He looks good in blood, I'll give him that.
I don't like the son of a bitch--might even be safe to say I hate him--but he can pull off battle wounds like nobody's business. He smiles, and I notice he still has all of his teeth, and they're all still straight and perfect. His teeth are like his super power, I think--no matter what happens to him, his teeth look fantastic.
"Don't call me babe," I tell him. "You look like shit, by the way."
His smile widens. "Do I?"
"Buy you a drink?"
"No. You're in the middle of a bar fight."
He glances over his shoulder, at the chaos behind him, and shrugs. "There's bar fights here all the time--doesn't keep 'em from serving drinks. Doesn't keep me from ordering them."
"I'm not fucking you."
"I'm not offering. I just asked if you wanted a drink. Casey, can I get two Buds?"
"Sure thing, darlin'!"
"I said I didn't want anything."
He wipes the blood from his lip with the back of his wrist. "Which is why I didn't order you anything. Come on, let's grab some air."
He walks by the bar, grabs his two beers, and leads the way outside. I follow him, cursing myself for being an idiot.
The noise of the bar fades as the door closes, and is replaced by the noise of passing traffic on the highway. He spits blood onto the sidewalk, and pulls his white t-shirt over his head. I see a bruise already forming on his back, and my maternal instinct kicks in. I want to make sure he's okay, I want to look him over and fix him up. Stupid. Girly.
Harden the fuck up, Brandy.
We haven't dated in years. Almost five of them. We fuck sometimes. I wish I could say that he's my booty call, but the truth of the matter is, he's usually the one who calls. I used to call him, but I got sick of hearing his voice mail message. And never getting my calls returned.
But tonight is different. I'm staying sober, I'm staying smart. I initially told him to piss off, but he begged me to come out. As close as he gets to begging, anyway, which was to say please, it's important. I know that doesn't seem like begging, but trust me--if you knew him, you'd understand.
And I do know him, whether he wants me to or not. In case you're wondering, he doesn't. Doesn't want me to know him, doesn't want anyone to know him. He used to tell me he planned on dying alone in a gutter, and for awhile, I thought he was just being melodramatic; the cynical loner who needed to be warmed with care. I found out, though. He isn't ever melodramatic, just filled with hate. For himself and for everyone else, too.
Maybe "filled" isn't the right word. That implies that there's nothing else. He had a lot of else. He could be sweet, he could be loving. He could make you feel like the most important person in the world, he could show you what it was to be the sun, everything rotating around you. But he focused on the negative.
We dated for three years, he cheated on me for two of them, I hated him for most of them. He really is a rotten human being.
But so am I.
I maybe loved him. I maybe still do. It gets so confusing. It always has been.
When I used to think about it, I thought maybe I stayed with him because I hated myself. He was my punishment, he was what I deserved.
I try not to think about it anymore, and when I do, I try to erase the thoughts with a couple glasses of wine, or maybe a straight shot of gin, if I'm feeling crazy. Sometimes that helps me forget. Sometimes it makes the thinking worse. Sometimes I call him, and I listen to his voice mail, and I leave him a message asking him why he has to be so awful.
He has his shirt off, did I mention that?
He pulls a crumpled pack of cigarettes out of the front pocket of his jeans and lights one. It's bent-ass and dumb looking, but he makes it work. He could always pull off the self-destruction look.
"Thanks for coming," he says, and I want to make a flirty joke about how I haven't cum in weeks. Instead, I yawn.
"You said you needed to talk," I tell him. "So talk."
He laughs, and the tiny shadows under his muscles dance seductively. My mind tries to fill with memories of touching those muscles, running my hands along each individual dip and rise. I tell my mind to shut up, and I think of all the times he hurt me, accidentally and on purpose.
"You sure you don't want a drink?"
"Okay, then." He takes a deep drag of his cigarette. He touches the side of his beautiful lip, the spot that's leaking blood. He looks at the red on his finger and laughs. It's a short laugh, not about being happy or being excited, or any of the other thing laughs are supposed to be associated with. "I'm dying."
"Yeah, we all are," I tell him. It's not like he'd joke about something important like dying, but he might say something like that to get a rise. I'm not falling for it. "We're all dying. That's the point of life, isn't that what you used to say?"
He chuckles and takes a drag of his cigarette. "Never knew you were paying attention."
"I wasn't, really, but you're like a commercial with your bullshit: no matter how hard I try to ignore it, it will eventually seep into my brain."
"Me and Billy Mays."
"He's got more charm."
"Of course he does--he's Billy fuckin' Mays."
"Why did you call me, Chris?"
"Walk with me to my car."
"I told you--I'm not fucking you."
"Shut up and walk with me. I'm not trying to fuck you."
I'm somewhat taken aback by this. That's what he does, is try to fuck me. And I try not to give in. Sometimes he wins, sometimes I do. But he has changed the rules tonight, and I realize I'm a little worried.
I follow him to his car. He doesn't go to the driver's side like I expect, doesn't begin trying to coerce me into the passenger seat, or the back seat. Just opens the side door and fishes a folder out of the glove compartment.
"Here," he says, handing it to me. One of those big-ass mailing envelopes, not brown and not yellow and not orange, but a mixture of all three. It's very official-looking, like something that shouldn't have ever been in his car. This is the kind of envelope that he should be making fun of, that's the thought that goes through my mind as he pushes it into my hands. It's a serious bundle, and he mocks stuff like that.
"This your asshole manifesto?"
"Pretty much," he says, smiling that smile that makes me want to lick his neck and work my way down. It's a rewarding smile, like I've proven myself, like I've done something right. He's a dick, but I've always looked for his approval. Most people who know him, they're the same way.
