"I know how good I look in this suit and don't think that it isn't confusing the crap outta me!"
Now, I could tell you all of what was said in that room that night, and all the technical stuff that they tried to drum into my head about the changes they'd managed to make in the suit so I wouldn't get any rashes or like that, but it would just be a meaningless jumble of words to you, much the same way it was to me. Oh I remember all that they said, but not much of it made any real sense to me right then. The only thing I could concentrate on, the one thing that kept hammering at my brain was, "I'm STUCK! Maybe forever! I'll never get out of this damn thing!"
Yeah I know. Pity party, right? Well, I thought I had a damn right to feel bad about it, ya know? So I wallowed in my self pity for awhile, even while they were trying to explain things to me and trying to make me feel better about what had happened, as if anything could make me feel better about it.
Finally, I'd had all I could take and I snapped a little bit.
"DAMNIT! Why don't all of you just get the hell out of my face?" I screamed. I'm the one stuck in this frigging thing, not you! How the hell do YOU know how I'm feeling or how I should feel? I'll tell you. You DON'T know! You CAN'T know! And the way I'm feeling right now is that you should all just leave me the hell alone before I hurt someone! Got it?"
Well, I regretted the words even as they were leaving my mouth, but I couldn't take them back and I didn't want to right then. I was angry, hurt, I felt betrayed and all alone and all I wanted was to get the hell out of that place and BE alone for awhile to try to sort out what I was gonna do and how I was gonna handle this latest screwup.
Harry tried to calm me down again saying,
"Look Donna. I meant everything I said back there, ya know? I ain't gonna leave you and I ain't gonna forget who's really in there. Why you and me, we......" but I stopped him right there.
"Yeah, right! You're gonna stick by me, huh Harry? You and me against the world, right? HAH! You have the world by the balls and you know it. YOU get to still be what you are, a GUY, while I gotta learn a whole new way of life you asshole! Christ! I can't even see my damn girlfriend! The way I look, I'm supposed to have a damn BOY friend! But you're gonna stick by me, right? You're gonna sacrifice your life for me, huh? How friggin' loyal of you! How noble of you! You're gonna try to tell me that you aren't gonna try to go for some hot chicks, looking the way you do? You're trying to tell me that you are gonna treat me like the plan said, like a girlfriend or a wife? Don't make me laugh, JERRY! I'm all by myself in this and you damn well know it. All your high sounding words are just that, words! Get the hell OFF me and let me BE!"
I pushed him away from me and I could see the hurt in his eyes at what I'd said. I could also see concern and maybe even fear in the eyes of Penny and Jim. They knew what I could do if I let that suit power up and let myself go, and I knew that they were scared as hell that that was exactly what I WOULD do. Hell, I was scared that I'd do that.
Harry started to move back toward me with his arms held out like he wanted to hug me again, but I stopped him with a look. Then I said,
"You just stay the hell away from me. ALL of you stay the hell away! My whole damn life is changed, maybe forever, and NONE of you know anything about what I'm feeling or how I'm gonna deal with it! Just leave me the hell alone and get outta my damn face!"
I walked out of the lab with a babble of voices behind me, some of them sounding hurt, some angry, but I didn't care. I just wanted out and nobody better try to get in my way! I stomped out of the clinic and from there, out of the lab itself, to the parking lot. Reaching the car we'd arrived in, I opened the door and pulled the keys down from under the visor. I started the engine and gave it a few seconds to warm up and then I punched the gas and fried the tires, leaving the lot.
I didn't have a direction in mind when I left there. I just wanted to get away as far and as fast as I could. I guess the gods or someone was watching over me that night because I never got stopped by the cops for speeding, or reckless driving or anything. I didn't hit anything and I didn't hurt anyone, thank God. When I finally came back to my senses, I was somewhere outside of town, near the lake. I finally got control of myself and slowed down, ending up parked at a place where I remembered 'parking' with my girlfriend, Debbie.
I parked the car under a tall oak tree and just sat there for a long time, just thinking, and crying. I thought of ending my life then, but I didn't do anything about those thoughts. Chuckling (well, giggling I guess) to myself, I thought, 'You'd have to do something pretty drastic to kill yourself at this point anyway, you dumbass! Most of the things you could do wouldn't even hurt you in this damn suit!'
