“You sure this is what you wanted?” asked Annie, handing off the bucket and a crude stirring stick.
“Perfect,” Paul said. “You’re pretty certain it’ll work in this solution?”
“I tested it myself. Once it’s dry, it’ll work just fine. What I don’t know is how well it’ll stick.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, this isn’t paint. It’s maybe ten times as dense. It’s more materials than medium. And you’re talking about applying it on a smooth, vertical surface. For all I know, this could just slide right off long before it dries.”
“Hm.” Paul puzzled for a moment. “What if we used very light coats? Lots of them?”
Annie thought, then said, “…Maybe? A thin coat should be okay; not too thin or there won’t be enough for a reaction. But you’ll be out in the open; you won’t have time to go over it again and again like that.”
“True… I’ll figure it out; it’s all right.”
“You can’t get caught, Paul. The girls need you.”
“I’ll be fine; try not to worry. Oh! Hey, I ran into your old boyfriend earlier.”
Annie looked confused. When the realization hit, her face was pure terror. “No… No! What did you tell him?”
Paul soothed, “Not a thing. Promise.”
She didn’t seem convinced. “Don’t you fucking dare tell him anything about me. Far as he needs to know, I’m dead.”
Annie turned away, trembling. Paul cocked his head. “Annie, did he hurt you? You never mentioned.”
“Ha!” she spat, and her face turned briefly to a grin. “As if. He wouldn’t hurt a fly unless it attacked him. Or the girls.”
“Does he know about the girls?”
“No, and he can’t know. Ever,” she said harshly.
“Would he be a danger to them?” Paul asked, trying to understand.
“Not himself. Not ever. I know that.”
“Then what– ”
“Danger follows him, okay?” Annie shot back, eyes level with his, and struggling to hold back tears. Paul nodded silently and let it go, backing away a little. She breathed deeply and said, “he was good to me. Sweet. Patient. He tried to help me.”
Paul just nodded, thinking it better to listen than to talk just now.
“But I always knew what would happen if anything went wrong. Someone even looked at me funny, and– ,” she cut herself off with a sharp snap of her fingers.
“So you left. Did you tell him that was the reason?”
“I didn’t tell him a fucking thing,” she said.
“Not even goodbye?”
Annie’s lip trembled. She was losing the fight. A sob escaped her.
“I’m sorry Annie, I’m so sorry,” Paul said, feeling the pain himself. “I had no idea; I should never have brought him up.”
Annie silently waved him off as the dam broke. Paul didn’t know what to do; should he leave her alone? Should he be here for her? He ached to just give her a hug, but his gut told him she didn’t like being touched by men. At all. Better stick to that.
“Should I go?” he said. Annie stopped crying but stood silent and motionless. Paul nodded and stepped towards the door.
“I’ll let you know how it works,” he said, exiting. Though there’d be no need, he knew. If it worked, he couldn’t contain the news if he wanted to. And he did not want to.