February 7th, 2016
I showed up outside Becky’s second-floor apartment.
If I had told her I was coming, she would have told me not to.
The look on her face when she opened the door told me as much. But I knew that already.
“I’m sorry,” was the first thing I said. “I had to.”
So let me revisit the point that I don’t want to share people’s names. She isn’t named “Rebecca”, or “Becky” or “Becca” but the person who signed into the computer lab before me is, so… that name will have to do.
Rebecca… I don’t know how beautiful she is. In terms of the academic signs of beauty people look for, she might not go very far. I wasn’t always attracted to her. She was a bit broad for me. At first, anyway. But you’ve never seen such a smile, eyes that reflect and take in at once. I’ve had flesh torn from my body, but I’ve never known the pain of her indifference. It’s strange, almost an absent look, but it hurt so badly.
Standing there, her face a bit puffy and her hair back in a scrunchie, my insides began to drop. I stopped speaking because I could hear my voice trembling as the words bounced in my head.
“Come in,” she said, wandering into her studio, looking about, disoriented.
Her front door opened into the kitchen, a narrow passage between her oven and the sink. I hadn’t been there since the day I moved her in. The day I got my DUI, actually. “Am I interrupting?”
“No,” she said, changing direction and heading to her phone. “Let me just cancel something.”
From the kitchen I watched her text, stopping momentarily, her eyes widening. She brushed a few strands of hair from her face, let out a bluster of air and finished the text. “I’m sorry,” she said dropping the phone on to the mattress. “How are you?”
“I’m fine,” I said coldly watching. She took wide steps the short distance across her living area, her eyes fixed on the carpet.
“Can I get you something to drink?” she asked sitting down on the couch. I couldn’t help but wonder who else had been sitting there since I disassembled and reassembled that couch. I remembered her kissing me as I struggled outside the front door with a makeshift-screwdriver, trying to make sure it would fit through that awkward door. “You’re my hero,” she’d said to me.
And I believed that kind of stuff then.
“Have a seat,” she said. She’d left enough room for me.
I sat on the floor.
“I’ve spent a lot of time… lately, just sort of not expecting the next moment to come. Ever since Rob–”
“I’m sorry,” she blurted in.
“No, that’s fine. It’s not your fault. Maybe it wasn’t even his. But the point is, since that happened, since all that Eat A. Dick stuff, I never really expect to live out the day. I turned myself in at one point, not long after those people burned my place down. I was depressed, I figured there was nothing left for me in the world, so I may as well give myself up. I went to the pharmaceutical company…”
Her lips were smashing together, her eyebrows wrenching upwards.
“It’s not important what happened. But they were going to kill me. And I got away. But since then I have just been waiting. And I don’t know what for. Because there’s only one thing in the world I want. I just don’t feel like I can have it.”
Her fingers clenched her running shorts in her fist.
Maybe it was too much, too quickly.
“Can I make you dinner?” I asked.
“What?” she exclaimed, releasing her grip on her shorts.
“Let me make you dinner. We can have that drink,” I said to her.
Her brow loosened and her lips pulled into a weak facsimile of that smile that used to warm me so much. “Okay,” she said.
It was good to be close to her again. It was good to feel her hands against mine as she handed me ingredients. We stood in the kitchen smiling about all the things happening in our lives, all the things that weren’t worth smiling about save for the fact that they gave us a reason to talk to one another again.
“I think I’m moving in a few months,” she said.
“Really? Where? Are you moving in with – I mean, are you getting a roommate?”
She looked at me in the corner of her eye. “I may transfer up to San Francisco.”
“That’s far,” I said to her. “I guess I thought you were going to say you were moving closer to the beach.”
“I am, actually. There’s a place I can go month-to-month until I move. You should come by and visit me,” she said, pouring olive oil into the boiling water. I tried to respond and just couldn’t, instead shaking some salt into my palm. Rubbing my hands together, I spread the salt around the pot. She shook her head, “I’ve never understood why you do that.”
“I don’t know, either,” I admitted. “My dad used to do that whenever he was adding salt to something. I thought it was dumb then and then one day… I was just standing in the kitchen with a pretty girl and she said she never understood why I do it. It never occurred to me that I actually do it before then. Or now.”
“It’s good to know some things don’t change.” She pulled a couple more beers out of the fridge. Since that night with Trevor, I don’t drink anything someone hands me. But I can never say “no” to blue eyes.
Her phone was buzzing in the next room. “Excuse me,” she said, brushing me with her shoulder as she walked out of the kitchen.
I stood there, wiping the extra salt from my hands onto to her floor. When I noticed how clean it was, I grabbed the broom from beside the refrigerator and swept the grains under the oven before she came back in. “Almost ready?” she asked, placing her phone face down on her dining table.
