“Then tell her to go to the police ... charge me with rape, go ahead!” he yelled. Al was out of his chair and flinging his arms in the air, he was so angry. “Dawn, I never touched her. I can’t believe you’d think I’d do something like that!”
“Why would she lie?” Dawn yelled back. Now she was out of her seat as well. She marched right up and stared him in the eye. “Huh, tell me, Al, why would she lie?”
“I don’t know, babe, but she is, I swear it. Call her; tell her to come on over. Let her accuse me to my face.”
“Al, she doesn’t want to be anywhere around you and I can’t blame her.”
“I can’t believe you’re actually buying into this crap. Dawn, we’ve known each other for three years. Do you really believe I’d force myself on someone; especially your roommate? Come on, I love you. I want to marry you. How stupid would I have to be to do something like that.”
“I don’t know, Al, but she has bruises on her wrists from where you held her down. She said she thought you’d been drinking. You came over looking for me and when you saw I wasn’t here you forced yourself on her.”
“Dawn, I didn’t do it! Please, get that through your head. I did not force myself on Shannon or anyone else. God, this is a fucking nightmare! Did she tell this to anyone else or just you?”
“I ... I don’t know. I think Tom and Betty know about it. I’m not sure about Roy and Janet.”
“Great, if she told Betty it’ll be all over the campus by Monday. I won’t be able to show my face anywhere. I’m going to see a lawyer. Friend or no friend, Dawn, I’m going to sue that bitch.”
“I’d think twice about that, Al. If you force her hand she might have to go to the police. You could wind up in prison.”
“Oh I doubt very much she’d go to the police. You see it’s against the law to file a false police report and it takes more than just her word to convict me of rape, especially since I didn’t do it. She’d be the one in trouble.”
“Al ... she has a witness.”
“What? Who?” This just kept getting worse and worse. He couldn’t understand how there could be a witness to something that never happened. This had to be a set-up, a conspiracy of some kind.
“I’m not going to tell you. I ... I don’t trust you anymore, Al. I’m not sure what you’re capable of. Someone saw you. That’s all I’m going to say.”
“Oh this is ridiculous. When—when was this supposed to happen?”
“Al, let’s just drop it. I...”
“Drop it? I can’t drop something like this, Dawn. I’ll be damned if I’m going to stand around while someone labels me a rapist.” His heart was pounding. His nerves felt like someone had raked over them with a cheese grater. He tried to calm himself down for a second. “Come on, honey, who is this so-called witness?”
Dawn’s eyes glistened from unspent tears. She had loved him with all her heart, now she wondered if she knew him at all. “Al, I ... I think under the circumstances we should stop seeing each other.”
It was as if she’d reached into his chest and ripped his heart out with her bare hand. How could she profess to love him and not know he wasn’t capable of such of thing? Hell, he never even told off-color jokes in mixed company. It pretty much took the fight right out of him.
There was no mistaking the look on his face, it was pain, not the physical kind, the emotional kind, more pain than Dawn could ever remember seeing in anyone. She wiped away some tears that broke free and ran down her lovely cheeks. She loved him so much, or at least she loved the man she thought he was. Seeing his suffering had her head spinning with doubt and uncertainties. She didn’t want to believe it and for a split second, questioned her friend’s word--but only for a split second. The problem was she’d known Shannon a lot longer than Al and there was no reason in the world for her to lie. They were roommates, best friends; if anyone knew how she felt about him it was Shannon. She would never intentionally hurt her with a lie like that. That left only one other alternative...
“I see,” he said. “So you’ve already tried, convicted, and sentenced me. I can’t believe this. An hour ago I was just thinking how lucky I was. I had good friends, a four point grade average, a bright future, but most of all ... what was most important was the mutual love I felt with the woman I intended to marry. And with one lie from someone I’m not even supposed to confront, it’s all gone. Well, I suppose I should consider myself lucky. I might not have learned how little you really care for me until after we were married.”
That was it; the end of a three year romance that both Dawn and Al had been sure would lead to marriage, kids, a white picket fence, and growing old together. Without saying another word, he walked out.
