When it came right down to it, ‘Friday after work’ had come far too quickly for Russell. He was closing in on the monster that had murdered that young girl, Tia Harrison. He was certain he was closing in on the man responsible. As it stood, he had a man named Max Hill in his sights for the murder.
Max had known Tia in high school. From what Russell had gathered from teachers and former friends, Max had had a crush on Tia for the longest time. She had been a shy gal, calm and quiet. She kept to herself, did her homework, read her books, did track and field from seventh grade and all the way through senior year of high school. She had been a good student with only a friend or two.
But Max had wanted her. Desperately, one of Max’s old friends had told him. But desperation had apparently turned darker when Tia turned him down as her date to the prom. It wasn’t even that she had anything against him–prom simply wasn’t something she was interested in.
Russell figured that Max had allowed that anger to fester inside of him for years before finally snapping the next time they saw each other. Russell was about four hours away from being able to get a warrant for Max’s credit and debit cards. The night Tia had died, she had been at a bar. Witnesses had seen her leave with a man she hadn’t come in with. He had been relatively tall–maybe six-foot or so, according to some witnesses–and had dark hair. He was white, and he’d been wearing a hoodie.
Russell couldn’t say much for the hoodie, but Max was also white with dark hair, and he was also right around six feet tall. He had questioned Max, but unsurprisingly, he hadn’t gotten much out of the man.
Now, though, Max’s trash was in the forensic lab, a few select things being tested for his DNA so it could be run against the DNA they had found on Tia’s face, which had definitely come from her killer.
Once they had a match, he could get a warrant to look at Max’s recent payments. If Russell was right, it would connect him back to the bar on the same night as Tia, at the same time as Tia.
That was all he needed.
But… that could wait. It wasn’t like he could help the DNA processing move along. It wasn’t his job, and he’d have no idea where to begin if it was. He’d leave that up to the professionals, and he would enjoy supper with Theodore and Vera.
Russell smoothed his hands over his suit before knocking on the front door.
Theodore pulled it open, free hand wrapped around his cane. “You look… very nice,” he said softly.
Russell smiled. “Sorry. The suit’s daunting, I know. I said I’d come after shift, and I still ended up being late. I didn’t want to make food wait on me running home to change,” he said.
“No, that’s okay. You look nice.”
“Thank you. You look nice, too.”
“Ah, yes, these are my ‘nice enough for Fridays at work’ jeans,” Theodore said.
Russell laughed, walking inside once Theodore stepped aside. He kicked off his shoes and shrugged out of his suit jacket. “Is everything ready? Or do you need help finishing up a few things?” he asked.
“No, I’ve got it. Not much left to do, so I can handle it. Thanks, though,” Theodore said.
“No problem. Let me know if that changes. I’m always happy to help.”
Theodore smiled at him. “Thank you. Uh, you can hang out in the living room if you want. I’m just going to finish up a few things in the kitchen, and then food will be ready.”
“Perfect. Where’s Vera?”
“Living room. She’s drawing. I, umm… I figured you wouldn’t mind.”
“Do you really trust me enough for that? Or are you trying to prove something to yourself? Because I don’t want to make you worried or scared, Theo,” Russell said.
“It’s okay. She’s promised me that she’ll punch you in the balls if you do anything she doesn’t like. I advised her to kick instead.”
Russell grinned. “A kick is more effective. I’ll teach her some good ol’ fashioned combat skills. You know, when she’s done drawing.”
That soft, timid smile came back to Theodore’s face. “Thanks. Maybe you could teach both of us sometime.”
“I will. If you want to learn self-defence, I’ll teach you anything and everything I learned in Academy. And I can teach Vera simplified versions of all of it. I’m serious,” Russell said.
Theodore watched him for a moment. Slowly, he nodded. “Maybe. I, uh… Let’s see how a second supper goes first. Then we’ll look into… self-defense classes with a detective. Does that sound okay?”
“Yeah, of course. Whatever works best for you, Theo. I’ll make sure it works for me.”
“You’re sweet. Thank you.” Theodore cleared his throat and took a small step back. “I’ll be in the kitchen. My daughter has permission to kick you in the nuts if you do anything shifty.”
“Deal.” Russell walked into the living room once Theodore turned to head back to the kitchen. “Hey, Vera.”
Vera lifted her head, a smile coming to her face. “Hi, Russell.”
