I don’t always remember the exact moment an idea for a story first popped into my head, but that’s not the case with Finders Keepers. The fact is, I dreamed the story up–literally dreamed it, I mean. I woke up with the most of the story in my head, especially this scene between Aldo and Sally:
Aldo made it to Sally’s apartment in record time. He didn’t even bother knocking. He simply let himself in using his own key. As he pushed the door open, he was relieved to smell coffee. He glanced down the short hallway and was even more relieved when he caught sight of Sally seated on her couch, looking more composed than she’d sounded when he talked to her on the phone and with no more tears in evidence.
“Hey, babe,” he said, raising his hand in greeting. “It’s just me.” Not waiting for an answer, he detoured into the kitchen to pour himself some coffee before joining Sally in the living room. The apartment looked cluttered. Unusually so. Which was something he probably should have noticed months earlier. He would have too, if he hadn’t been grieving himself. He frowned. It didn’t look like she’d moved a thing since Davis’s death, merely left everything as it was and piled more stuff on top of what was already there.
“What the hell, Sal?” He threw her a pointed look. “This place looks like a freaking mausoleum. What’re you doing? Trying to bury yourself along with him? Can’t you at least get someone to come in and dust for you once in a while?”
He’d been hoping for a wince, hoping to shock her into feeling something. Her only response was a disinterested shrug, which didn’t improve his mood in the slightest. Even her hair seemed dull, totally lacking its usual otherworldly gleam.
Fuck, he was tired. He collapsed on the couch and pulled her against him, wrapped an arm around her for good measure. “Thanks for the coffee, by the way,” he said as he took a bracing sip.
Aldo sighed. “Okay, so what’s up? Something happened tonight. What?”
“Nothing really.” Sally craned her neck to glance up at him. There was a hint of challenge in her gaze. “It’s just…I brought a guy home with me. Is that what you want to know? You keep telling me I need to start dating again, so fine. I did.”
Aldo didn’t say anything at first. He had to fight to keep his emotions from showing on his face—he didn’t want to scare her, after all—but goddamn it. Yes, he wanted her to date. He’d hoped that might make her feel better. He sure as hell hadn’t wanted it to make her feel worse. If it turned out someone had taken advantage of her vulnerability, if someone had hurt her, he’d track the bastard down and gladly rip him a new one. “Why do I get the feeling you’re only willing to credit me with the idea, all of a sudden, because it was a mistake?” he asked at last, trying his hardest to make it a joke even though they both knew it wasn’t.
“I don’t know why you’d think that. I didn’t say it was a mistake, did I?”
“Didn’t have to.” Aldo studied her for a moment longer, then asked, “Who was he?”
“That’s not important. It’s no one you know, so…” She shrugged. “He said he wanted to get to know me better. We came here. It should have been easy, but then…”
Aldo felt his blood begin to boil. “Then…what? What happened? C’mon, Sal, do I have to drag every damn word out of you?”
“Would you quit acting all big brothery? Just be supportive and shut up. I don’t know what happened, all right? Everything seemed fine. We were getting to know each other, and then…well, then you called.”
“Me?” Aldo winced, remembering her initial hesitancy on the phone. “Fuck, Sally, don’t tell me you sent him away because of something I said? I didn’t have to drag my ass over here tonight. If you were busy, you should have said so.”
Sally’s lips thinned. “Don’t you think I know that? And I didn’t send him away. I didn’t need to. He did that all on his own.”
“Did what?” Aldo swallowed another mouthful of coffee. This was making no sense, and he was starting to get irritated. “Why don’t you just tell me what happened?”
“I’m trying to, aren’t I?” Sally nestled a little closer, winding an arm around his waist. Her hair teased his neck when she shrugged. “And anyway, I dunno what happened. Everything was fine. I mean, I think it was. I felt ready, you know? I’ve known him for a little while now and tonight… It seemed like a good time for this. We were both on the same page: both attracted to each other, both interested in taking things a step further, but then…when we got back here and I…I couldn’t…”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Aldo’s arm tightened instinctively around her. He was startled by the blast of anger, by the raspy growl that emerged from his throat. “Are you saying some son of a bitch got ticked off and walked out on you because you wouldn’t sleep with him? Who is he? Tell me where to find him, and I’ll fucking kill him.”
“Aldo.” Sally turned her head to glint up at him. “Would you stop it? You would not.”
The words were matter-of-fact, but Aldo wasn’t certain if that was confidence he heard in her voice or a hint of challenge. Either way, it pissed him off. He arched one brow. “Oh no?”
“No. I know you. And I wouldn’t want you to anyway. That’s not what happened, okay? It just…it didn’t work out; that’s all. No harm, no foul.”
“You don’t even know what that means, do you?” He hated that plaintive tone in her voice. She sounded like a lost little girl when she used it. And she clearly didn’t know him anywhere near as well as she thought she did. He wasn’t always the nice guy she imagined him to be. Davis hadn’t been either, for that matter. He doubted anyone was. She was still too naive, too innocent. And he’d be damned if he was going to be the one to change that. She was the only good thing in his life. And their friendship was still the only relationship he had yet to fuck up. It was damn sure gonna stay that way if he had anything to say about it. Still it made him mad. “What the fuck is wrong with this guy?” he groused. “He couldn’t cut you some slack, give you a little time? Doesn’t he realize how much you’ve been through lately?”
Sally sighed. “Of course he doesn’t. How would he know?”
“You didn’t tell him? How come? I thought you said you’d known him for a while?”
“A few weeks—yeah. And of course I didn’t tell him. How would that go? What was I gonna say? ‘I know you think you want me, but what you don’t understand is that I’m a pathetic little widow who can’t figure out what she wants.’”
“Stop that. You’re not pathetic.”
“Oh, babe.” She shook her head. “I am, you know. I’m not blind. My life is running away without me, and I can’t seem to stop it and…half the time I don’t even care. I’m tired of fighting it, tired of feeling lost. If that’s not pathetic…”
“It hasn’t been that long,” Aldo pointed out a little desperately. “You have to give yourself time. Maybe you’re the one who needs to cut yourself some slack?”
Sally chuckled weakly. “So says the man who, just last week, told me—yet again—that it was time for me to move on.”
“Yeah, well…” He broke off, sighing. “Sometimes I don’t always think things through before I speak. You know that.”
“Or before you act.”
“Yeah. That too.” Davis had made the point frequently, had given Aldo hell on a regular basis for his hotheaded, impulsive ways. He’d always claimed Aldo would get himself killed one day if he didn’t change. And yet it was Davis who was gone too soon.
“I miss him.”
Aldo nodded, eyes closing for a moment as a wave of pain crashed over him. “I know, honey. I do too.”