With so much anger clouding his brain, he had no idea where he was going. Outside her door he turned toward the campus and let his feet follow the sidewalk. For the first hundred yards he prayed he’d hear Dawn’s voice begging him to come back but it didn’t happen. All he heard were the leather souls of his shoes on the pavement.
Her apartment was only five blocks from the college; they were the most secluded and desolate five blocks he’d ever walked. By the time he found himself at the front gate of the campus he knew it was definitely over between them. Obviously she believed that lying bitch over him. That was unforgivable.
Across the street from the campus was a park with weathered green benches that needed sanding and repainting. It was a good thing there was no traffic because Al’s mind was so preoccupied he didn’t even look before crossing. His legs seemed to give out on him as he started to sit and he almost fell onto the uncomfortable wooden structure.
His surroundings were nonexistent. He was totally focused on the lie Shannon had told and couldn’t understand how anyone could believe such a thing about him, let alone Dawn. He wondered what his future held for him. It was a no-brainer that word would spread throughout the small college. If Dawn believed it there was no reason to think others wouldn’t as well. What about after graduation; would this terrible lie follow him into the workforce?
He needed to get away--go home for a while where he could think and talk things over with his parents; although they were never very supportive of him. He never seemed to measure up in their eyes ... especially his dad’s. Still...
He needed someplace to go and he couldn’t think of anywhere else. Al pulled out his phone and tapped the picture taken at his parent’s twentieth anniversary party.
He heard his mother’s voice as she picked up the house phone. “Hello.”
“Hi, mom; it’s me.”
“Hi honey; this is a surprise. You don’t usually call on a Saturday. Don’t you usually spend Saturday’s with Dawn and your friends?”
“Yeah, well, not today,” he lamented.
“What’s the matter? You sound a little down. Is everything okay?”
“Ah,” he said, taking a deep breath. “Not really. You’re not going to believe this. A girlfriend of Dawn’s is accusing me of forcing myself on her. I...”
“What!” she shrieked. “You didn’t, did you?”
“Mom, how can you even ask me that?” Just then he heard his dad’s reaction to his mother’s question.
“Didn’t do what? What’s he done now? Here give me the phone ... Al, this is your father. What did you do?”
“Dad, I didn’t do anything. A girl on campus has accused me of forcing myself on her but...”
“Forcing yourself; you mean raping her? What the hell is wrong with you? I raised you better than...”
That was it, he’d had enough abuse. It was the last straw. “You know what, screw you too,” he yelled before disconnecting. That was it, the preverbal piece of straw. Throughout his entire life he could never figure out what he needed to do to measure up in his father’s eyes. He couldn’t remember a single time in his entire life when his dad stood by him. He recalled an instance in the fourth grade when he got into a fight on the school playground. The teacher even told his dad the other kid had started the fight—that I was just defending myself, he remembered. “But dad didn’t care,” he mumbled aloud. “I got punished anyway. Well, fuck him—fuck them all.”
A little earlier he’d never been hurt by anyone like he’d been hurt by the woman he loved. Since then the hurt had turned into anger, now it was metastasizing into something else again ... bitterness! He’d spent his whole life trying to be the best person he could be and what had it gotten him; parents who couldn’t care less whether he lived or died and a girlfriend who thought he was capable of rape.
He stood; “Fuck’em all,” he yelled as he threw his phone as far as he could. He turned his back while it was still sailing through the air. He didn’t care where it landed. There was no one he wanted to talk to anyway.
Never in his life had Al ever felt so lonely or so depressed. It was as if he was dangling above a dark, bottomless canyon just wondering when the rope would snap. He needed to get away; he needed to get his feet on firm ground again, if that wasn’t possible by going home then somewhere else, he didn’t much care where.
He looked at his watch. It was only four-thirty. If he hurried he still had time to get to the bank before they closed. He jogged across the campus grounds to his dormitory. Terry, his roommate was sitting in the hall outside the door, plunking on his guitar. He said nothing but just nodded his head as Al quickly stepped past him on his way into their room. A moment later Al came back out with his twenty-one speed road bike over his shoulder.
