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Twenty Years Ago

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His fridge was empty again, why was that? When he'd been with Stella the fridge always seemed to be fully stocked, how was it that he couldn't achieve the same feat? Maybe it was just because he didn't want to, couldn't see the point of anything without Stella.

Stella. It hurt to think about her and yet every other thought was about her, go figure. They had so much history between them, how was he ever supposed to get over her? He still wasn't entirely sure as to why their marriage had fallen apart. He'd got lost somewhere between the ‘I do’ at the church and the screaming at the lawyers' office. Not that Stella had done much screaming, she never did, she never had to. He would have done anything to make her happy, all she had to do was ask. So why wasn't it enough? She hadn't stopped loving him. She'd told him that on the courthouse steps and torn his heart in two.

Automatically he reached out for a beer. Alcohol, it was the only thing that deadened the pain and when Stella had thrown him out that last time he had spent all night drinking. In some dive of a bar where the only thing to recommend it was that as long as you had money they'd serve you, no matter how drunk you were.

Trouble was, drinking to dull the pain was starting to become a habit and people were beginning to notice, his lieutenant in particular. How many mornings now had he stumbled in late and hung-over? Too many to count, he almost smiled at the thought, but it wasn't funny. Do this too many times, he'd been warned, and you'll be suspended. He couldn't let that happen. Without Stella the job was all he had left and yeah, it stank, but it was his. Sometimes he could even convince himself that he was actually okay at it, but take that away and what would he have left exactly?

Ugh! Ray suddenly realised that he'd drunk half the beer without even noticing, not good. What was the point of life anyway? Most people, he realised with a shudder, are born, live and die and no one even notices. Pointless little lives, and I'm just one more.

"I'm just one more." Jeez, had he said that aloud? Maybe he should get a cat, at least then he could kid himself he wasn't actually talking to himself, wasn't actually going insane without Stella. What sort of cat would he get? A pedigree, or perhaps he'd just pick up the scrawniest moggy he could find at the animal shelter. Yeah, if he was gonna have a cat it'd have to be scrawny and kinda sad looking, there was no way he'd be able to bear being around anything or anyone too cheerful at the moment.

It might be a good thing, a pet that is, perhaps not a cat, something easier to look after, something that wouldn’t mind when he came home late. Give him something else to think about, something else to concentrate on.

This morning he'd been in the middle of shaving when he'd stopped to look at his razor blade, wondering exactly how sharp it was. Ray shook the thought off, it wasn't healthy and certainly wouldn't get him anywhere other than locked up in a loony bin, but despite that he couldn't let go of the thought entirely. In a strange way it was comforting to know that he could turn his back on life as easily as he did on his fellow cops when they were hassling him. That just reminded him of the terrible day he'd had and he grabbed another bottle of beer out of the fridge, drinking down a quarter of the contents before he'd even made it out of the kitchen.

He sat down, sprawled out in his favourite chair. Stella had always hated it, tried to throw it out several times. It was too quiet in his apartment, all the music he owned reminded him of Stella, kissing Stella, dancing with Stella, making love to Stella... so many memories.

Ray closed his eyes, fighting back the tears, and then the telephone rang out in the stillness of the room. His heart leapt. Stella, please let it be her! He knew it wouldn't be even as he simultaneously prayed it would be, and so he let the answer machine pick up the call.

"Stanley?" His heart sank into his boots, it was his mother. "Stanley? Son if you're there pick up." He ignored the plea in his mother's voice, didn't want to talk to her, didn't want to talk to anyone unless they were Stella. "Well when you get this message call me." The machine fell into silence and Ray reached across to hit the message erase button.

He closed his eyes again. It had been a tough day. For some reason Jackson, the biggest jerk in his district, had decided to spend all day winding Ray up and he had succeeded pretty well too. Ray had been about ready to punch him in the head when a small sliver of sanity had prevailed and instead he'd stormed out. The lieutenant he knew would have a thing or two to say about it later but it was that or starting a brawl in the middle of the squad room. Normally he wouldn't have thought twice before jumping in with both fists but it would cause too much trouble, trouble he didn't need. So he'd run out, ignoring the mocking calls that had followed him and jumped into his car, foot rammed down on the gas pedal as though all hell's demons were after him.

Twenty minutes later the car was spluttering to a halt, the gas tank empty. Dammit! He'd intended to fill it up on the way home and now what was he going to do? Groaning, hardly able to believe his bad luck, he swung the door open and climbed out. Just his luck to end up in a part of the city he didn't know. He needed to find a gas station. Ray put his head down, stuck his hands in his pockets and started walking.

"Hey, you!" He heard the shout and realised that he'd wandered into a shadowy back alley. Clever, Kowalski, he berated himself, real clever.

"Talkin' to me?" He turned round slowly, one hand reaching for his weapon.

"Hands up!" Both of the huge men approaching him had guns, and both were trained on his heart.

"I'm a police officer," he called out as they continued their cautious approach, hoping this might discourage them, it didn't.

"That don't mean nothing to us." The men were by his side now, frisking him with expert hands. They took his gun, his cellphone, his badge, what little cash he had on him and his car keys, much good they might do them.

"Down on your knees!" The command startled Ray, he'd thought all they wanted to do was mug him. "Hands behind your head."

Ray did exactly as he was told, any minute could be his last and as he knelt down in the garbage-strewn alley his mouth sketched a single word, "Stella." He closed his eyes.

A gunshot rang out and then Ray realised he wasn't dead, he cautiously cracked open one eye and then the other. The two goons were lying some way from him and stooping down over them was a man, his face lost in the shadows. He looked up at Ray but he didn't come any closer.

"I suggest you call for back-up and take these two into custody." Then he was gone and Ray had hauled himself shakily to his feet.

Ray shook himself back into the present and finished his beer. The hands on the clock were creeping round so slowly, it was just gone ten. Nevertheless he dragged himself up, time to go to bed. Anything was better than staring at the wall. Besides if he went to sleep he'd dream about Stella and for a few hours at least it would be as though the divorce had never happened. But his last thought before he fell asleep wasn't of Stella but of the man he'd seen in that alley, there had been shadows across his face but there was just something about him... Ray drifted off to sleep.

In his dream he was back in that alley, there were no unconscious goons there this time, just himself and the stranger.

"Who are you?" It was queer, everything was so intense it was like he was actually back in that alley again but he was at the same time fully aware that it was all a dream.

"That's not important," the voice was as cool and calming as he remembered. "What is important is that you're all right."

"Thanks to you."

"You needed help." The stranger replied simply but the subtle curling of those sensual lips showed that the gratitude was appreciated.

"Thanks," Ray muttered again, taking a step closer to the man, then another and another, but even standing so close to the stranger that he could feel the man's breath on his face, the features were still shrouded in shadows.

Awkwardly he waited and then a soft pair of lips brushed against his own. Had he started dreaming about Stella? No, he could feel the scrape of stubble against his face and the scent that he inhaled was definitely masculine. There were hands in his hair and when the next kiss descended on his lips it came complete with tongue.

Sweating, his groin aching with desire, Ray sat up in bed. He could still feel the stranger's lips lingering on his own even though they had never actually been there. Ray lay back down again, inhaling, exhaling, he controlled his breathing, and stared sightless into the dark wondering if he would ever see the stranger again.