Two weeks later, Morgan was itching to get back to her apartment.
"Are you sure you should?" Shane asked.
"I'll be fine," said Morgan. "You've been terrific, but it's been close to a month. I want to be back in my place, with my stuff."
"That didn't answer the question," Shane observed. "I can't help it, I'm worried a bit. You still get headaches sometimes."
"Everybody does," she grumbled.
"And you're a little irritable," he continued, "which I know is just a symptom so I don't take it personally."
"That's good, and I'm sorry, and it's just another reason I should go. I should get out of your way."
"Out of my way? Morgan, you're not in my way."
It was odd. They weren't exactly living together, but it felt like they were doing more than just sharing the same space. It had been easy to adjust to having Morgan around, and he liked knowing he'd see her after work. He liked just knowing that she was in the house.
"You're not working on your house," she countered, "and I know you miss it."
"I'm not in a hurry," he said. "The work will be there whenever I get to it."
"I know, but that's not what I mean." Morgan took a minute. "I don't know if you realize it, but you like to work on your house. It's how you vent, how you work off your stress. And you haven't been doing it while I'm here because you're afraid the noise will bother me. I appreciate that, but I think it's getting to you."
"No, it's not," he said, but wondered if it was true. He had felt a bit more stressed than usual.
"You don't even play your video games," she said. "Again, I appreciate it because I'm avoiding screens, but it's just another imposition on your routine."
"I don't mind."
"I know, and thank you, but it's not the point. I am so grateful that you let me stay here, but I think we both need some time on our own. You need your house to yourself so you can do things without worrying how they affect me." She gave him a wry grin. "I know how exhausting it is to take care of someone else. I helped my mom after her surgery, and that felt like a lot sometimes, even though I had Dad, Jenna and Brianna."
"But I—" Shane was stumped. Morgan had good points. As much as he liked having her around, the idea of being alone in the house was appealing. Doing what he wanted, when he wanted, without worrying about it affecting anyone else.
He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Okay. I get what you're saying. But I have to be honest. I don't like you going back to your place when you've been doxxed, and you still have post-concussion symptoms. I can't help it, I worry about you."
"I know, and I appreciate it." She smiled. "But this is an unusual situation, stressful for both of us. I honestly think it will be good for us. I wouldn't want to ruin anything between us because of too much pressure at the wrong spot.
She had a point, he reflected. The more time he spent with her, the more attached he knew he was getting, and that made him nervous. She was right, too, that he'd been feeling irritable himself with not being able to work on the house or play his games. Why did she have to be so perceptive?
"All right," he said. "But can we set some rules maybe? Some compromises? Like maybe I could stay over sometimes? I just don't like the idea of you being alone."
"You aren't the only one." Morgan sighed. "My parents wanted me to stay with them, but it's a little too far from everything for me. So Jen and Brianna are going to take turns staying with me, and maybe even my mom. How's that?"
Shane felt relieved. "That works." He smiled. "As long as I get the occasional visit."
"That would be nice." She took his hand. "It's not that I don't want to see you. I just need to be on my own a bit."
"I understand." He did, although the whole thing didn't sit well with him.
Later that day, he took Morgan back to her apartment. Jenna met them, fussed over Morgan for a minute, and gave him a grateful hug for taking care of Morgan when she walked him back to his car.
"Thank you so much," Jenna told him. "Mom and Dad were so relieved when she stayed with you. Once I explained what doxxing was, they were really worried, even thought about taking her to a hotel."
Shane let out a low whistle. "I hadn't thought about doing anything like that. Maybe I should have."
"I know, it's so crazy." Jenna ran a hand through her hair. "I keep thinking of things we could have done, or maybe should have done, but I guess it doesn't matter at this point."
"Are you okay with this?" Shane asked her. "You can call me anytime if you or Morgan need anything."
"I'm good," said Jenna. "Really. We've installed some security in the apartment—Casey did in hers too—and it's been a month. I think things have calmed down. We'll see how it goes tonight. If we're uncomfortable, we'll figure out something else."
"All right. Sounds like a plan." Shane nodded.
He went home after stopping for some groceries, and could only think how weird it was to be alone in the house. He had a hard time sleeping as well. Even though Morgan hadn't been there that long, and her concussion had prevented much in the way of physical contact, he'd gotten used to her being next to him. Alone, in the dark, his mind started to wander.