I don't know how long I just sat there thinking dark thoughts about myself and about the world in general. I actually only became aware of the passage of time when the sun started to come up over the lake.
Funny thing about me. For my whole life I'd always been able to work out really difficult problems when I was by myself. Jerry, (HARRY damn it!) should have remembered that about me, but I guess the whole situation was so far out that he'd forgotten. I knew that I'd hurt a lot of feelings and I knew that I'd probably even pissed a few people out with the way I'd left the lab last night, but I HAD to get off by myself to try and find a way to deal with what had happened.
I was sitting outside on the ground, just looking at the lake, not really thinking about anything, just letting my thoughts run free. That was the way I usually worked out problems. I'd found that really concentrating on a problem only led me off track. I had to let my subconscious mind work things out and then let it notify my conscious mind that it had found the solution. My luck. My minds didn't seem to be talking to one another that morning, and I came up with a big fat zero for answers.
Well, I knew that I wasn't gonna get anywhere this way, so I got in the car and headed for home. MY home. Where Mom and Dad were. I couldn't face going back to the condo and seeing Harry, Penny and Jim, and I didn't have anywhere else to go. Oh sure, I could've hit the bank and withdrawn my money and taken it on the lam, but even as deeply hurt and confused as I was, I knew without a doubt that, THAT was the most wrong thing I could do. Sooner or later I'd run out of money, or get homesick, or get in trouble and then the jig would be up for sure, so I headed for home.
When I pulled up in front of the house, everything was quiet. It was still very early in the morning and I figured that Dad would just about be getting up, ready to face the day. I wanted to catch my folks when they were both home, so I exited the car and went up to the front door. I used my key, which was still on my keyring, and let myself in, quietly. As I closed the door, I heard the phone start to ring and Dad came thundering down the stairs to answer it.
"Hello?" I heard him say. He sounded tired and, to me, almost scared. "Yes, this is William, Penny. Any news?" He listened for a minute or so and then said, "Damn. Well, keep us informed will you please? This is my SON we're talking about here and don't you ever forget that fact! I want to know immediately if there's any news at all. Yes, yes. If he calls here or shows up, I'll let you know. I have your cell phone numbers so... Look, Penny. Don't even try apologizing. You are the ones who lost him! YOU are the ones responsible for this latest screwup and I don't want to hear any excuses! If you had been doing your job, the one you've been so damn worried about, this wouldn't have happened!"
I was gonna wait til Dad was done on the phone before I let him know that I was there, but the pain and anger in his voice told me that I had to let him and Mom know that I was okay, relatively speaking that is. I moved from the entryway to where I could see him as he talked on the phone and stood there, waiting for him to see me. His back was to me and as he turned around, making yet another point to Penny, he finally spotted me. I quickly held my hand up to my mouth, index finger extended in a shushing motion, hoping he wouldn't let on to Penny that I was there, and he didn't disappoint me. He just said,
'All right, Penny. You call me if he shows up and I'll do the same. I hear my wife getting up and I should be there for her. This whole thing has her pretty damn shook up, you know? No, don't apologize to me any more. Just find my son!" and he hung up the phone.
Now I didn't know for sure how he was gonna take this latest news or how he was gonna greet me, but I should have known better than to doubt him. He practically bounded across the intervening space between us and grabbed me in a big hug, saying,
"Donnie! Oh God it's good to see you're okay, son! Your Mother and I have been worried sick about you ever since Penny called last night to tell us what had happened and that they'd lost track of you!"
"I knew you would be, Dad." I cried. "I thought about running off, but that isn't the way you and Mom taught me to face problems and I knew you and she would be worried if I did that. I went to the lake and thought awhile and then I came here. I know I'm jeopardizing security and all that, but I just had to come to you and Mom." Then I broke down again.
