Bedlam III: Manhood Like A Weapon


A continuation of Bedlam II: k-u-n-t

Stiff. Tight. Sore. Fingers digging. A dim ember glowing in her neck, expanding, shrinking. Subtle sting. Bold throb. Calm. She had slipped into slumber the night before, a lump discarded on the dirt floor of a rickety shed. Awakening, her senses were numb, thoughts diffusing like ripples of a disturbed puddle. Chasing the dragon never lingered into the next day like this black tar had.

Today everything between her chest and chin reminded her that she spent the night on the ground while everything in her head hid on the edges of her mind, everything but Alex.

She strolled into the empty school, overcome by dull waves of ache. Desolate hallways that didn’t seem to stretch far during hours of ongoing academia were never-ending.

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, The Lamb

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, left

Standing by her locker she gripped the knob on the lock and hesitated. 7. 6. 2.  Before twisting to the first number a voice in the distance crept over her shoulder, a tickle in her ear. Her first assumption? A teacher. Heavy murmurs, the sort that were meant only to be heard by the other half of the conversation. Easing toward the far-off words she noted the door, slightly opened, that had allowed the conversation to slink into the outside world.

“Was it something I did?”

A pause.

“Just tell me,” The man’s voice again.

“There’s nothing to tell…I just don’t want to anymore,” Was gentle, young.

“Saint, please, please don’t do this.”

“I have to go.”

“I give you money, I buy you gifts, and this is the treatment you show?”

“You’re no saint.”

“Yeah…well you’re no saint either.”

“Let, let go of me,” A ferocity to this voice as it grew stern, solid.

“You can’t do this to me. I won’t let you!”

The door sprung open and out popped a slender creature with freckles. Air stuck to her lungs and Mia gasped. Skittishly she stepped back, hands clumsily flopping onto her chest. In the same instance a man walked out revealing the source of that heavy voice she had been listening to. Their eyes met and the hard creases in his forehead and fury permeating from his beady brown eyes diminished.

“I, uh..yes, so, don’t worry about the assignment. You can hand it in tomorrow.”

Saint glanced over to the teacher, unamused, then back to the girl before him.

The man disappeared back into the classroom, a thud echoing through the halls when the door slammed. Thud. Cli-clack. Locked.

Swallowed and digested by a shared awkwardness, the two tossed hollow words into their sea of silence simultaneously.

“I’ve seen you–”

“I was on my–”

“–I’m sorry, go…”

“Way to my locker…I need my walkman.”

“You like Madonna?”

Her nod was reluctant and Saint read the skepticism building behind her expression.

“…I heard you listening to her in the hallway yesterday…on your walkman.”

 That’s where I saw him she thought.

“I know your face.”

No answer from him. Just those little, bright eyes fused into Mia. Light brown with rings of green and specks of gray gleamed with undeniable innocence. But something about his demeanor was distant. Only a few feet away, he seemed absent. She was having trouble figuring out whether he was one of those people who was genuinely unaware of all of the fucked up things going on in the world or one who simply mastered the guise.

“You wear those weird cat ears.”

“Lion.”

“What?”

“They’re lion ears.”

The muscles in her face moved around, adjusted, and the gesticulation it gave was one of question.

“Where in the hell do you get those?”

“Part of a costume…Halloween. My dad bought them for me.”

“But why do you wear lion ears?”

“…Narasimha.”

“What? No, I don’t know Spanish.”

“It’s…it isn’t Spanish. It’s a name in Hindi.”

“Well I don’t speak that either. Who the fuck is Narashmata?”

Narasimha. In Hinduism…he’s an avatar. Half man-half lion. He is the protector.”

Her face lit a bit. Hinduism? A religion or something, that people on the other side of the world practiced. Mia had heard of it and seen a few images in a book or two. Blue animal looking things with two heads and sixteen arms. Maybe he was from somewhere across the globe.

“Weird shit, Red. Weird-fucking-shit. Are you from over there or something?”

He shook his head.

“What are you?”

“I’m a person.”

For the smallest moment her eyes squinted and the thought of shoving him crossed her mind. I’m a person initially registered as some slick tongued remark, but when she realized his genuine amiability, the sincerity, she caught herself.

“Well where are your lion ears now?”

“I had to put them in my bag…Mrs. Henderson made me during fifth period.”