We sat there, knees occasionally finding their way to one another while we delighted in the mediocre pasta dish we’d thrown together. After two beers I thought it would be harder to keep myself from saying everything I had said to her in the car after my chess game last night. I had rehearsed everything I would say, everything I could say, rather than sleeping in the backseat last night.
But I didn’t. Being there was enough, I thought.
The phone began to buzz again. Rebecca looked over at the oven for the time. “Oh, I forgot my mom was supposed to call tonight. Do you mind if I take this?” I nodded and she picked up the phone. I never got to meet her mother, the matronly saint of the Midwest. Rebecca passed on the ‘hello’ I awkwardly waved and excused herself from their conversation. “I’m so sorry,” she set the phone back down. “How’s your dad, by the way?”
“He’s fine,” I said, covering my mouth with my napkin. Glancing over at the phone, face up now, the screen had shifted to half-light. Still, I could see a notification from a contact named “JESSE <3”. It read “Be there in 3 min. Keep him th…” I wiped my mouth and took a drink, wiping my hands on my lap.
She noticed my change. Then she grabbed her phone to see the message for herself.
After reading it, she seemed to just stare, cornered. “I’m sorry,” she said as I stood from the table.
“Does he have a key?” I asked. I’d parked the Bronco two blocks away.
“They’re expecting the door to be unlocked.” It was too far to expect I wouldn’t stumble upon this guy looking for me.
“How many?” I asked, moving her oven out a foot closer to the door. “It doesn’t matter,” I realized.
“What are you doing?” I drew closed the blinds above the sink.
Grabbing her broom, I leaned it against the fridge. “I’m sorry,” I told her as I snapped the wood with my foot just above the bristles. “I’m about to fuck up your kitchen.”
For a minute I stood there, until I wondered if there hadn’t been enough time to make for the Bronco.
Looking back on it, it’s clear now I didn’t want to try to make for the car. I’m tired of telling you about how I ran away from people looking to exploit me.
Securing my grip near the broken base of the broom, spreading my knees to secure my stance, I gave my right arm a bit of a rotation.
It hurt. At least I didn’t have the gunshot wound was healing.
Through the blinds above the sink, I saw three, maybe four figures cross to the front door. Then nothing. They were probably doing some pep talk. Or a countdown.
I looked back at her, “I only came because…” It didn’t matter. The words didn’t come. My throat was empty. She looked away and the door flew open.
The door flew open and hit the oven, smacking a dark-haired gentleman in the head as he tried to charge. I assume this was Jesse.
Grabbing him with my left and pulling him onto my right shoulder, I yanked him into the doorway until it pinned his arms to his sides. Holding a fistful of his hair, I started pummeling him with broomstick.
Facing Jesse, with his face in the sink, I could see two guys beyond the door I drove the blue-painted wood down repeatedly.
I saw none of him. Even now, there’s a hole in memory, like I could see right through him to the sink, as though we wasn’t even there at all.
But there was blood spraying, I could see that, but not mine this time.
That was all that really registered with me. Not mine this time.
Rebecca came up and grabbed me by my bad shoulder. Throwing my weight back, I knocked her to the ground.
One of Jesse’s friends tried to shatter the window with his boot, sending broken pieces of glass against the blinds, raining down on Jesse. With a simple thrust, I sent the broom through the blinds, through what was left of the window and into the neck of the idiot trying to kick it in.
I kicked the oven against the wall.
Jesse’s weight pushed the door open, his body fell to the ground.
Over the body, between me and my escape, the third man stood. There was an unsteady switchblade in his right hand.
I went to lunge but felt a pull at the base of my shirt.
Rebecca was trying to hold me in place. I spun out of it, my shirt getting pulled over me, like a child in a wrestling match. For a moment I stood there, bare-chested, the third man staring at the scar tissue where my nipple used to be, blood spattered across my face.
He dropped the knife. He was never going to use it.
I hit him anyway. I’m tired of being threatened.
I hit him and I hit him, across his head, against his neck, into his knees. I wanted to cause pain. I not only wanted him to not get up any time soon, I wanted this moment to live inside of him, every time he looked to hear someone call his time, every time he stepped into a hug.
I wanted him to never forget he’d held a knife on me, even for a second.
When I was done with him, when he was flat on the ground like a pile of laundry, I turned to the smart-ass who tried to kick in the window. He was on his hands and knees trying to catch his breath.
The rounded end of the broom must have hit his wind-pipe.
I punted his collar bone, hoping to see him fly to the end of the second floor walkway.
When that didn’t happen, I just kept kicking him until he was on his back.
As I left, Rebecca was on her feet. She didn’t try to stop me, hurt me, even swear me.
I avoided eye contact. The last memory I had of her was good enough for me.
My car wasn’t as far as I remembered. Apparently she’d told them what I drive.
They’d broken in the window, set fire to the cabin. With my jeans and soles of my shoes, I did my best to smother out the flames. But the cabin still smelled so badly it gave me a headache, and the backseat was only bit of foam and springs as I tried to sleep.