I just stood there for the longest time, crying and hugging my Father tightly. He didn't say anything more either. He just held me tight and let me cry. After awhile, I pushed gently away from him, ashamed to have let him see me cry like that, but he said,
"Donnie, my son. Don't be ashamed. None of this is your fault, and it's damned unfair that you're stuck in this whole situation. You know that your Mom and I love you and we're always going to be here for you, don't you? This is a really strange thing for us all, you know, but you are still my son and you always BE my son, no matter what you look like! If the worst happens and you're stuck in that suit for the rest of your life, you'll STILL be my child and God help anyone who tries to harm you! Do you understand that?"
"Yes, Dad." I sobbed helplessly. "I do, and thank you. God I love you!"
"I love you too, Donnie. Now, do you feel like eating something? I was going to start breakfast for your Mother and I. It's just as easy to cook for three as it is for two, you know? She'll be down to eat in a little bit. You wanna help me get things going?"
Have I told you just how much I admire and respect my Dad? I swear, I could have gone into the Peace Corps, married a pygmy woman and come home with 8 midget kids and he would've welcomed the whole bunch of us into the house with open arms! Nothing shook him up, nothing! I mean, there I stood, in all my borrowed glory, looking like a runaway centerfold from some men's magazine and he was asking me if I wanted some breakfast, like nothing was wrong! My Dad. What a guy. Think I'll keep him.
Well, we puttered around in the kitchen getting out eggs, bacon, butter and assorted other breakfast type stuff, all the while chattering about stuff that had nothing to do with the predicament I was in. It was almost like nothing had changed and I was still my old, male self. He groused a bit about his business and the fact that, with the lab shut down, his profits were down as well!
Then, without any warning, Mom came into the kitchen. I waited for it, but it never came. She walked in, said, "Good morning, dear." to my Dad. And "Good morning Donnie." to me. No histrionics, no wailing and gnashing her teeth and crying over the fact that I was safe or anything. She just sat down at the table and looked at me, kind of like she was appraising how I looked or something. I was right.
"Well, Donnie, I'm glad you're home dear, but you look a wreck! My goodness, where have you been and what have you been doing? You know, we should go do some shopping later this morning. There were some perfectly DARLING things I saw at the mall yesterday that would look just wonderful on you and I could use some new shoes and some hose." She turned to Dad and continued. "Martin? Would you mind terribly if Donnie and I went shopping later?"
Dad just looked at me and I looked back. We both knew Mom very well and this was just Mom being Mom.
"No Doris." Dad said. "That would be just fine with me. I'm taking today off anyway and I might just go with you two, just to make sure you don't put TOO big a dent in my credit rating."
"Oh Martin, REALLY." Mom said. "We'll only need to get a few things and besides, Donnie and I DO need to talk, well, woman to woman, if you know what I mean, dear? Now Donnie? I think, for the immediate and foreseeable future, I really should refer to you as Donna, don't you agree? I mean, heavens! Can you imagine me calling you Donnie or Donald in the middle of a crowded mall or store? Why it would cause no END of distraction and embarrassment, don't you think? Good. That's settled then. Now, do you need anything at the mall dear?" she finished, talking to Dad.
"Well, Honey, you never know," said Dad. "I just might pick up a few things for the house. We do need a new hose you know?"
"Oh Martin! That's funny!" Mom said, beginning to giggle. "Donna and I are going to be buying hose and so are YOU!"
I just stood there, letting this madness go on. I was seething to talk to Mom about what had happened, but I knew better than to interrupt her when she got on a roll. What I DID do was sit down next to her and, moving my chair much closer to hers, I hugged her and said, "Mom. I love you, you nut."
At first she hugged me back, but then she whispered in my ear.
"I know everything that's happened, Donna and I hope you know that your Father and I are always going to love you, no matter what. I know you both think I'm somewhat odd and, well, a little dingy, but I'm more together than either of you knows!"
I pushed gently back a little bit at her and stared into her eyes. They were twinkling with hidden laughter and joy at having her only child back home and safe in her arms, but her overall expression never changed. She still had that somewhat...distracted look on her face and right then, I gained a WORLD more respect for that woman. What might have driven other Mothers to distraction or even to the brink of madness, my Mother just shook off like a duck sheds water. What a woman.
