"Maybe not." He stepped back smiling, but his eyes had that serious look again. "Please, Anita, go home, and don't freak. Just go home, and be happy. Be happy, and let everyone around you be happy. Is that so hard?"
When Jason said it like that, it didn't seem hard. In fact, it seemed to make a lot of sense, but inside, it felt hard. Inside it felt like the hardest thing in the world. To just let go, and not pick everything to death. To just let go and enjoy what you had. To just let go and not make everybody around you miserable with your own internal dialogue. To just let go and be happy. So simple. So difficult. So terrifying.
A car squealed out of the parking lot, as Jason walked me back to the Jeep. I only had a moment to see it, before it blasted out into the street, but I recognized the car. Apparently Ronnie was driving them home, but the fight wasn't over. Not my problem. God knew I had enough relationship problems without sticking my nose into someone else's. Of course, sometimes no matter how hard you try to stay out of something, you can't.
"Can I grab a ride home?" It was Louie Fane, Dr. Louis Fane, though his doctorate wasn't in the biology of humans, but in the biology of bats. His doctoral thesis had been on the adaption of the Little Brown Bat to human habitation. Actually his work with bats, a different species, had put him in a cave with a wererat that attacked him. It's how he got to be furry once a month.
"Sure," Jason and I said in unison.
Louie smiled. "I just need one ride, but thanks." His eyes, which were truly black, not just darkest brown like mine, didn't match the smile. The eyes were still angry.
"His place is on the way to the Circus," Jason said.
I nodded. "Okay." I looked at Louie and wanted to ask what the fight had been about, and didn't want to ask what the fight had been about. I settled for, "Are you okay?"
He shook his head. "Ronnie will probably call you tomorrow and tell you anyway. I guess you might as well know, or maybe you can talk some sense into her."
I gave a half-shrug. "I don't know. Ronnie can be pretty stubborn."
Jason laughed. "You calling someone else stubborn, that's rich."
I frowned at him. "You sure you don't want to ride home with us, instead of Mr. Comedy here?"
He shook his head. "I'm on Jason's way home." He still hadn't told us what the fight was about. Was I supposed to remind him, or let it go?
"Do you want some privacy here?" Jason asked.
Louie sighed. "Yes, if you don't mind."
"I'll say good night to Micah and Nathaniel, and I'll be waiting by my car." He waved at me and walked away.
For the second, no, the third time that night I was standing out in the cool shadows of the trees getting a heart-to-heart talk with another man. This one wasn't even my boyfriend or occasional food.
"What's wrong, Louie?"
"I asked Ronnie to marry me tonight."
I'd been prepared for a lot of things, but that hadn't even occurred to me. Marriage? I just gaped at him. When I could close my mouth and pretend to be intelligent, I said, "And why the fight, then?"
"She said, no." He didn't look at me as he said it. He stared off into the dark, his hands plunged into the pockets of his dress slacks, ruining the line of his jacket, but giving him something to do with his hands.
"She said, no," I repeated it, as if I hadn't heard it right.
He glanced at me then. "You sound surprised."
"Well, last I knew you guys were getting along really well." Actually, the last time Ronnie had confided in me it had been a conversation that had set us both giggling, because it had been mostly about sex. We'd both overshared, which women do more than men, and the sex had been as good between her and Louie as it had been between me and Micah. Which was pretty damned good. Ronnie had had this mistaken idea that dating Micah meant I'd dumped Jean-Claude. When she found out it didn't mean that, she'd not taken it well. She just couldn't seem to cope with me dating the undead. Picky, picky. I could joke, but her last stand on Jean-Claude had been adamant enough that we hadn't talked much since.
"It's all wonderful, Anita. That's what is so..." he seemed to search for a word, and settled for, "frustrating!"
"So, you guys are getting along great?" I made it a question.
"I thought so, maybe I was wrong?" He paced two steps away from me, then back. "No, damn it, I wasn't wrong. It's been the best two years of my life. Nothing starts my day off better than waking up beside her. I want to start every day like that. Is that so wrong?"
"No, Louie, that's not wrong."
"Then why did we just have the biggest fight we've ever had?" His dark face was demanding, as if I had the answer and just wouldn't give it to him.
"I'll call Ronnie tomorrow, if she doesn't call me first. I'll talk to her."
"She says she doesn't want to marry anyone. She says, if she married anyone, it would be me, but she doesn't want to. She doesn't want to." The pain in his voice was so raw, it hurt to hear it.
"I am so sorry." I started to touch his arm, thought better of it, and said, "Maybe you could just live together?"
"I offered that. I offered to just live together until she was ready for more." He was staring off into the darkness, again, as if he didn't want me to see what was in his eyes.
"She said no to that, too?" I asked.
"She doesn't want to give up her independence. Her independence is one of the things I love most about her."
"I know that," I said, and my voice was soft, because it was all I had to offer.
He looked at me. "You know that, then can you tell her?"
"I'll do everything I can to reassure her that you're not trying to clip her wings."
"Is that it? Is she just afraid I'll take away her freedom?"
"I don't know, Louie. Truthfully, if you'd asked me beforehand, I'd have said, she'd say, yes."
"Really," he said, and he was studying my face now. Studying it as if the secrets to the universe were somehow hidden in my eyes. I preferred him staring out into the dark for his answers instead of in my face. I wasn't sure what the darkness had to offer him, but I knew I didn't have any answers.
"Yeah, Louie, really. Last I knew she was the happiest I've ever seen her."
"So I wasn't just fooling myself?" he asked, and he was still giving me those raw, demanding eyes.
"No, Louie, you weren't fooling yourself."
"Then why?" he asked. "Why?"
I shrugged, and had to say something, because he was still staring at me. "I don't know. I'm sorry." It sounded so inadequate, sorry. But it was all I had to offer tonight.
He nodded, a little too rapidly, as he turned away, and stared out into the dark again. I knew he wasn't really seeing the yard that bordered the church. I knew he was just staring to be staring, and not to have to meet anyone's eyes for a while, but it was sort of unnerving. Unnerving to think that whatever he was feeling was so strong that he had to hide his eyes, so I wouldn't see. It reminded me of the way Dolph had turned away at the murder scene. And, in a way, they were both hiding the same thing--pain.
He turned away from the dark and gave me his eyes again. They were raw, and I had to fight to not turn away myself. My rule was always if someone could feel the emotion, the least I could do was not turn away.
"It looks like your sweetheart is coming this way."
I glanced back to find Micah walking slowly toward us. Normally, he wouldn't have interrupted, but we were on a deadline tonight. Time and the ardeur wait for no man. I would have explained that Micah wasn't being rude, that we had to go, but I wasn't sure Louie knew about the ardeur, and I hated to explain it to people who didn't know. It always sounded so... odd.
"How long have you and Micah been living together?" he asked.
"About four months."
"Ronnie and you haven't been hanging out much since he moved in with you, have you?"
I thought about it, then said, "I guess not. She didn't like that I'm still dating Jean-Claude."
Louie watched Micah walking toward us. His face looked thoughtful. "Maybe that wasn't it."
"What do you mean?"
"Maybe it was having someone live with you. Maybe that's what she couldn't handle."
"She said it was me dating a vamp."