She looked him up and down, from the much too big denim jacket to the immaculate looking shoes he wore.

“Fuck that dusty, old cunt. Put your ears on.”

Gray clouds wafted through the kitchen, offensive to Saint’s lungs. Hand firmly over mouth he followed Mia who led him further inside. Peering at dishes that clamored the sink, countertops like a necropolis for cutlery, half eaten meals, and baby paraphernalia; bottles, soiled bibs, rolled up diapers, and the like.

From the way she carried herself he had never guessed this to be the sort of environment she called home, but keeping judgements to a minimum he came to a stop as she stood blocking the entrance to another room. Extending his neck, over her shoulder he noticed the clouds at their thickest in the living room, where four round-bellied women sat, sinking into slouched cushions and sucking soggy cigarette butts.

Their chatter trailed like the squawks of big-breasted birds, daytime television overshadowed by their cutting caws, the actresses dialogue of mediocrity serving as nothing more than background noise.

“I told Judy, but she ain’t wanna listen.”

“Mhmmm, and now her daughter’s knocked up by ’em.”

“Oh, I don’t knowwhat I’d do if my Abigail ever came home talkin’ ’bout I’m pregnant by a nigger.”

Bwokkk

 Bur-bur-bwokkk

Is what it sounded like.

“I’m sure you’d just die!”

“Not before I killed her!”

The biggest bird had finally laid her egg and the clucking was at full force as the laughter erupted.

Saint could see that in the arms of one of the chickens was an infant and a sinking feeling dug into the pit of him. Ashes drifted from above the helpless creature and nestled onto its forehead.

“Could you get the baby?” He whispered.

“What?”

“The baby,” he made a small gesture then pointed “Right there. Could you get it?”

Mia rolled her eyes as she fanned the fumes from in front of her. Like a storm she tore into the room, her hair gliding behind her, reminding Saint of a cape, the kind superheroes would wear.

“Gimme’ the baby, Daphne.”

“Girl, what?” Her sister looked up at her, a bit startled “Where’d you come from?”

With no resistance she relinquished her newborn before adjusting her breasts and taking a deep drag.

“Hey Mia,” one of the women projected before taking a swig from the beer can she clutched.

She gave a dry smile and a weak “Hey” before turning away and heading back to the doorway Saint hid in.

“She filled out somethin’ nice, that girl did.”

“I was just thinking! Her ole’ itty bitty waistline.”

“No, girls, don’t go gassing her head up. I’ve seen prettier. She already thinks too highly of herself.” Daphne’s voice followed as Mia headed up the stairs, Saint close behind.

“Hey! Mia, who’re you bringing into my house!?”

Thud!

Mia’s bedroom was much bigger than his and as he stood in the middle of it his vision drifted. Loud. Screaming. Everywhere. Blue and white striped wallpaper resembling prison bars. Toys decorated the floor the same way the stains on the carpet did. A crayon colored rainbow trailing the walls that were filled with the torn pages of coloring books, scribbled over relentlessly.

“Wh-who’s that?”

In the far corner of the room, a little boy, his squinty eyes glazed over.

“That’s my nephew.”

“You’re an aunt?”

She shrugged “I guess. That fat one downstairs– well, they’re all fat. The one that was holding this baby, that’s my sister. She’s a lot older than me.”

“Oh…what’s wrong with him?”

Saint continued staring. He knew it was considered rude, his mother used to scold him about it, but as he got older he decided since everyone stared at him, he deserved the same right.

Something about the roundness of his jaw and the deep slant of his eyes seemed peculiar. He had never seen anyone with an aesthetic remotely similar to this boy’s.

“He’s a retard.”

The boy giggled, smacked stained hands onto the width of his forehead.

“You foun’ me!” He exclaimed “I was, I was hidin’!”

“…How old is he?” Saint looked him over, no shirt, soiled pants, and dirt smudged bare feet “Did he…did he go to school today?”

“He’s like, five or six,” With little concern she placed the baby down at the foot of one of the two twin sized beds in the room “And probably not. She doesn’t send him to school a lot on account of she doesn’t think he’s a retard but the school puts him in special classes. She doesn’t like that.”