Terry looked up from his fretboard. “Hey, man, where you going?”
“Out,” he answered. He never looked back. If he had, he’d have seen the evil sneer on his roommate’s face.
Once outside again, Al hopped on his bike and took off for the mile long trip to the nearest branch of his bank. He had been banking there since he started college more than three years earlier. In addition to a small checking account, he had a secret savings account he started when he met Dawn. It was going to be a surprise so he could buy her a nice engagement ring. There was a little over thirty-one hundred dollars in it. That plus the hundred and fifty he had in the checking would hold him for a little while. He closed out both accounts and said goodbye to the tellers before leaving.
He unlocked his bike and let out a deep sigh as he placed his left foot in the toe strap and pushed off swinging his right leg over the seat and catching the other pedal at its highest point. A ghostly sense of death haunted his wake, the death of those he was leaving behind, not physically of course, but in his mind.
Al had been on the road for half an hour by the time Terry had showered and was on his way to Dawn’s apartment. She came to the door when she heard his knock.
“Oh, Terry; come on in. I thought it might have been Al.”
“Naw, he took off on his bike a little while ago. He didn’t look like he was in a very good mood so I figured you guys must have had it out. I thought I’d come over and see if there’s anything I can do.”
Dawn had never cared for Terry that much. His parents had big money and he always seemed a little arrogant, but since he witnessed Al leaving the apartment after attacking her roommate ... well, he seemed to be a kindred spirit of a kind.
“That’s sweet, Terry; thank you. I don’t really think there’s much you can do. Shannon will be back in a little while. She didn’t want to be here when Al came over.”
“Yeah, I can understand that. It’s still hard to believe he’d do something like that. You think you know someone...”
“Yeah, I’m still having a hard time with it. He’s always been such a gentleman. Hell, when we first met I had to practically throw myself at him before he’d make a move. It ... it’s just not like him.”
“Unfortunately, we can’t just look into someone’s heart and see what’s actually in there. I know it’s hard now but you really should consider yourself lucky that you found out when you did.
“Listen, you need some cheering up. Why don’t you jump in the shower. When Shannon gets here I’ll take you both out for a nice dinner. Maybe we can even squeeze in a little dancing somewhere, what do you say?”
“I don’t think so, Terry. It’s a great offer but I’m really not in the mood. Maybe Shannon would like to go.”
Before Terry could put up a fight, Shannon came through the door.
“Go where?” she asked.
“I was just telling Dawn I’d like to take you two out to dinner tonight. She and Al just had it out and she’s feeling pretty bad. I thought it might cheer her up.”
“Hell yeah,” Shannon jovially remarked.
Dawn thought her friend seemed awful cheery for someone who had been raped not twenty hours prior. “How can you be in such a happy mood?”
“Look, it isn’t like I’m a virgin. Yes, the bastard raped me but I’m not going to let it ruin my life. I do feel sorry for you though. What happened anyway? Are you going to continue seeing him? Because if you are...”
“No,” said Dawn, cutting off her friend. “We split up. He ... he took off.”
“Good,” commented Shannon. “I would be worried about you being out with him. Maybe he’s bi-polar or something but I wouldn’t trust him anymore, that’s for sure.” She saw a tear break free and run down her friend’s cheek. “Ah, I’m sorry, Dawn. I shouldn’t have said anything. Come on; let’s let money bags here take us both out to dinner. It’ll take your mind off things for a while.”
“Come on, Dawn,” Terry said, joining in. “We’ll go anywhere you want to go.”
“I don’t know. I’m really not in the mood.”
She looked at Shannon who was making a pouty face like she always did when she wanted Dawn to do something with her. “Oh, okay,” she said, giving in with a sigh. “Some place nice though. I don’t want to take a chance on running into Al somewhere. I just couldn’t handle it right now.”
“How about the Chez’ Paul.”
“Oh, Terry, I didn’t mean that nice. I just don’t want to go to Denny’s or Applebee’s. Besides, I doubt if we could even get in Chez’ Paul on a Saturday night. It’s by reservation only. You’d never get one this late.”