Well, we sat there and ate breakfast, just like any other day and, when we finished, Mom said,
"Now, Martin, if you would be so kind as to load the dishwasher while Donna and I get ready to go out. You'll have plenty of time to get ready yourself when we're done. You know we women take loads more time than you men do." And she smiled sweetly at Dad.
"Why of course, dear." Dad responded. "There are a couple of things I need to get done here at home before we leave anyway. You two take your time and give me a yell when you're just about ready, okay? Um, Donna? Do you think we should let Penny know that you're okay? I won't unless you say it's all right to do so."
I sighed, knowing that I should contact Penny, even though I really didn't want to.
"I suppose it'd be best if we did let her know, Dad." I finally said. "Please let her know, though, that I don't want her or anyone else coming here or interfering in this day, okay? Tell her that if anyone, and I mean ANYONE shows up here or at the mall, I'll take off and never come back and tell her that I MEAN exactly what I said. I WILL rabbit and they'll never see me, or their precious damn suit again. Will you do that for me, Dad? Please?"
"I'll do it Donna. I'll make her understand that you need this time to reorganize your thoughts and that you'll call her later this evening or earlier if anything goes wrong. Will that be okay?"
"That'd be just great, Dad. Thanks." And with that, I got up, hugged my Dad and Mom and I left, to go upstairs.
On the way there, I tried to question Mom about what she had whispered in my ear, but the unflappable, undeterable, almost ditzy Mom, was back in full force. She pooh poohed every inquiry of mine and was dead set on a day of shopping with her 'daughter" and NOTHING was going to get in the way of that as far as she was concerned! I started giggling, realizing finally, that this was the face she chose to show the world, but that it was a front, a phony face so that the world would constantly underestimate her. Thus, she always had what she considered to be, the upper hand in all her dealings with everyone!
How odd it seemed to me and yet, how right, that the two people I loved most in the world, and thought I knew better than anyone in the world, would surprise and confound me. I felt very close to both of them that day probably closer than I had ever felt in my whole life, and how proud I was to be their child, at that time in my life.
Mom excused herself to go start getting ready and I went into my old room, which still looked exactly the way I'd left it. I sat down on the bed and began thinking about my situation again, maybe more clearly than I had been thinking for the past week. Maybe I wasn't alone in this after all. Then I thought about the things I'd said to Penny and Jim...and to my best friend in the whole world, and I began to feel very ashamed of myself. This was something I'd have to make right, for myself and for everyone else concerned. I also made a solemn vow that morning. Whatever happened from this point on, I'd make it work. I'd deal with all this weird shit and I'd find a way out of this damned suit. I owed it to my friends, my family, and to myself.
Now I won't bore you with all the details of the shopping trip that Mom, Dad and I went on that morning. I'll only say that it was enlightening for all of us, particularly for me. Watching Mom deal with sales people, now knowing that it was all a front on her part, was an education. Mom, for all her seeming ditziness, was an absolute master at getting people to do what she wanted them to do. I don't know why I'd never noticed it before, but I DID notice that it didn't seem to be news to my Dad.
Mom would get off on one of her 'bent on finding something' searches and she wouldn't rest or be deterred until she either found it or was assured that, whatever it was, they didn't have it, but they would try their VERY best to get it, ASAP!
Dad had called Penny and had assured her that I was all right and in no danger. He also said that he'd made it VERY clear to her that we wanted absolutely no interference this day. He'd had to promise her that I would call that evening and that something would be worked out to the mutual benefit of all concerned. So Mom, Dad and I had a family day, something we hadn't had for a long time. Even before all this stuff had happened, I had always been concentrating on my own things and we hadn't had a family day out for what seemed to be, forever. It was fun.
We shopped, we ate, we laughed, we even argued a little bit, but most importantly, we bonded again. We became a FAMILY again, and it felt really good. More and more I was becoming convinced that this would all work out, somehow.
We arrived back at home, late in the afternoon after a wonderful few hours of peace and normality. We carried the bags of things that we had bought in from the car and, once inside, at home, we unpacked them. Boring, huh? Well, it wasn't for me. It was like things were normal again. For awhile I forgot what I looked like and what a mess had been made of my life. I was just my parent's child again for a few precious hours and I treasured every minute of it.
