Three months later, as Carson strolled back towards his police station, he could sense that something was wrong.
The building, even before he reached the heavy, weathered front door, somehow felt emptier. Even before he laid his hand on the handle, he felt like it was colder than usual, like the absence of life within meant that less heat was spreading out into the building itself.
Her departure had been surprisingly orderly, he saw.
There was no mess, no wild disarray of belongings scattered across the desks in the room. The furniture was still all in its normal places, the chairs pushed in at the desks, the papers all in neat stacks. Even in her last hours, California had kept things tidy.
The only detail out of place was the wide open door to the jail cell. Inside the cell, the bed was made up, the sheets neatly tucked beneath the thin mattress and the pillow carefully placed at the head of the bed.
Aside from the sterile bed, the cell was completely empty.
The sight was jarring – it wasn’t how Carson had left it, just a couple hours earlier, when he went out to do his patrol rounds. When he had left the station, there had been a nice braided rug down on top of the cell’s concrete floor. Posters had been stuck up to the concrete walls, along with a pair of hand-made flowery curtains. A knitted throw blanket, with intricate stitching that left Carson speechless at its complexity, had been spread across the bed.
All of that was now gone.
But more importantly, the cell was empty. In fact, so was the entire station. The female presence, the girl that Carson had come to think of as an almost permanent structure in his life, was absent.
“California?” Carson called out as he stepped inside, even though he doubted he would get any answer. He used the nickname he’d grown fond of, not using the girl’s real name.
But sure enough, there was no answer. Carson made his way over to his desk and sank down into the chair, one hand coming up to cushion his head. He tried to think about what had just happened, just hoping to figure out how he felt.
He’d always known that California wouldn’t stick around forever. Like a small bird, she had hesitantly emerged from her shell, especially as she came to realize that no one was coming for her, no one posting bail to get her out of this cell. She was stuck there, and Carson was her only contact.
At first, she had been dismissive, contemptuous towards him. But slowly, she had opened up, until he finally felt comfortable letting her out. She was still a captive bird, but she could be free to move around her cage.
And then, last night, as he got ready to leave, she had asked him to stay.
The night had been wild, amazing, almost otherworldly. Whenever he closed his eyes, Carson still felt the hot brush of her bare skin against him. He could still hear her faint moans breathed into his ear as he shifted and moved on top of her, pressing down to squeeze her between his body and the cell’s thin mattress. He vividly remembered how she had given one last, fulfilled cry as she arched her back on top of him, squeezing down on him inside of her as they both finished together.
When Carson had opened his eyes that morning, he had found her curled up against him, her body tucked up against him and pressing against his chest, his crotch, her legs slid in between his. She had shifted a little as he rose and dressed himself, turning to give him a glimpse of her naked torso. The sight nearly tempted him back to bed, but his duty called him away. He spread the blanket back over her and, with a smile, left the station.
That had been his last sight of her.
Carson thought of putting out a call, of filling out a report. But what could he say? She was technically free to go, and he had no real claim on her. He could go chasing after her, but he didn’t even know which direction she had chosen.
Like a bird, California had flitted into his home, graced him with a taste of her presence, and then gone on her way.
For a long time, Carson just sat at his desk, breathing slowly, doing nothing.
And then, he slowly rose back up to his feet. He closed the door of the empty cell. And then, hat in hand, he headed down to the diner to get a cup of coffee.