Without saying another word, Terry pulled out his cell phone, thumbed through the menu, and tapped on one of the contacts. “Yes, is Gene there, please? Tell him it’s Terry Belshaw.” He stared at Dawn with a smirk for minute while waiting. “Gene, hey old buddy; yeah, doing good, how about you? Listen, I need a table for three tonight. Yeah ... say an hour or so ... thanks, old buddy.” He broke the connection and looked up at Dawn with a big smile. “Done; you’ve got forty-five minutes to get ready.”
She had to admit—THAT was impressive! “Alright, I guess I can’t say no now can I? I’m not even sure what I’ll wear to a place like that.”
“Come on,” Shannon said. “You get your shower and I’ll pick out something for us to wear. Hurry up.”
The girls went into the bedroom while Terry went to the fridge and took one of Al’s favorite beers. He lounged back on the couch while waiting.
Dawn stepped in the shower. Being alone was not good. All she could think about was Al. She still couldn’t understand it. The sound of the shower covered the sound of her crying. The warm cascading water may have washed away her tears, but it did nothing for the pain in her heart. By the time she wrapped a towel around her and stepped into the bedroom, Shannon had their clothes lying on the bed.
“Are you wearing that little cocktail dress?”
“No, that’s for you. I’m wearing this,” she replied, holding up a white blouse and small, red skirt.”
“Shannon, I can’t wear that dress. It’s too short. It’s four inches above my knees.”
“So, it isn’t like you don’t have the legs for it.”
“It ... it doesn’t feel appropriate. I just broke up with the man I was going to marry.”
“All the more reason,” commented Shannon. “What’s that they say about getting right back up on the horse? Speaking of which ... I understand Terry is pretty well hung.”
“I’m just saying,” she said in a melodic speaking voice and with a big grin. “Come on, we don’t have time to debate it. Put the damn dress on and let’s go. It isn’t often we get invited to the Chez’ Paul.”
Reluctantly, Dawn adorned the short, black dress. She had to admit, she looked HOT.
“Damn!” was all Terry could articulate as they presented themselves. “I am going to be the envy of every guy in that place.”
Between Terry and Shannon they were able to keep Dawn’s mind off of her break up for most of the evening. It was Shannon mostly. It wasn’t the first time she had to cheer her friend up like that. She knew what buttons to push and she could always make her laugh.
Terry was at least tolerable, although every now and then the specter of conceit would peek out from his charm. It turned out that his dad had gotten him a membership at the local country club. That’s where he met Gene, the restaurant’s manager.
It must be nice to be so rich, thought Dawn; which brought up a question. “Terry, with your dad’s money you could go to college just about anywhere. What are you doing living in the dorm at a small college like Governor’s State?”
“It’s my dad’s alma mater,” he replied. “The dorm is his idea too. He wants me to have the full experience of college life,” he chuckled. “He wasn’t always rich. He made his fortune after going into business and credited the education he got here, so...”
“He wants the same for you,” Dawn said, anticipating what he was going to say.
“Yup,” he said with a smile. “I wanted to go to Northwestern and hang out with all the future movie stars but it wasn’t in the cards so here I am.”
Once again, as he said that, Dawn saw a sliver of that pretentiousness she didn’t like. Just the inflection in his voice; it was almost like he wanted to finish his statement by saying, ‘so here I am with all you peons.’
“What about you girls, someone said you’ve known each other for a long time.”
Shannon didn’t speak up so Dawn answered. “Yeah, we met in the fifth grade and been BFF’s ever since.”
“How come you have an apartment and don’t live in the dorm?”
Again, Dawn fielded the question. “They couldn’t guaranty we’d be able to live together so we looked around for a cheapo apartment. We really lucked out with that place. Mrs. Cooper, the landlady is very nice. After retiring, her husband built the apartment over the garage for extra income. He suffered a stroke a couple years ago so we don’t see him much anymore but she’s still pretty active.”