He's so hard to impress, that's the thing. So when you make him smile, when you make him laugh, it's like getting a gold star, it's like a blue ribbon, a trophy. Even if you tell yourself you don't give a shit what he thinks about you.
He flicks his cigarette out into the parking lot. Someone in the darkness yells, "Hey watch it asshole!"
"Go screw," he mutters. Then he turns to me, focuses on me, and I feel that thing in my stomach, that thing he always does when I'm the only one he's thinking about.
"That's my thing. My will or whatever. My house, you need to watch out about taxes. You sell it, you'll make more than enough to cover them. But I know you--you'll fuck around and then when it's time to pay, you'll be fucked. I wish I would have had time to do this right, but such as life. Car, fuckin' stocks, all that boring shit, it's yours. Don't be stupid about it."
"Chris. What the hell is going on here?"
"I'll need the car for another couple weeks, but it'll be in the garage when...well, whenever. The death stuff, the burial shit or whatever, it's all taken care of, you won't have to mess with that. Might have to take an afternoon to deal with lawyer shit, I don't know. I tried to make i-"
"Chris!" I scream at him, and I don't mean to, but I need him to shut up. "I need you to shut up!"
He smiles at me, shakes his head just a little, like I'm being silly. Like it's silly to freak out when someone tells you they're dying and then tries to give you all of their stuff. In the parking lot of a bar. He takes out another cigarette, lights it up, and the flame shows me the seriousness in his eyes.
"Calm down," he says. "Geez."
"This some kind of sick joke? 'Cause that's not really your style."
"No, that's not my style, and no it's not a joke."
"You're not dying, asshole--look at you. You're as healthy as a horse."
He laughs. "Yep. A dying horse, though. It's...it's bad, Mae."
Mae. He's the only one who has ever called me that. Middle name, and as much as I told him not to use it, he continued on. Deep down, I like it, but I'd never tell him that.
"What is it?"
He chuckles out cigarette smoke into the night air. "I'm not gonna tell you, babe. You'd just start trying to find ways to fix it; go online and find shit I should try, drugs I could take, experimental treatments. And I wouldn't do it, and you'd get mad, and no. No. That's not how I'm gonna go out. It's bad, that's all you need to know. Fast and hard, and I'll be gone in a couple months, tops."
"Did you at least check around? I mean, a second opinion or something?"
"Yeah, you know I did." And the thing is, I did know he did, because I know him, and this wouldn't be happening unless it was a done deal. He'd be sure before he took this step, before he talked to me about it. Because there's no way he would let this be a false alarm.
I'm on him before I realize I've moved, pressed against him, my face pushing into his bare chest, my tears dripping onto the muscles I've tried so hard to ignore all night. His hand is there, in that familiar spot, on the back of my head, as he tells me hush, hush, it's alright, it's okay. He strokes my hair as he tells me to hush, as he tells me to calm down, as he tells me it's okay. I can't control myself: my thoughts or my emotions or my stupid fucking tears.
I keep thinking about all the times we've had together, all the nights and all the fights and all the make-ups and break-ups, and all the moments that we'd never be able to have again. I feel the empty in my stomach as my heart tries to imagine what it will be like to never be able to see him again.
And then I'm kissing him, his chest so salty, from his blood and my tears, and God knows what all else. And he's telling me to be easy, but he's not stopping me.
"Love you, I love you, I love you," it's a mumbled chant, and apparently coming out of my mouth as I cry and kiss.
"I know, babe, I know you do." That's what he mutters while he kisses me back, as the hold on the back of my head changes from gentle to lustful.
"Be easy, Mae, be easy, you don't want to get into something right now, you've said."
"Shut up and get in the car."
"You said you weren't going to fuck me."
"Then I guess you better fuck me. Get in the car."
The ride to his place is a short one, and I kiss his neck as he drives. His cheek, the side of his forehead. Whatever I can reach, really. I feel drunk or high or...something. Not in control of myself, really. Like I'm in a dream, like nothing matters.
Into his house, I'm fumbling with his belt before he has a chance to put his keys down. I shove him against the wall, my hand sliding up and down on the bulge in his pants, his ragged breathing is like music.
He's mine; right now, he's mine. And if he's mine, I can protect him. I take him in the hall, twice, then move him to the bedroom before he can collapse, and work him hard again with my mouth. Slower this time, but just as possessive.
I wake up alone. The sun shines in through the window, onto the white sheets, blue comforter. Even though we fucked all night, his room still looks like it came straight out of an interior design magazine. It looks like a happy scene, like a fresh start to a brand new day, where anything is possible.
It's too awful for me to deal with, so I climb out of bed and make my way to the bathroom. I don't see his message until I'm already on the toilet, peeing. He wrote it on the glass shower door, in dry-erase marker, using all the colors, because that's just the kind of thing he would do, you know?
"I always loved you, I just wasn't very good at it."
It's very festive, with all the color, but that just makes my heart break a little more.
I know he isn't coming back, but I stay at his place. Saturday, Sunday, and I even call in sick to work on Monday, just in case.
The next time I see him is at his funeral, but that doesn't count. It's not him, just a stupid dead copy. What made him was his lust, his passion. For booze or for women or for life. The shell doesn't have that. He still has great teeth, though.
I lean over his body, and a tear drips down onto his suit, and I want to tell him that I love him and that I will miss him. But that would make him laugh at me, or look at me in that way, like I was being silly.
So instead, I wipe my tears away, and I say, "Thanks. You know, for the house and the car and stuff. You're still an asshole."
I leave before any more tears can escape.
Posted under Short Stories on 3/14/11