A soft exhale. Dainty hands grasped at nothingness and Saint stepped close to the infant. Eyes closed, mouth gaping, the most gentle of yawns drifted into the air. He lifted this delicate creature into a flesh-made cradle, gently blowing the ashes away before kissing its forehead.

“You like babies or something?”

He nodded, entranced by the innocence he held “I love babies…they’re untainted.”

“Well, if she starts crying, you’re gonna have to deal with her since you wanted her upstairs.”

The little boy in the corner popped up off of the floor and jumped onto the unkempt bed across the room, rolling around in peach-colored, stained sheets, like gangrene on fair flesh.

The bed they stood near was neatly made, pillows tucked tightly beneath a lavender comforter whose stitching was becoming unraveled on the edges. Throwing herself atop it, she bounced a bit before settling and looked up at Saint. A smirk spread over her face.

“Take off that big jacket, stay awhile.”

“Is there somewhere to hang it?”

“Just toss it anywhere.”

The denim dropped to the floor, inside out, and on the label inside she could make out a capital G, a B, what she believed to be an L, and an N. Her assumption quickly became fact.

“So, Red, how do you know Mr. Giblin?”

The warmth behind his eyes fled in that instant and his lips tightened as he glanced towards a small shelf filled with mostly doll parts.

“…My math teacher.”

“He’s your math teacher?”

A nod.

“Why were you at school so late? Getting extra help or something?” She prodded further.

“…Yes.”

Sitting up, she leaned back on her elbows, her breasts propped up under her chin like perfectly round balloons lodged beneath her shirt. Something about her uncanny beauty and brusque demeanor entranced and frightened Saint. Being drawn to her as she swayed and sang quietly to herself against the backdrop of mustard-colored lockers the day before, he felt the need to know her. He wanted her so badly to like him, to care for him, and something small and painful within ate away at his soul for lying.

“You’re really pretty for a boy.”

Excitement pervaded his spirit.

“Really?”

“Yeah. I thought you were a girl at first.”

Unsure of a response, he let his smile sit comfortably.

“So, what are you? Like, I thought you were white at first, but then like…you’re kinda tan and your lips are kind of round. You’re too tall to be a beaner and you don’t look like a–”

“I’m mixed,” His response ended her ongoing questioning “My mom’s black, my dad’s white.”

She raised her head “Oh. Your dad’s into black girls?”

“I guess.”

“I know a couple white girls back where I used to live liked black guys. They say they’ve got big dicks and are good at fucking. Never heard of a white guy into that, though. Is your mom pretty?”

He shrugged.

“Do you look like her?”

“No…not really. Not at all. I look like my dad.”

“And your dad’s the one that gave you those ears, right?”

That face, the one his replicated, danced through his thoughts. The thoughts that led him to the decision that this weekend he’d go. After tomorrow, he’d go to his father and start all over. Be reborn. No more lies about his mother. No more sex for money; sex at all. He’d pray for forgiveness, cry for the cleansing of his spirit until his vision faded if he had to. His father, he’d be thrilled to have his son once again. Saint could see it all as vividly as he could see Mia, or the baby he clutched.

“Are you a queer?”

Stumbling over her question, elation was fleeting. Nerves twisting, beads of sweat. He pretended to be completely focused on the baby, yet it proved futile as Mia repeated the inquiry. He remained still, imagining himself to be translucent.

“That boy you were talking to at the market. Do you know him?” She rolled onto her side, flipping hair over her shoulder, watching every expression crossing that delicate face, “Is he a queer?”

That boy from the market. He was the same boy in the hallways. The same boy that tried following him home twice before; asked to come inside. Saint was quite familiar with his presence but despite this he remained a complete stranger.

Sometimes he’d be polite, even thoughtful. That day at the market, when the downpour raged, he offered Saint a ride home. Another instance was when he walked into the cafeteria on one of those irradiated meat days and tossed him a burger from Lloyd’s Diner. Other times he was downright unpleasant.

To his relief Saint rarely saw him at school, but when he did, he was pushing him in the hallways when no one was watching. He spray painted FAGGIT on his locker; he just knew he did. He’d corner him in the boy’s restroom. Mutter profane and vulgar lines towards him, smirking and winking like this made it alright. Saint was clueless as to what any of this meant.

He had no clear understanding of him. It was difficult to decipher whether he liked or hated Saint. He just knew that his gut told him to keep away. Far away.

