On the Lam

Wilfred liked quiet. The Greenville Recreation Park was a great place to find peace and silence, especially in the off hours of the off season. He often went there to read the morning paper after getting off third shift as a security guard at Blue County Community College, another peaceful and quiet place since he was usually the only person on campus on the overnight.

It was an usually seasonable late October Saturday morning and Wilfred was camped out on his usual place on the bench (Dedicated to Mrs. Irene Danvenport, Mother and Friend, 1907-1998 according to the plaque) underneath a clump of trees on a small hill overlooking the parking lot and the Mill River that served as the recreation park's swimming pool.

Wilfred occasionally saw a dog walker or jogger on a day like today but presently he had the entire park to himself. Upon hearing the rev of a car engine, he looked up from his paper in the tranquility of the cloudy but warm morning to see a late model expensive black sports car peel into the parking lot and come to a skidding stop close to the stone wall separating the lot from the river beach. Wilfred could hear the screaming and arguing even before the doors to the car opened.

Two people emerged from the car, yelling at each other at the top of their longs. The man who was the driver was dressed in a tuxedo and the woman was wearing an attractive skin tight black dress with heels.

"Just shut up, bitch!" The man yelled. "No ho is going to tell me what I can and can't do. You're nothing without me so you'd better remember that before you open that fat yap of yours."

"Screw you, you bastard," The woman screamed. "I don't need you, your damn money, your stupid status, and especially your slave money."

"Fine, how 'bout I just dump you off here then, you skank?" The guy threatened. "You see how long you last out in the real world without me taking care of you and you spending all my damn money."

"That would be fine with me, you sorry assed bastard," the woman growled. "You just get the hell out of here and leave me the damn alone."

"My pleasure," the guy said snidely. "But you're not taking that fine dress I bought you, bitch. Take it off."

"You son of a bitch," the woman cried. "You're such a degrading bastard.'

"You want to leave me, you leave me without my dress."

"You don't think I'll take it off?" She dared.

"I want you to take it off, you freeloading ho."

The woman tore the dress off of her body and threw it at the guy who laughed evilly. Even from his distance, Wilfred could see that the woman was topless, wearing nothing but a black thong now. She kicked off her shoes, trying to use them as projectiles but one missed the man completely and the other bounced off the car which got him even more riled.

"Watch out, you stupid bitch!" He warned. "And I'm pretty sure those sexy thongs were a gift from me too, tramp."

"You are the lowest of the lows, you piece of shit," she cried, so angry that she pulled the thongs off and threw the garment in his face. "I never want to see you again, you cocksucker."

"Fine by me, whore," he seethed as he gathered her belongings and jumped into the car, speeding off in a smoke of burning rubber.

The woman stood naked and alone in the parking lot and Wilfred could hear her sobs from where he was seated. He wasn't sure what he was supposed to do in such a situation but he knew he couldn't leave the poor woman in such a vulnerable and compromised position. As nervous and awkward as he felt, Wilfred left the bench and walked down the slight incline toward the naked woman in the parking lot.

He had never seen an African-American woman naked in real life before and he felt embarrassed and unsure as he approached. What do you say to a naked lady stranger? Her back was to him and he couldn't help but check out her amble wide rump.

"Excuse me, but I have a blanket in my car," Wilfred announced when he was close enough to be heard.

The woman jumped with startled fright and turned to see a strange man standing in the parking lot. She wrapped her arms around her breasts in a reactionary defensive mode but that didn't stop Wilfred from seeing her dark pubic hair which did not match the reddish hair on her head, pulled up in a high bun.

"Who are you? Where did you come from?" The woman asked with shock, not expecting to be seen by anybody so quickly.

"I was sitting on the bench over there,' he explained, gesturing to the trees behind him. "I heard and saw everything."

"Damn," the woman groaned, mortified at being totally exposed.

Wilfred tried not to stare at her silky smooth light chocolate skin. She was as tall (even not taller) than him and her face was long. She had dark brown eyes that seemed to be burning a hole through him. Wilfred could see that she was wearing plenty of makeup including a long set of black lashes and dark red lipstick highlighting her full wide lips. He couldn't help but to drop his gaze trailed lower to see her large nipples peeking out from underneath her wrapped arms that still tried to hide her round perky breasts and although he had already seen her wide ass, from the front her curvy hips featured shapely thighs supporting a neatly trimmed bush.

"All done looking?" She asked with annoyed disgust.

"Come on," Wilfred suggested with embarrassment, feeling like a pervert. "Before somebody else comes. This place is kind of popular."

He motioned with his chin toward his car parked under some trees on the other side of the lot. Apparently, the woman hadn't noticed the vehicle before.

"I don't know you," she said with cautious uncertainty.

"Do you really want me to leave you standing naked in a parking lot?" Wilfred asked. "You can trust me."

"Why should I?"

"Look, I'm an Army veteran. I work as a security guard. I'm not a pervert. I'll take you to the Police if you want."

"No cops," she said loudly. "No press. Just get me the hell out of here."

"Okay," he agreed as he started toward his car.

The naked woman walked quickly to match Wilfred's brisk pace. He popped the trunk of his Corolla when they reached the car and he handed her a blanket which she wrapped around her torso.

"Thanks," she said with relief. "That was about as humiliating as it gets."

He opened the passenger door for her and she nodded before getting in the car. Wilfred shut the door but he hesitated before walking around to the driver's side. What in the hell was he doing? What was he supposed to do now? Why was he getting involved in some domestic dispute with a person he didn't even know? He chewed on his lip before finally getting into the car.

"Where should I take you?" Wilfred asked, not quite looking at her.

"I have nowhere to go," she realized, her voice breaking.

"You must belong somewhere."

"Look, I'm not from around here, okay?" She said tartly. "I came with him. Now he's gone and I'm stuck here."

"Isn't there somebody you can call?"

"I don't want to call anybody right now," she sighed heavily. "Can we just please get out of here before he comes back looking to gloat and demean me further, making me grovel to take me back."

"That guys sounds like a real turd," Wilfred remarked as he started the car.

"You're being charitable," she muttered as he drove the car out of the lot.

Wilfred didn't say anything, his mind racing with thoughts and fears about what he was supposed to do next. He could smell her perfume and the idea of her being naked underneath the blanket she held tightly around her body hadn't escaped him either, remembering how she looked before he got the blanket for her. It was the most absurd, bizarre and discomforted way to meet a woman ever (not that he met a lot of them in the first place).

"What do you want to do?" Wilfred finally asked, feeling exasperated.

"I'd like to get some sleep," she said. "I've been up all night."

"Me too," Wilfred replied. "I work third shift," he added as an explanation. "Do you want me to take you to a motel?"

"My purse is in his car," she sighed. "Plus I can't check in like this." She glanced down at the blue blanket covering her nakedness. Then she looked at him. "Do you live around here?"

"Not far," he admitted.

"Do you think I could stay with you until I can figure all this out?" She asked hopefully.

"I don't know," Wilfred said instinctively.

He was a private person, accustomed (and preferring) to being alone and not very good at socializing, never mind sharing his home with a female stranger.

"Are you with someone?" She asked.

"No, I live alone," he revealed.

"So, can you help me out?" She asked patiently.

Wilfred glanced at her and saw the look of desperation, defeat and disillusionment on her face.

"He's going to be searching for me," she said. "I just need to lay low for a few days. He won't stay here long."

"Well…."Wilfred started to say.

"Oh, thank you!" She beamed. "You're so great to take me in like this. I really appreciate you bailing me out."

It seemed Wilfred didn't have much of a choice now. "Okay," he mumbled.

He drove down the side street to the small condo complex where he lived. There were three separate wooden buildings around a large parking area. He parked his car in front of #23 and he gestured to the tan painted building in front of them.