Dawn was ready to go back home after dinner but her escorts wouldn’t hear of it. Instead they took her to a bar that had live music. She did do some dancing, mostly with Shannon but she also danced a few with Terry and even a couple other guys. They didn’t make it back to the apartment until almost one in the morning. Terry tried to kiss her good night but she turned her cheek so he took what he could get.
The next morning Shannon was making coffee when Dawn sat down at the kitchen table feeling a little worse for wear.
Shannon took one look at her and laughed. “Don’t tell me you can’t take it anymore? You look like hell there, girlfriend.”
“Thanks, I love you too,” she snickered back.
Shannon took a couple of cups down from the cupboard and filed them both. She set them on the table then took Dawn’s creamer from the fridge and put it down next to her coffee.
“Thanks,” Dawn weakly acknowledged.
“Terry’s pretty nice isn’t he. Hey, Brian and I are going to the movies next Saturday night. Why don’t we double date? We haven’t done that in a while.”
“I don’t think so, Shannon. I’m not really crazy about Terry.”
“What? Are you nuts, girl? He’s good looking, smart, and his dad has more money than God; not to mention he’s crazy about you. Jesus, what’s not to like?”
“I don’t know, it’s ... I guess it’s his attitude. He comes off like he thinks he’s better than everybody else sometimes.”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot, he’s honest too,” Shannon quipped.
Dawn just looked at her.
“Okay, okay, so he’s a little full of himself sometimes, big deal. You can overlook that once he starts buying you expensive jewelry.” Dawn didn’t say anything and Shannon knew her well enough to know conceited people turned her off. “Okay, the least you can do is give the guy a shot.”
She wasn’t convinced. “I don’t know...”
“Well at least think about it.”
“Yeah, okay, I’ll think about it,” Dawn promised.
The rest of the day was pretty quiet. Shannon left the apartment for a little while and didn’t say where she was going but she was only gone a couple hours. No more was said about her and Al although she couldn’t keep him from invading her thoughts from time to time.
When Monday rolled around, Dawn found herself very conflicted. She and Al shared a class together. It was a two o’clock class on nonfiction literature. She’d never tell Shannon but in spite of what he’d done, she missed him. She certainly didn’t want another confrontation, especially in public, but she did want to see him—just to make sure he was alright.
The problem was he wasn’t there. That concerned her. Rarely did Al ever miss a class. Maybe he didn’t come because he knew she’d be there? Well, she was convinced he’d show up sooner or later. He wouldn’t risk failing a class just because she was in it. Luckily, she had her part-time waitressing job to go to later that night. For the first hour of her shift she’d glance toward the door every time it opened to see if it was him but he never showed.
Later that night she had a hard time getting to sleep. Every time she closed her eyes she’d see the pain screaming from behind his eyes when she told him she was breaking things off.
Tuesday was a carbon copy of Monday, he wasn’t in class nor did he show at the restaurant that evening. When she didn’t see him in class again on Wednesday she was really getting concerned. She thought about calling Terry, after all they were still roommates. She had resisted calling him earlier because she didn’t want Shannon to know she was still worried about Al after what he did but after four days she had to check on him.
“Hi, Terry, it’s Dawn.”
“Hi, Dawn,” he answered, elated that she called. “Hey, I saw Shannon; she said something about double dating on Saturday. I guess we’re all going to the sh...”
“Terry, I haven’t made up my mind yet but that’s not why I’m calling. Al hasn’t been in class all week. Is he sick or something?”
He was a little ticked that she wasn’t calling to confirm their double date and even more ticked that she was asking about Al. He wanted to give her a little time to get over the guy so he wasn’t pressuring her but after talking to Shannon he thought everything was all set for Saturday. “Dawn, I haven’t seen Al since he took off on his bike last Saturday,” he said, trying to keep the anger out of his voice.
Dawn hadn’t even considered he hadn’t returned since then. She was speechless while her brain was processing what he’d just said. Finally it registered. “You mean you haven’t seen him at all since then?”
“Nope, now what about Saturday night; are we going or...” Suddenly he was talking to a dead line.