Mom made a great roast for dinner and afterwards, I went ahead and called Penny. When she answered I said,
"Penny? This is Donna. Don't say anything, just let me talk for a little bit." She didn't respond so I went ahead. "Okay. First of all, you know that I'm home with my folks and I am fine. So are they, by the way. I've done some thinking since I left the lab last night and I do want to talk to all of you about the way I left and the things I said, but not right now. I want you to understand that I have reconciled myself to the way things are right now. I don't like it and I might never like it, but I can't change what's already happened."
Penny started to say something but I stopped her.
"No! I said, let me TALK! You just listen. When I'm done, you can have your say, but now it's MY turn. Now. I am gonna come back in and I am gonna try my best to make things work out. I'm gonna make mistakes and I'm gonna screw up. I'm a kid and that's what kids do, okay? What I don't need is any more grief from you, or Jim, or even Harry. I'm gonna do what I have to do and I'm going to deal with this as best as I can. Bottom line? I'll do what you ask, but you gotta ASK it, not TELL me. You can't imagine how difficult this is for me and you should consider yourself lucky that I'm even bothering to go this far."
I paused to collect my thoughts and Penny remained quiet.
"Penny, I'm a 17 year old BOY! Remember that! Yeah, I look like a lost centerfold from Penthouse or something, but I'm a GUY and I have 17 years of BEING a guy to try to overcome. It's not gonna be easy and I know that, but YOU gotta understand that too. You GOTTA lighten up on me and Harry. If you don't, I can guarantee that things will fall apart faster than you can say, 'Oh shit!' If you can do all that, I'll promise that Harry and I will try to comply with all your suggestions and even some of your orders. If you can't? Well, say goodbye to your precious suit, because I'll be 'in the wind' and you'll never find me. Got it? Okay. Your turn."
Penny didn't say anything at first and I wondered if she'd hung up on me and was on her way here. Finally she spoke.
"Okay, Donna. I guess I have to accept what you're saying. I could wish it otherwise, but you and Harry are the ones stuck and it's your safety, and your families', that we should be most concerned with. You DO understand that the deal with the condos is pretty much written in stone though, right? I mean we can't just let you two go off willy-nilly without some supervision. YOU made the telling point in all of that. You ARE really just two 17 year olds and you know very little about how the 'real' world works. Tell you what, Donna. Come back to the condo tomorrow morning and we'll hash this out face to face. For tonight, stay with your folks. We'll look for you sometime tomorrow morning, okay?"
Well! Maybe this WOULD work out.
"Okay, Penny. I was planning on staying with Mom and Dad anyway, but thanks for suggesting it. I will be there in the morning and please tell Jim and Harry that I'm sorry for the way I acted last night? I was freaked out and scared and angry, ya know?"
"I know, Donna and, believe me, I do understand. I don't know if even I could have handled what happened to you, if it had happened to me, so don't feel too bad. I think Jim understands and Harry, well, Harry has been damn near out of his mind today, worrying about you. I know that he will be especially happy to hear that you've come down from your 'freakout'. Oh, and the things you said? Consider them forgotten, okay? I've done some hard thinking myself and I've come to realize that we need to work together on this, not as 'security people and kids', but as a team. So let's try and work on that tomorrow. Goodnight, Donna. Sweet dreams and, keep your stick on the ice, kid. Okay?"
Well, I had to laugh at that. One of the shows that Harry (Jerry) and I watched almost religiously was called The New Red Green Show and that was his tag line at the end of each show.
"Okay Penny. You too and remember, I'm pulling for ya. We're all in this together, right?" yet another of Red's famous lines.
"Right you are Donna. Bye." Click. And she hung up.