"This is mine," Wilfred said, wondering how it would look if some of the neighbors saw him shepherding a naked African American woman wrapped in a blanket into his condo since he rarely entertained guests to begin with.

"Looks nice," she smiled.

Wilfred got out of the car and his unexpected visitor followed him up the front walk to the front steps and onto the small front porch. Wilfred unlocked the front door and let her into his home, a modest condo conservatively decorated. There were stairs to the right and a wide living room area in front of them with a small dining area in the corner. To the left was a closet and behind the dining area was a small narrow kitchenette. There was a bathroom and a door leading to the cellar. The floor was covered with a light blue rug and a large television was in the corner. A glass sliding door led to a small cement slab of a patio and after about ten feet of grass portioned off by wooden fences on each side, woods.

"Very quaint," his visitor said.

"The bedrooms are upstairs," Wilfred said, leading her up the stairs.

She followed and he showed her the guest room at the top of the stairs. There were two twin beds with wooden headboards in the room along with a couple of matching bureaus and side tables.

"It was my Aunt's bedroom set," Wilfred explained. "I sort of inherited it. You can stay here."

"Okay," she agreed.

"I think I might have something that will fit you," he said as he stepped out of the room.

She followed him down the hall into his master bedroom which was larger than the first bedroom. The room featured a large king size bed, a large television, three dressers, and an entertainment center. There was a large bay window that overlooked the condo complex. He opened the drawer of one of the dressers and pulled out a pair of gray sweats, handing them to her.

"These will be great," she smiled.

"There's a door to the master bathroom from both bedrooms," he said. "Just knock, I guess."

"Okay," she agreed.

"My name is Wilfred Morton," he let her know.

"I'm Chenille Harris," she informed him. "Thank you so much for doing this for me."

She took the sweats from him and left the room, heading back to 'Auntie's room' as Wilfred sometimes called it.

He stood frozen in his room for a long moment, not sure what to do next. It was weird having somebody else in his condo and he felt uneasy about it. He had been around many people in cramped spaces for several years in the Army and he became semi-ochlophobic (fear of crowds) and anthropophobic (fear of people) as a result. Basically, he was a person full of anxiety as a result of his eight years of military service, much of in war zones. He couldn't handle noises and he became easily uncomfortable when he was with people, especially strangers. Agreeing to let Chenille stay was very much unlike his standard behavior since returning stateside. The only reason he did it was because he was tired of being lonely.

Wilfred stood in the bedroom window for a long time enjoying the quietness of the morning. Many of the people who lived in the condo complex were older people, retired folks who had downsized in retirement and moved into the smaller units. Wilfred waved to a few of the residents occasionally when he was getting his mail or getting into his car but he hadn't really had much of a conversation with any of them. He was glad that they respected his privacy and boundaries.

Wilfred finally left his room and when he passed Auntie's room he saw that the door was open. He peeked in and saw that Chenille was asleep on the bed closest to the window, wearing the gray sweats he had given her, her hair let down and spread out on the pillow. He went downstairs and toasted a pop tart to go with his cup of coffee, sitting at the table in the dining area and finishing the paper he had brought home with him from the park.

Wilfred wasn't a big sports fan but he read the sports page and a photo on the front page of the sports section caught his eye. It was of a guy in a tuxedo that looked a lot like the guy in the sports car at the recreation area. And while the woman on his arm was slightly blurred in the shot Wilfred was pretty sure it was Chenille. He read the caption:

"New York Mets utility player Reggie Parker arrives at Simmons Hall on the Green College campus Friday night for the retirement dinner of long time Green College Baseball Manager Moe Morrison. Parker played for Morrison at Green as well as for the Greenville Giants of the amateur Serguci League at Beano Field in Hillsboro. Morrison, who was part of the Green College baseball program for forty-two years, stepped down at the end of last season. Parker has been with the Mets for parts of three seasons."

Well, that explained who the rich guy in the tuxedo with the fancy car was and probably why he came with an attitude but Wilfred still had no idea who Chenille Harris was.

Even with a unexpected visitor/guest in the house, Wilfred needed to stick to his regular routine and schedule. Generally, he stayed up until about three in the afternoon then went to bed, rising at about 10 p.m. for his eleven o'clock shift. He brought a 'lunch' with him which he ate around 3 a.m. He'd have a light breakfast when he got off shift and a reasonably big meal at around noon. He maintained the same sleep schedule even on his off days to keep the routine consistent which meant for some long nights.

His hobby was model building - he had a large work bench set up in the cellar where he worked meticulously for hours on classic cars, Navy ships, World War two aircraft, and nineteenth century clippers, including an extensive miniature paint supply. He prided himself on attention to detail and perfection.

Wilfred ran a few errands that he specifically saved for Saturdays and then he went to the Stop and Save to stock up on some extra groceries for Chenille's presence. He also stopped by Walgreens and purchased some toiletries, beauty aids and some women's underwear for her. He picked up a couple of Subway sandwiches although he was pretty sure his guest would probably still be asleep if she had been up all night.

Wilfred ate his sandwich at the dining room table with some chips and a soda before heading down to the cellar to spend a few hours attending to the model he was presently working on. He found the work relaxing, soothing, and meditating. At three o'clock, he headed back upstairs and wrote Chenille a note which he left on top of the photo in the newspaper.

"Sleeping. Should be up by 10. Sub sandwich in frig for you."

He went upstairs, peeking his head into Auntie's room and quietly placing the drug store bag on the floor by the door. Chenille was still asleep on the bed and the thought of Sleeping Beauty popped into his head. He continued into his room, softly closing the door behind him, stripped down to his underwear and climbed under the covers, wondering about the stranger in the room next to him as he drifted off to sleep.

It took Chenille a moment to gain her bearings when she awoke in the strange room and then she remembered how that sorry assed bastard left her humiliated and vulnerable in the parking lot and how a stranger rescued her from her uncomfortable plight. Now she was rested and refreshed as she sat up on the bed wearing the stranger's sweats. She noticed the bag on the floor and she got off the bed to see what was inside, pleased to realize that he had thought about her comfort with the items in the bag. She took some of the toiletries into the bathroom where she brushed her teeth and washed her face. She stared at herself in the mirror wondering what the stranger thought of her when he saw her naked like that. How embarrassing.

Chenille was like any other woman, concerned about her dignity (not to mention her weight!). She had long ago accepted she was not built like other girls. She was taller than most at 5' 10" and while she was proud of her figure even now that she was over thirty she knew she had to battle to keep in shape. She had always been plagued with a big hips and she realized that her naked wide ass was the first thing the stranger saw of her, definitely not the first impression she would want to give anybody!

Chenille sighed and headed downstairs where she found the note Wilfred had left and she saw the photo of the sorry ass bastard, all smiles and image in his role of professional baseball player but the truth was he was nothing more than a run of the mill asshole that happened to be able to hit major league pitching. She retrieved the sub sandwich from the refrigerator and looked everywhere for a beer or some wine or some hard booze but the place was dry so she settled on a Sprite, eating her sandwich at the table and reading the local newspaper to get an idea of where she was. She knew that the sorry ass bastard went to college here but that was before she met him and this was her first venture to Greenville in Blue County (and she was guessing it would be her last).

The Greenville News and Dispatch seemed like a pleasant local paper full of news about the town, county and region. Chenille hadn't noticed a lot of black people at the testimonial the previous night but she didn't feel uncomfortable or out of place either and she took that as a good sign about acceptance in the area. She knew from conversations with the sorry assed bastard that his alma mater Green College was diverse but she wasn't sure if Blue County represented the same population mix. Oh well, it didn't matter. As soon as she called her mother for some bus money she'd head home even though that would mean hearing another 'I told you so' and "When are you going to get your head out of your ass?' lecture from her. Then Chenille realized that her mother's place would be the first place the sorry assed bastard would come looking for her (assuming he wanted her back) and she wondered if she should come up with a Plan B.