Again, Saint answered her with the up, down motion of his shoulders.

“You don’t know him? Or you don’t know if he’s queer?”

“I…I don’t know him.”

“Oh,” She fell onto her back and looked at the ceiling, recollecting the frame and build of the brute “He didn’t… look queer.”

“…How do you know if you’re queer?”

“You like boys?”

“No. I like being around girls more.”

She chuckled “No, I mean. You look at boys and think about how their skin feels? What their lips taste like?”

Did he? Images of boys were far and few in his mind. He didn’t even like the way Giblin felt on top of him. His kissing was violent and wet, and he used his manhood like a weapon.

“…Not really. I don’t think I like sex.”

“All boys like sex.” She said matter-of-factly as she arose and walked to the only dresser in the bedroom, the dingy white paint chipped off around the loosening wooden handles.

The boy who had been sprawled across his bed was now following her and clung to her thighs tightly, brimming with enthusiasm.

“J, Jude! Get the hell off of me!” She exclaimed, mashing her opened hand against his face.

He gripped tighter.

“I missed you, Mia. I missed you! Can I have a hug?”

A throaty sigh and she was back at trying to separate herself from him.

“I’m looking for something, Jude, now let go!”

“I’ll give you a hug, Jude.” Saint said quietly as with every bit of care he placed the baby down on her back in the middle of the bed.

In the peripheral of his vision he could see Mia, a clear glass bottle pressed to her lips, head titled back.

Blue eyes bloomed big and the boy hesitated, cautiously releasing the legs he held captive. Like a timid fawn he crept towards Saint who dropped to his knees and spread his arms wide. Suddenly, trotting giddily towards him he collided into the stranger and hugged him heartily.

Regaining his posture Saint held the boy close and laughed.

“I missed you!”

“I missed you,” Saint responded.

“Jude, go away!” Mia tore the two apart and gave a shove to Jude “Get on the bed,” she directed Saint.

The mattress was worn and gave a painful squeak. She lay an array of make-up brushes, bronzer, concealers, pencils, and the like next to him. A bit disillusioned, his brows burrowed over as she sat next to the make-up and turned his face towards her.

“You’re wearing make-up?”

“No, just some mascara. My lashes belong to a fucking dwarf, they’re so short.”

Relieved, he let his shoulders relax. He examined the natural appeal of her face while Mia did the same to his.

“You have the most amazing bone structure. I fucking hate you.”

“…Sorry?”

“Pfft, no you’re not,” She took her hand from his jaw and started fingering through her options “I’m going to put some make-up on you, okay?”

Nod.

“You have a funny complexion…odd undertones, but I’m going to do my best.”

Still. She swished a brush tip in a beige-ish powder then a sort of tan powder. Bristles glided across his skin, smooth circles and soft sweeps. Sitting there he watched Jude precariously hover over a half made puzzle, his sticky fingers tracing the scattered image of some sort of furry, white creature.

“So…I was reading this magazine article about models in all of these big cities. Maybe you could be a model.”

“I…I don’t know.”

“Yeah. You could be, maybe, like…one of those really weird, different kinds. Like, a man and a woman at the same time. Like, androgyny.”

“You could be a model.”

“No, I’m not tall enough. I’m only 5’7″.”

“What do you want to be?”

Mia continued creating her masterpiece, bit her lip, wondered if she should share that secret for the first time.

“I’owno…what do you want to be?”

“Not sure. One day I’m going someplace better than here, though. Some day soon.”

“That…that sounds nice. Maybe I’ll go with you.”

Eyeliner etchings and mascara applications later and Mia stood back, observing the masterpiece she had crafted. The slick shine of oil across his forehead was no more, and his already defined cheekbones dipped sharply away from popping hazel eyes towards pouty bubblegum lips. If ever he had straddled a gender line he now fell onto one side.

Being forced into the bathroom down the hall he half expected to look like those old women who wore too much rouge and caked on dark blue eyeshadow. As his eyes met the gaze of his reflection a warmth rose from his stomach, filling him completely.

“Well?” She waited.

“I…I look so–”

“Gorgeous?”

