I never made it to Lindsey’s Red Lion, nor did my morning study session go as expected. My mind, the little engine that couldn’t, kept taking detours; wandering back to Ryan. I was furious at my inability to string two studious; boring; safe thoughts together.
I gave up after three hours, but only because my phone beeped. 12:00pm, I had to meet Pam for lunch in 15 minutes. My stomach churned in dread; Pam would pick on my sour mood and psychoanalyze the crap out of me. I packed up my notes and reluctantly headed for the exit.
My department was actually located in Virginia, but I loved Foggy Bottom. It was a love which began in my freshman year when I took an accelerated course in Materials Engineering. Other students would have craved a change of scenery but I found comfort in the familiar.
I spied a familiar figure as I stepped out onto the street. Henry Glover was standing at the double door entrance. I’m tall but Henry is huge ; 6’10 and 255 lbs. He waved with his right hand while his left clutched the equally huge black guitar case which held Black Missy; his acoustic bass. Immensely talented, he paid for his tuition through indie songwriting and live cover performances. I’d met him while playing at an evening gig in my first year and had come to appreciate his large huggable frame, fuzzy brown beard and soft spoken philly accent.
‘Henry’ I said, head still spinning from my turbulent study session. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘Waiting for you’ he said. Pam says you’re having lunch at Lindsey’s. I’m starving.’
His voice was breezy, but he shuffled his weight from one foot to the other, eyeing me as though I was a cracked egg. It put me on edge. My gaze flicked to the street behind him out of sheer instinct.
‘You okay, Jay?’
‘Uh, ya’ I mumbled. ‘Just a little distracted that’s all.’
‘No, I mean, are you really okay? With Ryan in the news and all.’
‘You know Henry; I’m not a china doll. Ryan and I ended six months ago. I’ve moved on, I don’t care what he does.’
Who was I fooling?
A slight tremor in my voice almost betrayed me. Henry glanced down at me, confusion etched over his adoringly open; transparent features. I turned away from him, letting my frizzy hair hide a good chunk of my face.
‘Jean. I know you’re one tough cookie, but you’ve got a heart of chocolate.’
‘Henry! Chocolate only melts when you turn on the heat’ I said.
I smirked as Henry chuckled at my dry humour. A thought suddenly occurred to me. Pam, our fledging shrink, probably asked Henry to join us for lunch in a bid to lighten my mood. An emotional buffer, I think that’s what she’d call it.
‘So you’re saying you wanna talk about it?’ asked Henry, still smiling.
I found my thoughts drifting back to Pam this morning. ‘I think you guys worry about me too much. I didn’t burst into tears or anything like that when I heard the news.’
Henry nodded, he seemed satisfied.
‘Okay, I should warn you though. People said shitty things about him.’
‘I’m sure Ryan’s got thick skin, Henry.’
He flushed, and then I wished I was as tactful as Pam. I did the only thing I could think of to make things less awkward; I hugged him.
‘Thanks’ I said, snuggling into his chest and wrapping my arms around his gargantuan frame. He returned the hug with one crushing arm. He smelled like…Henry. His cologne a whiff of sharp citrus.
‘Jay…’ he started but I hushed him. I confess I stood there longer than necessary, aware of the fact people might start to stare. Still, a part of me felt I owed it to Henry. After all I’d been through he’d always found a way to be there for me.
‘Jean Wellings?’ inquired a voice behind me, male, formal.
I felt Henry freeze. His heart, mirroring mine, thumped madly against my face. I pulled away and turned around.
A man stood watching us, I’d never seen him before. He watched us in thoughtful contemplation. I immediately regretted my public display of affection. I frowned, puzzled at my embarrassment as I stared down this stranger. He seemed relaxed, but authoritative. Not a threat, but someone who expected compliance.
If I had to guess his profession I would say cop. My mind screeched to a halt, rendering me dumb and immobile as we exchanged stares.
Henry inched forward before I could get a word in. ‘Who wants to know?’ he asked.
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. Why do guys always have to play the hero?
The man reached into his jacket pocket. A moment later my heart stopped beating.
‘Watch it buddy. Detective Scott Devino, DC homicide’ he said, flashing the badge up at Henry’s face.’
I swayed at his words, lightheaded. They’d finally come for me.
‘Would you mind coming down to the station with-‘
‘I-I haven’t done anything’ I said, taking a step backwards and fighting off the panic.
‘Of course you haven’t-‘
‘Look man’ snapped Henry. ‘I was with her on Friday night, playing gin rummy. I’ve got four people you could ask.’
‘This wasn’t about Friday night’ I thought.
This was about something much worse.
Something I’d spent every waking moment trying to forget.
A rainy night in March...
‘Miss Wellings?’ said Devino, interrupting my thoughts.
The nonplussed looked on the Detective’s face told me I was wrong about that too.
‘You think I’m arresting you?’
‘You’re not?’ yelped Henry.
‘I’m not a suspect?’ I said, my voice wavering.
‘No, and no’ said Devino. He cracked a grin, a wide one. He was serious.
‘Is this about Ryan?’
‘Yes, it is’ he said.
I turned to leave.
‘If that’s the case, I haven’t spoken to him in three months. I don’t think I could tell you anything that would be worth your time.’
‘I think he needs your words more than I do’ called Devino.
I froze in mid step and glanced back at him.
‘He’s entitled to one visitor’ said Devino. ‘He asked to see you.’