Chenille didn't want to think too much about her mother or the sorry ass bastard so she enjoyed her sandwich while reading the paper and when she was finished she realized there wasn't much for her to do. She cleaned up after herself, scoped out the condo a little bit, and then plopped herself on the couch with the remote, turning on the television for some welcomed escape time after her emotional if not traumatic end to her relationship. She realized she should welcome the change and be glad to be rid of the sorry assed bastard but she knew it meant a change in lifestyle and starting all over again which wasn't a fun thing to be doing at her age.

Chenille hated to admit (to herself) that she had stayed with the sorry assed bastard longer than she might have otherwise because of his money and status and ability to provide her with nice things but he had no problem disrespecting her and why she allowed herself to be demeaned like that was beyond her.

Being left naked in a public parking lot was only the latest in a long series of offensive behaviors perpetrated by the sorry assed bastard who called her vulgar names in the presence of others, locked her in the apartment when he didn't want her going out with her girlfriends, urinated in her expensive shoes when he decided he didn't like her wearing them, and cancelled her phone service when he felt she was calling her mother too much. He also saw nothing wrong with squeezing her breasts or grabbing her ass when they were in public and once, during a long trip from Buffalo to New York City, he refused to stop to let her go to the bathroom and she ended up wetting her pants.

Chenille sighed thinking about those and other transgressions she had endured living with the sorry assed bastard. She knew her mother was right in her first impression of the ballplayer (He's a player," she had said) although Chenille wasn't about to give her mom the satisfaction of admitting to such truths.

It got dark outside and Chenille turned the lights on as she continued to watch mindless television – Hallmark, Lifetime, BET, MTV – she had the remote and kept bouncing around mostly because the sorry assed bastard had control of the remote whenever he was in the house and he wouldn't allow her to watch her own shows in the other room if he was home, insisting they watch television together even if she had no interest in what he was watching. She enjoyed her new independence and freedom and in recent times she looked forward to the sorry assed bastard being on the road with the team because then she was able to do what she wanted (even though he called her ten times a day and texted her even more).

The season was over now and the sorry assed bastard would be around until spring training in late February which made for a long winter. He was nearly thirty now (old for a utility ball player) and obsessed about not making the big league club, full of angst about the prospect of being sent back to the minors or released and that made him even more unbearable. Perhaps the apparent break up had come at just the right time.

Chenille heard the toilet flush upstairs. She glanced at the clock on the VCR and saw that it was 10:02 p.m. A moment later, her host appeared on the stairs. She sat up straighter on the couch and watched as he approached.

"Everything okay?" He asked.

"Sure," she replied, suddenly feeling nervous although she wasn't sure why (other than being in a strange man's apartment in the dark wearing his sweats). "Thanks for getting those things for me. "That was helpful."

"No problem," Wilfred replied, taking a seat in the easy chair. "Did you eat?"

"I had that sub you left."

"It's breakfast for me now," he remarked. "Because I usually head to work in a few minutes, but it's the weekend."

"You keep the same routine?"

"It's easier that way," he explained.

"But what do you do all night?" She wondered. "Party?" She asked and Wilfred wasn't sure if she was poking fun at him.

"Sometimes I go for rides," he shrugged. "Mostly I stay here."

"And do what?"

"I make models in the cellar," he revealed.

"So, you're alone," she deduced.

He nodded his head yes.

"No girlfriend?"

He shook his head no.

"How come there's no hooch in the house?" She wanted to know.

"I don't drink anymore."

"You a drunk?"

"Destined to be one." Wilfred confirmed.

"So, what are you, like fourteen?" Chenille asked sarcastically. "No girl. No hooch. You build models in your cellar. You have acne."

Wilfred raised his hand to the side of his neck and face. "That's not acne," he said, obviously offended. "It's skin damage from the war."

Chenille realized she had been presumptuous and even a bit rude. This guy was nice enough to help her out - there was no need to be a bitch toward him.

"Sorry," she said sheepishly. "But you saw me naked," she mumbled as a protest.

"That wasn't my fault," Wilfred pointed out.

"I know," she sighed. "But it's still makes me feel like a slave."

"A slave?" Wilfred asked with surprise.

"They used to parade the black women and girl slaves naked in front of the rich white men when they were for sale," she explained.

"I'm not rich."

"You're white."

"You're not a slave."

She realized that the sorry assed bastard made her feel like one sometimes – always telling her what to do and how to act, expecting her to perform whatever task he asked of her, including a few disgusting sexual ones.

"So what's your real story?" Wilfred asked from the comfort of his easy chair.

"My real story?" Chenille asked with confusion from her spot on the couch.

"How'd you end up with that guy?"

"Oh," she said awkwardly. "I met him in Binghamton."

"Binghamton?"

"New York. My hometown. The Mets have a Double A team there. Reggie was a young player coming through. I was a waitress at a diner he frequented. I'd met ballplayers before but this one was different. My mother warned me to stay away from them. They wouldn't be around long and I'd be left behind just like my father left my mother behind, with me as a toddler."

"Was your father a ballplayer?"

"A truck driver," she said. "Always coming and going. Then he stopped coming."

"But this guy kept coming back," Wilfred said.

"He seemed to like me," She replied. "And I definitely liked him. He was living in an apartment with three other guys but I'd have him come over to my place when my mother wasn't around."

Wilfred didn't respond so Chenille continued.

"I knew I shouldn't fall in love with him but I did," she said. "And then the next summer he got called up to Buffalo and I figured that was that. But a month later he called and told me he found an apartment for us and he wanted me to join him. So I quit my job and upset my mother and left. He got called up to the Mets a few times during the next few years and we would pack up and drive across the state and when he got sent back down we'd drive back to Buffalo."

"And now you're here," Wilfred remarked.

"The longer we were together and the more successful and richer he became the worse he acted," Chenille sighed. "He really didn't treat me very well at all."

"I'm sorry."

"Now I have to go gravel to my mother and see if she'll take me back in and maybe if I can get my old job back." She looked like she wanted to cry. "In the end, all I really am is a sorry assed waitress."

"I doubt that's true," Wilfred said. "I've only known you for a couple of hours and I even I can see that."

"I thought he'd be my ticket out," she sighed.

"Out of what?"

"Out of my dead end life," she said sadly. "All I ever wanted was to have a house of my own. I grew up in the projects and then hole in the wall apartments until Reggie finally made it to the bigs. We had a nice place in the city. I finally felt like I had moved up."

"But were you happy?" Wilfred wondered.

"Happy enough," she muttered. "I learned early in life to have low expectations."

"And I bet you were still disappointed," Wilfred replied.

She gave him a surprised look. "Well, what about you?" She asked defensively.

"I'm at peace," he replied.

Chenille thought that was an odd response. "At peace?" She frowned. "What are you, a monk? Living alone. No woman in your life. Working graveyard. What's your real story?"

He was quiet for a moment. Chenille glanced at him. He was thin and relatively plain looking with dark brown hair and soft brown eyes. There was some disfigurement and discolor of skin on the right side of his neck and lower cheek. He looked sad.

"There isn't much of a story," he finally reported.

"Where you from?" Chenille asked.

"Hillsboro, right across the river from here," he answered. "I went to Green College for my nursing degree."

"Do you remember Reggie?" She asked with interest.

"No, but I really didn't pay attention to that stuff," Wilfred said.

"So, how'd you end up as a security guard if you went to college to be a nurse?"

"I don't want to be a nurse anymore," he revealed.

"How come?"

"I saw enough," he said.

"You were in the war?" Chenille asked.

Wilfred nodded his head yes. "Three battle tours," he said. "I made Captain out of it but I saw too much death, blood, and maiming."

"You got injured too?" She guessed, glancing at his skin disfigurement.

He raised his hand to the side of his face. "Yeah," he said quietly. "But I was one of the lucky ones. I still have all my limbs and brains."

