Chapter 27

“What’s Love Got To”

Seconds Later

Abandoned Fish Stick Factory

Alex watched Chloe walk away with John Quincy; pining and confused, he pretended to check his phone for emails on an account he didn’t have or any business setting up in the first place.

“Pretending to check for emails that don’t exist?” A voice said from behind him. Janey had been pretending not to watch the sordid affair from afar. “I’m just playin’, Greek boy. You got a second to talk?”

He looked up from the mobile inbox that didn’t exist. “I’m sorry, what were you saying?”

“I was gently mocking the fact that you look like a lost puppy dog in the rain.”

Alex looked out a nearby window. “Oh, is it raining?”

She crooked her neck forward, eyes widening. “Let’s talk later when the soundtrack to your life isn’t the Vince Guaraldi Trio.”

“Sorry, I was just—what did you want to talk about?”

Janey sighed and pulled up a chair at the nearby table. She brushed aside a plate of half-eaten pizza bagels and took a moment to collect herself. “So, we’re all going to die—well, I mean, we’re all going to die, again.”

Alex took her lead and sat down across from her. After staring at them for a moment, he made a move and started devouring the lukewarm remnants of bagels gone by. “Should I go get what’s left of John’s whisky stash?”

“No, I’d like to have this talk sober.”

“The talk about how we’re all going to get murdered?”

She bit her lip. “Kinda, but no. I want to talk about,” Janey paused, staring out the window for rain that wasn’t falling. “Us.”

His eyebrows rose.

“I’ve watched you my entire life, bouncing from woman to woman like disposable playthings.”

Alex put down what was left of the cold food and gave his full attention. “I’m not sure I follow. I mean … I’m not going to deny that I’ve spent the better part of this life being a womanizer.”

“There’s an informative Encarta CD in the back office that points out you were into boys as well—in a life gone by.”

He laughed. “Yes, once upon a time I was—is ‘boymanizer’ a word?”

They laughed for a moment and fell back into awkward silence. The only sounds heard in the warehouse were of Albert and Richie jumping back and forth across the makeshift bedding area in the common space.

She spoke first. “Alex, why do you always fight with me?”

“I could ask you the same question.”

“No you can’t, I asked you first.” Janey punctuated the sentiment by sticking her tongue out at Alex.

“Very mature.”

“Answer the question, dammit!”

He twisted his lips around as he collected his thoughts. “Eliot and Harriet were kidnapped—and is this really the best time to be talking about stuff—”

She cut him off. “Yes, doofus. We’re all going to die.”

“You’re trying to get me to say I like you, aren’t you?”

“This would be your cue to do so.”

A pizza bagel rolled back and forth between his hands. “Yup.”

Janey scooted her chair around the edge of the table, not breaking eye contact with Alex’s evasive gaze. “Good. I like you too. Now stop being a jackass all the time.”

He smiled back, something he had not done for quite some time. “But.”

A hand slid across the table and into his. “Before you say what you’re about to say, allow me to just do it for you.” Janey gently massaged the back of his hand. “The woman you lived with and were pretty into turned out to be somebody else, somebody you find yourself secretly texting when you think all of us aren’t looking. You are not as secretive and suave as you think you are.”

“Hey,” he feigned anger. “I am totally as suave as I think I am!”

“I’m just saying I get it. You’re surrounded by a fantastic array of badass chicks that could dismantle you like a wet garbage bag. I’m sure that’s intimidating.”

Alex laughed loud enough that the kids looked up and thought something was wrong at the table. He turned back to Janey. “I’m worried about Eliot and Harriet. Should we have gone too? We’re just sitting at this table, eating pizza bagels that I’m pretty sure Richie ate for breakfast yesterday—if anything happens to them,” he trailed off and came crashing back to the reality of the situation they were in.

She grabbed his other hand and pulled him closer. “We need a break—and you didn’t hear this from me, because on the record I hope the bitch chokes on a staircase of waffles, but I think Chloe is going to get them back.”

“That description defies all reason and yet makes perfect sense to me.”

“I know my audience.”

Alex craned his neck. “Thanks for the pep talk, Janey.” He stood up and leaned over, resting his chin atop her head and holding her in a strong embrace. A kiss landed on the top of her hair, right where the hair parted as it had since they were tiny children. “I think you could have gotten them back too.”

Janey pretended to brush her nose to conceal the wiping of a rogue tear that got away. She sniffled, “somebody’s gotta stay here and protect your goofball-ass.”

“I beat up Genghis Khan that one time,” he smiled, noticing her charade.

“I shot Chloe in the foot.”

“And Chloe shot Genghis in the head. You win this round,” he paused a moment before finishing, “you.” Alex rubbed his chin softly on the top of her head, her arms tightening around his. “Remember that time you kept saying we are all gonna die?”

“I remember it like it was five minutes ago.”

“You were right, by the way. We’re all gonna die.”

Janey placed her cheek on the top of his arm and breathed softly across his skin. “Here’s a question, and you must answer it honestly.”

“Scout’s honor,” he said, holding up three fingers in front of her face.

“Okay, here goes,” Janey began with a grave tone. “Lewis, or Clark?”

Alex laughed so hard there was a significant chance he had spit saliva into her hair. “I hate you. Also, Clark.”

“Me too, man. Me too.” She closed her eyes and allowed the moment to swallow them whole. Two friends in a situation that defied all logic or reason in a loaded embrace that would decay once they broke away from each other.

Alex’s phone on the table began to vibrate in pulses on the table; a number few people had and a nightmare scenario should anyone find the need to call it. Janey broke free of the embrace and shot over to the other end of the table. She picked it up and stared in some confusion at the caller-ID glowing in the middle of the factory. “It’s a hospital,” she said.

Alex took a moment trying to decipher what that meant before motioning for Janey to answer it.

“Hello?” she greeted, listening intently as a litany of information Alex couldn’t hear was rifled off on the other end of the line. “I—” began her attempt to interject but whoever was speaking from the hospital was doing so as a one-sided conversation.

Several minutes went by as Alex watched Janey attempt to get a word in edge-wise, eventually giving up before beginning to nod as if that was something they could see over a cell phone.

She hung up and set the phone down on the table, the color from her skin having escaped to some far away land where happiness settled down to die of old age.

Janey mouth was moving but words were not coming out.

“What happened?” Alex tried to get her to speak.

She looked back at him, in total shock. “Paul’s awake.”