Chapter _; book i
Working chapter title: Combat, baby
She stretched her legs out on the bed, curling her toes and watching the light reflect off her purple nail polish. Her legs were bare up until the frayed ends of her jean shorts. Her midnight blue fitted top criss-crossed in the back. Outside of the hotel window, the rain poured down in torrents. It had been raining for three hours, with no signs of slowing. She flipped through the channels on the video stream, bored and impatient, until she began cycling through them a second time. She threw the remote to the bed and sighed, rubbing her eyes.
What was she doing here? She had work the next morning, and so many errands she should have been running... She was going to be behind for days.
That note, she thought, if she weren't so curious about that stupid, cryptic note, she would have been curled up in her own bed by now, sleeping. Enjoying the few hours of sleep she was no longer going to be getting. But that note, she thought, there was just something so unrelenting about the way it stormed through her thoughts. She couldn't shake it. Like cobwebs accidentally walked through, it covered her, haunted her. The clock on the bedside table read 11:16, the neon blue light glowing from the darkness of the corner stand.
She lifted the note from the pillow beside her, a small, scribbled message on the back of a worn out postcard, and read it for the hundredth time.
Code word Grendel. Tonight; 11:25.
Tell no one.
She didn't want to look up at the clock again. She knew the mounting weight of agonizing seconds, pregnant with pretense and expectation, and wanted none of it.
She re-read the note. Who knew that nickname? Who knew their code system? She shook her head, one hand buried, knuckle deep, in the roots of her hair as she mulled over her endless sea of questions. What did they want from her?
Wasn't it enough that she may never see him again? Must someone torment her? Provoke her?
Was it all a trap?
Feeling vulnerable, she pulled her feet in, tucking them beneath her thighs and curling against the headboard. She hated not having the answers, hated feeling helpless. Thunder cracked outside, spooking her further. Beneath the pillow behind her, she kept her Walthers 22, just waiting for her to grab it up.
Her stomach was twisted into knots, tight and pulsating with worry. She almost felt she would be sick, but the moment passed and she continued trying to ignore the clock.
A knock sounded at the door, low, and only once, and she jumped clear off the bed. She didn't remember deliberately reaching for the gun, but it was in her hand, safety off. Her arm raised, aiming for the door. She glanced to the clock for confirmation.
She crept to the door on her tip toes, instinctively raising herself up to where she felt most balanced. She turned on the small monitor by the door but the man standing outside wasn't visible. She couldn't see his face beneath the hood he wore, but his posture and shoulder width were distinctly masculine. The rain made the video stream unclear.
With one hand, she unlocked the door and swung it open quickly, synchroneously swinging her pistol to follow her step, aiming before her eyes even focused completely.
The hood was a dark grey, soaking wet and dripping water onto his face. He was scruffy looking, unshaven, battered, and dirty, but she knew him on sight. Her Walthers clattered to the carpet and she flung herself through the doorway, her arms around his neck before he even looked up from the gun on the floor.
"Oh my God!" She was crying, she didn't know when it had started, but with every word she blubbered out, the choking sobs got louder and stronger. She repeated his name over and over again, desperate to convince herself she wasn't seeing things. He was real this time. She could smell the dankness of his sopping clothes, feel the rough hair on his chin against her neck, feel the press of his weight against her. He was flesh and bone, not a pile of pillows and loneliness, that was his heartbeat pounding in his ribcage. She clung to him and cried, cried for the first time since she'd received his last video. All the unshed tears escaped, swallowing her whole in the ocean of them, consuming her. Every suppressed moment of terror, of swelling desolation, of burning, ceaseless longing, rushed over her. Filled her until she was bursting, almost exploding out of her own skin with the force of this one small moment.
Pilot said nothing. Even though his arms shook, he lifted her from her feet and carried them into the safety of the room, kicking the door closed.