I sat there, just holding the phone in my hand. I guess attitude does count for a lot. I'd changed mine and it seemed that Penny had changed hers as well. I went into the living room where Dad and Mom were watching TV and I sat down on the couch next to Mom. I just sat there, relaxing for what might have been the first time in a week. Mom looked over at me and kind of gestured to me to move closer and, when I did, she put her arm around me and I sorta snuggled in, feeling like I had when I was just a little boy and I'd snuggle on that same couch with her and watch TV until I got sleepy. It felt soooo good to me and I could tell that it felt good to Mom as well. Dad looked over at us and smiled.
"Seems like old times, doesn't it?" he asked.
"Yeah, it kinda does, Dad." I answered. "Except that I'm not quite a little boy anymore, am I?"
"No, Donna, you aren't, but you are still our child and you are safe at home with us. You seem a bit tired. Why don't you head off for bed? Your Mom and I will come up and tuck you in, just like we used to. Would you like that?"
I looked up at Mom and she nodded and smiled. I said,
"Yes I would, Daddy. I'd like that very much."
I was all the way off the couch and halfway up the stairs when I realized that I'd called my Father, 'daddy'! Now where the hell had THAT come from? Well, I was too tired to think much about it and I went into my bedroom to get ready for bed. I knew I needed to recharge the suit, so after I got into my pj's I plugged into the wall socket nearest my bed and called out to Mom and Dad. They came in and we talked for a minute or two and then they tucked me in and kissed me goodnight.
"Goodnight sweetheart," my father said to me, just like he had done when I was a little boy, except it had been 'slugger' or 'champ' back then instead of sweetheart.
"Night Daddy." I responded. There it was again! Daddy!
Mom leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.
"Goodnight, Donna." She said. "I hope you have sweet dreams, my lovely child. I'm so glad you came to us when you were troubled. I love you, Donald or Donna, whichever you end up being. Either way, your Dad and I will always be here for you when you need us."
"Goodnight Mom. I knew that you both loved me, but I never really knew how much.....til now. Thanks for today. It was wonderful and I really enjoyed myself."
They left my room and closed the door. My last conscious thought was something along the lines of, 'If I had one wish, I'd wish that every child could have parents as wonderful as mine.' And with that, I fell sound asleep.
I awoke in the morning, long before my alarm went off. I unplugged and stored the charging cord and went into the bathroom to 'freshen up.' Mom and Dad were still asleep and so, it seemed, was the rest of the world. It was quiet and peaceful and, after I got dressed, I went downstairs and out into the back yard.
The sun was just coming up and birds were beginning to wake up singing. The grass was still damp from dew and the air was fresh and clean. I took a couple of deep breaths and felt myself at peace for the first time in a long time. Oh I knew that there was an eventful day ahead of me, but just then, that didn't seem to matter. I was just glad to be alive, healthy and loved. I just stood there in the backyard, enjoying the peace and quiet for awhile, but eventually I went back inside and to the kitchen. I figured that I'd get breakfast ready for Mom and Dad. It was probably the last time we'd get to spend together for who knew how long.
I got the eggs going along with bacon and a couple of slices of real ham. I grated some potatoes into a frying pan and got them going as well and it wasn't too long before the smells of food cooking permeated the house. I figured that the aromas would wake Dad and Mom, but on the off chance that they didn't, I began preparing a couple of trays to take up to them in bed.
By the time the food was ready, Mom and Dad still weren't downstairs although I had heard someone go into the bathroom upstairs, so I loaded the trays and headed upstairs. I got to their door, which was closed, and setting the trays down, I knocked.
"Yes?" came the answer.
"Room Service." I answered.
"Oh really?" Came an amused sounding response. "Well, by all means, please come in."
I opened the door, picked up the trays and went into my parent's room. I had made coffee as well and I had also poured some glasses of orange juice, so the trays were really loaded. I carefully set them down on the nightstands next to the bed and announced,
"Breakfast is served, sir and madame. I hope it meets with your approval."
Dad smiled at me and, catching my whimsical mood, he answered in kind.
"I'm sure it will serve quite adequately, young lady. Thank you very much. Will you join us or should we ring when we are finished?"
"Oh NO, sir!" I replied in a pretend shocked tone. "The help should NEVER dine with the guests. Please just ring when you are done and I will collect the dishes. I shall dine downstairs with the Butler and the upstairs maid if that meets with your approval, sir." I tried to keep a straight face but I failed, miserably. I started to giggle and that grew into a full laugh, in which I was quickly joined, by both Dad and Mom.
