They hid in the lobby where Gretchen twice saw Joanne’s father kissing a young brunette. Gretchen convinced herself her motivations were pure, that she was trying to help her friend.
“Maybe it’s over,” Gretchen said. Sweating, she shoved her wool hat in her backpack. She was afraid to take off her coat in case they needed a quick get-a-away.
Joanne didn’t respond.
“I shouldn’t have told you,” Gretchen said.
“Too late now.”
Joanne suggested they move behind the Christmas tree.
I’m allergic, Gretchen almost reminded her, but she thought it best not to contradict Joanne. She’d have to wear her gloves and avoid contact with the pine needles as she and Joanne hovered next to each other for another twenty minutes if that’s what it took. If Thomas and his girlfriend were any later though, Gretchen would break out in hives.
“That’s her. Thank God,” Gretchen said, nodding toward the woman walking through the door.
Joanne fumbled in her backpack for a camera. “You’re sure?”
“I know the zebra-print earmuffs,” Gretchen said. She wondered if Thomas was letting the girlfriend live there. Of course that detail or others about Thomas’s illicit relationship should have been outside her motivation for telling Joanne about her father’s betrayal at all.
“You think she’s even twenty?” Joanne asked.
Joanne motioned for Gretchen to follow her, deviating from their plan on the drive downtown for Joanne to confront him alone.
“Dad,” Joanne said instead of “Asshole” like they’d practiced.
Thomas mumbled something, but Gretchen only heard “Taylor.” Thomas and Taylor. Taylor and Thomas. She imagined Taylor wearing only the black and white ear-muffs, doodling intertwining Ts on Thomas’s back.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Thomas said, his focus solely on Joanne.
“And you should?” Gretchen said. She put her hand over her mouth, suddenly terrified Thomas would scream at her for dragging his daughter downtown. He’d say she was destroying his family. He’d encourage everyone to ask how Gretchen knew about this building in the first place. Had she been following him? Yes. Why? She wouldn’t answer. Couldn’t answer.
She heard the click of Joanne’s camera then felt Joanne pulling her toward the door.
“Now what?” Gretchen asked when they reached a bench a block away. Out of breath from running, she sat down and leaned over like she was sick.
“Are you okay?” Joanne asked.
“Let’s get out of here,” Joanne said, the expression on her face made Gretchen afraid to say a word on the ride home.
“I guess I’ll tell my mom,” Joanne said eventually. She dangled the camera from her finger. “Since I have proof.”
“I’ll try you later?” Gretchen asked.
Before Joanne slammed the door she said, “I’ll call you.”
Gretchen wasn’t surprised when Joanne didn’t call. She wasn’t surprised when Joanne never spoke to her again.
Nina Badzin’s fiction has appeared in The Drum Literary Magazine, Literary Mama, The Pedestal Magazine, and The Potomac, among several others and is forthcoming in Midwestern Gothic. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and listed by Glimmer Train as a finalist in one of their contests.