"Was it really bad?" Chenille almost whispered.

"Worse," he replied.

There was quiet for a long moment.

"You can tell me about it if you want," Chenille said softly.

"I just wanted to be a good nurse," Wilfred said after a long pause. "I was proud when I graduated from Green with my BS in Nursing but I was up to my eyes with student loans and debt and joining the Army seemed to be the right thing to do. They paid off most of my student loans and suddenly I was an Army soldier and a trauma nurse with a forward surgical team in Afghanistan. I became an expert in assessing and stabilizing soldiers with devastating wounds. There was a constant rush of adrenaline and stress followed by incredible periods of let down and depression."

Chenille thought about the sorry assed bastard and how he'd come home moody after an O-for or when he got sent back down. He'd be angry and almost violent and she would stay clear of him until he calmed down. When she considered what the stranger had been going through, she realized how immature and selfish Reggie had behaved.

"Ironically, I worked the night shift most of the time over there too and that's when combat operations typically took place," Wilfred told her. "The casualties would arrive aboard medical evacuation helicopters. I can't even listen to a fan now without thinking about the sounds of the whirring helicopter rotor blades and I still break out in a cold sweat.. We had no choice but to deal with the blood, gore, dust, heat, noise and death we experienced nearly every night."

"How did you get injured if you weren't in combat yourself?" Chenille wondered.

"An Afghan guard out of the blue fired on a bunch of us one day for no apparent reason," Wilfred revealed. "We were walking to the mess tent after a particularly horrible night. The guy next to me got the back of his head blown off. Another guy had his arm shot off. Three bullets grazed me. I have no idea why I didn't die."

Chenille felt chills run down her spine. "What happened to the guard?"

"He shot himself," Wilfred replied without any emotion in his voice. "I was at a field hospital later," he said. "We saw a lot of civilians being brought in there. Kids. Awful stuff."

Chenille hadn't paid much attention to the war. She found it depressing but she wasn't politically involved and she didn't know anybody who went over there. She was focused on Reggie and his career and her relationship and while she sometimes felt sorry for herself for being in an abusive relationship she realized that her story wasn't that traumatic now that she heard some of what the stranger had gone through.

"Are you okay?" She asked, noticing that Wilfred was staring blankly at the television screen.

"I go to the VA for counseling," he said. "Don't worry, I'm not crazy."

"No, I meant are you okay right now," she clarified. "You looked zonked out."

"One of the reasons I'm a loner is that I find it's better to be alone, at least for me," Wilfred explained. "I was always around other soldiers, other nurses, other casualties. It was always noisy – helicopters, explosions, gun fire, screaming, crying….." His voice trailed off. "There were days over there when I just wished I could be alone in a quiet place so that's what I've been doing."

"But are you happy?" She asked it the same way he had asked her earlier in the conversation.

He grinned, knowing she was turning the tables on him. "Happy enough," he said, repeating her comeback response.

Chenille decided this guy had to be okay. Not only was he kind enough to take her in and help her out but he was able to maintain a sense of humor even after all he had been through. Maybe she should learn to lighten up a little bit too, especially now that the sorry assed bastard was hopefully out of her life.

"I thought I was doing okay," Wilfred remarked. "But once I got settled in I found myself being irritable, hyper-vigilant, sleepless and sad. I got offered a job at Blue County Medical Center and realized I couldn't do it. I wouldn't leave my parents' house and eventually I got diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder which explained why I was anxious and stressed all the time."

"So you got help," Chenille said with approval, remembering the times she begged Reggie to go to counseling with her.

"I was focused on all the people who died without thinking about those I helped save," he said. "I thought about the negative instead of the positive," he sighed. "Now I just try not to think about any of it."

"Is that working?"

"As long as I don't look in the mirror," he said, lifting his hand to the side of his face again.

She had seen a photo of his parents on the bookshelf earlier and since he had just mentioned them Chenille figured it would be okay to ask about them. "Are your parents supportive?"

"Sure," Wilfred replied. "It's just hard for them to see how much I've changed."

"How have you changed?" She asked.

"Well, if I was still in high school and I saw some asshole treating you like that guy did this morning I would have put him in the hospital for one," Wilfred admitted.

"Thanks," she said sheepishly.

"I was much more social and outgoing back then," Wilfred revealed, sadness in his voice. "I played drums in the marching band. I played on the basketball team. I was involved in the theater club. I was on student council. I had several girlfriends."

"I dropped out of high school when I was sixteen," Chenille revealed.

"To waitress?"

She shrugged. "That's what I ended up doing," she said. "But first I shacked up with a guy for a while."

"At sixteen?" Wilfred asked with surprise.

"I guess my mother wasn't as involved in my life as your parents," she theorized. "Eventually, he kicked me out and I had to go slunking back to my mother. She made me get a job."

"I had to move out of my parents," Wilfred said. "We were driving each other crazy. My mother treating me like I was five and my father at a loss at how to deal with me. I just wanted to be left alone, staying in my room all the time when I wasn't working."

"So you moved here?"

"My father found it through some friend of the family twice removed who died or something. It's served me well and it's affordable."

"You don't miss nursing?"

"You don't miss waitressing?" He asked with raised eyebrows.

"You enjoy being a security guard?"

"It's peaceful. I'm alone most of the time. It's quiet. It's night. It's okay," he reported.

"Aren't you lonely?" Chenille asked. "I used to go stir crazy when Reggie was on the road. I had to get out of the apartment. I liked making friends with the wives and girlfriends of the other ballplayers. I even used to babysit their kids sometimes."

"This is the longest conversation I've had with anybody in a couple of years," Wilfred told her.

"Wow," she said with fascination. "That just blows my mind."

"My mother is desperate for me to meet someone," Wilfred groaned. "She's dismayed at how I'm living. She fears I'm going to die lonely and alone."

"My mother's been riding my black ass for years," Chenille told him. "I'm with the wrong man. I have no skills or talents to fall back on if something happens to our relationship. She acts as if I wasn't meant to have it."

"Have what?"

"The house, the husband, the kids," Chenille sighed. "That I'm not good enough for that. She certainly believed Reggie wasn't good enough. She said if he wasn't a ballplayer he would have ended up in jail."

"He still might," Wilfred predicted. "What he did to you is criminal."

"I need to find out if he's left town yet," Chenille sighed. "I know he was having lunch with some pals today but I don't know if he's hanging around looking for me," she worried.

"Is he one of those obsessive, controlling, vindictive pricks?" Wilfred asked.

"Sort of," Chenille admitted. "I'm kind of stuck here on the lam until I know he's gone and even then I'm still screwed because I'm sure he'll be checking out Binghamton looking for me. I guess I'm on a self-imposed Quarantine here like some Ebola worker or something."

"You can stay here as long as you want," Wilfred let her know with sympathy.

"I know you'd rather be alone," Chenille replied.

"I work nights," he said. "We'll hardly see each other. Make yourself at home."

"But you're a sorry assed hermit monk," Chenille said. "Why the sudden change in behavior?"

"I've always wanted to rescue a Damsel in Distress," he said with a shrug.

"I was naked and you clothed me," she smiled. "I was in prison and you came to visit me."

"This isn't quite prison," Wilfred said and then he glanced out the window. "Hey, it's pretty dark out. We could go for a ride if you want. Nobody will notice you, I'm sure."

"Now?" She asked with surprise, glancing at the clock that read nearly midnight.

"Sure," he grinned. "Blue County is a paradise at night. I'll show you around."

She'd been in the house all day. Maybe it would be nice to get out for a little while, especially if she was going to have to lay low and be inconspicuous for the foreseeable future if Reggie told some of his acquaintances to keep an eye out for her.

"Okay," she said, getting off the couch and stretching for a moment. "Show me the sights."