Russell draped his suit jacket over the back of the couch before sitting down on the floor in front of Vera’s coloring book. “What’re you working on?”
“A fish. Daddy likes fishies.”
“Oh, yeah? Do you guys have any fish?”
Vera nodded. “Daddy has a goldfish. He used to have a really, really big tank, but Father broke it.”
“He broke it?”
“Yep. With a baseball bat.”
Russell expression softened considerably. “I’m sorry to hear that. I bet that was scary.”
Vera nodded. “Father was scary. Daddy made me safe, though.”
“I’m glad your daddy was here to protect you. He’s a really good guy.”
“He is. Very… good.” Vera lifted her head again. “Are you a good guy, Russell?”
“I sure try to be, yeah.”
“You seem good. Daddy says Father used to seem good, too.”
Russell cleared his throat. “Do you remember… when Father seemed good?”
Vera shook her head. “No. I was a baby. Daddy says I was only… two months old when he met Father.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that.”
“Daddy keeps stuff quiet. He doesn’t like to com… complain.”
“Yeah, I’ve noticed that.” Russell shifted as Vera went back to coloring in the goldfish in her coloring book. Though hers was more of a glitter pen fish than anything resembling a goldfish. Russell had a feeling Theodore would love it that way. “Does your daddy normally cook for you?”
“Mm. We do frozen stuff since he got hurt. Frozen is okay. Daddy doesn’t have to move around as much if it’s frozen.”
Russell nodded. “Right. You let your dad know that I’m totally okay with frozen food, too, okay? But after I leave.”
Vera smiled. “Okay.” A pause. “Russell?”
“Are you and my daddy dating?”
“No. We are, uh… we’re acquaintances.”
“What’s that mean?” Vera asked.
“It means that we have met each other, but we don’t know enough about each other to be friends yet. So we’re nice to each other, but we aren’t quite friends,” Russell said.
“Oh. Okay. Will you be friends?”
“If your dad wants to be, totally. I just wanna make sure I respect your dad’s boundaries. He’s a little… nervous around new people. I’m still new people.”
“Even though you’re a cop? Dad says cops like you have shields to fight away bad guys and monsters, and that I shouldn’t be afraid of them.”
“He’s right, yeah. I think me being a cop is the only reason your dad lets me inside for food, especially around you.”
“Mm. Maybe.” Vera met his eyes again. “Can I see the shield you fight the bad guys with?”
“Of course. It’s much smaller than you might think. I have to keep it on me at all times, so it needs to be small enough that it doesn’t get in my way,” Russell said, looking down as he unclipped his badge from his belt. He handed it over to Vera. “There you go.”
“What’s it say here?”
“Is that you?”
Russell nodded. “Mmhmm. My last name’s Steele.”
“What about this part?”
“That’s Rustin Police Department. That’s where I work.”
“I live in Rustin,” Vera said.
Russell smiled. “Yeah, you sure do.” He lifted his head as a throat cleared off to his left. Theodore stood behind the couch, one hand resting on it. “Hey.”
A smile came to the other man’s face. “Hey. Supper’s ready. You can keep the detective talk going once we sit down if you want. I don’t mind.”
Vera sat up and handed Russell’s badge back to him. “Thanks for keeping Rustin safe from the monsters.”
Russell reached out and squeezed her shoulder. “You’re very welcome, sweetheart.” Vera jumped up to her feet and bolted for the kitchen.
“Walk, baby girl. I don’t need my little helper falling and getting hurt.”
Russell pushed himself up and made his way over to the couch. “How’s your hip?”
“Not as terrible as yesterday. I sat down at work today, so… that helped,” Theodore said.
“Good. Taking it easy isn’t always a bad thing.” Russell tucked his badge into one of the pockets of his dress pants.
“I know. It’s just that, somehow, adjusting to doing this on my own is harder than I was ready for. Which makes… no sense at all, since Shane wasn’t exactly big in the helping department.”
“Change is hard. Even if it’s changing from living with someone like Shane to living with just your daughter.”
“Yeah,” Theodore said quietly. He cleared his throat. “Umm… thank you for just talking to her. To Vera. She’s not used to men just… listening and responding to her. So thank you.”
“No problem. She deserves it.” Russel flashed a smile. “You deserve the same. Just, you know, for the record. You deserve the same.”
“Thanks,” Theodore whispered. “Come on. We should go ahead and get some food in our systems. Then, umm, then we’ll start thinking about those self-defense lessons.”