Again, she remembered the look of heart break and anger on Al’s face as he left her apartment and wondered what other emotions he may have been experiencing; emotions that she couldn’t read. For a moment her thoughts were frozen with fear. Finally reason worked its way through the fog. His parents ... of course, she thought. He went home. That was the logical conclusion.
“Dawn, break’s over,” she heard the restaurant manager call.
“Yeah, I know. I need another five minutes,” she answered. “I just have to make one more call.” She hurriedly scrolled through her contacts. “Hello, Mrs. McCain?”
“Yes, who is this please?”
“Mrs. McCain, this is Dawn Spencer. How are you?”
“Oh, Dawn; it’s nice to hear from you. How are you?”
“Ah, I’m okay. Listen, I just wanted to check and make sure Al is okay.”
“Al? Isn’t he there with you?”
“No, we, ah ... we had a falling out a few days ago and I haven’t seen him since. I ... I thought maybe he went home.”
“No, dear, we haven’t seen him. He did call last week. Does this have anything to do with some girl saying he attacked her?”
Dawn was trying to hold it together but was getting more frantic by the minute. “Yeah, Mrs. McCain. Did he say anything when you talked to him; where he was going or anything like that?”
“No, I’m sorry, Dawn. We didn’t talk long. His father got on the phone and started to yell at him and Al hung up on him. I wanted to call him back but Ralph wouldn’t let me. He says he made his bed, he can lie in it.”
Wow, Dawn thought; it certainly didn’t sound like he got a lot of support from his folks. She wondered if there was a reason. Had he done something like this in the past? She had to ask. “Mrs. McCain, I’ve only known Al for three years. Has he ever attacked anyone before?”
“Oh no, never,” she stated. “Al’s always been a good boy. His father’s just always been kind of hard on him. You don’t really think he attacked that girl, do you?”
“Ah, I ... I don’t know what to think, Mrs. McCain.” She was in silent thought again for a few seconds then wondered ... Mrs. McCain, is he really not there or did he just tell you to say that if I called. If he did, just say yes.”
“No, I’m sorry, Dawn but he’s not here, honest. When you see him though, ask him to call me when his dad’s not home. I know my boy. He’d never attack anyone so I’d like to find out what this is all about.”
“I will Mrs. McCain. I’ll tell him as soon as I see him.”
Suddenly Dawn felt like she was breaking out in a cold sweat. Where could he be? Al never spoke much about his parents. She’d only met them a couple of times and they were short visits. Now she understood why. She thanked his mom then decided there was only one more person to call.
“Yeah, just a minute,” she snapped back at her boss. She hit the call button.
What the hell? A Spanish speaking woman just answered Al’s phone. Now she was confused. “Ah, hello; who is this?”
“Who is this?” the woman responded with a heavy Spanish accent.
“I am Al’s girlfriend,” she snarled. “Now who the hell are you?”
Suddenly the woman sounded frightened. “I ... I did nothing wrong.”
Dawn was getting exasperated. “I didn’t say you did. I’m calling for Al McCain. Please put him on the phone.”
“I ... I’m sorry; I know no one named Al.”
“Then how the hell did you get his phone?” Her voice went up several decibels.
“My son, he found it in the park,” she replied.
“Dawn, if you don’t get your ass out here right now I’m sending you home for the night,” yelled her angry boss.
She was now bewildered and confused. She hung up because she couldn’t think of any more questions to ask the woman. It didn’t make sense. How could someone just find his phone like that? Where the hell was he?
“Dawn...” Her boss went to the break room to retrieve her but stopped when he saw she was white a sheet. “Ar ... are you feeling okay? You don’t look good.”
Her eyes were listless as she looked up at him. “Ah, I ... I have to go,” she said in a voice that matched her eyes.
She was normally a good employee, a hard worker, and reliable. Obviously something was wrong so he told her to let him know if there was anything he could do and let her go for the night. Dawn was so preoccupied she didn’t even think to thank him.