Wilfred was surprised she had agreed to the suggestion and he was momentarily frozen realizing that he was actually going to be driving her around in the middle of the night.

"Great," he faked smiled. "Let's go."

"I don't have any shoes," Chenille realized.

"There's some slippers in the bag I brought," he told her.

"That's right," she grinned with relief. "I'll be right back."

Wilfred watched her bounce up the stairs and a few minutes later she returned wearing what were basically men's slippers - hard brown plastic that made her look like Buster Brown.

"Sorry about that," Wilfred said.

"No, these are great," she laughed. "I'm good. Nobody's going to mess with me! I'm a bad ass in these!"

Wilfred showed Chenille most of the area's highlights - driving down Greenville's Main Street past Donovan's Department Store and other businesses, showing her the Greenville Cafe and the Greenfield Grille, and the Walgreen's. He drove through the rich Green Hill Neighborhood and then he headed to his hometown of Hillsboro on the other side of the Blue River. He showed her Beano Field where Reggie played amateur ball while at Green College as well as the upper middle class Hilltop neighborhood before swinging through the 'flats' and showing her the house he grew up in.

"Your parents still live here?" Chenille asked as they sat in the car in front of the handsome one story ranch.

"Yeah, I usually have Sunday lunch here," he replied.

"Looks like a nice neighborhood," Chenille said.

"It is," Wilfred confirmed. "But I don't like coming back that much."

"How come?"

"I feel like a ghost," he admitted. "I don't like having to answer questions and I feel sad when I think about the past."

"Why?"

"Because it's gone and you can never get it back again."

"But you can have happy memories," Chenille insisted.

"Do you have happy memories about your childhood?" Wilfred wondered.

"I grew up in the projects, Willy," she reminded him.

Nobody called him Willy. He was either Wil or Fred growing up and in the Army most of his fellow soldiers called him 'Doc' or 'Mort'.

"There wasn't a lot to be happy about," she said. "But I know you were happy here."

"I was," he sighed. "But it's gone. I'm gone."

"I would have killed to grown up in a place like this" Chenille said. "I bet you weren't trying to avoid drug dealers when you were eight. I bet you never heard a gun go off around here. I doubt you got chased down the hallways by some pervert or got recruited to join a gang. I know your mom didn't have men over at night."

"No," he confirmed. "Nothing like that."

"Be happy for the childhood you had," she advised. "What happened to you later doesn't change what you happily experienced here."

"I'd go back if I could," he admitted.

"You couldn't pay me to go back," she sighed sadly.

"Too bad you couldn't come back here instead," he said.

"I would have liked that," she smiled. She glanced at the house with appreciation. "What do your parents do?"

"My father is a high school math teacher and my mother works at Fontaine's Family Grocery Store downtown," Wilfred answered as he started the car.

He showed her Fontaine's Family Grocery Store and Johnny C's Diner ("The best food anywhere") before driving along Blue River Road for a while, pulling over a few times at special points along the road. He parked at his favorite locationon a small hill overlooking the river that offered a picturesque view even in the dark of night.

"I love it here," he said.

"I can see why," Chenille replied, taking in the beautiful scene. "I've been living in the city long enough to forget about scenes like this."

After a while, Wilfred started up the car and drove them back to Greenville, stopping at the all night Dunkin Donuts drive through for a couple of coffees and some donuts. He then drove to the acres of well-lit parking lots at Blue County Community College, parking in a distant lot far from the campus buildings.

"This is where I work," Wilfred said.

"Big campus," Chenille noted. "You stand the watch by yourself at night?"

"There are a lot of cameras to help," he said. "I walk the rounds through the buildings and drive through the lots on occasion. Night shift is pretty quiet and serine. Occasionally some young romantics will show up to do some necking in the parking lots but generally it's pretty low key. Early morning joggers and dog walkers start showing up around five and some of the Staff start arriving soon after that."

"Quite different from nursing," Chenille remarked.

"I love to stand in the lobby when the sun comes up," Wilfred told her. He pointed to the large glass enclosure in the front of the main building. "It's really beautiful on most mornings. The eastern sky begins to brighten and then the sun appears from above the trees over there." He gestured to their right. "And at night when the sky is clear you can really see the stars when you're away from the parking lot lights. And there are some great full moons too."

"It is very quiet here," she said.

"I like the peace," Wilfred acknowledged.

When they finished with their donuts and (decaf) coffee, Wilfred fired the engine to life and drove them back to the condo. Chenille was surprised to see that it was three o'clock in the morning when they walked into the apartment.

"I should get to bed," she said.

"I've got twelve hours to go," Wilfred replied.

"You live a crazy assed schedule," she replied, shaking her head as she started for the stairs.

"Good night," Wilfred offered cheerfully.

He waited until he heard her in the bathroom before heading down to the cellar to do some work on his model. When he heard the newspaper guy deliver the Sunday Edition of the Greenville News and Dispatch at around six, he went upstairs and read it, hoping maybe there would be a follow up photo or article on Reggie's Greenville visit but he didn't see anything as he read the entire paper and he had no idea if the guy was still in the area. Wilfred didn't think it was right that Chenille should feel like a fugitive or criminal just because this guy was on some pyscho-power trip.

When he was done with the paper, Wilfred returned to the cellar to continue his model work.

It was after ten when Chenille awoke. Her sleep pattern, schedule and rhythm was all off now and she wasn't sure how long she was supposed to sleep. But she also didn't want to face another day of captivity while trying to figure out if the sorry assed bastard was still in town or if he had finally set her free by leaving her behind. She'd never be completely free, of course. All her stuff was at his place in New York. She left her purse and cell in his car. She literally had nothing except for the things Wilfred bought her.

Chenille sat up and dropped her long legs over the side of the bed. It was a nice bed in a nice room. Her host was a nice guy although he certainly had his baggage. Could she really hide out here or should she just call her mother and go home? Chenille took a shower and then dressed in the same sweats Wilfred had given her the previous day. She went downstairs and when she didn't see Wilfred she panicked for a moment until she remembered him mentioning the cellar. She walked down the carpeted stairs and found that the cellar was carpeted too – blue. There were several bookcases and racks around the painted walls, all of them filled with various models. In the middle of the room was a long work bench and that's where Wilfred was, hunched over the table diligently working on a model. The hot water heater, fuse box, and washer and dryer were in the far corner of the room.

"Hello….." Chenille said tentatively.

Wilfred looked up from his work and gave her a pleasant smile. "Did you sleep well?" He asked.

"Sure," she said, as she glanced around at the dozens of models in the room. "Did you make all of these?"

"Yeah," he said. "I knew I needed a hobby to keep me busy. I never made a model in my life until about a year ago."

"They're very good," she said as she inspected some of them closer. "Perfectly painted. No evidence of glue. They look so real."

"Thanks," he grinned.

"I've been going into withdrawal without my cell phone and all its apps in my hand 24/7," she laughed. "You spend all your time doing this."

"The solitude is relaxing," he admitted. "It's been good being disconnected from the world."

'It's only been a day for me and I'm going nuts," Chenille groaned.

"You'll get used to it," Wilfred predicted. "I have to leave for my parents soon," he said, glancing at an old electric clock hanging on the wall. "You want to come with me? My mother's a good cook."

"No, I'd better not," Chenille said from where she stood by one of the bookcases. "I'm on the lam, remember?"

"I don't think Reggie is going to be hanging out at my parent's house," Wilfred replied with a smirk.

"I don't have anything to wear," she said.

"You look fine the way you are," he smiled (he almost added 'You look fine naked' but realized that it would be the wrong thing to say given the circumstances of how they met).

"Why would you want to take me to visit your parents?" Chenille asked with uncertainty.

"You're the one who said you're going nuts already," Wilfred said with a shrug. "I'm just trying to give you something to do."

"What are you going to tell them?" she frowned. "That you saved me from a sorry assed bastard who left me naked in a parking lot?"