“Yeah, sure thing. Lead the way.”
Russell looked away from the television as Theodore pushed himself to his feet. “You okay?”
Theodore offered a little smile. “Yeah. I just need to get Vera to bed.”
“Can… you handle that?” Russell asked. “I’m not underestimating your ability to push yourself, but is it pushing yourself to your limits, or past them?”
“Probably past them, but she’s my little girl. She’s not to the age where I’m going to let her stay out here if she falls asleep out here. She wakes up in her bed. That’s all.” Theodore leaned his cane against the couch and walked over to the chair, where Vera was curled up and sound asleep.
“And I imagine I can’t help in any way?” Russell asked.
“I’ve got her. Thanks, Russell.” Theodore scooped her up, adjusting his hold on her once he shifted his weight to better balance it between his hips. Russell looked back at the television, deciding it was his best option to keep his mouth shut and not push the topic any further. He respected Theodore for still doing everything he could for his daughter, but it didn’t mean Russell couldn’t see the little winces when he moved too much or lifted too much.
Several minutes later, when Theodore came back into the living room, he stopped behind the couch and laid a hand on Russell’s shoulder. Russell turned to look at him, one eyebrow raised. “How, umm…? Do you want to leave?”
“Do you want me to leave?” Russell asked. Theodore didn’t respond. The questions that forced him to put his wants and needs first seemed to be the most difficult for him to verbally answer. When he did actually answer him, it always took him longer to get to that answer. Russell didn’t exactly have a hard time understanding why. “Okay, let me try that again. Uh, let’s see… are you tired?”
“Do you… need to take a shower?”
Theodore glanced up before shaking his head. “No.”
“Do you want to watch a movie with me?”
Theodore stared at him for a moment before nodding. “Yes. I would… I’d like that.”
Russell smiled. “Okay, then I’ll stay. Come, sit.”
Theodore patted his shoulder before rounding the couch. A hand on his cane, he sat back down beside Russell. Letting out a breath, he dug the heel of his palm into his hip. “Thank you… for coming over tonight. My friend at the bookstore–her name’s Gina–says that… I shouldn’t let Shane continue to ruin my life from inside a prison cell. Having you over here is, umm, apparently a good step in that new motto.”
“She’s right, and I’m glad I could help,” Russell said. “You’re still pretty on edge about the whole thing, aren’t you?”
“A little, yeah. I feel like an idiot for it, but… yeah.”
Russell shook his head. “No, you’re not an idiot. You’re a man that has every right to be suspicious of other men. There’s nothing stupid or idiotic about your leariness around other men, me included. You’ve been through a lot, Theo. You both have. You’re allowed to feel suspicious of the other men around you. And you can do it without letting Shane ruin your life.”
Theodore smiled at him. “Thanks, Russell.” He leaned forward and grabbed the Xbox controller from the coffee table. After switching over the channel on the television, he turned on the gaming console. “Were you actually serious about teaching me and Vera self-defense?”
“Of course. If it makes you feel safe in even the slightest sense, I’m more than willing to teach it to you. You should both be able to defend yourselves.”
“Because… you think we’re in danger?” Theodore asked.
“Oh, gosh, no. I hope you two are never in danger again. But in that same vein, I think pretty much everyone should learn at least some semblance of self-defense, even if it’s only a couple moves. If, God forbid, someone ever comes up behind you–or even up to you from the front–a little bit of knowledge in self-defense can help keep you safe. That’s not a bad thing. It’s better to be prepared for the unlikely, just in case.”
“Yeah,” Theodore said quietly. “I think I want you to teach us a little bit. I don’t know when or… or how much I want to know about self-defense, but I think we both need it. I think… maybe I can sleep easier at night if I know that both of us have the know-how to defend ourselves, God forbid it comes to a point again where we need that know-how.”
Russell nodded. “I’ll teach you, then. I’ll teach both of you. And if you’re ever uncomfortable with something you’re learning or something she’s learning, you just have to let me know, and I’ll stop. I won’t teach either of you anything that you don’t want to know or that you don’t want her to know.”
“Thank you,” Theodore whispered.
“No problem.” Tentatively, Russell reached out and patted Theodore’s knee. “You just let me know when you’re ready to start learning it. I’ll make time. Until then, what do you say you pick out a movie for us to watch, hmm?”
“Yeah, I can do that. Thank you.”
Russell smiled. “No problem.”
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