There was one more possibility. From Monday through Thursdays, Al worked as a bartender at Plato’s Place. She hated to spend the money on a cab but she had no choice. She nervously waited outside the restaurant until it came.
She was happy to see the owner behind the bar when she walked in. She’d met him a couple of times when she was in there with Al. He seemed like a nice guy.
“Hey ... Dawn, right?” He didn’t wait for her to answer. He had his own questions. “Hey, where’s that lazy boyfriend of yours? Is he sick?”
Her heart sunk. “You mean he hasn’t been in?”
“No; I haven’t seen him since Friday night. Is he okay?”
“You mean Thursday night. He stays home and studies on Friday nights.”
“No, I mean Friday night. My other bartender’s wife was having a baby. Al came over to fill in for him.”
“A ... are you sure that was Friday night—last Friday night?”
“Last Friday night, yeah, of course I’m sure. The place was hopping. We worked shoulder to shoulder all night.”
“What time did he come in?” she asked with a frantic voice.
“Eight o’clock, just like always; eight to two.”
Dawn’s legs felt weak and she sat heavily on a barstool. She lied, she told herself. Her best friend lied to her. Why? Why would she do something like that? She started to tear up. Finally Steve’s voice broke through her cerebral daze.
“Dawn ... are you okay?”
“Ah, oh Steve, I’ve done a terrible thing. I ... I share an apartment with my girlfriend. Al always stays home on Fridays to study. It’s about the only time he gets all week so I usually leave him alone and go to the library. Last Friday night my girlfriend said he came over to the apartment and molested her.”
“What? Al? That’s ridiculous; he’d never do anything like that.”
“Your right, Steve, and that’s exactly what I should have said. Instead I believe her. I got home about nine-thirty. My girlfriend was there and it looked like she’d been crying. She said Al had come by about eight and forced himself on her when he found out she was alone. There was another guy there who said he saw Al leaving the apartment about eight-thirty. He said it looked like he was angry so he knocked to see if everything was okay. That’s when he found my girlfriend with her blouse ripped and almost in shock.
“I broke up with him and now he’s disappeared. No one’s seen him, his parents don’t know where he is, and some Spanish woman said she found his phone in the park. I’m really worried, Steve. You don’t think he’d hurt himself do you?”
Steve couldn’t decide whether he was pissed at her or felt sorry for her. He knew how much Al loved her. Hell, she was the only thing he ever talked about. He could only imagine how devastated Al must have been. He tried not to sound incriminating. “I don’t know, Dawn. I hope not. You should call the police and report him missing.” He didn’t want to tell her but if Al didn’t have his phone on him, maybe he didn’t have his wallet either. He could be a John Doe in the morgue.
“Yeah,” she answered, still in a daze. “That’s a good idea. I’ll do it right now.” She pulled out her phone before realizing she didn’t have the cop’s number. “Do you think they’ll get mad if I call nine-one-one?”
“Yeah, that’s for emergencies only. Here,” he said looking at one of several phone numbers taped to the wall behind the bar. “The number’s eight three six, nine one one two.”
Steve listened in for several minutes while Dawn gave all the information to the cop on the other end of the phone. She told him her worries about Al possibly hurting himself and of the Spanish woman who now had his phone. The whole time she spoke, more and more tears were starting to flow and her voice was getting weaker. Toward the end of the conversation, the cop gave Dawn an email address for sending in a picture of Al from her phone. Steve prayed they didn’t ask her to go and identify a body when she was all done. He sighed with relief when she hung up.
“What’d they say?”
“They’re going to send his description and photo out to all the patrol cars and hospitals in the area. They’re also going to contact that Spanish woman and see if they can get any more out of her. He said they’ll take his phone from her and put it into evidence just in case of foul play. Oh Steve, I’m so scared.”
“You did about all you can do, Dawn; that and pray, I guess. Here,” he said, handing her a napkin to dry her eyes. “Can I get you a glass of water?”
She just nodded while she wiped the napkin over her eyes several times. “Why, Steve,” she questioned as he laid the glass down on the bar in front of her. “I’ve known Shannon since we were kids. She knew I was in love with Al. Why would she lie to me like that? Why would she want to hurt me like that?”