"Of course not," he blushed. "I'll just say we met at…BCCC."

"And what's my backstory going to be?" She said. "It'll just get complicated once you start lying."

"My parents aren't going to ask a whole lot of questions," Wilfred reasoned. "They'll be so happy to see me with somebody that they'll treat you like royalty."

"And me being African-American isn't going to freak them out?" She asked suspiciously.

"They're not like that," Wilfred assured her.

"Are you like that?" She wondered.

"When you see people of all ages, sizes, creeds, races, cultures and beliefs getting maimed, injured and killed, you learn what diversity is really about," Wilfred remarked. "In the end, we're all really the same."

Chenille gave him a long look. 'Okay," she said. "I'll go."

"Great," he smiled.

Fifteen minutes later, Wilfred was pulling his car into his parents' driveway. Chenille was still wearing the sweats and a pair of Wilfred's sneakers that surprisingly fit her.

Wilfred's parents were clearly surprised to see somebody in their son's company when he came through the door.

"Mom, Dad, this is Chenille," Wilfred introduced. "Chenille, my parents."

"It's nice to meet you, Chenille," Wilfred's mother said warmly, taking her hand in a warm shake. "Please call me Mary. And this is my husband, Bill."

"Hello," Chenille said politely. "Thanks for having me."

Wilfred's mother was in her late fifties with graying black hair, crows feet on the sides of her eyes, and a little extra weight on her mid-sized frame. She was wearing designer jeans and a pretty sweater. Her husband was slim and tall with nearly white hair and what looked like a tan. He wore Clark Kent glasses and he looked younger than his age despite the white hair.

Mary led Chenille into the living room, asking her to sit on the couch and taking a seat next to her while Wilfred and his father lay claim to the recliners.

"Well, this is certainly an unexpected surprise," Mary said, eying Chenille with pleased interest.

"Don't make a big deal, Mom," Wilfred warned.

"I'm just very happy, that's all," Mary replied. "This is very nice."

"You're always welcomed here," Bill said warmly, a big smile on his face.

"It's just that it's been a while since Wil brought a girl home," Mary explained.

"Never mind, Mom," Wilfred pleaded.

"It's okay, Willie," Chenille smiled. "I'm happy to be here."

They made small talk for a few minutes with Chenille doing a good job of presenting herself in a favorable light without revealing too much about herself, answering with generic and neutral phrases without really explaining her story. She was from New York State and had recently lived in New York City. She came to Greenville to check out Green College and she met Wilfred through a mutual friend. Wilfred's parents didn't press her on any real point and they didn't ask many follow up questions of their son.

Mary excused herself to check on the food cooking in the kitchen and Bill asked Wilfred harmless questions about work. He and his wife knew the younger couple was being evasive and not telling the whole story but they really didn't care. Wilfred looked unusually happy and Chenille was certainly an attractive woman. Wilfred hadn't socialized in years so to see him with a woman again after all he had been through was a joyous gift.

Bill excused himself to check on his wife.

"They probably think I'm a prostitute," Chenille said softly.

Wilfred was shocked by her remark. "Of course they don't," he insisted as he moved to sit next to her on the couch. "Why would you say such an outrageous thing?"

"I'm black," she replied knowingly. "And look at how I'm dressed. They probably figured you dressed me down so they wouldn't get the wrong impression."

"Look, why don't we just tell them the truth then?" Wilfred remarked.

"Are you serious?" She asked with surprise.

"Why give anybody any false ideas?" He said. "You're right - they probably think we're blowing smoke up their asses so let's just come clean about everything."

"It's too embarrassing, Willie," she groaned.

"You deserve to be respected for who you are," Wilfred told her. "You have nothing to be ashamed about. I don't want you feeling bad about yourself."

"It's okay," she said. "Let them think what they want."

Mary summoned her son and his guest to the dining room and the four sat at the table where Bill carved the roast beef and Mary served the mashed potatoes, gravy and peas. Once the food was on their collective plates, the four began to eat.

"Did anybody happen to see the pitcher of the Mets player who was in town this weekend?" Wilfred asked and Chenille shot him a 'don't' pleading look.

"Yeah, Reggie Parker," Bill said. "I remember him from Green College and The Serguci League. Some of my students played Serugci ball with him."

"I sort of met him," Wilfred revealed.

"He was my boyfriend," Chenille announced. "That's what I was doing here in Greenville. We had a big fight and he wasn't very nice to me and I was in trouble and Willie happened to rescue me," she explained. "That's how we met."

"You mean, like yesterday?" Mary asked with surprise.

"I didn't have any place to go," Chenille said. "Willie was kind enough to take me in."

"She's laying low for a few days to make sure the abusive jerk is gone," Wilfred clarified.

"Dear, you don't have to explain yourself to us," Mary told Chenille. "We're happy you're safe."

"And we apologize if we came across as overbearing, rude, or nosy," Bill added. "It's just that we're happy to see Wil with someone again."

"We're not together, Dad," Wilfred pointed out.

"I know, son," Bill smiled, almost sadly.

Wilfred glanced at Chenille and noticed that she was giving him a funny look. "What?" he asked defensively.

"You make it sound like it could never happen," Chenille protested.

"I didn't mean it like that," a flustered Wilfred replied.

"Chenille, if you need to borrow some extra clothes you might find something upstairs in Laurel's room that would fit," Mary interjected. "I'm sure she wouldn't mind."

"Laurel?" Chenille asked.

"My sister," Wilfred explained. "She's married and lives in Maine now."

"I'll take a look later," Chenille said. "Thanks."

The rest of the dinner conversation was mostly about Chenille's home town of Binghamton. She was honest when she said she grew up in the projects but she didn't go into specifics about what happened to her father or some of her mother's drama. Bill told Chenille that when he and Mary first married they lived in the Hillsboro Projects for a couple of years until they could save enough money for a down payment on the house they were still living in now.

"I have a feeling the projects here are a little different from the projects I grew up in," Chenille remarked.

"It was low income housing," Bill replied. "Hard working people without a lot of money."

"We just paid off the mortgage on this house a couple of years ago," Mary said proudly. "It took us a long time."

When the dinner was finished, Mary told Wilfred to take Chenille up to Laurel's room so she could take a look at the clothes left behind. Neither said anything as they climbed the stairs and Chenille was quiet as she examined some of the clothes hanging in the closet of Laurel's old room which didn't look much different from when she lived there although she had been gone for fifteen years.

"I didn't mean anything when I said that to my father," Wilfred explained. "I just didn't want them to get the wrong idea."

"That you could never date a girl like me?" She accused.

"Geez Chenille, we just met yesterday," Wilfred said awkwardly. "I would never be so presumptuous to think beyond today."

"Right," she grumbled.

"Don't you think you should figure out if you're really done with Reggie before you start worrying about me?"

"Trust me I want nothing to do with that sorry assed bastard," Chenille commented as she continued to scan through the clothes.

Wilfred sat on the bed and watched Chenille ponder the clothing, trying not to appear like he was checking her out again but she really was beautiful and she was the one who planted the idea in his head that maybe they could be together. For the first time since he broke up with his long time girl Annie Jacobs early in his Army career, Wilfred was actually fantasizing and daydreaming about having a relationship again. It was the first time he even remotely thought about such a possibility in years. Maybe he was finally emerging from his emotional hibernation.

"What are you looking at?" Chenille asked, calling him out as she stepped out of the closet and placed a few selections on the top of the bed.

"What do you think I'm looking at?" Wilfred sighed.

She stood by the head of the bed looking at him and Wilfred slowly stood from his spot on the lower end of the mattress and they both stared at each other. A shy smile broke across Wilfred's face.

"What?" She wanted to know.

"Nothing," he smirked. "This is just sort of weird for me."

"Why?"

"I've been on the lam for a while," he said.

"You're in trouble?"