Gorgeous. The young man he was used to seeing within the confines of a mirror was missing. He looked harder yet still, that familiar face was nowhere to be found. Instead there was a fascinating wonder that stirred fervor. Was this what it felt like? Was this sensation vanity? The feel of sin? He couldn’t avert his attention from this strange girl he had just met, living inside of the glass. Her smooth, freckle-less skin, enticing eyes. So much about her he had not seen in himself nor noticed of his face.

Mia pulled him back into the bedroom she shared and swayed him into slipping on a white and red polka-dotted, petticoat dress. Ruffles flared at the bottom and the strapless number accentuated Saint’s broad shoulders, the only feature aside from his flat chest that could expose what was between his legs.

 Flash. Vreeeeen.

 Woooom.

 Flash. Vreeeeen.

 Woooom.

“I’m loving it. Come here, we’ll take one together.”

 Flash. Vreeeeen.

 Woooom.

The door swung open.

The pictures were thrown onto the floor behind her.

“Mia, God damnit, don’t you hear me–” Startled, her sister paused, taken aback by the girl sitting on the edge of Mia’s bed “Oh, who’s this?”

“A friend.”

Red coils cascading. Cat-eyes looking through her. Skin that brought the taste of butterscotch to the taste buds.

“You need something, Daphne?”

“I…what’re you doing with the baby?”

“Mama!” Jude yelled as he hopped up, puzzle pieces sailing.

“Shush, boy! Shush!”

“I was watching her, but since you want to be so nosey, here.”

Mia handed the baby back off to Daphne who was struggling to keep her vision on anything but Saint.

“There’s a boy on the phone for you, downstairs.”

“Alright,” Mia hesitated “…Okay, bye!”

The door eased closed, Jude reached for the knob, Daphne hollered no, and it slammed shut.

“Sorry. She’s as annoying as she is wide. I’ll be right back.”

Mia pushed Jude to the side and made her way out, closing the door behind her.

The two looked at one another deeply. Into faces. Into eyes. Saint could not understand why they treated this boy so poorly. Why he remained rejected and ignored. He seemed genuine and gentle, untainted like the infant he wanted to protect so badly.

“You look like an angel!” Jude said loudly, merrily.

Mia returned.

“Sorry Saint, you gotta go. I’ve got somewhere to be.”

“Oh…alright.”

“Uhm, here write your number down on, um, here! Use the back of this photo,” She tossed one from the floor to him, along with an eyeliner pencil “Your name too.”

“O,okay. That’d be great.” His voice lit up.

“Alright, come on, come on,” She picked up his jeans and t-shirt and handed them to him, snatching the picture back, shoving it deep into the pockets of her denim skirt “I’ll walk you out. Jude! Stay put.”

“My ears.”

“They’re in your backpack.”

“B, but the make-up, and the dress, and people–”

“Fuck people, Saint. Fuck people. You look better than most of the girls in this hick town. You like the way you look in the dress and lipstick, right?”

Again, that nod.

“Then fuck ’em. Fuck those haggard bitches. Where do you live?”

“Down on Neptune Road.”

“Is that far?”

Solitary footsteps down a dirt road. The adrenaline rush went from scorching to tepid within the few minutes that had gone by and as he adjusted the straps of his book bag all he could keep thinking was how odd it must look for him to be wearing red tennis shoes with this dress.

Dresses were for women and girls or so he had been taught. Yet he didn’t feel out of place wearing one. It was as comfortable as a pair of denim jeans or khaki shorts and each time a breeze swept by and ruffled his hemline he felt enchanted and caught himself posing for imaginary cameras.

Mia thought he was pretty, gorgeous. Someone as bold, and exciting, and beautiful as she, actually complimented him, the alien. She didn’t even care that he liked to wear his lion ears.

Wrapped up in the sweetness of his fantasies about the two of them growing into more, sharing stories they hid from the vultures and crows of the outside world, he had been unaware of the jet black car bolting down the road in his direction.

Tumbling from the clouds consuming his head, full attention landed on this vehicle which sped by him then came to an abrupt stop, dust spraying, lifting. He paused. Slow was his turn as he looked back to the car stalling in the middle of the road. He could hear the dirt crunching beneath its wheels before he noticed it backing up and not completely sure why, Saint was flushed with fright. He tried to process his thoughts, use logic, but his body had no time for this and shaking with emotion, it ripped his feet from the spot which they stood and sent him bolting full force.

From the porch it didn’t look so terrifying. Creeping up the gravel driveway, the little stones chattered beneath rubber. 