Had Morgan wanted to leave because she was tired of him? Bored with him? Was this the beginning of the end of their relationship? Was he on the other side of a breakup that he usually initiated?
Shane tried to put the thoughts out of his mind but only managed restless, fitful sleep. He felt the effects of it the next day at work, where even a steady flow of coffee only did so much to help. The numbers on the screen in front of him started to blur late in the afternoon.
"Hey. Shane, you there?"
He blinked and looked up at Evan. "What? Yeah. Sorry. Just zoned out for a minute. Didn't sleep great last night."
"Yeah, yeah." Shane shook his head. "Just finishing up."
"Grab me when you're done. Got time before you head home? Is Morgan still at your place?" Evan asked.
"She's at her place, which makes me nervous, but I'll check in later. Anyway, yeah, I have some time. Nothing going tonight."
"Cool. Let's grab a coffee or a beer or something."
They went to a diner not far from the office and opted for coffee since they were both driving.
"So, are we set for the game?" Evan asked after they had their drinks.
"Yeah, I think so." Shane nodded. "We'll all meet at your place, and then we can carpool. We can flip coins for designated drivers if we need to."
"Great. I'm glad we're still going. I think we all need it." Evan sipped his coffee, then added some more creamer.
"I think so," Shane agreed. "I'm looking forward to it. Did the women ever decide what to do?"
"Not yet. They're looking for something to do that's closer, maybe a spa retreat or something. Brianna's waiting for Morgan to feel up to it."
"That's really nice of her," Shane said. "I guess she has changed."
"I don't know if she's changed exactly," said Evan, "but she is trying to handle things differently. She's even agreed to counseling. She realized when she accused Morgan of jealousy, she was the one who was jealous, and said she doesn't want to think like that anymore."
"That's great she saw that on her own," said Shane. "Morgan is comfortable in her own skin, I think. I'm a little envious of that myself sometimes."
"You make a good couple," Evan said. "I think she's good for you." He grinned slyly. "Want to rethink getting married in Fiji?"
"What? No. No." Shane shook his head. "What is it with everyone talking to me about marriage?"
"Come on, man, I was kidding. Who's 'everyone?'"
"There's you, Chloe said something last time I talked to her, even Morgan brought it up."
Evan snickered. "Did she propose?"
"Funny." Shane scowled. "No. She was telling me how Casey and her girlfriend are planning on getting married and having a baby."
"Hey, that's great," said Evan. "But you don't seem happy."
"Happy? I'm happy for Casey and Astrid. It's not about being happy."
"Then I'm lost." Evan refilled his coffee. "If Morgan told you about someone else getting married, I don't see why that's a problem."
Shane played with a sugar packet. "She asked me if I ever thought about getting married. I tried not say, 'Fuck, no!' because I know that would have been overreacting." He sighed. "She was half asleep at that point, and I know she wasn't pressuring me or anything. I can't help it. The idea of getting married freaks me out."
"Does she want to get married?" Evan asked. "I mean, in general. Not necessarily to you. No need to freak out."
"I don't know," Shane said. "She said she'd thought about it, but didn't obsess over it, and just wondered what I thought."
"Well, maybe she doesn't, or doesn't care," Evan said. "You should ask her about it."
"I guess." Shane knew he should, and knew he didn't want to, because if Morgan did want to get married, he wasn't sure what he'd do.
It had barely been twenty-four hours since she'd gone back to her own apartment, and he already felt like he was missing a big part of his life, of himself. That thought shook him a little. What if in order to keep her as a part of his life, he had to marry her?
Morgan studied the new tattoo on her forearm. "Nice work, Irene," she said.
"Thanks. Now, hold still for me." Irene held up her phone and snapped a picture. "Okay, done. Let me get the lotion."
"Sure." Morgan nodded. She studied the newly-inked owl. Most people would think she just like wise old animals, but as with most of her tattoos, there was a deeper reason.
The attack at her book signing, which she remembered more clearly six weeks on, had put her and Casey through a mix of emotions. Fear and anger had topped the list, and although they'd receded a bit, they hadn't disappeared. Morgan had decided to deal with it as she sometimes did, finding a symbol and getting a tattoo of it.
This time, she'd opted for an owl as a symbol of Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom and battle, with her own twist. In one talon, the gold and brown owl held a spear, and in the other, a pen. Morgan wanted something to remind her of her own creativity. She planned on adding another tattoo, something representing healing and strength, but hadn't decided on what that would be.