'This is so sweet, Donna." Mom said. "Are you sure you can't join us dear?"
"Oh, I wish I could Mom, but I really have to get going. I'll eat fast downstairs and be on my way. I just wanted to do something special for you both to show you how thankful I am for yesterday...for all the yesterdays, actually. I never really thought about how great a set of parents you have been. I regret that...a lot. I promise that I'll never take you for granted, ever again. I love you both." And I kissed them both goodbye. "Don't worry about me. I'll be okay and I will insist that Penny and Jim allow us to keep in touch. Maybe we can even get in some shopping expeditions, Mom?"
"Oh I'd love that, dear!" said Mom. I DO think that it's important for a Mother to bond with her daughter, even if it IS 17 years late, don't you, Donna?"
I sputtered a bit before I realized that Mom was doing it again, and then I laughed.
"Yes, Mother, I do think it's important. Just don't get TOO carried away with this bonding stuff, okay? I'm not gonna be Donna for any longer than I absolutely have to be! I HAVE had fun with you though Mom, and I am actually looking forward to more shopping and stuff with you. Well, I gotta go. Love you both."
"We love you too, dear. Be careful, please? And don't worry if you can't contact us as much as you'd like. We do understand how things are, security-wise. You tell that Penny though that we EXPECT to get regular updates and, if we don't, I shall be forced to get quite bitchy with her!" Mom said. Her eyes had that sparkle again so I played along.
"Yes, Mother. I will tell her that, only go easy on her, okay? She's young too, and doesn't have NEARLY your experience at handling the world and the people in it."
When I left their room, we were all laughing and it made it easier and yet harder to leave. On the one hand, I didn't want to leave this nest of tranquility, as false as it might have been, but on the other hand, at least we were laughing and at ease with one another, and it WAS much easier than to have to leave with one, or all, of us crying.
I grabbed my keys from the table by the door and yelled one last 'GOODBYE' up the stairs. Then I went out, closing the door behind me and locking it. I got in the car I'd taken the night before and fired it up. There was a lump in my throat as I pulled away from the house, but it was tempered by the love that I felt for my parents, and I actually had a smile on my face as I went out of sight of the house.
I drove across town to the condo complex without incident and I was still smiling as I parked the car and went upstairs to the condo that Harry and I shared. I let myself in and as I did, I was hit by what seemed to be a human avalanche! I started powering up the suit, thinking I was being attacked but it turned out to be Harry, who was hugging me like he'd thought he was never going to see me again! He was actually KISSING me on my cheek!
"Oh man, oh man, oh man, am I glad to see you, Donna! I was so damn scared for you last night and I'm sorry for what happened and I know you probably hate me, but I'm so glad to SEE you, are you okay?' he babbled.
"Jeeze, Harry, let me breathe, willya? You scared the crap outta me! I thought I was being mugged or something! Lemme power the suit down and catch my breath and then I'll tell ya all about how my night went, okay? Now BACK OFF, BUSTER!" and I giggled as I said that so he'd know I wasn't mad at him.
Well, he let go of me, but he stayed right near me as if he was afraid I'd take off again or something. He had this.....look on his face that reminded me of a puppy who has been left alone for too long and is so glad to see it's owners again that it almost wets itself. I sat down at the kitchen table and told him about my night and day away from him, Penny and Jim. He seemed very attentive and was nodding throughout my whole telling of the tale.
When I finished he said, "Wow! Man, I miss my family too, Donna. I wish I'd had your guts. I could use some time with my Mom, Dad and sister. Damn, man! I wish I'd gone with you, but you left so fast that I didn't have time to catch you. I tried, but you were already peeling out of the lot when I came out the door."
"I appreciate the thought, Harry." I said. "I sorta wish you coulda gone with me too, but I really needed the time alone, ya know? This whole deal has been WAY hard for me to wrap my head around and then, with what happened with the suit getting 'bonded' to me and all that.....well, I just needed to get away for a bit, know what I mean?"