"I meant on the lam from a social or romantic life," he clarified.

She gave him a funny look.

"I just needed to be alone for a while," Wilfred explained.

"How long has it been?" Chenille asked.

"Too long," he sighed.

She gave him a long look. "I'm probably not the one you want to be getting out for," she said sadly.

"Because you're on the lam too?" He guessed.

She shrugged but she didn't say anything as she peered at the dresses she had taken from the closet.

"Those are very nice," Wilfred remarked. "You should borrow them."

"You sure your sister won't mind?" Chenille worried.

"She doesn't get home much anymore," Wilfred laughed.

"Okay," Chenille agreed. "I can't wear these sweats forever."

They gathered the clothes and went downstairs to rejoin Mary and Bill.

"Find anything you could use?" Mary asked cheerfully from where she was sitting on the living room couch.

"Yes, thank you very much," Chenille smiled politely. "This is very nice of you."

"It's past my bedtime," Wilfred observed, glancing at the clock on the mantle and seeing that it was after three. "We should get going."

"Okay, dear," Mary said, standing and giving her son a hug and a kiss. 'It was nice meeting you, Chenille," Mary said, turning to face Wilfred's guest. "You're welcomed here anytime."

"Thanks, Mary," Chenille said. "And be sure to thank Laurel for me too."

Bill emerged from the kitchen and offered his goodbyes. Chenille liked Wilfred's parents and she appreciated their nice meal and hospitality but it was still a weird scenario no matter how she looked at it. She was left naked in a parking lot by the sorry assed bastard only to be rescued by a recluse who spent most of his time hiding in his cellar making models. She had no idea what she was supposed to do now but she had to admit that she liked Blue County and she wouldn't mind settling down here for a while instead of slinking back to her mother's miserable environment.

"All my stuff is in New York," Chenille sighed once they were in the car.

"I can go get it for you," Wilfred volunteered as he drove them home.

"I don't want to talk to the sorry assed bastard," she said. "He'll come find me or guilt me into going back."

"Give me his number," Wilfred said. "I'll call the jerk."

"He'll trace you back here," she sighed.

"I'll get a disposable cell," Wilfred said easily.

"Let me think about it for a few days,' she decided. "I should probably call my mother in case he called her."

"Okay," Wilfred agreed.

They returned to the condo. Wilfred told Chenille to make herself at home and not to worry about anything. He went to bed and she called her Mom. The sorry assed bastard had called a few hours earlier checking to see if Chenille had shown up or phoned in.

"Tell the asshole I'm dead if he calls back," Chenille grumbled.

Chenille gave her mother a sanitized and abbreviated edition of what had happened but she wouldn't tell her mother where she was or who she was with, assuring her that she was safe and okay. Surprisingly, her mother gave her little grief and spared her the 'I told you so' speech and that allowed Chenille to relax a little bit more.

"Just figure out what you want to do with your life and do it," Chenille's mother advised. "Don't come back here. There's nothing. Get a new start somewhere else."

"Okay, Mom," Chenille agreed.

Chenille occupied herself by putting away the clothes she had borrowed from Wilfred's sister and arranging the drug store items Wilfred had bought for her in various drawers and locations around the room. She was plopped on the couch watching television in the living room when Wilfred came downstairs a little after ten.

"You can sleep in on your days off you know," Chenille said.

"I haven't slept very well in years," he sighed as he collapsed in the easy chair.

"Did I say 'thank you for your service' yet?" Chenille asked. "I know guys like you sacrificed so much while the rest of us went on with our lives without even thinking about what was going on over there."

"Plenty of others did much more than me," Wilfred said.

"But all of you have been affected in one way or the other," Chenille said.

"I suppose," Wilfred agreed. "I try not to think about it too much."

"Strange how I thought Reggie would be the solution to all my problems," Chenille sighed. "My ticket out of town and a chance at some glory. We lived in nice places and money was never a problem once he got called up but I never really found happiness. There's been no meaning in my life. And now I have nothing."

"You have plenty," Wilfred said. "Your self-respect. Your dignity. Your individuality. Your character. You're going to be okay."

She looked at him with fascination. The sorry assed bastard was always tearing her down to keep her in her place, controlling her to make sure she remained under his thumb.

"I'm a high school drop out with no future."

"The future is whatever you make of it," Wilfred countered. "You could stay here, get your GED, go to Blue County Community College, and write your own future."

"Go back to school at my age?" Chenille asked with surprise.

"Age is irrelevant at a community college," Wilfred pointed out.

Chenille thought about it for a moment. "Do you think I could find a waitressing job around here?"

"Easily," Wilfred replied. "But one step at a time. Figure out what you want to do first. Get your stuff back. Then take the next step."

"You sure it's okay to stay here for a while?" She worried.

"You can stay here as long as you want," Wilfred replied.

"Why are you being so nice to me?" She wanted to know.

"Why shouldn't I be?" Wilfred asked.

Chenille couldn't think of an answer. She kept him company, watching television for a little while just to be polite but she was tired and after a half hour she said she was going to bed and Wilfred wished her pleasant dreams. He went down to work on his models while Chenille headed upstairs to freshen up and go to bed not quite sure how she got to this moment and situation in her life.

Chenille awoke in the morning with the same confusion she had been feeling all weekend. Here she was in Auntie's bedroom in the condo of a man she just met. Was it inappropriate for her to be staying here? Willie was a nice guy but clearly he had issues but when she thought about it everybody had issues. Certainly, the sorry assed bastard's issues were much more destructive toward her than she had realized when they first got together. She doubted Wilfred would be liked that but she wasn't sure if she could live with a hermit either.

What would happen if Wilfred realized he might be interested in her? Was she ready for another relationship so soon after the sorry assed bastard? She had never dated a white guy before – although several of Reggie's ball player friends had been "honkies" (as he put it) over the years.

Jesus, why was she thinking this way already? It had barely been two days since Reggie left her naked and humiliated in the parking lot. Chenille hadn't realized how desperate she had been for a change in her life until now as she lay in the bed watching the lovely morning sunshine out Auntie's bedroom window.

Chenille took a refreshingly long shower and - ironically - found herself slipping back into the same sweats for the third consecutive day. She found them to be comfortable and relaxing and she certainly wasn't concerned with her appearance now that she was out of the sorry assed bastard's orbit and on the lam. When she went downstairs, Wilfred was sitting at the table reading the paper.

"Hey, Willie," she said pleasantly.

"Sleep okay?"

"Sure," she said. "How's the model building going?"

"Man, when you say it that way, I really am pathetic, aren't I?"

She laughed. "Not at all," she said before going into the kitchen and pouring herself some orange juice and grabbing a peach. "You have any plans for the day?" She asked Wilfred when she returned to the table.

"You're really trying to make me feel pathetic, aren't you?" He groaned.

"Well, it's not as if I have any plans either," Chenille remarked, rolling her eyes.

Having no plans made it easy for them to adapt to the other's situation. Chenille knew that Wilfred wanted to keep his life simple with as little disruption and social pressure as possible. Chenille needed time to regroup from her abusive relationship and figure out what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. The down time that came with living in Wilfred's condo gave her the time to recharge and take care of herself.

Chenille decided to give Willie Reggie's phone number. Wilfred called the sorry assed bastard and told him that he witnessed what took place in the park that morning and he would go to the press if Reggie continued to harass Chenille in any way. Wilfred also demanded that Parker return Chenille's rightful belongings. Wilfred drove to NYC alone when he got out of work the following Saturday morning and found Chenille's property piled in a heap outside the door of Parker's luxury townhouse apartment. There weren't a lot of clothes and her credit cards were removed from her purse but Chenille was happy to get her possessions back and she was impressed that Wilfred stood up to the sorry assed bastard

Chenille fell into a daily routine in concert with Wilfred's schedule. She occupied her time by watching a lot of television and doing chores around the house. Wilfred cooked the noon time meal and Chenille usually prepared him a snack when he got up at around ten o'clock. She went to bed soon after Wilfred left for the night shift and he was usually already home when she arose in the morning. Sometimes they ran errands in the morning and they continued having lunch with Mary and Bill on Sundays, something Chenille looked forward to each week.