The anger he felt earlier had pretty much subsided; only the sympathy remained. “I don’t know, Dawn. Maybe she was jealous. It happens; sometimes people are jealous of someone else but it takes years to show itself. That’s the only thing I can think of. Either that or she got really pissed at either you or Al for some reason. Did you have a fight or anything?”
“No,” she sniffled.
Steve set several more napkins in front of her.
“We never fight and if she and Al would have gotten into it for some reason he’d have said something. God, Steve, what am I going to do if something’s happened to him. I’ll never forgive myself,” she sobbed.
“Dawn, you were lied to. You can’t blame yourself.”
She stayed another half an hour while Steve tried to convince her it wasn’t her fault. It was after ten by the time he put her in a cab and slipped the driver a twenty to take her home. She knew Shannon would be at the apartment when she got there.
Shannon hadn’t been home long. She’d just gotten out of the shower and was putting her robe on when Dawn walked in. Shannon saw her red, puffy eyes and the tracks where tears streaked her cheeks. “Dawn, what’s...”
She never even saw it coming. The open hand blow was so hard that it spun Shannon’s head around and knocked her across the bed. The attack was so sudden she was scared to death as she felt the side of her face with her hand. She looked into the raging face of her long-time friend with fear.
“WHY DID YOU LIE TO ME? WHY, WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT TO ME?” Dawn screamed while leaning over her former best friend. She burst out in tears again as she sat on the bed and threw her face in her hands.
Still shocked, it took Shannon a minute to get her voice back. “I ... I didn’t...”
“STOP LYING!” Dawn shouted. “Al was at work all night Friday night. He was there with his boss serving drinks at the same time you said he raped you!”
Oh shit, Shannon cursed at herself. The jig was up. She never thought about getting caught in her lie. Al always spent Friday nights in his dorm room alone. Shit, shit, shit.
The side of her face felt like it was on fire. Before saying anything, she was going to get up and get something out of the freezer to put on it. Maybe she could come up with some kind of back up lie in the meantime.
Al was surprised at how much real estate he’d been able to put between him and his problems. Between his anger, adrenaline, and his life-long love of biking, he was already in Ohio.
He could have been a lot further if he’d had a course mapped out or even knew where he was going. He stayed off the main highways and just kept following county roads. East, that was the general direction but that was as far as his route was planned.
If he had been thinking at all he’d have thrown some clothes in his back pack before he took off. Talk about roughing it; he didn’t stop Saturday night until two in the morning, not even to eat. Then he grabbed a couple winks on a park bench in Indiana somewhere. He was going to stop and buy some clothes on Sunday but just kept going. He didn’t actually stop until Monday when he saw a Target in some small town in Ohio. By then he was smelling pretty rank and making himself sick. He was embarrassed going into the store like that but then he thought, hell—it’s not like I’m ever going to see any of these people again. So, he stuck out his chin and went in to buy a couple shirts, a pair of slacks, some underwear and socks, a backpack and a small nylon pup tent. The pretty, young lady behind the register wrinkled her nose when he stepped up to pay.
It was early evening when he stepped out of the store. He’d already spent two nights in a row sleeping under the stars so he thought he’d treat himself to a shower and an actual bed for the night. He asked around for the cheapest motel in town ... and found it; forty-five dollars a night and the cockroaches were free.
There was a coin operated laundromat only a couple blocks away so he took a shower then changed into clean clothes before washing the dirty ones. He felt like a new man by the time he stopped into a little diner for some supper.
The place didn’t look that much different than where Dawn worked. Try as he did to not think about her, it was his first thought as soon as he walked in the door. He wondered what she was doing. Did she even know he left? Did she care? Probably not—not if she believed that bitch she lived with and she obviously did. His mind blocked out everything else around him as he drifted back to that last conversation.
She said there was a witness? This was obviously some kind of a conspiracy against him but by who ... and why? He wasn’t aware of having any enemies. He still wondered about Dawn—was she in on it or was she a victim?