Valley of Shadows- Chapter Twenty-Seven

Joshua reached his writing goal for the day, saved his work and stood up.  He had spent hours fuming over the way Thomas had been acting.  It distracted him so much that he knew his work was probably riddled with typos.  He’d definitely have to closely proofread his work but that was a project for the next day.

Joshua couldn’t sit still any longer.  He had made up his mind to go and confront Thomas.  Reverend Mother would soon be waking up from a nap and preparing dinner.  Joshua knew that if he had any hope of getting out of the house without getting the third degree from her, he needed to slip out before she got up.

He grabbed his keys and crept down the stairs, careful not to step on the squeaky steps.  Joshua made it outside undetected and heaved a sigh of relief.  On the way to Thomas’ house, he rehearsed what he’d say.  His so-called friend hadn’t apologized for putting Rachel in danger. Now, he seemed to have decided to cut off all contact with Joshua.  Normally when they fought, Thomas would apologize or make Joshua laugh so hard that he’d forget what he’d been angry about.  At the bottom of Joshua’s anger was the fear that he had lost his best friend.

Joshua parked slightly askew in his haste to get at Thomas.  It took persistent knuckle hammering to get him to the door of his second floor apartment.  A couple of Thomas’ nosier neighbors stuck their heads out their doors in order to get a look at who was making so much racket.  Joshua was past caring what anyone thought of him banging on the door.  He was in such a foul mood, he wanted someone to be foolish enough to say something to him.  Joshua was angry enough to take them all on.

When the door eventually opened, Joshua was ready for a fight.  He took in Thomas’ haggard appearance and his mind suddenly went blank.  Wordlessly, Thomas stepped aside and gestured via a tilt of the head for Joshua to enter.

“What the hell happened to you Thomas?  You look wrecked.”

“I haven’t exactly been able to sleep.”

His friend walked past him and retrieved a bottle from the liquor cabinet in his entertainment center.  Joshua watched him fill his glass and take a long drink.  He sensed that Thomas was grappling with something, so he remained silent.

“For what it’s worth, I really am sorry about Rachel.  I guess I didn’t understand what was going on when I saw Nicole with that needle in her hand, so I accepted her explanation.  I’d forgotten what your ma said happened at the hospital.  Things between Nicole and I have been a little…strained since she turned down my proposal.  I didn’t want to get into another argument with her, so I left it alone.  No offense, but that wasn’t the first time I’d seen Rachel looking a little spaced out.”

“What are you trying to say?  You think it’s okay for your girlfriend to jam a needle in my sister, just because she may have a drinking problem?”

“Calm down Josh.  That’s not what I was saying.  You know I love your sister like she was my sister.”

“I thought you did, but now I’m starting to wonder.”

Thomas didn’t argue.  He looked so miserable that Joshua instantly regretted what he’d said.  Thomas was trying to apologize.  He could see that his friend genuinely regretted his actions.  Joshua relented.  After all, Rachel seemed fine.  For the sake of their friendship, it was time to let the issue drop.  Joshua intended to keep Rachel away from Nicole anyway, so she wouldn’t get another shot at her.

“Alright man, I can see you feel bad about it.  I forgive you.  Did you hear what I said?”

“Yeah, I heard you.  Thanks man, it won’t happen again.”

“Wanna go and get something to eat?  I’ll pay.”

“Naw man, thanks though.  I’m not hungry.”

“You’re not hungry? Now I know something is wrong.  What’s up?”

“You wouldn’t believe it if I told you.  Besides, I’m not sure I can even express it in a way that makes any sense.  I’m still trying to figure things out myself.”

“Try me.”

“It’s about Nicole. She’s kind of… intense.”

“What do you mean?”

“She has a short temper. It doesn’t take much to get on her bad side.”

“So you’re saying she’s moody?  That’s most women.”

Joshua chuckled, expecting Thomas to laugh. His friend only looked frustrated. He appeared to be searching for the right words to convey something. Joshua felt a vague sense of unease. Thomas never took anything seriously. His grave expression was beginning to make Joshua nervous.

“What are you trying to say?”

“I’m saying that I try to stay on her good side because she holds grudges and bad things tend to happen to people who upset her.”

“Wait a minute…are you saying you’re afraid of her? I never thought I’d see the day when a hard case like you would be scared of a woman. You’re not even married and she has you whipped,” Joshua teased.

“That’s not what I’m…look just forget it. I knew I shouldn’t have tried to have a serious conversation with you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means that it always has to be fun and games with you. Any time I try to discuss anything real, you turn it into a joke.”

“That’s not true. We have serious conversations all the time.”

“Yeah, about your problems.”

“Oh, so now I’m selfish and insensitive? I was listening to everything you said just now. All you said that she gets mad easy and holds onto her anger.”

“If that’s all you heard then you weren’t listening. Look man just go, forget I said anything.”

“I’m not leaving things like this between us. I was listening. You said something about bad things happening when Nicole gets mad. What did you mean?”

“I mean…unexplainable occurrences.”

“Give me an example.”

“When I dropped Rachel off the other night, I went back to Nicole’s and asked her what she had done to her. She went ballistic on me and then inexplicably, she apologized and asked me to stay the night.  Everything went great until…until I fell asleep.  I felt this slight pinch and then a tiny stab of pain.  By morning, I was sick as a dog.”

“Did you ask her about it?”

“Now why would I ask her anything? It’s not like I saw her sticking me with a needle.”

“So, what are you going to do about it?”

“I don’t know what I can do. Maybe I’m just being paranoid.  You know, after hearing about your mom and seeing Nicole standing over Rachel with a needle.  I could have imagined it. Maybe I was half asleep.  After all, I had a bad dream that night.”

“You can’t sit around and wait until she kills you, to prove you’re suspicions were right.”

“We don’t know that anything actually happened. She has never done anything like that before.  So why do it now?  It’s not like we never argued before.  If she did inject me with something, then I don’t think was trying to kill me. It seems like she would have done it out of anger or as more of a scare tactic.”

“That’s why you need to ask her about it.”

“Nah, I don’t want to get her worked up again, if nothing really happened.  Besides, I feel fine now.  The only thing that hasn’t gone away is the nightmares.”

“You’ve been having nightmares?”

“Yeah, really vivid ones where she’s calling me and but I can’t seem to find her.  That’s not so bad, but for some reason I sleepwalk when I have the dream.  More than once, I woke up outside about to walk across a busy intersection.  One night, a car horn woke me standing in the middle of the street.”

“What?  You never used to sleepwalk.”

“I know man, that’s what has me so twisted.  The dreams are becoming more and more frequent.  I’m afraid to go to sleep.”

“So, that’s why you look so bad.  Look man, you need your rest.  I’ll sleep out here on the couch tonight.  That way, if you start sleepwalking again I can keep you safe.”

“You don’t have to do that man.  I know how busy you are.”

“I know I don’t have to do it.  I want to do it.  Just let me run home real quick, so I can grab my laptop and a change of clothes.”