"Hey, no sweat, Donna." He answered. "I mean, I'm stuck in this suit too, ya know. Not the way YOU'RE stuck, but stuck nevertheless. Like I told ya, we're in this together and we gotta stick together. Look, don't take this the wrong way, man, but I love you, ya know? We've been best buds for so long that, when you were gone and I didn't know if I was ever gonna see you again, I felt like part of me was missing, ya know?"
"Yeah, I do sorta know what you mean, and it HAS been a long time for us, hasn't it? I mean, 12 years isn't a lot by some people's standards, but it's over half of our lives! That's.....84 years in dog years!" and I started laughing.
'"Dog years? Whattaya mean dog ye....oh! You SOB!" and Harry started laughing as well. "Oh man, I'll get ya for that!"
He grabbed me and started to tickle me! Well, that turned into another hug and THAT turned into.....well, it started to turn into something else and I wasn't willing to go there, so I gently broke the hug.
"Harry? Listen. We gotta talk about this shit. Please try to remember who's inside this damn suit, okay? I'm not blaming you for anything, but I just can't go where you seemed to want to go just then, and I don't know if I ever will be able to go there. I mean, in public it's one thing, but here, alone together, it's still just too.....weird, okay?"
"Oh shit, Donna. I'm sorry!" he replied, seemingly shocked by his own part in what was beginning. "It's just that, well damn it, you look so damn good, ya know? Man, I know that neither of us is gay or anything like that, but somehow it doesn't FEEL gay when I hold you. Dude, it's so damn confusing!"
Well, I kinda felt sorry for Harry right then and I took his hand in mine saying,
"Look. I told you that I don't blame you. Hell if things were reversed and it was YOU in this gal suit, I might get a bit confused too! Believe me, I know how good I look in this suit and don't think that it isn't confusing the crap outta me too, okay? Now let's call Penny and Jim and get this shit settled between us so we can get on with what laughingly passes for our lives now. Whattaya say?"
"Yeah, I think you're right. Look, we gotta pretend when we're in public, right? So I think we need to start calling each other by our new names all the time, you know, to avoid confusion. If we get used to answering to Harry and Donna, it'll look much better when we're out in public, right?"
"Okay." I said as I picked up the phone to call Jim and Penny. I kinda agree with you on that, at least."
Penny finally answered the phone and I told her that I was back at the condo. She said 'great' and said that she and Jim would be over as soon as they could get dressed. Then we could all go out for breakfast.
Okay. Long story short, time. We 'conferenced' for about two hours before stomachs started rumbling. We decided to go out to eat and continue when we got back. We did get a few things hammered out and Jim and Penny agreed to let us keep in closer touch with our families AND they agreed to lighten up on us a bit. I thought that was pretty good progress and we headed out the door to get something to eat.
Harry and I went in one car with Jim and Penny following and we made pretty good time through traffic. Harry and I were talking pretty much non-stop for the whole trip and I still blame myself for what happened next. Maybe Harry does too, but he isn't saying.
As we pulled into the lot at Denny's I heard something from behind us and, as I glanced behind us, Jim and Penny's car was in the middle of being T-boned by another car! I yelled at Harry and he jammed on the brakes. We leaped from the car and ran toward the wreck.
All of a sudden, there was a flurry of action and four guys jumped from the car that had hit Jim and Penny's car! They ran to the wreck and pulled Jim and Penny out, but instead of trying to get them out of the street, they threw them in the back of their car and jumped in, spinning their tires as they tried to make their getaway! Well, Harry and I had already powered the suits up and we gave chase, but they had too much of a head start on us. I managed to get the plate number off the car, but that was it. We ran back to Denny's and used our cell phones to call the cops to report the accident and apparent abduction.
The cops wanted us to wait at the scene, but I told them that we were gonna try to find the car and Harry nodded his head at that. He took off out of the lot at full throttle, the engine screaming and the tires shrieking in protest. We hit the street and damn near broadsided another car, but managed to avoid it, just in time. We took off down the road hoping to catch a glimpse of the other car, but no damn luck! Jim and Penny were gone!
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