A persistent gush reached Dale first. The smack of the stream against porcelain blended with the drone between his ears, the din centering at the base of his skull. He tried to rub the source, to soothe the bray, but something pinned his right arm. When he attempted with the left, he felt a similar roadblock.
Squinting through lids crusted from sleep or, he suspected dried tears, he discovered light from beneath a doorway. The faint glow illuminated checkered bathroom tiles, the encircling duct tape trapping his wrists to the arms of Jane’s living room chair, and his chest bared from a now vanished tee shirt. He lifted his drooped head cautiously, noting the pasty flesh of his legs emerging from his plaid boxers, jeans nowhere in sight, and the waterfall jetting from the sink’s faucet.
“What the hell?”
A set of familiar toothbrushes, pump bottle of cucumber-melon soap, doused lavender candle, deodorants, his razor, and row of vitamin bottles lining the basin looked at him and replied to his mumble with innocent naiveté.
Glaring at them all Dale tried to stand but again duct tape, this time at his ankles, kept him seated. The chair legs thumped on the mossy bathmat and, when he rocked back, crinkled the matching shower curtain.
The faucet’s spewing muffled his bellow as well as the shuffling steps beyond the door where the sea-green towel from his morning shower dangled on a silver rack beside Jane’s. Murmurs permeated the wall, echoing from where he remembered a corridor stretched to the front door, past Jane’s bedroom, her tiny living room, and cramped kitchen. The footsteps neared and then stopped on the other side of the door where a round of muted talking continued. After a stomp, of a foot Dale imagined, one pair of strides faded into the distance. He cleared the lump in his throat and tried again.
The door cracked open, the hallway light shading a round face.
“Shhhh.” She held a finger to her lips and slipped through. Crouching like a frightened mouse, she left the door ajar, allowing the slide of drawers and cupboards out in the other rooms to rebound upon the tiles, porcelain, and mirror.
Dale tipped forward as much as the tape allowed. “What’s going on?”
Jane waved him quiet. “You have to hush okay?”
“I’m taped to a chair.”
“I know, I’m sorry. It’s Wendy and Vince.”
“What’s your sister got to do with this? No, first help me out.” Dale wobbled in the chair but Jane grabbed hold of the legs and kept him still.
“They want the ticket.”
The earlier part of the evening crashed into his mind as he imagined the baseball bat Jane kept in her front closet had bashed into his skull. He’d claimed the remote for a momentary flip of the channel at 7:58 to hear the pinball numbers before they’d headed out for the one and, Jane had promised, only double date. Each digit slammed home and after he’d realized he’d won the argument had begun, the out of town duo demanding the winning stub meeting his strident denial.
Dale gripped the armrests. “They’re not going to get my ticket.”
“They will if you tell me where it is.” Jane stroked a bang out of his face. “Then this will be over.”
“Bull.” Jane flinched but Dale surged onward. “I’m not going to let them get away with this.”
“It’s just money.”
“And it’s mine.” Dale shook his head but stopped when it made him dizzy. Straining against the restraints proved futile and he slumped beneath their imprisonment, staring glumly at Jane. “I can’t believe you’re siding with them on this.”
“I’m not siding with anyone. I just didn’t want….” Her lower lip quivered.
“Didn’t want what?”
“Vince hit you. I mean, really smacked you.” Jane sniffed and dabbed the heel of her hand at her eyes. “And then I screamed and they were all, “What are you going to do about it?” and I was afraid. He’s so big and the bat had your blood.” Shivering, she hunched into a self-embrace. “I’m so sorry, Dale. I thought they were going to hurt me too.”
“And so you helped them strip me and tape me to a chair?”
“It was better than the alternative.”
“What? Cement and a quick dip in the lake?”
She avoided his glower in the mat’s fuzz. “More like the trunk of their car.”
“Jesus Jane. How did you get us into this?”
“She’s my sister.”
“She’s a thief, a criminal.”
Jane’s voice softened beneath the faucet’s flow. “I thought she’d changed.”
“Does this seem like change?”
When she looked up, red rimmed her wide eyes, desperation beaming underneath. “Please, Dale, tell me where the ticket is and I promise they won’t hurt you. They’ll just take the money and leave.”