With her social security number and identification card back in her possession, Chenille was hired as an overnight waitress at Denny's. Wilfred dropped her off on his way to work and picked her up on the way home in the morning. Chenille hadn't worked for years and it felt good to be independent and self-reliant for a change (except for the part about living in Wilfred's condo rent free and letting him foot most of the bills). Wilfred also helped Chenille enroll in GED classes and she finally felt like her life was starting to move forward.

Chenille and Wilfred were more than roommates but less than anything else beyond platonic friends, or so it seemed. They spent much of their free time together now that Chenille was working night shift too. She matched her schedule and routine to Wilfred's, going to bed at three in the afternoon and arising at around ten in the evening. They continued to eat a big noon time meal together – sometimes at the condo, other times out if they were running errands. They had fallen into a welcomed comfortable routine without any expectations. They got along well together and they became accustomed to each other's behaviors, moods, pet peeves and resentments. Chenille didn't trust guys and Wilfred remained a hermit monk although Chenille certainly began to thaw him out.

Wilfred read in the Sports pages that the Mets had traded Reggie Parker and two minor leaguers to the Seattle Mariners for a journey man relief pitcher and an aging utility infielder.

"Good," Chenille announced when Wilfred told her the news, feeling totally freed from her past knowing that the sorry assed bastard would be on the west coast now.

The issue of race rarely came up despite their ethnic and cultural differences. Chenille would comment if she thought the President was being unfairly criticized because of his race and when racially divisive issues popped up on the news but she didn't make race a factor with Wilfred although she did let him know that there was institutional baggage that she faced nearly every day simply because of the color of her skin.

"White people just don't understand," she said one day with annoyance while watching three white commentators discuss a racial issue on the television.

Wilfred had enough racial interaction and experience in the military to understand and appreciate some of the challenges his African American soldier buddies dealt with and he had witnessed his fair share of bias, prejudice and just plain racial hatred in his travels but he tried to be as open minded and accepting of everybody he served with – knowing that character was the only attribute that really mattered to be a good Soldier.

Wilfred tried to keep race irrelevant but he had to admit that even in progressive Blue County he noticed second glances and funny looks from some people when they saw him with Chenille in the supermarket, out for a meal, taking in a movie, or picking her up at Denny's. They weren't dating and they weren't even together but people naturally assumed as much and that sometimes earned them curious looks.

"I can never escape my color, Willie," Chenille remarked one afternoon when some young African American made a condescending remark when Wilfred was picking Chenille up outside of Denny's.

"Yo, Sista, whatcha doing with the non-brother?" The guy yelled but Chenille ignored him as she got into Wilfred's car.

"I can't pretend I'm not black," she sighed defensively to Wilfred, trying to explain the situation as she closed the car door.

"I can't deny I'm white," Wilfred countered as he drove them out of the Denny's parking lot.

"People get nervous and make assumptions about black people, including social status, level of education, background, and finances," Chenille complained. "I'm sure that guy was being totally honest when he asked what I was doing with a white man."

"Why does he even care?" Wilfred asked.

"Because I could be his sister or his cousin and he doesn't want to see anything bad happen to me," she said.

"Because I'm white?" Wilfred frowned. "The last guy was black and he left you naked in a parking lot."

"I didn't say he was right, Willie," Chenille replied. "It's an ego thing for guys like him too. He's probably a loser who can't keep a woman so when he sees one of his own with someone outside our race he gets defensive and jealous. "

"That's not your problem," Wilfred argued.

"Maybe not, but there was a time when white men raped, tortured and killed black women," Chenille explained. "So the anger runs deep and sometimes it is a righteous anger from the trials our race endured, from slavery, to lynch mobs, to the KKK, to back of the buses, to separate water fountains, to no blacks allowed, to white cops shooting black teens dead."

"But none of that defines who you are now," Wilfred said.

"I'd like to hope so but it's not always that easy, Willie," Chenille replied.

Chenille didn't have a problem being seen with Wilfred, of course. He had rescued her from a humiliating experience and freed her from a rotten relationship. He didn't try to change to impress her when she started living with him. He didn't try to be hip, cool or 'down'. He seemed to have an open mind and he wasn't judgmental of her past. He welcomed her mother when she came to stay for a few days over Christmas even though she brought plenty of wine with her on the bus. Wilfred treated Chenille with respect and fairness and he never presumed anything about their strange relationship as the months went by.

Chenille was still trying to figure out what in the hell they were doing together. Were they friends? Soul mates? Lost souls sharing a life raft? She was surprised when her mother didn't have much of a reaction when she learned who Chenille was living with.

"He's not a fraud like the last guy," her mom observed. "But he does seem a bit screwed up in the head, doesn't he?"

"The war messed him up," Chenille admitted. "But he seems to be getting better with me around." She didn't say it to brag or to inflate her own ego, just as a simple statement of fact.

It was also clear that Bill and Mary absolutely adored Chenille and she enjoyed their company too. Bill helped Chenille with her GED work and she passed with an impressively high score. Now she was looking at taking summer courses at Blue County Community College. She was completely over the sorry assed bastard and she never gave him a second thought, even when she came across a baseball game on the television. She was struggling financially but she didn't miss the comfortable lifestyle she enjoyed living with a professional ball player.

Still, eight months had passed since she last slept with Reggie and Chenille found herself longing for a shared bed and a warm body close to her, holding her while she slept. Often times at night (actually, in the late afternoon which was their sleep time), Chenille would lie awake in Auntie's bed feeling lonely and alone knowing that Wilfred was just down the hall. It seemed strange that after all this time they were still living a platonic, almost business like roommate existence when it was obvious that they were both attracted to the other.

Chenille knew that Wilfred would never make the first move. He was too much of a gentleman as well as damaged goods to try to take advantage of her. He would never disrespect her the way the sorry assed bastard had and she knew he was still flustered by how they met in the first place. Maybe it was better that he had already seen her naked. All the mystery and anticipation had already been removed.

It was a rainy afternoon. Chenille slipped out of Auntie's bed and walked down the hall into Wilfred's room, climbing into his bed next to him and going to sleep. Neither said anything when the alarm went off at ten that evening and after that Chenille went to sleep every afternoon in Wilfred's bed with him next to her.

It wasn't until two Saturdays later that Chenille decided the time was right. She slipped into Wilfred's bed but this time instead of going to sleep, she rolled over and gave Wilfred a kiss and she was glad when he kissed her back. They took their time kissing and exploring each other's bodies for the first time. Chenille let Willie remove her night clothes and she watched him do the same. She knew she was the first black woman he was with in a sexual way and Wilfred definitely was the first white guy that Chenille had allowed into such an intimate situation. She struggled growing up in a predominately black and poor neighborhood where interracial dating was not an option as black girls rarely explored relationships with non-black boys. Part of it was prejudice and part of it was reality.

Chenille wasn't sure what to expect but her first time with Wilfred was surprisingly intense. Wilfred had clearly been waiting a long time for such an opportunity and their first time sex together was focused on providing Chenille with pleasure and satisfaction and Wilfred did an amazing job making her toes curl and her knees bend and her breasts bounce and her ass jiggle and her heart thump and her mouth water and her orgasms flow.

When it was over, Wilfred held her close, both of them naked on the bed with the covers kicked off on a warm June evening.

"What did you think that first day?" Chenille wanted to know. "When you saw me naked like that?"

"I thought I saw a Goddess," Wilfred replied, giving her a kiss.

"I'm glad I'm on the lam with you," Chenille smiled happily.