"So, how are you feeling?" asked Irene. Irene ran Morgan's favorite tattoo parlor, Inkspire, with her husband, Phil. Irene was a comics fan herself, and had been to The Neutral Zone a number of times, so the women had become friends. Irene hadn't been there the day of the signing, but had read about it and sent positive thoughts as well as chocolate-chip muffins.
"I'm okay," said Morgan. "The concussion symptoms are fading, and it's nice to be able to watch a little TV now and again." She'd been feeling restless the last few days, and not herself. Getting a new tat was her second step in trying to feel more normal; the first had been coloring her hair with some chalks that morning.
"Don't know why, there's nothing good on," Irene said.
Morgan laughed. "I know, that's why I said 'a little.' Hold on, before you cover it up. Jen, what do you think?"
"I like it." Jenna nodded. "It's cool." She'd come with Morgan, who still didn't feel comfortable driving after her head injury.
"You want one, hon?" asked Irene as she covered Morgan's tattoo with gauze. "You look like a butterfly type to me."
"Want to, Jen? I'll treat," Morgan teased.
"Not today," said Jenna, "and that's mostly because I don't have time." She checked her phone. "I need to be at work soon. Do you want me to take you home or to the store?"
"The store," said Morgan. "I'm so tired of being at home. I need to start working again."
"Not too much at once," Jenna cautioned.
"I know, I know," said Morgan. She got up from the chair and didn't fight Jenna's help. "I'm really not trying to rush things, but it's been six weeks and I need to start moving and trying to get back to normal."
"I don't want to pile on, but she's right, you should take it easy," said Irene as she walked them out. "Work will still be there."
"I know. Thanks again, Irene."
"Sure. Anytime, kiddo." She waved as Morgan and Jenna left.
"You sure you want to go to work?" Jenna asked.
"Yes. I'm feeling fine, and I promise to sit down a lot, okay?" Morgan snapped and then sighed. "Sorry, Jen."
"It's okay. I don't mean to nag," said Jenna. "We just worry."
"And I appreciate it but I just can't take it. Mom and Dad worry, Shane worries, even Casey fusses at me."
"I bet she curses a lot while she does it," said Jenna with a laugh. "But seriously, Morgan, that was a scary day. It's shaken us all up, and I guess we're still working through it."
"I know, and you have no idea how much it pisses me off that these assholes have done this to us." Morgan stared out the window, her hands fisted on her lap.
"Shane worries about you, hm?" Jenna said. "That can't be all bad."
"It has its advantages," Morgan allowed with a smile.
"Why don't you just go back and stay with him?" Jenna asked. "That way at least you have company, and I don't think he'd mind."
"I—I liked staying with him, but I'm not sure it would have worked too much longer," Morgan said. "He was getting a little, I don't know, edgy or something with me being there. Shane likes his own space, maybe even more than I do. That's why he bought that big house."
She hated to think that Shane didn't like to have her around, and he'd never said anything to make her think it. Yet there were times when he seemed aggravated. It was also hard to tease out what the problems were, when she knew she was still suffering effects from the concussion, physical and mental.
Jenna tapped her shoulder. "You okay?"
"Yeah, yeah. Thanks. Sorry, didn't mean to ignore you."
"It's okay. If I was dating someone like Shane, I'd get all dreamy too." Jenna fluttered her eyelashes after parking the car.
"I wish you were dating someone too. Then people could bug you instead of me," Morgan said.
"That'd be nice, but I don't know where I'd fit someone in," said Jenna. "Plus I don't exactly meet a lot of eligible guys in my line of work." She sighed. "Not that they'd probably be clamoring to go out with a hair stylist anyway."
"Hey, stop that," said Morgan. "There is nothing wrong with being a hair stylist. You like it, and you're good at it. That's more than a lot of people can say about their jobs."
"You're right. I just don't feel like I measure up sometimes."
"You measure up fine," Morgan said, then trailed off, staring at the front of her store.
Plywood covered the entire storefront. They'd replaced the one pane of glass that had been broken the first time, but all of the glass had had to go after this second attack. Casey and the others had painted the wood and covered it with posters and flyers, but looking at it roiled Morgan's emotions.
"Come on, let's go inside," said Jenna, putting an arm around Morgan's shoulder.
"What are you doing here?" Casey hurried over as they came in.
"Last I checked, I worked here," said Morgan. "Hi, Casey."