 Crookah…Crookah…Crooookah.

Clenched throat. Wet palms. 

 Honk! Ho-honk!

Tinted window eased down, his white skin luminous amidst the twisted metal, the charcoal fabric.

The first step bent beneath her weight as it always had, but the moan it let out sent a jolt along her neck, through her skull, to the ends of each strand of hair on her head; lashes, eyebrows and the like.

Mia wasn’t completely sure why she called him that afternoon before heading to the school. She woke up with tingles in her lips; his square jaw and penetrating eyes lay the new foundation of her  recent reveries. Magnetic. Some strange pull dragging her thoughts and ideas back to their exchange of words the day prior.

Approaching as if at any moment the black beast would lunge, devouring her in a single pounce, his white teeth peeled pink lips open.

“Aww, don’t tell me you’re still scared of my hearse, are you?”

“No,” She spat “I’m not afraid of anything.”

He yanked his head back, nodding towards the passenger seat and she noticed a bruise beneath his left eye.

“Get in.”

The trailer would have been out of place had it not been for the others assorted in the distance. The surrounding clutter was vast and the big box-like homes looked like large decorative pieces among crushed beer cans, plastic bags filled with trash, empty food cartons, dilapidated chairs, and man-made fire pits.

 Pop-pop-pop-pop!

Twisting her neck to the left.

 Pop-pop-pop-pop!

Pressing her head into the headrest.

The driver’s side door eased open. Out stepped Alex who briefly stood still, observing the group of people lazing about in front of the trailer. Mia herself was now observing the bulge in his denim, more apparent at this angle.

He opened the passenger side door and she eased out of the dark confines into the open world. There in front of her was where the popping noise had come from. Two teenage boys, maybe a little older than her, stood over matted fur, detached limbs, and a blood-stained torso, BB guns in hand.

“Aye, Alex! Aye, guys it’s Alex.”

Sitting in a lawn chair was an older man, Mia guessed in his thirties, his arm up, hand opened.

The BB gun boys looked up from their mutilated project just as another boy stepped out from the trailer, covered from neck to toe, with a sunburnt face for all to see.

“Hey, Marty,” Alex responded, motioning for Mia to follow as he neared the group, “Hey guys.”

Scowl in place, Mia remained a few feet behind once Alex was united with these strangers. Almost instantly all of the attention was hers, though she didn’t desire it. Each of them raring to say something, all except the sunburnt boy who stood by the trailer. She put her hands into the front pockets of her cut-off, black denim skirt and with her index finger, stroked her pocket knife.

“Who’s this lovely creature?” BB-boy one asked, gap-toothed smile taking up half his face.

“Oh, this here is my new friend, Mia.” He stepped to the side, his arms theatrical as he lifted them to display her entirely.

“God damn,” the old man muttered “Best thing I seen in years.”

“Hey,” Alex said, voice heavy with bass, a warning in his eyes.

“I,I’m sorry, Alex…sorry.”

“Hi, Mia, it’s nice to meet’chu.” BB-boy two said.

Reluctantly she gave one big wave, awkwardly glancing away to the spindly looking trees surrounding the site.

Out of the trailer came two women, definitely older than Mia, maybe in their early twenties. Both barefoot, they sported fluorescent string-bikini tops and loose-fitting overall shorts whose straps kept slipping from their reddened shoulders; Each with a white lilly in their hair.

As they approached, Mia couldn’t help but notice the boy with sunburn and the look on his face, a face that focused intensely on Alex. It was one of contempt and hurt, his nostrils big as he slowly inhaled and exhaled. His lip was swollen as was the flesh above his right brow.

“Alex, Alex!” Hot Pink Bikini squealed, dashing to him, arms wide.

Her embrace was tight, eyes drawn over with thick, blue eyeliner, squinching freckled nose wiggling like an eager bunny. She pressed her mouth onto his and Mia couldn’t help but notice his lack of resistance.

His hands fell onto her hips before sliding into her back pockets. When he pulled them out, there was a small, black plastic bag in his right hand. He transferred this into his pocket.

“Thanks, sugar.”

