the shit out of me!"
"Get in the car," I ordered.
"No. They'll follow us."
I rolled my eyes. "Don't make me come and pick you up because I swear I will."
She stood there but eventually caved. I opened the door for her but she didn't wait to let me close it. I knew she was angry but I was hoping she'd at least give me a break. Thanking my lucky stars that my car was black, I pulled out the other end. I kept my eyes on the rearview mirror. The press hadn't noticed and I turned my lights back on.
"Where are we going?" she asked when I passed by the neighborhood.
"The fountain," I said softly.
She didn't argue. When we got there, the geysers were rushing. It was 65 degrees, typical Oklahoma weather: jumping from one extreme to the other.
"Why are we here?" she asked.
"Because you're going to run through the water," I said, taking her jacket.
"No I'm not. It's freezing."
I stared at her. "You're going to have fun, Deidre, whether you like it or not."
"Is this part of your charity?" she asked and I sighed.
She had seen the magazine. I ignored her and took my coat off. I unbuttoned my work shirt and took it off, leaving me in my black wife beater and slacks. Then I took my shoes and socks off, rolling the bottom of my slacks up.
"So, are you going to go yourself or am I going to have to carry you?" I asked after I was ready.
She looked doubtfully at the water.
"So be it.
I ran for her and hoisted her over my shoulder. She squealed in protest as I took her shoes and socks off. Then I tore through the geysers. She was pounding on my back and I set her down in the center where the largest geyser was.
"You jerk!" she yelled over the sound of the geysers. She was spitting her out of her mouth. "I wasn't ready!"
"You never would have been," I challenged as the geysers fell. Her eyes darted to the car. "You have twenty seconds before the geysers go off. If you can get to the car before then, we'll go home. If not, you stay."
She immediately dashed to the left but I blocked her.
"You're cheating!" she cried, ducking under my arm.
I could hear the smile in her voice, though, as she tore for the car. I gave her a decent head start before grabbing her around the waist and pulling her back. She laughed as the geysers shot back up. I slipped on the padded ground and we both went crashing to the ground. I was laughing without realizing it and she squirmed off of me.
She smacked me on the arm.
"You're a turd," she said.
"Maybe," I said, propping myself up on my elbows. "But I got you to laugh."
She narrowed her eyes, sitting up. "That was cheating."
I lay on my back and looked up at the stars. "Maybe," I repeated. "It worked, though, and that's what matters, dear."