"Should you be here? I mean, is it too much—"
"Casey, I'm fine, really," Morgan assured her. "I just wanted to come in for a while. I feel bad that you've been handling so much."
"Yeah, but—your head—and—oh, fuck it." Casey hugged Morgan. "Hi. I'm so glad to see you. I've missed you." She stepped back and gently mussed Morgan's hair. "You've got color again. Good for you."
"I'm glad to see you, too." Josh came around the counter. "How are you?"
"I'm okay. Better than I was. Trying to take it slow, but that gets old after a while." Morgan shrugged. "How was your trip?"
"A lot less exciting than what happened here," said Josh. "For which I am appropriately grateful, and also feel guilty. But the trip was great. Weather was terrific, scenery was fantastic. I don't want to bore you with pictures, but I have some to show you if you want."
"I'd love to see them," said Morgan, "but I'm still limiting my screen time in a big way. Maybe in a week or so."
"Sure." He nodded. "Casey, is it okay if I take my break? I'm going to get some coffee. Anybody else want some?"
"I'll take the biggest one they have," said Casey.
"Morgan? You want anything?"
"No, thanks, Josh. I'm good for now."
"I'm going to go, too, Morgan," Jenna said. "I'd say let me know if you need a ride later but I'm not sure I'll be available."
"Don't worry. I can always get an Uber or something."
"Or I can take her home," said Casey. "Take it easy, Jenna."
"Okay, bye, guys." Jenna gave Morgan a final hug and left.
"You're not going to ask Shane for a ride home?" Casey asked after Josh went for the coffees.
"I could, I guess," said Morgan. "I'm just trying to give him a break is all."
"He needs a break? From you?" Casey narrowed her eyes. "What's going on?"
"Nothing, nothing, I swear." Morgan shook her head. "I'm just trying to give him some space."
"Did he ask for space?"
"Not in so many words, no."
"Then what are you fucking doing? Reading his mind?" Casey's profanity was welcome; if she was back to that, she was treating Morgan normally again.
"Not his mind, but you know, hints and body language and stuff." Morgan explained how she'd noticed changes in his behavior while she'd stayed with him. "He's used to being by himself and it wasn't like he asked me to live with him. He let me stay because of my concussion and because we'd been doxxed. That's not the best basis for living with someone."
"True, I'll give you that." Casey nodded, grudgingly.
"Case, honestly, we're fine. I don't think it's a big deal. We haven't even been dating that long, so me not living with him after, like, three or four months is not a sign of anything."
"All right." She sighed. "Sorry, I'm just frazzled and I seem to look for problems everywhere."
"Do you need to?" Morgan leaned on the counter. "How are we doing? Are there problems? You can tell me, Casey."
"We're okay," said Casey. "I mean, let's face it, what happened means we're taking a hit, even with insurance. That's twice on that window in less than six months."
"Yeah, I figured something like that." Morgan nodded.
Josh came in with the coffees, and went back to the breakroom to finish his. Casey took hers and paused for a moment to savor the smell before drinking.
"Overall, we're okay," said Casey. "I changed my mind, though; I think we should give some serious thought to suing the guys who did this. Astrid said someone at her clinic could help, or help us find a lawyer. I don't mean sue for millions, although I'd love to see their fucking faces if we did. But just for costs of replacing the window, our medical costs, things like that."
"It's a thought," said Morgan. "Let me talk to my dad, okay? I'm not against it, at all, but we should be sure of what we're getting into."
"I just want—" Casey swallowed. "Fuck, Morgan, I want them to goddamn pay for this. I can't help it. I wish I could take the high road, but after what they did to you, and me, and our friends, and our place, I just don't have it in me."
"I don't blame you, and I don't either," said Morgan. "I've been so fucking mad, Casey." Her throat tightened. "I have been so angry, about what they did to the store, to me, and I just—" Morgan wiped at her eyes. "Sometimes I just don't know what to do. Shane helps, but I feel guilty being so angry all the time. It's part of why I went back to my own place. He has his own problems, and I don't want mine to add to his."
"You know when you're with someone, you're supposed to share the burden, right?" Casey said, but gently.
"Yeah, but it's been so crazy." Morgan took a deep breath. "I'm just getting to where I can focus again, so Shane and I haven't had a chance to talk. He's been swamped at work, and I don't know the details but I know there's something up with his family. Anyway." Morgan shook her head. "So, what's the status of everything?"