“And if I don’t?”
After a swallow, her timbre steadied. “Do what they say and they’ll be gone.”
“I never gave into bullies, Jane. I’m not about to now.”
The stiffness in her body melted as she rose and exited the bathroom. Dale stared at the door closing behind her. Over the facet’s ambient stream, Wendy’s voice chafed by cigarettes peaked into a heated tone.
“He won’t say.”
Jane remained quieter than her sister but Dale was more surprised by the threading of steel in her statement. The subsequent slap, however, stoked his rage. He rallied against the tape as the strike reduced Jane to a wordless whimper.
“Forget her.” Vince’s gravelly bass rumbled down the hall and strained from something heavy. “Help me move this.”
“Clean yourself up,” said Wendy, her stomping stride fading away once more.
The bathroom door opened again and Jane snuck back inside, a hand covering her cheek and the left side of her mouth
She nodded quickly, then snagged the towel from the rod by the sink and soaked its corner. Leaning toward the mirror, she dabbed the dark patch of blood bubbling from a split in her lip and a scrape from a fingernail crossing her cheek.
“You don’t have to let them push you around,” whispered Dale.
“Says the man taped to a chair.”
“They snuck up behind me. I didn’t have a chance to fight back. You do.”
She glared at him in the mirror’s reflection, bloodied cloth held against her face. “What am I supposed to do Dale? Take Vince and Wendy on by myself?”
“Get me out of here.”
She slowly turned. Her glanced traversed his wrists, then his ankles, and Dale held her gaze when it returned to his face.
“Yes you can.” Without losing his lock on her eyes, Dale waggled his fingers. “There’s got to be something you can use to cut this in here.”
“I’ve got a manicure set.” Jane gripped the towel, pink drops staining the tiles. “It has scissors.”
“Perfect. Get it out.”
“No buts Jane. Are you going to let your sister walk over you all your life? Are you going to let them walk over me?”
She bit her lip, then winced and pressed tentative fingers to the bloody crack. “I don’t want to but—”
“Then don’t.” Dale strained forward, hoping his proximity might help drive his verbal wedge into the glimmer of Jane’s emerging self-confidence. “All you have to do is cut this tape. I’ll take care of the rest.”
“What are you going to do to them?”
“Nothing,” said Dale, “I can’t take them on any more than you can. We’re both too smart for that. I’m going to get us out of here and let the police handle the rest.”
Jane glanced at the door when a thump shook the floor. Without shifting her eyes, she lowered her hand to the second handle in the vanity cabinet and inched the drawer open. By touch alone, she extracted a leather manicure kit and pulled back the zipper.
Dale’s heart began thumping when she squatted by his arm, a tiny pair of scissors in her hand, and started slicing duct tape.
“They’re going to know it was me,” she whispered.
“It won’t matter.” Dale twitched his wrist free, his fingers tingling with renewed feeling. “They’ll be in jail.”
“Jail.” Jane froze halfway through the next binding. “My sister in jail…again?”
“She slapped you. Had her boyfriend club me. She’s probably robbing you as we speak. Any kind of person willing to trash your place deserves to be in jail.”
Her gaze flicked back to his. “Our place.”
“Is it?” The duct tape at his ankles prevented an instinctual squirm, but Dale couldn’t tell if it was to hug Jane tight or flee the commitment those two words implied. “I hadn’t really thought about it that way.”
Dale settled into the idea as she finished at his second wrist and sensation returned to his fingertips. “Then let’s not lose it so easily.”
A hint of her smile reappeared and Jane went to task on the rest of his adhesive bondage.
Dale massaged his wrists and scrunched his toes before standing. He clasped Jane’s hand, her bird-like fingers quivering.
“Straight for the front door, okay?”
She bit her bruised lip, seemed to gain some strength from what had to sting, and nodded.
Dale braced himself with the thought of his phone and wallet with his winning ticket safely tucked into the glove compartment of his car waiting out by the sidewalk. A smirk at his forethought bolstered his resolve and with Jane in hand, he bolted toward a freedom more priceless than the fortune yet to come.