“Welcome. I can get you som’or. Boy, I’ve missed you. Haven’t seen you in a dog’s age! Me and Molly was jus–”

Their eyes met. Mia could feel Neon Green Bikini’s vision searing into the side of her face, but she had no time for her. She was the side-kick, the beta-bitch, all attitude and no action. Mia wasn’t really sure of her intent, if she even wanted Alex, but she was sure as shit that this woman was not going to disrespect her. Her familiarity with these types was not brand new.

Mia could sense it, the way her irises slid up and down; sizing her up.

 I wish this back swamp Barbie would.

“Alex,” she put a hand on hip, “…Who’s that?”

“That’s my friend, Mia. She’s a cool chick.”

Again with the looking up and down.

“Hm…what’re you wearin’, girl?” She giggled, and so did the beta-bitch, as Mia had expected.

She looked down at her heels, the sheer knee-high stockings. The cut off skirt. Her form-fitting, long sleeved turtle-neck, clinging to her torso; all of the varying shades of black, and the fake gold bracelets and necklaces. Wrapped tightly around her waist was the blue denim jacket Saint had forgotten, in case it got colder later on.

“…This is just my look. I’m sorry,” she said gingerly “Alex didn’t tell me the dress code…had I known, I’d have worn something as tasteful as that get-up you’ve got on. Those overalls really bring out your eyes.”

Alex grinned.

“Ya’ll go grab the brews. Let’s get this fire goin’!” The old man hollered.

Crackling. The bon fire danced, devouring the popcorn bags, tree limbs, and old clothes used to make it. They all lounged about like lazy cats on Sunday afternoons or Tuesday mornings, both Bikini Tops passed out, leaning onto one another, BB-one hovering nearby with the carnivorous eye of a vulture patiently waiting to taste carrion.

Alex sat near the flames, Pink Bikini’s white lilly in hand. Mia watched his eyes flicker with the same intensity of the fire before her; he had been ripping petals from the flower and throwing them into the burning yellow, orange shades. Devoured. Lost. One left. Attached to the stem. He became present. The hardness in his face softening, his dark eyes meeting Mia’s. A grin, and into the fire went the torn flower’s remains.

She felt her body heat rise. Wanting to believe it was the alcohol in her system, maybe the LSD he had given her, the bitter taste of the blotter paper still faint on the back of her tongue.

“Let’s get out of here.” He spoke quietly into her ear.

The sensation of warm breath on her neck, waves of trembles crashed down. Mia arose, entranced by the the field of stars hanging overhead, the scent of smoke thick and heavy as it slipped into her nostrils. She looked over and he seemed  far. She reached out, grasped at him, catching handfuls of warm, heavy air. Suddenly near, behind, her hand on his black t-shirt, rubbing the chest it cloaked. Smooth, solid, hard. She dug her nails in. Moved closer. Snorted his scent; sweet and woodsy.

Through out the night she had collected questions she had wanted to ask. How’d he get his car? Does he live in a trailer? Why hasn’t she ever seen him in school? Does he work? But she seemed to have misplaced them all, one by one, as the night swept over her. Or rather, she knew the answer to all of those questions were in the little black baggie snatched from Pink Bikini’s back pocket. She chose to ignore it.

“Standing here in the dark, you can really see what’s beautiful about you.”

“Stop.”

“Stop what?”

“Your flattery.”

“It’s not flattery. It’s truth. I don’t flatter, ‘specially women.”

“Why?” She quirked a brow “You prefer flattering men?”

Eyelids and lips tightened and in the wild bon fire light, shadows caught the hollowed spaces under his eyes and the dips in his cheeks; a horrible sight that gripped Mia tightly, squeezing air from crippling lungs. A strong wonder expanding inside of her head; was she facing something baleful? She thought about retracting her statement when he suddenly smiled, and she let out a gentle exhale. Inhaling him once more. Comfortable there in the darkness with him.

“Every woman that’s beautiful knows it. If she says she don’t, she’s lying. Are you a liar?”

“No.”

“So I’m not flattering you, am I? Just reminding you of what you already know,” He nodded towards his car, “Come with me.”

That black, brooding box sat there in the background. Sleek grill grinning, metallic fangs luminous beneath the soft, white moon. Headlights like eyes peered, watching her walk wearily towards it. That car was laughing at her, she just knew it.

Palm on the small of her back, she could feel Alex guiding her gently and as she glanced over at that intriguing face she let herself be led.

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